This review first appeared in the Comics Journal.

SCUD The Disposable Assassin: The Whole Shebang
Rob Schrab
Image Comics
black and white/$29.99

SCUD is a pulpy cyberpunk romp. The main character, SCUD, is a robot assassin who comes out of a vending machine; put a coin in, tell him who the target is, set his contempt level to determine how much extreme prejudice he employs, and let him rip. Scud’s supposed to self-destruct after completing his assignment, but a loophole allows him to prolong his life and his career of mayhem. Over the course of 24 issues he fights a monster with a plug on its head, a squid on its face, and mouths on its knees; a werewolf who switches arms with him and then turns into a black hole; a bull with chainsaws for horns; and the severed head of Jayne Mansfield. Allies, on the other hand, include British astronauts who all have backgrounds on the Shakespearean stage; a cute child made out of drywall, zippers, and interdimensional portals; and a sexy bounty-hunter with a kink for robot sex named, of all things, Sussudio.

Action, gore, and outlandish character designs abound. Rob Schrab’s visual imagination is both voracious and unstoppable. His pages are a mess of panels spilling into and over one another, sound effects, motion lines, and outlandish details. He work reminds me of a cartoonier Pushead, or of some of Keith Giffen’s loonier moments as an artist. Inevitably, in all the chaos, the narrative becomes at times incomprehensible — but so what? You’re not here to watch the hero foil evil and get the girl. You’re here to watch the three-way fight between an imitation shogun warrior, zombie dinosaurs, and the mob.

Unfortunately, as the series goes along, Schrab and his co-writer Don Harmon start to move away from violent nuttiness for its own sake, and begin to try to Say Something Meaningful. Bad move.

Many creators do, of course, imbue their punky future dystopias with bite — Tank Girl comes to mind, as, to some extent, does Adam Warren’s Dirty Pair. Alas, SCUD’s bad attitude is as prefabricated as its hero. Schrab makes fun of God and angels and casually has Ben Franklin murder a nun. But it’s all in the name of jovial fratboy crassness, not out of actual misanthropy or bile. I wasn’t surprised to see in the author blurb at the back that Schrab had done time as a stand-up comic.

When he tries to give the narrative a point, therefore, Schrab goes, not for satire, but for melodrama. The end of the story devolves into tragic backstories, doomed heroes whining, and a saccharine and unmotivated quest for true love. The series officially jumps the shark when it is suggested that Sussudio has a robot kink not for the goofy reasons originally propounded (something to do with a malprogrammed robot maid), but instead because her parents didn’t pay enough attention to her. The initial joke was rather funny; the attempt to make us take it seriously, however, starts to border on tasteless. Vending machines are great for a callow rush of sugar. But when they try to sell real food — say, an egg-salad sandwich— the results are invariably repulsive.

Update: Fixed embarrassing error. Sigh.