You may remember Brian Ralph’s Astro Boy-inspired boy robot who defends the city from bigger, more evil robots in the back pages of the late, great Giant Robot magazine. Or from his 2004 Reggie-12 Free Comic Book Day Special. But you’ve certainly never seen him quite like this.
Drawn & Quarterly has collected Ralph’s Reggie material into a huge, 9-inch by 12-inch hardcover album, featuring a nifty cover that allows you to see (and feel) the mechanical workings of Reggie’s innards (and those of his logo), if you tilt the cover just slightly (and run your fingers over it).
It’s the kind of book-as-art object that’s so cool-looking, you might find yourself regretting putting it on a bookshelf, and instead find yourself shopping for a coffee table, just so you have something to set it on for visitors to enjoy.
Like Astro Boy, Reggie is a button-cute, Pinocchio syndrome-suffering young robot with a distinctive hairstyle and a metal body brimming with weapons who seems to spend much of his free time savagely beating wicked-looking giant robots with names like Magno, H-Zinga and Doomsday-99.
The similarities end there, however. Reggie’s cast includes his bearded creator Professor Tinkerton, fellow robot Donald-14 (more of a stay-at-home robot than a fighting robot) and talking house cat Casper, who is probably Tinkerton’s weirdest creation (as revealed after a scene in which — “SPLORT!” — he unexpectedly births a kitten, holding it aloft and saying “Look what just came out of me,” we learn that Casper was built Frankenstein-style from various dissected cat parts, at least some of which must have been the parts of lady cats).
The mode is comedy, and short gag strips rather than anything even remotely manga-like. Many of the strips occupy only a single— albeit panel-crowded — page, while other are horizontal, two-tiered strips that each occupy half of one of the collection’s big pages. There are a few multi-page strips, like the seven-page “Ultimate Origins” story, in which Ralph uses all of that space afforded to present the origin of Reggie-12.
There are obviously a lot of robot jokes and several gags that could only be told in a strip about a robot who beats up robots. (I like the one where Reggie-12 demolishes a regular car, for example, insisting that it is a disguised transforming robot the whole time, or one in which he’s confounded by a robot that doesn’t conform to anthropomorphic norms, and keeps correcting him when he wants to punch its “face” or rip-off one of its “arms.”) But most of the humor simply comes from the interactions of the characters, their different personalities and their different points of view. It’s a slacker sitcom in anime trappings, filtered through Ralph’s often cuter (and weirder) than Tezuka style.