Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"Stephen Hawking Is A Bastard"

Atomic Robo #4 picks up where the last issue left off: with one of Egypt's famous exploding after running on a rampage, sending the titular hero across the desert. As his companions try to revive him, the readers are treated to a flashback to 1974 in which Carl Sagan convinces Robo to "man" an exceptionally boring mission to Mars.

Life, on the whole, is interesting because nothing is ever really static. From one day to the next, we have no idea what's around the corner. Maybe it's grocery shopping and laundry, maybe it's a car accident, maybe it's a terrorist taking the company you work for hostage, maybe it's the President deciding to bomb an entire country back to the stone age for no good reason. But that it's going to be different from whatever happened today is inevitable, and those daily contrasts keep us from getting bored silly.

For the past three issues, Atomic Robo has presented us the likes of giant insects, killer mummies and would-be-world-conquering Nazi scientists. And, while the main story of the rogue pyramid is still evident, much of this story is about how Robo is forced to idle away a couple of years. A study in contrasts. We learn much more about who Atomic Robo is here as he makes iron oxide angels in the ground, much like a child might make snow angels here on Earth. Or requesting broadcasts of old Dirk Daring radio programs for his flight back home. Robo can mix it up with the spirit of Rasputin easily enough, but it's his life as robot trying to get by like the rest of humanity that's interesting.

Another aspect of the overall story that I just get a kick out of is the use of historical figures. It was just kind of a nice nod to claim Nick Tesla built Robo, but this issue sees the likes of Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, Thomas Edison, and Rasputin. I also enjoy the fact that all of these folks are brought in as humans, not as scientists. Tesla's rivalry with Edison is fairly well-known, so it makes sense that Edison would be insanely jealous if Tesla made a working A.I. robot before him. Admittedly, Edison's motivation for trying to destroy Robo in the backup feature here isn't expressly mentioned, but I don't think it's a far leap to make the assumption. By the same token, it's not much farther of a leap to assume Hawking was still jealous years later when he tried to drive Robo insane on Mars. My point is that the historical figures are taken within their historical context, but given personalities and not treated just as generic scientists whose names you have a good chance of recognizing.

Like the other issues, Brian Cleveinger's writing is very sharp, both in plot and dialogue. Scott Wegener's art dynamic and, while somewhat cartoony, very evocative and almost sublime in it's effectiveness. (To be fair, though, some of the dynamicism in the art is due the stellar coloring job of Ronda Pattison.) Facial expressions -- even those of the mouthless Robo -- are perfectly suited to the story and the likenesses of Sagan and Hawking are strangely accurate, given the simplicity of Wehener's line.

Robo calls himself an adventure scientist, and falls somewhat into the same general category of characters alongside Indiana Jones, the Doctor, and Doc Savage. What sets Robo apart, though (aside from his robotic body) is a biting sarcastic sense of humor that makes him think of spending his free time on Mars writing out "Stephen Hawking is a bastard" across the planet's surface in letters so high that they're visible from orbit. This has been a consistently fun and intelligent series, and I'm thrilled that Red 5 is already gearing up for volume 2.

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