Inter-company crossovers are something of a hallowed tradition in comics. Publishers like Marvel and DC would temporarily put aside their winking sniping and publish high page count, low continuity one-shots like Superman Vs. The Amazing Spider-Man: The Battle of the Century or The Uncanny X-Men and The New Teen Titans. The ’90s saw team-ups between Superman and the Fantastic Four, Green Lantern and Silver Surfer, and even an adventure pairing Frank “The Punisher” Castle and Riverdale’s own Archie Andrews that was, no joke, probably one of the best crossover comics of all time. Kurt Busiek and George Perez’s ultra-satisfying, Easter egg-heavy JLA/Avengers pretty much closed the book on these kind of affairs in 2003 (what’s left to say after we’ve seen Superman carry Thor’s hammer and Captain America’s shield into battle against every Marvel and DC villain?), but every now and again a book like Batman ’66 Meets the Green Hornet will slip out into the wild.
Frank Miller and Walt Simonson’s Robocop Versus The Terminator isn’t a new comic by any means, but rather an old one given a slight facelift. Although the original four issue series was first published in 1992, Dark Horse and Boom! have teamed up to reissue it in two different offerings: a museum-quality, “gallery edition” reproduction of Simonson’s original uncolored pages, and a sporty, more affordable edition with new colors (from original series colorist Steve Oliff).
The premise feels weirdly organic as crossovers go. A human resistance fighter named Flo is sent back in time from the mountains-of-skulls-and-killer-robots future to assassinate the being that will one day provide the spark of intelligence that causes Skynet to become self-aware and wage war on humanity: Alex Murphy, aka Robocop. As Murphy grapples with his potential destiny as the destroyer of life on Earth, Skynet sends waves of Terminator units to the past to ensure *their* future happens on schedule.
RvT came at an interesting point in time in the careers of Miller and Simonson. Miller had only recently begun the Sin City material he’d primarily work on through the ’90s and Simonson had wrapped a career-defining run on Thor five years prior. This four issue mini-series was a high profile collaboration between two big names in comics at or near the height of their powers that, surprisingly, remained out of print for the better part of a decade.
As far as the script goes, Miller’s plotting is incredibly solid. Each installment feels like an event and never feels like it’s going through the numbers to get from point A to B. Issue Two ends with Robocop triumphantly destroying the Terminators set against him, only to encounter even worse odds in the second half of the series. Even more impressively, Miller’s script manages to embrace and merge the respective themes of the Robocop and Terminator film franchises surprisingly well: Murphy is not only torn between his dual nature as a machine and a man, he is tasked with stopping a dystopian future he is destined to create.
Miller’s dialogue and narration, however, is less consistent. As much as Miller is able to capture Robocop’s deadpan wit and robot aloofness, tell-tale signs of his post-Daredevil decline as a writer (“He wrestles with its STUPID mind”) border on Ed Wood levels of melodrama. Robocop Versus The Terminator‘s attempts at humor are undeniably pure Frank Miller and, while lacking the sharp satirical edge of the original 1987 Robocop, details like the ED-209 robots having a healthy fear and respect for Robocop are a nice touch of levity.
Beyond being an interesting artifact from a time before Frank Miller went insane, Robocop Versus The Terminator offers up some of the best artwork of Walt Simonson’s prolific career. Highlights, such as sequences of Robocop techno-projecting through a hallucinogenic cyberpunk data-space or an awe-inspiring two page spread of Terminators flying through space, really make use of comics as a medium rather than retreading visual cues from the comic’s cinematic source materials.
Ollife’s new colors here, replacing ones that were originally laid down by himself and Rachelle Menasche in 1992, significantly lighten the darker, more limited color palette of the original issues. As with Ollife’s color work on Marvel’s Thor omnibus collection, Simonson’s art is much easier to follow freed of blood reds or harsh navy blues, and has a far greater depth and dimension than its original presentation.
The bottom line is that Robocop Versus The Terminator succeeds exactly where it needs to as a crossover between two celluloid juggernauts. There’s enough visual complexity and storytelling loop-de-loops that none of the four issues feel like a mercenary cash grab, but, at the same time, readers get to chow down on page after blissful page of one robot punching another robot in the face.
Robocop Versus The Terminator is on sale today in comic shops and digitally.