Hello, my friends. 2019 has arrived with our future in a constant state of unknown flux. At the time of this article, it was announced that the character’s creators Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner are working on “RoboCop Returns”, a film that would serve as a direct continuation to the original 1987 classic and ignore all of the franchise’s other theatrical outings. While we wait and see how that project ultimately turns out, I’ve got some unfinished business to take care of within Old Detroit. As such, it’s time to tackle the newest mini-series from BOOM! Studios known as…
Back in 2017, I celebrated Alex J. Murphy’s 30th Anniversary by doing a two-part retrospective, covering his entire comics history as he battled various enemies within the pages of Marvel, Dark Horse Comics, Avatar Press, Dynamite Entertainment and BOOM! Studios. Following a 12-issue series that ended in 2015, the franchise laid dormant for three years until writer Brian Wood, artist Jorge Coelho and colorist Doug Garbark were given the task of presenting the next chapter of RoboCop’s crime-fighting saga. With this five-part tale taking place 30 years after the events of Paul Verhoeven’s classic film, what sort of terror will Alex go up against? Let’s dive in and find out.
We open at a hospital as a woman named Sara Reza is in the process of giving birth. Despite that, her police officer husband named Leo learns from a receptionist that his Metro Police Plan has recently been terminated by a mysterious man on the television and has to resort to alternate payment plans. As such, he and Sara are immediately sent home shortly after giving birth. That night as she and her baby sleep, Leo takes a walk through the brisk night air within his neighborhood known as “The Shore”. He narrates that it’s only been two weeks since he graduated from the police academy and two hours since he became a father, yet OCP’s newest CEO has instilled his new rule and has made life even more challenging. As he drinks away his pain at a bar, he learns from the bartender about a rumor that Alex Murphy, a.k.a. RoboCop, is hiding out nearby. From there, the scene ends with an ominous radio voice speaking out against OCP’s privatization of Detroit’s police force and that their own creation has become “the instrument of its destruction”. Because RoboCop is gone however, the nefarious company has come back to rule over the city with “pretenders to the throne”.
We then jump ahead five years later where a woman is using a digital device to access an app called “R/Cop”. Suddenly, she gets reprimanded by a robotic officer. During a local daytime talk show, they mention the app that every citizen of “New Detroit” has been mandated to have. Afterwards, the new owner of OCP comes in and explains that he bought the company in order to relaunch it as part of his rebuilding plans for the city. It involves his re-imagined version of RoboCop acting as “a holistic system of urban pacification” which consists of “an elegant system of A.I.-enabled civic minders”. From there, he explains how the R/Cop app comes into play. Whenever a citizen sees a crime in progress, they can use the app to report it with a small fee attached. If it leads to a successful arrest, that person will earn five times their deposit.
Later that night over at the Shore, Leo hangs out in front of his house while his son James plays with sidewalk chalk. Just then, he notices a strange figure walking by. As such, he drops his son off at a friend’s home before running off after the hooded person who heads into a borded-up house. Armed with his police training, Leo takes out his handgun as he goes in and cautiously calls out to the mystery person. However, the figure managed to sneak up on him. Fortunately, it turns out to be Alex J. Murphy a.k.a. RoboCop himself. Over at the OCP building, the CEO meets with the mayor on an upcoming appearance within “The Ruins” for a “public hearing on the expansion”. He says that he won’t be attending the meeting, but needs the mayor to be “in the trenches” so that the praise for New Detroit’s progress can go to him while he secretly works on his vision for the city.
Back at the rundown house, RoboCop explains to Leo on how he wound up in his present situation. Five years ago, OCP launched an official shutdown on the public sector. Afterwards, they would tamper with Murphy’s internal system. In a twisted form of retirement, Alex was re-programmed so that he couldn’t wield his signature handgun anymore. For the past five years, his Auto-9 pistol has laid on a table. Afterwards, he has Leo take it with him as he sneaks it out.
Following a quick set of scenes where a snooty TV talking head dismissively comments on the upcoming public hearing as a failure of “Democracy in Action”, a little girl getting scolded by a robotic officer for not having a bag on hand for her dog’s recent deification and an ad where a snarky young lady praises the R/Cop app, we cut to the Ruins that night as the crowd isn’t too happy to see their mayor. As such, their own alderman named Moses DeSulma tells him that the expansion and renewal plans will come at the cost of their homes, especially since they don’t have anywhere left to go outside of their present neighborhood. The mayor warns him that OCP will send the R/Cop program after them in response, but Moses shrugs the threat off and decides to use the app to have their city leader turned in. Suddenly, the cell phone zaps him with excessively lethal force as it reduces him to a skeleton and kills him.
With the mayor rightfully disgusted by what he saw, he bolts out and reaches his limousine. Upon arrival, he stunned to see the CEO as his driver. He exclaims that the situation went really well for him as he preps his Demolition Bots to tear up the rundown neighborhood next week. With offers coming to him from other major cities, he exclaims that this is how he envisions the creation of “a new world”. From there, Issue 1 ends back at the Reza residence as Leo asks Sara to help him out on a vital task. He wants her to access OCP’s archives and steal a copy of the “retirement program” so that he can help free RoboCop from it.
Issue 2 opens with a past moment of Alex saving a baby from a burning building while the familiar DJ talks about how Detroit used to have heroes like RoboCop (whom she praises) and that there doesn’t seem to be any nowadays. We then cut to a funeral service being held for Moses DeSulma. While this is going on, the CEO uses this as an opportunity to influence the populace towards accepting the proposed city expansion called Brighthill. He would entice the deal by using their R/Cop apps to report on crime for a chance to win an upcoming luxury apartment within the renovated sector of town. However, the city’s corporate-run flaws continue to show as a company drone finds a little girl hanging out at her home all by herself. It turns out that her mother has to work two jobs just to have financial stability.
Over at OCP, Sara arrives at the company archives to get a copy of the “Legacy Code” in an attempt to help her husband and RoboCop. Ultimately, she completes her mission and leaves. During this, the CEO is presenting the companies’ numerous police robots, drones & vehicles that all run on their own artificial intelligence and have the three familiar prime directives installed in order to help the citizens transition into his vision for the city. Later that night over at the Shore, Leo puts his kid to bed just as he sees Alex standing outside his house. After telling Sara that he’s going for a walk, he & Murphy head out unaware that an OCP drone is observing them from afar with the CEO slowly learning about RoboCop’s newest ally.
While that’s going on, Alex and Leo arrive at the river as Murphy asks for his Auto-9 handgun to be thrown in. As a former cop, Leo hates this idea due to the history of cops within his family. Murphy says that it’s understandable due to OCP owning the police department as Old Detroit heads down an entirely automated path. However, he says that making things right again starts with the goodness inside of people as he once again request him to get rid of the gun. Just as the CEO learns that Leo’s wife Sara did some snooping through OCP’s archives, he throws the gun bag into the water.
We then have a single page of D-TV where the same, snooty editorialist says that he would like nothing more that to see “The Ruins” demolished as soon as possible and for its inhabitants to not be allowed to relocate. Following a quick OCP propaganda ad, a sudden report pops up as a major fire has broken out in the ruins. As a New Detroit police bot states, this incident was bound to happen due to it inhabiting “transient populations” that couldn’t “integrate with society”. However, the familiar DJ says that OCP caused the fire in order to force the populace out as she once again asks “Where our heroes at?”. Back at OCP, the CEO gives the order to launch their Talon Limited fighter drone as he has the Shore in his sights.
Just as Sara tells Leo that she cracked the retirement code, RoboCop suddenly senses incoming danger as he gets out of the house in time. From there, it gets blown up as the explosion flings Murphy into a truck as the neighbors come out to witness the sudden event. As D-TV News reports about Alex and his sudden appearance within the Shore along with the editorialist wanting him dead, the CEO wants to strike RoboCop down despite the nearby citizens. Fortunately, Sara gives Alex the necessary microchip as he installs it into his system and frees himself from his imprisoning programming.
From there, the drone plane detects him as a threat as the CEO and his fellow staff members find out that the retirement code has been disabled. He then uses the Talon Limited’s speaker and orders Murphy to stand down. As Alex says that he won’t be the lone target around here, Leo says that he and their neighbors won’t stand for this anymore. As such, he reveals the Auto-9 handgun and says that he only threw the empty bag into the river. From there, Issue 2 ends with RoboCop taking his pistol and declaring war against the CEO by shooting the unmanned drone plane down.
Issue 3 opens the next day at a rundown school within the Shore as the citizens hold a public meeting. Due to Murphy’s sudden appearance, OCP has begun to crackdown hard on the neighborhood by dropping pension changes and hurling additional taxes upon them. While some blame is placed upon Alex, Sara motions for everyone to toss their OCP cell phones away and team up with RoboCop in order to fight back against their corporate overlords. From there, they proceed to head out and dump their company phones into a flame barrel.
We then cut to a D-TV broadcast of “Good Morning, New Detroit” where the mayor mentions that two nearby neighborhoods are officially in “open revolt” and that RoboCop has illegally disabled his personal safety programming. At the same time, the editorialist demands for the revocation of “handouts” to the former official workers living within the Shore and that the Ruins should be dealt with. During all of this, the DJ preaches for RoboCop to fight the good fight for Old Detroit’s citizens.
Over in the Ruins, the neighborhood is presently ablaze as OCP’s robot officers use their flamethrowers to torch the buildings and send the civilians running for their lives. Suddenly, RoboCop engages the opposing bots before ultimately defeating them. Afterwards, the drones fly in and pelt him with magnetic shrapnel. Although Alex manages to shoots down several unmanned crafts, the projectiles are far too numerous to withstand. Fortunately, Leo drives up in a police car and helps him escape.
Later that night, they arrive at a rundown warehouse. As Leo pulls the remaining shrapnel out, Sara tell Murphy that despite his outdated system, it’s still properly functioning and keeping him alive. As Alex rests to recharge, the couple discusses their present situation as Sara is worried for her son James. Despite leaving him under the watch of her mother, there’s no way for her to call in and check up since OCP is keeping an eye on the local phone lines. With her unsure on how they’ll get through this ordeal, Leo tells her that he can’t walk away from this since not only has he been more than willing to help out, it’s also the first time in a long while that he’s being able to perform like an actual cop. From there, the scene ends with Sara stating that eventually they’ll need to forge a proper future for their son, even though Leo doesn’t know how they can do so without OCP’s destruction.
We then cut to the next day at said company as the CEO works out while voicing his frustration over the revolt and thinks about how he can regain control over the situation. Over in the Ruins, the demolition crew has torn the buildings down as the ominous DJ hints of an oncoming storm for the area. Suddenly, the site is under attack by a resistance group called The Lords. As the CEO sees the incident on a news broadcast, he’s forced to postpone a pitch meeting with a group of mayors & governors and make his way down to the R&D Department.
Over at the rundown warehouse, RoboCop learns that Sara has become upset over the current crisis. Leo then tells him that he shouldn’t have launched a full-frontal assault within the Ruins since OCP is now gunning for him from all sides and all of their dubious activities will be legal to them. Just then, Alex asks him to list off the prime directives. Leo says that he’s memorized all three of them since grade school including a fourth one that’s long been deleted: “Never oppose an OCP officer”. From there, Murphy ends the scene by mentioning a fifth directive.
Over in OCP’s Research & Development wing, the CEO is informed by the head technician that the police bots failed due to his A.I. being installed within the operating systems. He then tells his mechanized expert that by the time he took charge, OCP was failing due to having “a human being at its core”. Now that he has vital officials waiting for him upstairs in his office, he wants to know how to deal with a product that’s incapable of stopping a riot. In response, the technician writes his solution down on a sticky note and mentions that it’ll sell itself. Later, RoboCop and Leo drive off in their police car. However, they’re suddenly pursued by a pair of high-tech police cruisers as a chase ensues.
As Alex begins to fend off their adversaries, we cut to sometime earlier as Sara checks up on him while sharing her personal worry for her husband. Just then, Murphy tells her about “a hidden directory” within his protected memory core. She proceeds to activate it as RoboCop informs her that it’ll keep Leo alive. Back in the present, Murphy fends off the opposing cop cars as Issue 3 ends with the CEO making his pitch to the group of officials. He says that the A.I. within the current police bots is incapable of dealing with “the critical problem of urban pacification”. While his machines were built to maintain law and order within the city populace, they’re not able to consciously decide on unleashing lethal justice. As such, he states that they’ll need a human.
Issue 4 opens in the Ruins as a group of police bots are on the hunt looking to execute the Lords. However, they come across a booby trap and get obliterated in the explosion. Afterwards, RoboCop and Leo arrive following their high-speed chase as they team up with the resistance group, proceeding to gun down more robotic officials in the process. While the mayor gives a televised speech about the present situation, Murphy and company proceed to deal with a crisis-in-progress as a group of hostages are being held by a small team of police bots.
Alex draws their attention as he orders his foes to surrender. From a certain distance, the Lords’ leader mentions a neural bundle inside the automatons’ necks. After taking aim, Leo manages to gun the mechanized officials down. Meanwhile, the CEO steps in and finishes the mayor’s speech. He states that his vision for the city wasn’t allowed to prosper and thus he’ll only help those who’re willing to follow his lead.
We then have a single-page, back-and-forth intercut pair of announcements between the DJ and the editorialist where we learn that OCP has pulled its armada from the Ruins as the citizens claim a small victory. Over at the Shore, a barricade has been formed on the road as OCP has severed internet and network ties with the neighborhood. At the Reza household, Sara is with her son and father as she has a looming feeling that their corporate owners will find some way to force them out of their home. As such, she gets cracking on a possible way to help out.
Back in the Ruins, the battle has ended as the Lords’ leader informs our heroes that they prevailed. Upon hearing that the present police bots were turned off, Murphy realizes that this isn’t a major victory. Just then, a lone automated officer approaches them as the CEO communicates with our heroes. During the ceasefire, he asks Alex to join him. After getting declined, he cuts communication and learns from his head technician that Leo will be their perfect test subject. As such, the CEO gives an order to the Talon Orbital Kinetic Weapons Platform to release its bomb.
By the time our heroes realize that the police bot has been deactivated, RoboCop tells Leo that they don’t have time to escape. After Alex informs him that he made a promise to Sara and reminds his partner to ask his wife about “the fifth directive”, he shields Leo just as the bomb drops onto the Ruins. Following the massive explosion, a group of New Detroit medical bots fly in and move Murphy out of the way before taking Leo’s body with them.
Over on the D-TV airwaves, the talk show hosts tell their viewing audience that recovery will be focused on the city before the editorialist sarcastically brings up the fact that OCP has completed its objective. Over on the Shore, silence has fallen upon the Reza household as RoboCop arrives back to see a grief-stricken Sara before taking his leave minus his police car. That night, she puts her son to bed before going back onto her laptop. From there, Issue 4 ends at OCP as the CEO learns from his head surgeon that Leo is “in perfect condition” as the medical staff begin their week-long process of building their captured cop into their prime specimen.
Issue 5 opens with OCP’s medical team finishing their operation with Leo bonded to his new cyborg body. He’s then placed in a test run where a family is being held as hostages by armed thugs. RoboLeo arrives and easily guns down the armed felons before arriving at the main family. After taking out the last six goons with ease, he surprisingly also executes the dad due to him being in on the dangerous situation. From there, every form of local TV news praise OCP for their new RoboCop program.
Later, RoboLeo drives out to his family’s home at the Shore where he sees his son playing outside. Even though Sara outright rejects this perverted image of her husband, James still wishes to hug his father. RoboCop manages to intervene as Sara tells RoboLeo to leave immediately. Over at OCP, the CEO and his team oversee the situation. From there, he tells his technicians to run one last test and max out their subject’s empathy blockers. Alex tries talking to his newfound friend, but RoboLeo gets ordered by the CEO to take Murphy out.
Just as RoboLeo draws his weapon, RoboCop proceeds to fight him while Sara and James hide inside their house. As Alex starts to place RoboLeo into the police car’s trunk, he expresses his self-shame in not saving him and yet still wishes to help him overcome his personal programming. However, the CEO gives the order to send an overriding spike as RoboLeo gets the signal from his helmet and kicks RoboCop away before claiming that his old life has ended. After climbing out of the trunk, he picks up his handgun and takes off his helmet in the process.
Alex manages to withstand the opposing gunfire and takes cover before asking him if he knows the prime directives. However, RoboLeo dismisses them as he attempts to pursue his target. Fortunately, Murphy gets the drop on him by picking up his police car and slam it down on him. Afterwards, he realizes that his friend has been rebuilt without any directives and has thus became “an enforcer” to a criminal corporation. As RoboLeo gets reminded about what truly makes a cop, the CEO learns that their original link to their creation has been cut off due to helmet removal. However, they still have a connection to RoboLeo’s gun. As such, they set it to “Ballistic Charge” as their subject blows the vehicle up.
They continue to struggle as Alex tells his friend that he’s not acting as a cop, but more like an executioner. As such, he willingly surrenders and says that he’s choosing to give up his life in order to help his friend regain his own humanity. During the struggle, the CEO learns that his technicians are losing control over their creation. As such, he gives the order to take out both him and RoboCop. As RoboLeo’s gun is about to self-destruct, Murphy manages to grab the overloading pistol and throw it away in time as he shields his friend from the explosion. Afterwards, we cut to OCP as the CEO meditates under the protective watch of two police bots. He narrates about his disappointment with Old Detroit’s citizens rejecting his vision and thus decides to let the city rot away in its own self-corruption while his tower remains as his own “glimpse of paradise”.
We cut to several months later as things have been on a positive upswing for the Reza household. Leo has been freed from his external company control, completed his physical therapy with his cyborg body and he got hired to be a cop once again. Sometime later, he and RoboCop arrive with their squad mates on their biggest assignment. As Alex gives the order to send in the Task Force, the series ends on the reveal that it’s OCP they’re infiltrating as they look to expel the corrupt CEO and finally get Old Detroit on the proper path towards recovery.
The story situation is fascinating due to a variety of factors. First up, we have the newly-introduced R/Cop app. With the rising boom in personal and mobile technology, it only makes sense to make some kind of commentary about mankind’s over-reliance on such digital devices. Here, it does show some sign of alleviating citizen complacency since the civilians are required to keep their eyes and ears open for any crime-in-progress so that they receive a reward for their services. Unfortunately for Old Detroit, the automated trade-off kicks in with its own police since OCP has replaced every human cop with A.I.-controlled robots. The company must be doing a good job in keeping their own mechanical enforcers in line since they also have drones, support vehicles and medical robots under their complete command. D-TV (which must have replaced Media Break at some point) completely bends over backwards and constantly praises OCP (since the company owns them), so that they help spread the corporate worship over the local airwaves. More than likely, this manipulated news would also be available to access on the R/Cop app if the CEO’s vision was able to come into fruition. The app doesn’t really show up again after being introduced in the inaugural issue, so maybe there could have been some complacent citizens who would have been completely manipulated by OCP and they use it to alert the mechanized law officials to our heroes and make their fight a bit more tough for them to overcome. Speaking of automated cops, this ties in with our new co-protagonist in Leo. He and his police heritage has supported him & his wife up to when Sara’s pregnancy is complete since the new CEO has officially taken over and has given the shaft to the deeply-flawed yet still somewhat functioning order. Now after only being on the force for only half-a-month before he and his fellow human officers have been effectively replaced by the robotic enforcers, he finds new purpose when he meets RoboCop in order to help him “un-retire” and assist him in fighting OCP’s plans. Weirdly, the company’s Brighthill expansion plans ring of a certain similarity to RoboCop 3 where the automated cops take the place of the Urban Rehabilitators and Cadillac Heights is replaced by the Shore & the Ruins. Anyway, the same Prime Directives that Murphy abides by throughout his whole life are interestingly part of Leo’s personal foundation as a human protector of the rightful law. Those get suppressed when OCP captures him and turn him into their own controllable crime-fighting cyborg, to which Alex then has to help him reacquire during their final struggle. One weird thing that never gets followed up on is that Leo is told of a “fifth directive” and (as far as we know, since it’s not shown or mentioned again) he’s not told what it is. I can only speculate that it somehow relates with keeping your humanity at the forefront and I wish we would have known what it was so that it could come back into play in a satisfying way. Either way, he definitely proves himself as a right-hand man before he becomes a permanent cyborg. While Anne Lewis will always hold the top spot in that position, Leo is a close-second in my mind. Before we get to our titular hero, let’s quickly get to our nameless CEO. Physically, he’s a completely different change-of-pace than every single company leader from both the films and the previously-shown comics. He initially comes off as a hippie-esque figure who introduces himself as peaceful. However, he still has a deviously powerful hand over the city since he uses the inept mayor as the figure whom the public can voice their opinions towards while he works in the shadows. In addition to his robotic officials, city drones, cars, etc., he even has powerful, last-resort weaponized vehicles with a specialized drone and a weapons platform to discreetly lord his power over the Motor City like a corrupt Zeus ready to hurl his lightning bolts at rebellious blasphemers. He mostly stays within his high-tower, even when his own rule gets opposed and has to ultimately resort to what the company used to create the one thing that it used to be known for: his own cyborg officer. Like the previous leaders of OCP, he never understands that the human condition (and by extension, nature) isn’t going to be kept under wraps by artificial means. Like Murphy, Leo regains personal control over his mechanized body and thus decides to shut himself off from the majority of the city before he gets his comeuppance by the reinstated human officers. Similar to the CEO from RoboCop 3 (which could also be said for almost every person who runs that devious company), he’s not the deepest of felons that Murphy has faced over the course of his 30+ years of various crimes within varied media. Because this is based in a franchise that began with solid satire and commentary that helped to build its universe, the villains are usually big-business archetypes or criminals of various natures. I think there’s sort of a missed opportunity for this guy to be a subverted villain for RoboCop to go up against. I would keep him as a master manipulator in addition to his external charm as a means to mislead the readers and our heroes. Not only that, but have his plans for the city make some progress so that the app can have a greater presence and make our subtitle have a stronger meaning. Either way, he was a decent entry to the franchise’s rogues gallery. Finally, we have Alex himself. In the CEO’s eyes, he’s completely outdated and not part of the grand plan for Old Detroit. Leo and Sara help him become the city’s symbol of hope again by overriding the retirement protocol so that he can once against wield his signature weapon, inspiring the oppressed locals to stand up against their corrupt overlords. If he does have a character arc, then it sees him working with a true blue police officer for the first time since Anne Lewis. Because of Sara’s concern for her husband’s safety, he also makes sure that Leo stays alive to be with his family. After all, Murphy famously suffered a massive tragedy that ultimately took him away from his family. When he fails to keep Leo away from OCP’s cold-handed grasp, he spends the climax in helping his newfound partner regain the essential inner being that makes his partner who he truly is. By the end, he helps Leo in an unlikely situation. While Reza is now stuck within his cyborg body, he regained his humanity and still has his family by the end. Also, Alex got to have a partner that has his back for the foreseeable future as they forge a brighter tomorrow for Detroit. In the end, RoboCop begins as a weary, rundown hero who’s been partially stripped of his humanity yet sees Leo as his hope in humanity. Because he achieved the impossible and kept his human soul alive within his cybernetic husk, he’s already a fully-formed being who serves as an inspirational mentor to an unlikely young officer. Since he did what should have been internally impossible, he fights hard to help Leo come back from inside his cold-shelled machine. It was interesting to see Murphy act as both a hero & a mentor and I partially wish that this double-pronged character trait gets built upon should there be a follow-up to this tale, since it can have some potential towards the city’s proper rebuilding moving forward.
Overall, this is a nice tale with a couple of missteps. While some character development could have been more refined throughout, better payoffs for certain plot aspects (Sara’s post-retirement chip disablement, Directive Five, etc.) were realized, and a looming sense of stakes for our heroes to deal with, several other aspects of this five-part tale still works. The art work is nice throughout with proper color & detail, the action scenes are thrilling & well-engaging and I absolutely buy the partnership with RoboCop and Leo. It gets plenty of panel time to flourish with meaningful interaction and a trustful team-up when they find themselves in dangerous situations. Despite my complaints, I still recommend this for any longtime fan of the franchise. Here’s hoping that Neumeier and Miner’s direct sequel “RoboCop Returns” turns out to be a breath of fresh air that’s been lacking from this series for a really long time. If it turns out that way, then it would be an experience that anyone would buy “for a dollar”. Either way, this tale is worthy of your attention, whether in physical comic form or even from an app.
RoboCop (created by Edward Neumeier & Michael Miner) is owned by Orion Pictures.