By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
Alex Sheikman’s series Robotika
is a lot of things, but if pressed I’d call it a fable. A really, really violent fable.
Sheikman, who moved to the U.S. from Russia when he was 12, brings an unusual, untamed sensibility to his work. His artwork combines the lyrical beauty of P. Craig Russell and the jagged chiaroscuro of Jae Lee, but is definitely its own animal and is framed by some daring and gorgeous design.
His story is animated by a bizarre goulash of vibrant pop culture licks. Sheikman plays the Akira Kurosawa card by combining the samurai genre with the Western, but it’s also an imaginative science fiction story set in a dystopic future. Toss in elements of steampunk, pulp fiction and more than a little poetry (one character favors haiku), and something fresh and unclassifiable emerges.
The first miniseries, collected as Robotika
(Archaia, $19.95) introduced our leads, the self-styled “three yojimbos”: Niko, the artificial intelligence in search of a soul; Cherokee Geisha, the female samurai with daddy issues; and Yuri Bronski, the gunslinger (whose name is likely a nod to Charles Bronson in Magnificent Seven
, which was a remake of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai
The second miniseries, Robotika: For a Few Rubles More
(Archaia, $19.95) has just been collected, continuing the story of the three yojimbos. Sheikman adds David Moran (scripter) and Joel Chua (colorist), which changes the dynamic considerably, especially Chua’s colors, which occasionally blur and muddy Sheikman’s meticulous linework. But it’s still a Western in samurai drag, now with a bit more of a Sergio Leone feel (given the title), complete with a Good, Bad and Ugly
showdown. And it’s still something unique, which leaves even veteran comics readers guessing what comes next.
And why is it a fable? Because it’s three characters in search of happiness, who must persevere in the face of a hostile or uncaring world. From Snow White
to Hansel & Gretel
, that’s the underlying theme of many fables. This one – with its bloody gunfights and swordfights – just has protagonists a tad more aggressive than most.
Perhaps influenced by that line of thinking, I’m looking at early Wonder Woman stories in a more charitable light.
I have been as snarky as any in reference to those stories, by psychologist William Marston and stylized magazine illustrator H.G. Peter. Marston’s unusual sexual theories are now well-known, and account for the emphasis on bondage and dominant-submissive scenes that have afforded us snarky types so much fun.
Now DC Comics has embarked on a chronological reprinting of the Amazing Amazon’s stories in full color trade paperbacks, beginning with “Wonder Woman Chronicles” Vol. 1 ($17.99). As I perused that volume, containing Wonder Woman’s first appearance in “All Star Comics” No. 8 (December, 1941) and continuing through “Sensation Comics” No. 9 (September, 1942), I realized that I was underestimating these stories. There’s a reason parents found them harmless and little girls found them wonderful in those long-ago years: Marston brings a feeling of fairy-tale whimsy to stories which are about, after all, a beautiful princess.
Yes, people get tied up a bit too much, but that happens a lot in adventure fiction anyway, and it’s easy to ignore if you’re not focusing on it. These are harmless and charming stories, with a fine role model for young girls in a confident, dynamic princess who attempts reason before force but doesn’t back down.
I’m also re-evaluating my opinion of Marvel’s late 1950s suspense books, published when the company was referred to as Atlas. I used to dismissively refer to them as “Big Monster” books, because they often featured giant creatures with ridiculous names defeated by the cleverness of ordinary men who rise to heroism. But as I read the latest reprint, Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Tales to Astonish
Vol. 3 ($59.99) I realized how professional they really were – and how I’ll miss the genre when the last story is reprinted and there are no more left that I haven’t read.
These stories are by the same folks who in the early 1960s launched the Marvel superheroes to huge success, and by the late ‘50s were already in a groove. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck and Dick Ayers do all the heavy lifting, and hints of the greatness to come (Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk
) are obvious.
I’ll still call titles like Tales to Astonish
Big Monster books, but now it will be with affection.
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at