Classic Fantastic is our series of features on the classics of the format — please check out our other picks for the most important titles, in terms of appeal, innovation, and storytelling, that every library should own.
What’s it about?
On the surface, Atomic Robo is exactly what the cover promises, “The World’s Greatest Science Adventure Magazine!” It has all the pulp adventure spirit of Indiana Jones or the Rocketeer, but there’s something much, much, better about Atomic Robo. No offense to Indy.
Created by Nikola Tesla, Atomic Robo is a robot with sophisticated A.I. He’s nearly indestructible and he doesn’t age, so he’s been an agent in Tesladyne Industries since it’s beginning. Oh, you haven’t heard of them? They’re a little top secret and too busy to talk with you since there are scientific catastrophes happening all over. You don’t need to worry though, Robo and the Action Scientists will confront all dangers for you. Of course, they may not know what they’re fighting, and get blown up a lot, but you can be sure you’re relatively safe. If it’s any consolation, Robo will be really sarcastic to the world-ending science problem.
What are these problems? They are myriad and amazing. Sometimes it’s Nazi test-tube monstrosities. Other times it’s time travel conundrums. Or maybe Robo was innocently flying his plane around and was blown out of the sky by a crew of lady pirate pilots who are all sporting jetpacks. You know, a Tuesday.
Started in 2007, Atomic Robo has become a welcome fixture in the comics’ world. There are plenty of reasons to make it a fan favorite, but plot wise, there are some really great strengths Robo has going for it. First, Robo doesn’t age. That alone has amazing possibilities. For instance, the volumes aren’t told in a chronological order. In between any issue you might travel days or decades. Since Robo has been alive for 80 years, he can tell you just how he was messing with significant historical happenings in any era. Brian Clevinger has it all mapped out too, so you can get great hints at what’s to come, or at what has happened to Robo. For history and science buffs, this open path to the past also means some of the best cameos possible. You’d probably be right in guessing that Carl Sagan doesn’t make a lot of appearances in standard comics fare, but he is right at home in the pages of Atomic Robo.
There’s also some fantastic imagination throughout the comic. Before I get to the art, let me mention that there is a lot of inspiration in the story structure. Since Atomic Robo can be anywhen, it allows for a lot of manipulation in the presentation of his story, both in a macro and a micro sense. Probably the best example of the minutia Atomic Robo’s structure involves is volume three, Atomic Robo and the Shadow from Beyond Time. Atomic Robo has to deal with one monster that explodes out of a gentleman’s head. What ends up being the enemy and how it is detailed in the story across those issues is fantastic.
Now on to the fascinating artwork! In many of the forwards and afterwords Scott Wegener will mention something that he found difficult to draw, but worked really hard on to keep Robo’s quality up to snuff. With over seven volumes under his belt, there’s been an ongoing refining to Wegner’s art. All of his time studying really shows in cleaner pencils, greater consistency and a stronger page structure. Atomic Robo has always been an engaging treat for the eyes. It’s nonetheless gratifying to know that the creative team is really working towards improvement for the reader’s benefit, and then to see that realized on the page.
The last thing I’ll mention is how wonderful these creators are to science. There’s certainly an edge of ‘comics science’ in Atomic Robo. You know, the type of science that just mentions radioactivity to explain why superheroes happen. Overall, Atomic Robo shrugs that off whenever it can, in favor of smarter science. There’s hyper dimensional physics and electromagnetic artillery and spatial inversion in relation to giant ants. While that’s gibberish by itself, it’s so nicely ingrained in the comic that it’s not hard to suspend your disbelief. The science delivery is also wrapped in a nice layer of timely historical references and enclosed in a case of smarm. The ensemble let’s your critical impulses relax and let you enjoy a great comic.
The comic industry has problems and Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegner know it. Atomic Robo is the comic’s fan reprieve from dealing with whatever kerfuffle passes for the issue of the day, be it fan-service or creator delays or the renumbering of an entire comics line. From day one of Atomic Robo, Clevinger and Wegner literally promised that they would produce a product of consistency and integrity. Not because Atomic Robo is better than the rest, but because that should be the base line for the comics industry.
Their commitment to provide a quality comic sets a great industry precedent, but it would be for nothing if they didn’t have the talent to back up their promise. It’s a good thing, then, that these gents are comic wonders. I think one of the most important talents of Clevinger and Wegener is their ability to collaborate. Obviously, their partnership has produced a fantastic comic, but over the years they’ve also worked with other creators in the Atomic Robo universe. There’s already an additional on-going series of Atomic Robo: Real Science Adventures that is being written by Clevinger and drawn by a horde of amazing artists. In the main comic, they also reference their comic friends. So if you’re reading and you think you see another comic’s creator – you’re probably right.
Being Atomic Robo, they continue to react to comics industry issues. When there was a blowback in the comics’ community for yet another comic that had a ludicrously scantily clad heroine, Clevinger and Wegner decided that they’d use their comics’ power for good. Teaming up with a bevy of talented independent female creators, they asked each to design themselves as aviators. They then used those character sketches to make up the team that stars in the seventh volume, The Flying She-Devils of the Pacific. Part of the mission was to tell a great tale, the other was to show the comics’ world that women can be amazing characters without being objectified.
As a series Atomic Robo is one of those rare beauties in comics: it is truly all ages. With it’s sophisticated treatment of science, and it’s commitment to use expletives like “Applesauce!” Robo is engaging for any age to read. When it comes to comprehension, you’d probably be better starting no younger than a middle schooler, but it’s certainly not beyond an interested elementary schooler. There’s some violence, lots of explosions, and minimal blood.
While being in the mythic all ages status, Atomic Robo is most popular with adults. It’s silly and smart, and everything you want out of a comics reading experience without having to wade through a bunch of melodrama.
Why should you own this?
Atomic Robo‘s creators promised from its inception that they would deliver on a core set of principles, and they have not disappointed. Clevinger and Wegener consistently deliver an entertaining, intelligent story. The series is purposefully constructed so that any reader can pick up any volume and get a full story. Every library knows their readership best, so you’ll have to decide what collection will see the highest circulation of our atomic buddy. There are seven published collections, and since it’s an on going there’s more coming out all the time. If you’re interested in seeing what a comic looks like when it’s less commercial and more explosive, bonkers fun, there’s no better title than Atomic Robo.
- Atomic Robo and the Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne (ISBN 0-9809302-0-0)
- Atomic Robo and the Dogs of War (ISBN 0-9809302-2-7)
- Atomic Robo and the Shadow from Beyond Time (ISBN 0-9809302-5-1)
- Atomic Robo and Other Strangeness (ISBN 0-9809302-8-6)
- Atomic Robo and the Deadly Art of Science (ISBN 0-9809302-4-3)
- Atomic Robo and the Ghost of Station X (ISBN 0-9868985-0-3)
- Atomic Robo and the Flying She-Devils of the Pacific (ISBN 0-9868985-2-X)