Atomic Robo enters a seventh volume with Atomic Robo and the Flying She-Devils of the Pacific, written as ever by Brian Clevinger and drawn by Scott Wegener. The series, published by Red 5, follows the adventures of the eponymous robot, created during the 1920s to combat oppression via the use of madcap science. Much of the series so far has seen Robo fight Nazis and various mad scientists, and now we’ve reached a point in history where the Japanese become the enemy. Although very much a tribute to pulp-styled comics, Atomic Robo is first and foremost a comedic adventure, a little like an Indiana Jones film featuring an inventive scientist instead of an inventive archeologist. Now a franchise with spin-offs and everything (although you’re best off avoiding the closely titled Atomic Robo Presents Real Science Adventures, which is a bit of a misfire so far), the seventh volume of the main series continues to build science mysteries and high concept into high entertainment.
The supporting cast of previous stories are jettisoned in this first issue of the new volume, as Robo accidentally stumbles into an aerial battle whilst test-flying a prototype plane he’s been working on. After crash-landing as a result, he’s taken in by the side of the battle who weren’t evil Japanese pilots, and is surprised to learn that they have jetpacks. And, even more, that they’re a crew made up entirely of women.
The first section of the story, the air-battle between the three different sides, is a little confused. The creative team clearly have an idea for how carefully they want to craft and storyboard the fight, but it doesn’t come together quite as cohesively as they’d perhaps like. It doesn’t help that this part of the story sees Clevinger’s script holding back the details of the story on purpose, to keep readers in suspense. You can see what he’s trying to do, but again — it doesn’t hold together until you read the whole issue, and may well put new readers off, if they just read the first few pages in preview. Minor nitpicks, but this was a problem for me, a relatively new reader, when I started reading the issue.
Luckily things settle into a more familiar tone once Robo meets the She-Devils themselves. Within only a few pages Clevinger manages to introduce readers to an intricate, clever and entertaining set of supporting characters for Robo to deal with. The She-Devils could have come across as an example of comic-book heightening — create an overly elaborate title, include a word like “devil,” “pirate,” or “cowboy,” and watch as fans of irony race over to pick up your newest issue. But Clevinger doesn’t give in to that easy idea, and instead builds up a small world for readers to read around, filled with small bits of information and entertaining details. The She-Devils are made up of complex, rounded-out people, instead of ciphers who each have one personality trait. In fact, I’ve already written in-depth slash fanfic pairing off each one with Robo in turn. There’s spark and chemistry in the dialogue once Clevinger brings them all together, and Wegener draws them all to look different and unique.
Wegener’s art has long been one of the principal draws of the series, as he not only seems to understand when Clevinger delves into a long speech about science — which are consistently accurate, by the way — but can build upon it and draw accurate, fun machinery for the characters to play around with. The prototype aircraft Robo is playing around with at the start, for example, may not look too fancy, but when Wegener shows it close-up you can start to see why the She-Devils find it so fascinating and mysterious. The creative team have a brilliant talent for making science seem exciting, perhaps in part due to the setting. This was a time period when different nations were all trying to one-up each other in order to win the war, so when a third-party invents jetpacks, or the Japanese create something dangerous, it means a lot of things to a lot of people. And it’s impossible not to be sucked into the world that Atomic Robo has created. It’s entirely accessible.
It helps that this is one of the more “realist” stories, so far, that the team have done. Evil dinosaurs and mad scientists are tremendous fun, but having two teams of humans have to invent their own work to keep ahead of each other adds a stronger sense of tension into the story. The last-page tease for how the rest of this volume will continue is inventive, and tightens the boundaries of this story in a satisfying manner. Sometimes a story encompasses a whole world, and sometimes it can zoom in on a small area and ratchet up the tension: this is a book where the latter happens. Paying lip-service to the era and to the pulp style, it’s a fun comic which gives you a slightly sexist 1920s robot trying to make friends with a group of jetpack-bound space pirates. Which, thankfully, appeals not just to both fans of one-upped irony, but to a more widespread audience. It’s great fun.
Steve Morris is the head and indeed only writer for Comics Vanguard, the internet’s 139th most-favorite comic-book website. You can find him on Twitter at @stevewmorris, which is mostly nonsensical gibberish you may enjoy or despise. His favorite Marvel character is Darkstar, while his favorite DC character is, also, Darkstar. He’s on Team X-Men, you guys.