Review by Frank Plowright
There are currently three Ro-Busters collections easily found, but this the one you really want as it creams off the best material from an inconsistent series.
It’s an updating of a collection issued by Titan Books in the 1980s, which presented most of the Dave Gibbons illustrated stories on pristine white pages. To this it adds the remaining Gibbons strips, and two of the three written by Alan Moore, drawn respectively by Steve Dillon and Bryan Talbot, all of them then still relatively fresh talents.
Ro-Busters are a 1970s updating of the Thunderbirds international rescue squad, the twist being that for all their personality robots are considered dispensable should something go wrong. To this Pat Mills added the mismatched buddy scenario of Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein, the former a coarse sewer droid, the latter a stiff military surplus droid. They’re both stupendously designed by Kevin O’Neill, as are other memorable cast members Mek-Quake and Howard Quartz, called Mr Ten Percent due to still possessing his human brain. Creatively, it wasn’t an entirely successful feature, but most of the disappointing material has been discarded here.
The longest narratives concerns Hammerstein’s war memoirs, which Mills enjoyed writing so much he devised the ABC Warriors from them, and beyond that he finally found a niche writing the strip, amusing himself and readers with elements of social satire. It’s two Gibbons-drawn tales that provide the highlights. In ‘Death on the Orient Express’ Mills places Ro-Jaws in charge of deciding which of the ten trapped humans will be allocated the nine oxygen cylinders, with Gibbons delivering some beautifully drawn caricatures as Mills’ script demolishes public facades.
It’s the story of the Terra-Meks that’s the best here, though, oddly the only Ro-Busters story with both Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein absent. Gibbons delivers some truly spectacular art in this story of building size demolition robots out of control in Northpool, and the city’s unlikely saviour.
Don’t get your hopes up for Moore’s contributions. The primary focus of ‘Bax the Burner’ is the title character, a malign mutant infatuated with the Ro-Busters receptionist, and the central issue of the Talbot story is whether a Hammerstein reverted to combat mode must be put down. Were they by other creators they’d be consigned to the past.
Those wanting to investigate beyond this material will find the going rather bland and nowhere near as much fun, but there’s also The Complete Ro-Busters as a bargain black and white collection and Ro-Busters: The Complete Nuts and Bolts volume 1. This features colour, but make sure you like the art of Carlos Pino, seen in the opening stories here, before taking that step.