Wednesday, January 18, 2012

GN Review -- Atomic Robo and the Shadow From Beyond Time / Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener

This third volume of the Atomic Robo comics, published by Red 5 Comics, is actually my first experience with the title at all.  For the last several years I've been told by many friends, acquaintances and comics aficionados that I needed--nay, seriously wanted--to give it a try, but I simply didn't know it yet.  I would flex my brow, wonder what the heck they could have possibly meant by that statement, and then went about my business, thinking I'd get around to Atomic Robo when it happened.

Well, it finally happened.  And I finally get what they meant by their phrase.

Atomic Robo and the Shadow From Beyond Time sounds like a very Lovecraftian title for this story arc, and by golly does it deliver.  It takes place mostly in the past where readers see the title character, Robo, at earlier stages in his development, starting in the 1920s.  He is quickly visited by two gentlemen, one of whom is H.P. Lovecraft himself.  Lovecraft soon spawns into some cosmic, tentacled, well... Lovecraftian monstrosity that Robo must fight and defeat not only at this time, but at several other points in the future, including the 1950s, the 1970s, and the present-day (2009 at the time of publication).  Along the way he enlists the help of Charles Fort, Carl Sagan, and, well... himself (you'll have to read it to completely understand), in battling the thing across time.

This story had me almost from the get-go.  It's supremely entertaining to see a robot walking around and being comically human--there's a reason Bender is a fan favorite character on Futurama--but it's even funnier when you read the things he says.  "I'ma commit murders," he mutters as he goes to check on who the persistent and progressively louder knocker is.  It sounds surprisingly modern--I've seen kids talk that way online--but is not only plausible, it's also an extension of the creators' psyche that connects to the readers of the present.

One of the highlights of this particular story is the guest appearances from real-life figures of the twentieth century.  H.P. Lovecraft appears, and is delightfully insane and inane before he transforms into the enemy of the story, but Charles Fort is both his traveling companion and Robo's ally in defeating him.  Luminary of All Subjects, Carl Sagan also appears during the 1970s portion of the story, and is far and away the most entertaining of the bunch.  I think I was won over by what Sagan said to the thing they were fighting: "When you return to your unobservable but empirically determined dimension of origin--tell them Carl Sagan sent you."

I don't think I've really stopped laughing since then.  It's up there with Egon's line about being frightened beyond the capacity for rational thought.

The artwork is also pretty good.  The linework, while fairly flat and cartoony, still leaves plenty of room for expression and action.  Robo's surliness and excitability come through consistently, helped along by a vibrant color palette, while the monsters are alternately menacing and hilarious.  Scott Wegener also captures the guest stars pretty well, including a Lovecraft whose looniness is well rendered in his facial expressions, and a Carl Sagan whose zeal for serving humanity through science comes through in his gritty yet hilarious wit.

Overall, I have to say that Shadow From Beyond Time was highly enjoyable, and that my friends who recommended Atomic Robo in the past were right.  If the rest of his adventures are this zany, I can't wait to read the rest of the material.  Fans of sci-fi slapstick and the intellectual and sarcastic will very much enjoy this series.  Highly recommended.

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