Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Ro-Busters: The Disaster Squad of Distinction

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 Ro-Busters: The Disaster Squad of Distinction (Rebellion / Simon & Schuster, 2014).


Back in the mid-1980s, when all of the various series within 2000 AD were licensed for collected editions by Titan, one of the must-have books was the first of two volumes of Ro-Busters. This was a terrific series written by Pat Mills and featured the exploits of some squabbling working-class robots used as disposable fodder for very dangerous rescue missions. Two of them - an unruly and cantakerous sewage-shoveling droid called Ro-Jaws and a full-of-himself army surplus sergeant called Hammerstein - were the leads. They worked for an unscrupulous cyborg super-capitalist called Howard Quartz who genuinely didn't care whether any of his property lived or died, because Ro-Busters was just one of hundreds of robot-staffed operations that he had going.

That original 80-page Titan collection of Ro-Busters has been out of print for many years, but Rebellion has reissued it in a new, expanded edition in conjunction with its American publishing partner, Simon & Schuster. Now 112 pages, it reprints the same stories as that original book - mostly illustrated by Dave Gibbons, with a few pages by Kevin O'Neill and by Mike Dorey - but bookends them with some interesting additions. Ro-Busters actually began in a different comic, 2000 AD's short-lived sister title Starlord, and this book has the first four episodes from that comic. These are drawn by Carlos Pino and by Gibbons. In the back of the book are a couple of neat curiosities - two of the three one-off Ro-Busters episodes that were written by Alan Moore rather than by Mills, with art by Steve Dillon and Bryan Talbot.

As far as I'm concerned, any book to feature that much artistic talent - seriously, Dillon, Gibbons, O'Neill, and Talbot under one set of covers?! - could be written by anybody and still be worth buying. Gibbons' epic "The Terra-Meks," in particular, features page after page of giant robots pummeling each other. The third part of that story is just a tour de force. I can't think of too many other artists in comics that have ever drawn a scene of giant robot combat as brilliant as that. It's masterful.

As for the stories, they're just remarkably fun. Perhaps through the new eyes of a jaded adult, these might appear clunky and dated, but they're kids' comics which nevertheless resonate. Ro-Jaws is such a fun character, vulgar, to the point, and totally lacking any circuits of discretion or tact. Hammerstein is such a straight man that Mills would, in much later stories, go a little too far in showing him up as a chump and had to scale things back to make him a hero again. These characters have lasted long beyond the very brief original run of Ro-Busters, actually. The series proper ended in 1979, with Alan Moore's bonus episodes appearing in the old harback Christmas 2000 AD Annuals in the mid-80s, but the characters have resurfaced in the very long-running spinoff ABC Warriors, which still shows up with a dozen or so new episodes every couple of years.

Ro-Busters is simply a great, inventive, and very fun series, suitable for all ages. Buy two copies of this book: one for yourself to keep in mint condition on the shelf and one for a nine year-old of your acquaintance to read until it falls apart. Any nine year-old who isn't wowed by this, there's something wrong with that child. Highly recommended.

A PDF of this book was provided by the publisher for the purpose of review. If you'd like to see your books (typically comics or detective fiction) featured here, send me an email.

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