Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Complete Ro-Busters

In other news, Rebellion continues to impress with their graphic novel collection. Sometimes, they announce a project which doesn't sound like the most exciting book on the shelf, but then the finished product turns out to knock your socks off. That's the case with The Complete Ro-Busters, which does exactly what it claims on the front and compiles absolutely every strip appearance of Hammerstein, Ro-Jaws and the gang from the pages of both Starlord, where the series began, and 2000 AD. The Ro-Busters, as I described 'em over at Touched by the Hand of Tharg, are "a disaster recovery crew along the lines of International Rescue from Thunderbirds, only they are staffed by a crew of robots (chief among them our lead characters Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein) and they are by no means as charitable as the Tracy boys had been. Mr. Ten Percent (so named because only ten percent of him, his brain, was human) charges for the dangerous work his droids perform."

That Ro-Busters should have developed into anything memorable is something of a miracle. The series was created by Pat Mills to fill some editorial request for something about planet-saving superheroes. Since Mills, as anybody who's read Marshal Law could figure, has never had much time for the concept of superheroes, he turned the idea on its head and decided to have the disaster squad staffed, not by noble, selfless people, but by the most expendable of characters: junked-out robots in line for the scrapheap, bought dirt-cheap by a greedy jerk in need of cheap labor to exploit.

Anyway, Ro-Busters is certainly dated, and from the outset feels very much like a comic strip for children, especially in a ridiculous story in which two people disguise themselves as robots in order to start a rebellion on board a casino in space, but it's incredibly fun! The writing did tighten up around the time it moved to 2000 AD, with an engaging mix of class comedy and homages to war comics before the wild lunacy of the final storyline, in which the doomed robots try making a break for a planet where they can be free. But before that frantic conclusion, there's a great story in which Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein are sidetracked for a tale in which one of Mr. Ten Percent's other business ventures show up. A demolition squad called the Terra-Meks, they turn out to be the villains of the piece. Four episodes of utterly gorgeous giant robot violence and mayhem, set against the backdrop of a dying coastal community and its giant robot lighthouse guardian, might be the book's high point.

The book is just tremendous fun, and if Rebellion actually missed an episode anywhere, it'll be news to me. It includes work by other writers besides Mills, including three by Alan Moore, who wrote yearly one-offs for the pages of the 2000 AD Annual in the mid-80s after the series had otherwise concluded. Artists include Steve Dillon, Dave Gibbons, Mike McMahon, Kevin O'Neill and Carlos Pino. Every bookshelf should have one.

(Excerpted from Thrillpowered Thursday, March 5 2009.)

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