Friday, December 16, 2011

Tales From the Long Box: Atomic Robo and the Fightin' Scientists of Tesladyne

Every week Seth goes into his back issue bins, picks out a single issue, story arc, or creative run, pours through it and then writes about it. He calls it Tales from the Long Box. Though old and now either retconned out of existence or made irrelevant by the latest event, these books still share something in common... they're bagged, boarded, and a part of comics history.

Atomic Robo and the Fightin' Scientists of Tesladyne

Despite the fact that supeheroes rule the comic medium these days, there is and always has been an abundance of adventure titles as well. By "adventure" I'm referencing books like Hellboy, Doc Savage, and even something like the Spirit which exists as much outside of it's man-of-mystery trappings as it does within. Recently, DC added Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. to it's publishing roster, and it serves as another perfect example of a pure adventure tale. Outside of comics there has always existed these sorts of stories. Indiana Jones sort of personifies the adventure/pulp genre. Basically what I'm saying is that there is no shortage of yarns that center around rugged dudes venturing into the unknown and defeating bad dudes using only their wits, fists and snappy one-liners.

Atomic Robo exists firmly within this genre. Centering on a Nikola Tesla-created robot and his adventures stretching from the dawn of the 20th century and on into the 21st, Atomic Robo is classic pulp with a unique storytelling model. This first mini series focuses on Robo's attempts to stop a mad scientist, defeat some mobile pyramids of death, and keep his team alive amidst all the chaos. It all sounds really simple, and in truth it is.

What writer, Brian Clevinger does that sets this book apart from other, more straight-forward adventure stories is to flash back to previous adventures that help not only to flesh out Robo as a character but to clue us into the sort of universe these stories take place in. One issue here that flashes back to an old army buddy of Robo's who he served with during WW2 even manages to instill some heart and sadness into an otherwise slightly one-dimensional lead character.

In this first story all we really come to know about our lead character is that he is a former invention of Tesla's and that he now works as part of a U.N. sanctioned crew of "action scientists". In future stories we eventually come to find out that Mr. Robo is the head of a mega corporation but in this book things are a wee bit simpler.

As I said this book has a quip-launching, fight-loving robot as it's main character and the wackiness of the situations and enemies presented him in this opening arc perfectly suit him. I guess a sentient pyramid could be considered the Nazi's to Atomic Robo's Indiana Jones.

Enough can't be said about Clevinger's work here. He serves up hilarious, instantly quotable lines, and clever concepts page for page. Meanwhile, the art by Scott Wegener perfectly compliments the absurdity of the story while still managing to evoke atmosphere. This is one of those great writer/artist combinations like Bendis/Bagley or Hurt/Bunn. This book is also a wonderful example of the fact that there are some truly great comics happening outside of the big two. I'd even say that this book and it's creative team could hold their own against nearly anything happening at the top two.

Where as previous editions of this column focused more on an individual comic or arc this one has been written in broader strokes. It's due to the fact that I'm trying to convey just how successful this series has become in nearly every way. Yes, the first mini is brilliant but it only gets better from there. Future stories only amp up the craziness and fun of this initial one and there can't be enough said about just how well written and drawn it really is.

Also, it's well worth pointing out that whoever is making the decisions on the digital distribution of this book is a genius. Not only are individual issues sold for under two dollars (most at only .99 cents) but the collected versions of each mini go for as low as three dollars and the priciest is still under five. It's a steal, and a great way to get new readers hooked on an indie series that I'm sure needs the support. This is how to do digital comics. Actually, with its near-perfect blend of action and humor, and wonderfully minimalist art this is simply how you do comics. Period.

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