guttergeek the discontinuous review of graphic narrative

April 2008

Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener, Atomic Robo (Red 5 Comics, 2007-08), 6-issue miniseries, $2.95 each.

by Jared Gardner

Atomic Robo combines the wacky humor of Godland, the swashbuckling pulpiness of Rocketo, and the dark-humored gothic adventures of Hellboy—heavy on the Hellboy. But I didn’t mind the heavy indebtedness to Mignola or the rest, in part because the whole run feels like a portfolio piece: a showreel to highlight the potential of a really sparkling creative team. It bounces around in time, from unfinished adventure to unfinished adventure. If the goal at the end of the six issues was to make the reader want to see all of this unpacked in a full, ongoing series, then it does the trick. If we are supposed to be satisfied with this as an end in itself, then I want a refund. But I’m betting that we’ll have more to come (the row of unused supervillain brains in the final issue kind of gave me that idea).

Of course as a freshman offering from a new publisher, there are all kinds of reasons why we may never get to see what comes next. Which is why I am hoping we get the word out that these guys are doing something right and make sure we support their early projects. All of us have gotten in the habit of waiting for the trades these days, and for good reason (see my review of
Age of Bronze for more on this topic). Fewer and fewer books are worth reading month to month, and most of them are written for the trades (or, worse, for the screen). Atomic Robo is written out of a different kind of hunger, the desperation of a start-up company and a young creative team trying to prove everything they can as fast as they can. And that is a good energy, and one that works well in the monthly comics format. Especially in the first three issues, Clevinger displays a real instinct for the 24-page plotting, and Wegener’s seemingly effortless pencils make robots, mechanized zombies, death-ray shooting pyramids and all the other wonders of the unnatural world sparkle with energy and, well, fun. Lots of fun.

This one deserves an audience and a long run, and too many deserving titles are falling by the wayside of late (and too many lousy projects go on and on). Some readers may be put off by their initial impressions that the book is merely
Hellboy-lite. Yes, Robo traces his origins back to WWII and the Nazis, and, yes, he has assembled a team to fight all the paranormal forces threatening the modern world. And, yes, the ghost of Rasputin even shows up for a cameo that one hopes is more homage than outright plagiarism. There is always a possibility that time will prove that Robo is never going to be free from that imposing shadow. But I strongly suspect that there are unique possibilities for this book in terms of storylines that will move it in directions that will leave all anxieties of influence behind. But let’s face it, Hellboy-lite is better than most of what we are finding on the shelves these days, and I would much rather settle for that than pretty much anything the majors are producing these days. And besides, thanks to Atomic Robo, I finally have a good working definition of “hubris”: “the act of putting your brain on display outside your metal warbot body.” Yes, that’s it exactly.