Atomic Robo: The Spectre of Tomorrow #4
Writer: Biran Clevinger
Artist: Scott Wegener
Colors: Anthony Clark
Letters+Design: Jeff Powell
Review by Sean Frankling
I am constantly mystified that I don’t hear more people talking about Atomic Robo.
It’s not just because of Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener’s fourfold pledge: No cheesecake, no angst, no reboots no filler. It’s not just the comic’s surprisingly educational depictions of high concept action science. No, it’s not even just the sheer dumb thrill of hyper kinetic, nazi-punching pulp adventure. No, this title is phenomenal because it manages to deliver all that and consistently funny stories full of personality, humor and heart. It is everything you’d dare dream of for a series about a genius robot built by Nicola Tesla.
In the series’ twelfth arc, Robo and the remaining crew of his research company, Tesladyne, struggle against malicious AI, weaponized transhumanism and an uppity homeowner’s association. Even worse, it forces him to team up with his archnemesis to save himself, his scientists and the rest of humanity.
As always, Scott Wegener’s art walks the line between delightfully cartoony and solidly physical. Each member of the comic’s thoroughly diverse cast gives off their own lovable personality. A feat Wegerner’s art realizes with a harmony of dynamic body language and goofy facial expressions. Naturally, the star of the show is Atomic Robo himself, thanks to Wegener’s expert talent for conveying the robot’s mood despite a lack of any facial features aside from his pair of huge, blue-glowing eyes. That said, the art might be a little looser than earlier iterations of the comic. On one hand, that’s a decision that allows even more exaggeration of pose and expression. However, it also does trade off some of the weight of Robo’s tank-like design. The cell-shading of Anthony Clark’s colors compounds that, too. Still, the gains in expressiveness are enough to make that a fair trade.
Speaking of colors, this issue is a particularly drab and dingey one — but that’s not a bad thing. In fact, the steadily darkening pallette over the course of the issue effectively ramps up a foreboding tone. It’s a perfect way to represent the bleak, spartan technology of the AI villain’s island. And it’s a subtle warning that an already treacherous alliance is about to get even more dangerous.
I confess, I’m not yet sure exactly where the theming of this arc is going to land just yet. It’s clear Clevinger’s story is comparing different approaches to AI and its relationship to humanity. Atomic Robo represents the benevolent technological future envisioned by Tesla himself — a bastion of progress pushing the limits of knowledge to benefit humanity. But he’s a view of that future from a perspective rooted in the past. It’s clear that his enemies represent a more sinister view of progress, threatening to leave humanity behind or destroy it altogether in the name of progress. But the arc has yet to reveal what it’s going to endorse as the right way to bridge the gap between man and machine.
Buy it. Atomic Robo is playing with some big ideas here, but even if you get nothing out of this issue other than funny Robots punching each other, you’re still definitely going to have fun reading it.