My favourite of the Free Comic Book Day stories was, with a bullet (fired by a talking dinosaur), Atomic Robo by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener. Published by the lovely Red 5 Comics, who kinda need to start putting the names of creators on the front cover of the comics they publish, Atomic Robo has long had a reputation as delivering the best FCBD stories year-in, year-out, for the past five years or so. The book is about the Atomic Robo of the title, a jumper-wearing robot scientist who saves the world through science and also sometimes through punching. But, brilliantly, he mostly does it through science.
And not just any science, either. This is real science theory at work here, so when Robo gives a speech about the concept of time travel, we’re actually reading currently-proposed theories from top scientists. Clevinger manages not only to fill the comic with real science information – he makes it damn entertaining to read about. It doesn’t feel like there’s any exposition anywhere in the issue, because everything flows so seamlessly from one scene to another.
The jokes are good. That’s the most important thing to say about the book. The jokes land with a startling frequency, and when they do they’re solid, laugh-out-loud moments. Things are aided considerably by the work of the artistic team. Wegener knows how to block out a comedic scene for maximum impact. A lot of the humour is visual, and although many artists know how to draw a scene to make it work, Wegener knows how to draw it to make it absolutely sparkle. His use of proportion and perspective are wonderous things, taking funny scenes and elevating them tenfold. Look at the sequence in this issue where Dr Dinosaur (yes, this is the name of a character) releases a military T-Rex into the laboratories next to the Large Hadron Collider (yes, that is where this issue is set) and wonders why the creature isn’t following his instructions. The reveal as to why Dr D can’t control the beast is hilariously written, but it’s Wegener’s previous work establishing the size difference between the two dinosaurs, and short, sharp panel layout, which paces the joke so perfectly.
You may be a little concerned, because it sounds like the internet school of comedy where simply writing something like “pirate lawyer” or “robot ninja dolphin” equals jokes for some reason. That’s absolutely not what Atomic Robo is like. This is a book which throws stupid ideas into a sharp plotline, with distinctive characterisation, and mixes smart and dumb humour together to create contrast and coherence. Anything goes, basically.
While there are some moments where the plot has to cramp in order to fit the page allocation of the issue, Clevinger and Wegener once again deliver a brilliantly fun, COMIC-BOOK COMIC. This is something that belongs in a comic-book. The ideas, execution, sense of humour and tone feel like a celebration of everything that comic-books should be. Imagine that Dan Slott was writing everything. That’s the world Atomic Robo offers. I couldn’t recommend it enough (especially as it was free – we’ll have to try buying the graphic novels sometime, you guys, and see what they’re like too).