Atomic Robo #1, October 2007, Red 5 Comics
writer: Brian Clevinger
artist: Scott Wegener
colorist: Ronda Pattison
letterer: Jeff Powell
Blogger’s note: Entry for Monday, March 24, 2008.
For a fan of pulp science fiction, Michael Avon Oeming’s cover for Atomic Robo #1 is hard to resist. I mean, if robots existed and fought during World War II, surely they’d look like this: as wide-eyed as a naval ensign, as cocky as the sergeants that approved his design. When I read the inside front cover’s description of this character, I became excited with this series potential. Robo, created by Nikola Tesla, lives an eclectic, influential life, from “his youth spent with some of the greatest scientific minds of the century; to his days fighting in the Second World War; to his sometimes-secret participation in the space program; to his role in the civil rights movement . . .” Robo sounds like the Forrest Gump of robotic pulp comics. I was ready for the journey.
I was disappointed by the destination. In this first issue, Atomic Robo fights Nazis in 1938 and confronts their leader, Helsingard, who has subjected himself to an operation that he bequeathed him superpowers. The evil genius is defeated, but in the end, we’re led to believe that his brain was saved . . . or that a fellow evil Nazi genius has had his brain removed and transplanted into a robot body to exact revenge. Talk about staying ahead of the game.
Don’t get me wrong: I found Atomic Robo #1 very entertaining. Scott Wegener’s art is crisp and reminded me of a Stuart Immonen meets White Picket Fences’ Micah Farritor. This inaugural adventure is action-packed and briskly paced, with its fair share of campy melodrama, which, in my opinion, is the only way tell an adequate Nazi story and sensitively avoid the atrocities they really caused. Make them the bumbling henchmen of history, I say, with talking brains and absurd super-science! Since this issue is so recent (I remember picking it up from the new release stand and debating its purchase just a few months ago), I will look for the second issue, but only to see if the series debunks my criticisms. Which are, you ask?
Well, Atomic Robo is Hellboy. Yes, Atomic Robo is Hellboy in a robot’s body, man. Considering this synopsis: an inhuman, wise-cracking secret agent rights the quirky, unspoken wrongs of history, including supernatural Nazism. I’ve read enough Hellboy to know that this summation applies. What I want to see in future issues of Atomic Robo is his handling of more civil or domestic issues, as that synopsis I quoted implies. Did Robo play a part during the race riots of the ‘60s? Was he at Woodstock? Was he an agent during the Cold War or Desert Storm? World War II makes for a fun backdrop now that its gravity is far enough behind us to permit its place as light-hearted fare, but does Robo retain his campiness in the face of more contemporary conflict? While Hellboy is off fighting monsters, is Atomic Robo really dwelling among men?
Perhaps you’re a fan, and you already know.
Me, I’m jumping onboard a few months too late, and I’m thinking, am I demanding too much from a comic book like this? As I said, this issue’s cover captures the imagery of a simpler era of storytelling, when good guys were good, and bad guys were putting their brains into otherwise mindless killing machines. Even with the sociopolitical depth this issue’s conceptual synopsis describes, Atomic Robo is surely making a difference, fighting Nazis and whatnot -- but I’ve seen it done before. Making a difference is great, but being different is better.