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Atomic Robo Volume 1: Atomic Robo & the Fightin' Scientists of Tesladyne

Posted: Wednesday, June 11, 2008
By: Kelvin Green

Brian Clevinger
Scott Wegener and Others
Red 5 Comics
Atomic Robo is not Hellboy. Let's get that out of the way right at the start. It's an easy comparison to make, but I honestly don't think there's much to it. Yes, both series concern an indestructible non-human protagonist who fights strange and unnatural beings on behalf of the government, but that's about it.

The main difference, and it's key, I think, is that Hellboy, as good as it is, is just a tiny bit emo. Atomic Robo, by contrast, is far more celebratory in its tone and approach, a deliberately self-conscious example of just how awesome comics can be. The closest this book gets to gloom and seriousness is the chapter in which Robo gets sent to Mars on his own, and then he's less lonely than bored.

Rather than stretch an already thin story over the length of the collection (i.e., the Nu Marvel Method), Clevenger and Wegener instead deliver a series of done-in-one adventures based around very immediate concepts and situations--which is not to say that the writing is superficial or insufficiently complex, but rather that the creative focus of each issue/chapter is on taking one or two ideas and exploring their potential for fun, over-the-top storytelling; if there's plot or character development to be done, then it's all good, but not if it gets in the way of a robot in khaki pantaloons machine-gunning a sentient pyramid. It's a creative focus of which I fully approve, particularly as a rejection of the po-faced superficial seriousness of so many US action comics nowadays.

It certainly doesn't hurt that the creative team aren't just throwing mad ideas at the reader, but are also making sure the madness works. The storytelling is suitably vivid and dynamic, and Wegener's art is clear and blocky, with a light and bright feel that reflects the energetic enthusiasm of the writing.

Characterisation is strong throughout, particularly the portrayal of Robo himself, who comes across as a very expressive character, despite the relative lack of facial features--which is down to a combination of good body language and a clever decision to give Robo a pair of large eyes, cartoon shorthand for an open and friendly personality.

All in all, it's not the most flashy visual approach. Yet, excessive flashiness and overt special effects would likely draw attention away from what's happening--and the whole point of Atomic Robo is that what's happening is flashy enough without anyone needing to show off how well they know the sub-menus in Photoshop.

If there is a flaw, it's that Robo's support staff are rather indistinct and undefined. These Action Scientists are funny and smart folk, certainly (the ongoing argument about the groundbreaking field of "imaginary science" is a highlight), but we never really get a good handle on them as distinct characters--and I'd struggle to name them all. However, there's always room for that sort of thing in future volumes, and the focus here is very much on Robo himself, and rightly so.

It is difficult not to be completely won over by the sheer enthusiasm of this book. Clevinger, Wegener, and the artists who join them for the short stories collected in this volume, are interested in one thing--making fun comics. When there's so much irony-free grittiness and misplaced "realism" being chucked about in comics nowadays, it's so very welcome to read good solid stories of a century-old robot and his scientific Scooby Gang battling giant ants.



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