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This is the third post in a series dealing with technology in the DC and Marvel universes. The first post dealt with weapons at:
The second post dealt with transportation technologies at:
This post deals with robots in the DC and Marvel universes. Robots come in three flavors: good guys, bad guys and funny. Which universe has the coolest good guy robot and which universe has the coolest bad guy robot? Which universe has the funniest robot? I refuse to make a distinction between robots and androids in this post. The terms are used haphazardly in both universes and basically in comic books the only real difference is that the androids are more human looking than the robots. This is fairly superficial distinction and even this is not a consistent factor. In more sophisticated science fiction universes there is some attempt to also distinguish between robots and androids using some quality of sentience rather than mere appearance. Below is a list of DC robots with at least their first appearance in parentheses.
List of DC Robots
One robot stands out in the DC universe as the ultimate baddie and that’s Brainiac. Brainiac is so famous that the word is now derogatory slang for someone who is too brainy. Brainiac has changed from the golden age and is currently human. Brainiac also changed from being green skinned humanoid with studs in his head and wearing a pink yes pink outfit to being made of metallic silver and looking a lot more robotic. For me the classic Brainiac will always be the green guy with pink tights. This Brainiac went around shrinking cities and putting them in bottles. The guy collected cities! I collected comic books and this guy is collecting cities. How cool is that? One of the cities was Kandor which Superman confiscated and kept in his Fortress of Solitude. Kandor was the source of many, many adventures with the Superman family in the silver age which seem silly now but were great fun when I was a kid. Brainiac also had an indestructible force field that he could project around himself via a belt or around his space ship. Superman could not penetrate this force field and Brainiac was basically impervious to attack from Superman. Brainiac also teamed up with Luthor on and off and of course each one tried to prove he was more brilliant than the other. Brainiac had a twelfth level intellect which I guess is pretty smart.
I do want to mention the Metal Men. The Metal Men were a team of good robots that had their high point in the sixties. The Metal Men included the Gold, Lead, Mercury, Platinum and Tin and they premiered in Showcase #37 but soon got their own title. The one adjective I would use to describe the Metal Men is zany! They were shape shifters and had the personality traits of their respective metal. Mercury was volatile. Lead was steady and so on. Platinum was female and of course was in love with her creator Dr. Magnus. This love was not reciprocated and was an ongoing plot line.
The Metal Men mostly fought other robots which makes no sense whatsoever except that in sixties logic the robot title should have lots of other robots. The Metal Men inhabited their own little corner of DC robot land. The second most famous good robot in the DC universe is the Red Tornado. The Red Tornado is a long standing member of the Justice League of America and spent a lot of time spouting robotic angst about not being human. I really don’t like the Red Tornado at all. The name is stupid. The costume is stupid. The angst rhetoric is forced and not well done. The Metal Men win!
DC has used robots for comic relief a great deal. The Metal Men were basically a funny tile if you consider zany to be a shade of funny. DC did have at least one ongoing character that was a funny robot. Star Hawkins was bumbling private eye of the future who first appeared in Strange Adventures #114 in 1960. Ilda was his robot secretary and the brains of the team. Ilda provided consistent comic relief in a manner similar to Rosie the Robot in The Jetsons. As I have pointed out in other posts in this series, DC has a much greater willingness to mix genres for extremely silly effect. This isn’t even the silliest DC private eye title of this period. That honor belongs to Detective Chimp. These silly early silver age DC titles do not age well.
You have not one but three robot dogs: C.A.P.D. Robbie the Robot Dog and Thor the Thunder Dog. Robot Man of course has to have Robbie the Robot Dog instead of a regular dog. Why? No reason just more DC zaniness. Robbie can talk and Robot Man and Robbie had some very surreal conversations. L-Ron is a robot that works for the Justice League and is obsequious to the point of hilarity. Skeets is the side kick of Booster Gold and is not as funny as L-Ron but has his moments. L-Ron wins the funny robot category in the DC universe.
There are some pretty powerful robots in the DC universe including Amazo, who has all the powers of the original Justice League of America but can absorb more powers beyond that. The Shaggy Man is another scary robot who has vast strength and vast recuperative powers and is a mindless fighter who can take on the whole Justice League at the same time.
For sheer weirdness, G.I. Robot is probably the winner in the DC universe. G.I. Robot is a robot that runs around in standard G.I. gear. This is a mix of science fiction and the war comic genre. Not a lot of companies have the guts to mix these two genres and perhaps this is just as well.
The winner of the best DC evil robot is clearly Brainiac. The winner of best DC robot hero is not a hero but the Metal Men group as a whole. The funniest robot is L-Ron.
List of Marvel Robots
Some of the top evil robots in the Marvel universe include the Sentinels, Ultron and the Super-Adaptoid. Probably the most powerful evil robot is Super-Adaptoid. The Super-Adaptoid is a clear clone of Amazo. The Super-Adaptoid absorbs the powers of the Avengers. A common what if battle on bullentin boards is the Super-Adaptoid versus Amazo which is basically an extension of the Avengers versus JLA what if battle? The Super-Adaptoid while a lot of fun visually, due to all his super powers, doesn’t have much in the way of characterization.
Ultron does not have this problem! Henry Pym, Giant-Man, Yellow Jacket, etc. is the creator of Ultron. Ultron is one scary looking robot who is made out of adamantium, an indestructible metal, and can project massive energy bolts. Ultron may be tough looking but he is a big softie at heart and even creates his own robot mate called Jocasta. Jocasta’s mind was based on the brain patterns of the Wasp, the wife of his “father” Henry Pym. Jocasta is a robot copy of Ultron’s “mother”. Ultron is filled with Oedipal rage towards his creator. Jocasta rejects the love of Ultron because she doesn’t like meglomaniacal sociopaths who want to destroy all organic life on Earth. What a picky lady! Ultron is no quitter when it comes to the game of love and creates a second robot lover called Alkhema and was more ruthless than Jocasta but ended up turning on Ultron as well. Poor Ultron!
The Sentries are created to hunt down mutants and actually there are different models with vastly different power levels. The Sentinels often try to capture mutants so they have all sorts of gadgets for this purpose including gas, nets, cables, you name it. The Sentinels have probably appeared in more issues than all other evil Marvel robots put together. The Sentinels are an interesting plot device but have zero personality with very few exceptions. The Master Mold was kind of an individual. There was the Sentinel with a big 2 on his chest so he’s named Sentinel 2. Sentinel 2 appeared in Avengers # 104 and was mutated when he flew towards the Sun. A batch of Sentinels had decided that the source of mutation was the Sun so they attacked the Sun! No one said the Sentinels were geniuses. That mutated Sentinel was destroyed by his fellow sentries when they realized he was a mutant of sorts.
There is Nimrod who is an advanced Sentinel from an alternate future that takes on a human identity and starts to grow more human. Nimrod and Master Mold merge to create Bastion and an overly complicated plot line, the great weakness of Marvel plotlines. However, all in all the Sentinel are a mindless army that is dangerous precisely due to their simple cognitions that often lead to draconian solutions. I love the Sentinel but just find Ultron more interesting. Ultron wins the evil robot title in the Marvel universe.
The top two good guy robots in the Marvel universe are the original Human Torch and the Vision. The Human Torch was huge during the Golden Age and current comic book readers are probably not aware of this. The fist important comic book crossover was a battle between the Human Torch and Namor the Submariner in Marvel Mystery #9 back in 1940. This is of course a fire versus water theme. The android Human Torch came back in the silver age in Fantastic Four Annual #4. Despite this reappearance the android Human Torch is nowhere near as popular as he once was.
Probably the most famous robot of the current Marvel universe is the Vision who is a member of the Avengers. The Vision was probably created by the same scientist, Phineas Horton, who created the Human Torch but this plotline keeps changing. The Vision had a long running affair with the mutant the Scarlet Witch. There was lot of angst in the relationship and Quicksilver, the brother of the Scarlet Witch, and also a mutant, was extremely vocal about his opinion that the relationship was an abomination. There is of course the irony that Quicksilver is a target of anti-mutant prejudice but this does not stop him from being prejudiced against robots.
I will mention that the Human Torch and the Vision are both referred to as androids probably because they are pretty human looking especially the Human Torch. The Vision had bright red skin and currently is ghostly white so, minus make up, is not passing for a human. The Vision used to be chock full of all sorts of deep emotions and existential angst but is currently lacking in emotion much to the chagrin of the Scarlet Witch. The Vision wins the good robot title in the Marvel universe.
There aren’t as many funny and/or zany robots in the Marvel universe as in the DC universe. There is the Humanoid Experimental Robot B-Type Integrated Electronics or H.E.R.B.I.E. for short created by Reed Richards who provided some comic relief in the Fantastic Four title and that’s about it. There isn’t even one robot dog in the Marvel universe and maybe that’s a good thing. Most of the humor in the Fantastic Four title involving H.E.R.B.I.E. is slap stick rather than verbal and not that funny.
H.E.R.B.I.E. was hilarious in the title Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius. The art was cartoony and Franklin, the son of Reed Richards was a very Calvin, of Calvin and Hobbes, type character. H.E.R.B.I.E. plays the serious nanny trying to keep Franklin out of trouble with little success. The Awesome Android provided comic relief in volume two of the She-Hulk that was a funny title overall. However, H.E.R.B.I.E. in Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius is funnier and of course H.E.R.B.I.E. is one of the major characters in this title versus the peripheral role of the Awesome Android who changes his name to Awesome Andy. While the title She-Hulk is very funny, Awesome Andy isn’t necessarily all that funny. H.E.R.B.I.E. wins the funny robot contest in the Marvel Universe.
Brainiac is one of the top super villains of all time and clearly wins the bad robot category. A fight between Brainiac and Ultron would be a lot of fun to watch and is the subject of at least one online post (http://www.electricferret.com/fights/issue_186.htm). Who wins the good robot category? The Metal Men have a zaniness that the Vision does not but they are definitely an acquired taste and the Metal Men comic book was always a second rate title. The Vision is an important member of the Avengers. The Avengers are a first rate title. The Vision wins the good robot category.
I do want to mention that the Vision and the Red Tornado are both red and androids. The Vision belongs to the Avengers. The Red Tornado belongs to the DC equivalent of the Avengers, the Justice League. Is this a coincidence? I think not.
L-Ron is funny but H.E.R.B.I.E. is funnier. Marvel wins the good robot and funny robot contests and wins overall. DC won the weapons and transportation posts so this is a comeback for Marvel. I would make another observation about the role of robots in the DC and Marvel universes.
Marvel has a lot more robots than DC! DC has 114 robots. Marvel has 257 robots! I counted all sorts of one-shot robots from the Metal Men title and the DC count was still much lower than the Marvel count. My after the count theory is as follows. Marvel has a consistent multiverse, so many robots get double or triple counts depending on which universe in the Marvel multiverse they appeared. DC’s multiverse is a total mess! Don’t get me started.
I think the idea of multiple universes to explain away continuity lapses was a great invention that was started by DC but DC decided to use a Crisis of the Infinite Earths comic book series to get rid of the other multiverses and create one universe. That might have been ok but they then created a brand new 52 system that assumes there are only 52 universes. There is also something called Zero Hour, and something else called hypertime. I almost vowed to never ever read another DC comic book after the Crisis of Infinite Earth fiasco but let’s face it I am addicted to comic books and need overpowers reason in the long run. The way DC has handled their multiverses has led to a destruction of DC universe continuity.
I urge all comic book writers to repeat the above three sentences at least once a day in a mantra like manner! Plus there are comic book geeks like myself that love their ability to explain the history of a comic book universe and this is a task that is largely impossible with the DC universe. I would also like to make a comparison of how DC and Marvel have treated robots in their respective universes from a historical perspective.
In the golden age robots were treated in a similar manner by both DC and Marvel. Jack Kirby created a slew of monsters in the golden age before the success of the silver age Spider-Man and many of these monsters are robots that have ended up on the list Marvel robot list. Even the one-shot robots had great names and you remembered them. The Marvel golden age monster stories often had a Twilight Zone style ironic twist at the end that stuck with you after you read the story. Marvel titles that featured monsters include Tales of the Unexpected, Strange Tales and Amazing Fantasy. Amazing Fantasy was a title that was pure monsters until Amazing Fantasy #15. Amazing Fantasy #15 is the issue in which Spider-Man premiered and this was the beginning of the end of Marvel’s golden age monster stories. Long before everything was reprinted in graphic novels, Marvel honored their golden age monsters in the silver age with the Fantasy Masterpieces title that I collected avidly having missed the golden age due to my age.
There were plenty of one-shot robots in the equivalent DC titles Strange Adventures, Tales of the Unexpected and Mystery in Space that are on the DC robot list but even their inclusion in my DC robot list did not change the numbers that much. DC and Marvel in the golden age treated robots in a similar manner. Overall, the robot stories of Marvel, especially those by Jack Kirby, were superior to those in DC in the golden age. However, in both universes in the golden age, robots were one-shot characters limited to certain omnibus titles with an ironic twist at the end but things changed in the silver age.
In the silver age, Marvel developed over reaching themes using robots that DC does not have even now. Overall, humans in the Marvel universe see robots as the equalizer in their dealings with superhumans. The Marvel universe uses robots a lot more as a tool of government. Marvel assumes that the relationship between government and superhumans will be antagonistic. Robots are a major tool of the government to combat superhumans in the Marvel Universe.
The Sentinels versus mutants storyline is a giant one in the Marvel universe that has no equivalent in the DC universe. There is even a little retcon pre-Sentinel history. TESS-One is a robot created by the US government to fight super soldiers like Captain America near the end of 1945. The right hand of the government creates super soldiers and the left hand of the government creates the robot contingency plan to destroy them if they get out of hand. . S.H.I.E.L.D uses Life Model Decoys (LMDs) to infiltrate and spy on enemies but in at least one storyline the LMDs turn on S.H.I.E.L.D because they are tools without conscious who can be controlled by others. Agent Cheesecake is a quite gorgeous LMD that goes the extra mile and seduces targets! Agent Cheesecake is probably the sexiest comic book robot and maybe the sexiest robot period.
You just have to love Marvel’s paranoid vision of the world! This use of robots by government includes alien governments. The Kree are an intergalactic empire and their use of robotic Sentries as immortal sentries at the peripheries of their empire, where a Kree humanoid base is not practical i.e. Earth, is also a major storyline that has no equivalent in the DC universe.
All in all, the Marvel universe has a more developed thematic way of dealing with robots than the DC universe. What makes robots special? Obedience and functional immortality! They are the perfect servants of the state that needs obedient servants that can mimic the functional immortality of the state. Leaders come and go but the goals of the state can be enforced in the long run via robots. Robots are also tool of state whose obedience and immortality can be the downfall of the governments that create them. The Sentries in alternate Marvel time lines often outlive the US government that created them and enforce the Mutant Registration Act in a draconian manner that is ultimately harmful to humans and not just mutants.
This idea of technology out of control is of course a major science fiction theme. I don’t think it’s just science fiction anymore. The US government seriously looked at a Star Wars ballistic system that would have had to operate at the speed of light to be practical and humans and their command, control and communications systems (C3) cannot operate at this speed. The C3 of Star Wars would have had to been relegated to computer systems. Since the Star Wars system is basically defensive that’s ok but sooner or later someone would have decided, well heck why stop there and get rid of that obsolete football the Prez carries and hand the whole shebang to the computers. I don’t worry too much about Sentries over even Skynet, of the Terminator movie series, but I do worry about a computer in the future with bad code that starts WW III due to a glitch. Our technology is moving ahead much faster than our international social systems and eventually we will go the way of the dinosaurs. Bigger computers are great but we also need wiser minds to control those computers.
I think DC is still stuck in a very fifties usage of robots where robots are a novelty and more modern themes of robots as out of control technology due to social rather than novelty reasons is absent. Individual robots go haywire in the DC universe but the idea that social systems such as the government are haywire and create haywire robots as a result is not explored. The robot as novelty was highlighted in DC’s Metal Men. I love the Metal Men! However, the Metal Men are totally dated. The way Marvel uses robots is just a lot more interesting that the way than how DC does. This is my third post comparing technology in DC and Marvel and I want to make an overall observation.
Marvel treats technology in a more consistent thematic manner. Iron Man’s armor leads to the Armor Wars. Mutants are treated with a consistent pseudo science genetic “Gene X” explanation. Adamantium, a super metal, is used consistently to create many super weapons. Robots as institutional servants and the plotlines that follow from this idea are repeated. The government continues trying to create super soldiers after the success of Captain America and the Weapon X program that creates Wolverine and many other characters is the result.
DC treats technology in a much more haphazard manner. Technologies are created for one issue and never seen again. There are far fewer overreaching storylines in the DC universe that tie the different technologies together. Technology has more continuity in the Marvel universe than the DC universe! Again!
I think whatever the results of individual posts in this series, Marvel treats technology in a superior manner compared to DC.
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