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Graphic Novel Review: Giant Robot Warriors by Stuart Moore and Ryan Kelly

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One look at its dust jacket cover — with its battle-ready robot posed holding an outlandishly long Old Glory and its stark black lettering — and you pretty much get what GRW: Giant Robo Warriors (AiT/Planet Lar) is all about. They're giant; they're robot; they're warriors. What more is there to know?

Well, there's "more than meets the eye," as the ol' theme song'd have it. Originally printed in 2003 and reissued to catch some of the action from the upcoming Transformers movie (no flies on AiT publisher Larry Young!), GRW aims to be more than just a graphic novel destructo marathon. As scripted by onetime Vergito editor Stuart Moore, the black-and-white graphic novel strives to be a knockabout satire of American gung-ho militarism a lá Dr. Strangelove (check the review refs on the back of the dust cover).

Packed with broadly loud-mouthed characters, the b-&-w graphic novel is set in an alternate post-9/11 U.S.A. where much of the worldwide military industrial complex has focused its energies on the development of giant robots. Much of the battle action remains focused on the Middle East, which proves a problem for big robot developers, since the desert sand keeps mucking up the works. But when the Saddam-esque dictator of an oil-rich country called Paraqan plans a robot attack on a neighboring country, the WMD threat becomes certifiably verifiable.

Our arrogant all-American hero is a technocrat chick magnet named Rufus Hirohito, who we're introduced to as he appears on a chirpy teevee talk show, making fat jokes about his boss, Walther Negamon. Teamed with a sardonic female CIA agent named McManus —  you know she's a moderne woman coz she wears those ugly black-framed glasses every smartgal is required to wear these days — Hirohito and his team take Killamon, their still-unfinished GRW, to the desert to do battle with Paraqan's mighty machine. Wisecracks and robot parts a-plenty fly all over the place, and the whole shmear ends with an ironic jingoistic "Go U.S.A.!" montage.

Moore treats his caricatures unsubtly – this is a work where a vacuous President Bush repeatedly calls his adversaries "towel-heads" over the air (and a sycophantic press rushes to "explain" what it means), and a certain juvenile heartlessness is the order of the day. Very Strangeloveian, indeed, if a bit unbalanced: while that classic Cold War satire had the wherewithal to ridicule all sides of the political spectrum (witness softspoken president Merkin Muffley — clearly meant to be a parody of liberal politico Adlai Stevenson — and his ineffectual attempts at maintaining peace in the War Room), GRW aims its shots primarily rightwards. Considering the political tenor of the year it was written, that's understandable, but, four years later, you can't help feeling that something's missing.

Ryan Kelly, currently doing good art on Local, handles the black-and-white graphics, aiming for and generally hitting the 2000 A.D. vibe of early British comics series like A.B.C. Warriors and Ro-Busters. He has the most fun with a comic sequence featuring a robot politician – when the actual robot fight comes, it's not as Ultraman excessive as you'd expect even if the desert setting does get us anticipating a graphic novel version of those giant creatures battling in a barren landscape Japanese entertainments of the past. GRW's great robot warrior moment is a scene in which one of the great machines tells its depot master to "Cram it!" and then violently self-destructs. Brazenly adolescent? That's the point…

NOTE: The cover shown on both AiT's site and Amazon is the one from GRW's original printing, not its current dust cover.

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About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.
  • http://philobiblon.co.uk Natalie Bennett

    This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net , which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States, and to Boston.com. Nice work!