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Ro-Busters in 2000 AD, drawn by Mike McMahon, 1979

Ro-Busters was a strip about an all-robot disaster squad that first appeared in Starlord in 1978. It was created by writer Pat Mills after IPC managing editor John Sanders suggested a strip about a disaster squad made up of ex-servicemen with superpowers, which Mills thought was a stupid idea. He instead made his heroes robots, sent into disaster zones because no-one cared if they lived or died, and the team a private enterprise run by the money-grabbing cyborg tycoon Howard Quartz, aka Mr Ten Per Cent, because only 10% of him was still human. The main characters, designed by Kevin O'Neill, were Ro-Jaws, a defiant working-class sewer robot, and his straight-man Hammerstein, an army-surplus war-droid who sometimes behaved like a stuffy old colonel, sometimes like a gung-ho sergeant. Another regular character was Mek-Quake, a stupidly violent bulldozer who would destroy disobedient robots for Quartz.

Disputes behind the scenes led to Mills quitting, so some of the stories in Starlord were written by Chris Lowder (as Bill Henry and Jack Adrian), and someone going by the name V. Gross. The artists involved were Carlos Pino, Dave Gibbons, Ian Kennedy and José Luis Ferrér. When Starlord was merged into 2000 AD after 22 issues, Ro-Busters was one of the strips that carried over, and O'Neill and departing editor Nick Landau persuaded Mills to return to write it. Mills insisted on selling only first serial rights, retaining the copyright on his creations. This was initially granted but clawed back later.

The first 2000 AD strip, "Death on the Orient Express", re-introduced Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein to new readers, and was drawn by Dave Gibbons. This was followed by "Hammerstein's War Memoirs", relating Hammerstein's exploits in the Volgan War before he was sold to Ro-Busters, back when he wore a different head, drawn by O'Neill, Gibbons and Mike Dorey, and "Ro-Jaws' Memoirs", a pseudo-Dickensian tale of Ro-Jaws' past drawn by Dorey. Then Mills wrote "The Terra-Meks", drawn by Gibbons, in which Quartz's robots, minus Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein, were hired to level a coastal town for new development, against the wishes of the residents, who were defended by the heroic ship's pilot robot Charlie. Finally, in "The Fall and Rise of Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein", drawn by O'Neill, Dorey and Mike McMahon, Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein escaped their evil owner, who was planning to destroy all his robots for the insurance, went on the run, and helped the robot underground escape earth for a robot colony in space. This story, even more so than the previous ones, emphasised the slave status of the robots and the cruelty of their masters.

Apart from a few stories in annuals and specials, some of them written by Alan Moore, that was the end of Ro-Busters as a feature (for a time while the strip was still running, Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein had hosted a letters page called "Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein's Laugh-In"). A month later, in June 1979, "ABC Warriors" began, returning to Hammerstein's Days as a war-droid. It still features intermittently in the comic. Ro-Jaws was the host of "Ro-Jaws' Robo-Tales", occasional short stories on robotic themes, and Ro-Jaws, Mek-Quake, Hammerstein and the rest of the ABC Warriors would also appear as supporting characters in Mills' "Nemesis the Warlock". In 2009 Howard Quartz, still human, his Ro-Busters company and prototype Hammerstein war-droids have appeared in "Savage", set in the early days of the Volgan War.


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