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Magic Boy & The Robot Elf

It's rare for me to find that I like one work by a certain author, and not another. The trend in comics has shifted more from following a character or group of characters to following comic book writers, and it's one I subscribe to.

The comics industry has noticed this shift in fan thinking and adjusted accordingly: big name writers or those that have gained a following are getting exclusive multi-year contracts to either of the Big Two companies (mostly DC, thanks to the Jemas Effect that Marvel is only now getting over). The reason Grant Morrison writing New X-Men was such a big deal was in part due to the likelihood of him bringing over fans from some of his other works. When Peter Milligan and Mike Allred started producing X-Force then X-Statix, it's a safe bet at least some of their fans obtained through Madman or Shade: The Changing Man crossed over. And it seems likely that self-publishing savant Jeff Smith will bring some Bone fans with him when he starts writing Shazam.

Good writers tend to make more of the same goodness no matter what title they're on. Unless you're James Kolchaka. Then you can run the gamut of good right on down to crap.

Magic Boy & The Robot Elf is crap. Summing up the story would almost be pointless, but I'll give it a go. Magic Boy is an old man who is unhappy about being old. He builds a robot (never referred to as an "elf" in-text at all) that goes back in time and kills Magic Boy in order to live Magic Boy's life. And the cat is an alien robot that likes milk.

That's it really. The "drawn novel," as Kolchaka puts it, contains little in the way of plot, as events just seem to happen and have little or no effect on any of the characters. I hate a good time paradox as much as the next guy, but wouldn't being killed in the past affect the future in some way? Not in this book. Logic has no part in the story.

The characters aren't characters; they're just two dimensional figures meant to move the…well there's no real story move along, just a bunch of pointless scenes. Among these pointless scenes are a cat being abducted by aliens, a disturbing and inane scene of Magic Boy's mother exposing herself to him, and a fully naked bath scene where Magic Boy discovers he has testicular cancer, or at least it's assumed.

In Monkey vs. Robot, Kolchaka played some nonsensical elements against each other, while injecting humor into a very strange but ultimately pointed message about the encroachment of the modern world on the natural world, and while the comic is really just a whole bunch of monkey and robot brawling, the potential for deeper meaning was always there. There was a message to the work that was beautifully understated alongside the entertainment value.

None of that is present in this graphic novel. Concepts like an alien robot cat and an elderly robot engineer could be played for plenty of humor if given the chance, but Kolchaka does nothing with them. There's nothing funny in the comic, which must be intentional considering the humor potential it has. There's also little in the way of drama, which is understandable when you have characters that are not fleshed out, interesting, or important to the "story."

Kolchaka could have gone the route of telling a painful tale about what it means to be old, of how regret can almost cripple a man, or maybe of a life that wasn't lived enough, but Kolchaka opts out of that. Instead, Kolchaka makes failed attempts at sounding as if there was some deeper meaning to this piece, throwing out lines like, "When the bath is done, it is night…so rest. Sleep old boy… Night clears the slate…you'll wake up new…Refreshed." That whole bit that sounds like a bad haiku might have had more dramatic impact if the cat didn't say it. Lines like this make the work feel so pretentious; you get angry just reading it.

The artwork is the same artwork that Kolchaka has used before: minimalist drawing with different colors of ink used to accent certain scenes. I find that I'm starting to tire of minimalist artwork, mostly because if I'm going to part with money for something to read, I'd like more than two or three pictures per page, so Kolchaka didn't score anymore points with his simplistic style. And more to the point, I'd love to see people stop using cute fuzzy animals or globular, vaguely human shapes to tell human stories. If you want to write a story about humanity and it's faults and foibles, use people. Make a character that can emote and be visually related to on a human level. Do not make a lead character an elf, or a robot, or a cat unless the story calls for it, otherwise it's pointless and makes the reader question whether the artist truly has the ability to tell the story visually, or just uses bunnies because they're easier to draw.

Top Shelf is a company that does bring a level of sophistication to comics that would be sorely missed if it weren't around. They're more of an art house than a comic book company. But some things do not deserve to be published, and Magic Boy & The Robot Elf is one of them. It is meaningless, pseudo-intellectual drivel and totally devoid of any redeeming value. Oh, and it costs $9.95 in case you think I might be wrong, so it won't set you back monetarily. It might drop your I.Q. a point or two though.

Magic Boy & the Robot Elf

Robert Sparling

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