Monday, April 16, 2018

Robocop versus Terminator #1

Strange Team-Ups
Robocop versus Terminator #1

“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me” vs “I’ll be back.”

Writer – Frank Miller
Art – Walter Simonson
Letterer – John Workman
Colorist – Rachelle Menashe
Editor – Randy Stradley
Special thanks to – Arthur Adams, Garcine Tanaka, Adam Hughes, Lynn Varley and Ruth Salisbury

Frank Miller bats about .500 with me.

I mean The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One, Wolverine, Ronin, Sin City, his brilliant Daredevil run…all of those are masterpieces. If I had a shelf where I kept the very best comic book stories, Miller would be on that shelf several times.

...And if I had another shelf…say a much lower shelf. Like maybe the LOWEST shelf, the shelf beyond the levels of average, fair, not-so-good, poor, bad, and horrible shelves. That shelf. The BOTTOM shelf.

Miller would have several works there too. At the very least The Dark Knight Strikes Again and All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder.

Kind of have a love-hate thing going one with his work. When I hear he’s started a project, I waffle between hope and fear, awaiting it to drop. And I never blind buy his work, although I will admit to buying All Star Batman just to marvel at how horrible it was. The book that had Batman driving Dick Grayson (12 years old!) to the batcave after Grayson’s parent’s deaths on a route so long that milk cartons with the Grayson’s picture on it were planned, printed, put in stores and then shown on Clark Kent’s kitchen table is just a single example of why Miller’s take on “the Goddamn Batman” was gut-wrenchingly awful, yet in some ways much like The Room. So awful, it was entertaining.

Walter Simonson, on the other hand, is ALWAYS good. One of the few consistent creators who I can find little fault with. Even uninteresting books he makes interesting, and I have an deep, abiding faith in his creations. 

As for the pair facing off in this issue, I’m a huge fan of both franchises. Terminator had one excellent sequel and several watchable ones. Robocop (original) overflowed with perfection of such caliber that even the sequels (which Miller had a hand or two in) and the tv show couldn’t rob it of that halo of goodness. I love both properties.

But an honest appraisal of the two series shows they are so different stylistically and have such different tones that melding them together would be like trying to weld cotton candy to a girder…it just wouldn’t work. Giving Miller’s involvement, my skepticism at the project can only increase.

I read it, though.

What did I think? The book is odd. Simonson’s art wins my approval as it does every single time, but the story…the story is something else. For one thing, you’d think that the person who wrote two Robocop movie scripts (no matter how much they were butchered and rewritten) would understand that universe more than the Terminator’s. But that largely isn’t the case.

The book tosses the heavy satire tone that made the Robocop dimension so much fun to travel around in. Instead we get Miller at his cheesy, heavy handed style of macho writing. He doesn’t go full on Dark Knight, which is a blessing, but he misses the rhythm I love so much about Robocop that makes it more than just a tone-deaf action piece.

I’ll save some of these musings for our trip through the pages, which starts with this stark black intro-page as if the titles held more weight than the action that follows.

And follow this page it does. If you noted all the onomatopoeia at the bottom of the previous page, you would be ready for a firefight, which Simonson delivers. We arrive to the story in the future Terminator’s Earth, where the panels fill with sound effects and explosions over skull buried terrains.

It isn’t until page three that we see either of the combatants, this being near the war with the machines and so few of either are left. Neither Simonson nor Miller pull any punches either. 

Yuck. I imagine that giant Terminator leg scraping off the human remains like we would scrape off dog poop from our shoe.

We learn we are in the Terminator’s head space. They are worried, if that is an accurate thing to say about a machine. Worried because a human is directly accessing the center of their regional mind. They attempt to stop him…

…or her.

This is our protagonist, who I can find no name for in the book (which is a minor pet peeve of mine.) She is tied into the regional mind at the urgings of John Conner, looking for specific information about a human mind that merged with the machines and created the Terminator menace. And when she finds it, it turns out to be Alex Murphy.

As story concepts go, this probably the best that Miller could have achieved. It takes a lot for me to say that, because I find the idea that Alex Murphy could give birth to the Terminators abhorrent and taints the inherent goodness of his story arcs in the Robocop movies.

I get how Miller wants to use it, however. How he can turn it into an emotional stick to prod human emotion out of Murphy, who seems to have sunk further into his robotic personality than when we last saw him.

Right now we have to worry about our unnamed female who has found this information and suddenly finds herself targeted by all the available hardware the Terminators can throw at her. 

Found myself unable to cut this page. Here you see all of the goodness that Simonson poured into this book Everything from the character cutouts into other panels to that amazing “ZAP!” graphic that explodes quite literally off the page. This feels much like his Alien: The Illustrated Story work just amped up to eleven. The book delivers on the art level.

And our young lady uses the available technology to time travel into the past, something the Terminators view as an extreme danger to their existence.

Carving these pages up is such sacrilege, that it’s nice to have one I can’t cut. Love this emotional, trippy traveling through time panel that Simonson whips up.

Yeah, that will stop you like running into a brick wall. There is a lot here to recommend the series. I’m not fond of the story Miller decided to go with, but it is serviceable enough. It gets the characters together in a way that creates an understandable, if a bit silly, conflict. But Simonson’s art elevates these books to great art in places and that has to be taken into account.

Especially how he doesn’t just end her journey in a panel of “she’s there” but drops her into Robocop’s time like so, with some clever narration by Miller.

And just like that she’s naked, alone and in the middle of traffic in future time Detroit. But she’s only unarmed for a very brief second, since everyone is packing and she’s a highly trained solider from the future. 

I mean FARTHER in the future.

She uses the gun to waive off the rest of the crowd and steals a cab. Using the cab’s GPS, she locates the only Alex Murphy address and heads over. She pulls up behind a cop car and thinks she’s on easy street…

…but things end up much harder than she expects when she realizes that Alex Murphy is already dead, which means he’s already turned into Robocop and her peashooter won’t do a whole lot of good. She turns the money from the cab driver’s stash into an assortment of parts and before you can say “I’d buy that for a dollar” she’s cobbling all of them together into a super weapon.

When suddenly…

…she’s interrupted by a fairly easy to discern shadow. That’s right. That’s an ED209.

Make that “was an ED209”

Next, our future chick breaks into police headquarters back room where she finds Doctor Marie Lazarus, the tech in charge of Murphy, as she’s dictating a troubling journal entry. Appears that Robocop has been on duty for a staggering sixty-nine hours straight and ignoring calls to come in for repairs and rest. 

And with that future solider-girl takes off after Robocop.

Across town, a gang holding a rich man’s wife hostage is about to get an unwelcomed guest in their basement. 

That something underfoot just happens to be Robocop, who knocks them off their feet…by destroying the floor they are standing on.

And if you thought that sequence was neat, Simonson cooks up a hum-dinger by showing Robocop taking out the rest of the guys using the souped-up targeting system shown in pretty much the same way as the movie.

Dynamic! And his ending splash is perfection itself. 

Sadly, the woman’s gratitude brings home where Alex’s head is at, which happens to be avoiding all contact with his humanity. 

We move on with no break in the Robocop action as he rescues a group at a high-dollar penthouse casino from a mad suicide bomber…

…by tossing the guy into the sky.

All of this is so great that I wish this wasn’t a “team-up” tale. A straightforward Robocop story with Simonson’s art always has my money. Not even a question.

As for this mash-up that Miller is running through the paces, there are bits of it where I get where he is trying to take it. Like this bit with Robocop being all sad that he isn’t a “man” anymore. But I don’t feel the emotional pull. Miller is doing his best to set up that maybe Robocop has lost sight of his humanity so badly that perhaps he will view the Terminators as pursuing the right course of action. Look at what he spends his days doing: killing humans. Bad humans, of course, but who determines what makes a human bad in the Robocop universe.

However, I’m not buying this. It’s too...far-fetched. I just can’t get into it. I will enjoy the elements for what they are, but the story never meshes into feeling as if it is a plausible combination of the two franchises. If that is even possible.

Out of nowhere, while he is thinking this, our future solider kills him. No, really. She shoots him with the laser not just once…

…But twice, and the second time is right in the brainpan. 

You’d think that would be where this tale would end, but nope. This is the one thing that the Terminator universe is known for: revisionist history. See most time travel tales, if you change the past, the future doesn’t have time to stop the process. Here though…

Skynet senses that the past has been rewritten and decides to send three Terminators into the past to stop Alex from being killed which… ?? WTF??  If there are any theoretical physicists out there that can explain this in the comments, I will send you a free crappy comic. Or perhaps I already have. I mean, if this is how time travel really works and stuff.

They arrive at the Palace in Auburn Hills with a game underway. In a matter of minutes, they have clothing and weapons and are out the door to make a rendezvous. 

That being the moment that future solider shows up to shoot Murphy (which, out of all the moments that she could have possibly done this, how did they know this was THE moment?).

Anyway, they do and they show up and with a simple shot, they wound the future girl. It’s a shot that ends up earning them return fire from Robocop. 

Fire that uncovers a very strange fact about the shooters…

…and with that Murphy turns back to his assailant to learn her reason for drawing on him.

And that’s where issue one wraps up.

It’s interesting to note that a year after this came out, Virgin Interactive turned it into a video game for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, Game Gear, and Master System as well as version for SNES, and Game Boy. Some of these were faithful to the book series and some where a bit different in storylines. 

My thoughts are fairly clear where Robocop versus Terminator is concerned: it isn’t bad Miller, but it isn’t good Miller either. The problem isn’t so much the story as it is the universes he is working in and the fact that Miller only includes the realistic parts of Robocop and leaves out all the satire. I suppose it isn’t unreadable and the Simonson art makes it freaking beautiful to look at. In the end, it just doesn’t knock it out of the park.

And while I have two more of this four issue opus, I think I will leave this one here instead of saying I’ll be back.

More weird stuff later this week!

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