Battle Bots

Mazinger Z (1972), Getter Robo (1974), Mobile Suit Gundam (1979) and Appleseed (1985) were some of the seminal manga titles that introduced giant robots to Japan and the rest of the world. 

Not everyone was hip to Japanese comic books back in the early 70s. Many kids in the U.S. discovered a version of giant robots in 1979 when Marvel Comics started publishing Shogun Warriors. Author Van Allen Plexico was one of those kids. 

Plexico even dedicates his latest novel to the talent behind the Shogun Warriors series. He writes: “This book is for writer Doug Moench and artist Herb Trimpe, who showed us all the way.” Trimpe, in particular, was the undisputed master of robots and monsters at Marvel in that era. 

A quick note here: “Happy” Herb Trimpe had his fans, no doubt about it, but in no way was he in the same league as Go Nagai (Mazinger Z) or Masamune Shirow (Appleseed). I think we can all agree that Marvel’s “American Mecha” couldn’t hold a candle to Japan’s mecha invasion. 

Regardless, Validus-V is the result of Plexico’s childhood love of giant robots and giant monsters. His book wouldn’t exist without Shogun Warriors, Transformers, Godzilla—and a host of other ancillary mecha and daikaiju merch.  

The novel begins in 1978 when a fistful of 300-foot creatures converge on the shores of Monster Island (a.k.a. Johnston Atoll, a radioactive reef southwest of Hawaii). These giant monsters include a centipede, a bat, a Bigfoot-like beast and a mighty lizard named Tyranicus.

Thankfully, there’s a quartet of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robots nearby: the titular Validus-V, Tornader-X (and its alter ego Rednator-Oh), Z-Zatala and King Karzaled. Together they possess enough power to destroy all monsters.

The problem, however, is that the human-piloted robots are a fractious bunch. Honestly, they’re too busy fighting amongst themselves to tackle the impending monster mayhem. Similarly, the towering colossi from Johnston Atoll aren’t united either. It’s hard to have a raging mecha battle when there’s no strategic alliance between combatants. 

Like a lot of classic mecha manga (and anime), the fate of the world ultimately rests in the hands of a young kid. Up until this point, 16-year-old David Okada was merely preoccupied with doing homework and avoiding bullies—he had zero experience piloting a bionic war machine. But that changes quickly. Through a combination of luck, opportunity and necessity, he becomes an awesome robot pilot. “Clearly you’re some kind of prodigy,” notes a colleague. 

There’s a lot more going on here, of course. I didn’t even mention the escalating galactic war or the rampaging 40-foot ants living on Monster Island. Ultimately, Validus-V is greater than the clash of giants and aliens. Plexico is smart enough to know that a story about robots and monsters is really about all the people caught in the confluence.   

[VALIDUS-V / By Van Allen Plexico / First Printing: July 2022 / ISBN: 9798841938194]