RoboRevival: Writing ROBOCOP's Return

The Future of Law Enforcement Returns!

Robocop entered pop culture in 1987 with a bang.  The Paul Verhoeven film mashed splatterpunk action aesthetics with biting science-fiction satire.  Critics and audiences alike embraced the film (which still carries an 85% positive at, and it eventually scored three Academy Awards nominations (Film Editing, Sound, and Sound Effects Editing, which it won).  Like any hit, it soon spun off a number of divergent transmedia incarnations.  For a while, though, Robocop has lain dormant.  That’s about to change.

Dynamite Entertainment, which has a reputation for reviving pop culture properties, has reloaded Robocop for a January 2010 release.  At the writing helm is Rob Williams (Clas$$war), while Fabiano Neves (Xena, Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness) takes on the art.  We caught up with the duo to find out about their own future of law-enforcement.  Earlier today, we took a look at the art with Neves. In this installment, we talk to Rob Williams, who expresses a lot of love for the original film and makes a great “Spinal Tap” joke.

Newsarama: The first thing we should establish is “How do you see Robocop?”  After all, this was a character that had a great debut movie, two films that were less well received, and later became more of a kids character in animation and other comic adaptations.  What’s your vision of the character?

Rob Williams: It’s the Robocop of the first movie – the OTT, extreme violence-mixed-with-satire vision of the character that we’re going with here. I’ve ignored everything else, even the second Frank Miller movie. Hopefully we’ve gone back to the source of what made people like Robocop in the first place – the gonzo aesthetic that Paul Verhoeven brought to what is still one of the more visceral and fun sci-fi movies you’re ever likely to see.

Nrama:  On a related note, one of the things that made the first film great was the social satire, including the news breaks and commercials.  Will there be an effort to incorporate that in a mode suitable for comics?

Williams: Yep, definitely. That’s the hook that convinced me that I could do a decent job on Robocop, to be honest. The thing that got me most excited. I thought there was the scope to do some comedy here, some fun social and political satire, hence the first arc being titled REVOLUTION. And you can get away with that because you’re interweaving it with a central plot that includes bullet-spraying killer robots and crazy, widescreen action sequences. The Media Break news reports and adverts are some of my favourite moments from the Robocop scripts I’ve written. If I’m laughing out loud at something in the script when I’m writing it, that’s usually a good sign. Or a worrying hint towards mental breakdown. Either way.

Nrama:  Rob, from your work on Star Wars and Indiana Jones, you’re accustomed to playing in a pre-created, licensed universe.  That said, do you intend to incorporate other previously established characters and continuity from the films, and in what ways do you see potential for growth?

Williams: As I said, I’ve stuck to the first movie in terms of backing cast, and ignored all else. So Lewis, Sgt. Reed, The Old Man at OCP – they’re all there. Dick Jones is dead, of course. But we’re introducing some brand new players around that who will hopefully fit right in. OCP has a new female Chief Executive, there’s a paranoid, conspiracy theory nut reporter for a small independent Old Detroit newspaper and there’s an ex-WWF wrestler-turned Buddhist Detroit councilman, Mason ‘Manslaughter’ Vogler whose penchant for very large guns may point towards the fact that his Buddhist beliefs have stumbled, somewhat. As for potential for growth? I’ve got a few ideas on that. By the end of the first arc the status quo of the movies has changed slightly. I don’t see any point in taking the readers back to the same point A at the end of every story. These tales have to matter – they have to move the characters on. Hopefully the readers will like the new direction. <Insert your own Jazz Odyssey joke here>.

Nrama:  How much does your Judge Dredd experience play in here?  Does that help or hinder when it comes to futuristic law types?

Williams: I think it helps. I said to a friend recently that, weirdly, even though I’ve been writing for 2000AD for around eight years now, this Robocop comic is probably the most ‘2000AD’ work I’ve ever done. It’s the mix of nasty violence, high action, punk energy and quite silly satire. I re-read Judge Dredd’s Block Mania and Apocalypse War storylines just prior to starting this job and it kind of lead the way for the tone, I think. That’s just amazing work, both in terms of script and art. It proves you can do big widescreen drama that makes the reader care and laugh out loud at the same time. Judge Dredd Case Files 5. Pick it up. Great comics. Robocop is Dredd’s bastard offspring, really. “Your move, creep.” etc

Nrama:  Will you confine the stories to Old/New Detroit, or do you want to explore outside of those environs?

Williams: That’s something I’d like to do at the end of the first arc. We’re initially sticking to the Old Detroit landscape but, throughout Media Break news reports, we show little hints of what’s going on in the outside world. I’d like to take Robocop out of Old Detroit – there’s plenty of scope there. Lots of stories to tell. Issues 5 & 6 will dip their toes into this. And then the toes may well be messily hacked off. We’ll see.

Nrama: How are the regular people reacting to Robocop at this point?  One would think that you’d have a range of reactions, perhaps tilting toward fear.

Williams: Every sane person in Old Detroit is running for their &%$£ing lives, whether it’s from Robocop or the ED-209s or looters or just your basic, run-of-the-mill sociopathic killers. When we open the story there’s a ‘super’ recession engulfing the United States, the President’s lost control and ordinary people are starving because shops have closed due to the economy crumbling. There’s no money. There’s no food. The framework of everyday life has fallen apart. By issue two, they’re delighted to see Robocop, as he’s one of the sane ones in a very dangerous landscape.

Nrama: In recent years, it seems that there’s been a disconnect between the tools available to law-enforcement and how they’re used.  For example, we’ve seen cases in recent years where everyone from juveniles to the elderly have been tased, even in situations where it may not have been appropriate.  Is Robocop the end result of disproportionate response in his universe?

Williams: No, the ED-209 is probably the end result of disproportionate response in his universe. And there may even be further unsavoury steps beyond the cuddly old ED-209. As crime increases, law enforcement needs “a bigger gun” as one of our characters says. Robocop’s a pretty effective satirical character, really, and that’s it. Back in the ’80s, with the first movie, there was corporate greed overwhelming the poor people of Detroit. In 2009 you’ve got a recession, General Motors closing etc. Back in Verhoeven’s original Robocop was heavily armoured and armed, capable of dishing out more extreme modes of violence and law enforcement. But that didn’t clean up the streets of that movie. The ED-209 was intended to do that but it just caused even more bloodshed. There’s a message there, I’m sure.

Nrama: In the films, Robocop was a man that lost his memory and identity, but slowly pulled pieces of it together.  What’s the emotional state of the character?  Is he more human?  More machine?  And how hard is to write a central character with those emotional boundaries?

Williams: It’s pretty easy to write Murphy, I think, because what he wants more than anything isn’t complicated to work out – to be human again. He’s lost his humanity, physically. You can make a case for saying he’s symbolic of modern man and how we all build armour around ourselves to survive in today’s society – but then a giant robot would have to come out and shoot some people in a blatantly over the top and hugely bloody manner, in order to lighten the mood. That sense of longing for a simpler, more innocent past, that’s a subtext we’re playing on with REVOLUTION.

Nrama:   If someone’s completely unfamiliar with Robocop, or only potentially seen the first film, what would you say to get that reader on board?

Williams: There’s giant robots. Lots of them. And they shoot people. A lot. You can’t go wrong with killer giant robots, really.

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