[Outside the Frame] Atomic Robo, or How I Learned To Love an Insane Dinosaur Genius
Sometimes you need a little fun in your life. A moment to enjoy some good old fashioned science-fueled ass kicking. A happy ending would be nice too. I’d been a little down at various points this year, buried under work and research, and needed something to brighten my day. Enter Atomic Robo – written by Brian Clevinger, drawn by Scott Wegener, and published by Red 5 Comics.
All images courtesy of Red 5 Comics
Starting in October 2007, Red 5 published a six-issue limited series of Atomic Robo, which was nominated for a “Best Limited Series” Eisner Award in 2008. It’s these issues that were collected as Volume 1, Atomic Robo and the Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne. The story jumps back and forth through time, telling different pieces of Atomic Robo’s first 83 years of existence. It has everything I’d want from a retro-style modernist comic: video game jokes (Megaman, Jenkins, etc.), Nazis, mummies, steampunk, Carl Sagan being awesome, Stephen Hawking being a bastard, and a wise-cracking intelligent robot swinging his way through it all. It’s sarcastically funny, it’s got a hipster sensibility that perfectly meshes with the crisp, clean art – exactly the kind of thing you’d expect to translate well to t-shirts and messenger bags. (I have an Atomic Robo / Fictory t shirt I got from supporting The Fictory’s animated movie – Atomic Robo: Last Stop- on Kickstarter, and it’s awesome.)
Vol. 2, Atomic Robo and the Dogs of War, originally released February 2009, collects the five-issue mini-series, complete with cover gallery, pin-ups, and bonus stories. It shows more of Robo’s adventures in World War II, introduces a plucky British heroine, and there’s some evil genius-designed weather cannons. It also has a brief appearance by James “Scottie” Milligan, a Scotsman, a hero, and Scott Wegener’s grandfather.
That the creators of this comic allowed Milligan to live again in Atomic Robo is the biggest part of why I adore this book. It’s written and drawn by people who want to be a part of Robo’s world, so much that they will populate it with their favorite things, their joys and sorrows and loved ones. This is the one great power we have as writers – the ability to remake the world in whatever image we want, to fix its flaws, to resurrect the dead, to make it right. When it’s done well, as it is in this case, it’s breathtaking.
Vol 3,Atomic Robo and The Shadow From Beyond Time, released as a trade in January 2010, combines AR with my other great love: HP Lovecraft, as if to further prove they were writing this series just for me. Let’s start with the fact that “Tesla Heavy Industries” had, in 1926, a storefront office with “Science While You Wait!” painted on the window. Throw in the Tunguska blast, Howard P. Lovecraft babbling like a mad man, Carl Sagan, lightning guns, tentacles, and … I don’t want to give away the rest of the story but if you like that sort of thing, this is the book for you.
This series was already written like someone handed Brian Clevinger a list of all the things that make my heart sing. Tesla, mad science, heroic action, Carl Sagan, giant robots, evil Nazis, and Scott Wegener’s adorable art style? Oh, pitter patter. But then, inspired by his brother, Wegener introduced the greatest comic book villain possible:
Vol 4, Atomic Robo and Other Strangeness, September 2010, collects four single-story issues into one book, and covers what the creators call “an average week in the life of Atomic Robo”. He fights a giant biomonster in Tokyo, gets attacked by a horde from the Vampire Dimension, and OH YEAH FIGHTS DR. DINOSAUR, in a battle of … well, let’s call it “wits”:
Vol 5, Deadly Art of Science, July 2011, shows us Robo’s origins as a crime fighter. More specifically, his origins as a nerdy robot boy with no social skills, and no idea how to fight crime, but thinks it’s would be awfully neat to learn. Add to that a reluctant mentor, a beautiful girl with an eye for Robo, and Thomas Edison’s quest for immortality, and it’s a classic adventure story done up in style.
Highlights for this book include getting to see Robo be bad at saving the day, falling in love, and understanding his relationship with his inventor/father, Nikola Tesla.
Vol 6, The Ghost of Station X, released as a trade in June 2012, became the second Atomic Robo series to be nominated for (but not win) the Eisner in the Best Limited Series category. It follows Robo as he tries to unravel the mystery of a missing building, escape multiple perils, and discover which shadowy organization is trying to kill him this time. What I love about this story arc is that it goes back to what I think makes Atomic Robo great – the creators take something mundane, average, like a convoy of truckers, and shows that everyone has the potential to be great. You don’t have to be rich to love science, and you don’t have to be “normal” to be cool.
Another important thing to know about Atomic Robo is that its creators made a conscious decision to not just put together a great book, but also to avoid a lot of the things they hate about comics right now. To that end, they posted some promises on their site:
- No angst
- No “cheesecake”
- No reboots
- No filler
- No delays (that we have any control over, i.e. Diamond will be Diamond)
That’s right. Wegener and Clevinger promised us, the readers, that there wouldn’t be panels framed by a girl’s bikini-clad bottom, or drama not inherent to the story line, or a “NEW REVISED ATOMIC ROBO YEAR ZERO REBOOT WITH VARIANT COVER” in an effort to sell more books. They want to make a great product, focused on story and art instead of gimmicks, and I think they’ve done just that.
If you’re still not sure you want to it, you can find a huge list of free Atomic Robo comics on their website at http://www.atomic-robo.com/free-comics
How can you not love this guy?
Next time: Tails, by Ethan Young.
Want me to review your work? I’m primarily looking for comics with a speculative fiction element, in keeping with the theme of SF Signal, but if your comic is fantasy, science fiction, horror, weird, magic realism, or some other style of “strange”, let me know! You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment below.
Note: this column adapted in part from reviews which first appeared on my website at http://carriecuinn.com
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