Atomic Robo is a comic about, well, Atomic Robo, a robot built by Nikola Tesla in the 1920s. Given citizenship by the US government in exchange for missions against Nazis and other similar scumbags, he later started TeslaDyne, a high tech organization devoted to fighting really weird evil and advancing human knowledge. Along with his elite team of Action Scientists, he travels the world (and further) fighting things on the fringes of human knowledge.There are eight complete volumes as of March 2014. Every year on Free Comic Book Day, a new short story is released. In addition to these, a parallel series called Real Science Adventures has been started as of 2012, with each issue containing several new stories, either one-shots or multi-parters. A short animated film, Atomic Robo: Last Stop, is in development - or more accurately, Development Hell (its original release date was to be in 2011).It's written by Brian Clevinger of 8-Bit Theater and Nuklear Age fame.
Anachronic Order: The story readily jumps around from any time period to another in Robo's decades of exploits. Sometimes the background or resolution to a story will not be shown until a few volumes later.
There's also Dr. Dinosaur (a super-stupid dinosaur scientist opposing a super-intelligent robot scientist) and Undead Edison (who was the arch enemy of Robo's father).
Basically, Helsingard is Robo's most frequent and dangerous enemy (Robo calls him "an unparalleled genius"), Doctor Dinosaur is his most humiliating (since he is stupid and yet manages to continuously outwit Robo), and Edison is Robo's oldest and most personal (Robo even calls him "[his] greatest enemy"). Stephen Hawking is an arch-enemy on a more much more... Artisanal... Scale— instead of threatening the world or our hero's loved ones, he just epically jerks Robo's chain.
Another major contender is Majestic 12, an anti-Robo conspiracy.
Arc Number: In The Shadow From Beyond Time, "infinity minus one".
Artifact Title: Atomic Robo and the Dogs of War was named because the original outline had Robo fighting Vanadis's Wehrwolf soldiers. The Wehrwolf Formula was given a token mention at the end of the Vanadis conflict and a mention on the back cover of the trade paperback.
Bad Ass Boast: In the very first issue Helsingard makes absolutely sure that there are no doubts as to what he is capable of:
"I did not bring ruin to an underground utopia pre-dating the dawn of agriculture solely for the purpose of not gaining ultimate power over the fabric of reality. Do not make me end you and implant the organ myself, Doctor. I no longer have the fine motor control for self-experimentation and time is of the essence."
Badass Normal: Jenkins, who has survived the Vampire Dimension, blown up an ancient Egyptian monster while the others were debating what to do with it, crippled the Big Bad's giant robot body, and killed an entire crime cartel (including an entire beach full of armed people) while sent on an enforced vacation to unwind. Also, James Milligan in Volume 2, essentially a Scottish Jenkins in WWII as part of the British Royal Commandos.
Beam-O-War: Between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, of all people.
Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: It's revealed in Volume 5 that the War of the Currents was a front for Thomas Edison's attempt to distill and bottle Von Reichenbach's Odic Force as an immortality drug using a Direct-Current "Odic Capacitor". It didn't end too well for him.
Been There, Shaped History: Deliberately averted with Robo. His exploits are often side-exploits that allow real-life history to proceed without interference - for example, his participation in the Mars probe consisted of sitting in a craft and doing nothing for a year.
The Cameo: According to Wegener, many of the Action Scientists are based off real people, including the creators. Zack Finfrock is among them. The '50s team was supposed to be based on The Gang, but it got lost in the transition. The Flying She-Devils were based on women the creators know, as well, and the trade collection even explains who's who in its extras.
Charles Atlas Superpower: In the 70s, Robo decides he needs to stop relying on super-strength and learn how to fight smarter. Who does he go to? Bruce Lee. When they finally spar, Bruce puts on boxing gloves...for *Robo's* protection. No-one else on the planet can withstand his attacks at full force.
Robo: Bruce, c'mon. (on the ground) Wait. What just happened?
Chekhov's Gun: In The Ghost of Station X: Robo calls Steve Jobs to complain about how his hands don't work on touchscreens. Later, he finds a smartphone that he can't use because of the same impediment.
Also, his signature WWII revolver gets trashed on re-entry, and he has his quartermaster repair it. The guy gives him an anti-materiel handgun, which Robo later uses to take out an Apache.
Bernard can be seen hiding from Jenkins in the cafeteria background in 3.5, which canonically takes place about a year after the "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" B-story.
In Flying She-Devils of the Pacific, it's mentioned that Robo has flown with the Flying Tigers during WWII (his flight jacket even has the China-Burma-India Theater patch on the left shoulder), which was shown way back in the second issue. He even wears the panda bear patch of 2nd Squadron AVG.
Cross Over: Real Science Adventures #2 features a short story in which Robo recruits The RED Team to capture the Yonkers Devil. They all die by the end, at which point Robo is revealed to have been replaced by the BLU Spy, who had been hired by Majestic 12 to keep the beast free for study.
As of volume seven, Clevinger and Wegener have been doing a segment called Atomic Robo: Nuts and Bolts on the Nerdy Show podcast. They and the interviewer go through each issue as it comes out and discuss where certain ideas come from, their writing process, and how Scott never looks at Brian's scripts.
Eldritch Abomination: The Shadow. We're not even sure if it's alive. It's defined, at best, as a temporally non-linear "being, force or malevolence" that exists outside the Universe and intersects it at several points in history. The thing is, from its point of view, all the intersections are simultaneous, so killing it once isn't the same as banishing it forever. Had it gone unchecked, it would have expanded exponentially to swallow the Universe whole, then retroactively erase its existence.
A hint of its strangeness comes when you realize that, in it's dimension of origin, it exists as practically everything, while Robo exists as 4 versions of himself. So you might as well interpret it as a living universe.
Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Subtly done: Robo repeatedly accuses ALAN of not having helped humanity end the Cold War, despite having the ability to do so. ALAN does not understand the question.
Lewis' comment about how we're lucky Robo is morally upright.
One of Martin and Lewis's many tangent theories when investigating the disappearing of a whole building is that it's A Glitch in the Matrix, because they figure future technology will either be unsustainable or so advanced we're probably already living in their simulations ("It's either The Sims now or Mad Max later!"). ALAN predicted the former, which is why he plans to leave Earth on an Orion starship to look for more resources, destroying the Earth in the process.
Genius Ditz: Dr. Dinosaur. Capable of great scientific feats, but at the same time:
Dr. Dinosaur: I knew you would be here, Atomic Hobo! Witness how I have deconstructed your name into an insult! Robo: Yeah. Wow. Never heard THAT one before. Dr. Dinosaur:Shut up! I hacked your mainframe and downloaded your itinerary. Yes! All your computerized scheduling secrets are now mine! Robo: You joined our newsletter! Dr. Dinosaur:You can't prove that!
The "odd euphemisms" are how young (read: kid) Robo curses. You'll notice that his "vocabulary" expands as he gets older.
Government Conspiracy: Majestic 12, an organization dedicated to researching Tesla supertech, are the prime suspects for the elaborate anti-Robo conspiracy that's been going on in The Ghost of Station X. Robo originally dismisses the theory, stating that the attacks are too overt, and that Majestic like to play the long haul (since they've been hiding since the '40s). He's quickly reminded that for humans, 70 years is a long haul.
Green Rocks: According to Dr. Dinosaur, crystals (no particular kind of crystal - just crystals in general) can do anything.
Gun Fu: Jack Tarot is an interesting case. His marksmanship looks nothing like this, but his aiming technique is an adapted form of "Zen Archery".
Hand Cannon: The Webley Mk VI Robo got in the 1930s and carried as his main gun for nearly eighty years. After that breaks in Volume 6 his weapons technician gives him a custom made revolver made of special super-hard material that lets it fire rounds with extremely powerful propellant; it's described as an anti-material handgun. Soon afterwards, it proves its credentials by shooting down an attack helicopter.
You could say this about Otto Skorzeny, the Nazi commando from Volume 2, but looking at his biography, fighting wise-cracking American robots seems to fit right in.
Thomas Edison using the ghost of Rasputin in an attempt to assassinate Tesla. Which turns out to be only one of his villainous schemes.
How Unscientific!: Plenty of sci-fi craziness to go around, but Robo is utterly (and, apparently, rightly) incredulous about Dr. Dinosaur's supposed time-travel machine. Considering that it was apparently constructed of fronds, rocks "and CRYSTALS!", even given the super-science world he lives in he's arguably right to be.
Humongous Mecha: The Nazi Laufpanzers from Volume 2 fit this pretty well, and arguably so does Baron von Helsingard's various robotic bodies throughout Volume 1.
The above examples are rather small by Humongous Mecha standards, being the size of a large car at most. There is a suitably giant robot in a Volume 2 backup story, used by North Korea in 1950. Robo blows that up rather easily with a single plane, and Word of God states that giant robots never really caught on, due to the insane amount of new technologies that would need to be invented, and the resulting effect on the world. This is shown again in Volume 3, when a giant robot is tested in the background at Tesladyne, and promptly falls over and explodes.
Science Team Super Five pilots the Mecha Robo in Volume 4 Issue 2, to limited effect. It requires a large ground support crew, is barely capable of moving without falling over, and was only deployed so it could fire an extremely large weaponized orbital delivery railgun at an improbably large mutant monster. Also, it looks more like something out of Battletech than any sort of mecha you'd see in Super Sentai.
Interestingly enough, it appears to be based on Robo. Having an existing robot capable of every range of human movement probably inspired some engineers to borrow a few ideas.
Hyper Competent Sidekick: Jenkins, despite Robo being very competent and tough himself. Clevinger and Wegener have joked that Robo is actually Jenkins' sidekick.
Sagan: "I require a stiff drink. Several of them, in fact. Enough to paralyze a cow."
If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him: Averted with Otto Skorzeny in the '70s. He attempts to have Robo give him a soldier's death by informing him he killed Tesla and used his technology for the Nazi war effort. Robo instead lets him die a painful, lonely death to cancer.
Helsingard, who can't resist making grand speeches about how he is definitely, absolutely, for sure this time going to kill Atomic Robo after seventy years of trying. And whose first appearance sets the tenor for pretty much all his other appearances. "Behold, the Helsingard!"
Dr. Dinosaur. "Behold my mastery of the mammal haiku!"
Law of Conservation of Normality: According to Word of God in various places, the threats that Robo faces are designed to adhere to this law as much as possible (for example, Robo fights extradimensional monsters but not alien invasions because the latter would necessitate a cultural shift; practical, functioning giant robots are out because of the necessary technologies to invent them should change the world).
Legacy Character: There has been a number of British operatives code-named 'The Sparrow', all seemingly from the same family.
Made of Iron: Robo, naturally enough. He is really, really tough. Artificial Intelligence aside, his body is a metallurgic miracle given that it's built with early-20th-century technology.
Pretty much the only thing that brought him close to death was an orbital collision with a military satellite, followed by re-entry.
Mad Scientist: As a distinguished Robot of Science himself, it's no surprise that Robo encounters quite a few of these:
Vanadis Valkyrie, the female German scientist behind the Brute program.
Henrich von Helsingard as well. The guy was building tanks as early as 1888, and had cyborgs and mechanical bodies for his brain to ride in during WWII, and possibly earlier.
Thomas Edison is called this in the preview text for the final issue of Volume 5. He also has his own giant henchrobot.
Dr. Shinka in Volume 4, Issue 2.
There are scores of them throughout the B-stories, including one guy who was planning to cast a world-altering spell from a rocket.
Tesla is one as well, given is... peculiar approach towards building something as innocuous as an electronoscope. He is of the gentle, benevolent variety, though.
Magitek: The Backup story for Volume 1 Issue 3 is about Jack Parsons, who builds a rocket as part of a scheme to become a god. Robo blows it up midflight because it would have crashed into a city. No consideration was given to whether or not the magic would have worked.
Edison's plan hinged on a mystical crystal skull of Atlantean origin and Von Reichenbach's since-debunked Odic force.
No Hugging, No Kissing: Quite logically for a robot (especially one lacking a mouth), but rare in fiction: the robot hero does not try to romance any of the pretty women that end up near him. Or anyone else. (Well, except for in Deadly Art of Science... But still, six out of seven ain't bad.)
No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: The end of the second paperback has a letter written by Tesla stating that he intentionally left nothing about how he made Robo because he didn't want anyone building sentient robots for personal use.
Obviously Evil: The computer Robo's employees construct in Volume 3 Issue 5.
Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Robo is highly proficient in several scientific fields; justified in that, as an 80+ -year-old robot, he's had plenty of time to study a lot of sciences.
Operator Incompatibility: Since he's a robot with non-human fingers, Atomic Robo can't operate a touch screen at all. In one scene, he's actually seen complaining to Steve Jobs about how useless the iPad is to him. Later, when Robo has to answer a call on a smartphone, he literally can't, for the same reason.
Or Is It?: The last panel of The Ghost Of Station X, Volume 5.
"They're not literally vampires. Sunlight, garlic, crosses, none of that applies. But we call them vampires because they're ageless super strong monsters that feed on the blood of the living."
Phlebotinum Killed the Dinosaurs: Dr. Dinosaur believes that "mammal energies" traveled back in time and killed all the other dinosaurs while granting him super-intelligence. Robo thinks this is BS and that Dr. D is just a genetic experiment.
Photographic Memory: Unusually for a comic book robot, Atomic Robo doesn't have one. It seems his memory works like an ordinary human's, not like a computer's. He can forget things, has to study for college exams, doesn't automatically learn foreign languages (e.g., he's never bothered to learn Japanese), etc.
Pin-Pulling Teeth: Jenkins uses his teeth to yank the pin out of a frag grenade while fighting the cyborgs in "Unearthed".
The Plan: ALANlives on this trope. Its continued existence is due to its being hidden for 50+ years behind many layers of bureaucracy and manipulation going up to he highest levels of both the British and US governments (including Majestic 12). Not only was it able to successfully hide itself, but it also managed to build an Orion-class nuclear pulse starship in perfect secrecy on a Japanese island. Extra points for having done much of this via telephone and telegraph before the existence of the Internet.
Exempli gratia: moving a house, intact, out of Bletchley Park, England, to Japan, via truck, boat and the sixth-ever-built Airbus Beluga (of which there are only 5), with no paper trail.
Lewis: The sheer bureaucratic gymnastics behind that are mind bending.
Poke the Poodle: "Dr. Dinosaur's Revenge", where said being goes around the world plundering various electronic devices just to make a computer that floods Robo's inbox with junk mail.
Dr. Dinosaur: From hell's heart, I spam at thee!
Power Crystal: Dr. Dinosaur swears by these things. Robo is more skeptical about them.
Tucker: This is such an honor. I wanted to be a robot when I grew up! You were my hero! Hell, you're the reason why I'm a trucker.
Robo: That's a sentence I've never heard before.
Before that, at the end of Deadly Art of Science:
Jack Tarot: I had no idea I would spend the better part of a year living with and training a very obnoxious robot. What a ridiculous sentence. [...] P.S. Enclosed is the bill for the hat Edison's robot destroyed. What a ridiculous sentence.
Martin: I mean, honestly. Two years standing in a perpetual blizzard? It was one little mistake!
Louis: We did nearly destroy the universe.
Martin: Technically. But, y'know, we didn't.
Reed Richards Is Useless: Lampshaded in Volume 4 Issue 2, with Robo commenting how the Guardian suits' non-military applications alone could solve all of Dr. Yumeno's budget problem, with Yumeno responding by stating the suits' absurd maintenance time and cost.
Meaning of course that not only can they not solve his budget problems, very likely they ARE his budget problems.
The Remnant: The Flying She-Devils of the Pacific has CHOKAITEN; a rogue Japanese military unit that has been waiting six years since the end of the war to unleash a devastating super weapon that will sink the North American continent.
Retired Badass: Tesla. He never, evereven so much asblinks at all the Mad Science and insane adventures that crop around him. Compare to Robo, who normally is fabblergasterd by the shenanigans of the working Universe even after 80 years of life. Just by passing references, Robo is barely catching with him 57 years after he died.
Reverse Polarity: When a Tesladyne experiment accidentally causes an invasion from the Vampire Dimension, this is Robo's solution, only to discover the machine lacks a reverse setting. He considers this criminally negligent with the sort of ludicrous science they get up to.
Roaring Rampage of Revenge: ALAN's attempts to kill Robo are intended to preempt one. The launch of his Orion Drive starship would wipe out all life on Earth, except for Robo. ALAN expects that Robo would then attempt to come after him.
Rogues Gallery: It's hard to tell. Given the way the stories are told, some villains make repeated appearances in Robo's life, but are generally dealt with in a single story arc. Of note are Baron Heinrich Von Helsingard, Otto Skorzeny, Doctor Dinosaur and the Shadow out of Time can count as recurring if you squint at it right. He also has rogues from other heroes: Thomas Edison / Undead Edison from his father Nicola Tesla and The Vampire Dimension from Jenkins. In The Ghost of Station X he mentions both Majestic 12 and either a person or group called "Delphi", and then mentions pissing off ages-old secret societies with lots of resources seems to pretty much be his hobby.
Delphi seems to be an organization, or at least has a wide network of agents and henchmen a la Helsingard. One of the B-stories from Volume 4 shows Robo apprehending two men who had been spying on Tesladyne, bragging about getting "the data Command wanted" and scoring a victory for Delphi. It's implied these two were responsible for the outbreak of giant ants all the way back in Volume 1. Then Robo jumps from a helicopter onto their car.
Science Hero: Robo himself, and many of his support scientists.
Sentai: Parodied in Volume 4, Issue 2 with Science Team Super Five, A team of Japanese Action Scientists who haven't fought monsters in decades and are supporting their technology through furious patent development.
Ship Tease: Every single time Robo and Helen share a scene.
Shooting Superman: Robo is immune to small arms fire, and this has been demonstrated repeatedly over his 80+ year career in Action Science. Still doesn't stop Mooks from trying.
Played with at one point: Otto Skorzeny shoots Robo with his gun at one point, and it seems like it had no effect. Only then do we notice that Robo is, in fact, disabled, by virtue of a special bullet. It doesn't stop there, however, since Skorzeny also planned to drop a trainload of heavy ordnance on top of him, for good measure.
Shout-Out: Definitely a good series for fans of this trope:
In one of the Free Comic Book Day stories (also released online), the monster seen can only shout Waargh. Yes, Clevinger does play Warhammer.
In vol. 1, issue #5, Robo has a one-panel flashback to his last encounter with Heisengard, in 1985 France. In that flashback, he and his three Action Scientists are dressed like members of the G.I. Joe team; Robo has Chuckles's outfit on, while he's apparently got Roadblock, Scarlett, and Bazooka with him.
In Vol. 8, issue #1, just before Bernard loses his grip on the edge of a cliff and is pulled down by a tether bearing Robo and other Tesladyne agents, he tells the people still on the cliff, "Fly, you fools."
Small Name, Big Ego: Jack Tarot. He's an incredibly competent pulp-style vigilante, a terror to mobsters and crack shot, but out of the league when it comes to super-science. But he laid the foundation for Robo becoming the Action Scientist hero that he is today:
Jack Tarot: after witnessing Tesla's thunder suit. It's official, we areoutof our league.
Sky Pirate: The Flying She-Devils of the Pacific spend much of their time battling sky pirates (and are considered sky pirates themselves by some of their foes).
Square/Cube Law: Lampshaded the impossibility of giant ants in Volume 1. Robo has to fight them anyway. By hitting them with cars. A giant monster attack in Volume 4 has Robo ask "Why do we even have the Square Cube Law?"
Robo: I met three future versions of myself who turned the lightning guns into a bomb using science they told me to invent.
Steampunk: A pyramid possesses not only a steam-based system that allows it to move, but a water-based computer.
Stock Dinosaurs: Dr. Dinosaur is a Dromaeosaurid (for the less jargon-enabled, think "Velociraptor.") And it is explicitly stated that he can't be an actual velociraptor, since: 1. they don't exist, 2. he's too big, and 3. he doesn't have feathers.
Stupid Jetpack Hitler: Volume 2 has Robo fighting Nazi mecha (Laufpanzers), Nazi supersoldiers, and various weird science like lightning guns and a railgun emplacement on Nazi-held Guernsey which turns out to be a "weather cannon". Robo lampshades just how dumb that sounds.
Super Soldier: Volume 2, Atomic Robo and the Dogs of War, has Nazi supersoldiers developed as a part of the Special Weapons Program. They're hardly the archetype of the Aryan ideal, being slavering brain-dead beasts with insane levels of strength and endurance.
Emma: ...and now he's doing Doctor Who references at you! Dr. Dinosaur: It is only a coincidence! I do not even know who Tom Baker is!
Syndication Title: When Atomic Robo and the Vampire Dimension was collected, it was retitled Atomic Robo and Other Strangeness. Probably because the Vampire Dimension was in only the first issue.
Take That: The creators are fairly critical of the comics industry at large. It doesn't come up much in the comics (though one Real Science Adventures story has Robo walk into a comic shop in the 90's and be turned off by all the Dark Age trends), but the website includes a list of things that the creators promise Atomic Robo won't be, unlike the BigTwo publishers: "No angst, no 'cheesecake', no reboots, no filler, no delays."
"Pick up any Big Two title and you’ve got a 50% chance of finding one, some, or all of those rules broken between its covers. Pick it up for a year, and it’s a 90% chance. This is what’s wrong with comics today. I mean, honestly. What kind of maladjust goes out of his way to read melodramatic borderline misogynist stories with incomprehensible continuities that constantly shift when there’s a story at all if it shows up on time?"
Robo: They're not literally vampires. Sunlight, garlic, crosses, none of that applies. But we call them vampires because they're ageless super strong monsters that feed on the blood of the living.
Two-Fisted Tales: Robo has encountered and fought Nazis, Lovecraftian monsters, Mad Scientists, and ancient doomsday weapons, just to name a few.
The original title for the fourth series/volume was "Atomic Robo's Two-Fisted Science Tales". Scott Wegener has also mentioned that he and Clevinger play an unwritten "Atomic Robo: Two-Fisted Tales of Action Science" tabletop RPG.
We Can Explore The Universe Together: ALAN offers Robo the chance to join him in escaping the planet and travel the Cosmos, in a nuclear-powered, Earth-destroying Orion spacecraft.
Vasquez Always Dies: Other Strangeness has a male example. Robo is interviewing two job applicants: Rex Cannon, who has an impressive military record and multiple doctorates; and Bernard, who's clearly in over his head. Cannon, of course, is the one who gets killed out of nowhere when vampires invade.
What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Played with when Tesla and Robo capture a vampire-like monster from another dimension and Tesla wants to vaporize it for analysis. When Robo points out that while it's technically not alive he isn't either, Tesla instead decides to find more about them by sending Robo to investigate its home-dimension. Upon finding they populate a post-apocalyptic landscape and immediately attack Robo, they decides that, yes, it's entirely OK to kill them.
Who Wants to Live Forever?: The second issue implies that Robo has a bittersweet outlook on his immortality. He doesn't (openly) angst about it, though; in a televised interview, he coyly alludes to the problem by saying that he's annoyed that nobody understands his Jack Benny impersonation anymore. This is after privately reminiscing about a dear WWII-era friend who just died of old age.
Thomas Edison's plan in 1931 was to use New York as an antenna for his Odic Capacitor, and concentrate enough Life Energy into himself to become immortal. When the machine exploded, his consciousness got scattered across the Od, only pulling itself back together as a ghostly manifestation in 1999. When he finds that Robo's analysis inadvertently restored his corporeality (in part), he's not happy about it. He's later seen nostalgically returning to his historical estate, now a museum.
Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Robo has a phobia about bugs crawling into his body and mucking up his internals. Guess what shape the Eldritch Abomination takes during its third encounter with Robo? Robo's phobia is strong enough that he refuses to enter rain forests unless he has a BFG in hand.
World of Badass: Admit it. When a ham radio community can successfully track down a over 50 year old conspiracy — with short wave radio no less! — then this is a badass world.