I think 2008 was the definitive year that independent comics, for me, surpassed mainstream comics in both art and story quality, as well as in my purchases. Don’t get me wrong, I still collect some mainstream titles, but most are published by DC – the Bat books (which I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon) and the Green Lantern books. Those are the only ones I’m pretty much religious about. But I’m tired of so many of the events going on, or the storylines that just aren’t interesting, or the writing that just doesn’t capture what I originally loved about the character. Which are the types of things I like about independents – the creators of the characters stay involved with the characters. In many cases, there are definitive mythologies and overarching storylines. Characters die, age, grow, learn, and change. The art is good, the writing is solid. I mean, of course there are just as many crappy independents as mainstream books, probably moreso actually, but the ones that are quality are amazingly so.
Atomic Robo is a perfect example of why I love comic books. It captures everything about comics that I feel are vitally important to the medium and puts them in a bundle that is exciting, interesting, and a blast to read! I just finished reading volume I, Atomic Robo and the Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne, and you can read my full review after the jump!
Atomic Robo and the Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne is probably the best comic I’ve read in a long time. Though, based on the original announcement of the book, I wrote it off as “Hellboy with a robot,” reading it, despite some similarities, the books have an entirely different FEEL. I don’t find Hellboy (the comic) incredibly funny, to start with. It’s got more of an emphasis on the horror aspect, and it should – it’s about a boy from Hell. Atomic Robo, on the other hand, emphasizes action and humor, and actually had me laughing out loud at a good portion of the dialogue. I’m a big fan of well written dialogue and wit, which Atomic Robo has in spades. None of the jokes fall flat, which is hard to pull off.
Though the book is titled The Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne, most issues of the first mini series (collected in the book I read) stand on their own. The first issue seems like a stand-alone tale, but comes back to play in the series final two issues. Issues 2-4 are mostly stand alone tales – Atomic Robo vs. some giant ants; Atomic Robo vs. a moving, shooting pyramid; and Atomic Robo in Space. Out of the issues, I’d have to say that #4, “Atomic Robo of Mars,” was my favorite. It’s not an action packed issue – Atomic Robo gets talked by Carl Sagan into spending a year on Mars for research – so he spends the majority of the issue alone. Still, the writing is so well done that it feels like a fast paced tale, even though there’s no shooting or action to really speak of. Absolutely great stuff.
The art by Brian Clevenger is great. While simplistic in its style, the art is bright and colorful, the characters well defined. In fact, it’s the lack of details that brings out the details, in that though we don’t see every nook and cranny of every character’s skin (or metal), the art feels vibrant and fluid, the small details of the backgrounds impressive and adding to the feel of the tales. The homages are subtle (except for an uber-cool Atomic Robo/Rocketeer pin-up) and appreciated. On the official site, they have started selling a pretty sweet-looking Atomic Robo poster that I’m drooling over.
My only qualm with Atomic Robo and the Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne isn’t really a bad thing. As the perfect example of the way a comic book should be written and drawn, I think Atomic Robo is also a prime example of a comic that works better in floppy format than it does as a graphic novel. It’s rare, but true. The way the tales are broken up, it’s a little hard to tell where one issue ends and another begins (especially since title pages are on a different page in every issue) and it’s a little jarring to think one tale is still continuing, but it’s actually an entirely different one. It’s a small nitpick, and one that could be resolved by putting little chapter mark pages in between issues rather than pushing them all together, as they really aren’t all one storyline.
I guess I have two qualms, now that I think about it. Why is this comic so damn hard to find? I can never find it in a comic shop and, until recently, most online retailers weren’t able to keep any of the issues of volume I in stock. Volume III (The Shadow from Beyond Time) starts this month, and I’m just finishing volume I. Because I won’t have any luck finding volume II (Dogs of War) in stores, I have to order it online, and I doubt it’ll be in in time for the release for Atomic Robo and the Shadow from Beyond Time #1. I know it’s whiny, but a book this good should be at the top of the reading stack! I actually lucked out finding Volume I because a comic shop I don’t normally go to (who I’m about to write about for our upcoming Free Comic Book Day coverage) had it in the restocking pile. Pure luck, I tells ya!
So you don’t have to do the legwork, pick up volumes I and II of Atomic Robo using our links below, and be sure to pick up Atomic Robo and the Shadow from Beyond Time #1 when it comes out April 22nd!