Atomic Robo, volume one: Atomic Robo and the Fightin' Scientists of Tesladyne
Writer: Brian Clevinger
Artist: Scott Wegener
Colorist: Ronda Pattison
Letterer: Jeff Powell
Cover: Scott Wegener
By Dan Toland
03 July 2008 — Several months back, I was in traffic on my way home from work, in the midst of a pitched battle with I-95. As I swore vengeance on both cars on either side of me for whatever inconveniences they had dared to inflict on me that particular day, I was listening to Mike and Des arguing about Countdown. At some point the conversation turned briefly to a small press indy book from a relatively new publisher Mike had been known to champion from time to time. I found myself rolling my eyes a little; this was not the first time Mike had lavished (a rather generous amount of) praise upon this particular comic, and I thought to myself, "Enough, already. I get it. You like this book."
A couple of weeks ago, Mike sent out the call: does anyone feel like reviewing the first trade paperback of this same comic? I put up my hand, of course, because free comics are free comics!
After reading it, and sending my shocked, excited reaction to Mike, he answered simply: "This is where I say, 'Told you.'"
Part Hellboy, part Doc Savage, part Buckaroo Banzai, part Looney Tunes, Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener's Atomic Robo is, quite simply, no exaggeration, the most fun I've had reading a comic in at least a decade. So much fun, in fact, that I'm having the damnedest time writing this review, because every time I refer to the book to write something, I end up stopping everything to read it again.
Created in 1923 by famed scientist Nikola Tesla, Atomic Robo is a nigh-invulnerable robot with artificial "automatic" intelligence. Given legal human status and American citizenship in 1938 in exchange for his services, Robo leads the Tesladyne organization (a think tank devoted to the investigation of scientific curiosities) and its Action Science League (a UN-sanctioned taskforce that serves as the first line of defense against all manner of sciency weirdness). If you have a giant bug that needs to get hit with a Buick, these are the go-to people.
Writer Clevinger is probably best known for the webcomic 8-Bit Theater. The strip's sense of humor is on full display here, only far more frenetic. Every possible pulp / Saturday morning serial situation is thrown at Robo (i.e. rogue Nazi scientists, space madness, the aforementioned giant ants) and Robo triumphs over all through judicious use of violent science. As goofy as these situations can be — and they are, there is absolutely no doubt about that whatsoever — the thing that makes everything work is the fact that Clevinger's script also manages to be extremely clever, very smart and very touching at times.
If there's any shortcoming to the writing at all, it has to do with the Action Scientists. Robo will take different people with him on different missions, but for the most part — Jenkins, a particularly scary-effective member of Robo's team being a notable exception — one character is the same as another. This is due, in large part, to the fact that Robo overwhelms every situation. He explodes into a room, lands great line after great line, wreaks havoc, sows wanton destruction and wins the day while his faithful team is in the background arguing about the pros and cons of imaginary physics and the peaceful applications of environmentally friendly means of mass destruction. They're quite amusing, but they get washed out by an aggressively entertaining main character, and by the fact that the Asian girl and the redheaded girl and the African-American guy and the balding blond guy and so on are all pretty interchangeable. If you were to look at their dialog without any accompanying artwork, there'd be no real way to tell which character is saying what. However, the book is not called The Action Science League. It's called Atomic Robo.
Scott Wegener's art is perfect for this title. It's extremely cartoony, and very much along the lines of Mike Mignola and Michael Avon Oeming. It's fun, and perfectly captures the absurdity of the world. Everything is clean, and yet exquisitely detailed. Most impressive is his rendering of the title character; Robo is always depicted with emotion and feeling, which can't be easy considering he has no movable parts to his face. Aiding the artwork considerably is Ronda Pattison's beautiful coloring work. The colors are bright, lush and vibrant. This is just a spectacularly easy book to look at.
In addition to collecting Atomic Robo #1-6, there's a fair amount of bonus material here. First up are four short Robo stories, all of which are written by Clevinger and drawn by a different guest artist. Then comes a cover and pin-up gallery, as well as Wegener's concept art (with commentary). It's all pretty interesting stuff, and really rounds out the collection.
There is literally no reason why you shouldn't buy this. This is a fun, fun, fun book. It's hilarious. It's exciting. It's gorgeous. Kids will love it. And as if all of that weren't enough, it's absurdly inexpensive, especially considering the amount of material here. I got my review copy for free, and I'm still going to buy one.
Seriously, go buy yours now!