Robot reviews: Short takes on digital comics

Now that I have an iPad, I have been paying more attention to digital comics releases, particularly to comiXology's weekly e-mail blast. I sampled some of their recent offerings and found them to be a mixed bag—three very good single issues and a graphic novel that was kind of mediocre. The lower price made digital a good deal for all of these, and with comiXology's web app, they are available to anyone with a browser and a few dollars.

The Royal Historian of Oz #1 Andy Hirsch's expressive art really lights up this story of an L. Frank Baum wannabe who makes it to the real Land of Oz—and steals a bunch of their stuff. His hapless son, who has barely been keeping things together, is less than thrilled to learn that his house is now home to an assortment of (mostly living) Oz artifacts, and the ruler of Oz isn't happy with the situation either. Writer Tommy Kovac makes the characters grounded and convincing despite the fantastic circumstances, and Hirsch does a great job of bringing Baum's lesser-known creations to life, filling the panels with quirky details. It's in glorious black and white, with a bit of an underground comics vibe, and at 99 cents (a penny less than the print edition!), it's a solid bargain.

Atomic Robo: The Deadly Art of Science #1 Set in 1930, this is the first issue of a new story arc, and it starts out with a masked vigilante chasing a pair of gangsters while his daughter follows the action via video cameras and wiretaps. When the action shifts to New York, Atomic Robo gets mixed up in it and tags along after the vigilante, looking for the sort of adventures he has only read about in the pulps. The art is clean, the writing is funny, and the characters snap into place right away. Well worth the 99 cents.

Mirror, Mirror This graphic novel is your basic search-for-the-prize thriller with a fairy tale twist: Everyone is running after pieces of the mirror from Snow White, which has great, if somewhat vaguely defined, power. To prevent the mirror from being misused, Snow White smashed it and sent the pieces all over the world, and a secret society called The Huntsmen has been tasked with keeping them separate. Now the slacker son of two murdered archaeologists is racing to keep the last few shards away from the evil prince Mason, a descendant of Snow White's evil stepmother. It's a decent, if somewhat light, thriller; the problem is that the creators focus so tightly on the plot that everything seems pre-ordained—given the vaguest of directions ("Greece"), the main characters, Owen and Sally, arrive somewhere and immediately find what they are looking for, and Owen always makes the right guess to find the next clue. It's all too neat, and the novel seems more like a series of capers than a coherent story, although some of this comes from a fairly complicated plot being compressed into an 85-page graphic novel. None of the ideas are exactly original—both the fairy-tales-are-real thing and the lost-relic thing have been done multiple times—and Lee Moder's art follows the standard tropes—you can immediately tell what each character's role will be, good or evil, by looking at them. So no new ground is broken here, but the book does provide a solid hour or so of fast-paced entertainment, and at $4.99, the digital version is a better deal than the print edition, which retails for $14.99. (Free preview here.)

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