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Kindt on the Three Laws of “Robotman”

by  in Comic News Comment
Kindt on the Three Laws of “Robotman”

Matt Kindt, writer and artist of Top Shelf’s “Super Spy” and Vertigo Comics’ “Revolver,” is jumping onboard the DC Comics relaunch train in October when his six-issue Robotman story begins in the new “My Greatest Adventure” series. Taking its title from the short-lived DC anthology in the 1950s and ’60s, the new “Adventure” will finish the Tanga and Garbage Man twelve-issue stories begun earlier this year in “Weird Worlds.” With writer/artists Aaron Lopresti and Kevin Maguire returning, some have found it odd that Kindt, primarily known for his independent creator-owned espionage dramas, was stepping in to write a superhero action story. Kindt, however, told CBR he was excited to work on such a different project as he loved the collaborative aspect of mainstream comics.

“The thrill of it is to work with characters I grew up with; it’s like you’re collaborating with every artist and every writer that ever worked on ‘DOOM Patrol’ and in a way you are responding to something they’ve done and putting a new twist on it,” Kindt told CBR News. With a laugh he added, “I usually just do my own thing and I think there’s a tendency to think that people who do that are too cool for superheroes or something. I don’t think that’s the case at all!”

In fact, the Robotman “My Greatest Adventure” story is not the first superhero story Kindt has done for DC Comics, citing his previous Green Lantern story published in this year’s “JSA” 80-page annual as part of the reason he was given the opportunity to play with Robotman. While Kindt admitted he was primarily a Marvel Comics fan as a kid, Robotman always held a strange fascination for him.

“When I needed something new or was bored of reading what I had I would look at the DC stuff and pick something that looked weird to me,” Kindt said. “DC has always seemed a little bit stranger to me, the characters and the stories and everything.”

Naming “Animal Man,” “Legion Of Superheroes,” “JSA,” and of course “DOOM Patrol” as his favorite DC series, Kindt continued that weird tales and comics with overtly pulpy or science fiction bents have always appealed to him. “Everything I’ve worked on has always had some sort of pulpy thing in it — ghosts or spies or some sort of weird science fiction,” Kindt said. “I’m always attracted to that element and so with Robotman it was the same thing, it was a chance to do a little more science fiction which I haven’t done a lot of yet.”

Originating in the “My Greatest Adventure” anthology series in 1963, Robotman AKA Cliff Steele was a central member of “DOOM Patrol,” a team of superhero misfits known for their dysfunctional dynamic and bizarre powers, villains and origins. While Kindt was given the chance to really mess around with the character the writer said he wanted to keep Robotman true to his weird beginnings.

“What they originally wanted me to do is reboot Robotman, but in my mind he’s part of ‘DOOM Patrol,’ or he will be, and it’s still Cliff Steele the original guy. Even his origin is similar; I tweaked it a little to make it a little more interesting but it’s the same guy as far as I’m concerned,” explained Kindt. Though the 6-issue run kicks off a month after DC Comics’ September relaunch, Kindt said he was fortunate enough to not have to worry about continuity with Cliff. “I don’t know how they are dealing with all the continuity and everything, I know they are rebooting everything but it’s always going to be the same Cliff Steele to me!” laughed Kindt.

Despite this, the writer said he made some changes, the biggest of which is Kindt’s addition of the Three Laws of Robotics to Cliff Steele’s world.

“I’m a big fan of Asimov and all the Robot stories, I’m inspired by that a lot, so the big twist for the character I came up with is a little bit different: originally Cliff is this brain trapped in a robot body and he’s miserable and he hates it because he’s really a human being. I retain that but then I also made it so he’s battling with his body,” explained Kindt. “His body is a robot so it has to obey those basic rules of robotics: he can’t hurt another human being, he can’t let harm come to another human being, and then he has to protect himself, not hurt himself, unless it violates the first two rules. To me it’s fun to have a hero where, how does he fight a human bad guy if his body won’t let him hurt another human being or let harm come to him?”

Expanding upon this, Kindt said that this conflict between brain and body gives the story an extra twist — not only does Robotman have to save the day, he has to do so while outwitting his body or figuring out loopholes to the rules of robotics. “I liked the idea that he hates his body and doesn’t want to be a robot. His character is there; if anything I’ve put a twist on the robot body, and made it a little more miserable for him to be him!” laughed Kindt.

Up to this point Kindt’s most action-based comic had been “Revolver,” a story about a man who travels to an apocalyptic parallel world at night. However, Kindt told CBR that his Robotman story will kick the action up a notch and will feel very different than “Super Spy” and his normal indie fare.

“People are not going to read Robotman to read about a sad robot or his thoughts! I don’t necessarily do that, but there’s tons of action in it, there’s battleships shooting rockets and there’s a giant sort of thing he has to fight — I don’t want to spoil the story, but he ends up going to this island and it’s just kind of insane,” said Kindt. With a laugh he added, “There’s a huge snake in it. It’ll be fun!”

In order to prepare for the story, Kindt told CBR News he went back and read old “DOOM Patrol” comics from Grant Morrison’s run through the most recent incarnation by Keith Giffen. “But the stuff I grew up with, like the Bruno Premiani, the classic era of ‘Doom Patrol’ that’s in those archives, that’s the stuff I really like just because I think the art is so beautiful in it, and it’s stuff I knew when I was a kid so there’s a nostalgia to that,” Kindt said. Rather than pulling from a specific era, Kindt concentrated on the basic Robotman characteristics that remained the same story-to-story. “Truthfully I get the character of Robotman and I just try to stay true to that, to his grumpy nature, but other than that there’s no story elements I pulled from anything.”

While the writer said his Robotman has a ’60s weird tales vibe to it, unlike much of his other work the story will not be set in the past. Laughing again, Kindt admitted his penchant for period pieces mainly comes from his dislike of drawing cell phones.

“I don’t want to draw cell phones; I hate writing cell phones because it makes things too easy, so there aren’t many cell phones in the story, but it’s definitely modern day,” said Kindt. Despite the modern setting, the writer admitted he added a period flavor to the piece as Robotman, “flies to Cuba at one point; that was my little cheat of a way of having something happen in the ’50s as that culture superficially stalled in the ’50s and ’60s with the cars and the architecture and everything. So visually it will have a neat look to it, but modern day.”

Artist Scott Kolins is in charge of the art and the new design for Robotman, and Kindt enthusiastically praised his work, laughing yet again as he admitted much of his happiness with Kolins came from the fact that Kindt did not have to draw the comic as he often does in many of his own stories.

“I’d love to draw it too, but then there’s also part of me that likes not having to do all that extra work!” Kindt joked. While Kindt was never given the option to draw Robotman himself, the writer/artist said he fully understood DC’s decision to pair him with Kolins.

“I have a feeling that my style, what I normally do, is probably not what editorial is looking for the mainstream DC books. Which, I get it, my stuff doesn’t look like anything else that’s in there. That’s fine with me,” said Kindt. He also told CBR that the Robotman featured on the “My Greatest Adventures” #1 solicitation artwork was not the design Kolins did, describing Kolins’ Robotman as “more old-timey.”

While Kindt enthused over collaborating with Kolins and eagerly emphasized how much fun he was having on the anthology, he had no plans to move away from his mainstay of creator-owned spy and science fiction comics anytime soon, nor did he have plans to work on a creator-owned superhero series.

“My whole thing when I got into comics was, there’s plenty of superhero comics, I don’t need to put another one out there on my own. All the books I do I purposely try to make them something that hasn’t been before in some way: like the crime book I just finished, I try to do a crime book where no one gets murdered, just focus on the nature of crime,” Kindt said. “It’s a genre I enjoy, but to me, specifically in comic books, there are so many superheroes already I’d like to see other genres — more science fiction more just weird stories.”

After Kindt’s stint on Robotman he’ll go back to working on an unnamed graphic novel and “Super Natural,” Kindt’s take on ghost stories, the publication of which has been pushed until next year. However, Kindt admits he hopes the future holds more work-for-hire and superhero writing gigs in the future. “You know it’s funny because it wasn’t a goal until they asked me to do it and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve always wanted to do that!'” said Kindt. The writer also stated he had a couple of graphic novels in the works including a crime OGN at First Second and a series for Dark Horse that he’ll both write and draw.

“There’s a couple of other things I’ve been talking about with [DC] but nothing I can say or announce or anything yet,” said Kindt.

At the end of the day, Kindt hopes what readers take away from his Robotman story is an entertaining yarn that also has “some kind of meaning to it other than being straight action, nothing happening and no consequences,” said Kindt. Laughing one last time, the writer/artist added, “I want to make each issue satisfying on its own but also make you want to read the next one, and then within the space of the six issues actually get a whole story in that has some value to it!”

“My Greatest Adventure” #1 hits stores October 12.

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