Cover to Cover: Atomic Robo Volumes 1, 2 and 3

Atomic Robo's one particular comic book that the blogosphere's received well. Created by the physicist Nicola Tesla in 1923, Atomic Robo's a rough n' tough robot that handles weird phenomena in the world. It's a lot like Hellboy, but where Hellboy uses "They came from Hell." to explain their foes, Atomic Robo uses, "They came from science."

Atomic Robo vol. 1: Atomic Robo and the Fightin' Scientists of Tesladyne
collecting Atomic Robo #'s 1-6
by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener
($3.99, comiXology)

In these six issues, we see Atomic Robo fight
  • humongous radioactive ants in Las Vegas
  • steam-powered pyramids in Egypt
  • and
  • a huge mech controlled by the brain of a Nazi

It's good comics! There are so many details in here that add up to a fun, exciting super-comic. Atomic Robo's rivalry with Stephen Hawking, Robo's comrades arguing about a research paper as they're about to fight the radioactive ants. The coloring and the art style establishes this dry, witty tone that we see so rarely in comic books, and it makes for some fun, funny sequential art narratives.

You can find the six issues at comixology, collected in a trade for $3.99. The link also has three free pieces for you to read, and the price is fantastic.

Atomic Robo vol. 2: Dogs of War
collecting Atomic Robo: Dogs of War #'s 1-5
by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener
($3.99, comiXology

Of the trades we're reviewing today, Dogs of War would be the weakest. In the first volume, issues 1 and 2 were self-contained and told their own stories, while 3-4 and 5-6 were their own storyarcs. In Dogs of War I'm not sure what's going on: issues 1 and 2 don't directly link to each other, but are connected by the fact that they're Atomic Robo fighting the Nazis in WWII. Issue 3 introduces the main villain and a new side character, which takes us to the concluding issue, 5.

The problem for me is that, they all seem like different episodes from one big plot. For example, like watching episodes 1, 4, 7, 9 and 13 of a TV show. I love it when a comic book issue has its own self-contained story -- that's how you know you're getting your money's worth -- but if you're going to tell a story called the "Dogs of War," I'm gonna expect those issues to form a larger story. I know that any comic book can be someone's first comic book, but it's also important to link the issues together. That's what cliffhangers are for!

Atomic Robo Vol. 3: Shadow from Beyond Time
collecting Atomic Robo: Shadow from Beyond Time #'s 1-5
by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener
($3.99, comiXology)

This volume was brilliant. It's an excellent use of the medium. Issues 1 and 2 see Atomic Robo in 1926 -- visited by a young Henry Ford and a paranoid H.P. Lovecraft. The two of them seek Robo to help control a extradimensional cthulhu monster, but not before Lovecraft himself becomes the monster! It's charming to hear a roarin' twenties Robo say things like "mook" and "horsefeathers," and try to explain himself to his creator, Nicola Tesla, as he crashes a prototype Model T Ford into a giant Cthulhu monster.

Man, where else am I going to write a sentence like that. I love comic books. The following issues show us that, because the monster doesn't exist in any specific time and space, it exists in all time and all space. So we see Robo facing it down again in 1957, in what I believe is a team-up with the ad men from Mad Men. Then, in issue 4, Carl Sagan helps Robo take down the exoversal monster. There's a great line from him, right before he shoots the monster with a lightning gun:
When you return to your unobservable but empirically determined point of origin --

And that's not even the end of it! Sagan has Robo enter the monster, and we get this magnificent splash page of Atomic Robo meeting himselves.

It's a great comic book idea: if time isn't linear, then all events occur at the same time, so it makes perfect sense for a 1926 Robo to meet up with a 1971 Robo. I love that one of the Robos says, explicitly, that it isn't time travel. It's a "nonlinear episode brought about by physics from outside their universe." Trust him: he's done the hyperdimensional math. Hah! The four of them work together to defeat the monster once and for all, and that makes for a brilliant sequence:

It's really delightful to see Robo team up with these great minds of science and literature: Lovecraft, Ford, Sagan. I gotta say, this comic book's taken the big ideas of comic books to a new level. Shadow from Beyond Time is a brilliant comic book. If it turns out that the free issues got you to like Robo, this volume will get you to love it.

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