Robocop: Last Stand #7 (of 8)

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.

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Robocop: Last Stand #6 (of 8)

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)

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)

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.

Robocop: Last Stand #3 (of 8)

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)

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.

Robocop: Last Stand #1 (of 8)

Robocop: Last Stand is, conceptually, a tough sell. It’s a comic book adaptation of a movie no one liked (Robocop 3) when it came out twenty years before the first issue of Last Stand dropped. It’s ostensibly based on Frank Miller’s original screenplay, but when a different publisher did a “based on Frank Miller’s original screenplay” adaptation of Robocop 2 (just called Frank Miller’s Robocop), it turned out Miller’s Robocop 2 script included a lot of his Robocop 3 too. That much-hyped adaptation, Frank Miller’s Robocop, wasn’t just a bad comic, it was a notoriously late one. It’s also not like there had been any particularly good Robocop comics over the years. But the license kept bopping around as one publisher after another tried to hit Robo-gold.

So it’s interesting Last Stand is so… well… good.

The comic is a perfect storm of creative impulse—Steven Grant’s adaptation of the film (which he’d already adapted for Dark Horse back in 1993) is one event after another, with Korkut Öztekin’s punky cartooning tying them together. This first issue has plenty of action violence, but never gets particularly gory. Or, more accurately, Öztekin doesn’t focus on the gore. He emphasizes the action, focuses on the characters.

The issue opens with the issue’s only direct tie-in to the Frank Miller’s Robocop series, which Boom! (Last Stand publisher) reprinted when they picked up the Robo-license. It’s a TV ad showing the future dystopia, which the movies did a lot better. The TV segment also reveals some of the ground situation—Robocop has gone rogue. The newscasters, again played by Leeza Gibbons (who hadn’t returned for the actual Robocop 3) and Mario Machado don’t buy it. The evil company, OCP, has fired all the cops. They’ve also renamed their urban housing project for some nonsensical reason. Maybe something with the license?

Seriously, if it weren’t for Öztekin, the most interesting thing about Last Stand would definitely be the behind-the-scenes editorial mandates.

There’s an action intro to Robocop, saving a streetwalker from the OCP cops, then the action cuts to a new character, Marie. She’s trying to find Robocop. Only Grant doesn’t establish her name so her identity is unclear; she could even be Nancy Allen. Only she’s not because there’s a flashback to Nancy Allen dying and making Robocop promise to avenge her, which he’s apparently doing now as he takes on the OCP cops.

Meanwhile, OCP is trying to kick people out of their homes in Old Detroit and they’ve only got five days to do it, then OCP and their Japanese financing partners will default. There’s a big expository altercation involving a company suit, Bertha (who everyone always assumed was a Frank Miller nod to Martha Washington, but who knows), and then Robocop. Öztekin gets to do a big action scene involving an ED-209 robot, then the issue ends awkwardly with Marie—introducing herself finally—tracking down Robocop.

The awkward finish, which leaves the scene hanging mid-conversation, is just the sort of awkward Last Stand needs. Grant and Öztekin can only do so much, with a Robocop 3 adaptation, with a Robocop comic, and the truncated finish seems to acknowledge it. Grant’s not willing to make Robocop a more traditional protagonist, but he’s also shifting the spotlight. Not in this first issue, anyway.

The comic functions as a peculiar hook, distinguishing itself—in no small part thanks to Öztekin—from all those conceptual limitations and obligations.

Maybe it’s all thanks to editors Alex Galer and Eric Harburn. But whoever’s responsible… it’s a Robocop comic where you want to read the next one, which is quite a feat.

Even in the future of the future of law enforcement there is room for improvement: Frank Miller’s Robocop (2)

Like most media with a Frank Miller credit on it, Frank Miller’s Robocop does not aged well. More accurately, as far as Robocop goes anyway, it doesn’t improve with age or maturity. It was always as bad as it is now, every reading another bloody stab at nostalgia. Frank Miller’s Robocop is an adaptation of Miller’s original Robocop 2 script. It’s a pseudo-infamous script—Miller, hot off Dark Knight loves Robocop and writes the sequel. There’s a writer’s strike in there somewhere. When the sequel finally does get made, Miller’s script has been rewritten by Walon Green (who wrote some of The Wild Bunch script). The sequel doesn’t get a good reaction, everyone starts thinking it’s because Miller’s script got rewritten. But then Miller’s back for Robocop 3, which should seem weird but actually makes perfect sense because they’re really just using his Robocop 2 script ideas.

So Frank Miller’s Robocop initially comes off more like a Robocop 3 adaptation than a Robocop 2. The first three issues are just Robocop 3, then with 2 elements, but still with a bunch of 3 going on. If only adapter Steven Grant could unravel all these threads….

And he doesn’t. He leaves Robocop entirely jumbled, with Juan Jose Ryp’s highly detailed, precisely messy, very busy art not doing anything to save the comic. Ryp’s art never really hurts it—whoever gives him too many pages for action scenes, for example, is the one who hurts it. Ryp does well with fast paced action. He doesn’t do well slowing down to go through a throw-by-throw. Especially not with the comic’s version of “Robocop 2,” the big villain (sort of) in the finale. It usually feels like Grant’s never seen Ryp’s art, otherwise no one would plot out the scene the way Grant does.

Editing matters. Though with Frank Miller’s Robocop you probably don’t get to tell Frank Miller how his ideas are so bad, even a franchise-desperate movie studio could improve on them.

I’ve read this series something like three times now. Maybe four. Definitely three. I’ve read it as published (often delayed), I’ve read it slowly, I’ve binged it. It never gets any better. There’s never enough story for the issues or even the series. The first three have something like an arc, which suggests Grant might do something similar with the back six, but he doesn’t. Once the big action set pieces start, the comic rushes to get out of there way so Ryp can have too many pages to do boring action.

In the end, all Frank Miller’s Robocop does is raise questions not particularly worth having answered—did Miller write any of these characters any better, did he really have such bad plotting or was Grant trying to make it fit the nine issues (it feels like there’s one missing, though who’d want to read another one).

Robocop 2, the movie, is far from great shakes, but seeing notes on Miller’s script from the studio execs? Seeing those might be interesting, if only because there’s so much to “fix.”

(It’s also strange how few of the “regular” cast show up in the script. Makes you wonder what Miller liked about the first movie).

The Rook 1 (October 2015)

The Rook #1

Seventies and eighties comic book sci-fi is some solid stuff. The Rook tries to tap into the genre to get some nostalgia points and it isn’t hard–artist Paul Gulacy drew a lot of good seventies and eighties sci-fi. The classics, if you would. And I’ll bet Steven Grant even wrote some of them.

Not sure if ROM counts.

Sci-fi in comics has gotten a whole lot more mainstream–especially in indie books–so what do returning giants Grant and Gulacy bring to the genre? It’s nearly camp. It nearly feels like a sci-fi comic from the early nineties because of all the references (“Quantum Leap,” “Back to the Future,” Time Machine actually playing a part of the plot), only the style is from a different era.

But then, The Rook is set in 2015, so Grant’s doing this nineties look at college life. You expect someone to call another kid a square for not drinking the spiked punch. And it doesn’t feel like camp in those moments, because Grant’s just not caring about his cast. They’re not as important as the gimmick. Only the gimmick’s not particularly good.

The Gulacy art carries it all, even after Gulacy starts rushing (somewhere in the second half of the issue). Gulacy has the chops to make the characters likable and sympathetic, even if their dialogue doesn’t give them any personality.

The plot’s amusing, the dialogue’s weak, the art’s good. The Rook isn’t the project Gulacy deserves, but he excels with what he’s got.

CREDITS

Writer, Steven Grant; artist, Paul Gulacy; colorist, Jesus Aburto; letterer, Nate Piekos; editors, Ian Tucker and Daniel Chabon; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

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