Overview

The Disaster Squad of Distinction

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Together for the first time in one volume 2000 AD brings you the complete Ro-Busters. Marvel at the adventures of Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein as they take on some of the toughest jobs in the universe and plan a liberation of the robot slaves! Written by comics legend Pat Mills (Slàine) and featuring the art of some of the biggest names in the industry, including Dave Gibbons (Watchmen), Kevin O’Neill (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) and Mike McMahon (Slàine), this massive dose of Thrill-power is a must-have for all comics fans.

This just isn't fair. What's a reviewer to do if all the underlying themes and intent of the book is already revealed in full detail in the intro? Where's the quiet contemplation? The introspection? The lonely days searching for 'the hook'? There is only one course of action left: quote the intro! Ladies and gentlemen, Pat Mills:

"Alongside the dramatic possibilities of Ro-Busters, Kevin, myself and the readers also saw that Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein had enormous comedy potential. And so we suggested to the-powers-that-be giving the robot duo a similar comedy role to Tharg. This was firmly rejected by editorial who felt Tharg and the Thrillsuckers filled the 2000 AD comedy slot and did not want Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein as rivals to their Zarjaz one. And so, finally, I had to admit defeat, despite its popularity, despite fabulous artwork – notably by Dave Gibbons and Mike McMahon – the format was just too restrictive for what I really wanted to do: a kind of robot Muppets meets Green Wing."

And in a nutshell, that is what Ro-Busters really reads like: wasted potential. Hats off to Pat Mills for exposing the underwear of 2000 AD editorial of that era. There's a smell oozing throughout the entire book and the only one to with an air freshener at hand is writer Pat Mills who, as their creator, has the best grip upon the adventures of our two robots and who possesses the satirical and subversive edge necessary to handle the concept well. But allthough the satire and subversiveness permeate the comic it never really comes as much to the front as it should either. Mills combines humour - although obviously not as much as he would've liked - with action adventure in imaginative future settings. The bickering of the two robots is insightful and reveals us their place in the greater scheme in a world where intelligent robots are treated equally to garbage just because they are not human. And those are the best parts of this mammoth 400-page collection.

Ro-Jaws is a former sewer droid that looks like a mechanical dinosaur. His obedience circuits are faulty, resulting in big-mouthed crudity and general bad behavior - bad for humans that is, or 'humes' as he always calls them. Hammerstein is an ex-war droid having earned his medals during the big war but finding himself disposed of after the finish of said war. He's loyal and honest and quick to go to action and makes a nice counterpart for the more cynical and lazy Ro-Jaws. They are part of the Ro-Busters, a suicide squad for robots led by the money grubbing boss called Mr. 10% - because that's all the human that's left of him inside his robotic suit!

Allthough every writer keeps things nicely focused mainly on Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein, the ones not written by Pat Mills turn out to be generic plots where the robots just bicker delivering either expositionary babblings or straight out comments on the proceedings within the parameters of their characters.

Jack Adrian's scripts come over too workman-like and by the numbers. The comedic effect that was present in the first stories by Pat Mills, where he would lay out their situation in the humes' world through their bickering and thereby build further on their personalities, is traded in for some general bantering instead of effectively enlarging the otherness of the robots. Pat Mills' dialogue stood out because it played more with the concepts of a world overrun by robots and the fact that Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein are acutely aware of their 'robotness',  leading them to their own speech and habits.

On the art front, Kevin O'Neill employs the patented jagged chaotic layout of the british sci-fi strip, always reminding me of greasy, rusty engine parts. It works but you're not sure where everything is suppposed to be or how it works exactly. His thick, scratchy linework fits the chaos of the world of Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein well and he manages to infuse emotions into the offbeat designs. He certainly goes all out on the action front and doesn't skimp on details.

Ian Kennedy steps in for a while and delivers a bit of the old British war stories sensibility which I found to be quite refreshing after the rather general stylings of Carlos Pino. Ferrer then, employs a clean open style, reminiscent of Steve Yeowell and his storytelling is also very clear. He stays within the dynamic panel layout but avoids the clutter that's often so problematic with Pino's art and storytelling dynamics.

Pat Mills returns after a while to the writing front, teaming up with Dave Gibbons for 'Death on the Orient Express'. The art immediately steps up a notch, becoming detailed  and much more readable through more delineated panel layouts. Humans and robots are infused with more personality in their looks. Pat Mills immediately injects some much needed character into the relationship of the robots and they're back to their good old natured robot selves after some general sci-fi stories. The dark humor is back up to snuff and the stories revolve more about the robots' place in the world where they live. This is shown in the fabulous 'Death on the Orient Express' where Ro-Jaws - not a big lover of 'humes' - overly relishes his role as judge and jury over the lot of some humans who elected him to decide their fate because they wanted a robot who has no emotions - big mistake obviously. In a rather brilliant move, he doesn't let the humans defend themselves but calls upon their servant robots to testify to determine who is the better human and doesn't need to die. It is one of the best stories in the bundle.

In 'Hammerstein's War Memoirs', Kevin O'Neill shows up for the next story where Pat Mills infuses some pathos into the Hammerstein character in a flashback story showing his experiences in the big war, Hammerstein's difficulty of overcoming the robophobicness of his fellow soldiers and the horrors of war. Kevin O'Neill's fluent lines lend a cartoony quality to the characters but in combination with his detailed art, it makes the future warfare and their high tech devices a thing to behold. After this, Mills switches to the memoirs of Ro-Jaws touching upon his lovable rogue personality and the growth of his cynical personality, explaining his love/hate relationship with the humans.

Oddly enough, one of the better stories involves a watchtower robot named Charlie and doesn't feature our lovable robot duo at all. Illustrated by Gibbons, the story itself is recycled from an aborted project involving a comic for the Jeff Wayne’s record album of H.G. Wells 'War of the worlds'. Charlie becomes a beacon of hope when the humans of the town, where he functions as a watchtower for endangered ships, call upon him for protection from huge demolition robots. The destruction of a city, with its dwellers driven underground; the priest making a stand; the destroyer taking on the walking machine and even the howls of the Terra-Meks, they all have their roots in Wells’ classic tale of alien invasion. According to Gibbons, nobody but Pat could have imbued Charlie the robot with such pathos and true heroism.

2000 AD veteran Mike McMahon lends his :gritty linework to the last storyline in the adventures of our beloved robots 'The Fall and Rise of Ro-Jaws and Hammer-Stein'. By this point, Mills was quite disillusioned  in the fact that editorial forbade him to take the robots where he really wanted. There seems to be a strange bit of distancing that oozes from the tale; Mills obviously felt the need to close things up. Tired of editorial mandates, he decides to let the plot take over and end things with a bang.

The bonus material includes some Alan Moore Ro-Busters stories. Though the plots come off rather stereotypically, it must be said that does tend to play more than other writers with the story elements of the Ro-Busters; for instance the rival team 'the Stormeagles' or the past of Hammerstein. His dialogue is better than the average Ro-Busters' writers, focusing - like Pat Mills - on the otherness of the robots. His stories are illustrated by early Steve Dillon and Bryan Talbot, both still heavily influenced by the 2000 AD style but their individual styles shine through at the edges.

Ro-Busters as an epic would be a success if you only take into account the Pat Mills-written storylines. Mills manages to take us on a wild ride of violent action and burlesque proceedings through the eyes of two robots whose point of views are diametrically opposed but still manage to find each other through the shabby treatment they both receive at the humes' hands. Together they face wild galactic menaces and natural disasters as part of the Ro-Busters. Only nostalgia makes you read the other collected stories. They are merely filler material to the main event.

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The complete Ro-Busters published by Rebellion/2000 AD, is a 400-page paperback that retails at £14.99 and is available from December on at your local retailer.

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