Atomic Robo and the Fightin' Scientists of Tesladyne by Brian Clevinger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
It must be really tough to be a comic book writer/graphic novelist in this day and age. First, there's the proliferation of comics on the internet, which draws an attention-deficit society away from hard copy books in general, let alone graphic novels. Second, and intimately tied to the first, is the sheer volume of self-published graphic novels (in hard copy form, I mean), which makes it easier for your work to get lost in the crowd. And while there is a lot of dross out there, there is a lot of great material out there, both in the self-published vein and coming from "traditional" publishers. Some recent examples of such stellar work in the latter realm are The Manhattan Projects, Prophet, and the Fatale series.
That's some stiff competition and a not-very-friendly environment in which to find oneself as a graphic novelist.
But you can't blame people for trying. Heck, if I had half the artistic talent of Scott Wegener or the connections with artists enjoyed by Brian Clevinger, I'd take a shot at it myself. I love the graphic novel form, and I'm a decent enough writer. Alas, I am not a great artist. Not even a good artists.
Wegener is a good artist. Behind the front cover, his work is a little sparse and uncluttered for my tastes. I like details and a bit of organic roughness or a sense of aging and decay, if you will, a'la Moebius or Farel Dalrymple, so the artwork in Atomic Robo: Volume One was adequate to the task, but not stunning.
Clevinger is a good writer, too. The narrative stream in this work takes several bends, in the form of flashbacks, each of which adds to the cumulative knowledge about the main character, Robo.
But it's in the character of Robo that I find my greatest disappointment. The premise is very cool, a robotic man, built by Nikol Tesla in 1923, is brought up by scientists who train him to defend the world from psychotic ne'er-do-wells like the pseudo-Nazi Lord Helsingard. We watch Robo in a series of flashbacks as he fights giant ants, dogfights with a Japanese fighter during World War 2, lands on Mars and infiltrates one of the pyramids of Giza, which is moving toward Luxor, causing destruction with a Deathray as it crawls across the desert. Robo, despite being somewhat vulnerable to major explosions (but only somewhat), succeeds in everything he does, and does so with a snarky attitude that . . . well, that's been played a hundred times before in the graphic novel genre. In some ways, he's like a robotic Hellboy, but without the vulnerability that Hellboy shows, from time to time. And Robo's compatriots seem just as cocky. So cocky, in fact, that they lack humanity.
So, while I enjoyed Atomic Robo: Volume One, I feel that it lacks depth. Perhaps Clevinger and Wegener hit another gear with some of the later books. I know that Robo has a fairly loyal following out there. But I can't be counted among them . . . yet.
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