Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Offbeat Transformers Collectibles: Project Brain Drain

In the mid-1980's, "Choose Your Own Adventure"-type books were particularly popular.  I have to say "-type," because "Choose Your Own Adventure" was actually the name of a particular series published during that era by Bantam Books, but there were quite a few competing publishers out there trying to get in on the popularity of the genre.  Some of those competing publishers sought to couple their efforts with some popular children's franchise or another, and thus Ballantine published a number of Transformers-themed books in their "Find Your Fate Junior" line.  Project Brain Drain is one of these.

Whereas a "true" Choose Your Own Adventure book was generally told from a second-person perspective, suggesting that the reader was actively participating in the story (consistent with the idea that the reader would make choices about how the story would progress, the main gimmick of the genre, and how it takes its name), Project Brain Drain starts out as a typical third-person narrative. While Sparkplug Witwicky is working on "a new high-tech radio system," he accidentally intercepts a Decepticon transmission revealing a plot to steal human mental energy.  The reader is then asked to choose what course of action Sparkplug should take:
If you think Sparkplug should immediately set out for Metroplex, turn to page 7. 

If you think Sparkplug should try to contact the Autobots with his radio set, turn to page 10.
The reader does not always follow Sparkplug.  Depending on the course of the story, the reader may start to follow another character, like Bumblebee or Ultra Magnus.  The story can end any of a number of different ways, contingent upon the choices the reader makes.  The Autobots might either save the day, or the Decepticons could successfully steal the mental energy of unsuspecting humans, simultaneously granting the Decepticons a new power supply while turning the unfortunate humans into morons.

The artwork inside largely copies the packaging art of the toys themselves, rather than the better-known animation models.  This means that the characters usually look a lot more like their toys than they do on the cartoon.  Although this does make for some rather stiff and unnatural poses, I'm actually kind of impressed that the artists managed to use these images in ways that actually more or less fit the story they're trying to tell.

The Transformers featured in Project Brain Drain are predominately toys released in 1986, the same year the book was published.  These are characters that first appeared in the cartoon continuity in Transformers: The Movie, which also came out that year.  While the movie set the general tone for these characters to reside in the then-reasonably-distant future of the year 2005, this story seems to take place in the then-present day, highlighting the fact that it doesn't really fit into any of the better-known continuities.  This, of course, should surprise no one.  Indeed, most such works (and I also include coloring books and other similar items) can't easily be made to fit into an existing continuity, and I really don't suggest trying (although some fans consider this to be a fun challenge, I expect that there are better ways to use one's time).  It's really better to just look at this story as its own, mildly offbeat, entity.

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