Friday, November 16, 2007
Discount Bin Finds -- "Robocop" #2-4
I hate starting so many posts with variants of "when I was a kid." But sometimes there's just no other way to address a topic. Like this post, for example. In the summer of '87, not too long after I had turned 7, my family and I went to a sneal preview double feature which strongly influenced a lot of my interests and is still felt today. That double feature? Predator and Robocop. (And no, my wife does not understand why my parents took their 7- and 9-year old sons to a pair of hard R movies.)
Predator was a known commodity to my brother and I -- it was Schwarzenegger, for one, and the film was hyped a lot of WWF programming because of Jessie Ventura. But Robocop? Never heard of it. Needless to say I enjoyed it. A lot. I even had the one sheet on my door for many years, before it was eventually replaced with Darkman. So when I received these comics (along with most of the rest of the run) from my brother after one Con or another, I was very intrigued to see how Marvel handled ol' Robo. The answer: surprisingly British.
Oh, don't get me wrong, Robocop still patrols the streets of Old Detroit. But the creative team -- penciller Lee Sullivan and scripter Alan Grant -- both have a decidedly British feel to them. And why not: Sullivan is English, Grant is Scottish, and both cut their teeth working on 2000 AD like all good British comic pros. And they bring that Dredd sensibility to these comics featuring the decidedly American take on the Future of Law Enforcement.
The stories herein are surprisingly good for a licensed comic from 1990. In Old Detroit, OCP is still trying to build Delta City, but in the meantime, crime runs rampant. The police force is overworked, outgunned, and overwhelmed, and the success of the Robocop program has inspired some competition. One of OCP's rivals, Nixco, has introduced a new kind of cop: the brutal robots called Nixcops. To make things worse, there are factions inside OCP who still think the ED-series is the future, and have access to ED-209s. Thrown into this mix is the insane genius Dr. Cybex, who once consulted for not only OCP, but Nix and the other Detroit Megacorporations, and created the preliminary designs for many of their most successful products -- including Robocop! Needless to say there's a lot of moral ambiguity, not to mention violence, robots, and robot violence.
The series is both surprisingly and unsurprisingly violent. There's plent of gunplay, and both innocent citizens and perps are gunned down. This is surprising considering the fact that this is a licensed book; but, really, it's unsurprising given both the license in question, and the timeframe of publication. Truly more surprising is the amount of care given by Grant in his writing and Sullivan in his rendering. This is a mature comic, despite the subject matter -- not exactly Frank Miller, but leaps and bounds beyond Marvel's other attempt at the Robo-license, the cartoon series. The tone connects with the Verhoven original as well as the first sequel, with frequent Media Break broadcasts and shady white collar criminals mixing with the more outlandish elements of Robocop 2, like a pizza pie eating slob of a ganger named (I kid you not) Joe Pizza. Grant handles the action, violence, scheming and satire equally well (more 2000 AD influence), and even handles some of the idiosynacracies of the license fairly well (ie, we never learn The Old Man's name, so he has to be referred to "The Old Man" by everyone.)
Sullivan's work is very interesting, looking back at it some 17 years after the fact. At first blush, he doesn't look all that different from a gaggle of other Marvel artists from the era. But his storytelling skills are stronger, and it soon becomes evident that his work suits the subject matter far better than his contemporaries on various superhero or mutant titles. Everything has a layer of grit and grime on it, and there's a lot of shadows in this dark, decaying city. Occassionally, there's some inconsistancy (The Old Man has a moustache in one issue), but his linework is strong and works very well in this science fiction setting, without sinking into lurid gore or splatter. He's helped out somewhat by his inker, Kim DeMulder, who works at a nice, variable weight -- humans are easily differentiated from their robotic castmates based on the heaviness of their inking, which is nice.
Overall, these three issues (read in one sitting) were a lot of fun to this Robocop fan. They're not on the same level as the films or the Dark Horse comics, but they are fun, with a lot of action and some humor mixed in. They may not be the greatest pieces of comics literature ever produced -- in fact let me go out and say that no, they are not -- but considering how cheaply you can probably pick them up for, you can't go wrong with these tales. Plus, one story has cybernetic apes in it. Cybernetic apes!