The high concept behind Vandroid is its comic adaptation of a lost 1980s sci-fi B-movie script in the same vein as Cyborg Cop or ... uh ... Cyborg Cop II, and that’s exactly what drew me to this title in the first place. The book’s trailer, which is comprised of “found footage” from the original, nonexistent movie and was supposedly rescued from a studio fire, was produced by writer/co-writer Tommy Lee Edwards and is a fun way to spend 30 seconds or so. You can check it out HERE, and tell me your interest isn’t immediately piqued. Indeed, like most of our ilk, I’m a big fan of shlock, especially of the cybernetic 1980s variety and when vetted through terrible special effects and laughable dialogue. Needless to say, I was all about jumping into the back of this unmarked Vandroid when Dark Horse announced it in the virgin days of NYCC 2013. However, is this attempt a successful and loving lampoon of a bygone era, or just a faulty parody of itself?
Set in 1984, the story behind Vandroid is, as you might expect, a pretty darn simple. Smarmy entrepreneur Taylor Grey and his team of science ... people are tasked with the unenviable job of creating the world’s first artificial intelligence, which, right on schedule, immediately kills most of them right after it is turned on. Standard.
Now out of his lucrative research contract, Taylor finagles a back-room deal for funding with a shady cowboy and secures the engineering assistance of his one-time colleague and now drugged-out loser, Chuck Carducci, who found fame years prior as a popular van customizer in the 1970s. Because that was a thing, apparently.
From there, you could probably write the rest of the book yourself if you wanted to; it’s that predictable. Let’s just say things go wrong, people die, Jheri curls and boobs abound, and we’re left with a blossoming case of the Terminators. Even though all that probably sounds pretty great to you (hell, in print, it does to me, too), this book is missing something ... that something is, for lack of a better phrase, a sense of humor.
In my view, the whole point of projects like this is to have a bit of fun, but Vandroid feels like it is oddly taking itself too seriously, forcing dialogue that isn’t just dated and clichéd, but clunky and uninteresting ... and not in the “so bad it’s good” kind of way, either. In so doing, it reproduces only the elements that make 80s action flicks like this so unwatchable, rather than extrapolating on the cult kitsch that makes them addictive.
I don’t hasten to compare the two, but if you check out my reviews of Dan Boultwood’s fantastic Titan book It Came!, you’ll see that I tout it as a great example of how to do fake adaptation, mostly because its creator has such a balls-out blast playing within the cinematic construct of that time period. Annoyingly for a book I was so looking forward to reading, Vandroid doesn’t do any of that and is content with just being a rehash of your classic “crazed android” story, propped up tenuously by tepid references to 80s culture. In short, this thing is direct-to-video for all the wrong reasons.
The art from McDaid is functional, and does enjoy brief flourishes in a few scenes which very faintly echo a Francavilla page (thanks in large part to colors from Melissa Edwards), but without the same unorthodox layouts or visual command. In a way ironically, I also have a problem with the cars in Vandroid, which are almost as rushed as something Doyle might produce in their under-wrought rendering. Otherwise, though, the visual direction was decent enough and for me was the best part of the book in general.
I was really looking forward to Dark Horse’s Vandroid, and wanted so badly to enjoy what I thought was going to be an entertaining period romp about cyborgs in the 80s, but this was not that. Maybe it’s my fault for levying too much expectation on it before reading it, but this is both my first and last ride-along with this story. Much like a generation-one android, it had a lot of machinery, but no heart.
Writers: Tommy Lee Edwards & Noah Smith Artist: Dan McDaid Colorist: Melissa Edwards Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 2/26/14