Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Robocop and the Paradox of Crime Fighting

Before August, 2013, all I knew about Robocop was: a) he’s robot, b) he’s a cop, and c) he’s super violent. And in some ways, those three things were enough. But when I saw the promotional campaign for Robocop: Last Stand, I took the bait. The press release described, “Adapted from Frank Miller’s unproduced screenplay for Robocop 3--a Dark Knight Returns for Robocop!--and spoiler alert Robocop dies!” This is what I thought of Robocop in 2013.

But now it’s 2014, and I am a new person: I love Robocop. Not just because he’s funny, violent, and noble. But mostly because he’s the perfect articulation of the inherent paradox of law enforcement. Let me explain...
This comic starts like the first Robocop movie--a news-broadcast proclaims Detroit is now perfectly safe thanks to a better armed police and patrol routes for of those crazy mecha-tank cop-bot things (called ED-209). Of course, this is total bullshit. The city is more dangerous than ever before because of rampant corruption and police brutality.

Robocop is forced to hide in the sewers to do his violent vigilantism. He kills more corrupt cops and destroys more ED-209s than ever before. And since he’s a badass, it all goes great--until he tries a little girl from a burning building; gets attacked by a kung-fu master cyborg; and almost dies in an explosion filled car chase. Robocop is forced to hide in the sewers, where he fights more ED-209s and the kung-fu bot until he’s mortally wounded.

Then he dies. And gets crucified even.
Image credit: The Nerdist, 

And without spoiling the book's awesome ending, here’s why Robocop is great. Robocop highlights how fighting for justice with power is fundamentally failed pursuit. The difference between Robocop and ED-209 illustrates this true paradox. The ED-209 may be stronger, faster, and have more firepower than Robocop--but Robocop is essentially a man and the ED is a heartless killing machine. In creation, Robocop was a fluke; while the ED-209 are mass produced killing machines. Robocop cannot be replicated--the only reason the cyborg law enforcer is a crime fighter is because he was made from the husk of a good cop. Thus, the mecha-tank carries the metaphorical significance of bureaucracy while Robocop illustrates the failure of one good person to affect an inherently bad system. 

We can give cops military-grade SWAT equipment; build bigger prisons, or allow the government access to all citizen data. But none of these things will make things more fair; in fact, quite the opposite. Truly fair policemen would need to be totally selfless, so committed to helping society that they would disfigure their body with giant metal weapon parts just so they can never stop fighting criminals--like Robocop. Unfortunately, what we get, are mindless combat drones like the ED-209. 

The mini-series itself is quite good. The writer adapts the book in the style of Frank Miller, through a mostly-effortless Dark Knight Returns impression. The art is great too; it has a simple line style, with expert coloring and evocative detail. I wager Robocop: Last Stand will be a lot better than the new Robocop remake. This book is gritty, sad, and badass. I bet the remake will struggle to do just one of those things (the latter). 

But hey, I’ll still see it anyway. Because I love Robocop now. And so should you.