Friday, June 11, 2010

Robo-Hunter: The Droid Files Volume One

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Robo-Hunter: The Droid Files Volume One (Rebellion, 2009)

Rereading Robo-Hunter, as I do every other year or so, is always one of my favorite pastimes. It's a pity that the character of Sam Slade remains so stubbornly unknown to audiences, particularly in this country, because it genuinely is one of the best and funniest comics ever made.

The series debuted in 1978 in the pages of 2000 AD, and for the first several weeks, appeared to be an off-kilter blend of a private eye series with a science fiction trapping. But slowly, pieces were added to the plot that showed that the world Sam Slade would be investigating was bent at very, very odd angles indeed. Before the saga of his introductory serial "Verdus" concluded, your old pal Sam would be pushed to his limit by a cast of nutball robots who twisted the plot in unexpected and bizarre directions. You remember that Tex Avery cartoon, "The Cat That Hated People," where the cat goes to the moon only to find it populated by sentient bicycle horns and pencil sharpeners? Stick somebody who wants to be a hard-boiled PI in the middle of that, and let the sparks fly.

There are certainly readers who believe that "Verdus" was as good as Robo-Hunter got, but I'm of the school that thinks when he returned to Earth, the strip got even wilder. John Wagner, who, after the second serial, took on Alan Grant as co-writer, crafted a remarkably fun ride where the stakes get higher and the whole shebang escalates into a teeter-totter catastrophe. Every story is just a masterclass in high comedy, beautifully illustrated by Ian Gibson.

Sam himself is a terrific character, a blue-collar joe who just cannot catch a break and is saddled with two fantastic sidekicks. Hoagy is this oddball frog-looking thing who reasons that he can't become a robo-hunter assistant without putting an ad in the paper for one, so he places an ad announcing that Sam has an opening, and then comes to fill it, and Sam can't get rid of him. Carlos Sanchez Robo-Stogie is a Cuban "ceegar" designed to wean people off smoking by reducing nicotine intake, gifted to Sam by Hoagy's "parents" because they don't want Hoagy picking up any bad influences.

Hoagy and Stogie are somewhere between Kramer from Seinfeld and those three dimwits from Newhart, with Sam the straight man trying desperately to keep events from spiraling any further out of control while trying to keep these good-natured incompetents from making matters worse. There's a beautiful bit in the fourth story where Sam sends Hoagy to infiltrate a robot cult, only to have Hoagy refuse to give him any information. After all, the religion is sworn to secrecy and Hoagy could never betray his brothers' trust.

Rebellion has packaged the first five Robo-Hunter storylines in a nice, phonebook-sized omnibus called The Droid Files, adding a later, one-off episode by Grant and Gibson that first appeared in a 2000 AD Annual. The reproduction is nice, the volume is very well designed, and you get a great big chunk of really excellent comics in one thick package. The second book is also out, though I'm not finished rereading it. I'll come back to it in a couple of months' time; until then, just consider this book very highly recommended and give your bookshelf the pleasure of its company.


Bruce said...

This along with a few other 2000 AD titles I really need to pick up. And since Rebellion is slowly putting out these books in the States finally. I can pay import prices for things like this one.

Bruce said...

And yes I've got the complete Strontium Dog run already.

Bunche (pop culture ronin) said...

I've been an avid reader of 2000 A.D. since discovering it during a trip to England in the summer of 1981 and it's good to see I'm not the only American who knows good stuff when he sees it. I discovered your site today and have been glued to your reviews on and off for the past couple of hours. Keep it coming!