WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Unveiled by Nikola Tesla in 1923, the automatic intelligence known as Atomic Robo receives full United States citizenship after completing a top-secret mission predating America’s entry into World War II. After the war, Robo founds Tesladyne, a world-renowned think tank entrusted to stand against the kind of threats that personify speculative science fiction.
With a brilliant mind, near-invulnerable fists and a laser-sharp wit, Robo and his action scientists face down the impossible on behalf of all mankind.
WHY IT WORKS: “Atomic Robo” has the heart of a pulp and the head of a utopian sci-fi franchise, making it feel at home somewhere between J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” reboot, Guillermo del Toro’s “Hellboy” films and every Indiana Jones movie that doesn’t involve crystal skulls.
Like Hellboy, Robo is an outsider who protects mankind in an unspoken effort to “earn” a humanity he already has. Like Indiana Jones, he’s a born adventurer with a blatant disregard for semantics despite being well versed in them. Like Captain Kirk, he commands brilliant people united for a common purpose. That’s why things ended up working out pretty well for Robo. His triumphs have rendered him a beloved hero and the world trusts him to keep it going with the power of science.
WHY IT DOESN’T: While comics afford creators with an unlimited special effects budget and the most magnificent tools to convey break-neck pacing of virtually any medium, Hollywood might hesitate to fund a film packed with Atomic Robo’s staggering number of high concepts.
In the space of less than six issues Robo and his team battle everything from giant ants to a rampaging Egyptian pyramid to a cyborg Nazi in pursuit of godhood. Anything less than four of these kinds of conflicts in a 120-minute movie span may leave AR’s comic book fans wanting.
HOW TO DO IT: Live-action cinema would be ideal, but serialized animation may be the safer bet for now. Despite continuous, seemingly exponential, advancements in special effects technology, Hollywood may not be patient enough for a hero without a proper human face.
“Iron Man” has acclimatized viewers to a hero with a robotic, computer-animated appearance, but Tony Stark’s relatively unemotional mask is balanced by interior shots of an ever-present — and very human — Robert Downey Jr. Since the spotlight should shine brightest on Robo, whoever took on an AR film would need to resist the temptation to lean on the series’ supporting cast to convey human feelings.
For now it may be best to test the waters a bit by adapting AR’s comics stories care of a sufficiently-funded CGI adventure. As long as producers balance characterization with ample action and artists base their images on Wegener’s kinetic lines, everything that makes the comic unique could easily shine through whatever sized screen it was shown on.
CLOSING ARGUMENT: “Atomic Robo” has all the pieces Hollywood needs to assemble its next well-oiled franchise. The series’ polished blend of pulp action and contemporary wit fuel rich characters in a colorful world where man and machination take care of business with brains, banter and “violent science.”
John Connor’s future is for pessimists. Let this robotic one open the door to your heart.
What do you think would work best for an “Atomic Robo” adaptation? Let us know what you think in the comment section or on Twitter!