Step back in time with me to an era of John Wayne swagger, might makes right, and brawn over brains, when that indomitable American get-it-done attitude was all it took to overcome any situation.
Originally published by Dark Horse Comics in 1995, The Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot was written by Frank Miller and drawn by Geof Darrow. Dark Horse is now publishing a new hardcover edition with new colors by Dave Stewart, rare Darrow pin-ups, and a new story, “Terror Comes Forth on the Fourth,” written and drawn by Darrow.
Set in a post-war Tokyo, we open on the typical room of scientists getting ready to push the button on an experiment in genetic manipulation that we all know is going to go horribly, horribly wrong before we’ve even left the first page. And, naturally, the button-pushers are not at all prepared to contain the madness they’ve unleashed onto the unsuspecting citizens of Japan.
This story is all about monsters and robots and the teeming masses of humanity in their collateral-damage wake. Geof Darrow creates such a rich and detailed world in every single panel of the story that it’s difficult to take it all in on even in multiple readings. His monsters are beyond menacing and strike a wonderfully organic contrast to the urban landscapes they are in the process of destroying.
And, this is a monster’s monster. He is a Class 5 kaiju, a legion of demons, a massive god of an old world, a harbinger of at least one apocalypse. He chews his way through Tokyo both literally and alliteratively . . . spewing a constant stream of Frank Miller monologue. “Mewling, meandering, mumbling masses.” “Pretentious, pompous, petulant, pathetic pretenders.” Exclamation points are deployed with abandon as the inevitable demise of our pointless, little lives is pounded into our heads.
There is no room for subtlety when battling a foe of this magnitude. Science, that ever-reckless villain, is completely not up for the task of containing this monster. The only hope is in the brash, reckless heroism of the good-old Americans. The Big Guy is Iron Man melded with Captain America and stripped of any thought but patriotism and guns. Rusty the Boy Robot is the failed attempts of the not-America country, tiny and insignificant in the shadow of so much might and right.
As much as I may not be fond of these themes, I found the writing to be invested with so much gleeful, gung-ho attitude that I was swept right up along with it to the very end. And, Darrow’s “Terror Comes Forth on the Fourth” offers a welcome, tongue-in-cheek antidote to the patriotic posturing in the main story.
Darrow creates a world that is teeming with people, animals, vehicles, buildings, electrical poles, street signs, graffiti, advertisements, vending machines, and so much more. All in a carefully controlled cacophony of detail and activity that pull in the reader and don’t let go. I never saw the original publication, but the recoloring by Dave Stewart is nothing less than stunning. Warm and cool tones, subtle shading, and vivid pops of color are strategically and intricately deployed. Stewart manages to bring a sense of order to the billowing detail in Darrow’s illustrations. The panels have a finished, modern feel while retaining a vintage tone that perfectly suits the story.
The Darrow pin-ups included in this edition are likewise stunning. They make up a spectacular rogues gallery of monsters and robots, again giving us an endless world of detail, bringing to life both the fantastic and the banal, always with a humorous bent.
The Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot seriously impressed me, less for story than for the obvious appeal of the artwork. I am a sucker for a good Tokyo-stomping monster and even for flying, nuke-wielding robot heroes, but not so in tune with being pummeled in the face with the bombastic American manifest destiny. In spite of these objections, I find myself wanting to own this stunning edition, so I can peruse that patriotism in all its spectacular detail, over and over.
- I was bummed the prescient, little monkey in the first few panels didn’t get a larger role in the story.
- I think Rusty the Boy Robot has Marvin the Paranoid Android somewhere in his lineage.