Comics on the Can: Schick Hydrobot and the Transformers

VANAPHASE™ the Vanadium powerhouse!

Never has there been a more important free comic shilling for a company… ever!

Written by John Barber, Pencils by Steve Kurth, Inks by Juan Castro & Brian Shearer, Colors by like, a half a dozen people presumably between working on Micronauts and Clue.

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Imagine the meeting room of a major advertising firm. The whole team is there, they’ve just finished their lines of coke and sexually harassing the female intern and are brainstorming about how to push the new account that Peterson snagged last week; SCHICK RAZORS!

Johnson pitches: “How bout we show a handsome white guy getting up each morning and shaving himself dolphin smooth followed by a hot blonde, wearing his shirt like a victory flag (and quite clearly naked underneath) coming up behind him and stroking his smooth face playfully.”

Murmurs of agreement from the around the table; it scans.

The old man isn’t impressed, though. He clears his throat in that way you see alpha executives do in TV and movies. “I think we need a different approach this time. Think outside the box.”

Johnson replies “Absolutely, sir, the girl could always be a brunette.”

“Or a redhead, even!” Cook blurts out excitedly but is immediately cowed by Johnson’s withering look.

The old man shakes his head. “We need to catch the younger demographic in a fresh, original way. A lot of kids these days are sporting large beards. Christ, most look like they deserted the confederate army during Sherman’s march, except with better skin and more teeth. How do we get the 18 – 30 demo to see shaving as hip and the thing to do. Like they way we do with the Pall Mall or Miracle whip accounts?”

Johnson mimics thinking for a second “Free samples! We could arrange for each high school senior to get a free razor and a can of shaving cream on the last week of school!”

“Excellent idea!” Cook blurts out in a desperate attempt to atone for stepping on Johnson’s toes earlier. Johnson just rolls his eyes.

Cook becomes sad inside.

The old man shakes his head again. “No, we need to reach these little bastards were they live! A lot of these entitled fuckers don’t even WATCH tv! They’re watching YouTubes and shit! I need ideas here people!”

Whahoonyeplunk-Smith (the new wunderkind viral marketing executive from an edgy, street savvy advertising firm who’s come to this stuffy Madison Ave firm to shake things up… and unexpectedly fall in love) slowly raises his hand. When all eyes are on him he drops his hand, gets out of his seat where he had kicked his feet up on the table, takes off his wayfarer sunglasses, pauses dramatically and says two words: “Comic books!”

“That’s the kind of outside the box thinking I’m talking about! Kids love funny books!” Cheers the Old Man. “I was wrong about you, Whahoonyeplunk-Smith, of course you can marry my daughter!”

Everybody cheers and then applauds when they see The Old Man doing it.

Johnson silently curses under his breath. “You’ve made a seriously bad enemy this day, Whahoonyeplunk-Smith, I’ll see you burn for this.”

Whahoonyeplunk-Smith may have incurred Johnson’s wrath but we benefit! This imaginary scenario, verbatim, could’ve been the reason for the epic comic book that was given to me free with purchase at my local comic store.

But not likely, Meh.

Hydrobot and the Transformers is the natural end result of creating an anthropomorphic shaving razor for advertising purposes and the need to cross promote another shitty Michael Bay Transformers “movie”. Taking the age-old concept of one page ads of super heroes foiling criminals with hostess fruit pies and updating it for a full comic that plays the concept mostly for laughs and really makes little attempt to hide the mercenary intent behind the book. Can’t really fault ‘em. Accusing something like this of artistic bankruptcy is kinda missing the point. While accusing Michael Bay of being artistically bankrupt is redundant to the point of cliché. Being open-handed about this silly little ad book is the smart move. Nobody could possibly think this free book could be anything else. So Barber and company decide to just goof around with it.

The story is pretty straight forward. A lone razor, made sentient by a mysterious element called H-Boostium™, grows a robot like body and heads off its owner’s bathroom sink to fight crime at night. Because, comic books. Somehow Hydrobot gets the attention of Optimus Prime, Hound and Bumblebee and a fight ensues. Although the large to giant robots trying to catch a robot clocking in at about a foot tall is akin to one of us trying to swat a damn fly with more property damage. Hydrobot evades capture (obviously) and the heroic autobots, apparently having a slow day, follow the trail to the top-secret Schick labs. Somehow the Decepticons get involved, because Transformers, duh! More robot on robot violence ensues.

Hydrobot saves the day by defeating the evil robots. He somehow squirts gallons of sticky white H-Boostonium™ on the floor in what is the most obvious metaphor for a young man flowering into manhood ever. Prime admits he fucked up by attacking the tiny living razor and the Hydrobot gets back home in time for his owner (none the wiser about our little hero’s adventures) to get a quality close shave with patented space age Schick razor technology.


Of course breathing comic life into a disposable razor with a robot body and a patented five razor smooth shave technology™ for a head does present some problems. Namely it doesn’t talk or have facial expressions. Barber manages a work around by having the whole adventure be narrated by Bumblebee. Bumblebee having empathy for “the little guy” because of Bumblebee’s “little guy” status among the Autobots is about as deep as the characterizations can possibly get. I mean this isn’t War and Peace here (or more accurately Watchmen) but Barber’s attempt for some sort of resonance is admirable if somewhat confusing initially.

Barber can’t really hold back from poking fun at this whole project by having the Autobots meet Schick’s brilliant and monomaniacal Research and Development scientist Dr. Benson. Benson talks like he’s been transported to the Schick labs from a silver age comic. Upon seeing Hound’s robobeard – “What sort of technology could possibly trim THAT…?” or describing the accident that brought Hydrobot to life “… The greatest loss I have ever suffered…”. I’m not really familiar with Barber’s work (I’ve read some issues of Revolutionaries) but this type of dialogue is obviously a conscious choice on Barber’s part. It is corny and winking. Dr Benson claims his disappointment that he will never see future generations of razors come to fruition (their bold type) when the H-Boostonium (apparently highly flammable and unstable along with its sentient robot razor making properties) explodes. This coupled with the fact that Dr Benson is pulling down overnights at the R&D lab leads me to believe that he is a very lonely and desperate man. Hey Benson: she’s moved on so should you! Get on Tinder or Fetlife or something!

Usually I can get behind something that doesn’t take itself too seriously. HatT really doesn’t say “screw it, it’s a bleedin razor commercial tied into a shitty movie!”, grab the monkey by the balls and thrash around in the silliness pudding as much as it should. But hey, it’s free’, quit your bellyaching! You want a solid story with well drawn characters and a weird dude with some household object as his head read Saga!

Naturally the elephant in the room is the question of sentient toiletries’ rights. Does the nameless man (white and implicitly hetrosexual and christian) have the right to own a sentient razor? Of course not! Does the Hydrobot shave the face of this privileged oppressor of its own free will? Odds are against! Does shaving faces give fulfillment to Hydrobot? Obviously not because it seeks adventure beyond the confines of the bathroom sink. Can we tell the female hydrobots because they are strong independent entities with their own agency or because they are pink and have little butterflies on them? Are there other Hydrobots and/or sentient toiletries? Is there a toothbrush liberation front? Do loofahs wail at their oppressive role as back washers? Is there factional discord between the toilet brushes and the medicine cabinet? Fingernail clipper on fingernail clipper violence?

This is an issue that has tragically been largely ignored by the mainstream media (unlike the Kitchen Appliance occupy movement). I applaud Mr Barber and IDW publishers for boldly addressing these important issues but sadly, they don’t dig deep enough. For example there is no mention of the Scrubbing Bubble riots of ‘69 or the current Lotion, Gold Bond, Toothpaste awareness that is so desperately needed in these divisive times. What about Ed Hardy body spray’s refusal to be on the same counter as Johnson’s moisturizing lotion for “religious reasons”? The ovens that refuse to bake cakes for gay weddings? And the terrible stigma attached to being a toilet brush! These difficult questions don’t have easy answers and Hydrobot and the Transformers, perhaps wisely, doesn’t attempt to give them. Hot and cold running intolerance and sundry goods-ism can’t be solved by a simple comic. But at least the conversation is starting. Until all are free, none are free.


Random thoughts that occurred to me while writing but couldn’t work organically into the main body of text…

I can’t believe that was the first time I used “Doing your doody” in this column.

This actually happened in my hometown of Pittsfield, MA. 200 cans of shaving cream sent to the school administration for the senior boys. My mom of all people pointed out that graduating high school kids might not use free cans of shaving cream for what they were originally intended. Imminent disaster and several custodians resignations were avoided that day. Local homeless shelters and every member of the school board ended up with a lot of shaving cream instead.

Dream cast for the advertising meeting scene: Johnson – Christian Bale, Cook – Patton Oswalt, The Old Man – The guy who played the head of OCP in the original RoboCop (Dan O’Herlihy), Whahoonyeplunk-Smith – That smug asshole from the Domino’s Ferris Buller rip-off commercials. Special thanks to the city of Atlanta film commision.

Johnson tried many times and failed many times to get even with Whahoonyeplunk-Smith. Till one day Cook, fed-up from all the abuse heaped upon him by Johnson, produced evidence that Johnson was embezzling from Williams, Miller and Brown advertizing. Johnson is kicked out in disgrace and commits suicide by binge watching C.S.I. Miami and eating sour cream and onion pringles. Whahoonyeplunk-Smith comes up with the idea for the Ferris Buller Domino’s Pizza ad campaign… and learns the value of friendship.

BTW this fictional Whahoonyeplunk-Smith is not related to the other fictional Whahoonyeplunk-Smiths from my Cultural Junkdrawer – The Force Awakens Q&A via mass text found HERE  for those who asked.

But they all, however, exist in the same universe.

Currently Marvel is doing something similar of whoring out their characters for advertising with “Marvel Custom”; full pages spreads of Ghost Rider or the Guardians of the Galaxy enjoying a hotel because they used Meh, it gives somebody a page rate and the spreads are goofy fun. We’ve come a long way from hostess fruit pies and twinkies, though.

H-Boostonium™ is obviously a dangerous substance and should be subject to regulation. You wouldn’t want any of that shit getting into a blender or lawn mower and then turning evil now would we?

Of course the powerful razor lobby has made several contributions to GOP lawmakers that handicap such regulation. We are mere weeks away from a Maximum Overdrive like hellish reality! WAKE UP SHEEPLE!

I imagine my computer curses my name every time I type “Hydrobot” or “Whahoonyeplunk-Smith”

Barber is the regular writer for several Transformer titles so my question is this: Will Hydrobot be part of Transformers continuity now? Can we expect the spunky anthropomorphic razor to infiltrate Megatron’s stronghold to gather information about his latest world threatening plans? Can a crossover with the Micronauts be far behind? He is about their size! Will Hasbro have an SDCC exclusive Hydrobot Transformer that you’ll have to wait six hours in line to get a lottery ticket to possibly buy next year? OMG does this mean Hydrobot is part of the IDW Hasbro Universe!?!?! What has IDW unleashed here!?!?

Are we in for a Schick shared universe thing? Will Hydro, Quattro, Xtreme 3 and ST2 all have to band together to combat the evil 5 O’Clock Shadow and Razor Burn? Fuck, this shit writes itself!

Lighthearted dopey comic book advertisements aside Transformers – The Last Knight is undoubtedly a shitty movie… just like all the other Transformer movies. Spend your money wisely and go see Spider Man: Homecoming or Baby Driver… a couple of times each.

NEXT: More manna from heaven: Marvel’s take on Double Dragon from the 90’s

LATER: Still promising Black Panther. I can conceivably put this off till the movie comes out!

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