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Robotika: For a Few Rubles More #1

Posted: Thursday, January 15, 2009
By: David Wallace

Alex Sheikman & David Moran
Alex Sheikman
Archaia Studios Press
Robotika: For a Few Rubles More is the sequel to writer-artist Alex Sheikman's original Robotika series. I haven't read that series, so I came to this issue cold. As such, I felt a little lost when I began to read the issue: the central characters aren't re-introduced for new readers, and the plot isn't spelt out clearly from the start. However, as the book goes on, we do begin to learn a little more about the characters and their surroundings.

One of Robotika's strengths is that it creates a coherent and quite original "universe" for itself, mixing the familiar with the unusual to make the fantasy world of the book accessible yet fantastical. The book takes place in a world that mixes Wild West sensibilities with decidedly Eastern trappings (samurai swords, a sushi-and-sake bar), underpinned by sci-fi elements that allow for a wide variety of characters--some robotic, some human, and a couple of them somewhere in-between. There are also one or two imaginative concepts that wouldn't feel out of place in a Warren Ellis or Matt Fraction book, such as the "tadpoles" that play an important role in the plot--organic nanobots that have hallucinogenic effects on their host organisms.

I had mixed feelings about the writing of the book, which is scripted by Sheikman's new collaborator David Moran (who didnít work on the original Robotika series). There are some well written pieces of dialogue (the opening passage is readable enough that it bears repetition later) and a fun running gag about how the protagonists should have taken the train (instead of making their journey on foot). However, there are places where the writing doesn't work quite so well--for example, one character speaks in a drawl that is overwritten to the point that it becomes a little irritating--and the characters still aren't particularly well-defined by the end of the issue.

Maybe it's because I havenít read the original Robotika series, but l didn't really come away from this book with a strong sense of who some of the main characters were, what their motivation was and what they were doing. Perhaps a recap page could have helped to overcome this slight sense of confusion. Having said that, a second read of the issue does make things a little clearer, with information gleaned from the later pages rendering earlier sections more comprehensible. Also, some of the elements of this issue seem to be intentionally a little mysterious, so I won't hold those more enigmatic moments against the writers yet.

As far as the visuals are concerned, Alex Sheikman's artwork is of a very high quality, and it's his skill as an artist that is my main reason for recommending the book. Sheikman's style is confident and distinct: it's never unclear what is happening in any given panel, his layouts are smooth and easy to follow, and his character designs remain very consistent throughout the book. His style is the result of multiple influences, but for me it was reminiscent of Travel Foreman's work in the first couple of issues of Immortal Iron Fist (although that may be due to the Eastern flavor of the setting as much as anything else), and also reminded me a little of some of Tony Harris' early work on Starman. Sheikman's characters are expressive and each has a distinctive look thanks to the detail that the artist brings to their different modes of dress and faces. The artist also manages to make creative use of lettering in places, giving one of his characters unusual vertical speech bubbles (that don't last long, sadly) and filling the backgrounds of panels with words during a particularly raucous scene later in the story.

However, it's in the elaboration of the world of Robotika that Sheikman really succeeds. His mixture of futuristic, Wild West and Eastern influences gives the book a feeling of genuine originality in a marketplace that so often produces derivative, familiar material. The closest comparison that I can think to draw is Marvel's Dark Tower books, which also manage to create a vividly realized world through a timeless mixture of familiar and fantastical elements. This is great artwork, especially for such a relatively low-profile indie title, and I hope that Sheikman receives wider recognition as a result of it.

In addition to the main story there's also a short six page backup that feels like a condensed Jonah Hex style tale set in the Robotika universe. It's particularly noteworthy due to the amount of storytelling that is undertaken by Sheikman's art, which conveys much of the narrative to the reader, again showing off his strength as an artist.

Considering my lack of familiarity with the world of Robotika, this issue was a pleasant surprise. Whilst there's still some room for improvement in certain areas, I found it to be an enjoyable and imaginative read with a high standard of artwork. However, for uninitiated readers like me it may be worth seeking out the TPB of the original Robotika series in order to get the most out of this sequel.



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