Scott Wegener: Robo Strikes Back

A comics interview article by: Matthew McLean
Artist and co-creator of Atomic Robo, Scott Wegener sits down to talk about the upcoming second volume of the pants wearing bot. Readers who enjoyed the first outing will be pleased to know Wegener and Clevinger have Robo's future planned out well in advance with many more volumes to come. Wegener takes a few minutes to discuss what that future may hold.

EDITOR's NOTE: The second installment of Atomic Robo is now available for pre-order through Diamond under the code JUN084181.

Matthew McLean (MM): So the trade paperback of the first Atomic Robo work comes out on June 11th. Do you have a title for the next arc yet?

Scott Wegener (SW): Yes, the next mini-series will start coming out in August of this year. That arc will be called Atomic Robo and the Dogs of War. From this point out, each mini-series will be set in a specific time period or have a specific theme. The first one really jumped all over the place – I called it the Atomic Sample Platter. I think the official title, though, is Atomic Robo and the Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne.

MM: But this one will be set in a specific location.

SW: Yeah, this one's kind of an homage to the old DC war comics, War Tales, Two Fisted Tales, all that jazz. It's World War II, Nazis and all the weird Atomic Robo stuff thrown in. It's going to be five issues; the first two deal with the invasion of Sicily in 1943 and we go from there.

The way we play it, Robo is present at a lot of big historic moments, but he's not Forrest Gump, he's not responsible for them. Both Brian and I are big history buffs, we both have grandfathers who served, so we take it seriously and there's real drama, but we also have this robot there doing his fun thing in the “background” of the war. So it jumps back and forth between this group of GIs who are storming the beach and getting the snot blown out of them and being terrified, and Robo who's there to take out this new Nazi war machine which is based on the giant cyborg body from issue #6 of the first mini-series. The Nazis have co-opted some of the technology and are putting it to work and Robo's there to stop them.

We're introducing a new character later on in the book, kind of a pulp character from that era – a sort of British superspy, our nod to that era of hero. Those are the comic characters that Brian and I like more than super-heroes, I guess. So, we've got Nazi mecha, Nazi supermen, literally, although it doesn't quite work out the way they planned. They have one working super-person.

It's that toward the end of World War II, the Nazis desperately researched and developed, to one degree or another, all these absurd technologies to try to turn the tide of the war. And Hitler had all these crazy plans for having an on-going guerilla war once the Allies had occupied Germany. It was called Operation Werwolf. Well, we can't pass up on that.

MM: So, all this happens after the first issue of the original series, which was in 1938.

SW: Yes. All of this takes place in the span of 1943 to 1944. It's a little more coherent than the first mini-series with the first two issues tied together, then the next two are tied together and the final is a stand alone. We're still trying to make each issue accessible to anyone who just happens to pick it up. We've got that informative blurb on the inside of the front cover and that's pretty much all you need to know to enjoy the character. If you want to go back and read the earlier issues you can, and you’ll pick up more hints of the interconnectivity of everything, but you aren't going to be lost if you don't.

MM: By the end of the first mini-series, you and Brian had put together a team called the Action Scientists who were kind of the backup crew for Robo. Obviously they aren't going to be in this one because the story takes place before most of them were born.

SW: Right. The Action Scientists all work for Tesladyne Industries, which is Robo's company in the present. But Tesla is still alive at the beginning of World War II so there is no Tesladyne, none of that. Robo's just out on his own, doing whatever.

MM: So are we going to see Tesla?

SW: He's never going to be a central character. This is going to sound weird, but what we want to do with Tesla as a character is better served if we never show him. Or give him as little screen time as possible. He's kind of the absent father. In volume 3 we're going to be jumping back to the '20s, when Robo's basically a “kid” and trying to figure out where he fits into the world. We have this kind of chaotic romp through downtown Manhattan involving a little HP Lovecraft, but Tesla is out of town so Robo basically destroys a chunk of New York City while Tesla is out of town.

MM: A bit more than wrecking the house.

SW: Yeah, little bit, a little bit. He [Tesla] comes home and the city's leveled. [Laughter]

Eventually, I don't think until volume 4, which is set in the '50s, the whole Sputnik era – I think it's called The Flying She-Devils of the Pacific - jetpacks, air pirates – all of that post-WW2 adventure stuff. After that we'll probably have to come back to the future, or the present rather, as everyone seems to really like the Action Scientists even though all they do is get in the way. Our thinking behind them was that in Robo's world, there are no super-heroes but there are, to steal a term from Alan Moore, “science heroes”, very Doc Savage, the Shadow, that kind of thing. In Robo's world, these guys come along, they get old, they die, whatever, and then you have a new crop of action scientist heroes. By the time you get to the 21st century, Robo's not getting any older, if anything he's upgrading as time goes on, so a lot of people who would have been these independent vigilante science heroes in the past, get swallowed up by Tesladyne. It’s a think tank, an explorer’s club, and a research facility all wrapped up in one. It’s the kind of place those people would gravitate towards the way real world scientists end up going to MIT or NASA. So 50 years ago they would have been wearing a domino mask and a fedora and brandishing a couple of .45s, now they have positronic accelerators and jetpacks and they're all on Robo’s payroll.

MM: I didn't know that. I remember one book mentioning one of the Action Scientists did his master's thesis on constructing a death ray. That makes a lot more sense now. [Laughter]

So will the GIs in volume 2 play a similar role to the Action Scientists.

SW: A little bit, yeah. It gives you a human anchor to what's going on. So far the reaction I've been getting is that people have no problem relating to Robo, probably because he's got no face, so you can just psychologically throw yourself into his pants, I guess.


That didn't sound right at all. Into his shoes, his shoes.

But with the GIs we wanted to have the perspective of a normal schmuck on the ground, which is sort of what the Action Scientists do also. I think it gives people something more to enjoy. Give the cosplayers something to dress up as. [Laughter]

So yea, we're kind of trying to do that with these guys. In the volume after that, in the '50s, we've got another bunch of normalish people who are integral to the story. The thing with Robo is typically doesn't do anything by himself – he's not super smart --

MM: Doesn't he have like a PhD?

SW: Yes, he does have PhD, but if you never got tired and didn't have to sleep you could get a PhD. He doesn't have a whole lot more processing power than most people.

MM: He's not a supercomputer.

SW: Exactly, exactly. He's just got the time to do it all. So he often has to get people to help him with stuff, either directly or, in the case of the Action Scientists, they're there for support or, in our case, for comedic relief.

MM: Formerly you had mentioned that in the 21st century Robo's more morose because he's outlived a lot of his friends, in the '20s he's very much a young man finding his place in the world. In this upcoming one, how would you describe him?

SW: He's still young, but his personality develops as you would expect a normal person's personality to develop. So when he's young he's impressionable, he's looking for adventure, patriotism and idea of serving for some greater cause is very appealing.

In the real world and our fantasy world, Tesla dies in 1943 while Robo is off fighting in World War II, which Tesla was very much against. He was a pacifist. He had, in fact, developed something very much like a death ray, in reality, but he didn't want any one government to have that sort of power so he gave away different chunks of the patent to the different world powers of the time and said, "If you want to build it you'll all have to come together." In real life he was a very interesting character. And in our stories, Robo and Tesla spend a lot of time and energy during Robo’s early life to keep him and the technologies that made him from becoming instruments of war. So he was very much opposed to Robo going out and getting involved and, in general, is very weary of the government. He ends up dying when he and Robo haven't seen each other in years and the last time they spoke was the argument about Robo going to war. And that affects him. You've got some father issues and such. We concentrate on Robo punching Nazis and their tanks in this one, but really that’s just laying the groundwork so we can come back to this era and see how Tesla’s death was affecting him.

Again, in reality, after Tesla died, the FBI confiscated all of his work and it sort of disappeared into that vault at the end of Indiana Jones. So when that happens Robo becomes very disillusioned with government organizations. Yet, he still does stuff in the Korean War, but it's not because he's this great patriot, but because he feels obligated because he has the power to do it. It's much less, "let's go have this great adventure" but more "let's get this done. You can see this exact change in attitude play out in our FCBD story when the military tries to get him to go on a mission to Russia in the ‘60s. Where he was gung-ho about fighting America’s enemies in the ‘40s, by the ‘60s he’s very suspicious of what the military wants to do with him.

MM: So this second volume is a pretty big transition for him.

SW: Exactly. At the start of the war he's got that young, adventurous mindset and then at the end of the war, not so much. I'm not sure how much we're going to be able to get that into the comics, as we tend to focus on Robo hitting things. We have plans for, which is up and running now, but right now it's a glorified blog. Our eventual plans for it are to have some sort of Wikipedia timeline thing in there and almost function as a sourcebook for the comic. Since we don't want to clutter up the comics with a lot of exposition we'll use this for people who care, so they can get all of that backstory before we have a chance to touch on it in new stories and flashbacks.

MM: Speaking of the blog, Brian had mentioned on the blog some concern about the formula becoming repetitive.

SW: The Dragnet Theory of writing Robo.

MM: So how do you two plan on avoiding that?

SW: I think he wrote that in response to something someone else had written. They said it was a really fun book but they were concerned that it could become repetitive. Brian said he was writing Robo, or at least the first series, like Dragnet – which was basically the “Law” part of Law and Order. Basically, it was a revolutionary show because it showed what police work was really like. Brian wanted to approach Robo and the Action Scientists like that, he wanted to show that incredibly extraordinary things were completely ordinary to these people because it’s what they deal with every single day. There's nothing wrong with using a formula as long as you keep throwing new ingredients in that keep it fresh and interesting. And the concern about getting repetitive – what can't you apply that to? What would happen if they wrote a Spider-Man book where Peter Parker didn't feel guilty about something? Or if Batman didn't fight criminals? They're all repetitive, but they keep throwing new things in to keep it interesting.

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