Atomic Robo is one of the relatively few comics that has managed to stay good across decades-worth of stories. I highly recommend you read it all. But there is one volume of Atomic Robo that, to me, stands head and shoulders above the rest, because it includes one extra element that no other Robo story has.
Which is why Atomic Robo and The Shadow From Beyond Time is my favorite volume of Atomic Robo.
Most Atomic Robo stories focus on Robo’s adventures in one era. The Dogs of War is a series of World War II stories, The Knights of the Golden Circle is a Western, and The Spectre of Tomorrow takes place in what is ostensibly the present day. Part of Robo‘s appeal is that its star character can feature in all these different stories and time periods – which is what makes The Shadow From Beyond Time especially neat. Because in this one five-issue story, we get to follow Robo’s exploits within four different eras.
We get to see surly adolescent Robo …
… evolve into fledgling CEO and action scientist Robo …
… who then becomes well-respected friend to Carl Sagan Robo …
… and that’s pretty rad! This volume of Robo firmly establishes that while Robo is functionally immortal, he’s not unchanging. His personality evolves over time (and in response to his environment – look at that 70s outfit) as much as any human’s would. And it is fascinating to watch all these different versions of the character adventure separately, before … but wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.
The reason we get to follow so many Robos in The Shadow From Beyond Time is that Robo is fighting an entity that exists outside time (and also, space). In the 1920s, this entity hilariously springs back to life within the body of H.P. Lovecraft, who is the first of this volume’s celebrity cameos.
The entity is a secret menace that appears periodically, or has always existed, at certain points in time and space. Sometimes, the entity wears H.P. Lovecraft’s body as a hat.
At the end of this volume’s second chapter, we are left to wonder whether Robo defeated the entity in 1926. The volume picks up again in 1957 and progresses to 2009, so we are forced to assume that, yes, Atomic Robo defeated an entity that exists outside spacetime in the 1920s, and he has done so periodically throughout the remainder of his history.
But that’s not actually what happens in The Shadow From Beyond Time. What actually happens is that four Atomic Robos defeat the entity exactly once, from a point that exists outside spacetime.
Yes – in this volume of Atomic Robo, four Atomic Robos team up with themselves, as part of a situation that linear causality cannot quite explain. Which means all those different Robos from all those different eras? They get to interact with EACH OTHER.
And that’s what makes this the best (or at least my favorite) volume of Atomic Robo. Robo, the character, is the best part of Atomic Robo. It is his wisecracking, caring, and daredevil attitude that makes Atomic Robo a must-read comic. So getting four times the Robo, for even just five pages, makes The Shadow From Beyond Time exponentially more exciting than a typical (very good) volume of Atomic Robo. There is not and likely will never be another story in which Atomic Robo tells himself to shut up and start learning hyperdimensional mathematics yesterday. And for that reason alone, The Shadow From Beyond Time will always be my favorite Atomic Robo story.
Though yes, H.P. Lovecraft’s tiny, flailing body plays into it some, too.