The new conceit of the RoboCop franchise is that he is a superhero cop. He can run and leap and move swiftly, things that were specifically not allowed by the owners of the copyright before the term "superhero movie" became another term for “American cash dollars." While I perused Joe Harris and Piotr Kowalski's “Robocop: To Live And Die In Detroit" #1, I wondered what now sets him apart from other super heroes? After completing the book, I’m still not sure I have a full answer.
Joe Harris presents a procedural story of a RoboCop that continues to ride the hard line of justice, a phrase I think I read on the mirror at a biker bar once. He is Dredd-like in his dedication to upholding the law, with some semblance of sympathy towards women and children. We open on his multi-tiered heroism rescuing a wandering orphan -- you can tell by her clothes and the tattoo -- and then the disposal of a runaway semi truck -- you can tell by the fire and the lack of driver. It’s exciting, but it isn’t much different than any superhero rescue. In fact, Mr. Cop’s exploits could be substituted with most any other super hero. The only real characterization we get that sets this apart is in Harris’ omniscient narrator panels, which do more “tell" than “show." It does give us fun turns of phrase like “His will to protect and serve was preserved…augmented…and REBORN." Delightfully dramatic!
The most personality 'Cop shows in action is when he threatens to shoot a crooked police officer right in his gun and badge (and I don’t actually mean gun and badge). Beyond that, it’s basic fare with our hero serving in a reactionary capacity against a secretly crooked philanthropervert. The Harder/Better/Faster/Stronger upgrade to RoboCop winds up pulling him down into more anonymous territory. He now feels like a mash up of other heroes instead of his own being. It’s not the execution but the premise -- make him more like other things we’ve seen. This probably works on the big screen with the added spectacle of motion but in the world of comics we have plenty of stories about these kinds of characters.
I dug Piotr Kowalski’s art -- it’s fluid and tells the story well, using thin lines and clean design. The new RoboCop design is streamlined and dark but Kowalski and colorist Vladimir Popov do a good job of providing just enough detail so that ‘Cop doesn’t just look like the inside of Cloak from Cloak & Dagger. This is a much brighter and cleaner New Detroit which unfortunately also lowers the stakes. The sterile nature of the designs Kowalski is given to work with didn’t give me a sense of danger. More a sense of naughtiness. Maybe RoboCop should have sentenced Jonas Krail to a severe spanking, though it is implied that Krail is familiar with delivering that sentence to children. But again, it was too vague to give me a sense of danger.
I do like BOOM!’s decision to release several RoboCop books as one shots with story titles instead of a mini or a regular series. We’re in an era where publishers are trying to figure out how best to market to a casual reader without the overwhelming idea of serialized numbering. This makes it easier for readers both voracious and casual to know where to find their books in the store. In fact, this makes more sense to me than continuous numbering. (Nobody tell the teenaged version of me I said that, because he will come forward in time and kill me.)
Based on this story, I don’t know that this version of the character works for me. I respect the efforts of the creative team but I think they were given a watered-down concept.