Whatever your thoughts are on DC Comics’ so-called New 52– the first full wave of which hits shops this Wednesday– one central aspect of it can’t be denied: the whole massively promoted endeavor amounts to a very public admission on the part of the publisher that, yeah, our books aren’t that easy for new readers to follow. The fact that DC wants to address this perceived problem is all well and good, but it’s worth noting that plenty of other creators and publishers have been doing a fine job making their books accessible for quite some time. Case in point: Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener’s Atomic Robo.
The latest edition of the pair’s collaboration, Atomic Robo and the Ghost of Station X, debuts this week alongside all those shiny new DC titles, and it’s as good an introductory issue as you’re bound to find. Seriously, you need not concern yourself with the notion that this is the sixth volume of the series, since all you really need to know to enjoy it is right there on the front cover. Once you’ve ascertained that the hero of this story is an endearingly expressive robot who regularly partakes in (to quote the tagline) “science adventure,” you should be ready (and exceedingly willing) to go.
This particular science adventure involves Robo mounting an urgent rescue mission to save a group of astronauts stranded in orbit, and longtime readers will immediately recognize the story’s signature tone. As many writers should but few actually do, Clevinger whips up a clever mixture of genuine action-drama and fine-tuned comedy. Several characters and situations are played for laughs, but the book never downplays the seriousness of its stakes nor lets itself devolve into corniness. This is especially felt in the tense moments during which Robo and his cohorts brainstorm operational scenarios, wherein Clevinger manages to make his characters’ ideas sound as convincingly technical as anything you’ll read in the pages of Jonathan Hickman’s FF.
In keeping with Clevinger’s voice, Wegener and colorist Ronda Pattison have this book looking like the polished animated series that Atomic Robo never had (…yet). It’s fair to say that Wegener is a cartoonist, not implying that his work is childish or trivial but, rather, that it is deceptively complex, creating characters whose visual personalities explode right off the page. His action sequences are on point as well, literally launching Robo into the stratosphere with a dynamic flair.
Given its release date, it is tempting to let praise for Atomic Robo devolve into some kind of indie-versus-mainstream diatribe, but doing such a thing would be to miss out on the real lesson at hand. With the right philosophy, any comic can be as fun, accessible, and, heck, all-ages appropriate as Atomic Robo, whether it be published by DC, Marvel or someone else. Readers wishing to find something meeting those criteria have the perfect opportunity this week to hop on board the Robo ship, and creators striving to achieve such goals in their work would fare well to study what Clevinger and Wegener are doing.
Raised on a steady diet of Super Powers action figures and Adam West Batman reruns, Chris Kiser now writes for Comics Bulletin. He once reviewed every tie-in to a major DC Comics summer event and survived to tell the tale. Ask him about it on Twitter as @Chris_Kiser!