February 28, 2014

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Get in the van with Vandroid 1


Vandroid 1

Written by Tommy Lee Edwards and Noah Smith
Illustrated by Dan McDaid and Melissa Edwards
Published by Dark Horse Comics

Vandroid is an ambitious multimedia project/love letter to 80's action movies by Tommy Lee Edwards, Noah Smith, Dan McDaid and Melissa Edwards. The aim of the project is to "resurrect" a lost-classic movie called, of course, Vandroid. They've discovered the trailer for the movie and even a short clip from the soundtrack (I understand the full soundtrack will be forthcoming). The comic (this will be a 5-issue miniseries) is an adaptation of the "recently unearthed" screenplay for that lost classic. If you enjoyed the low-rent science fiction and action movies of the 1980's with tough guys, big guns, and bigger hair, then you will love not only this book but the whole Vandroid experience. 



Vandroid tells the story of Taylor Grey, an unscrupulous computer designer whose very first attempt to activate an artificial intelligence goes horribly, fatally wrong. Taylor's employer is unwilling to continue the project (Project Horizon), but Taylor has other shady backers that are willing to do so (as shady backers are wont to do). So Taylor decides to take this project to his old roommate at MIT, a down-on-his-luck drug-addicted schlemiel named Chuck Carducci, who once made a name for himself in the 1970's designing custom vans (and is also apparently a robotics genius), but is now an object of scorn and ridicule as a has-been and burnout. Chuck's so low that even his drug dealer is telling him to get himself together. 

But Chuck has dreams, and this robotics project is just the thing to get him back on top. Taylor knows Chuck is desperate, and glad to have the work, and so Taylor takes full advantage. Chuck pours his heart and soul into making this android his greatest achievement, and (spoiler alert) he succeeds. He's built this android to be everything he thought he was, and everything he wishes he could be.  Not only that, but the android has absorbed Chuck's journals and diary entries so the android decides that it, in fact, is Chuck Carducci. Not surprisingly, things go about as well for Chuck as you would expect. At the end of the first issue, the Vandroid is on the loose and Taylor finds out what happened to Chuck. 
This issue sets a high bar for the ones to come. Everything in this issue feels not just authentic to the 1980's, but authentic to the sub-"Terminator" level science fiction movies from the 1980's (think of something like "Trancers" or "The Wraith"). From the cheesy "fake science" dialogue at the beginning of the book, to the fact that the main protagonist (Taylor Grey) looks like the perfect 80's amoral character (he made me think of some combination of Gordon Gekko from "Wall Street" and Ellis from "Die Hard" but with hair courtesy of Van Halen and the computer genius of Steve Gutenberg's character from "Short Circuit"), to the vans and the cars and the hair and the clothes. 

The art from Dan McDaid has a rough, stylized feel, and in certain panels had some kinetic action that reminded me a little of a gritty, slightly less loose Paul Pope. The coloring here is great as well, as it sets a somewhat dirty mood occasionally crossed with the glitzier environs of Southern California. The creators have tapped into something great with this one. I'm not sure if this would resonate with someone younger but as a child of the 1980's I kind of fell in love with the images in this book.  

There's great storytelling in Vandroid, not necessarily in the sense that "Watchmen" is great (though the story is extremely engaging and the dialogue is fantastic); instead, what they seem to have tried to achieve here was something fun and authentic to the style of 1980's B-movie cinema. In that, this is an extremely successful first issue.


To truly experience Vandroid, don't just read the book. You need to see the trailer and listen to the music. These have clearly been created with a lot of love; the book (and the project as a whole) doesn't feel at all like mockery or satire but instead like a detailed, entertaining homage to a genre and a time gone by. So, put on your ray-bans, adjust your mullet, and pop some Rockwell* into the tape deck, and take a ride in Vandroid.


* "Somebody's Watching Me". Come on, you know you loved that song.