Thursday, February 25, 2016

Atomic Robo, by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener

This week I'm doing something a little more unusual and talking about a comic series known as Atomic Robo. I have talked about comic books on this series before. In fact, I've even talked about webcomics before too, but it's certainly not my usual fare when it comes to what I talk about here at the Arsenal. However, I was recently exposed to Atomic Robo through a secondary source on the internet and it seemed like a rather interesting comic to read. When I found out that many of the Atomic Robo books were free to read online, and finding myself with some spare time, I decided to go ahead and read these comics. I have to say I rather enjoyed this series and its pulpy science-fiction adventures and I highly recommend it to other people to read.

The basic premise of this series follows the adventures of the titular Atomic Robo. As you probably guessed, Robo is an atomic-powered robot designed and built by awesome real-life mad scientist Nikola Tesla in the 1920's. Throughout history Robo has been involved in a variety of different adventures, all of which are incredibly pulpy and quite frankly kind of awesome. These vary from fighting a literal Lovecraftian horror from beyond time and space, fighting Nazi super weapons during World War II, and dealing with an incredibly persistent and very likely delusional dinosaur. They're all pretty fun adventures and if you're a fan of pulp stuff like dieselpunk and raygun gothic as much as I am, you're definitely going to enjoy these stories.

One of the things I really like is that there's a conscious decision by the creators to avoid what seems to have been numerous sins of the comic book industry. They say so explicitly in their About section on their website that they want to keep their comic book true to its roots of Robo punching other robots, or occasionally some sort of monster or something. Which he does a lot of. And sometimes all you really want to read is a story about a robot punching another robot, because it can be fun! But they also want to avoid other problems such as the continual reboots, the angsty emotions, and the biggest problem comics seems to be facing recently: portrayal of women. I am in no way prepared to go into an in-depth discussion of the portrayal of women in comics or why it's such a problem, and numerous other people have done it elsewhere, but suffice to say I find this refreshingly progressive and worthy of praise.

I think one of the best things about this series is that I can come in, without any prior knowledge or backstory or lore, and I can start from Volume 1 and read all the way up to where they are in Volume 10 with no problems whatsoever. Granted the story jumps around a little bit as the authors go from idea to idea, and there are some things that are talked about at greater length in other stories, but I never felt utterly adrift reading this comic series.

A problem that I have had reading superhero comics, that I have attempted on a few occasions, is that I find myself unable to follow a consistent plotline, even within trade paperbacks. A good example for me is when I read a paperback containing stories from Blackest Night, a large Green Lantern event from 2009-2010. When I went in, I didn't know terribly much about Green Lantern or really much else but I thought since this would contain all of the storyline it'd be easier to follow. Unfortunately, I found myself reading quite a few summary pages during the course of the book which briefly covered events which were covered in other comic books but not included in this book. So to understand the complete story I'd have to go elsewhere to find other books that contained small parts of the story or references to plot elements. It just seemed like a very confusing proposition.

Quite frankly, I find the whole thing rather off-putting to be entirely honest. For whatever reason to me it feels like comic books, at least superhero comics, have gotten to a point where you can't sit down and read a single story without having to cross-reference half a dozen other stories first to make sure you're getting all the details properly. With Atomic Robo, there are other storylines which are contained in other works, and yeah I'd have liked to know a little bit more about Majestic 12 before they kind of suddenly show up in Volume 6, but it didn't completely ruin my enjoyment of the series because I hadn't read these other books. It just worked as a story from start to finish.

If the idea of an atomic-powered robot invented by Nikola Tesla who goes around punching problems for science sounds like your sort of deal, then this is definitely a series you'll want to check out. If you're not a fan of robots for some strange reason, then I recommend that you pass.

- Kalpar

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