So I’ve developed my fair share of “universal truths” regarding the people that populate this planet over the years, one such example being that those that attempt to order Starbucks drinks at a non-chain coffee shop generally prove to be all-around horrible people. Assuredly there is an exclusive circle of Hell reserved for those select individuals who believe in the universality of this franchise’s menu. However, there’s another one of these axioms that pertains to this review of Joshua Williamson and Carlos Magno’s take on Robocop for BOOM! Studios: no matter how pop culture savvy one happens to be, everybody’s got a shortlist of “gotta see” films that they, sometimes paradoxically or inexplicably, haven’t actually gotten around to seeing. I mean, I’ve seen The Lost World, but not Jurassic Park. Figure that one out.

"Life, it, uh...it sometimes finds a way to keep you from seeing Jurassic Park."

“Life, it, uh…it sometimes finds a way to keep you from seeing Jurassic Park.”

In the same vein, I’ve never actually viewed 1987’s Robocop either. My parents ardently subscribed to the MPAA’s rating system, and raised me on a PBS diet of cardigan sweaters and trashcan-dwelling puppets. In fact, I’d wager that the only reason I was fortunate enough to lose sleep over the events of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was due to the film pre-dating the catchall “PG-13” rating…and I was still forced to avert my gaze when the heart yanking scene showed up.

As I got older, friends’ opinions on whether I should see the film were decidedly mixed. Some said it was a deliciously dark comedy about the all-consuming corporatization of American society, others felt it was a goofy movie whose production values felt dated right out of the gate, and whose crowning achievement was to somehow produce not one, but two exponentially unwatchable sequels. So I pulled a move out of the Millennial playbook, and waited for the usually “slick, but soulless” remake that I’d secretly enjoy, but disparage when in the company of others.

Let’s be clear though, despite not having seen the original (aside from a few minutes here or there whilst flipping though the channels, being a pop culture junkie translates to “having knowledge” on a great deal of things I just haven’t experienced firsthand, Robocop included.

YES I LIKED THIS MOVIE, EVERYBODY CAN JUST COOL THEIR RESPECTIVE JETS.

YES I LIKED THIS MOVIE, EVERYBODY CAN JUST COOL THEIR RESPECTIVE JETS.

Why read the Robocop comic then, you ask? Why wade into uncharted waters populated with roving bloodthirsty packs of know-it-all fanboys? On a basic level, I suppose it’s because I’ve really enjoyed Williamson’s series Ghosted, as well as his story “I Hate it When he Does That” for Legends of the Dark Knight, with Deadly Class’ artist Wes Craig. Secondly, BOOM! Studios has had a fantastic track record working with established and beloved franchises. However, the main reason has a lot to do with a nagging thought I’ve been mulling over on the subject of media (novels, comic books, video games, etc) written about topics that happen to not only possess a monstrous amount of world-building/canon (take Star Trek or Batman, for example), but also ardent fanbases that police said content for its ability to adhere to said canon.

All too often, it feels like these fans are more concerned with whether or not they’re on the receiving end of an “accurate” story, rather than a good one. It’s not to say that those two things can’t mutually coexist, but they certainly aren’t synonymous. Now, I could really climb up on the soapbox, put on my pop psychology glasses and posit the notion that these quibbles over canon or accuracy are actually an attempt for comic book readers, who’ve voluntarily immersed themselves in a universe full of “change,” to mask the fact that they’re not that comfortable with change in the first place. These individuals are set to invalidate the thoughts or opinion of any reviewer or critic they feel doesn’t pass their litmus test of “requisite knowledge” for said topic.

If you ever get the chance, you HAVE to read this story...it largely went unnoticed.

If you ever get the chance, you HAVE to read this story…it went largely unnoticed.

With such in mind, I was set on reviewing Robocop. Reviewers are more than capable of identifying quality work, even if they can’t properly name every member of the Jedi Council, or tell you what the hell Odo is. Writers, in turn, shouldn’t be afraid to, in the words of Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne, “get [a little] nuts” with an established franchise, instead of towing the line. Granted, it’s not that simple, but I’m sick of this “you must be this versed in canon to…” mentality that’s so pervasive in comics.

Now that I’ve safely tucked the soapbox back into the corner, and cobbled together seven or eight half-baked thoughts into a muddled argument that is neither clear-cut nor persuasive, I should probably deliver on that review I promised, yeah? Thought so.

Joshua Williamson doesn’t subscribe to the Grant Morrison, “make the comic hinge on an obscure Golden Age bit-part character” School of Storytelling. Instead, he intelligently kicks off Robocop by introducing the reader to an individual named Killian, who, like some readers, hasn’t exactly done the best job keeping up on current events. The difference being that Killian has a valid excuse, having spent the better part of the last twenty-five years behind bars. “What the fuck is a Robocop?” he asks in the closing panel of the first page.

Sure, some of the beloved catchphrases find their way into the comic, but it's not overkill, nor is it done with a nod and a wink.  I love the lettering for his pistol's distinctive burst fire mode, too.

Sure, some of the beloved catchphrases find their way into the comic, but it’s not overkill, nor is it done with a nod and a wink. I love the lettering for his pistol’s distinctive burst fire mode, too.

Thankfully, Killian doesn’t have to wait long to get an answer to his question; Williamson replies with a glorious double page spread of Robocop leading the charge on an apartment complex, after a sting on a gunrunning ring went south. The exterior shot highlights Magno’s heavy shading lines (not unlike Andy Clarke or Brian Bolland) that give Detroit a “wear and tear” that I fear will live on in pop culture’s depiction of it, no matter the reality. Yet when Robocop takes the fight inside the building, it quickly turns into an action sequence that ranks among the best of 2014.

It begins with Robocop scanning the complex for heat signatures in inset panels, their depiction of what ‘80s cinema thought of the future of computer interfaces being spot-on in its pixelation and generally lo-fi feel. We then encounter a long-haired punk, loaded to the brim with hubris, hard narcotics, and the assumption that a point blank hand grenade is enough to top the automated cop that can’t be stopped. Instead, the machine that was (and still somewhat is) Alex Murphy stiffly marches through the explosion, and dethrones the self-appointed king of this urban jungle with a punch that serves his right eyeball an eviction notice. Not that depth perception is a pressing concern when one no longer registers a pulse. And his bandana-clad henchmen? Well, in true ‘80s fashion, they decide that anything that can take a grenade to the face should still be capable of being brought down by small arms fire, thus beginning a one page firefight drenched in bullets. I’ll let you guess how that plays out.

As you might expect, "Get the Guns" has some unforeseen consequences.

As you might expect, “Get the Guns” has some unforeseen consequences.

The fallout from such is that the Detroit City Police Department begins the “Get the Guns” initiative, in which firearms not registered with the city and Omnicorp (which as most of you know, runs Detroit) are confiscated. Both Robocop and his partner Anne Lewis balk at the idea…only to discover that they’ve been tasked with heading it up…and they’ll be assisted in the process by an appointed Citizen Liaison named Killian. Yes, that Killian. And far from assisting the civilian population in this transition, the supposed ex-con has something very different in mind…something that goes back twenty-five years.

In case my not-so-compact plot premise didn’t hammer the point home, the up-and-coming star Williamson is a perfect fit for Robocop. I’ll be the first to admit that I was slightly concerned that BOOM! (outside of some of the disturbing stuff I’ve encountered in Suicide Risk) might try to tone down the very elements that landed its source material an “R” rating, nullifying Williamson’s obvious penchant for the grotesque and macabre. Instead, they’ve given him carte blanche for all the blood splatters and mounds of shell casings he can imagine. And, in the words of Han Solo, “[he] can imagine quite a bit.”

"How violent can this book get anyway, Nick?" THIS IS HOW VIOLENT THIS BOOK GETS, PEOPLE.

“How violent can this book get anyway, Nick?”
THIS IS HOW VIOLENT THIS BOOK GETS, PEOPLE.

For someone that made a name for himself cultivating a slow-burn sense of atmospheric terror in Ghosted, Williamson also happens to have a real talent for excellently paced action, that also manages to inject plot into the subtext. For example, in the opening sequence alone, he juxtaposes Robocop’s creakily stiff ascent with the claustrophobic downpour of rounds ricocheting off of every body part, aided by the fantastic lettering of Ed Dukeshire. In such, we get a real sense of just how out of their league the DCPD is without Robocop, as well as an active demonstration of Robocop’s durability and lack of mobility.

However, hyperviolence that has one simultaneously wincing and desperately stifling a chuckle, does not (solely) a quality Robocop story make. Williamson has done a first-rate job of alternating these bombastic sequences in which thugs pound their wife-beaters while snorting lines off the sides of their pieces, with the political drama going on inside the police station. True evil, it would appear, wears a three-piece-suit, has the mayor in his back pocket, and capitalizes on the fear-mongering of the aforementioned shootout to stockpile a sizable amount of the public’s firearms…the reasoning for such, I suspect, has a great deal to do with Killian’s appointment.

Robocop, not falling for Killian's little show, briefly ponders his removal from our planet.

Robocop, not falling for Killian’s little show, briefly ponders his removal from our planet.

Overall, Williamson has crafted a hard-nosed, yet approachable look at the power structure within an economically-distraught Detroit, and the soul-selling compromises a city will make to remain solvent. It’s hyperbolic, to be sure, and is quietly interspersed amongst scenes of Robocop being T-boned by a neon yellow monster truck, and being the most passive-aggressive cyborg ever when Lewis announces that she’s trying for detective. But it’s there, and the alarming parallels between Williamson’s comic book, and the modern day Motor City that’s being run by emergency managers, weighing the benefits of privatizing services, and shutting off people’s water supply, are unavoidable.

When it comes to the art, I’ll be the first to confess that I primarily pulled this book on Williamson’s sterling pedigree, and Goni Montes’ brightly painted covers, which have a very ethereal, dream-like quality to them. Montes writes on his blog that he rarely begins an illustration with a “solidified color scheme,” and his covers are proof that he doesn’t feel shackled to shades and tones one would normally associate with the source material (if you want further proof, look at his covers for Clive Barker’s: Next Testament). While the titular character is still featured in gunmetal gray on the cover of the first issue, the tone is softened into a pastel shade, and he’s surrounded by swirling shades of purple and pink, with a comically over-sized goldenrod microchip wedged under his ribcage.

This, people, is how you make a first impression...even if it isn't necessarily representative of the interior art.

This, people, is how you make a first impression…even if it isn’t necessarily representative of the interior art.

While the covers are eye-catching, to say the least, they also offer up a drastic contrast to Robocop’s interior art, handled by penciler Carlos Magno and colorist Marissa Louise. And while I hadn’t run into any of Louise’s work previous to Robocop, a handful of Google searches reminded me that I’d actually come upon Magno’s work when I got several issues of Deathmatch (also by Boom! Studios) in a grab bag. While Magno impressed in Deathmatch, his style is spot on for Robocop, and it’s probably no great coincidence that it bears somewhat of a resemblance to Juan Jose Ryp’s gritty and frantic work on Frank Miller’s Robocop. The difference? Aside from not having to depict the insanity of a Miller script, Magno has clearly opted for an aesthetic that firmly grounds itself in the designs and overall aesthetic of the film, on top of placing itself within the film’s universe.

That said, Robocop himself looks fantastic, and every little detail, from the visor, to the chest plate, to the machine pistol, has been dutifully recreated. Equally impressive, Magno has utilized a static medium to perfectly capture the rigid movements of Detroit’s top cop. While most Robocop fans will appreciate this adherence to source material, Magno’s heavy shading will likely polarize readers. Readers that already avoid Dustin Nguyen and Andy Clarke’s work, you’re going to want to steer clear of this book. Personally, I think it adds a real texture and heft to everything, grounding it in the “real world,” while allowing Magno to still opt for a stylized approach that isn’t considered “cartoony.” In addition, he’s got a real knack for delivering “busy” action sequences that are still easy to navigate and follow…on top of being rife with bullets and viscera. Bottom line, Boom! Studios picked the right guy for the job in Magno, and it doesn’t hurt that his pencils look great when accompanied by Louise’s subdued palette, with an emphasis on greys and blues.

If you don't see the similarity between Magno and Clarke's work here...well, then that's probably because I have no clue what I'm writing about.

If you don’t see the similarity between Magno and Clarke’s work here…well, then that’s probably because I have no clue what I’m writing about.

Overall, Joshua Williamson and Carlos Magno have offered up the best sort of take on an established franchise in Robocop. They’ve managed to distill the social satire, the oddly comical violence, and the trademark look that Paul Verhoeven’s film established back in 1987. But at the same time, they’ve also honed in on issues like gun control, privatization of public services, and the perils of economic collapse for an already troubled city, which lend the book a disturbingly modern feel. There’s something interesting, and yet also undeniably frightening that Verhoeven’s portrait of a dystopian Detroit is truer than not, nearly thirty years later. Williamson and Magno’s Robocop undoubtedly reflects this, and is a better read for it.

Robotcop can be purchased at your Local Comic Shop, from BOOM! Studios, or on Comixology.

Overall Score
95 %

Joshua Williamson and Carlos Magno have created a new Robocop series with an approachability that newcomers will appreciate, and a deep respect for the source material that'll put veteran readers at ease. It's biting and satirical, and every bit as "R-rated" as the original film.

Writing 95%
Pencils 95%
Colors 95%

About The Author

Growing up, Nick White dreamed of a career with the Chicago Bulls. This is because he was young and stupid, and his parents were of the "you can do ANYTHING" mentality.

When he was older, and probably not a whole lot smarter, Nick purchased Alan Moore's From Hell on a whim (that in itself probably says a lot). He was astounded to find that comics were as bizarre and twisted as his beloved Twin Peaks. After that he bought Batman: The Black Mirror strictly on the cover's aesthetics (Who the hell is Scott Snyder?" he said) and hasn't looked back since. Except, of course, in situations that necessitate such.

When he's not "busy" playing Castlevania or harassing Zander about what he ought to be reading, Nick continues to work on his makeshift shrine to Jeff Lemire.

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