As much as we love covering superhero comic books at Newsarama, we also know there are a lot of gems in the market that don't fit the description "superhero comic."
In search of those gems, I decided to post a question for Newsarama readers on my Twitter account –- and Newsarama helped me out with a post on their Twitter account. I asked the Twitterverse: "What's your favorite non-superhero comic right now?" And I promised I'd do an article on the winner.
The response was overwhelming, but what was even more surprising was the comic that received the most praise: Atomic Robo, the comic book series by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener from Red 5 Comics.
The loyal fan base had good timing. Atomic Robo's third volume comes out on December 9th along with a reprint of the first volume, which had previously sold out. So all three volumes will be available in early December.
And the creators told Newsarama that the first issue of the fourth volume will come out in February. Within that volume will be the rest of the story that readers saw in the Free Comic Book Day issue of Atomic Robo, which can be read online here.
So what makes Atomic Robo so different that a slew of comic book readers are singing its praise? According to Clevinger, part of its charm is that he and Wegener set out to make something unlike anything else on the market.
"A lot of what makes Atomic Robo what it is that we were reacting against what we don't like in mainstream comics – that oppressive continuity that doesn't make any sense or the characters taking everything so seriously," Clevinger said. "We were among those guys who just got fed up with comics in the '90s. Although we love comic books, we felt like the output during that time period was so horrible that both of us just walked away from it for about 10 years. And when we decided to write Atomic Robo, we wanted to get comics back to having fun."
The comic centers on its namesake, Atomic Robo, a robot with "automatic intelligence" who's not only equipped with advanced powers, but has developed a sense of humor. "He's kind of grumpy but also kind of plucky," Clevinger said. "He's got sort of a Spider-Man vibe. He's always got something to say."
Invented in 1923 by Nikola Tesla, "Robo" has been leading a crazy life of sci-fi adventures ever since. From fights with mobile pyramids, to encounters with Stephen Hawking and H.P. Lovecraft and Carl Sagan, to battles with Nazis and giant monsters, Robo really gets around.
"One of the great things about having Atomic Robo as our main character is that he lives on and on, so he can have adventures in one time period or the next," Clevinger said. "In our first volume, he's hopping around to all different eras. The second volume is all World War II stuff. And the third volume, which we just wrapped up, is all one connected story, but there are five independent chapters in that story that aren't linked at first, but all come together in the end and make sense. So we're not tied to a linear story the way traditional comics are.
"We have this overall history mapped out," he said. "And when it's time to decide what the next volume will be, we can look at his entire history and decide what era interests us and will tell the next part of the story."
Robo's primary nemesis is Baron Heinrich Von Helsingard. "Robo accidentally creates him and makes him be this unstoppable villain from the shadows of history that he has to keep fighting," the writer said. "But there are also all types of other villains in these stories. There are Nazis and all types of other mad scientists. There are monsters and aliens. It's a smorgasbord of 'nemesi.'"
In modern days, Robo runs Tesladyne Industries, which does research, but also fights "strange science stuff," as Clevinger describes it with a laugh. Helping out Robo in his adventures are the "Action Scientists," a band of his lab assistants. Two of the more stupid Action Scientists, which just happen to be based on Wegener and Clevinger themselves, almost destroy the universe.
The rest of the cast just depends on were in time Atomic Robo's adventures are taking place.
"Since we jump around in time so much, if not in every issue, than in every volume, Scott gets to complain at me," Clevinger laughed, "because he has to design a whole new cast of characters in a whole new era, with different architecture and technology. Robo's life is so long that he doesn't really have a stable set of characters yet. But we've got 80 years of adventure, and you'll learn more about all the characters he meets. Just be patient. There are all kinds of things being built upon other things."
The creators came up with the idea for Atomic Robo back in 2006. Clevinger, who wrote the novel Nuklear Age, put together a webcomic for a class that ended up getting thousands of hits and attention from loyal fans who wanted more. He ended up continuing the webcomic, which became 8-Bit Theater, a parody of video games and fantasy stories. Since the series began, Wegener has done work at Marvel and Image, including Punisher War Journal and Killer of Demons.
"With the standard 12-issues-a-year schedule, you invariably run into problems where you find filler issues. That's something we didn't have any interest in doing," Clevinger said. "So we just concentrate on doing mini-series, or volumes of Atomic Robo. And in between those, we have a two or three months off, sometimes furiously working on research for the next series, sometimes just jumping straight into the next series, or something giving Scott a chance to do other work for Marvel or Image or whatever. And that's worked out very well so far."
While Atomic Robo had gotten some attention from Hollywood, there's currently no film option for the property. "It has not been optioned, but there are people looking at it," he said.
Clevinger said he and Wegener get a lot of inspiration for Atomic Robo from the films of their childhood, like Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones, Buckaroo Bonzai, and The Rocketeer.
"Those were just really fun, sort of pulpy adventure stories," he said. "Atomic Robo obviously even has roots in older comics of the Golden Age, with pulp heroes and so on. And I think that's where we draw a lot of our inspiration."