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Robo-Hunter: The Droid Files Volume 01 by John Wagner, Alan Grant, Ian Gibson and Jose Luis Ferrer

01/03/2010. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy Robo-Hunter: The Droid Files Volume 01 in the USA - or Buy Robo-Hunter: The Droid Files Volume 01 in the UK

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pub: Rebellion/2000AD. 384 page softcover graphic novel. Price: 13.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-906735-21-0).

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Sam Slade is a Robo-Hunter in a future Earth, hunting down robots that go wrong or escape and shoots them. At the start of the first story, 'Verdus', he has been doing this for forty years and is getting a bit long in the tooth. The International Space Commission sends him on a mission to Verdus, a colony world that has been mysteriously silent. They sabotage the shields of his ship so that the faster-than-light travel makes him younger as this suits their purpose. The already young pilot, Commander Jim Kidd ends up with the body of a one year-old but retains the sentience and foul language of his grown-up self. This is a good visual gag.

Robots were sent to Verdus to prepare it for the colonising humans were sent afterwards but have never been heard from since. The reason for this? Well, it's based on the premise of the Isaac Asimov robot story, 'Reason'. When the humans land, the robots expecting creators superior to themselves, reason that these creatures can't be humans and deal with them as invaders. This isn't really a spoiler as that fact is revealed early in the story. The plot consists of Sam being chased all over the place by robots for far too many pages until he sorts the mess out. John Wagner's story isn't great but there are a lot of good visual gags in the art. The first few pages are credited to Ferrer and Gibson but shortly and for the rest of the book, Ian Gibson takes over the art chores completely.

The next story is another long one by John Wagner. 'Day Of The Droids' has a robot gangster substituting real politicians and other high officials with his robots as part of a plot to take over the city. Sam Slade discovers the plot and also acquires a stupid assistant robot named Hoagy and a talking robot cigar. This story also goes on for far too long and has too many chase scenes but again there is some pleasure to be had in the little visual gags and the daft robots.

The last quarter of the book features three stories by Alan Grant and I have to say I preferred them. 'The Beast Of Blackheart Manor' is a sort of 'Hound Of The Baskervilles' spoof set near Brit-Cit where Sam, Hoagy and the cigar have now moved. Here, the robots do all the work and the British, lazy blighters, spend 365 days a year on holiday. The ones who spend it at Blackheart Manor tend to disappear mysteriously at night so his Lordship recruits Sam Slade to find out what's going on. This is an agreeable piece of nonsense.

'The Filby Case' spoofs another Asimov idea which I won't give away. Gangsters, MI5 and a robot manufacturing corporation are all trying to track down a old-fashioned manservant robot called Ronald that belonged to a quiet little man called Filby. Ronald has gone off to find himself and everyone else wants to find him, too. There are the usual chases but it's quite clever, especially the robot religion.

In 'The Killing Of Kidd', Sam's old, unloved companion Commander Kidd hires him as a bodyguard. Kidd is now the star of a soap opera about a space-faring family and very rich and famous but still nasty. The public love him but most of the people he works with hate him so there are plenty of suspects. This was quite good fun, too.

Although John Wagner created the character, I think he tried to drag short story plot ideas out to novel length with endless chases and pointless action. His stories would have been better shorter. A not very funny gag should not go on too long. Alan Grant gets it about right.

Ian Gibson's art is excellent throughout, very detailed but with suitably exaggerated, cartoon animation style poses and gestures for the robots, which are clearly meant to be daft. Robot armchairs, kettles and irons are not part of any likely future history, especially talking ones! I think Sam Slade is meant to look like Bogart but sometimes he resembles the Fonz and sometimes Tommy Cooper. This is understandable as weekly comic schedules do not allow enough time for accurate portraiture.

If we did stars, I'd give five for the last quarter of the book and two for the first three quarters. If the next volume features more shorter stories it will be better. Reading this was a chore at times but it could be a good buy for intelligent kids as the art is amusing and while there is plenty of cartoon violence, it doesn't have any of the nasty violence that is sometimes a feature of '2000AD' strips. Its also excellent value for money if you count the pages to the pound.

Eamonn Murphy

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