Saturday, April 21, 2007

Isaac Asimov's Ibots #1

And Apple Computers lawsuit in 5...4...3...

While I could give a long and detailed history of Isaac Asimov, there’s really no need to do so. Most people are probably aware of the science-fiction writer’s extensive list of material (be it fiction novels or not).

Tekno Comix was an independent comic publisher in the Mid-90s who specialized in having big-name creators write up a two-page outline for a comic series and then hand it off to their own stable of writers and artists to work from it. Some of the names included Leonard Nimoy, Mickey Spillane, Neil Gaiman, and even an idea by Gene Roddenberry. The company folded in 1997 after only two years of publishing, but during their lifetime they loved to splash the names of their initial creator across the top of their books in order to get some attention from the comic readers.

But things are a bit murky with today’s subject. While some of the other creators listed I can find proof positive of their involvement with the projects they did, I can find no evidence that Isaac Asimov had any ideas of what we’re seeing here, be they for a comic book or not. It’s not even mentioned on his Wikipedia page (whereas both Neil Gaiman and Gene Roddenberry’s contributions have been listed on their pages). As such, I’m afraid it makes me fearful that while the creators of the comic may have had the best of intentions of honoring the memory of the late Isaac Asimov, it just comes off either as plagiarism (if he really had ideas about this) or just plain exploitive of the dead.

Admittedly, the comic itself isn’t as bad as others that we’ve seen on this site. It’s even penciled by George Pérez (yes, Crisis on Infinite Earths George Pérez). It’s sure as hell no All-Star Batman and Robin, but it just seems goofy in its embrace of THE FUTURE! and there are plenty of small dumb things abounding. Like most #1 issues of comics, it tends to fail in its aspects of really wanting to draw the reader back, since we learn very little about the world of the book or about the characters besides for a vague inkling of their personalities.

As with all team books, this one’s cover is a group shot, albeit in this one they’re actually posing for the camera. As if in another dimension, the paparazzi that are photographing the Ibots are all colored purple... just like the mechanical junk they’re standing in! My God, they’re alive! Run, Ibots! Run as fast as you can! Okay, admittedly the cover isn’t really that bad. This is due solely to George Perez’s fantastic pencils but I’m afraid the designs themselves could still use some work. If you’re going to be starting a new superhero team, you’ve got to give us some sense of iconography – these are supposed to be superheroes after all. Even with changes in artists and even giving Superman a mullet, the thing that most people tend to draw their eyes to is that big shiny red ‘S’ on his chest.

Instead, the heroes here all have pretty generic outfits, with the best one being Radiant (the woman with white hair), but like I said, it’s pretty standard fare... besides for the fact that her eyes are covered by her mask. And what’s the deal with Killaine’s (the woman in green) costume?! Apparently Sheena got a new agent after Sultry Teenage Super-Foxes bombed.

We open on the middle some sort of political debate viewed through a high-tech lens. We know it’s high-tech because it’s got little text lines around it like “Mode: Seek” and “Vertical Align” over the screen. The person on the left states emphatically, “--absolutely vital that we fully support new technology development, with tax dollars if necessary.” Damn it, Senator Hutchison, we get that you like NASA! His opponent, throwing out all rules of a televised debate, responds with, “So high tech can be controlled by the government instead of those independent researchers who develop it? No, thanks.” So essentially he wants new technology in the hands of either scientists who have no personal use for it or in the hands of mad scientists who would use new technology to conquer the planet. Also, forgive my squirrelly ignorance, but isn’t the majority of scientific research funded by the government in some capacity, anyway?

Oh and by the way, there are robots on the platform with them. A heavily-armored terrorist shoots something at one of the robots, causing it to explode along with the other robot guard. One of the politicians informs us that it’s an “EMP slug” and that without the robots, they’re unprotected. The terrorists, wearing green and yellow (and subsequently resembling members of the Marvel terrorist group HYDRA) swing down on ropes while brandishing futuristic-looking guns. The lead terrorist orders the group to shut up, so of course, like an idiot, Senator ‘raise your taxes in the name of science’ demands to know, “Who are you? EMP Slugs are restricted to cops and milit --” And he’s subsequently shot. This has been a public service announcement paid for by the Tax-Payers League of the Future.

The terrorist jokes, “Think of this as a favor, Senator --” Yeah, because making him bleed half to death from a bullet to the shoulder is really such a nice thing to do. “-- You don’t want the mouth there taking your cushy job away come November, do you?” Yeah, the mouth can be such a pain, sometimes. I much prefer the finger. The terrorist warns the next shot goes through the heart and that he has “smartbullets,” which apparently are designed to lock onto a heartbeat and “nothing stop them! They always go for your heart! That means if we shoot, you’re dead! Got it?” Well, considering you gave us essentially the same idea three times, I’d hope so.

“When we leave, someone call whoever’s in charge of Silver’s money and tell him we’ll be in touch, okay?” Wait, how are you going to be in touch with someone if you don’t know who they are? The leader opens up the studio door with his gun [!!], pushing the barrel into the button. A silhouetted figure appears on the other end of the opening door with, confusingly, a Photoshop lens flare effect superimposed over the head of the person. She reaches in and grabs the guns of the nearest two, crushing them in their hands, channeling Johnny Five from Short Circuit. I half expected her to say the “play-doh” line from that movie, but instead we get this bit of superhero negotiating: “Make that “When” and “If,” and you’ve got a deal.” I don’t think that contract’s going to hold up in court.

Cut to the next page where we see Killaine herself (by the by, what the hell kind of a superhero name is Killaine?!) in all her impractical outfit glory as she grabs the two guys whose guns she smashed and promptly bonks their heads together. In a bit of grammatical error, one of the terrorists proclaims in shock, “What’s(sic) she?!” Well she seems to be a person with super-strength who is a woman; that’s what. Another terrorist, unconcerned, opens fire while proclaiming, “Big and strong, Brainfry -- some kind of augment. EMP her jumpers, then hamburger[!!] her.” “Hamburger” her? What, are they going to add lettuce and tomatoes with a side of fries?

The other guy, still panicking, shouts out, “How’d she know we were here? No one’s supposed to know.” Even though they’ve got those “smartbullets” that are supposed to track her heart, Killaine dodges out of the way and nimbly tosses the two terrorists she had in her hands at the others, somehow causing them all to roll around at confusing angles instead of just knocking them over.

There’s a small blast and we see Psy-4 (the guy in red and orange on the cover) and Stonewall (the guy in the back on the cover with curly bowl cut hair) crawling out of a hole under the stage [!!!]. What, were they hiding out in there during the debate or something?! Psy-4 shouts out orders: “Killaine! Protocol One! Make sure the people are safe first! Stonewall?” It’s your line, Stonewall! “We know what to do, Psy-4. You don’t have to keep reminding us.”

The terrorists, in a complete panic and spazzing all over the place, open fire and start shouting, “You’re all dead! Everyone’s dead!” “We told you!” Come on, I call you’re dead, you meanies! Most of the bullets slam into Stonewall’s body with no damage (so much for the “nothing stops them” theory), but a few zip around him and Stonewall shouts, “Smart bullets, Psy-4! I can’t stop them all!” Psy-4 shouts back, “Work on your maneuverability and response speed!” Oh, wait, too late – the people are dead. Maybe you two shouldn’t have been yacking back and forth while the bullets were flying at people! Well, that’s what should’ve happened, anyway. Actually, smartbullets move at only 2 miles an hour, since Psy-4 then demonstrates his own power:

“Fortunately, I can handle it. Those slugs are chip-driven--” Lays or Pringles? “--And reprogramming chips is no trick -- for me.” All the bullets explode in mid-air and the terrorists are shocked that their plan of slow-moving bullets didn’t work. They decide to make a run for it, but Killaine’s still in the way. Killaine taunts them: “Exit’s this way, boys. If you can make it, welcome to[??].” Once again acting like a jaded eight year-old, a terrorist responds, “Stop it! We’re not playing here!”

And in the next panel, we have our third Shocking Superhero Tactic! The first was, of course, Diehard’s Crotch attack. The second was the Batmobile driving through a car and completely slicing it in half. And here? Killaine grabs a terrorist’s neck and it knocks him unconscious. That’s right, even confirmed by the dialogue, “A swerve, a nerve, no damage and you’re down”, Killaine has just performed the Vulcan neck pinch from Star Trek!

Radiant, appearing for the first time in the comic, apologizes for Killaine: “You have to excuse Killaine, she lets enthusiasm run away with her. You can call me Radiant!” Using her powers, two of the terrorists proclaim that they’re blind. Radiant explains that she’s actually “canceling out light so it can’t hit your eyes.” I’ve got to admit, that’s actually a pretty creative use of light-based powers for a superhero, but why the heck didn’t she just do that from the start instead of having Killaine pull the neck pinch?

The final terrorist grabs Senator Silver and continues the terrorist temper tantrum: “You don’t decide that! You don’t decide that! I decide that! I walk out of here and you do nothing -- or his brains go for a walk! Got it?” Well, considering you’re actually holding your gun against the side of his chin it’s more likely his lower jaw will be going for the walk, but I get you. The final member of the Ibots leaps down onto the terrorist, quipping, “Politicians need brains? That’s a new one on me!” Ah, not since Much Ado About Nothing has their been such witty repartee!

The person (dressed in the worst Wolverine rip-off costume since Cougar from Youngblood) takes off the terrorist’s helmet and states, “Maybe we should have a look at your brains!” Psy-4 grabs the guy and tells him to knock it off: “Easy, Itazura! Remember the protocols!” Okay, forget Killaine – what sort of a lame-ass superhero name is “Itazura?!” Senator Silver proclaims how amazing the heroes are, but the blonde Senator, still clutching his bleeding arm, walks over and yells at their saviors: “You’re not human! You can’t be! What are you?! How did you know what was going on here?!” Well, they were actually just hanging around the TV studio, from what we can tell. Probably rejects from the set of Justice League Unlimited.

Radiant’s eyes suddenly glow and upon a close-up we see the head of a fat bearded guy in them [!!!]. A ghostly voice answers Senator Tax-For-Science, “I told them, Kevin. They’re with me.” A spectral image of said fat guy suddenly appears with a glowing aura around him, so I suppose it’s a hologram. Senator Tax-And-Spend-Democrat, AKA “Kevin,” identities the man as “Zac Robillard?! But you died You’re dead!” Actually he’s about a 250, give or take. Bah-dum-ching!

Zac Robillard (who must’ve had really cruel parents to name him that) states that, “These things don’t mean quite what they used to.” The two confusingly argue for a bit about people we don’t know about and implying that Senator Kevin may have played a part in his death. An explosion suddenly happens from a roof entrance, making Radiant terminate the hologram. Policemen (OF THE FUTURE!) run down and order everyone to freeze. Senator Silver leaps in front of the Ibots and explains that “These fine specimins(sic) saved my life -- and I’m offering them my hospitality and thanks.” The police, skeptical of why they should trust a team of losers that include a guy with hair that KISS would be ashamed to see, a tall guy with a bowl cut hairdo and a Star Wars padawan ponytail, and a scantily-dressed redhead with huge yellow earrings and random straps around her arms and legs, demand to get names and addresses.

Senator Silver replies, “Contact them through me -- tell terrorists and criminals there’s a new law in town -- its voice will soon be Gregson Silver -- and the new long arm of the law is -- THE AMAZINGS!” You see, in the future, good superhero team names have all been taken. Still, could be worse – they could call themselves Secret Defenders or Youngblood or something idiotic like that.

A news reporter brings his own thoughts in on the situation: “And so a moment of horror apparently becomes a promise of hope -- while America wonders if this was all a clever political machination -- or whether, as with computers and the atom bomb, we have been thrust, unawares -- into a strange and unknown future.” So, in the future, reporters will still speak blandly and over-dramatically about situations instead of reporting the news?

The woman watching the news report is Annabelle, mentioned briefly during the scene earlier with Zac Robillard and now I must laugh my ass off. Behold the fashions... OF THE FUTURE! as we see Annabelle wearing a cleavage-exposing brown top with a huge collar. Furthermore, the sleeves of the outfit are colored green and not actually connected to the top – instead they just somehow cling to her upper arms and have a huge shoulder area with a pointed tip at the top. Just as Annabelle is about to make a call, Senator Tax-My-Ride comes barging in wearing an arm sling as robots try to stop him. The two get into an argument as the Senator warns Annabelle that if she had something to do with the assault earlier, there’ll be hell to pay. Eventually it devolves into an exposition fest where we learn that the two are cousins and that Annabelle had originally wanted to get into politics and the Senator the business world, but their grandfather elected for her father to be President of the company and, well, it’s really all pretty dull since we don’t know anything about Annabelle except for the last panel of the scene where she contacts one Major Blicero – who is no doubt EEEEEVIL because of the weird-ass moustache he’s sporting.

Switch over to the terrorists from before being carted off in a prison van... OF THE FUTURE! They’re rolling through a forest and one of the cops expresses confusion about why this would be the pickup point and asks if he’s sure it’s the right place. His partner is less concerned: “Of course I’m sure. It’s on the printout.” It’s on a printed piece of paper?! That’d be IMPOSSIBLE to fake! I don’t suppose anyone thought of radioing into headquarters and confirming the location? The cops shuffle the terrorists out and they’re all wearing manacles... OF THE FUTURE! No, I won’t stop doing that. Said manacles are painted gold just like parts of the terrorists’ armor (why are they still in those, again?) and according to the officers are called “Shockcuffs,” designed to paralyze them if there are any sudden moves on the part of the prisoners. How it distinguishes between sudden moves and slow moves isn’t exactly described, but...

The concerned cop points out that it just doesn’t add up: “Why are we in the middle of nowhere? Where’s the pickup crew? This stinks!” It certainly does. Apparently convinced by this logic, the other cop orders the terrorists to get back into the van. Our ever-panicky terrorists, however, point out that, “It’s too late! Don’t you hear it?!” Callin’ me the way it used to? Sorry to say I can’t. Anywho, the police robots blow up thanks to helicopters above, completely vaporizing the entire group as the terrorists scream for the choppers not to shoot them. The chopper pilot reports in to Annabelle, identifying himself as Blicero even though he looks nothing like the Blicero of a few pages ago.

To make matters more confusing, they’re apparently part of the military, yet they’re wearing similar outfits to those of the terrorists earlier. They are apparently leading a group of differently-designed robots along too, who were apparently responsible for the carnage of the previous page. We never learn exactly why the terrorists needed to be so harshly eradicated along with their two police escorts but damn if those robots don’t look spiffy.

Cut to the home of Senator Silver, where he proposes to use his own home for their crimefighting activities. Damn, I know we’re using comic book logic when we have a rich politician offering his own house as a base of operations for a superhero team. Radiant responds that they don’t fight crime, they help people. And then we get some speculation on what exactly the difference is between the two:

“But isn’t fighting crime the best way to help the largest number quickest?”
Arguably. But widescale crime involves property, which is hardly our concern[?!]. Bring it down to the individual, and crime is only one of many ills that must be dealt with.”

Okay, how exactly does Radiant plan to use her superpowers in other uses besides crimefighting? ‘Hey, kids! It’s time to play We’re All Blind again!’ Furthermore, isn’t combating other kinds of problems Senator Silver’s job, not yours? Silver asks for Psy-4’s opinion on the matter since he’s the leader, but Psy-4 responds that he’s not the leader, “I’m only first among equals.” Psy-4 then asks them to drop the conversation since he’s “busy wave-surfing. I’d rather not discuss this now.” Silver looks to Radiant because Psy-4 looks completely insane for making such a statement (rightfully), but Radiant just puts her finger to her lips in a ‘hush!’ gesture.

As they continue their walk, Radiant informs Silver that Psy-4 wants to add that they won’t be calling themselves the Amazings. Silver expresses shock not that he rejected his lame team name, but for that the fact that he didn’t hear him say that. Radiant just looks back- er, well, she doesn’t really look because she has no eyes, but her face is turned in his direction and responds, “No. You didn’t. You couldn’t.” And with that bit of foreshadowing, it’s time to switch back to the EEEEVIL helicopters.

The helicopter pilot notes that they’ve found the Ibots and Silver’s mansion and Annabelle yells at them: “And you found them how? Eighty million dollars worth of satellite tracking They announced it on SATCAST, Blicero! Silver’s called a press conference for tomorrow. I want them gone today.” You know, as a boss, she should be building up her employees, not making them feel worse. I don’t see how she could be such a successful businesswoman and not understand that.

Switch to a television news studio that’s reporting on a deal between the Japanese and the French on “International Cybernetic Control Standards” (since it’s the future and all). Suddenly, the graphic next to the reporter’s face fizzes out, replaced by an image of Rick Olney! Oh my God, Rick Olney is Big Brother! Well, okay, it’s actually the head of Zac Robillard, who says, “If it’s a war you want[??], I know where there’s going to be one... right now...” Any minute now... Yep... War... Yeah...

But we switch over not to a war, but back to the estate of Senator Silver, where the military are attacking. Apparently the Ibots are expecting them as bullets fly and hit Stonewall, who proclaims, “This is it! Go!” Radiant tells the Senator to stay with Stonewall and they start fighting the helicopters. Psy-4 suddenly flies up to Stonewall and shouts, “What are you standing around for? Do I have to do it for you?” Well, gee, Psy, could it be he’s protecting the non-superpowered person from harm? Psy-4 suddenly has an Heroic Spaz Attack as he shouts, “Timing’s everything now! EVERYTHING!” So it’s EVERYTHING, then? Still a yelling jumble, he shouts at Itazura for no particular reason.

Itazura tells him, “You’ve got to learn to relax. We’re not robots, you know.” Yeah, with a comic called Ibots, does anyone buy that even for a second? I didn’t think so. Itazura continues to act super-confident, laughing about how easy it is to destroy the robots. Psy-4 once again berates him and I have to wonder what with him being all pissy about this that he was actually looking at porn when he was “wave-surfing.”

The military realize something’s wrong when Itazura of all people is managing to kick their asses. “That security breach! If the control code’s been compromised... It’s a set-up! We’ve been set-up!” Jeez, everyone want to take a chill pill for five seconds? Even Itazura starts panicking when a robot manages to get through him and heads right for Stonewall (who is still standing in front of Senator Silver). Itazura yells for someone to stop it, but the robot just slams right into Stonewall and explodes, leaving him unfazed. Stonewall: the hero who bravely stands there!

The battle is over and Johnny Turbo (AKA Zac Robillard) speaks to them, talking about how things are going to change now that their existence is so public. Meanwhile, back in the helicopter, Blicero looks like he’s on the verge of tears as he shouts: “I’ll kill them! I’ll destroy them!” Isn’t destroying them presupposed by the killing? “I’ll have this place sanitized! Flies won’t be able to live on it!” Holy Hannah – he plans to put bug zappers and cleaning agents on the estate! His underling informs him that news helicopters are arriving and he panics even more:

“The Press? Please, not the Press! The Press ask questions.” They do? I thought they just gave biased accounts of their interpretation of what they consider ‘newsworthy,’ but if they ask questions, then they must be a serious threat to the military! Whole government quake in fear of -- The Press! The EEEVIL plans have been foiled by -- The Press! No, Tom Brokaw, please don’t hurt us! And seriously, the helicopter flies in retreat while a speech bubble proclaims, word for word here, “Get out get out get out get out get out get out.

The reporters land and start flashing pictures of the team and Psy-4 proudly announces, “We’re stars now, stuck in the public eye...” Then someone should get some Clear Eyes – call Ben Stein! “...right where our enemies don’t dare come for us...” Yeah, because no celebrities have been assassinated by their enemies before.

We cut back over to Annabelle, who’s having a migraine while she speculates on whether the Ibots are working on their own: “They weren’t built for it.” Her video monitor flashes on and three figures appear, one an old man, one a silhouetted figure, and one guy with a poorly-tied tie and a goatee. They tell her that “There are new players on the board!” “And they don’t belong to us.” They order her to find out what they are and get rid of them, but the issue ends with Annabelle lighting a cigarette and saying, “They’re Ibots. They belong to me. Let me explain...”

Foundation, eat your heart out – there’s a new greatest Isaac Asimov work! And he didn’t even write it!


Ing said...

So I have to ask...Is the Radiant blinding power going to show up in Lightbringer now?

Lewis Lovhaug said...

Perhaps. ^_~ I admit I had thought of using the powers like that, just hadn't thought of a scenario where it'd be especially useful yet. More like HE hasn't thought of doing it like that yet.

Ing said...

What does the I stand for?

And what's the purpose of having Robot super heroes in a robot filled world?

Felicity Walker said...

Great review. The style of comedy reminded me of the Agony Booth, a movie review site I love.

I assume they eventually gives the in-story answer for what the I stands for, but the out-of-story reason would be that “I-Bot” (as it’s spelled in the indicia) is a contraction of “I, Robot.” That’s my guess, anyway.

I guess the person to ask about whether the concept was really created by Isaac Asimov would be either Howard Chaykin, who was the next person to touch the material after Asimov when he developed it further, or Tekno-Comix senior editor Martin Greenberg, who worked with Asimov in science fiction and might have known if Asimov had mentioned this project.

Lewis Lovhaug said...

Good idea for me to do in the future. ^^

Also, yup, the Agony Booth was one of the inspirations for this site. ^_~ Check out some of the others offered!

Felicity Walker said...

Well, I’ve now read more issues of “I*Bots,” including a lame crossover that spans all the titles in the Teknoverse, and found out that the name is short for “Independent Bots”--you see, unlike the regular robots that normally populate the future world of this comic, the I*Bots are actually artificial, but organic, super-humans that can think for themselves (but are still bound by the Three Laws of Robotics).

Also, I too thought that Blicero had a mustache in his first panel, but I think it must have been a BlueTooth headset coming out of his helmet.

I came across this review again today because I was thinking that “Blicero” is a really weird name, so I Googled it. Other than your review, most results were for Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow,” in which there’s a character named Blicero, a death-worshipping, gay, crossdressing transhumanist. Since none of that shows up in the Blicero character in “I*Bots,” I have to wonder what Steven Grant (or Isaac Asimov or Howard Chaykin) was getting at!