As residents of Santa Barbara, there’s something very satisfying about watching a film or reading a book set in our city, as is the case with volume one of the graphic novel The Robot War by Joe Friend and Matt Haley. A blend of classic action-hero tropes with science fiction, the story centers on Dale, a young, rough-around-the-edges Santa Barbara transplant, and his motley crew of Star Trek–loving coworkers, all of whom find themselves in the middle of a bizarre invasion of machines.
Volume one of The Robot War primarily focuses on exposition and character introductions, which is generally achieved through realistic dialogue that does not shy away from profanities and explicit sexuality. Using the backdrop of the American Riviera, Friend and Haley have put significant effort into their depiction of a realistic millennial existence with the inclusion of the kind of recreational drug use and unequivocal sex that is so deeply embedded in today’s social fabric. While the hyper-realistic banter between characters on the subject of Star Trek will satisfy die-hard fans, it’s possible that it will confuse those who are unfamiliar with the series.
Enter robots. The action of volume one does feel compressed and even chaotic at times, as one page may contain artistic renderings of multiple locations and several characters carrying on different conversations. When mysterious machines emerged from an industrial container, it took me several rereads to fully grasp just where they came from. Although the premise of a machine invasion in our own backyard is chilling and interesting, the execution of the action sequences is not so easily absorbed.
The Robot War is certainly not for children, although it’s also not for someone who has never experienced a graphic novel. The seasoned comic-book aficionado will breeze through this volume with no problem, but someone looking for a casual read may be left confused in terms of the story’s continuity. Of course, this is only the first of five volumes, and the central action is just embryonic. And who doesn’t want to see how a group of Santa Barbarans handles a robot takeover?