Ro-Busters: The Complete Nuts and Bolts Volume 1
Written by Pat Mills
Art by Carlos Pino, Jose Luis Ferrer, Dave Gibbons, Ian Kennedy, Kevin O’Neill, Mike Dorey, Geoff Campion
Available from books stores, Amazon and comic book stores on the 8th of October (via Diamond AUG151677)
The Book: 2000AD brings you the first volume of the Ro-Busters, featuring the restored original coloured pages. Marvel at the adventures of Ro-Jaws, Hammerstein, Mr Ten Percent, Chatterbox and Mek-Quake as they take on the toughest jobs in the Universe – and plan for the liberation of robot slaves! From the creative team behind the original A.B.C. Warriors these stories are written by comics legend Pat Mills (Slaine) and featuring some of the biggest artist names in the British industry…
The Review: At no point in this big, vintage Ro-Busters collection is the art anything less than glorious. Everyone, to a man, turns in some astounding work. Dave Gibbons, in particular, supplies some incredible page layouts in quite an early point of his career at 2000AD.
Without a doubt one of the prog’s greatest strips, “Ro-Busters” in fact started its life in 1978, in Starlord comic. Running from Issue One, it wasn’t until October 1978 that it eventually switched to 2000AD when the two titles merged.
The stories tipped their hats to a number of sequences in the widely popular Thunderbirds but undoubtedly had their own mood and energy. The robots were the creation of Pat Mills (writing on occasion under the pen name of V. Gross), Kevin O’Neill – although O’Neill wouldn’t actually draw them in a story until the 2000AD era – and Carlos Pino. An incredible range of talented artists has handled them over their run, including Dave Gibbons, Ian Kennedy and Mike McMahon.
For those of you who came in late (where were you?), the Ro-Busters are a rag-tag bunch of robots are part of a rescue and clean up team. They hardly get on with each other and provide heroic/sarcastic/argumentative characters who often bodge their way through missions. Coming from that period in time where the “tentpole” movies included the likes of Towering Inferno, Airport and The Poseiden Adventure the Ro-Busters tales offered an edgier, science fiction-oriented and very British alternative to those humorless and sweaty disaster movies. But that is doing the stories a slight disservice, as they were much more than this. They provided character and humour in British weeklies and their faces are still seen to this day.
As series writer, what Pat Mills does masterfully is insert social commentary into the story. He points out the flaws in the British class system of the 1970s and 1980s by equating life then to the life of robots in the future. Like the working class of Thatcher’s Britain these robots are taken for granted, often ignored and treated like second-rate citizens. Their lives are cheap and they are sent in to do jobs that nobody else wants to carry out.
Giving everyone a hug and everything being harmonious in a story is never Mills’ style and this anarchic feel to Ro-Busters is still refreshing in 2015. Humans and robots are forever at each others throats and revolt seems in the air at every turn (see what I told you about Thatcher’s Britain?). Life is cheap and the threat is ever hanging of being sent to Mek-Quake to get trashed for any flagrant abuse of authority.
“Get this welded!”
This preview wouldn’t be complete without out some comment on the story’s main players – Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein. In many ways the Morecambe and Wise of comics, they are the heroes/anti-heroes of most of the stories. Hammerstein of course became the hero of the long running A.B.C. Warriors strip (getting a new face as part of the deal) and Ro-Jaws is the sewer robot with the best/worst attitude in comics. Both are in equal parts funny and brutal. As a kid I found Ro-Jaws in particular both scary (look at those teeth) and laughable. In fact the designs of both these robots visually and in attitude are still classics today. You sensed when reading this that at any time they would rear up and start murdering the humans. And on occasion the robots in these tales did just that.
While the rest of the world was watching a pedal bin and a gold coloured toffee nosed robot wander through alien landscapes and act like they were in an Elizabethan period drama, we 2000AD fans were watching Mek-Quake crush indiscriminate robots (and people) and Ro-Jaws laugh at him.
I hadn’t re-read these stories for years and found myself pondering why I liked them so much. Even though these characters live in a packed world full of super rich and super poor, the robots themselves remain outsiders. They also have a black humour that really appeals to me. They wear their pragmatism on their sleeves and aren’t tied up in reams of melodrama (like a lot of popular fiction of the time). They deal with their problems with a sense of humour like all the best heroes. The world that surrounds them is intensely cruel, dangerous and always unforgiving but they muddle through it but are still the forgotten and ignored heroes, never getting the full credit they deserve.
Their stories involve rescue and heroism, of course – but at moments we get politics, commentary on the power of money and the media and even an incredibly touching story involving the abuse of a childlike robot by its owner/father. Powerful stuff. Mills is as always as good then as he is today and the rumours are that the Ro-Busters will be back in the Prog soon, I, for one, cannot wait.
This collection is a must buy for all comics fans and beyond. Well worth a few hours of your time. Buy it!
Many thanks for reading.
Antony Esmond is a comic reviewer and writer – his hips don’t lie.