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I know Rudolph. I watch Rudolph every year. This holiday special is no Rudolph. – A Boy and his ‘Bot #1

December 3, 2012


It’s fairly convenient to shorthand this 1986/87 one-shot comic book as being “The Black Iron Giant.” There’s a young African-American boy who stumbles across a hulking anthropomorphic machine, and once the meeting takes place, storytelling ensues. BLACK IRON GIANT. Yet this book was published a decade before Iron Giant came out, so if anything, that film should by all rights have been called “The White Boy and His ‘Bot.” Except there would be about five people alive on Earth who would know what A Boy and His ‘Bot was.

I am now one of the five people who know about ABaHB. I’m carrying the fire. And, racial clunkiness aside, the Black Iron Giant tag is as accurate as any, so we’ll run with it. It has the virtue of not being completely wrong. But, just to illuminate the differences, let’s have a quick summary of the book.

Written and illustrated by Gary Thomas Washington, and published by NOW Comics (of “Mr. T Smashes Everyone in the Face” fame), it was, according to notes on the inside back cover, a kind of pilot for a continuing series — one that would never come to pass, as it would turn out. Its main character is Rick, a typical dreaming youth, who’s looking at the night sky one night, much like a yearning Luke Skywalker gazing at the twin suns of Tatooine. He sees a falling star come down near where he’s at, and when he goes to investigate, he finds that it’s a big robot — and a friendly one at that:


The big guy is a space exploration vehicle, one currently without a crew, and he invites Rick on a ride in outer space. Rick, not being an idiot, says yes. (Never getting into cars with people you don’t know doesn’t stretch to not getting into spacefaring robots you don’t know.) Though he’s worried about being away from home for too long, all is quickly forgotten as he gets a uniform, some spiffy specs, and starts exploring other worlds. Along the way the Explorer Bot A241 produces a little companion named Smiley (not the penis-less psychotic button) to help watch over Rick:


They all also meet up with a Tinkerbellish alien who’ll also become part of the crew:


All good things must end, and Rick really needs to get home, as he’s already late. But SURPRISE, some other aliens, from the race that employs the explorer robots, have arrived in the interim and told Rick’s folks all about his exploits. Not only that, they offer him a chance to be a full-time explorer with his new friends. The parents say okay, and in no time they’re waving goodbye:


Two things: One, Rick definitely inherited his GIANT SQUARE HEAD gene from his pops. Two, these two parents are very understanding about their only child going off on interstellar missions. Maybe they want to convert his bedroom into a den or something.

You could throw a lot of demerits at this book, everything from the petty (it’s a “Holiday Special” with no connection, despite a wintry setting, to a holiday) to the justified (nothing happens — a kid finds a robot, wanders around, and everything’s fine). Washington, who put this book together while attending art school, has a distinctive style, one that’s well-suited to youth-oriented storytelling. It’s just that this storytelling, despite a kid finding a giant talking spacefaring robot — let’s be honest, every young boy’s dream, even if they don’t realize it — is a bit of a yawner. It’s surprisingly dull.

But for a maiden effort, it’s not so bad. Kind of good, actually. If that makes any sense.

A simple Google search before writing this post revealed that there was another similarly titled book released in 2011. Written by Robopocalypse author Daniel H. Wilson, this A Boy and His Bot has a kid finding a robot, though this time a machine with Native American(?) influences. Which I guess makes it, in our patented clunky shorthand, “The Native American Iron Giant.” Put it on the shelf with its white and black kin.

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