Plot: Cold War fake out.
Comments: Last issue of Shadow from Beyond Time ended with Atomic Robo feeding an exploding car to (essentially) Cthulhu. That’s a hell of a cliffhanger. You would expect this issue to pick up right where that one left off, right? Well, one of the cool things about Atomic Robo (and there are many cool things) is that any expectations you might have are confounded and frequently exceeded.
Issue #3 picks up in 1957. The Cold War and the Space Race have just kicked into high gear with the launch of Sputnik. The inside cover sets the scene with, “Atomic Robo and the science agents of Tesladyne must discover Sputnik’s secrets to stop the nuclear arms race while it is still in its infancy.” Atomic weapons are scary, but what about the even scarier “monster from outside time trying to destroy the universe?” There is not one mention of the events of the last 2 issues.
Clevinger and Wegner drop us right into the Cold War Tesladyne team, presumably the first generation of adventurer scientists, with the rapid fire dialogue that is another cool thing about Robo. The scene, with the boys rocking suit and ties or polo shirts, smoking and tough talking about whiskey evokes AMC’s Mad Men, but with the gab about defense contracts and super weapons instead of marketing strategies. Robo has gotten wind of something crashing in the outskirts of Cloverdale, Oregon and he thinks it's one of Sputnik’s rocket booster. In the interest of science and curbing the ignorance-based decisions guiding the arms race, Robo drags his team to the Pacific Northwest.
The mystery deepens when they arrive in the small town and it is completely deserted. It should be noted that by now you are so swept up in the story that you’ve pretty much forgotten about the Cthulhu type monster from the first two issues-- Cold War paranoia, crashed space probes, and a mysterious empty town are story enough for one comic book.
Apparently, though, the beast of Euclidian geometries hasn’t forgotten about Atomic Robo. Investigating the crash site reveals a black rock with multiple eyes and a sickly growl of “Rrrrrohhh Bohhhhh!” The dialogue that follows, which is silly at heart but perfect for the situation, is another very cool thing about Atomic Robo.
The story pinwheels back into the horror of The Shadow from Beyond Time and becomes zombie homage to boot. The monster hurls half-possessed people at the team and floats in the sky, well out of exploding car range. Robo, undeterred, gives the creature and earful and mentions that he has been researching higher dimensional mathematics for the last 30 years. The issue ends with Robo tearing open the monster and climbing inside! A hell of a cliffhanger.
Final Word: Ok, the title of the issue is “At the Farm of Madness” so arguably Clevinger and company tip their hand out of the gate. The point I’m making is that you get so caught up in the red herring story that you forget about would-be world devouring dimensional monster. Clevinger’s writing, hella-strong to begin with, is getting more muscular and confident with each Atomic Robo story. It takes some guts to bounce the narrative off track like that and crazy talent to make the gamble work. The opening scene, heavy on exposition, flows along with grace and wit and still has room to be cautionary and prescient.
Clevinger’s not alone in all this--Scott Wegener’s art, another very cool thing about Atomic Robo, is a sheer joy to look at. I’ve always thought that all comic book artists want to tackle Cthulhu sometime in their career (well, Cthulhu and Batman). His work brings joy and excitement to Clevinger’s brilliant scripts. Finally, I know it’s been said in just about every review of Atomic Robo, but he does get a lot of expression out of a blank face and two glowing eyes.
For god sakes, Atomic Robo is too smart and fun for you NOT to add to your pull list. Start now and don’t miss out on such a cool thing!
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