Atomic Robo Volume 1

Atomic Robo made an impression on the comics scene last year the same way he does in this story; packed with action and pleasant surprises. From new publisher, Red 5 who seem to be picking their projects wisely, this series is the ideal gateway title. If you’ve been away from comics for a while with all the soap opera spandex stories, or the every increasing adult tales wrapped in seemingly child-like packages, then you need to do yourself a favour. You need to buy Atomic Robo Vol. 1. It will renew your love for the medium and give you faith in its future. Books that are simply fun and that can be shared with the whole family are a rarity on today’s stands. Robo is a new creation, yet he collates the best bits of pulp adventurers as well as the fun of early Savage Dragon and the actiony wit of Hellboy (the movie version).

We discover that Atomic Robo was created by actual genius Nikola Tesla in 1923 and has been serving the U.S government since then. He’s basically a one-man army. Like Captain America, but , y’know a robot, and with a sense of humour.

He fights Nazis (though they’re not referred to as such) giant ants in the Reno desert (possibly mutated by the growing field of “imaginary physics”), walking pyramids and more.

The stories are set up nicely as we go from the present where Robo and his team fight the weird monstrosity of the day, to times in years previous and learn of the friends he’s lost along the way. An ageless robot who’s passing 80 can not help but deal with real emotions and Clevenger show this side with a clarity equal to the humourous action. This book collects the first six issues, plus four extra short back-up tales by various artists, the covers of the issues, a gallery of Robo by even more artists and a look at the early concept sketches of the character from Weneger. And if that’s not enough, there’s also a two page look at Atomic Robo’s technically advanced components. All these extras just make a neat 180+ page book even neater.

Robo’s bickering Action Science League offer some humour but Robo’s the funny one of the bunch and has all the quips straight out of a cheesy 80s action film. Even real-life figures like Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking manage to make an impression as Robo ventures to Mars for the first time to aid NASA in their research (and finds the worst enemy man can face-boredom!) Artist Scott Weneger can draw character reactions, dark machinery, underground bases and scary creatures all with equal skill. His lines may seem simple, but don’t be deceived. It takes effort to make it look effortless and it is awfully pretty to look at. Coupled with writer Brian Clevenger’s fast paced script it all feels like a pulpy Bond film that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Clevenger and Weneger seem to come from the same school as myself; the School of Saturday Morning Cartoons. They aced their class in action that makes you cheer and characters that make you smile. Now they’re the teachers. So sit up, and pay attention.

Memoirs of a Fanboy

Super Powers FirestormI’m proud to be a geek. There was a time, though, when those of us with nerdish tendencies had to suffer in silence. But the last few years have placed amazing advancements such as the internet, next generation gaming and mobile phones in to the hands of the everyman, and woman. It’s no longer just the geeks who can push buttons. Today, you’re uncool if you’re not tech savvy. Hollywood has helped too. Major films based on cartoons and comic books have opened the eyes of the mainstream to those imaginative art forms and bought new audiences with them. Comic books can be bought at bookstores, American university courses are built around them, and libraries carry them for children and adults. When I was first enveloped in this wonderful medium, I never would have dreamed that such saturation and acceptance was possible.
My comics reading life was originally one of extreme limitations. Growing up in the early 1980s in an undeveloped town in Western Australia was not the prime hub of comic fandom. Thankfully my mother was, and still is, a very well read woman. Because we grew up relatively poor, her hunger for literature was filled with frequent library trips where not a cent need be spent. With my Dad working all day, myself and my two younger brothers went with her everywhere. Our library trips were met with boredom. There were no comics in libraries in those days. However an oasis soon appeared only a few metres away. “Beth’s Book Exchange.” Mum could pick up 20c treasures in novel form, and for the first time in our lives we were excited to go to “that place with all the books in it.” That was because little old Beth in her wisdom also had a stack of comics in her large shop. We were happy to kneel down and rummage through them like we were looking for a lost lottery winning ticket. Finally, a world we were interested in. Granted, her comics collection was paltry at best. But it was a sliver of a world we couldn’t get enough of. There was no rhyme or reason to what unkempt titles lay there in a heap, under old photography and car magazines. But we loved them all. And Mum was generous enough to give us a distraction. In our frequent return trips we grabbed whatever we could. We ignored all the little war Commando books and anything that looked too kiddie for our tastes. We left the Archie books for kids far less discerning than us.

Superheroes. That’s what we wanted. The 1980s were a veritable treasure trove for pre-pubescent power fantasies. And they usually occurred on Saturday morning TV. Transformers. He-Man. M.A.S.K. COPS. Dinoriders. Thundercats. Rock’N’Roll Wrestling. Centurions. We even put up with the Pac Man cartoon. From 8am till lunchtime my brothers and I sat entranced in front of this glowing adventure box. We even loved the ads, usually for action figures related to the shows, and would argue about which ones we wanted to get. Our favourite show was Super Friends, and its successor, Super Powers. (Check out this awesome site for nostalgic goodness) This was a show with not only one, but a whole heap of DC Comics’ superheroes. Of course, we were familiar with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. But this was something new. Heroes I’d never heard of, each with costumes and powers better than the last. Firestorm. The Atom. Flash. Green Lantern. Aquaman. Hawkman. And baddies like Gorilla Grodd, Sinestro and Cheetah. Whenever we played in the backyard these were the characters we became.
Each Christmas and birthday we were even more ecstatic to receive our beloved toys. Our superheroes in 3D form. They were even more real to us now. And the best part of all? The Super Powers toys came with original mini-comics. Even better than the toys themselves, these palm sized, full colour escapades cemented our fascination. I still recall reading them with unblinking eyes, marvelling at new characters, the cities in which they worked, their secret identities, their real jobs. And when I saw Flash running across water, or up the side of a skyscraper? Or Wonder Woman flying an invisible jet? Or Superman getting advice from a levitating, meditating Doctor Fate? Forget about it. A life long addiction was born. I clung on to them, for at the time, they were the only taste of the wonderful world of comics we had. I remember getting in trouble from my teacher when she caught me reading an illustrated version of “The Count of Monte Cristo” during reading time instead of a “proper book” like The Hardy Boys or some “young adult” book like everyone else. I didn’t want to read a book about teenage detectives and fast cars and ghostly mansions. Puh-lease. Alien invasions, bullets bouncing off chests, alternate dimensions. That’s what I wanted. And still do.
During my youth in the 1980s was also the prime time for the comic book industry. The decade saw the publication of perhaps the two greatest works in comics history – Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. These two tomes deconstructed the superhero genre and showed what comics as an art form were truly capable of. Comics creators were becoming celebrities and the direct market was born, allowing fans to get their fix at stores solely devoted to comics. Now they had a place to get whatever they wanted and meet others with a similar passion. Of course, all this was happening in the United States, which for me was as far away as Metropolis or Paradise Island. I was still scrounging for dodgy “Australian Editions,” which were cheap black and white imprints of the originals, part of a seemingly random publishing schedule. The benefit of these older issues, however was that they were stand alone stories, a rarity today. It wasn’t until 1988 that I first bought a current, original comic from our local newsagent. Uncanny X-Men Annual #12. It was 64 pages long, full colour, and contained 3 stories to boot. The legendary Chris Claremont crafted a fast paced story and the also legendary Art Adams supplied crackling art. Inside were a whole host of X-Men, including the new member Longshot, whose trippy power was extreme good luck, and even had the team venturing to Australia. My first real exploration into the true world of comics. After that, newsagencies were my prime source for new material until my Dad took my brothers and I to a closing down sale at a comic shop. We found the ad in a local newspaper and begged him to take us the considerable distance and were delighted with all we saw there. Then on a camping trip in 1993 my brother found the Death of Superman trade paperback, and thanks to the 90s boom in the comics industry I saw a TV ad for a new comics shop in the heart of the city. I have been going there ever since. My love affair with comics runs deep. Posters decorate my room, as do toys and import DVDs. I’m always showing my faves off to friends. Whenever I visit a waiting room of any kind, I make sure to leave behind a handful of comics in the pile of old gossip mags. Particularly in Australia, comics have not received the mainstream focus they deserve, and enjoy in places like Europe, Japan and America. It is my dream to show people out there what they’re really all about. And what they’re all about is fun.

Purveyor of Previews

Previews. What a joyful gift it is each month. Almost 500-600 colour pages of pop culture glory. It’s basically a phone book sized catalogue including  comics, action figures, novelties, posters, books, magazines, collectibles, games and DVDs. Stuff you would generally not find anywhere else. It’s all good stuff. Well, most of it. Both comics shops and their customers order from the same catalogue. If you see something you like in there, you tell your favourite comics outlet, they’ll order it for you and then you wait two months (or longer) for it to arrive. That’s not because it’s coming across the seas on a viking ship manned by short-limbed asthmatics. That’s because, well, I don’t know why really, but it gives fans plenty of notice. 90% of the items in every Previews will be available 2 months later, so July’s stuff will reach us in September. I give my Previews away each month after I’m done with it (after I’ve torn out anything that would make a nifty poster) It’s a great blessing to those who are interested in pop culture and you’ll discover all the latest TV and movie toys way before your less informed friends. This advance warning will allow you to mock them relentlessly I’m sure. Each issue has an introduction on how to use it, a few nice articles and interviews and a Top 100 Best Sellers list. (Unsurprisingly April’s top comic was Marvel’s Secret Invasion #1) This month the theme is horror, with a few top picks of the genre. Each of the major comic publishers have their own section – Dark Horse, DC, Image, Top Cow, Marvel and magazine publisher Wizard. Their most popular books have a page each, with the creators listing, cover art, story summary, page count and price and maybe a preview of a page or two. Oh and Marvel get their own little catalogue inserted into Previews. Cause they like to be different. Previews is distributed by Diamond, a company who pretty much has a monopoly on distributing English language comics and related goodies worldwide. If you’re curious about this whole comics things, Previews is a good place to start. It’s cheap ($4.50 US) and stored up near the front counter. If you see anything of interest, ask your friendly comics shop worker-drone to order it. If you don’t find anything, you’ll at least have lots of nice pictures to drool over.

Let’s dive into the current issue, shall we? Skipping past all the comics for now, let’s go to the Magazines section towards the back. I have to order Back Issue #30. This ish is all about the Saturday Morning Heroes, ie, TV and ‘toon superheroes, like the 70s Captain Marvel show and Space Ghost. The highlight for me would have to be the Super Powers feature, which was an awesome cartoon/action figure tie-in from DC Comics. In Books, The Ten-Cent Plague leaps out at me. It’s a 400 page look at the most interesting period in comics history, when they were public enemy No. 1. Those rascally publishers had apparently gone too far and churches and governments shut them down. This’ll be a fascinating read. The Toys/Statues/Models section is usually the first one I go to each month. Where else could you find a life-size Thor hammer, a cute Admiral Ackbar (exclusive to Previews) or a vampire skull?! I could make a great movie with those three props. Star Wars fans have the best pick of novelties though. For example, a talking Darth for your PC/Mac and a cuddly Chewie for your back.
There’s a little intro into the world of comics via the world of Previews. Later on in the week, we’ll take a gander at some cool comics hidden in the depths of July’s Previews.

Station #1 Review

I saw a few interesting things today as I went to my LCS (local comics shop). Firstly, there were a few more people there than usual, which was fantastic. I guess most of them heard about the place from the Supanova expo. I love it when people discover comics for the first time. I firmly believe that there is a comic, or series, or writer, or artist out there for everybody. You just gotta find it. Secondly, I saw Supanova’s guest artists, Howard Chaykin and Joe Jusko there too, chatting it up with the employees and getting there photos taken. Topics discussed included TV Hulk Lou Ferrigno’s lactating nipples and Punisher War Journal’s Jigsaw story arc conclusion coming in September. (Click here for the alternate cover. You’ll go ape for it!) But comics are a minefield. Many of my friends feel initially daunted when going to the LCS for the first time. Where’s the latest Superman issue? What are all these surnames doing on the covers? What in the world is a TPB? It’s a confusing world. Well, fear not, I’m here to help. Starting from the review below, I’ll be attempting to guide you through the muddy waters of the comic book universe. Look for new pages, and a new category, entitled, New To Comics? for articles and reviews for the newbie. By the way, TPB is a Trade Paper Back, a hard cover collection of a previously published series, much like a DVD box set of a TV show you’ve seen before, but with extras and no ads. See, you’re learning already.

Space is a great setting for stories beyond straight sci-fi. Films like the original Alien, Solaris and last year’s Sunshine showed us that it isn’t always extra terrestrials that are the greatest threat. Paranoia and claustrophobia can play their part in creating terror too. With astronauts cut off from their loved ones and the strange sensation of zero gravity, normality is thrown out the window.

Station from relatively new publisher, BOOM! Studios’ continues this tradition. The first issue of a four part monthly series kicks things off with a bang. Well, not a bang really, but an immediate sense of desperation.

The international space station is a gleaming example of scientific advancement and a unified humanity. That is until the latest batch of multi-national astronauts take up residence in its cramped quarters.

It’s not long before Nicolay the cosmonaut is murdered. Not in a brutal manner, but certainly an effective one; rendered with such despair as he floats away. Dedicating two pages of almost blackness to this pivotal plot point works extremely well. Nicolay is captured by the endless space, and there is nothing his colleagues can do but watch his terrified face get further and further away. Nicolay’s death was, of course, no accident, and of all the people on the station, his work was the apparently the most earth changing.

As Dr Karen James, one of the astronauts remarks, “That’s the thing about being on a space station. There’s no place to hide. Everything comes to the surface sooner or later.” And it appears the murderer on board has only just begun their work.

Writer Johanna Stokes comes from TV, and her character work here is excellent. With only three issues left to tell this story, she has her work cut out for her, but she’s off to an intriguing start. At this point, the killer could be anyone. There are genuine chills here with a moody pace. Leno Carvalho’s artwork fits well in this context. Realistic in the style of Ultimates artist Bryan Hitch with a mix of 90s Aquaman penciller Jim Calafiore, with a good eye for the technical details of the station and the expressions of the increasingly desperate people aboard it. A whodunit in a floating sardine can is a brilliant premise. So far this series lives up to it.

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