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Bewildering Stories

A. Lee Martinez, The Automatic Detective

reviewed by Danielle L. Parker

The Automatic Detective
Author: A. Lee Martinez
Publisher: Tor, 2008
Length: 317 pages
ISBN: 0-7653-5794-1
What makes comic books one of the more addictive creations in existence? They stand somewhere between a book and a movie, those colorful pages with their little bubbles of dialog. I suspect most of us go through a stage of absolute comic book addiction, and some of us never get out of it.

In fact, it’s probably a good guess that Japan consumes more comics than books. Of course they call them “graphic novels” now, but they’re still comics. My addiction was in the fourth grade, and while I never liked Superman (I preferred nerdy Clark Kent), I ate up Batman. If my source, a neighbor kid, hadn’t dried up, I might be reading them still.

The Automatic Detective is a comic book short of the pictures. That really annoyed me when I read it. Here was the perfect comic book adventure, the bang-up battles, the seven-foot hero, the clichés coming thick but still tongue-in-cheek, and nary a picture but on the cover. True, the cover is lurid enough, but who’s the brunette? Didn’t anyone tell the artist that blondes are the classics in detective novels? The author knows. He’s got blondes in the book. Why didn’t someone take that artist aside and explain what a faux pas he made with his brunette? Though he did get the bust correct. And you don’t want to know her cup size. They do make supersized in more than fast food meals.

As you might guess, The Automatic Detective is a comic book in prose. The trench-coat wearing dick is Mack Megatron, a seven-foot metal ’bot striving to earn proper citizenship in Empire City. He’s a probational citizen, since he was originally designed by a mad scientist to Ravage and Conquer the World. Having Free Will, however, Mack overcame his blood lust and tries to be a good boy (though he still needs therapeutic smashing and bashing sessions). Just a little more good behavior, and he’ll be a full-fledged citizen. If he can just hang on and conquer those urges...

But there’s still a need for a ’bot who likes to smash and bash in Empire City. Mack’s next door neighbors are visited by a thug. Mack tries to intervene, but the frightened family shoo him off. Then Ma, Pa, the little boy and the little girl vanish.

But little April is a clairvoyant who gets glimpses of the future. She manages to pass Mack a note. Find us, it says.

No self-respecting soft-hearted metal monster could resist such a plea. Soon Mack’s on the lam from his cab driver job, on the hunt for the thug and his killer drone friends. Aliens pop up, and lustful blondes too (though this blonde lusts for Mack’s technology). Mack enlists the aid of his gorilla friend (take gorilla literally here), not to mention a tough but sympathetic cop, and soon the blood, the bits of metal, and the clichés fly. Mack, Savior of the World! He even wins that citizenship.

As you tell, this is a light-hearted book which doesn’t take itself too seriously. I’m not sure there’s a single cliché of the pulp detective genre the author doesn’t take in vain, but it’s intentional fun. Yes, Mack gets a trench coat. Yes, Mack gets the blonde girl (though since he’s metal and she’s flesh and blood, I rather scratch my head over how this romance will work out in the long term). Yes, Mack gets plenty of outlet for his smash and bash. It really should have been a comic book.

But read it for fun, and picture those bright colorful pages as they should be seen: with the little bubbles of dialog hovering by their mouths. Ah, the joy of comic books!

Copyright © 2009 by Danielle L. Parker

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