This has a much lighter tone than the series I've reviewed here so far. The others I've reviewed here have taken an at least partly serious look at some of the thematic implications of their settings. Ro-Busters addresses issues of slavery, Nemesis and Strontium Dog both address issues surrounding racism and prejudice, albeit in the context of space wizards and inter-stellar bounty hunters, respectively. Robo Hunter also has a satirical message, but the whole thing is treated without the gravity and pathos that you occasionally get in the other series and played strictly - and brilliantly - for laughs.
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Unlike the other stories, Robo-Hunter relies heavily on pastiche and parody. The first episode establishes Slade as hard boiled private eye of the Bogart variety, and he even as a passing resemblance to Bogie. The first person narration is heavy on world-weariness: “I came into the apartment blasting. I've been at this game for forty years and there's one thing I've learned – never give a robot an even break.” This introductory story line even has a robotic femme fatale, just to hit all the right generic notes. However, Sam's first is not quite the detective story hinted at here.
He's hired by some shady looking business types to find out what's happened to a lost colony. The planet Verdus was prepared for humans by robots; when the signal was received that it was ready for its new masters, the colonist were sent and then never heard from again. Subsequent fact finding trips have discovered nothing, and the organisers suspect defective robots are to blame, so they've decided to send a robo-hunter to find out what the problem is. Sam Slade is the best there is, so they've chosen him.
|Verdus has robot politicians to save the human colonists the bother.|
It's the kind of absurd, satirical adventure that was popular in silver age SF, not a million miles from Planet of Apes, as the forms and morés of contemporary society are mocked through imitation by the comical robots. At its centre is a the absurdity of human self-importance: humanity has such a powerful notion of their own superiority that it's ultimately their undoing. On the other hand, Slade is the only one who can see through this projected vanity and make the robots see humans are not the idealised masters they've been waiting for. There's further irony, of course, in the fact that Slade does indeed prove superior to the robots in the end, and so one wonders if perhaps the other poor saps who preceded him simply didn't deserve their new planet.
|Robot Rowan Williams and |
Robot Jonathan Sacks.
Slade himself is not an especially compelling character – a fairly standard heroic type without the special powers of Johnny Alpha or the unique world view of Judge Dredd – and so Robo Hunter is often a story of side kicks. On Verdus, there's the ship's pilot, Kidd, transformed into an obnoxious foul-mouthed baby one-year old by some time-wimey technobabble early on, and a robotic sidekick in the shape of QT, a buxom robot assistant that hangs from his belt looking disturbingly like a dildo. She never had that much to do, and her simpering character was more annoying the sexy, so I don't think anyone was sorry to see her sacrifice herself to save Sam's life late in the series, and Kidd doesn't have any reason to stick around once Sam returns to Earth (although he reappears later) and so during his second story - Day of the Droids - Sam gains a couple of new side-kicks, Hoagy and Stogie.
|Robot trades unionists - welcome to Brit Cit, Sam!|
In this world of fools, Sam is the only sane man, but unlike Dredd or just about anything by Pat Mills, the satire is played for laughs, with lots of gags and an indulgently jaded eye on human foibls. There's no real moral correctness here – even Sam is essentially venal and self-indulgent, even if he does err on the side of the angels. It's a refreshingly light-hearted strip after the grimness and grotesque of some of its contemporaries and has lost none of its charm over the intervening years.