Dogs of War

By | Saturday, December 20, 2008 Leave a Comment
Next week, as everyone knows, will present us with something folks have been looking forward to for months: the finale to the current volume of Atomic Robo. (What? You thought I was talking about Christmas or something?)

The first series introduced readers to Atomic Robo and his world with lots of exciting adventures. In "Dogs of War" we go back to an earlier period in Robo's history, as he fought for the U.S. during World War II. This series is more cohesive from a storytelling perspective than the first. Most of the original issues were one-off tales, showing Robo fighting a giant pyramid or getting stuck on Mars or whatever the conflict du jour was. This time around, Robo is recruited by the U.S. army to fight Nazis and the whole of the series follows Robo's exploits during WWII.

It seems that Hitler has been funding several top secret projects throughout the war, trying to develop the newest/best/deadliest war machines. He's been supporting all sorts of ideas from genetically enhanced warriors to walking-tank body armor. Robo, specifically, has taken on the Nazi scientist Skorzeny who manages to stay, like all good arch-nemesises, a half step ahead of Robo throughout the war. Plots are foiled, labs are blown up, but the villain is still able to escape shouting, "I'll get you next time!"

As I mentioned when issue #2 came out, this is a slightly different Atomic Robo than we saw in volume 1. As the second volume occurs (almost entirely) during the 1940s, the titular hero has half a century less experience than when readers first saw him. So what struck me in particular throughout this new series were the backup stories in #4 and #5.

The backup story in #4 takes place during the Korean War, and shows us an Atomic Robo that has grown distasteful of war. While he still is willing to help the U.S., he comes to the conclusion that he is not just their fancy war toy -- he wasn't built for that, and it diminishes the legacy of his creator, Nikola Tesla.

In #5, we see Robo confront Skorzeny once again, this time in 1974. Skorzeny is now an old man and finally tells Robo that it was he himself that killed Tesla. Robo's response and subsequent actions are clearly NOT those of the Atomic Robo we see throughout the rest of this volume. It's a Robo who has grown and evolved, and become his own being.

I was really pleased with this final backup story. Many of the previous backups are largely unrelated to the main feature, so I was struck by how curt the ending to that was in #5, even though we all know how WWII ultimately turned out. But this backup acts more as an epilogue to the not only the issue, but the whole volume, and I think speaks well to writer Brian Clevinger's abilities.

You know, the first volume of Atomic Robo was impressive, and I don't think I saw one bad review. This second volume is more impressive, I think. Not that it stands that much above the previous one in and of itself, but when taken altogether, the eleven issues showcase a really talented team, who have a more than impressive grasp on sequential storytelling. There haven't been as many reviews of volume two, I expect, because, frankly, there's not much more people can say. "Hey, this is STILL really good" doesn't make for engaging blog reading. But it is still really good, and that the creative team can keep up such high levels of quality over an extended period is doubly impressive.

Issue #5 is due out, as I said, next week. If you missed the previous issues (and shame on you, if you did!) the whole volume will be available as a trade paperback in Feburary.
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