“Automobiles have been the best melee weapon to use against giant monsters since the 50’s. It‘s science fact.”
Atomic Robo is an American science fiction comic book published by Red 5 Comics, written by Brian Clevinger (8-bit theater, sometimes he works for Marvel), art and covers by Scott Wegner (sometimes he also works for Marvel), colors by Ronda Pattison, and lettering by Jeff Powell.
The series takes place in an alternate history where on September 3rd, 1923, Nikola Tesla revealed to the world his Atomic Robot. The Atomic Robot, usually referred to as Robo, is a human-shaped robot with the intelligence and curiosity of his creator but the sarcastic streak of a somewhat jaded twenty-something. As Tesla’s production of Robo was carried out completely in secret, he made no attempt to reveal his methods or patent the technologies, and since most people think Tesla is crazy anyway, many believed that Robo was a hoax. However, since Robo is still around and kicking long after those naysayers have died; it is safe to assume that Tesla was telling the truth. Incidentally, Robo received legal human status in the 40’s from the Supreme Court. Of course, this was the only thing the U.S. military could bribe Robo with in order to get him to work with them.
Focusing on Robo’s adventures in “action science”, as he calls it, throughout his life; the comic is told in a non-chronological order (though a timeline can be found on the Atomic Robo website). Clevinger and crew bounce around Robo’s life telling stories from whenever they choose or can think of. Sometimes there are years or decades between the stories, sometimes hours.
Robo has interacted with many real world figures apart from Tesla including; Thomas Edison (both alive and dead), the ghost of Rasputin, Charles Fort, H.P. Lovecraft, Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, NASA Director Charles Bolden, Steve Jobs, and an a.i. who's groundwork was layed out by Alan Turing. In addition there is a cast of recurring characters, mostly being members of Tesladyne Heavy Industries, the company that Robo founded and runs. There is also Baron Heinrich Von Helsingard, a mad scientist who was in league with the Nazis. Through the use of cybernetics and cloning, he pops up from time to time and tries to kill Robo. Originally a one-off joke, Dr. Dinosaur is an insane Utahraptor of questionable intelligence and origin who is following a harebrained plan to take over the world and reassert reptiles as the dominant form of life. Dr. Dinosaur claims to be time traveler, while Robo claims Dr. Dinosaur is a moron as time travel is impossible. Fans liked him, and Clevinger enjoyed writing Dr. Dinosaur so much that he is now a staple of the comic even though Wegner has repeatedly stated how much he dislikes having to draw dinosaurs*.
It’s hard to define Robo as an android. Although he possesses the physical proportions of a eunuch (I guess, since he is always at least wearing pants and often full suits of clothes), five fingers and all, but with slightly elongated arms, his face consists of a curved panel and his two large, glowing, eye sockets. His only manor for displaying emotion is the repositioning of his eyelids. However, Clevinger’s consistency in Robo’s dialect and patter, Powell’s skill with lettering, and Wegner’s placement of the eyelids does manage to convey a fairly good range of emotion. On the whole he comes off as a laid back charming sort of fellow with a sly wit, but who is quick to action whenever the situation requires such as another breakthrough from the vampire dimension...Yup, vampire dimension.
The issues fall into pulp science fiction genre; full of dashing heroics, suspense, and wacky hijinks and no illusions about taking itself seriously. As of this writing there are six collected editions of the series each containing a story arc or a collection of one-shot stories, as well as the “B” stories they were printed with.
Atomic Robo and The Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne (2009)
Forward by C.B Cebulski.
This volume is the most disjointed. Issues #5 and #6 tie into the end of issue #1, but #2-4 follows a separate story, includes an almost issue long interlude flashback, and doesn’t get fully resolved until later in a “B” side. And while it does a decent job of setting up the characters of Robo and Baron Helsingard, the audience is expected to accept that the other characters have back stories and relationships with Robo while the main story takes up the foreground. Several story elements are introduced and then ignored, but fortunately these elements and characters are fleshed out in later volumes.
Atomic Robo and the Dogs of War (2009)
Forward by Matt Fraction.
This is a WWII story from back when Robo was working with the U.S. Military. Before their falling out (explained in a “B” story in Volume 4) Robo would often perform black ops missions that involved super-science, often with a high mortality projection.
Guns, tanks, spies, and explosions, it’s fun for the whole family. This volume is also a salute to the sort of men we don't get anymore. While Wegner's grandfather is portrayed in the prime of his military days, Clevinger wrote in his forward notes that much of Robo's personality is modeled after his own grandfather.
The 2008 Free Comic Book Day issue is included in this volume.
Atomic Robo and The Shadow From Beyond Time (2010)
Forward by Christopher Golden.
A story told across four different points in Robo's life in which he battles a Lovecraftian monstrosity trying to breach into our reality by way of Lovecraft's own head in 1926, a meteorite zombie break out in 1957, a swarm of bugs in 1971, and an evil computer in 2009...simultaneously.
Clevinger and Wegner are drawn into the comic as the unwitting creators of the evil computer. While they aren't called by name, Wegner points them out in his forward notes.
Other Strangeness (2010)
Forward by Dan Slott.
A collection of one-shot stories and "B" Sides, which Clevinger wanted to write for the hell of it. They include another wacky breakthrough from the vampire dimension, a trip to Japan involving a Power Rangers parody, the 2009 Free Comic Book Day issue called "Why Atomic Robo Hates Dr. Dinosaur” and its expanded story “Why Dr. Dinosaur hates Atomic Robo", and an encounter with the ghost of Thomas Edison.
Deadly Art of Sceince (2011)
Forward by Greg Pak.
This volume makes use to the year one comic trope. In this we get the first encounter with the vampire dimension, the conclusion of Tesla’s fight against Edison’s mad scheme for immortality, alongside Robo finding a grudging mentor in the trade of derring-do and falling in love for the first time.
The 2011 Free Comic Book Day issue is collected here involving another encounter with Dr. Dinosaur and a little girl who is a caricature of Wegner's own daughter.
The Ghost of Station X (2012)
Forward by Greg Rucka.
In this volume, set in the present, Robo uncovers a technological conspiracy after an assassination attempt is made against him. Said attempt involves convincing Robo that he must go into space to prevent some astronauts from dying as their craft falls to Earth. Once he gets to where the Astronauts are supposed to be, he is hit by a DoD satellite and starts falling to Earth himself. That’s all in the first issue. After that, there is a good amount of globe hopping, signal tracking, gun shooting, and 18-wheeler convoying.
Wegner and Clevinger’s comic book doppelgangers, Drs. Martin and Louis (I saw what you did there) return with a heftier role. Their side story involves trying to figure out why and how someone stole a building, which turns out to be Station X, from Bletchley Park.
The arc deals with some darker themes than previous stories; most notably whether artificial beings have any responsibility or meaningful link to the species that created them. However, there isn’t an overabundance of maudlin, and a bit of the familiar humor persists even in the rough times.
If I have one complaint it's that I don't really care for how big Robo's eyes are drawn now. They pretty much take up his whole face.
The 2010 Free Comic Book Day issue is collected here. Rucka’s forward being on this volume explains why the FCBD issues were collected out of order. Rucka, who was a major contributing writer to DC (and a little to Marvel) for years, explains how over time he had become disenfranchised with the industry and comics in general; ultimately leading to him quitting comics in 2009. That is until a friend and fellow writer, Eric Trautmann, forced the 2010 FCBD issue into Rucka’s hands and demanded he read it. Rucka states that it was the sheer joy he felt reading that issue, and then devouring the available trade volumes, that reignited his love of comics.
The Flying She-Devils of the Pacific (2013)
Forward by Gail Simone.
This volume is Atomic Robo meets Crimson Skies. It’s 1951 in the south pacific where Robo is testing out a prototype aerospike plane. He gets attacked by weird looking “flying saucers”, but fortunately the She-Devils are there to rescue him. They are a group of air pirates made up of women who were pilots and crew whom refused to return home after the war had officially ended. Using guts, guns, and moxie, they built jet packs and an air ship out of salvaged equipment in order to become the scourge of mercenaries and other pirates.
Robo and the She-Devils learn that the flying saucers are actually part of Project Chokaiten, a Japanese super-weapon program that wasn’t completed till after the war. Despite the Emperor’s surrender the members of Project Chokaiten have gone rogue. Making use of their advanced Yatagarasu fighters and the supercarrier hida, they are determined to win the war for the glory of Japan. It’s up to Robo and the She-Devils to stop them!
This volume is particularly thrilling. Lots of aerial combat and high-speed action frames show a great improvement in Wegner’s art. Clevinger manages to give each of the She-devil’s a unique voice and character in a limited amount of space while telling a story worthy of a high production war movie. There are no B-sides stories in this volume, instead there is a mini art book showing off Wegner’s design pages and short bios for the She-Devils, each of whom are based on artists that Clevinger and Wegner know; Yuko Oto, Lauren Pettapiece, Lindsey Small-Butera, Elizabeth Robbins, Veronica Fish, Sara Richards, Bridgit Scheide, and Lee Black (Atomic Robo’s editor).
In the forward to this volume, Gail Simone tells a tale about how she beat up a guy in a comic shop for saying Atomic Robo sucks. It’s fiction, but it’s still quite funny.
*Dr. Dinosaur also has a Twitter feed @Dr_Dinosaur full of barely coherent rants.