Robotika is like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups of comics. Instead of peanut butter and chocolate, it’s more like, “You’ve got your Samurai Story in my Steampunk Science-Fiction!” “You’ve got your Steampunk Science Fiction in my Samurai Story!”
This title is another example of genre mash-up in comics. It is a way for creators to make something old new again by meshing two time-tested genres, therefore creating something new. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. In Robotika’s case, it works.
The story is set in a future where scientists have made great advancements in both enhancing the human body and developing robotics, and society is quickly approaching a working combination of the two.
Niko is a human who has been raised in a virtual reality environment replicating feudal Japan. He has been trained in the ways of the samurai and has come to believe that he is one, in the service of his Queen.
But there was a flaw in the VR programming, as it has allowed Niko to develop free will. The callous acts of his Queen cause him to end his service and decide to become a ronin, a master-less samurai. He starts on a path of discovery, a soul-searching journey in the very literal sense of the word.
The use of virtual reality allows Sheikman to merge the two very different story styles into a seamless narrative. Normally, samurai and cyberpunk would not seem to mix well, but Sheikman makes the two genres blend naturally.
The writing is complex and challenging. Any fans accustomed to breezing their way through comics and still getting the gist of it might lose the narrative thread (or even think there isn’t one). You have to pay attention to the story, but if you do, you will be rewarded.
The art is mainly by Sheikman himself (Jones and Sengus draw the origins of two supporting characters, Uri Bronski and Cherokee Geisha, which appear in the back of the collection). When your main character remains mute through out the entire series, the art needs to be top notch. It needs to not only allow the character to communicate without words, but also ensure that the reader don’t lose interest in the character or story. Sheikman’s beautiful visuals do just that.
Ron Marz compares Sheikman’s art to Tony Harris and Mike Mignola in his foreword. I’d like to add Kelley Jones to that list, due to the similar nature of Sheikman’s art, his inventive panel structure, and his expressive use of shadow.
This is not to say Robotika is flawless. Some of Sheikman’s willingness to push the borders of the medium, such as his decision to print Cherokee Geisha’s dialogue in a top to bottom format instead of left to right, misfire. Yes, it established the fact that the character speaks a different language than the rest of the cast, but it is hard to read and takes the reader out of the story. Verisimilitude could have been sacrificed for convenience to positive effect in this case.
These genre mash-ups try to entice fans of all the divergent story types to give their offering a try. This is where Robotika succeeds. If you are fans of tales of the samurai or futuristic, technology-based science-fiction, you will be pleased with this title.