15 January 2007

Review: Robotika

By Alex Sheikman and Joel Chua (Archaia Studios Press, 2006; $19.95)

It's rare for a mini-series whose first issue turned me off the way Robotika's did gets a second chance, but thanks to Alex Sheikman's commitment to his work -- emailing me to clarify something from the first issue that I didn't like get, and sending me the second issue that I would have otherwise passed on -- it got one and I am pleased it did. I previously described it, somewhat snarkily, as "a sci-fi cyber-samurai yarn conceived by an artsy SoHo hipster," and a "visually impressive if somewhat convoluted story that edges up to the border of pretentiousness while nudging you with a friendly elbow and raised eyebrow."

In retrospect -- with the benefit of both hindsight and a second, more thorough reading -- I'd say that Robotika stands alongside Archaia Studios Press' Artesia and Mouse Guard as some of the best work published in 2006, better than 99% of what's on the shelves any given Wednesday.

"Robotika comes during a time when almost everything has such a staid formula to it. But it's anything but formula.

What it is is totally damn brilliant."
Those are Ted McKeever's words of praise from the Hardcover edition's Fore Word, and I quote them here because I think he nails what makes this a special piece of sequential art.

What Sheikman has crafted is a visually stunning (props to Joel Chua for his outstanding color work) sci-fi spaghetti western that ultimately serves as an entertaining and thought-provoking introduction to three very intriguing characters -- the silent swordsman (samurai? ronin?) Niko; the enigmatic Cherokee Geisha; and the two-gun toting, cybernetic eye-having Bronski -- and an equally intriguing "far future" where technology has run amok. The four collected issues tell two separate but connected stories, both centering on Niko, while offering a peek at a much larger world that is tantalizingly full of storytelling potential -- not unlike Archaia publisher Mark Smylie's Artesia, which spawned an award-winning role-playing game. There are two backup stories included that add some depth to Cherokee Geisha and Bronski's characters, and the Steampunk Samurai Sketchbook offers a look at Sheikman's amazing pencil work.

This is an absolutely beautiful hardcover edition -- Archaia clearly doesn't know how to roll any other way -- and Robotika is very different from anything I've ever read, an impressive artistic vision that mixes several familiar elements into something very unique. It is, I daresay, an ambitious masterpiece -- not without its flaws, but impressive, nevertheless -- and highly recommended.

[Review copy provided by Sphinx Group, for Archaia Studios Press.]

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