“Atomic Robo”

Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Lee Black, Ronda Pattison, Nick Filardi, Anthony Clark, Jeff Powell

Atomic Robo is one of my favorite comics, one I’ve been reading long enough that I wish I had some way of figuring out exactly how long I have been reading it. It’s getting a review now, however, as I recently did an all-the-way-through reread.1

Here’s the concept of the comic: Nikolai Tesla built a nuclear-powered, fully sentient robot. He’s creatively named Atomic Robo Tesla, and generally goes by Atomic Robo, or just Robo to his friends. Being a bulletproof, super-strong robot, he gets into some adventures! Being an ageless machine, those adventures occur across a wide range of time. Being a world where it’s possible for Nikolai Tesla to build a nuclear-powered, fully sentient robot, those adventures involve a whole lot of pulp science fiction—there’s an entire comic early on where Robo spends a few hours fighting giant insects while having a discussion via radio about why giant insects are impossible.

Basically, it’s some of the most fun science fiction I read, and I absolutely love it. There’s some really interesting storylines, and there’s also some really funny storylines. Just about everything that Dr. Dinosaur shows up in absolutely hilarious—everything else in this world feels like it’s following some rules, though different ones than our world, but Dr. Dinosaur is just running around inside his own personal reality distortion field. And he shows up precisely often enough to maintain the hilarity of how well he plays off of Robo.

So, hey, if you’re at all interested in any of this, go read the comic. The nice thing about webcomics is that it’s all free online! And, honestly, I really recommend starting from the beginning—it makes the most sense that way, and while there’s some early references to stuff that shows up again later, it’s more little hints that make it better on reread.2

  1. Well, in April; these reviews aren’t exactly timely. (Which I usually avoid admitting to, but in this case, the specific things going on in the comic at the time were what set me off rereading from the beginning, I wanted to remember what was being called back to.
  2. Seriously, I had a moment on this most recent reread where I realized that something really early on had been foreshadowing of a storyline that happened, in publishing time of the comic, something like a decade later. Their ‘about’ page says “Everything that happens will fit into the larger setting; everything that happens will happen for a reason” and they mean it.

“Open Borders”

Bryan Caplan and Zach Weinersmith

As a Certified Liberal, it was never going to be particularly hard to sell me on “we should loosen our immigration restrictions,” but I still think this book did a great job at selling me on it. It’s a very quick read—more of a highly-illustrated essay than what you’d think from the term “book”—and is well-organized around the topic idea.

Structurally, it reminds me of writing essays in school. A chapter of overview, a chapter of the primary argument for, and then a few chapters rebutting the arguments against your thesis, and then a final wrap-it-together with a call to action. And, hey, they teach essay structures like that because it’s effective!

I think my favorite line from the book comes from a discussion of keyhole policies.1

“How can immigration restrictions handle problem x?” is simply a bad question.

It makes far more sense to ask: “What’s the cheapest, most humane way to handle problem x?”

The final call to action is less a “let’s make open borders happen!” and more a “let’s start moving the Overton Window to make open borders happen!” So, by reading this post: thank you for your contribution. If you’re interested in furthering that goal, I recommend you check out the book, as I quite enjoyed it.2

  1. Keyhole policies are defined in the context of keyhole surgeries: instead of cutting the patient wide open, you make as small an incision as possible—a keyhole—in order to reduce collateral damage/side effects. Similarly, a keyhole policy is a narrowly-focused policy in place of a (possibly overly-) broad one.
  2. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.

Humble Book Bundle: LGBTQ

It’s pride month! How exciting. As a result, the latest Humble Bundle is the LGBTQ Book Bundle. If you don’t know about Humble Bundle, let me tell you, they’re wonderful- supporting indie creators, of both games and books, and a good chunk of the profits from their pay-what-you-want sales go to charities.1
A lot of the books are comics, so I’m trying to do a bit of a speed run through some of them so I can have this post up while the Book Bundle is still running. Part of this will result in the fact that I won’t actually be putting all the reviews in this post – three are full-length-novel type books, which will each get their own post. I’m also leaving out the more, ahem, adult-oriented books.2 And, as I usually do, the ones that I don’t finish reading for whatever reason.3
Before I go into the reviews, though, I’ll drop a couple of links. First, the It Gets Better project, which was one of the first Really Good Things to come out of YouTube, if you ask me. Secondly, one that I personally think is even more important, the Trevor Project, a national suicide hotline for queer and questioning youth.4 Being queer isn’t easy, even in 2016, and making sure that resources like these are available to queer and questioning youth is hugely important.
All that said, have some (short) comic reviews!

Kevin Keller: Welcome to Riverdale

Archie Comics! I haven’t read these since I was a kid. My sister and I used to pester our parents to buy the little comic booklets for us from the “impulse buy” section at the grocery store checkout.
I’d kinda forgotten what they’re like – short, sweet little high-school vignettes. The first couple were that sort of sweet innocent thing that I expect, but there was one closer to the end that kinda caught me off-guard. It’s summer vacation, and the Private School Jerks5 are taking over Riverdale’s beach. Yadda yadda, arguing back and forth, with the end result that they’re going to have a surfing competition to see who gets control of the beach.6 Which, fine, total Archie type of thing. Except one of the Private School Jerks, it turns out, is a homophobic asshole, to the point that he’s trying to sabotage Kevin in the competition in a way that can lead to serious injury. Which, yeah, I get that you’re a rich kid and can afford lawyers to make your problems go away, but a hate crime is hard to erase. Attempted murder, even more so.
And yeah, they sorta dealt with it, with the kid’s friends abandoning him7 and Kevin’s dad threatening him. But it felt like it was laughed off a bit too easily – like there’s no acknowledgment of the fact that not everyone is as irascible as Kevin.
So… I dunno how I feel about this one being the first one of these comics that I finished. I’ll take it, I guess, because the first couple of stories were nice, sweet little things. So, yeah, I suppose I’d recommend reading it.

Starve: Volume 1

Okay, this one was interesting. The main character’s a gay man, but one who didn’t come out until his daughter was about ten years old. His wife didn’t take it well, and did a very competent job of turning herself into the villain of the story.
The story starts off with Cruickshank living a very hardcore bohemian life somewhere in Asia. The world’s a bit different, it seems – global warming, much to the shock of the Republican Party, turned out to be real! Parts of New York City are underwater, the bluefin tuna is sitting on the edge of extinction, and the wealthy/poor divide has gotten so large it seems to be on the edge of war.
And then Cruickshank gets picked up by a man in a helicopter, sent by the Network. Despite their apparent implosion in a stock market crash, that Network survived, and they’ve decided to call in what’s left of his contract. Which all sounds very ominous, right up until you find out he was the Gordon Ramsay of his world, the world’s top celebrity chef.
In the time he was gone, though, the show has changed, become a good bit more vicious. One of his former enemies is at the top of the show, his wife8 has had him declared legally dead and taken all his assets, and the show itself has become a spectacle; instead of celebrating cooking, it’s an artifact of the class divide, highlighting the disparity between rich and poor in a way that Cruickshank finds disgusting.
And yes, the storyline of the show is interesting – it’s shown like a real cooking show, with little out-of-character type recipe cards that look exactly like something you’d see on the Food Network or something, phrased in such a way that you can hear the voiceover from the chef in your mind. But what’s of far more interest is the way this shattered family works: Cruickshank himself, vaguely trying to put things back together. His daughter, excited and hopeful about her dad’s return. And his wife, hating everything he did to her, to the point that she wants him destroyed. It’s sad, and sweet in places, and I’m definitely looking forward to Volume 2.

The Infinite Loop

Oh, boy. This one.
First, a warning: there’s a bit of nudity, and a middlingly-graphic sex scene.9
But beyond that, the worst this one is going to do to you is confuse you a bit. Because, y’know, time travel is rough like that.
But of the three reviews I’m going to do in this post,10 I’d say that this graphic novel is the one that you should read foremost out of the others. It’s the sort of Literary Thing that normally I’d hate, but it’s wrapped up in a heck of a lot of the sort of things I love11 so I’m kinda letting it get away with it.
Here’s the premise: Teddy, the main character, is a time traveler. She’s part of a group of them, actually – a government organization, of a sort, that uses their time travel to fix the anomalies created by irresponsible use of time travel. Or, as it turns out, anomalies created by people actively trying to mess with the time stream. And boy oh boy, is she good at it – the best, actually. Right up until one of the anomalies is a young woman – because, up until now, they’ve been either inanimate objects or, at worst, animals.12 Teddy, of course, refuses to “erase” her – a barely-euphemistic term that the cleanup crews use for wiping someone out of existence.
At which point things start to get weirder and weirder. Because, yes, there’s a bit of a reason that the anomalies get pulled out of time – but not nearly as much of one as they’ve made it out to be. More of the damage is caused by the cleanup folk insisting that all anomalies have to be erased than the anomalies themselves would’ve done.
It’s weird and complicated and I suspect the only people who can truly follow the plot are in no small part insane. It’s sad and sweet and happy and angry. It’s science fiction being an allegory in a way that’s a little bit too in-your-face at times, but it’s something that needs to be said.
And yes, the titular infinite loop is something that the characters talk about a lot. It’s also, arguably, the entire plot of the book. And it’s also something bigger: the infinite loop of hatred, played out over human history. Because it used to be that love was banned between Homo Erectus and Homo Sapiens.13 It used to be that love was banned between noblewomen and peasant men. It used to be that love was banned between white women and black men. I can’t quite yet say that “it used to be that love was banned between men and men and women and women.” But we’re working on it.

That’s all for the day, folks. And remember: it gets better. And there’s always someone out there to talk to.

  1. Fittingly, the LGBTQ book bundle is going to the It Gets Better project
  2. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I opened the PDF called “Smut Peddler.” I really should’ve been expecting it to be graphic, but I wasn’t. Whoops. 
  3. Sometimes things lose my interest out of sheer boredom, but what’s actually a lot more common is that stuff is too depressing for me to finish. By now, you might’ve noticed that I’ve got quite a trend of superhero and fantasy books – I like my escapism. The real world kinda sucks. 
  4. Their national hotline is pretty easy to remember: 866-4U-TREVOR. Which I can remember by going “what is the SADDEST POSSIBLE THING they could’ve made their phone number?” 
  5. I can’t remember their names, and I’m far too lazy to go look any of them up. 
  6. Never mind the fact that Kevin, distinctly siding with the Riverdale folk, is the lifeguard and thus totally has the power to kick the others out for being jerks. (I know my lifeguarding, okay?) 
  7. One of them coming out in the process, which is… maybe not the best way to come out to your social circle? 
  8. They never got a divorce, evidently. 
  9. I describe it as such because “Smut Peddler” is also in this Humble Bundle, and that’s a whole new level of graphic sex scene compared to what’s in The Infinite Loop
  10. And yes, I’ll be stopping after this one – I want to get this posted soon, and I haven’t the time to read all of the comics and still get it out before the Humble Bundle ends. 
  11. Including a villain who’s basically just Amanda Waller with beliefs that’re pushed from “straddling the line” to “over the line” in terms of how objectionable they are. Have I mentioned before how much I love Amanda Waller as a character? Because I love Amanda Waller as a character. 
  12. Tyrannosauri Rex are still technically considered “animals.”
    And yes, I do know the correct pluralization of ‘tyrannosaurus’ off the top of my head. 
  13. Admittedly not an example I’d think of, but this one is actually mentioned (almost verbatim) in the book, so I’ll include it here. 

Junior Scientist Power Hour

I’m calling this a book review, since I read the comic in a book.1 But it’s also a webcomic, which is how I found out about it. Not directly, though – Abby Howard was my top pick on Strip Search, the Penny-Arcade backed web reality series that took the ‘America’s Got Talent’ style show and did it for webcomics creators.
She didn’t win, unfortunately, but the show did get her a lot of attention, and she leveraged it quite well to put together a kickstarter to fund the creation of her second webcomic, The Last Halloween,2 which I’ve also been reading and enjoying. Now, I remembered backing the Kickstarter, but I thought I’d backed at one of the digital-only levels. Then I got a box in the mail, and found out I apparently went for a higher tier! Now I have a book, what fun. I can throw it at people when I feel like they really need to read this comic.
And I expect to do a lot of book-based assault because JSPH is wonderful. It’s silly, sometimes spooky, and nonsensical in the best way.
I don’t have a whole lot to say about it, you guys. There’s no overarching plot, and usually my reviews involving picking those apart and talking about why I liked/didn’t like them, and without that I really don’t know what all to talk about.
Go read it! It’s FREE, y’all.

  1. Well, okay, I also read it online first, but I read it as a book just now so… hush. 
  2. I’m not going to review that one for the sheer annoyance of dealing with the ‘Halloween to Hallowe’en’ autocorrect I’ve got set up. What? Switch that off? Don’t be ridiculous. 

Invincible: Compendium One

I’d started to read Invincible at some point in the past and never finished it, apparently. Realized I still had the entire compendium sitting around1 and decided to throw it onto my phone2 for some reading material while on the bus over the first week of February.3
And I quite enjoyed it! I am, admittedly, a bit of a sucker for the whole “superhero’s kid” trope, but it got a bit beyond that. In the beginning it kinda struck me as a bit of a DC satire, in the same way that “The Boys” was a Marvel satire, but it grew beyond that.4 Their government agency is distinctly accurate to the real world in that it’s secretive and embedded in as much dark stuff as the CIA was in the 70s.
And oh, did I ever love the idea of a Superman character actually being an invader. It makes sense, though- Man of Steel had Superman accidentally killing like a million people and devastating a city over the course of a few minutes, imagine how much damage a single unfettered Kryptonian could do if given a lifespan of a few thousand years?
And then there’s Eve and Robot, two of my favorite characters present. Robot is a ‘misunderstood genius’ type, and goes a bit supervillainish at times, but I appreciate someone who’s willing to do some concerning things to get stuff done. And Eve? Oh, Eve. Someone finally did that power right- she quit being a superhero and moved to Africa to actually change things. Which is totally the right thing to do- if you can turn any molecule into any other molecule, you are absolutely wasting your time punching bank robbers.5
So yeah, that’s about it for my review. Quite a good comic, and a pretty well-developed universe. It’s got a hint of space opera, in the regard that there’s a lot going on in the background, but the main character is still distinctly a main character, both on Earth and on the galactic scale.

  1. As a single massive PDF 
  2. “I’ll use AirDrop for this, that won’t keep my phone from being able to do anything else for the next ten minutes or so, right?” 
  3. Choir tour. Eight hours of bus a day. My everything hurts. 
  4. Which is not saying that it wasn’t a DC satire in the beginning because it absolutely was, they’ve got a Batman knock-off named “Darkwing” who lives in a city that’s been magically cursed to have the same color palette as Gotham. 
  5. Though I’ll admit, the fact nobody’s had her build a space elevator yet is a bit annoying.