Robocop: Last Stand #7 of 8

Robocop: Last Stand #7 of 8Robocop: Last Stand #7; Boom! Studios; February 2014; $3.99, 32 pgs; available collected.

This issue of Last Stand has me wishing I had been timing how long the comic took to read. It’s an all action issue. There’s Robocop versus Japanese cyborgs, good guys at OCP trying to survive slash beat the “suit” villain (which gives Last Stand’s sidekicks more to do than Robo sidekicks usually get to do). There’s a two page resolution, which features some of the civilian cast but they weren’t important enough to get any page time during the main action.

And how is the main action, since there’s nothing else to the book?

It’s good, sometimes really good. But it also reveals how clunky Robocop comes off in big action sequences. Oztekin doesn’t solve that problem (or even acknowledge it), but the rest of the issue? The all-action comic with a single fight scene determining the end of the story? Oztekin does a fine job. It’s a good fight, with Grant getting in some occasional, effective banter.

Then the issue ends—in those two pages—with such ambiguity it’s hard to imagine what they’ve got in store for the grand finale. Because it doesn’t seem like anyone’s got any idea what they’re going for with tone for the ending. The issue’s been twenty-ish pages of constant conflict; Grant and Oztekin don’t have room to shift gears fast enough. Considering Oztekin doesn’t have room for giant explosions by the end of the issue, the resolution to a Robo subplot—or, more, the nod to a resolution for a Robo subplot—doesn’t figure into the issue’s plotting, which is too bad. Especially since Last Stand #7 is Grant’s last one on the eight issue series, which also makes you wonder where exactly this script came from… did Grant write it back in the Frank Miller’s Robocop (Robocop 2) adaptation? Did Boom! get it with the license?

Regardless, Grant and Oztekin (and their editors) did the incredible—they turned an exceedingly troubled pseudo-cyberpunk action sequel into a successful comic book. Oztekin’s the star, obviously, but whatever Grant contributed—seemingly—was exactly what the book needed.

Robocop: Last Stand #6 of 8

Robocop: Last Stand #6Robocop: Last Stand #5; Boom! Studios; December 2013; $3.99, 32 pgs; available collected.

Robocop: Last Stand #6 is where the comic finally gets around to one of the main Robocop 3 plot points (and advertising focuses). The jet pack. Flying Robocop. The way Grant handles it is to bake it into an even bigger cyberpunk-y but mainstream sci-fi moment. This plot point, however, seems to have come from the pilot movie for “Robocop: The Series,” which was written by the original film’s screenwriters and may well have been their Robocop 2. See, the Robocop fan hat is every present and often shameful.

So the issue has Robocop getting his wings, fighting the Japanese cyborg in his helicopter fleet (again with the helicopters) as the people of Old Detroit fight the final OCP cop push. Grant structures the Old Detroit stuff like a subplot to Robocop’s subplot about going renegade. It barely makes a ripple anymore, especially since that not-jet pack twist is so big.

Grant’s also got his villain—who he and Oztekin still can’t imbue with any personality, which is still a big problem—but the pacing of all the action is great. There’s villain versus good guys at OCP, there’s Robocop versus helicopters and karate cyborg, there’s the imminent massacre of innocent people. Grant and Oztekin set up the stakes—so maybe Grant put in just enough time with the regular folk—and then just set the issue spinning.

The finale, with Robo getting ready for the last battle (not stand), is awesome. So basically Last Stand goes #1 through #5, then #6 and #7 (#8 is a detached epilogue). All it needed to be complete is another two issues to open it. Instead it’s sporadic but not episodic, just a bunch of great action. This issue, where Grant has to engage with the infamous Robocop 3 jet pack, is sort of a victory lap. Grant and Oztekin got the comic through a lot, earning a lot of trust, so why not the jet pack. Oztekin’s take on it, visually, is pretty cool; I mean, it’s Robocop-in-a-jet-pack but whatever. The helicopters are more of a problem.

It’s also impressive they’ve got Robocop positioned as the big hero for the finale given how detached Grant’s narrative distance to the character has been throughout.

Robocop: Last Stand #5 of 8

Robocop: Last Stand #5Robocop: Last Stand #5; Boom! Studios; December 2013; $3.99, 32 pgs; available collected.

This issue opens with a “you really should have seen this coming” twist. It’s an intense open, then the issue moves right away into a lengthy action sequence. Pretty much the whole issue. I went into this issue expecting it to start a “second story” or at least make sense as a halfway point in the series, which Boom! traded in two down the middle. And maybe the finale is the start of the series’s third act….

Was it Dan O’Bannon who said end of the second act is when things are at their direst for the heroes? It’s pretty dire for Robocop at the end of the issue. He’s lost all his friends, he’s had his heart ripped out (literally and figuratively—his new heart too, he just got it last issue). There was another surprising plot turn later in the issue, which maybe the first one should’ve foreshadowed. Conceptually, anyway. Last Stand has an interesting disinterest with the actual Robocop 3, while still playing with the same toys.

It’s like one kid is really bad at playing with his toys so this other kid comes in and plays with them better. Only there’s also all the awesome Oztekin art. The first kid didn’t have Oztekin, he had a lower budget than needed for the special effects. Though Oztekin, in another Robocop vs. helicopter sequence (second in the series so far, because attack helicopters used to be a really big deal in movies), shows what’s wrong with Robocop’s design in too physical action. He’s visually imposing—while slick—but not visually graceful. Quite the opposite. And it comes through in the issue for a bit.

Another reason the issue feels like the end of the second act is the emphasis on the villain. She’s been around since the second issue or so (her return being an adaptation surprise) and, after last issue, it makes sense she gets more solo page time. She’s fine. The exposition and setup is good. But she’s a villain who needs a performance, otherwise she’s too slight, sort of tedious in her evil. She needs some charm. And Grant and Oztekin don’t bring it in writing or art. They both do fine, they just aren’t interested.

And nothing in Last Stand actually seems to interest Grant so for him to be further detached… it’s unfortunate.

Though predictable.

Robocop has had villain problems since the end credits rolled on the first movie.

Robocop: Last Stand #4 of 8

Robocop: Last Stand #6Robocop: Last Stand; Boom! Studios; November 2013; $3.99, 32 pgs; available collected.

Putting on my Robocop nerd hat a minute (does it ever come off?), the first film’s writers wanted it to be a commentary on how Detroit used to make the best cars and—by the eighties—they made shit. This issue of Robocop: Last Stand has an inspiring, come-together moment for Detroiters to rebuild Murphy in a garage. One has to imagine if it’d made it into a movie, even Robocop 3, it’d have been effective. Well, okay, maybe not Robocop 3 as it is, but a 3 more like Last Stand.

The garage where they put Robo back together again is called “The Stand,” no less.

I’d been waiting for this issue to see if I was right about Boom! and Grant splitting the series into two parts, one through four (for the first trade), five through eight (for the second). The answer—should Last Stand be read in two sittings, one (or eight)—is complicated and immaterial. Last Stand doesn’t work as a “movie,” it works as a comic, where it doesn’t need anything resembling a three act structure—whether it has one or not, the medium doesn’t require it. Not when the book relies so heavily on Oztekin’s art. It’s a mostly action issue—there’s some big changes at OCP, which is some talking heads but mostly action too—as Robocop and his young, still nameless orphan charge lead the OCD cops on a car chase, culminating in Robocop and kid trapped in the sewer, Robocop literally falling to pieces.

This sequence is mostly from the girl’s perspective, which gives Grant a chance to be funny without being crude. Last Stand’s usually got a pretty base humor—the jokes at the expense of capitalist stooges aren’t subtle—and having the kid run the show for a bit is nice. She doesn’t overstay the spotlight. She and Robo trying to find the “rebels” is concurrent to the OCD cops hassling said rebels at their day job. Or at least at Bertha’s diner, where they all seem to hang out.

The tone shift—action chase then tense comedy (in a couple different situations)—gives Oztekin a lot to do. There’s frenetic action in the car chase and then frenetic energy from the participants of the diner sequence, as the cops can’t resist threatening (or trying to threaten) the civilians and the civilians aren’t going to be threatened.

That inspiring come-together finish, where the ragtag group of Detroit natives put Robo back together again is more of a writing thing. Oztekin’s got to match the script’s tempo. The rest of the issue, the comic has to meet his.

The way Grant plots Last Stand, as issues, in half, as a whole, is kind of permanently screwed up but thanks to Oztekin, it’s always gloriously so.

New Comics Wednesday

I got four.

Had lunch with a friend recently and afterwards went to a comic store with him. While nothing hit me on the the mainstream rack, the indies had me curious. So here, in no particular order, and possibly not as new as “this weeks long underwear books”, is a smattering of what caught my eye, and got me to purchase them.

Pope Hats #4

Pope Hats #4,5– when I got home, I discovered I had issue 4 in my “stack”, so I read ‘em both. Hartley Lin, current master of short stories about everyday people with issues, goes with an anthology style of shorts in 4 with good results. A half a dozen quick narratives are the stomping ground, with a huge swath of characters and some poignant conclusions on them. While each has a distinctness of it’s own, it s in issue 5 where Lin lets his inner talents loose with a lengthy 60 page story all about his well realized Frances, a young lady who’s watched her bff/roomie move away for work, and now deals pretty much alone with her position as a law clerk at a huge firm. While I could say it’s a more complicated version of Betty and Veronica, the love he has for the fate of Frances is more than communicated with a warm, formal, cartooning style that nearly brought me to tears here more than once. I now love Frances, I just can’t help myself.

Black Hammer: Age of Doom #8

Black Hammer-Age of Doom #8– while I picked up this middle issue cold, I was still familiar enough with the concept and the group here enough to catch on to the endless reboot theme thats underlying here. While there’s not terribly much meat on this comic, Dean Ormstrom’s art carries it, along with just enough willingness on my behalf for patience to see where Jeff LeMire is going with this. On the edge of teetering from it’s own weighty premises, Black Hammer gives something for those too crazy or stupid to give up on superhero comics.

House Amok #5

House Amok #5 – one of those favorite Vertigo replacement series from Black Crown, Chris Sebela manages to take a fast paced crazy family story with likable characters and just about kill all the momentum he built in the first four issues. Not the ending I wanted, but Shawn McManus’ great cartooning helps digesting this mess immensely. Decent first four issues, though, the train wreck that composes issue 5 kills it.

Lodger #2

Lodger #2 – Another Black Crown book, noir styled authors Maria and David Lapham relate a story here about a nomadish guy that gets involved with certain peoples lives, mostly for a bad ending for them. Lapham’s experience with down trodden folks and a love for depicting real violence give this one a convincing tone, and makes me curious for another.

All in all, not bad. Makes me want to try it again sometime. The threat of walking into a comic series cold was balanced by enough talent, and for the exception of Black Hammer, the ability to read a copy of something and get a warm fuzzy feeling while experiencing comics again, enjoying the random issues.

Robocop: Last Stand #3 of 8

Robocop: Last Stand #3

Robocop: Last Stand; Boom! Studios; October 2013; $3.99, 32 pgs; available collected.

Robocop: Last Stand #3 gives a great example of what’s lost in the idea of adapting Robocop 1, 2, 3, or 4 to comic books—the damage to Robocop. The movies are all about him getting beat to crap, just about broken, losing limbs, his human face getting revealed, on and on. This issue has something similar, but since Robo doesn’t have anyone to play off of, Grant and Oztekin can’t give any insight into his condition. The comic doesn’t have any Robo-vision shots giving the efficiency level. It’s just a lot of dialogue-free action as Robocop tries to survive an ambush by the Japanese cyborg bad guy. It’s a great sequence, thanks to Oztekin’s art and how he paces it, but it’s extremely detached from Robocop’s trials.

In fact, when he rescues a young girl left homeless by a fire (one the evil company doesn’t let the firefighters fight until Robocop forces them to do so), Grant’s script moves to her perspective (because she’s talking) and Oztekin follows suit (a little, but a little shift in the art’s narrative distance is a big thing).

The issue opens awkwardly once again; turns out the final panel of last issue was one of those panels where Oztekin was doing important, unspoken visual exposition. Once the issue reorients—there’s a twisted back twist to start things off, which might play differently in the trade—it’s straight into the Robocop action. The beginning, albeit with the plot twist teaser and some black comedy, is all evil company OCP plotting and bickering. The comic’s biggest leap in logic is how such a dysfunctional organization could coordinate enough to even set a trap for Robocop. And not because Robocop is too smart, but because there’s no one particularly bright at OCP.

Once the action starts at the burning building, it never stops. The third act of the issue, with Robo playing guardian to the little girl, is just him getting into a souped up car so he can outrun the OCP cops chasing him. It’s got an excellent pace thanks to Oztekin (and presumably Grant) and a rather effective finish.

Though, once again, it feels like Grant is just starting the story. Now we’re going into the second act, at the end of #3. Of eight.

So it’ll be very interesting if the next issue really does end with a “Volume One” feel.

Robocop: Last Stand #2 of 8

Robocop: Last Stand #2

Robocop: Last Stand; Boom! Studios; September 2013; $3.99, 32 pgs; available collected.

The previous issue of Robocop: Last Stand had a weird ending; it was truncated. This issue continues that scene and it’s very awkward since the previous context is gone. Maybe Grant’s not so much being quirky with the screenplay adaptation as just not knowing how to break out scenes because this issue goes out on a very similar truncation. Instead of the end of a scene, it’s like the “movie” fades out on a reaction shot.

But once that awkward opening is done—it’s also part of the Robocop and Marie character arc, which is pretty strange—the issue’s incredibly solid. Grant just has a hard time with the two characters. Robo it’s hard because he doesn’t have a story arc (it started before the comic did, with the cops being shut down or maybe Nancy Allen getting killed), Marie because she’s the tech person without any history. She’s a Robocop expert—at one point she tells Bertha how she’s only in it for Robocop, not to help save Old Detroit from OCP and the Japanese bad guys. Oztekin uses a lot of in-panel action this issue, often with Marie and Bertha, because he’s trying to move along conversation without going over to talking heads for exposition. It’s a nice move but it doesn’t leave time to really think about the ramifications of Bertha or Marie’s statements; see, Bertha doesn’t think it’s cool Marie is trying to make Robo fall for her, even if Bertha does just think Robo’s a tool.

There’s some more interesting “sequel” stuff this issue, with Dan O’Herlihy’s “Old Man” from the first two movies returning. He wasn’t back in that Miller Robocop 2 adaptation, so it’s a bit of a surprise (even if it’s an inglorious cameo). Meanwhile, villain lady from 2 is also back, which is a bigger surprise when taking that Frank Miller Robo 2 adaptation into account—the character, while a villain lady, was a different villain lady. Grant does a rather good job bringing the character back here; she’s in charge of the company’s brainwashing unit, which electro-shocks teens into behaving well. It’s all prelude to a solid action sequence.

Lots of good art from Oztekin, but more impressively the way he utilizes the panels to move scenes along. Grant has a some decent scenes too, though—like I said before—the end has a similar truncation problem to the first issue.

I really do wonder if Boom! laid out the comic to be read in two four issue trades. I’ll have to pay attention to the end of #4.