I should've had no trouble getting into Atomic Robo. It's about a cool looking robot who's extremely social, is 83 years old, was built back in the heyday of mad inventors like Nikola Tesla and thus has a snazzy retro sci-fi look, he wears normal clothes, he kicked all sorts of ass throughout the last century. That's all stuff that I and any other self-respecting nerd should appreciate. However, it took me a few tries to focus on finishing the first volume, Atomic Robo and the Fightin' Scientists of Tesladyne. Maybe I just wasn't in the right frame of mind, but it wasn't grabbing me. It didn't feel like the potential was being reached.
Until today, when I finally sat down to bull through it so I could review it – and everything suddenly clicked for me. It's just a breezy good time.
There's not really a whole lot to delve into here, since the only character that's really focused on at all is Robo and, to a lesser extent, his recurring enemy Helsingard, whose master plan he effortlessly squelched back during World War II, and whose cloned has been coming back in giant cyborg bodies for revenge ever since. His supporting cast of "action scientists" are funny with their bickering, and the dialog is bouncy and light, but the only thing we know about any of them is that Vik is a proponent of the laughable field of imaginary physics and Jenkins is a special forces badass. In the first six issues, that's pretty much all we get. There's an Ada and a Lang, but they might as well be nameless.
What works is the constant bouncing around in flashbacks between different eras of Robo's long life, be it getting a letter from a woman telling him one of his old war buddies has finally died and thinking about it while fighting giant ants, or getting knocked out by an exploding pyramid and recalling the two year excursion to Mars that nearly drove him nuts because Stephen Hawking pranked Carl Sagan and Mission Control into thinking Robo had a standby mode so he didn't need any reading material to pass the time. That came out of nowhere, and I'm sure that will be built upon in future volumes. You get a sense of the weight of immortality, as well as Robo's strong emotional core and social nature that won't ever let him wallow in self-pity or sorrow. He's got stuff to do, and he has a lot of fun doing it. When he's celebrated for stopping the giant bugs, he shrugs off the acclaim. "I just used my violence on them." That's the kind of line that a Warren Ellis or a Simon Spurrier would celebrate with a bold proclamation by a "science bastard" like Dr. Nemesis or some such, but Brian Clevinger just has Robo say it as an aside you'd almost miss.
Scott Wegener's art also helps Atomic Robo pop, with its bright, clean look that has a hint of a Mike Mignola style, but none of the broody shading – in fact, the only real darkness comes when it just makes for a cool image, like Robo's big blue eyes glowing through the black. It's the kind of art I enjoyed so much that I was frustrated with how long it took me to get my brain in the right place to like the book. But eventually, I did, and if you're into slam-bang action with a lot of pizazz, Atomic Robo Volume 1 won't steer you wrong. Plus, there's a lot more Robo where that came from, which I'll be seeking out tomorrow when I make my Wednesday comic run. I've heard Volume 2 kicks it up a notch!