Atomic Robo is a comic book made for people who love funnybooks. Not for fans of graphic novels or sequential art. Forget subtlety and expression and well-crafted storytelling. Atomic Robo is going to beat up some Nazis and tell jokes while doing so. When he runs out of Nazis there will be a monster-fight that will probably end with explosions.
Before I get into the meat of the book, I want to note how well it has been put together. For a three-dollar comic, not only do you get twenty-two pages of full-color story, with all the ads in the back, but the book is printed heavy duty paper stock. Furthermore, each issue comes with between three to six pages of either pin ups or back up stories. The publisher, Red 5 Comics, is putting together a better-made book than anyone else on the market.
As for the actual content, creators Clevinger and Wegener have created a really fun book that happens to be totally unoriginal. It follows the exploits of Atomic Robo, an absurdly tough robot created by Nikola Tesla, a robot who’s life is dedicated to science and adventure. Oh, and cracking wise. Since the forties, Robo has been investigating the paranormal as part of the Action Scientists of The Tesladyne Institute. If you read comic books, this probably sounds familiar, because the setup is almost identical to Hellboy, with a dash of The Five Fists of Science thrown in for good effect.
One would be doing themselves a disservice to dismiss this title just because it is wholly derivative. Even though the book is Hellboy-Lite, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have its own merits and identity. While the subject matters of the two books are quite superficially similar, the tones are solidly different. Mignola’s Hellboy books tell stories of Gothic horror by way of Kirby. The boys making Atomic Robo, on the other hand, are creating brilliant adventure comedy, served straight up.
Clevinger comes from a school of writing that focuses on all the gleefully fun parts of adventure fiction, while minimizing things like plot, characterization, and exposition. In this book, the plot exists to do little more than further jokes and create situations for adventure. While there is enough characterization to invest one in the goings on, frankly, the narrative of the miniseries completely falls apart after issue four. I certainly don’t care. Robo goes to Mars. Robo fights Nazis. Robo beats up giant ants. Thing blow up.
The action is well paced and filled with expertly timed jokes. Just as importantly, the art is gorgeous. The characters are expressive and funny, while the action is fluid and explodey. Scott Wegener’s art is so good, I expect that soon he’ll be paid tons more money to draw much duller books for a major publisher. In the meantime I’ll relish what he’s doing on this book.
This book is special. While these stories of a robot punching things may seem like unnoteworthy fluff, I believe good fluff is priceless and totally worthy of note. Reading this book never failed to a big grin on my face. By the time I got to the third issue, where Robo spent the whole story beating up a pyramid, my mounting glee burst forth as I shouted to the world, “Holy crap, I love comic books!”
Books like this are why I read comic books. The greatest strength that a comic book has is that the creators can put anything they can imagine on the page, no matter how bizarre or impossible. A good comic book is one that presents a world more exciting and fun and magical than our own. By this definition, Atomic Robo is a very good comic book indeed.