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Atomic Robo vol. 8: The Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur

June 28, 2014

That title should give you a pretty good idea as to what we’re in for with this volume.  After several single-issue stories, the dinosaur who is also a doctor and as dumb as he is clever gets a miniseries of his own.  As Robo’s most noteworthy (read:  only significant) recurring antagonist, this would seem to be the perfect time to show that the character is more than a one-note joke and capable of sustaining a longer narrative.  The good news is that we find out that while Dr. Dinosaur is utterly incapable of anything resembling growth as a character, he’s still a fun and worthy antagonist for the title character.  Unfortunately, the bad news is that the other recurring antagonist we see in this volume isn’t nearly as interesting.

After a detour in vol. 7 to the post-WWII Pacific, we’re back in the present to follow up on the events of vol. 6, “The Ghost of Station X.”  In that story, as we’re reminded right off the bat, Robo had to break a few international laws to stop an A.I. from wrecking the planet.  Though that last part wasn’t disclosed to the public, the end result is a good amount of media (and public, assumedly) outrage at what they’re calling “8/11” and the “Hashima Incident.”

Not that any of this matters to our protagonist, as he decides to take a few of the Tesladyne crew -- including the always-worried geologist Bernie -- down to South America.  The goal this time is to hunt cryptids in the ruins of a science city that was once the heart of the Nazi space program.  If you’re thinking that, instead of Nazi astronaut zombie robots, Robo and company find Dr. Dinosaur, an army of rockmen under his control, and a bomb capable of destroying time, then you’d be right.  This is only half the fun as back at Tesladyne, Majestic 12 makes their move to bring the science enclave under their control.

Seeing Robo and company face off against Dr. Dinosaur, his army, and the other underworld creatures under his control shows the series at it’s best.  We get to see lots of insane science spectacles like the Underground City of Atvatabar, and witness the roles the cast plays in its civil war.  Robo faces off against monsters several times bigger than he is and still gets to come off like the smartest guy in the room.  ALSO EXPLOSIONS!  CLEVER WORDPLAY!  AND JOKES!

There are some nice twists to the formula this time around, as it winds up being Bernie’s time to shine more than anyone else’s.  Being a geologist, he not only has a unique understanding of the environment they’re in, but he’s also the only cast member whose songstone works and tells him the hidden history of our planet.  (Like I said, “insane science.”)  He even winds up in a “Dances With Rockpeople” subplot as he comes to understand their ways and even gets a fiancee out of it.  Bernie’s whole experience here is so absurd and played just straight enough that it shoots right past ridiculous and loops around again to become endearing.

As for Dr. Dinosaur, his brand of moronic reasoning proves to be just as entertaining as ever here.  Though I can see how some people may think that his kind of humor is better in small doses, writer Brian Clevinger made the right choice in my opinion by putting him in a scheme far larger and more complex than the ones we’re used to seeing him in.  Not only does it allow our heroes to fight a giant idiot on a much larger scale, we also get to see the Doctor struggle a bit himself as he has to deal with the many intricacies of his own complex un-plan.  In short, while his giant bomb is a credible enough threat, it’s still fun seeing him struggle with Robo trolling him about the part he stole.

Dr. Dinosaur has personality and a style that works, no matter how large a scheme he’s involved in as we see in this volume.  I wish I could say that about the villain of the other half of this volume:  Majestic 12.  The problem with having a mysterious, faceless, black ops sci-fi military sect as an antagonist in any story is that it’s really hard to personalize them or make their plans come off as something more than just the needs of the plot.  While this isn’t their first appearance in this series, there doesn’t seem to be much more to them than just being the bad guys.

To be fair, we only see their armed forces here and not anyone behind the operation.  Maybe once we see the “face” of Majestic 12 it’ll come off as an actual entity and not some convenient plot device to hassle the protagonists.  The grunts and brass we see here appear to be competent enough to provide a challenge to the mighty Jenkins, but they’re still just some thugs with sweet hardware at the end of the day.  I guess the point that I’m trying to make here is that I don’t really care about Majestic 12 so far.  That makes it hard to get involved in their fight against Tesladyne beyond the fact that I care about those scientists and want to see them kick some mysterious, faceless, black ops sci-fi military sect ass so we can get back to having Robo and company fight more interesting villains.

I can only imagine the fight against Majestic 12 working out in the long run if it’s leader turns out to be someone with a personal connection to Robo.  The problem is that without inventing someone with such a connection in the next volume, there’s a very limited pool of suspects to draw from.  As in two.  Top of the list would be Thomas Edison’s ghost, which would actually make a lot of sense and fit rather neatly into the existing narrative.  The other is this volume’s other title character, Dr. Dinosaur.  I think it would be hilarious to see him revealed as the “brains” behind such a clandestine operation, but it would also be at the opposite end of the spectrum considering what Clevinger is trying to go for here.

While comedy has and will continue to be a large part, if not the focus of “Atomic Robo,” “The Ghost of Station X” represented a largely successful effort to tell a more serious story in its universe.  That continues here with the Majestic 12 business, only they’re not as interesting as the titular “Ghost” was.  On one hand, I want to applaud Clevinger for trying to expand the scope and tone of this series.  Except that this volume is half a step back in that regard.  He also tells us in the introduction that vols. 9 & 10 have already been written, so it looks like we’re getting more of Majestic 12 regardless of what we think about it

There is some fun poked at the changing tone of this series on the back cover.  After summarzing its most outrageous elements, we’re told to strap ourselves in because this is the volume where “EVERYTHING CHANGES!”  In the end, that turns out to be very true.  Particularly with when Robo winds up at.  It’s just that with all the changes here I can’t help but feel I’ll be looking back on the good old days of vols. 1-7 and all they represented if things continue on as they do here.  I’m still onboard for the next two volumes, but my enthusiasm is tempered for now.

Hey, at least the art from Scott Wegener was still fantastic as always!  Wherever the series goes from here, it’ll at  least look great as long as he’s still drawing it.

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