Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 194: <i>Atomic Robo and the Shadow From Beyond Time</i> #4

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today's page is from Atomic Robo and the Shadow From Beyond Time (volume 3 of the series-of-mini-series) #4, which was published by Red 5 Comics and is cover dated August 2009. Enjoy!

There are those people - let's call them Commies - who don't read Atomic Robo because they don't find it, I don't know, good. Those people deserve our pity more than our scorn, because they are obviously suffering from some affliction that makes them read comics that are far inferior to Atomic Robo, and that just makes their lives sadder. Perhaps this first page can convince them? Who knows - people that far gone actually believe that the comics they read are more excellent than Atomic Robo! Who knows how their minds work?

Brian Clevinger makes the pages of Atomic Robo fun to read because he has good timing. Obviously, he wastes no time with this one, as we're told when the page occurs and even where Dr. Sagan is sitting. In the first word balloon, Clevinger lays out the plot: the fact that Robo "will" encounter an alien life form in four months and the fact that Sagan is the man who can help them study it. With that nugget of information, Clevinger can spend the rest of the page setting up the jokes. He again wastes no time after Sagan hangs up on Robo, as we see the third panel repeat (almost) the first panel after Robo has called back to assure Sagan that he, in fact, not a nut. Luckily, he didn't identify himself, so his third gambit - having lunch with Carl Sagan - works, and it also sets up the final joke, which is that Robo doesn't eat. Clevinger gives us enough of the plot in the first panel - why does Robo know about the future? what is the alien life form? - that he can write three jokes in the dialogue after that and it doesn't feel like padding. He gets us right back to the plot on Page 2, so we don't have time to forget what Robo said in the first panel. It's just good timing.

Scott Wegener, Clevinger's partner in crime, has a hand in the humor of the book as well. Sagan's expression in Panels 1 and 3 barely changes, but the crumpled eye brow in Panel 3 is enough to make Robo's words more humorous. The way Sagan holds the phone and gazes at it wearily in Panel 3 is another wonderful nuance that helps sell the joke. I don't know if Clevinger or Wegener came up with the visual gag in Panels 5-7, but Wegener does a fine job making the gorilla with the helmet as unobtrusive as possible, so when the young lady follows in Panels 6 and 7, we might actually have to go back and see why she's leaving the room (probably not, but that's the effect Wegener is going for). Wegener is always good on this book with facial expressions, as we see with Sagan, but what's most impressive is how he manages to convey Robo's moods even though Robo is, after all, robotic. In Panel 7, just the addition of eyelids is enough for us to get a sense that Robo is a bit put out by Sagan pointing out that he doesn't eat. "Yes," Robo seems to be thinking, "thank you for stating the obvious, Dr. Sagan." Wegener has always done these little touches in every series of Atomic Robo, and it's nice to see it here. On this page, Wegener always puts his dominant character - Robo - in the first place we look in each panel (except, of course, in the ones where Robo doesn't appear), and Robo acts as an anchor in the final three panels while the shenanigans go on behind him. It's a well-designed page, and Ronda Pattison does a nice job contrasting Sagan's academic stuffiness with Robo and the young lady's free-wheeling style. Everyone loves contrasts, right?

So that's the first page of many excellent pages in this issue, which is one of the many excellent issues of this series. Why don't you love Atomic Robo? WHY?!?!?!?

Next: Even when it's not Grant Morrison Week, I can't avoid the God of All Comics - that's just how many of his comics I own! See which one it is tomorrow, and check out more Morrison stuff in the archives!

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