Friday, October 14, 2011

Behold! A Perfectly Ordinary Comics Review!

I think it's fair to say I've always been a comics fan, but there have been a couple of long hiatuses in my buying/owning/collecting of them. The first was between quitting getting 2000AD at about 14 or 15, and getting to University in the early 90s to get introducted into the big DC/Vertigo wave of writers who are all grown up and properly famous now. The second roughly co-incided with the birth of our eldest child, a move to a leafy suburb and being a long distance from my neighbourly comic shop, which meant I increasingly missed out on new titles and the ones I was following gradually ebbed away - a break that ended a couple of years ago and now I'm frantically trying to catch up on that lost time with the help of recommendations and graphic novel reprints.

I may be late to a lot of these parties, but at least I'm here. And of all the stuff I've read in the last couple of years, for me, the standout is Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener's Atomic Robo. 

I have since discovered there seems to be two types of comics fan - those that love Atomic Robo, and those that haven't read any yet. And it's easy to see why; from the first page it's a slick, polished and thrillingly entertaining comic done with a refreshing confidence in it's ambitions. It knows what it wants to be, and works to be that, every time. I love that sort of, well, arrogance, I guess, in any form of entertainment, and this is no exception. So, in case you're one of thse that in the latter category, just what the hell is it?

Simply put; Robo was built by famous mad scientist Nikoli Tesli in 1923 - an "automatic intelligence" in an anthropomorphic - and possibly indestructibe - body. Over the rest of the century Robo is caught up in a series of pulp adventures involving pretty much anything you care to mention, including clockwork pyramids, nazi superweapons, ghosts, zombies, and my favorite character in the whole series, wannabe arch-nemesis Dr Dinosaur.

This is high-pulp adventure, updated with a deep sense of craft. Having read my way through the great era of deconstructive comics in the 90s, I've developed a taste for writers who've looked hard at all the self analysis of genre convention, and structure that came out of that period, and then rather than leave it as the sort of sweary, ultraviolent - and ultimately a little insular and self-reverential - medium that mainstream comics seem to be happy to have become, Atomic Robo take those parts and reassembles them into something fun and accessable and yet still the sort of thing that I can't imagine not being a comic.Actually, just read the website manifesto because they put it better than I can and I just pretty agree with all of it.

Even more handily each of Atomic Robo's 5 complete adventures (the 6th has just started) is self-contained and available as a nice collected volume. There is definately a strong continuity between the stories and they reference each other a lot, but it's "nods" not "plot-points" and I'm pretty sure you can read them in any order with no problems. And you should, you definately should.