Michael and Laura Allred (henceforth known as The Allreds) are good at comics. This is nothing new, and X-Ray Robot #2 continues their display of the mastery of the medium. I think much of the focus of The Allreds’ praise is due to their frankly amazing art. It’s unique and stylized, feeling like a throwback and before its time all at once. The figures are well defined because of thick, inky outlines. Full bodies are frequently drawn, and the characters are beautiful in a weird way.
This has all been said by people who are smarter than me — the praise for The Allreds isn’t surprising or new. What’s new to me, and it probably shouldn’t be, is that holy hell this story is so fun and well written that I was absolutely floored by this issue. Much of my reaction is to the fact that this is a second issue.
Second issues are really hard to do, no matter the length of the run. A lot of the time, necessary exposition gets pushed to the second issue to allow the first to be well paced and to give a strong first impression, which makes many second issues feel slower and have pacing problems, killing the story’s momentum. In cases where the creators are looking toward trade waiters, this is an okay strategy. There won’t be a two-month long wait between “good” issues when you’re sitting down with a 120 page book. Reading monthly, though, a second issue slump can kill my enjoyment and excitement for a series. I actually tend to avoid writing reviews for second issues for a lot of these reasons, as they’re not typically indicative of the rest of the series’ quality.
If X-Ray Robot #2 is the lowest the series gets, then I highly recommend the series. It’s a perfect example of how to deliver an exciting second issue while still being full of exposition. This issue should be everyone’s guide to how second issues should work.
Much of the success comes from the pacing. This comic is really only two scenes that the story cuts back and forth between, with one delivering a whole lot of information while the other is pretty much just slapstick and humor. Both halves work, but the story cutting between the two really makes them both shine. The slapstick gave me a break from the exposition, and the exposition helped to heighten the drama, which gave the slapstick more meaning than it would have had otherwise.
The rest of the success comes purely from execution. Having a bunch of capable scientists walking (floating?) around a swirly background isn’t something that always works, but between the expected Very Cool Allred layouts and character acting it all works. The scientists don’t seem less credible or incompetent even while they’re doing little more than stumbling across the page. The story is good, in its structure and conception, but the art carries X-Ray Robot #2 from good to great.
It would be extremely unfair for me to not mention letterer Nate Piekos of Blambot here. Even with everything about this comic working, he carries a lot of the book by supplying the exposition, and by making it not just legible, but fun to read. I really like the contrast between the human scientists and the X-Ray Robot and how it makes the humans seem crazy and emotional while the robot comes off as level-headed and prepared. It’s a familiar dynamic, but the lettering works with the art to execute the feeling in a way that feels fresh, even if I know that it isn’t really a new idea.
In all, X-Ray Robot #2 is a great comic by Michael and Laura Allred, and Nate Piekos. If you’re like me and you like the Allreds stuff but haven’t checked out anything Michael has written, this is a great place to start.