I have read the best comic I have read this year (so far)
When was the last time something that called itself the “World’s Greatest ___” lived up to its own hyperbole? Atomic Robo and the Ghost of Station X labels itself the World’s Greatest Science Adventure Magazine!, and brother, it earns every syllable. This comic is, as we say in the business, “the business.” It put a delirious grin on my face after a long, upsetting day, which probably says enough, but I’ll yammer on for several more paragraphs anyway. By the way, this comic book periodical was written by Brian Clevinger, drawn by Scott Wegener, colored by Ronda Pattison, and lettered by Jeff Powell.
In my review of the first issue, I talked the series up quite a bit, but while I thought that first issue was better than any other first issue I read in September– and I read something like 55 of them– it still wasn’t among the best of the best, as far as Atomic Robo’s standards are concerned. #2, however, is. Last time I wrote about the series I mentioned the sense of escalation that comes along with the comic, as “each passing issue will add more layers of excitement, adventure, and intrigue, as the story gets bigger as it goes” (Reed 2011). That’s certainly true of this second issue, which opens with the most badass opening I’ve seen in any visual medium for years, introduces us to new aspects of the central mystery, teases us with the inner workings of Robo himself (literally) while simultaneous riffing on RoboCop (how they resisted tossing in a “I f—ing love that guy!”, I don’t know), and manages to be funny, sentimental, and thrilling, usually all at the same time, certainly at least in groups of two. This is a comic that features exchanges such as “We’re gonna rip the wings off as-is.”/”We can worry about the wings later” and “I’ve got Director Bolden on the line.”/”Patch him through to my head”. It sings. Well, it hums. Like the inside of the TARDIS.
But, hey, I talked about the writing a lot last time. Let’s talk about the line art, the colors, the letters! This comic doesn’t look like most of the comics you pick up. Sure, the art occurs sequentially, and in panels, on pieces of paper, printed with ink. It’s not, however, filled with unnecessary splash pages (even the big splashes have more than one panel!), it doesn’t have characters posing with their ass in the reader’s face (except for that one bit with the Robutt), every character looks distinctive, scenes aren’t drenched in one turgid, brown color, and random words are not printed in bold. You’d think that would be a basic level of quality in comic book art, but it’s not, so we must praise it.
We’ve also talked before about Wegener’s crispy, expressive art, but in this issue, he gets to draw Robo being shredded by re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, and he also gets to instill a sense of character and sadness into a roasted sidearm. The scenes at Tesladyne look sleek and shiny, and the scenes at Station X look cluttered and crumbly, but their senses of space are the same. The panels, and the characters, feel open and airy, aided by Pattison’s colors, which don’t overpower the linework, but enrich it with a slightly subdued but still expansive color scheme. The only scene bathed in a single primary color lasts four panels, and it does so because the single primary color is diegetic to the scene as well as emotionally supported by the narrative. The colors, like the comic, are bright and approachable. Fluorescent, but not in that way that makes my skin look all translucent, like I’m some kind of vampire. Powell doesn’t just know where to put the balloons, but all the letters are in the right order, too. Oh, and he makes for a fine addition to the supporting cast.
Atomic Robo is a comic that’s fun and exciting, charming and sweet, electric and invigorating. It’s perfectly paced, lovely to look at, and it may even cure gout. I’m not recommending it for you to buy– you are going to buy it. That is a science fact.
If you are a person who is on the Twitter, you should follow @bclevinger, @Scott_Wegna, @rleep, @jeffcpowell, @red5comics, and some schmuck named @billreads.