4 out of 5
I think this is the first RSA that has no direct ties to the Robo world. It’s been a while since I read the previous ones (and while since the older regular Robo issues well), but unless I’m overlooking an easter egg reference, this is very much standalone, more in line with something Brian expounds upon in the backmatter: observing science through the ages; identifying the pursuit of learning and knowledge as ‘science’ before we necessarily classified it as such. In reading Clevinger’s thoughts on that, and the story told in ‘Nicodemus Job,’ set around The Imperial Library of Constantinople in 1095 CE, I’m reminded of Neal Stephenson’s alterna-science histories and historical sci-fi from Anathem and the Baroque cycle: these are writers in love with the exploratory mindset that formed the basis of their genre, and finding new ways to, eh, explore that exploration.
Not that The Nicodemus Job is a Neal Stephenson comic book. No: this is very much Clevinger: fast moving, clever, big picture / little picture smashed together for a snipe at the state of education and access to information set against a heist story in which five bandits plan to yoink important texts from the aforementioned Library and to blame it on the crooked politician who runs the joint for monetary gain. It has the hallmarks of Brian’s Robo stuff, in which our leads are all smart and pleasantly snarky toward one another, and ‘five minutes earlier’ plot rewinds reveal plans and – also touched upon in Brian’s explanation of his preferred narrative structure in the backmatter – a continual series of roadblocks and hitches that keep making the heist more and more difficult to pull off (and more fun to read).
The RSA’s have also not benefitted from their non-Scott Wegener artists; Meredith McClaren and colorist Shan Murphy, on these issues, give the dude a run for his money. Murphy uses loose color blobs that give McClaren’s thin-lined art a grounded, organic feel, while McClaren has a great sense for networking conversations around the page – important in Brian’s often talky scripting. Actiony panels can get a bit cluttered (something Scott also struggled with early on – maintaining his blocky style while communicating movement), and the era-appropriate dress of soldier’s garbs and earthy-colored, flowing clothing makes picking out characters in a crowd difficult, but there wasn’t a single point where I didn’t feel like McClaren and Murphy weren’t in charge of their pages. In part, this could be luck of the draw, as Brian’s script is a bit more patient than usual, taking his plot step-by-step (although the general “for the good of the people” motivations never quite comes across effectively), but I think this was more a case of several talented people operating at their peaks.
And maybe not having to tie into the Robo universe freed us of the clunkiness of the previous Real Science Adventures. If that is the case, heck yes, I’d take more adventures with this team – or with any of the 9,000 other Robo-adjacent tales Brian has planned.