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October 9, 2012

MRP Day 9 – Atomic Robo

Filed under: comics,reviewage,the month of relentless positivity — lexifab @ 10:56 pm

Atomic Robo is the self-proclaimed World’s Greatest Science Adventure Comic (!), and if there’s any competition for that title at all, it’s wa-a-a-a-a-a-y back in the dust somwhere. The brainchild of Brian Clevinger (writer) and Scott Wegener (artist) [1], Atomic Robo is the two-fisted action-packed adventures across the twentieth century of Nikola Tesla’s robot son, the eponymous brawny Brooklyn pug.

Atomic Robo is more-or-less an all-ages book that celebrates science, explosions, ingenious dinosaur masterminds, fiendish Nazi brains-in-jars, interdimensional horrors, resolving issues by punching them really hard (and then trying other branches of science when that doesn’t work) and amusing depictions of some of the twentieth century’s most beloved science communicators [2]. The series jumps back and forth across Atomic Robo’s 80+ year lifespan, in no readily apparent sequence [3]. Volume Two, for example, depicts his adventures fighting Nazi super-scientists during WWII, but Volume Three spans decades in his battle against a time-shifting lovecraftian (literally) horror, and Volume Five is a gangbuster-noir tale of vigilante justice in 1930’s Chicago.

Robo is (depending on when the story is set) a charming, plucky lad desperate for adventure, railing against a dull and overprotective parent, or a wise-cracking adventurer who can’t take war seriously, or a weary cynic who has lost a lot of friends but still carries on helping others and fighting the good fight, possibly because he no longer knows what else to do. But there’s no boring angsty whining – Clevinger never weighs his hero down with tedious soliloquies about death, immortality or man’s inhumanity. [4] In any incarnation, he’s lovable, mischievous and noble; he’s sometimes sarcastic, often dorky and always cheerfully willing to switch between thinking and punching as the situation demands.

The creative team promises, amongst other things, no angst and no filler issues, so the entire series – which currently runs to six collected volumes as well as a nearly-complete couple of side projects [5] – barrels along with square-jawed exuberance, slowing down only long enough for the characters to fling theories at each other about the problem at hand before diving back into the mayhem. The supporting cast comes and goes with the passage of time (and the dangers of being involved in hair-raising chaos) though there are a few who appear regularly enough to become more than names and faces.

The fun of Atomic Robo is in the big, wacky pulp ideas and the sheer fun the creators have in finding ways for things to blow up. The art has a striking cartoonish style which uses shadow to great dramatic effect. It’s very reminiscent of early Mike Mignola (and his Hellboy is clearly one influence among many), which puts it squarely in my “yes, please” box. And I have to give him props for being able to depict an amazing range of emotion in the movement of Robo’s metal eyelids, which slide across otherwise-blank blue lights.

Clevinger’s dialogue is witty (“This is a grenade. I hope my clumsy robot fingers don’t do something clumsy. Oops.”) and the characters are smart, even when their situation is ridiculous (“They can’t be this large. It’s mathematically impossible. That really bothers me.”)  The action is great, the science is – well, the bits that are implausible are at least consistently so – and the whole thing is just a huge amount of wide-grinned fun. I defy anyone not to adore the sinister malevolence of the mentally unstable Doctor Dinosaur, say, or young Robo’s attempts to ingratiate himself with the  masked crimebuster Jack Tarot.

I got my digital copies of Atomic Robo through Comixology, where they are startlingly cheap [6][7]. I can’t recommend enough that you do exactly the same.

[1] Plus the usual crowd of tragically under-celebrated contributors to colours, letters, editing and suchlike. I feel bad for not including them in the review, but I know sod-all about the intricacies of what they do. Sorry folks.

[2] Constantly-exasperated early-70’s Carl Sagan alone is worth the price of admission for the entire series.

[3] A timeline of the entire series,  info-locked to avoid spoilers for stories yet to be told though amusingly teasing their titles, is available here.

[4] The closest it comes is when Robo laments “The hardest part is that I’m 83 years old. I do a great Jack Benny, but no one really gets it any more.” Killer line.

[5] Atomic Robo and the Flying She-Devils of the Pacific and Atomic Robo: Real Science Adventures

[6] if subject to the rather unfortunate DRM-soaked terms and conditions at that site.

[7] Trade paperback versions are also available through Amazon and such).

1 Comment »

  1. “Rochester!”

    I feel Robo’s pain. Volume #1 purchased.

    Comment by The Once and Future Dr Clam — October 10, 2012 @ 7:42 am

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