Bizarro Back Issues: Astro Boy Against Lord Satan! (1962)
If you've read one Astro Boy story, then the odds are pretty good that it's 1964's "The Greatest Robot On Earth." It's considered to be a high point not only for Astro Boy, but for Osamu Tezuka's career, a massive, sweeping story full of Earth-shattering fight scenes and a villain who, despite his horrible acts, isn't entirely evil. It was even revived as the basis for 2003's Pluto, one of the greatest comics of all time, where Naoki Urasawa retold the story as a murder mystery from an entirely new perspective. It is, by any measure, one of the all time greats.
But let's be real here: Why would anyone ever talk about that comic when the very next volume has a story where Astro Boy fights Lord Satan in an amusement park full of robot deathtraps?
Admittedly, the villain of 1962's "Robot Land" --- handily reprinted in Volume 4 of Dark Horse's Astro Boy paperbacks --- is really just a robot named "Lord Satan" and not the actual author of all lies who reigns over sinners in Hell. But on the other hand, he is a robot named Lord Satan, which is not only the most intimidating thing you could possibly name a robot, but also the source of some of the best dialogue in the entire story. There are few things in this world I will never get tired of seeing, and a tiny robot with machine guns in his butt shout about how he's about to punch out Lord Satan is most definitely one of them.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The story actually starts with Professor Ochanomizu, one of Astro Boy's two dads, taking his son to Robot Land, a brand new theme park being built by a roboticist named Dr. Haido. It's actually a pretty neat idea, too, recreating scenes and characters from fairy tales using the advanced robots (most of whom, one assumes, are not armed with butt-guns) as the park's staff.
The problem, of course, is that the robots of Astro Boy's world are fully sentient, and Astro himself is not at all into the idea of robots being used as mere playthings for humans:
Really, though, Astro's main beef with the project seems to be that the robots are going to suffer because of their "weird shapes," which... well, that's not really a great message.
Either way, the complaints are enough that Haido boots them out in a huff, but not before he shows them his grandest and most terrifying creation, Lord Satan:
Okay, a few things about this:
- While it does in fact make perfect sense to make villainous characters to go along with your heroes, I'm going to say that making Lord Satan your theme park's managing director is kind of just going ahead and telling everyone you're going to turn out to be evil.
- The introduction of Satan as being "of fairy tale fame" really makes me wonder if I missed out on hearing some way more intense fairy tales when I was a kid.
- I'm not sure what your mental image of the devil is, but mine did not generally involve a feathered Robin Hood cap, Superman's trunks and a pair of stars over his nipples. That said, I suggest that we replace the horns-and-hooves version with this guy as our default model tout de suite.
With that, Astro and Ochanomizu depart, leaving Haido to get back to his business. Three months later, though, a robot swan crashes onto their front yard, and that's the sort of thing that requires attention. Especially since it's not just any robot swan --- it's a Transformer!
Specifically, it's the Swan Princess, who can only appear to be human for a single hour every day, who has gotten fed up of life in Robot Land and decided to make a break for it. Unfortunately, she's still technically Dr. Haido's propety, so when Lord Satan shows up in a nifty checkered jacket, they have no choice but to hand her back over.
Or at least, that's how Ochanomizu sees it. Astro Boy is a little more protective, taking on Satan in the titanic battle of butt guns against remote-control hands.
In the end, though, there's no choice but to hand the Swan Princess back over to Satan, but Astro Boy's curiosity has been piqued, and he takes it on himself to investigate Robot Land.
What he finds is a full-on dystopia. At first, no one will acknowledge that anything's wrong, but when a small child robot --- who, it should be noted, is literally exactly as old as all the other robots --- finally breaks down and tells Astro that Satan has not only been monitoring them, but that he's executing anyone who steps out of line. And once that secret's out, an entire army of decidedly non-fairy tale bots shows up to attack Astro. He smashes them up, which is pretty much always the third thing that happens in an Astro Boy story, but then Satan shows up to take advantage of his weakened foe:
With Astro Boy captured, Professor Ochanomizu and Astro's teacher, Mr. Mustachio, sneak into Robot Land to find him, and they're soon joined by a whole gang of Astro's classmates, who find out the real secret of Robot Land. It turns out that it's not a theme park at all --- it's actually a cover for a massive arms manufacturing plant that specializes in somewhat silly but highly lethal weaponry!
Now, look. I don't want to nitpick Dr. Haido's evil plan here, but if you've already sunk what has to be millions of dollars into building a massive amusement park with recreations of fairy tale castles and the depths of Hell, and then fully populated them with sentient robots, some of whom can transform into alternate modes and some of whom literally ride around on firebreathing dragons, then you probably wouldn't need the sideline, right? Surely the amount of kids who want to see a guy named Lord Satan flying around on a dragon has to be a better source of income than the Voosh 12-6.
Clearly, Haido doesn't see it that way, and after Astro's classmates expose his illegal arms business, it all comes down to a fight to the finish between Astro and Satan:
As you might expect from the fact that Astro Boy was not replaced in 1964 by The New Adventures of Lord Satan, Astro Boy wins that one, smashing Satan to pieces in a fast --- but awesomely choreographed --- battle to the death.
And with that, Dr. Haido is handed over to his own creations, and, well...
... I think we can all assume that they definitely killed him. But on the bright side, we should all be so lucky to have last words as amazing as, "AS SOON AS SATAN DIES, YOU ALL TURN ON ME!!"