Gorillas Riding Dinosaurs: Atomic Robo don't capitulate

Atomic Robo: Dogs of War #1-5Written by Brian Clevinger; Illustrated by Scott WegenerRed 5 Comics; $2.95/issue

One of the things I loved most about the first Atomic Robo series was that each issue stood on its own and told a different story from the others. Nikola Tesla’s greatest creation could fight giant ants in one issue and mummies in the next. You just never knew what you were going to get.

It was the perfect format for a monthly serial. In a time when I almost always wait for the collections on independent books, Atomic Robo made me excited to tune in each month for the next installment. There was no incentive to hold off and read the story all at once later on. It was all about instant gratification.

When I heard that the second mini-series, Dogs of War, was going to be more of a serialized story, I was worried that it would lose some of that spontaneity that I’d loved so much the first time around. It didn’t though. Dogs of War focuses on Robo’s service fighting Nazis in WWII and the stories are connected, but there’s still a great deal of variety from issue to issue. There’ll be a little more flow in the eventual collection than there was in the last volume, but it’s still very much an instant gratification kind of book.

The first two issues form one story. Robo is part of the US 45th Infantry that took Sicily’s Scoglitti Beach in 1943, but what history doesn’t tell us is about Hitler’s walking tanks that were there to defend the island. Robo spends a couple of issues fighting these primitive, but tough Nazi mechs and gets his metal butt handed to him in the process.

I read an interview with Brian Clevinger once – or maybe it was a blog post – where he talked about the balancing act he had to play between showing plenty of Robo action and not having him single-handedly defeat the Nazis at every turn. While Atomic Robo isn’t a serious exploration of the horrors of war, Clevinger wanted the honor and sacrifice of the real soldiers who fought in WWII to have their due. And he does a fine job of that.

By making these walking tanks – the Laufpanzer – so nasty, Clevinger makes sure that Robo needs plenty of help fighting them. He can’t be a one-man military division; he’s got to act as part of a unit. Fortunately, Clevinger’s talented enough to show that with humor and style. There’s a real sense of poignancy about the soldiers that grounds the series without ever weighing it down.

For the most part, Robo leaves his unit behind in the third and fourth issues. He and another soldier are on a mission to bring in Otto Skorzeny, the commander of the Laufpanzers, and to learn the whereabouts of the remaining tanks. What Robo and his partner don’t realize is that Skorzeny has met up with an evil genius named Dr. Vanadis, a woman who herself is being pursued by a British agent/adventuress known as the Sparrow. When both Robo and the Sparrow try to take their prey on a train rushing through Croatia, the two “allies” stumble over each other and need to learn to work together. Need to, but that’s not saying that they ever succeed.

As anyone who reads my other blog knows, I’m a huge fan of women characters who kick butt. Add the Sparrow to that list. My only disappointment though – and it’s a major one – is that Sparrow and Robo never get along well enough to get their act together. That’s not a weakness in the storytelling. Clevinger obviously means for it to happen that way and he took the more difficult road in making the Sparrow so likable. He could easily have made her a strident bitch so that it would be obvious who we’re supposed to root for. But I liked both of these characters so much that I wanted them both to succeed. I wanted them to be friends. When they didn’t like each other, it was like having to stand back helplessly and watch two of my pals fight.

The final issue in Dogs of War takes place more than a year after the first. Normandy has been successfully invaded, but the Nazis are still pushing on with their Weird War initiative. Trying to put a stop to that, Robo leads a British Commando force in an attempt to shut down a devastating weapon that could destroy all of Britain from an island in the English Channel. When they get there, they find Skorzeny ready for them and Robo is captured. The rest of the issue is about Robo’s being rescued by an awesomely talented, but hilariously incomprehensible Scot commando.

So the issues are connected, yes, but they also make up three different stories with very different feels. And each issue also has a short back up story in which Robo fights various giant creatures (specifically: a crab, a mummy, and a robot), one of Robo’s modern-day co-workers reluctantly takes a vacation and ends up having a sweet, butt-kicking time, and we see a modern-day epilogue to the Robo/Skorzeny conflict. And there are pin-ups. Pin-ups of Robo fighting dinosaurs, hooking up with Prohibition-era robo-dames, and posing (tastefully) in the nude.

It’s a brilliant, worthy sequel to the first mini-series. I’ll be buying it in its collected edition, but I’m not at all sorry I nabbed it as it was coming out. And that’s not common for me. I have no doubt I’ll be buying the next mini-series in both formats as well.

Five out of five incomprehensible Scots.

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