Friday, March 26, 2010

Review: Robot 13 #3

It would be easy to dismiss Robot 13 based on its obvious influences — Mike Mignola and Hellboy, maybe a little Atomic Robo, the well-worn trope of Greek mythology intruding on the modern world — but then you'd be missing out on a fun and intriguing book with plenty of originality and its own unique charm.

Robot 13 #3 picks up with the amnesiac automaton waking up in a cabin belonging to a blind man who thinks he's saved a pilot decked out in a flight suit and helmet, a survivor of the unseen war booming in the background. What he doesn't know is that R-13 crash-landed into a mountain after fighting a phoenix, and had been fighting mythological creatures since he was pulled out of the sea in fishermen's nets earlier. And what neither one of them knows is Echidna, the Mother of All Monsters, has caught wind of the return of her ancient enemy and has restarted their ages-long fight.

And believe me, in between the intrigue and stage-setting, there is plenty of fighting. Artist Daniel Bradford uses a gorgeous-to-look-at style that recalls (heavily, at times) Mignola and B.P.R.D. artist Guy Davis to create dynamic fight scenes and strangely lush, wide-open panels that have the effect of being smaller, self-contained splash pages. Backgrounds border on abstract, detail lines are wrinkled while outlines are often pliant and loopy, colors are bold yet muted, and it somehow all works. Faces sometimes come across as cartoony and perspective isn't given as much attention as it should be here and there, but these are minor complaints in what is a solid look that is often cinematic.

The script by Thomas Hall is subtle and restrained, and he gives the characters just enough to say to keep them conversational and individual. "Voices" are never just copy-paste, and the personalities — or at least hints of personality — come through. R-13 is unfailingly polite, Echidna is insidious and quick, and every minor character has their own cadence; best of all, Hall knows when to let the action tell the story instead of filling every panel with unnecessary dialogue, which is a rare quality that shows a certain maturity as a writer.

There is some forced exposition in this third issue that drops more clues than might've been necessary, but that just might be my own high tolerance for the slow burn. Given the nature of the story, I can see where the creators — and readers — might want to get things moving in terms of story; hopefully, awkward transitions will be rare (and honestly, in three issues this is the only one that comes to mind).

At the end of the third issue — and the cap of the "Colossus" storyline — readers are still left with the question: Who is Robot 13? Is he a magical monster-fighter? A triumph of ancient science? A lost soul? A hero? Whatever the answer ends up being, it's a mystery worth unraveling — and Robot 13 is a comic you should be reading.

Robot 13 doesn't seem to have wide distribution, but can be bought directly from Blacklist Studios.

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