Atomic Robo, Vol. 3
June 29, 2015
Robots! Lovecraft! Carl Sagan! The only reason this isn't the greatest comic in the world is because Mr. T isn't in it.
Linkara: Hello, and welcome to Atop the Fourth Wall, where bad comics burn, a catchphrase that still technically applies. It's just, more and more, we end up seeing good comics on the show, thanks to Patreon sponsors. (spreads arms wide, excitedly) Like today's awesome-tastic offering, "Atomic Robo"!
(A montage of shots of the comic series "Atomic Robo" is shown)
Linkara (v/o): "Atomic Robo" is the brain child of Brian Clevinger of "8-Bit Theater" and artist Scott Wegener. It's hard to give any kind of introduction on it, because the premise is pure high-concept gold. In the 1920s, Nikola Tesla built a robot by the name of Atomic Robo...
Linkara: Because Tesla didn't really work in marketing...
Linkara (v/o): ...and that robot eventually takes over Tesla's company and becomes a premiere adventurer/scientist/soldier/businessman/ass-kicker over the course of his life, which we see a lot of. The book doesn't have an ongoing, instead just having various miniseries that take place all over his life. There will be hints about some adventures while others are shown in full, but the end result is a grumpy robot who likes to hurl insults at his enemies in order to distract them while he comes up with a clever plan to defeat them.
Linkara: Said clever plan is usually (makes "finger quotes") "punching".
Linkara (v/o): His adventures are basically all over the place. There are various ones in World War II, of course. There's a low-key one where he travels to Mars along with the Viking space probe and insults Stephen Hawking – long story. And then, of course, there's the tale of a freakin' walking pyramid operated by mummies that turns into a giant robot, as it was preprogrammed to do 5,000 years ago!
Linkara: You all laugh when I bring this up, but there's your proof right there: their plan to destroy the present from the past! The diabolical machinations (shakes fist in the air) OF ANCIENT EGYPT!!
(Cut briefly to a shot of the Egyptian Pyramids, while John Willaims' "Imperial March" plays in the background. Then cut back to the topic at hand)
Linkara (v/o): Which brings us to today's five-issue miniseries: Volume 3 of "Atomic Robo", which, of course, promises us more of that good, old-fashioned, insane comic book goodness.
Linkara: And if you're worried about how many good comics I've looked at recently, don't worry, we've got a lot more crap coming up this summer. So let's dig into (dramatically holds up today's comic) "Atomic Robo and the Shadow From Beyond Time"!
(AT4W title sequence plays, and the title card has "Movin' Right Along", performed by Kermit the Frog, playing in the background. Cut to a closeup of the comic's cover, before moving on to a montage of shots in past comics found in trade paperbacks)
Linkara (v/o): So, people have been asking about my thing with not talking about covers when I'm reading from a trade lately, so I think I need to explain this. You know how I always prefer to have something in my hands when I'm reviewing it? Well, that's because I'm reviewing that product, that particular item. And what is sometimes forgotten is that individual issues can sometimes be different from what ends up in a trade paperback: printing errors can occur in the initial run, and the spellings and grammatical errors; word balloons assigned to the wrong people; or there can be outright revisionist history happening, like what I talked about in "The Culling" reviews.
(Editor's note: "Actually in the Titans Retrospective")
Linkara (v/o): Coloring can be changed in a trade collection versus the original print run, as we saw in the "Teen Titans #13" review.
(Cut back to "Atomic Robo" and its trade paperbacks)
Linkara (v/o): And in a trade collection, the covers are not as important as on a single issue. Trade collections are usually put out on bookshelves like, well, a book, while single issues are usually put facing out in order to attract people's attentions. That's why I talk about a single issue's cover versus a trade cover and not the individual covers for each issue. I'm reviewing from the trade.
Linkara: Plus, I'm talking about five friggin' comics today, so (makes a "hurry up" motion with his hand) we kind of gotta get moving, you know.
Linkara (v/o): We open in New York in 1926.
Narrator: It's a beautiful night in the most amazing city in the world.
Linkara: (narrator voice) But enough about Hoboken.
Narrator: There's an electricity in the air on nights like this.
Linkara: (narrator voice) It's caused at least three electrocutions so far.
Linkara (v/o): Robo is studying at Tesla's lab when there's a knock on the door. When they refuse to go away, he opens the door to reveal two men, one calm and the other panicky. Oh, but here's where we get better. These two? It's Charles Fort and H.P. Lovecraft. Fort is a bit of a lesser-known figure out there, so in case you've never heard of him, he was basically a somewhat renowned paranormal investigator. Of course, the thing about paranormal investigation is that it's not really about ghost-busting, it's about myth-busting. While they could certainly believe in strange phenomena, they're usually working to find a rational explanation for such things. Mind you, occasionally, Fort had less than rational explanations, but even he admitted he could be full of it. But yeah, the two have come to see Tesla, but the good death ray builder is off on a speaking tour at the moment and won't be back for three weeks. Lovecraft, apparently not being on the up-and-up, at first thinks Atomic Robo is a Pygmy in ceremonial armor.
Linkara: (laughs uproariously) Oh, Lovecraft, you wacky racist!
Robo: 'Scuse me.
Lovecraft: Ah! Look, it's attempting to communicate. No doubt the savage thing knows language as a house pet knows its reflection in the mirror. The sense is taken in, but the process, the meaning is forever lost.
Linkara: You know those people who think Shakespeare didn't write his own plays? I'm starting to think that's true in the case of Lovecraft.
Linkara (v/o): Lovecraft starts wandering around the lab, talking to himself about monsters that are after him, while Fort explains what's up privately to Robo. They were cohorts of Tesla in fighting off an alien invasion.
Fort: Did he ever talk to you about Tunguska?
Linkara: Sure, that was when that Rodan egg appeared, wasn't it?
Linkara (v/o): Fort says that the Tunguska event was actually the alien invasion, which they repelled with Tesla's Wardenclyffe plant. Howard was only eighteen years old at the time, and the sheer enormity of the stuff kinda broke him, but only sort of, since Fort then explains that Lovecraft's nightmares he's been having are real. How so? Well, Fort explains that when they fired their death ray at the invader, they didn't realize that it existed outside of linear time. Upon hearing some scratching and gurgling noises, Robo and Fort head back out to look for Lovecraft... and Fort admits that they have to kill Lovecraft.
Fort: We have to kill him, before he eats the world.
Linkara: (as Fort) We taste terrible! He'll get indigestion and... well, you don't want to know what happens after that!
Linkara (v/o): And indeed, they see a tentacle-headed monstrosity up in the rafters.
Robo: Oh, God, I think it already got Mr. Lovecraft! And then put on his clothes...?
Linkara: (as Robo) My God! That monster has terrible fashion sense!
Linkara (v/o): Fort explains that they didn't destroy the creature at all; it's been inside of Lovecraft's mind this entire time... until now, where it promptly manages to fly through the reinforced walls of the factory and escape into the night. Issue 1 ends with them realizing they have to go after him, using some special guns that Robo has on hand.
Robo: The best plan.
Linkara: (as Robo) The plan that involves shooting things.
Linkara (v/o): Issue 2 begins with our heroes in hot pursuit of Lovecraft, whose head has now grown to the point where the human part of him is now just kind of dangling off of him like an earring. A flashback reveals that the weapons Robo grabbed are lightning guns.
Robo: They collect electric charges from the air and boost them to obscenely dangerous levels through an even more dangerous process.
Linkara: (as Robo) In fact, you could even say they're... (dons a pair of sunglasses) dangeresque.
(A snippet of Strong Bad humming the theme from Dangeresque is heard briefly)
Robo: Just whatever you do, don't move that dial past five. Or to five. Or near five, really.
(Cut to a clip of Monty Python and the Holy Grail)
Cleric (Michael Palin): Five is right out.
(Cut back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): Fort has figured out the mathematics of Lovecraft's teleportation, meaning that while they can't really kill it, they can predict where it will show up... although that information isn't too terribly useful when Lovecraft grows to giant size and starts smashing up the place.
Linkara: A giant Lovecraftian squid monster in New York and a being that exists outside of linear time? Suddenly, I want to reread "Watchmen".
Linkara (v/o): Tesla calls them up on their car phone – because of course Tesla invented a car phone &dndash; to tell Robo about making sure his machines don't accidentally cause an earthquake.
Linkara: It's Tesla. You just kind of assume anything he invents will cause one of those. I'm surprised the phone isn't also an antimatter reactor.
Linkara (v/o): Things get out of hand when the creature continues to grow, Fort explaining that the creature doesn't inhabit their universe's laws of space and time. Technically speaking, it already encompasses the globe, it just hasn't happened yet.
Linkara: Oh, so that explains "All-Star Batman and Robin"'s timescale. It exists outside of linear time!
Linkara (v/o): With no other choice, Robo decides to metaphorically cross the streams by turning the lightning dial on the gun to five and driving right at Lovecraft. What's more, despite the creature only seeming to see this world in a vague sense, due to it being extradimensional, it does say Robo's name before he collides with it and, well, explodes, ending the issue.
Linkara: (solemnly) A moment of silence now for Atomic Robo. (takes off his hat and puts it over his heart, then brightens up) So, anyway, onto issue 3 of "The Adventures of Charles Fort"!
Linkara (v/o): It's just over thirty years later, 1957, and Robo is now working in a much larger facility for Tesladine, the company that... Well, it's pretty obvious, isn't it? Things have been looking bad for the company ever since Russia launched Sputnik, and Robo tells his team about a crash in Oregon. He suspects that it's a booster rocket from Sputnik. If they can grab it, they'll have all the information they need on how far along Russia's technology actually is, which is kind of useful intelligence to have during the Cold War and their security is based on the hypothetical assumption that the Soviets have a thousand missiles aimed at the U.S. and your only hope of countering them is building your own thousand missiles.
Linkara: The only winning move is not to play. (beat) Unless you can cheat by having a super-intelligent robot that likes to blow things up.
Linkara (v/o): Robo and his team arrive in Oregon, but the town they're in is strangely deserted. When they reach the impact point, even the military vehicles have been completely abandoned. And what they find is... a rock. A rock with eyeballs. A rock with eyeballs that says "RRROHHHH-BOHHHH". Recognizing it as the Lovecraftian creature, Robo has his team haul ass to a nearby house where he gets the others up to speed.
Robo: This thing exists simultaneously across' time. If left unchecked, it'll continue to across everything until nothing but it will have ever existed.
Man: So, even if we stop it now, we have no guarantee that it won't eventually win in the future.
Robo: Where it would then retroactively expand into the past unmaking everything that ever was.
(Cut to the Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang watching Invasion of the Neptune Men)
Tom Servo: That means lunch won't be until yesterday!
(Back to the comic again)
Linkara (v/o): They soon find out what happened to the other townspeople. They're half-transformed into monstrosities themselves, although when Robo sees one whimpering for help, he realizes their human halves still exist. What's worse, one of their teammates suddenly comes up of a spontaneous case of head tentacles.
Linkara: Uh... You got a little something there.
Linkara (v/o): When the monster once again says his name, Robo devises a new strategy.
Robo: New plan. Drive away forever.
Linkara: Well, in that case, I'd better start the sing-along now. (sings) Movin' right along, in search of good times and good news...
Monster: ROHHHHH BOHHHHHHHH DIIIEES!
Linkara: Robot pants to be darkened.
Linkara (v/o): Robo quickly realizes that the creature devised this entire strategy to deal with him specifically. It made itself float so a car couldn't be driven into it like last time. It went to a populated area so they couldn't do another Tunguska event. It possessed multiple people at once instead of just one and gave them just enough humanity so he couldn't fight back. However, what the creature didn't anticipate was Robo's latest plan: climb up to it, rip open its skin and go inside of it.
(Cut to a clip of Patton)
General Patton (George C. Scott): (looking out through a pair of binoculars) You magnificent bastard, I read your BOOK!
(Cut back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): Subsequently, that ends issue 3, and we jump ahead to 1971, where our hero is calling Carl Sagan on the phone. He needs his help to develop instrumentation to study the creature now that they've figured out when and where it will materialize. Then again, he should probably put that idea on hold, since there's a Ro-Man walking through the halls.
(Cut to the Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang watching Robot Monster)
Ro-Man: To be like the hu-man.
(Back to the comic again)
Linkara (v/o): While the good Mr. Sagan is reluctant to believe in Robo's story, he decides the scientific analysis he could conduct here is useful, even if he's totally wrong.
Linkara: You know, this team-up does make me wonder if, in the modern times, Atomic Robo joined forces with Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
Linkara (v/o): The two journey to Peru, the site of some ruins in the Urubamba Valley, where they hope to contain the creature in some equipment Robo has devised. Of course, there's a snag to all of this.
Robo: If I told you we'd be using untried methods based on an untested theory about a hypothetical cardinal direction that can't observed within our universe to catch a monster that doesn't technically exist, you'd have hung the phone! Again.
Linkara: Yeah, but I know that Dr. Linksano would be there in a heartbeat.
Dr. Linksano: (calling out from offscreen) I'm already on my way! This is actually a recording I left several minutes ago!
Linkara (v/o): Fortunately, Sagan is pacified by the promise that whatever they do discover, they'll put his name up first.
Linkara: I don't know, Carl. I think it'd be better if it said that it was discovered by Robo-Sagan.
Robo: All right? Let's do some science.
Linkara (v/o): And thus they science it up in there. They successfully capture the creature inside a cage... that's a size or two small for it, but still, it works. Sagan is more than a little taken aback, but he gets his bearings.
Sagan: Astronomy is a long and relentless lesson that the universe is under no obligation to match up with our expectations.
Linkara: Well, in that case, my expectation is that the moon is made of rocks. But it won't hold up to my expectations, so maybe it is made of cheese.
Linkara (v/o): That night, while Sagan gets some sleep, the creature manages to escape by possessing a massive swarm of insects that were nearby. Robo makes a run for it, but Sagan wakes up and goes into the arsenal they brought along to fight the creature if they had to.
Sagan: We are made of starstuff. Our consciousness, our intelligence is the machinery of the cosmos discovering itself. Our science will be its candle in the dark.
Linkara: (as Sagan, looking up in thought) I should write that one down. It'd be killer on a t-shirt!
Linkara (v/o): We also learn that the creature is yet again adapting to fight Robo since it turns out he's got a thing against bugs. I can sympathize.
(Cut briefly to a clip of the game Star Trek: Elite Force, which has been sped-up, while "Yakety Sax", the theme for The Benny Hill Show, plays in the background. The words "WURMZ! WURMZ EVERYWHERE!!!!" flash on the screen. Then cut back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): Sagan explains that the bugs are only powerful because they have an advantage of numbers. Thus, they need to reduce the swarm into a single, punchable entity. And of course, being an astrophysicist, he knows exactly how to reconfigure the lightning guns to do that.
Sagan: When you return to your unobservable but empirically determined dimension of origin-- tell Carl Sagan sent you.
(To the tune of "Won't Get Fooled Again", the word "SAGAN" appears)
Linkara (v/o): (singing to the tune of the song) SAGAN!!! (normal) The bugs become a single creature again and Robo rips open its mouth... revealing another Robo's arm reaching out. Issue 4 ends with Robo going inside its mouth to meet... himselves. Our final issue brings us to the then-modern day of 2009, where two of Robo's scientists in Tesladine have constructed a giant computer to basically resolve quantum gravity with special relativity and decode all the possible solutions down into a single statement. Robo's objection is that the thing looks friggin' evil because it's a giant supercomputer that blasts out steam and has pipes and crap everywhere.
Linkara: He's got a point. Why couldn't they have made it a shiny Apple computer? Nothing evil there.
Linkara (v/o): He's kinda proven right, though, since when they turn the computer on and the equations start being calculated, it transforms itself into the creature. Robo explains that it wasn't supposed to appear for another six years, but obviously, screwing with the universal equations, well, broke the universe and stepped up the timetable. Whoops. He goes inside the creature once more, leading to him meeting up with the other hims from other times, each one that defeated the creature over the last few issues.
Linkara: Somewhere, Steven Moffat is twitching, and he doesn't know why.
Linkara (v/o): The 2009 Robo says that this is only happening because they're interacting with physics outside their universe.
1926 Robo: How's he know that?
1971 Robo: Because he remembers this happening. We all do. Except you, because you're the first to go through it.
Linkara (v/o): Surprisingly, this does not lead to them saying, "I am he, as you are he, and you are me," but instead, them coming with a plan, because they all remember coming up with the plan without any actual causing starting point, and I am my own grandmother or something.
1926 Robo: What if we do something we didn't do before?
1971 Robo: It's not like that. This is only happening once, we're just witnessing it from different points in our life.
Linkara: And of course, nobody bothers telling the details of what happened to their past selves to see if causal time can be broken. I don't know, maybe it's to prevent the universe from collapsing from a paradox or something. It just seems like something they should try.
Linkara (v/o): What they do tell their youngest self is all the stuff he needs to start learning to be of use to them later on, mostly theoretical stuff and electrodynamics. They plan to use this knowledge on some power packs and some guns to blow up the creature across multiple simultaneous points across the timeline. The 2009 Robo points out that this has got to be done since he's the latest one there is, meaning either they succeed after this or monster has already won and he'll go back to nonexistence when they leave the void. The explosion works and all of them are sent back to their respective points in time, in particular, the youngest Robo landing right next to Fort and explaining what just happened.
Robo: I met three versions of myself who turned the lightning guns into a bomb using science they told me to invent.
Linkara: (as Robo) And yet, not a one of them told me any lottery numbers. The future is dumb!
Linkara (v/o): Of course, they also wonder what the hell happened to Lovecraft – and they don't give an answer. And so, our comic ends with the 2009 Robo firing the two scientists who built the machine – and not answering whether or not this was the final encounter with the creature.
Linkara: (holds up comic) This comic is awesome, and my complaints are very few.
Linkara (v/o): The lack of resolution to the Lovecraft question is frustrating since he didn't die until 1937, so obviously, he's supposed to survive. Mind you, that could happen in a later volume of "Atomic Robo", but I've only read the first three. But that's one of the few problems I have with "Atomic Robo" in general: the lack of resolution to some stories. Sometimes we get proper resolution, and other times we don't – or the resolution comes much later in a more unexpected way. But really, the stories are still satisfying without them, especially since we know he lived so long and did so much, so there's always another story out there. I do feel the final page of this one is a bit on the lame side due to the lack of knowing whether the creature was killed or not. Plus, just him firing the two guys isn't exactly the stuff of great endings.
Linkara: Still, "Atomic Robo" remains one of those books that truly embraces everything that's awesome and insane about comic books. Speaking of insane, next month, we're gonna spend four episodes on one of the weirdest and most brilliantly crazy ideas out there: (leans in close) what if Stan Lee created the DC Universe?
(End credits roll)
Another thing they didn't resolve? How did the creature single out Robo in particular and why did it have SUCH a hate-on for him?
Atomic Robo is one of the rare cases where they actually made new original art for the trade collection, where they usually just use the cover from a single issue.
(Stinger: A panel of the 1971 Robo is shown)
Linkara (v/o): So here's what I never got about Atomic Robo: what are those two little fins on his head? They kind of look like cat ears. Is Atomic Robo a cat?