Review: 'Ro-Busters: The Disaster Squad of Distinction!' is a big excuse for the artists to go nuts, old pulp-styleA comic review article by: John Yohe
Editor's Note: we asked John to review this book with no previous knowledge of 2000 AD and its unique world to see if this book worked for him as a reviewer. 2000 AD comics from England have their own unque rhythm, pace and attitude and we were curious how that attitude would work for a non-fan. We hope that you enjoy this unique take on Ro-Busters.
I wanted to read Ro-Busters for the simple reason that Alan Moore's name is attached to the project (I don't think an explanation of why is necessary, but ok: Watchmen, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Lost Girls, Swamp Thing) but I'll warn anyone else thinking the same thing: Alan Moore only writes two six-page "Bonus Material" sections at the end of the book. Basically, Ro-Busters is writer Pat Mills project—he's listed as co-creator with the three main artists, Kevin O'Neill, Carlos Pino, and Dave Gibbons.
Which, when I found out how little Alan Moore is involved, kind of annoyed me, and may have influenced my reading of this collection. Or, I may have simply just been left scratching my head about how to react anyways.
This is a collection of short, six-page stories that appeared in the British magazines Starlord and 2000 AD. The near-future stories all feature the same cast of main characters, two robots and their cyborg owner, Howard Quartz, who claims to still be 10% human, and is therefore also known as Mr. Ten Percent. (He basically looks like a robot himself, except with a floating brain in the head section). I thought at first with this set up that the storyline and book might deal with the idea of what being human means, but that was waaaay too serious of an approach.
Ro-Busters, as the name shows (and yet I ignored the signs) is not a story meant to be taken seriously. Really, it seems like a big excuse for the artists to go nuts on old pulp-style black and white drawings of weird robots and cool futuristic space ships. Oh yeah, and some humans too.
And, the art is good. It's what carries the whole story. Artists Gibbons, O'Neill and Pino seem to be having fun, with homages to the old sci-fi pulp novel and comic book covers, and they are all good at drawing both curved human forms and stream-lined machines. Working in black and white seems like it might be limiting for backdrops, but for example Gibbons does a great job creating a moody Florida swamp infested with killer alligators. Also look for another artist, Mike Dorey, and his nod to the old Sgt. Rock comics, with a dark snowy night. I don't know how he draws the white dots on a black background, but it can't be easy.
But, so, if we're not supposed to take this story seriously, how are we to take it? Because, I just don't find it funny, which I suspect maybe I'm supposed to. It's cute. It's amusing, kinda, at points. The robots, Ro-Jaws and Hammer-Stein (a walking garbage disposal and a outdated war robot respectively) are kind of a straight man and comic duo, but none of their dialogues really reach joke status. Quartz is just a walking exposition machine, explaining over and over to the American General Denver his plan to have a crew of rescue robots ready to go into situations that humans can't.
The problem is, I think, structural: Each mini-story is only six pages and, for the ongoing storyline, the first page is mostly a summary of what happened before, for the benefit of new readers, and for readers who had to wait a month and may have forgot. Except writer Mills seems to have forgotten things too, since basic facts change from story to story, like for example that a mysterious red mist at first turns all living things (man and alligator alike) into crazed killers, but then in the next installment it's just the alligators and certain humans, like the prison work gang that conveniently happens to be working on a project in the middle of the Florida Everglades. But not the bus full of children who also happen to be on a bus in the Florida Everglades in the middle of the night.
Maybe if I had to wait a month for the next episode I wouldn't mind these minor mistakes, when they happen within pages of each other, well, I got pulled out of the story, much less ever being able to suspend my disbelief.
Actually, my disbelief is that this series was ever that popular, but I suspect it's because of the fact that some readers don't really give a flying *beep* for story. I find writing those words difficult—I don't want to believe them—but surely that's what's going on here.
To help prove my point, I will now discuss those two bonus episodes written by Alan Moore, because they're the best stories in the whole (thin) collection. I don't know the reasons why Moore was given Mills's story and characters to work with, but being able to compare the two writing styles is maybe the best part of reading this book, because Moore shows just how good he is.
His dialogue is crisp, believable, and more British sounding. His robots use British slang, and swear in a funny British way. That is, they actually tell funny jokes. Also, he tells complete self-contained mini-stories in six pages. I still don't like that small/short of a format for sequential art, but only a master like Moore could actually make it basically work. Imagine what he could do with those characters in a longer format. He'd probably do shit like question what it means to be human.
But then, that wouldn't be funny or cute or amusing.