From the mind-melting imagery of a man burnt by toxic wasted getting atomized by a runaway semi to the blood-curdling scream of “I work for Dick Jones!,” there’s perhaps no more beloved example of the excess of ’80s action movies than Paul Verhoeven’s legendary sci-fi satire “RoboCop.” The story of Alex Murphy – a cop brought back from the brink of death as a cyborg enforcer by a mega-corporation in the desolate future of Old Detroit – the movie left its mark strongly on the comics and genre world through previous ’90s series from Dark Horse and later Avatar, who took a shot at reviving Frank Miller’s screenplay work on the lackluster sequels in comics form.
This January, Dynamite Entertainment sets its sights on bringing “RoboCop” back to his roots in a new series written by Rob Williams with art by Fabiano Neves. Set shortly after the events of the original film, this “RoboCop” aims to draw in the strongest, strangest elements fans identify with Verhoeven’s hit. “We’re coming in off the back of the first Verhoeven movie and pretty much ignoring everything else that’s ever happened RoboCop-wise,” Williams told CBR. “So, Dick Jones is gone. Omni Consumer Products [OCP] are still there, albeit in a restructured form. Some unspecified amount of time has passed since the end of the first movie, but that’s our status quo pretty much. Old Detroit’s overrun by crime, the country’s following it down the tubes due to a ‘super recession’ and Murphy, Lewis and the rest of the ODPD are fighting a losing battle on the streets. And then things get an awful lot worse.”
As the original movie earned its cult status for its combination of outrageous action sequences and not-so subtle corporate satire, the Dynamite series will grapple with similar over-the-top adventuring, though this time with a more conspiracy-tinged take. “When we join the story, OCP are not in the best state. Like every major corporation in America, they’ve been hit by the ‘super recession.’ And since Dick Jones has gone and the Old Man’s age has caught up with him, there’s a leadership vacuum that needs to be filled. But, they have a plan to get back to the top, obviously. The conspiracy angle is trying to uncover exactly what that plan is (clue: it involves [robot kill-bots, the] ED-209s. And lots of gunfire). I guess it offers a slightly different approach to RoboCop – I think I pitched this as ‘All The President’s Men meets…’ but our story is still enormously heavy on the action and the comedic brutality. All the things that people loved about the Verheoven original are here, with the social satire turned way up and the occasional decapitated limb flying across panel.”
Williams has played American satire by way of action before with his recently optioned superhero series “Cla$$war,” though the writer has an equal amount of experience meeting the demands of licensed movie material from working on the “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” series for Dark Horse. With that in mind, the writer went back to what worked for him in the source material when he first encountered “RoboCop” as a salacious VHS tape in his native Britain. “I remember heading down the local video rental shop and seeing the cover quite vividly, and for a teenage fan of sci-fi and comics, it pushed the right trashy buttons,” he explained. “You kind of guessed, from the name, that it wasn’t going to be ‘2001,’ you know? It”s a long time since that first viewing, but I recall being shocked by the violence. The grouchy surgeon from ‘ER’ driving into toxic waste and then turning to liquid when he”s hit by a car -Â that was the main thing to stick with me. And the damage the ED-209 does to that poor exec at the first board meeting. These things make an impression on a teenager.”
The writer also recognizes the fact that even though “RoboCop” didn’t spring from the comics world, the strong connections between the two prime it for a four-color comeback. “There”s been a lot of talk over the years about how much of an influence ‘Judge Dredd’ was on ‘RoboCop,’ and whether that’s true or not, the same ingredients are there. Shocking violence, a near future version of current real world issues. ‘RoboCop”s’ just as much a critique of the ”80s yuppie culture of greed as ‘Wall Street’ was, regardless of the Oscars, and a sly, tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. I, like most British comic fans, grew up on ‘Judge Dredd,’ and ‘RoboCop”s’ got the same acerbic, visceral blood spurting from its veins. I think it”s interesting that it”s directed by a European. Outsiders tend to do that satirical look at the States very well, for some reason.”
But within that twisted take on corporatism, Williams was quick to note that the core of “RoboCop” remains the story of a man who’s lost most of his life and how he moves forward while existing as more machine than human. “Murphy”s avenged his Â‘killing’, and now has to start defining who he is,” the writer said. “He wants to be human more than anything. When you write a character, you’ve got to do more than put his body in extreme peril – you’ve got to do the same for his soul. You ask yourself as a writer, ‘What does this guy want more than anything, and exactly what price is he willing to pay to get that?’ You test these characters. The family memories are pretty obvious and a little cliched, so I’ve tried to stay away from them for the most part. But this is partly a story about seeing the past as an idyllic, far more peaceful place – both personally and politically – which hopefully means that the gonzo violence and nastiness of the present in Old Detroit will resonate even more. Murphy’s kind of what happens to a good man in the modern world to survive – he gets mutilated and then gets armour plated.
“Meanwhile, Old Detroit”s still going all to hell, and OCP are still very active in the world of the Detroit Police Department. And, what with the current financial and banking crisis, the whole corporate greed angle fits very well. There”s a worldwide recession, the bankers have ODed on greed, and millions are unemployed as a result. Look at Detroit, with General Motors currently going under. The urban decay of Old Detroit of ‘RoboCop’ really isn’t that far out there. And the whole idea of the corporate suits being the bad guys, I”m sure a lot of people can relate to that.”
Beginning with the first issue, Williams and Neves will kick start their story in classic RoboCop fashion. “My first reaction to getting the job was ‘We have to play with the Media Break news reports,'” the writer said. “They’re such great satirical ammo, and we’ve thrown in a few other wrinkles, like ads and even one trailer for a new TV cop drama, which I absolutely love. These are the comedy beats and knowing winks that you can pace in between the pretty shocking violence. Without these elements, RoboCop’s just a big clunky robot guy shooting his gun, which can be fun, but it would wear out its welcome pretty quickly. [However,] you don’t want to make the satire or the politics too overt. RoboCop”s still fighting a giant robot and a gang of coked up villains with giant guns, you know? But the politics are there as subtext if people want to look for them. That always appeals to me, stories with a bit of subtext. You”re getting two for the price of one.”
Pulling those halves together will be Neves, whose past work includes a stint in the wild world of Red Sonja as well as the more gritty horror tone of “Army of Darkness,” which also checks in with a dark Detroit setting. “Fabiano offers this great realistic feel to his artwork, which grounds the story in the real world. That really works with RoboCop, which might be sci-fi but it’s not that sci-fi, you know? This should feel [as though it’s] a year in the future, maybe. Like it’s just around the corner. And Fabiano draws a killer ED-209 and a ‘dynamite’ action sequence. I think my favourite page so far is a silent one with just four panels. The first panel shows this huge pile of empty, smoking bullet casings, and by the fourth panel that pile of bullet casings has grown to crazy levels. I’ve never written so many gunfire sound effects in my life.”
“RoboCop” #1 ships to stores in January with covers by “Agents of Atlas” artist Stephen Segovia as well as up and comer Johnny D.