Robocop Vs The Terminator

Christopher Owens reviews a curious hybrid. 

Whether it be the Flintstones meeting the Jetsons, Batman and Judge Dredd or those balding bastards Status Quo recording with the 1994 Manchester United squad, they are (at best) ill advised attempts to create a new universe. At worst, they're cash grabs, delivered with a sneering contempt for the intended audience.

However, when done properly, not only do you get two new angles on franchises that you love, but there's also a genuine story that pushes the boundaries of the respective worlds of the characters. Thankfully, this is one such example.

Based on one of the greatest films of all time (1987's 'Robocop') and a brilliant idea well executed (1984's 'The Terminator'), this tale was first published in 1992 (and collected as a graphic novel the following year). Beginning in 2029, humanity is at war with Skynet, an artificial intelligence system that became self aware and launched a war on humanity. Using cyborgs known as Terminators, mankind is more or less wiped out.

Flo, a female solider, manages to break into Skynet's headquarters. By hacking into the system, she is determined to discover the source of Skynet's creation, so that she can travel back in time and prevent the war from happening. Unearthing that the technology that was used to create Skynet emerged in turning dead Detroit Police officer Alex Murphy into Robocop, she is determined to destroy Robocop, and thus ensuring Skynet never exists.

In present times, Robocop is in a reflective mood. No longer a human, but not completely a machine, he ponders his place in the world and where it has left him when Flo emerges from the future and destroys him. With time being altered, Skynet sends a selection of Terminators back to the time before Flo appears, and stops her. But not before she is saved from death by Robocop. Her tale of a future war horrifies him, and he is left asking himself some difficult questions.

What's particularly great about this tale is that it allows for a certain element of existentialist angst that has been missing from the character since the original film. With that, the viewer was left with questions about the nature of humanity, its ambivalent relationship with technology, what is left when someone becomes public property and how much of the soul can be retained when there is virtually little of the person left.

Here, we get to see the consequences of our obsession with technology and war. The Terminators attitude towards humans is undoubtedly racist, finding little use for humanity, and the remaining humanity left in Robocop allows him to see the damage he has (inadvertently) caused the human race. There has always been a quasi suicidal element with Robocop. Realising that the genocide is rooted in his creation, we see him fight for redemption and also willing to lay down his life for a better world.

Written by the legendary comic book writer Frank Miller (pre September 11th turning him into a right wing wacko), it's clear that the philosophical notions of man and machine that fuel the character clearly fascinate Miller. So much so that he often neglects the development of the Terminators and the human resistance, as they fall into their clearly defined roles. Only Flo undergoes a change, as she starts off seeing Robocop as nothing more than a machine, and then accepts that his humanity was not lost when he was turned into a machine. Even then, this development isn't explored enough for my liking, but it is at least something positive.

The artwork, by Walt Simonson (Wonder Woman, Batman, Fantastic Four etc) is somewhat bleak and barren, capturing the pessimistic feel needed. Some of the technological sequences are a little dated today (resembling something from that year's Lawnmower Man), but do little to detract from the tale.

If there is a downside to the whole thing, it's that it's maybe a bit too short. An extra chapter, expanding upon the Terminator mythology and Robocop's "bond" with Skynet would flesh out the tale. But, as it stands, this is a genuinely exciting tale. Not only packed with plenty of action, but also with philosophical questions about humanity.

Not bad work for two movies initially conceived as B movies.

Frank Miller, Walt Simonson, 2014,  Robocop Vs The Terminator Dark Horse Comics.
Publisher Dark Horse, ISBN-13: 978-1616550080

Christopher Owens reviews for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.
Follow Christopher Owens on Twitter @MrOwens212

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