Uncollected Editions: Giant Robot Maintenance Crew (Cosmic Times)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

[Concluding Doug Glassman's "Indie-Pendence Month"; Doug also Tumblrs at Hell Yeah '80s Marvel!]

I’ve saved the smallest and newest publisher of Indie-Pendence Month for last. Independent comics publisher Cosmic Times started up just a few years back in West Palm Beach, and they are helping assemble a strong local talent base -- local for me, at least. South Florida has a huge amount of untapped creative potential, and Cosmic Times saw that potential after Nathan Hill, Mervyn McKoy, and Dawson Chen turned to Kickstarter to fund a new title. I was happy to make a donation to a book with a title like Giant Robot Warrior Maintenance Crew, as a fan of both giant robots and satire.

Instead of following the pilots, Giant Robot Warrior Maintenance Crew (GRWMC)’s main character is Erica, a genius mechanic and a fangirl of the titular giant robot, Herotron. When she's rejected from the Herotron piloting program, she signs on to become part of its maintenance crew. A huge robot such as Herotron requires a large team to handle its many problems; they aren’t helped by a bureaucracy helmed by the tyrannical lead pilot. In fact, Herotron is so large -- and it causes so much damage -- that it has its own onboard accountant, who goes mad from the pilots’ abuses.

One problem which makes GRWMC hard to crack at first is that Herotron is never shown in full. As a parody of Voltron and other similar mecha shows, it’s easy to imagine the details based on the few images we get. But parts of the parody seem to contradict the idea of having an on-board maintenance crew in the first place. Herotron is powered up by a long sequence spoken by the five pilots; this was present in Voltron because the robot was formed by five individual components. However, in the book, there’s no talk of combining; indeed, if Herotron had multiple parts, it would create some plot holes. It’s not too big of an issue unless you’re very into mecha.

GRWMC plays out as an workplace comedy, with antics reminiscent of The Office, Spin City, and Office Space. Herotron’s crew is mostly comprised of veteran mechanics who deal with recurring problems like the faulty “Blazer Sword” and alien parasites in Herotron’s crotch area. While these begin as running gags and filthy puns, by issue three, it’s clear that the higher-ups have no intention of sidelining Herotron for necessary repairs. Important suggestions to the pilots are laughed at, almost as if the mechanics are wacky comedic sidekicks like the mice in Voltron or 7-Zark-7 in Battle of the Planets.

As a viewpoint character, Erica is a little bland at first, but her disappointment with her dream job makes her work even harder to succeed. Through her, we meet teammates such as the grizzled Jeb and the angry Rodney, who all know that Herotron is obsolete but are under contract to keep it going. There are a few crew members who don’t get named who I’d like to know more about, especially one who resembles a giant hamster.

The pilots are brutal parodies of the Voltron Force, and while their characterization isn’t a key element, their antics make for some of the best moments. Tristan, the headstrong Keith analogue, is essentially Zap Brannigan without the hidden cowardice. Guy, the parody of Lance, is the only sane person on the ship, while Hump, the spoof of Hunk, eats a lot; their lack of personality is actually accurate to Voltron. Princess Luna doesn’t get any of Allura’s strong characterization; instead, she’s mostly used as the impetus for the accountant’s madness. The last pilot is Boomie; where on the original team this spot was taken by the brilliant Pidge, Boomie is actually a parody of the various aliens on the “Vehicle Voltron” team adapted from Dairugger XV. Boomie speaks in only words rhyming with “boom” and seems to be more deranged every time we see him.

Mervyn McKoy’s artwork kept me interested in the series even though first issue felt a little flat to me. While not overly anime-stylized, GRWMC has just enough anime feeling to add to the nature of it being a Voltron spoof, a tone aided by Dawson Chen’s bright coloring. I have to give McKoy a lot of credit for having excellent backgrounds, almost never reverting to block-color. Hill and McKoy also picked up a great choice of fonts, switching to a blockier, authoritative “narrator font” to emulate Peter Cullen’s Voltron narration. This leads into a hilarious fourth-wall-breaking gag introduced at the end of issue two that I won’t reveal here.

There seem to be no plans to collect the first issues of Giant Robot Warrior Maintenance Crew in trade, although a sequel is entirely possible with another Kickstarter. At this point, the best way to get the individual issues is through Cosmic Times at various cons and online. I met McKoy and the Cosmic Times crew at Florida Supercon earlier this month and I was impressed with their efforts. Apart from a slightly high cover price and a few odd quirks related to being a Voltron parody, GRWMC gets high marks for a unique concept and excellent art.

I hope you’ve enjoyed Indie-Pendence Month. I’ve tried to include a range of publishers, creators, and genres, and some books will be easier to find than others. I left Dynamite and Valiant out because the former mostly produces licensed titles and I’m saving the latter for a special look at the rise, fall, and second rise of both Valiant and Image. And one day I’ll review that Zenescope book once my skin stops crawling. Until then, feel free to leave suggestions in the comment thread, and remember: if DC and Marvel start getting you angry, there’s a huge world of alternatives out there.
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