Let’s be honest: comics are utterly amazing. When you lose the American tradition of just superheroes (not that there’s anything wrong with them), an entire world of possibilities opens up to you. For example, you could write about the atomically-powered robot son of Doctor Nikola Tesla, fighting the elder Gods or other beings from outside our plane of existence alongside historical figures like HP Lovecraft and Doctor Carl Sagan.
Well. Maybe not this story specifically. This might get you sued, because it’s been done.
This book is brought to you by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Ronda Pattinson, and Jeff Powell.
Volume 3 of the excellent Atomic Robo comic series is called The Shadow From Beyond Time. Taking place throughout the life of the titular Robo himself, it examines what could happen if an unknowable evil struck at a universe where science is filled with insane discoveries and most major inventions come from a company headed by the artificial son of Nikola Tesla.
In 1926 New York, Atomic Robo is trying to have a quiet night of studying. He’s only been alive for a few years, and learning is important when you’re the son of Doctor Tesla. Unfortunately, despite Doctor Tesla being out, someone is knocking on their door. And won’t stop.
It’s Howard Phillip Lovecraft and Charles Fort. They have come to seek Tesla’s help against a foe they fought decades ago at Wardenclyffe, a lab formerly owned by Tesla. Also, Lovecraft is rather (historically accurately) racist as you can get while being a mostly family friendly book. As it turns out, while there are indeed creatures beyond understanding, they cannot even be defeated by the power of a lightning cannon. As such, there is only one recourse.
As Robo and Fort do their best to stop Lovecraft from expanding and taking over reality, young Robo’s own abilities to deal with reality are challenged. After leaping up into the air, the Old One returns to the ground… by popping up through it like it was always there. After a covert discussion with Doctor Tesla with a bizarre invention that we would call a car phone, Robo realizes there is but one way to stop such a horror.
Hurling his father’s car, himself, and two overloading lightning cannons inside the beast and hoping for the best.
The year is 1957, and Atomic Robo has left the military after fighting in World War II and the Korean conflict. Now, he runs the science think tank Tesladyne out of the Empire State Building, and gets some important news. Something has crashed into Oregon’s back woods. While the government is worried that it could be a Communist plot, Robo believes it to be a piece of Russian sattelite’s Sputnik’s booster rocket.
It is neither.
The creature has returned, and is gunning for Robo himself. Now it even has the added ability of possessing those who stare too long into the abyss, like any good horror story featuring this kind of monster.
And it’s possessed the entire rest of the small Oregon town. Robo and his small team of Action Scientists try to escape, but the creature is now airborne and determined to kill Robo at all costs. It even rips their car off the ground, intent on eating them. Luckily, Robo has a very stupid plan.
The year is 1971, and Robo is convinced the evil from beyond time will return once again. How it’s been defeated twice now is… unspecified. However, he has invented science that will allow him to contain the creature and study it. All he needs is the help of the best scientist on the planet.
Doctor Carl Sagan. The two of them travel to Peru, where Robo has calculated it should show up. Luckily for him, or because he happens to be there, Robo is correct, and the creature is contained.
Unfortunately, the creature is able to possess the local insect life, as they have just enough brainpower to fall under its sway. While being chased by a swarm of insects who cannot die or be punched, Carl Sagan rebuilds the containment pen into a lightning gun.
Robo then climbs deep inside the single creaure’s mouth and-
Finally, the year is 2009, and an experiment with a fancy supercomputer is going to solve impossible equations instantly by forcing reality to find the right answer instantly. And it might be an evil computer.
Activating the computer also causes a slight issue, summoning the creature to Robo’s doorstep a full 6 years early. Robo climbs inside and meets himself three times over outside time inside the creature itself.
Can Robo solve the problem this old one presents? What can he do with four times the normal brainpower, a broken 1920s car, a pair of busted lightning guns, and 80 years to plan?
I mean, this is volume 3 of… what 10 now? Yeah, he does.
Most of this book straddles the line between science action and comedy rather than horror, I freely admit. However, Scott Wegener’s art does a fantastic job of conveying the sheer horror of something possessing you, and the relentless determination something like a Lovecraftian monster has. Wegener also nails the creep factor of the possessed people and bugs. Top-notch here, especially for keeping within the art style for Robo.
Brian Clevinger also comes up with one hell of a creative way to treat those Lovecraftian creations, and the continual levity of the book actually enhances the horror fear while making the characters feel genuinely human. Even when they’re a robot made by Nikola Tesla. There was a fair amount of character research put into this, and it shows. Fantastic work.
Being a book of mad science and adventure, this isn’t the last time Robo would come face to face with the horrible. Volume 4 would feature a dimension of vampires, giant Kaiju, and even the ghost of Thomas Edison. With the magic of Robo, though, you also have a Wild West story, epic sword and sorcery, political thrillers, and even world war 2 stories. If you like almost any genre, it’s going to be found in this franchise.
While it may not hit the spot for sheer mind-numbing horror, seeing a man-robot try to use science against the unknowable is incredible in its own right. Check out this comic. You won’t regret it.