Robots are always a good bet when it comes to looking into the future. We’ve always been fearful of a time when automatons rule our lives, if not run the world. However, I’m not sure Asimov and Kubrick had Robo-Hunter’s reality in mind, but C-3PO, R2-D2 and Wall-E might feel more at home.
Having made his first appearance in 2000 AD’s second year (issue 76, to be precise), Sam Slade proved to be one of the most popular long-standing characters who, even in retirement, came back for more thrill power action, and this volume brings together the earliest tales.
Robo-Hunter is a joyously irreverent look at the dystopian future of the 22nd Century dominated by mechanical men. He’s like some space-weary ancestor of Dirty Harry and Dashiell Hammett, fighting crime with the help of his hot-lipped robometer, Cutie, his dopey assistant, Hoagy, and his pugilistic talking cigar, Stogie, who warns all criminals that Senor Slade will ponch their steekin’ faces in (and it provided an ideal solution to the ‘no smoking’ ban on characters in the progs).
As each story progresses, Slade’s encounters become more bizarre and surreal, satire teetering on the edge of farce. It’s a future full of droids with attitude and robots with personalities, who dominate every walk of life from doing menial tasks to wielding the power of authority. Less Metropolis and more elements from Hitchhikers’ Guide and Dark Star. It’s also populated with gags and jokes, both verbal and visual puns, that will have your rivets rattling in their sockets.
The first misadventure, Verdus, sets the anarchic course for the whole series. Sam and his co-pilot Commander Jim Kidd are hired by Earth’s International Space Commission to find out what happened to colonists who were sent to the paradise planet Earth never to be heard from again. Robots had gone in advance to prepare it for human habitation but they are feared to have malfunctioned.
It’s a journey with risks, not least the fact that the faster-than-light travel causes their bodies to reverse ageing. Slade’s back to being in his prime, made a young man, but Kidd become s a nappy-clad baby. Not a good start to the mission and, indeed, their on-going friendship, as later stories testify. They soon discover that robots have actually taken over the planet, under the rule of the bulb-headed Big Brain.. When it’s revealed he’s impure because parts of him are human tissue, the robot populace divides into two factions and civil war is declared, with our heroes caught in the middle of the insanity.
Back on Earth, Slade takes on Hoagy, an assistant he didn’t know he needed (not as stupid as he appears since he placed the advert himself), and trying to find out who replaced the head of the Public Works Committee with a robot. It’s only the opening move in the Day Of The Droids, the masterplan of the God-Droid and his metal-headed mobsters to take control of the city.
Relocating to Brit-Cit, Slade’s the laughing stock before he’s started because he’s the only human looking for work to be doing so since the Brits are permanently on vacation leaving the robots to do all the jobs.
The Beast Of Blackheart Manor is the first case he’s assigned, investigating the disappearance of many guests at the stately home, something which doesn’t unduly alarm the robot staff. As for The Filby Case, he has special branch and gangsters chasing him when he’s on the trail of a missing robot, who has become the most invaluable of commodities: a free thinker. Killing Of Kid, ends this collection as he’s reunited with his baby-faced ex-colleague, who’s now become a hugely popular soap star. However, someone is trying to kill him and it doesn’t take a detective to deduce that he wouldn’t win a popularity contest between his co-stars.
Grant and Wagner seem to have a ball with their witty irreverent scripts that both parody and continue the best pulp detective traditions. They also take a dig at class and institutions such religion and politics.
Whilst the first three few episodes are drawn by Jose Luis Ferrer and Ian Gibson, emphasising a darker more sombre tone, the strip really comes into its own when Gibson, freed from his Dredd deadlines, takes sole control of the art, giving it a looser sketchier feel, but imbuing the mechanical beings with as much character and personality disorders as the humans.
Prepare yourself for the next century with these encounters featuring the Sewergator, the vampiric Teeny-Meks, the Amalgamated Androids’ Union and the Goonie-Temple cult. You might even want to tune into the Space Family Ogden if you don’t blow a fuse in your funny bone first. Happy hunting, yup!
Robo-Hunter : The Droid Files Vol 1 is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.