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Frank Miller and Walt Simonson at least delivered a crossover that, well, delivered – Robocop Versus The Terminator

August 24, 2012

There are few dicier propositions in comics than the inter-property crossover. It can be a recipe for unmitigated storytelling disaster, and only in rare instances will it work on any meaningful level. Clashes like Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man can fall flat, despite the star power of those putting the treasury-sized epic together, and then you can get down to the really bad. We’re looking at you, Green Lantern vs. Aliens. Oil and water don’t mix, and sometimes, no matter what puree setting you have the blender on, neither do certain IPs. The fictional calisthenics that you have to put your characters through just don’t work. (Like, oh, I don’t know, having a Green Lantern lose his omnipotent ring so drooling xenomorphs pose an actual threat.)

Robocop vs. The Terminator, one of 1992′s more anticipated minis, had some inherent advantages. Both fictional universes revolved around cyborg nonsense, so it was no stretch to create a unifying arc that would intertwine the Detroit crime-fighting career of Alex Murphy and Skynet’s post-apocolypse. Perhaps having both licenses under the Dark Horse umbrella — after the Marvel Robocop and the Now Comics Terminator series – not only made the match possible, but also made it a little more seamless. And there was no stinting in the talent department, as Frank Miller, who was bound up with the Robocop film franchise as screenwriter of the second and third films, teamed with Walt Simonson. This was back in Miller’s pre-millennial days, before his work largely became self-parody, and of course Simonson has always been great. So this was a potential match made in heaven.

POTENTIAL.

Is it great? Transcendent? No. But, unlike many of its crossover kin, it at least knows enough to swing for the fences, because the only way that these things ever work is for them to go all out. ALL. OUT. And Miller and Simonson aren’t the type to pull punches, with words and pictures that are always right in your face. So much the better.

The story shifts some of the paradigms of the Terminator films, with a female resistance fighter our link to humanity’s future, and the one who confirms the all-important linkage between Murphy and Skynet’s army:

This babe is the one who goes back to her past, our present, this time not on a protective mission but to kill. GET ROBOCOP. This means we get some neat-o naked lady calisthenics when she warps in. HUZZAH!:

The Moe haircut is a nice touch.

The plot, naturally, is time-travel-laden, with waves of Terminators, including kid Terminators and dog Terminators (oh the irony), sent back to protect their figurative Papa, Robocop, at least until he can be plugged into Skynet’s mainframe. Miller has a somewhat unique take on fiddling with time, one that might not hold up on closer examination: that, when the past is altered, there are ripples felt in the future, and help can be sent back through time to fix the alteration. It makes your head hurt (and also reminds one of the dreadfully low-budget A Sound of Thunder, which gives you a full-on migraine). This sets up much of the action, as the past is changed, it’s unchanged, as Skynet is toppled, and as it reigns supreme. It’s never confusing, and there’s always cyborg-on-cyborg action to be had, but it does jump around a ton.

The art stands out. Skynet in one alternate future completes the eradication of humanity, which leads to the following two-page Borg-ish splash. Simonson must have grinned from ear to ear while this was on the drawing board:

I don’t know whether to rejoice or roll my eyes at a starship with a Terminator head on the prow. I’m inclined towards the former, though.

Miller’s script often delves a little too deeply in that staccato noir that made him famous, so much so that you expect Marv to pop out of a corner and start shooting things up at any moment. A Robocop to Kill For. And, in line with the aforementioned time travel conundrums, obvious plot developments that readers would expect are conveniently overlooked or glossed over. The action reaches giddy heights when Robocop reconstitutes himself in the future to combat the robot dystopia that his human mind helped create. He creates a new body for himself and starts kicking unholy titanium ass, and while he’s in dock for repairs, his fetching female future-partner (who meets a grisly demise in the past but lives on in the future) STATES THE OBVIOUS:

“Why indeed?” indeed.

For all the flaws, for all the gaping time travel plot holes that dot the narrative like bunkers on a poorly planned golf course, it’s still all worth it when you get images like the following, which simultaneously summons — for good or ill – The Phantom Menace, A Chorus Line, Jason and the Argonauts, with a dash of Mars Attacks thrown in for seasoning:

We’ve had four Terminator films, but none have ever delved into the Terminator-army promise in the Terminator 2 prologue. We wait, Hollywood. We wait. Thankfully, there are effervescent panels like those three to keep us going. (Incidentally, the bottom image there almost makes me think that Miller was handling some of the art chores. It looks a hell of a lot like some of his work on the Joker in The Dark Knight Returns. The inside front covers offer special thanks to other artists, such as Art Adams, John Byrne and Lynn Varley, who may or may not have pitched in. Maybe that’s what my eyes are picking up. Or maybe I’m just seeing things. Quite possible, I admit.)

A part of me wishes that it had focused on a showdown between Robocop and a Schwarzeneggerian T-800. Oh well. As it stands, it’s worthy of the better portions of both franchises (and good enough to get a bloody video game, too). It’s loud and often dumb, but it’s never dull and it never feels forced, which makes it good — and a relief. And hey, every issue had pop-ups inside for the kiddies! Should you want to decorate your desk with high-quality Walt Simonson art/junk as mementos of this cyborg throwdown, here are a couple:

     

Thank you for cooperation. I’ll be back.

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