Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener are the new Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire, and I’ll tell you why.
Why did we enjoy Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Kevin Maguire, and friends’ Justice League/International/America/Europe/Antarctica/With the Dragon Tattoo/Blueberry Pomegranate comics so much? For the laughs, yes, but also for the thrills, the characterization, and the distinctive, expressive art. We loved those comics because they could turn on a dime from comedy to horror, because, even though the cast included a bunch of hucksters and yuksters, they were good at what they did, which was saving the day, and because their personalities rubbed right off the page along with the inky newsprint. Atomic Robo has become the spiritual successor to those comics, and this first issue of his latest mini-series adventure– guaranteed to be one of the best first issues you read this month, in a month that includes at least 53 first issues with far more hype than this one– demonstrates that by giving us an issue with a bunch of folks (and a robot) sitting around talking, and turning it into the tensest page-turner of the year.
The premise is thus: Atomic Robo gets a phone call that a group of astronauts is trapped in orbit with seven hours to live, and Robo and his team of Tesladyne Action Scientists™ have to devise, build, and put into action a means to save them, with the clock ticking all throughout the story. Six impossible things before breakfast, with one put into action before time runs out. Meanwhile, an entire building goes missing in England, and everyone’s favorite, Jenkins, wears a kendo outfit.
Clevinger paces the script with metronome precision, a cross between Twelve Angry Men and The Right Stuff, with intelligent characters throwing theories around and getting to work– total competency porn. He cross-cuts with the adventures of two scrappy scientist characters first introduced a couple mini-series ago, who spend a couple pages investigating the missing building and spitballing about crazy theoretical science. Once again, Clevinger brings a firm sense of verisimilitude to the book, which grounds and contextualizes all the zany sci-fi concepts.
That’s not to leave out artist Scott Wegener, or Ronda Pattison, who colors directly from Wegener’s pencils.Yeah, this comic features cool scenes of jetplanes and rockets, but it’s the folks talking to each other which really sell the story, with something like a dozen characters all needing face-time. Wegener’s command of body language and facial expression sells every line of dialogue and creates the personality of each character, all done with a few sharp angles and a wide range of character design. At this point in their collaboration, Clev and Weg innately tune into each other’s wavelength– their best work comes when they work together, like synchronized swimmers or conjoined twins. Pattison and Powell are their back-up dancers, having mastered their subtle, overlooked art, complementing those on center stage.
I’ll be interested to see how many first issues this month actually pull off what a first issue needs to accomplish. Those shiny number ones need to introduce the characters, kick off the plot, and— here’s the thing– tell a complete three-act story in their own right, even if it’s part one of five. This issue of Atomic Robo, despite being in its sixth volume, does all of the above, introducing characters with hardly any exposition whatsoever and telling us all we need to know about them through their actions and interactions, which both respond to and drive the plot. Clevinger’s plots also use a fine sense of escalation, which means each passing issue will add more layers of excitement, adventure, and intrigue, as the story gets bigger as it goes. Filler doesn’t exist in the realm of Atomic Robo comics; we’re never waiting around in the third issue for things to happen. We’re enjoying the moments presented to us and riding along with the characters as the situations they find themselves in grow bigger, crazier, and more intense– just like the ol’ JLI comics we can’t seem to stop talking about. Here’s hoping Atomic Robo lasts the test of time as well; it sure is a storytelling engine built to run forever.
The Atomic Robo series does for science what Indiana Jones did for archaeology– it turns the academic into the adventurous, and the impossible into the inspiring. Put this comic into the hands of your smart, bored children, and our space program won’t stay dead for long. And maybe we’ll get some robots and jet packs out of the deal, too, like the future we were promised.
Atomic Robo and the Ghost of Station X #1 goes on sale this Wednesday at only the finest comic shops and only the most wretched hives of scum and villainy. Buy it, won’t you?
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