Atomic Robo is a continuing series of comics/graphic novels with the
following simple premise: Nikola Tesla builds sentient,
nuclear-powered, well-nigh indestructible robot. U.S. government
grants robot personhood and citizenship in exchange for secret
services rendered. Robot founds Tesladyne, a firm of "action
scientists" who go around confronting the impossible with wry
expletives and high explosives. So far, so Rule of Cool.
Aside from being loads of action-heavy fun, the series is notable for
its lack of sexism. There are women. They are not dainty, or dumb, or
hyper-sexual badasses, or especially in touch with their emotions, or
gifted healers. They are people who wear sensible clothing (whether
that means coveralls or body armour), do their jobs, and react to the
sight of oncoming vampires in much the same way as their male
colleagues (with preemptive violence). This isn't a big deal. The
authors don't hop up and down drawing attention to the fact that they
can write an action comic that passes the Bechdel test. In fact, I
didn't notice it until a friend pointed it out. But it's refreshing to
have the existence of human professionals who are biologically female
presented as ordinary.
Race is handled the same way. Some of the action scientists don't
look like Western Europeans. So what. Neither does Atomic Robo.
Nobody cares. The only group singled out for prejudiced treatment are
the Germans, and German stereotypes are such a trope in Greatest
Generation stories that it would significantly alter the tone of the
series if they were omitted here. Of course, Atomic Robo himself,
being a Greatest Generation All-American hero, does display the
charming US parochialism and machismo that you'd expect from such a
character. I just don't get the sense that the authors skewed the
world to fit his assumptions.
The series somehow captures the fun and the belief in the capabilities
of American Men that leant flavour to so many classic adventure tales
without insulting everybody else.
Another thing: Atomic Robo is a most unusual robot character; neither
a dumb golem or exoskeleton for human heroes nor a soulless
super-intelligent cypher, but a steel-and-electricity human who, while
fairly shrewd and growing wiser as the decades go by, something made
clear by the series' flashback-heavy structure, makes many foolhardy
mistakes and has to rely on brute strength and resilience to get out
of the messes into which he habitually leaps. He's a man of action
who happens to have a working knowledge of the physics so often rudely
ignored by the monsters he meets (yes, it's a running joke). He's
also a very long-lived man of action, destined to bury the
grandchildren of his comrades-in-arms, and it's touching to watch him
deal with the emotional toll of that peculiar fate. (Yes, I realise I
just used a bunch of male pronouns for a machine after talking about
how non-sexist the series is; Atomic Robo presents as male throughout
the series and I respect his choice of gender identity).
It's a ripping yarn with good one-liners, full of the spirit of the
adventure tales with which I grew up. It just manages to be good as
well as awesome.