Review by Jamie McNeil
Alex and Freddy Sharma are like any other brothers forced to share the same proximity for prolonged (or any) period of time – they bicker, play, look out for each other, brawl, drive their parents bonkers, make peace then bicker again. Set in a futuristic London, adoptive parents Doctor Sharma and her husband Michael send the boys to a normal school where they have normal friendships, experience normal school problems (bullies for one) and get up to mischief. They love to stay up late, eat their body-weight in biscuits and ice-cream and want pets like most other normal children. One thing does set them apart from everybody else: created by the mysterious cybergeneticist Dr Roboticus, they are the most powerful robots on Earth… when their mum and dad let them. Except now someone, or something, is watching them very closely and their lives are about to be turned upside down. Then again, isn’t that normal life with children in it?
Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy springs to mind when you’re a few pages in, both in the same vein after all: sentient robotic boys in a futuristic city. Dismissing Mega Robo Bros because “He’s ripping off Astro Boy!” or “It won’t be as good as Astro Boy!” would be a very unfortunate, snobbish and stupid thing to do. Despite the similarities, Mega Robo Bros is something entirely different. In fact it’s more a blend of old BBC comedy Desmond and a wacky CBBC kids show with a lot for everyone to like: coming of age story for the older kids, poop and bum jokes for the younger kids, witty dialogue and relatable parenting scenarios for the parents with healthy doses of robot bashing and sci-fi fun.
Neill Cameron has done an absolutely super job with this. Artistically his style blends Manga and traditional British kids comics, shot through with a touch of European influence here and there. He blends the present day London with some fun ideas for a future one, and like the city itself there is a melting pot of cultures represented on the pages. Alex and Freddy’s parents are of Caribbean descent, one of their friends Muslim as are many of the authority figures. It’s not a Britain that will impress nationalists or UKIP, but it is also an optimistic vision of a diverse country at peace with itself. In a way it is a quite a timely book. As good as the art and the dialogue is, Neill Cameron cements Mega Robo Bros with the characters of Alex and Freddy, with all their little personality quirks, are so convincing that you forget they are really robots until needed to become mega powerful and save the day. For that to work so well is sheer brilliance!
It’s one thing to convince adults this is a great book, what about the target audience? Well, it’s hard to review a book when children keep disappearing with your copy. Exhibit A, though, has to be the children arriving at book signings and festivals in Alex and Freddy costumes. That says it all, doesn’t it? All we can say now is, “Bravo, Neill Cameron! Bravo!”
A year after publication Mega Robo Bros won the Excelsior Award for Best Junior Book, and it’s since been reformatted and reissued as Mega Robo Bros: Power Up. Next in the series is Mega Robot Rumble.