Indie Comic Review: Atomic Robo!
For today’s review, we need to set our Wayback Machine all the way to 2008. Remember 2008? Flo-Rida topped the Billboard charts, Paul Krugman won the Nobel Prize for Economics, and a plucky little comic about an atomic powered robot made waves in the comic world, up to narrowly missing an Eisner Award win for Best Comic Miniseries. 2008 was a party, and like most parties, I find myself arriving late. Today, I offer my review of Atomic Robo.
I’ll confess that back in 2008, Atomic Robo totally escaped my notice. That probably had something to do with graduate school and the hate-of-life that accompanies it. Even so, it wasn’t until 2014 and the release of the Fate Core powered Atomic Robo roleplaying game, by Evil Hat Productions. Since I tend to acquire anything Evil Hat related (because they’re turning out some of the best games going, bar none), Atomic Robo was an easy buy. Appropriate to an RPG based on comic, however, the book is filled with lovely excerpts from the source material. So compelling were just the brief excerpts in the game book, that I just had to dive into the comic.
Two weeks later, and I’ve devoured the first six collected editions.
For those who, like me, lived in ignorance for so long, Atomic Robo is about the adventures of Atomic Robo Tesla, one of Nikola Tesla’s last, best inventions. Possessed of “automatic intelligence,” Atomic Robo is a bona fide thinking machine, and Tesla’s heir. Now, as CEO of Tesladyne Industries, the holding company founded by Robo to hold his creator’s patents during World War II, Robo and Tesladyne’s teams of “action scientists” travel the world at the behest of governments, the United Nations, and agencies like NASA, to investigate weird happenings and combat the follies and depredations of weird science.
Written by 8-Bit Theater’s Brian Clevinger, and drawn by artist Scott Wegener, Atomic Robo is clearly a labor of love, and full of heart. Pulpy, two-fisted, bruised and battered, because Science! heart. While the comic is replete with the wry humor that Clevinger exhibits in his webcomic work, story takes the lead throughout Atomic Robo’s various series, with gags punctuating the action in a style exemplified by such hallowed works as The Last Crusade. These guys ‘get’ pulp action, and they know how to spin a compelling yarn.
I would say that the most favorable comparison I could make between Atomic Robo and another comic would be to hold it up next to my perennial favorite, Hellboy. Easily one of my top three all-time favorite titles, where Hellboy’s world is ours, tinged with dark occultism, Robo’s is ours with a chromium sheen. Where Hellboy battles Nazi’s summoning dark gods, Robo battles Nazi brains building techno-super weapons. Where Hellboy’s vampires are the mythical creatures of folklore, Robo’s vampires are parasites from a parallel dimension. Both titles hit a lot of the same notes… but that’s okay, because they’re awesome notes, and the thematic differences are significant enough that I, for one, would love to see a crossover (in my dreams…).
I give Atomic Robo my highest recommendation! Collected volumes can be found at Amazon, or from your Friend Local Comic Book Shop.