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The Myth of Superman Revisited

The Myth of Superman

When I was ten years old I lived in Caracas, Venezuela. My parents were both professors and liked to frequent bookstores in Caracas. I saw a cover that interested me because Superman was on the cover. The Spanish title of the books was Apocalípticos e integrados ante la cultura de masas by Umberto Eco. My parents bought me the book and I struggled with the Spanish but mostly looked at the pictures. Years later I would return to the subject matter of the book again!

Umberto Eco (Eco, 1972) analyzed the Superman myth in a very important article that makes several assertions about the Superman mythos and comic books in general.  I assert that this analysis is based on how the Superman story used to be.  Since then, the Superman story has undergone extreme changes that contradict Eco’s analysis.  This paper is an attempt to provide an updated analysis of the Superman mythos.  I agree with Eco that the Superman myth is of great importance.   The Superman mythos is perhaps the most important mythos in modern American culture.  Perhaps far more people can tell you the story of Superman than the story of Hercules.  Eco’s paper in turn is the most important analysis of this mythos and thus deserving an update.  This paper will also attempt to explain why the Superman mythos has undergone so many extreme changes since the time Eco analyzed the mythos.  The changes in the Superman myth tell us a great deal about how society has changed.

Eco asserts that Superman develops in an oneric climate were the reader does not know what has happened before.  Superman does not consume himself.  This cryptic phrase means that Superman unlike a character in a novel does not change from story to story and does not develop as a character.  Superman shares a timelessness with other mythic characters such as Hercules.  There is an illusion of “continuous present”.

This was true of comic books from their inception in the 1940’s through the 1970’s but market forces forced a change in this plot system.  The price of paper went up dramatically and so did the price of comic books.  Comic books became too expensive for young readers that outgrew the product.  According to a survey by DC Comics in 1995, the average age of comic book readers was 25 years of age.  Older readers do not like stories set in an oneiric setting but instead obsess over what is referred to in the comic book industry as continuity.  Superman is also a product of a particular comic book company, namely the afore mentioned DC Comics.

In the sixties Stan Lee revamped a comic book company called Marvel Comics that produced such titles as the Amazing Spiderman and the Fantastic Four.  One of his practices was to insert the comic book equivalent of footnotes!  The reader was given information in the form of a small box about prior comic books.  For example if Thor and the Hulk fought again.  Thor might mention their last battle and the box would have comic book issue information in a small box.  This practice soon became cumbersome and is rarely used today but the readers came to expect continuity in their comic books.  DC did ignore the Marvel continuity system for many years but eventually tried to deal with continuity issues in its own way.

One DC plot device was the creation of parallel Earths.  The Superman of the 1940’s had a very different history than the Superman of the sixties. DC explained these differences in continuity by telling readers that the Superman of the 1940’s came from Earth 2.  The Superman of the sixties was from Earth 1.  The two Superman’s could and did meet on occasion.    Readers and writers alike became more and more self-conscious of the issue of continuity and this has been a widely discussed topic in the letter’s column of comic book issues and comic book conventions. There are whole websites that feature elaborate explanations of how this issue or that issue might have occurred in Earth1 or 2 or some other Earth. The number of Earths became cumbersome for DC and there was an attempt to meld all the Earth’s in the Crisis of the Infinite Earths (1985) story arc that involved all of the DC titles.  An explanation of this story arc is beyond the purview of this paper but the point is that comic books are anything but oneiric since the time Eco wrote his critique.

Eco makes several claims about the civic consciousness and political consciousness of Superman.  Superman could take over the government rather than using his cosmic level powers to combat petty street crime.  Superman could effect the causes of crime i.e. social causes but chooses not to.  This is a fair characterization of Superman from his inception all the way through the 1970’s.  The actions of Superman are absurd.  Superman literally saves cats while watching the world burn.  The shift in the average age of comic book readers led to readers that recognized this absurdity and Superman had to be changed to fit the needs of these readers.  Superman was depowered.

John Byrne was given the task in 1986 to write a miniseries, The Man of Steel, that would reboot the Superman mythos.  Can a rebooted mythos be a mythos?  The new Superman that was much less powerful than the Superman of the sixties which in comic book jargon is referred to as the Silver Age Superman.  John Byrne destroyed one of the essential features of the Superman mythos.  Superman does not kill!  Superman will go to absurd lengths to even avoid killing animals!  Byrne had Superman kill (Superman, vol. 2, #22, 1988)!

Superman #22

Superman is on an alternate Earth that is the home of the Silver Age Superboy.  The Byrne version of Superman did not develop powers until much later and did not go through a Superboy stage.  The modern Superman faces Silver Age Kryptonians super villains from the Phantom Zone.   The Kryptonians  are far, far more powerful than him and have already destroyed the Earth of the Silver Age Superboy.  The modern Superman does not have the power to contain the Silver Age Kryptonians and must take radical action to prevent his own Earth from ever being destroyed.  Superman accepts the utililatarian logic of war that the lives of billions outweigh the lives of three villains.  Furthermore, the villains have killed billions already and deserve the death penalty.

The modern Superman is immune to the Kryptonite of this Earth and uses the Kryptonite of this Earth to kill the three evil Kryptonians.  One of the Kryptonians is a woman!  Superman kills a woman!  Does this mean Superman is not myth?  I would argue that the Superman mythos is so powerful that if you asked a dozen people if Superman kills that most of them would say “no” and that the mythos is more powerful than the comic book.  While this reboot was dramatic, Superman had undergone changes in the past and Eco was probably unaware he was largely dealing with the Silver Age Superman rather than the Golden Age Superman.

The Superman of the 1940s and part of the 1950s was referred to as the Superman of the Golden Age.  The Golden Age superman could leap over a building.  The Silver Age Superman could leap into a space.  The Golden Age superman could lift a battle ship.  The Silver Age Superman could move planets.  The Golden Age Superman was less powerful and also much more likely to take the law into his own hands.  The Golden Age Superman was not a boy scout and even killed.  In Action #2, 1938, Superman does kill a villain.  Eco is obviously unaware of this part of the Superman story.  The Golden Age Superman was actually a fugitive because of his vigilante activities until 1942.  Eco is therefore not discussing Superman but the Silver Age Superman.   The Golden Age Superman slowly became the almost all powerful boy scout of the Silver Age.  The Silver Age Superman was too powerful and too much of a boy scout for the eighties.  The Modern Age Superman is much less powerful than the Silver Age Superman and much more critical of his heroics.

The absurdity of the still very powerful Modern Age Superman following the orders of a US President almost to the letter rather than taking a more critical political role was explored in the Dark Knight Returns (1986). The Dark Knight Returns is a seminal miniseries about Batman.  In this series Batman starts to question whether or not super heroes should use their powers more directly to shape the social and political landscape.  The arguments between Superman and Batman become the argument between the absurdist Superhero Eco describes and a post-modern self-conscious hero in the form of Batman.  The Dark Knight Returns was a huge hit and led to a whole series of comic books that explored the theme of a modern versus post-modern hero.  Batman argues that in some cases super heroes have a duty to disobey governmental authority but what are the limits of such disobedience?  In the same year another title at Marvel explored this issue more directly.

In 1986 the 12 issue miniseries called the Squadron Supreme was published by Marvel and featured a thinly disguised Justice League of America.  Hyperion is the Superman of this group and he decides the Squadron Supreme needs to take over the world!  The Batman doppelganger is Nighthawk and he opposes this move by his former teammates.  Nighthawk is the President of the US who was under the mind control of an alien and created the horrible conditions of that Earth due to that mind control.  This is reversal of the roles of Batman and Superman in the Dark Knight Returns.  Still the Squadron Supreme will not kill.  When Nighthawk dies in a battle with the Squadron Supreme, Hyperion decides the Squadron Supreme has gone too far and Nighthawk wins a pyrrhic battle.

By the year 1999 the world is ready for a super hero team that goes further than the Squadron Supreme.   The Authority has a team of super heroes flat out taking over the US government.  Again, if super heroes stage a coup are they still heroes?  The Authority is not presented as a rogue super hero team but rather as a super hero team that has decided to rebel against its absurdist role and are sane in an insane world.  The Authority does kick the Chinese out of Tibet.  The Authority does overthrow dictators violently.  Most of all, the Authority does terminate super villains, often brutally, rather than put them in jails that can’t possibly hold them.  The Authority occupies the Wildstorm universe that is part of the DC imprint but not part of the DC universe and is very much a “mature” title.

The absurdity of Superman’s boy scout persona was dealt with directly in DC universe in the Kingdom Come (1996) story line.  Magog kills the Joker after the Joker poisons all the workers in the Daily Planet including Lois Lane the great love of Superman.  Superman arrests Magog.  Magog is later acquitted of the death of the Joker by a court of law.  Presumably, the jury realizes the absurdity of trying to imprison someone like the Joker who will not stay imprisoned.  The legal system commits a blatantly illegal act.  In this story line, Superman then retires when faced with this fact.  This is assumed to happen in a parallel Earth rather than “real” Earth that the “real” Superman occupies

Overall, the extent to which a super hero crosses or does not cross two lines that define a super hero becomes a major theme of comic books in the new millennium.  One line is obedience to authority.  Super heroes obey the law.  Super villains do not obey the law.  This consensus was made official policy with the introduction of the comic code authority (CCA) that was adopted in 1954.  The CCA prohibited the presentation of “policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions … in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority.”  This code was adopted due to the fact that the readership largely consisted of youngsters.  The first defining characteristic of super heroes has been explored in the new millennium on a large scale.

The one enemy Superman cannot defeat!

Marvel had a multi series story line called the Civil War (2006-2007) that looks at how super heroes and communities of super heroes react to a superhuman registration act.  I found the story line a bit silly since the government does not attempt to ban super humans and super heroics but instead register super humans and have them work for the government the same way a policeman or soldier would.  Iron Man is the main proponent of this act and proposes this legislation to stop the banning of super heroes altogether.  The compromise strikes me as very reasonable and very American and I absolutely did not buy into the plot line extension that has Captain America leading the rebel super heroes who fight the act.  Worse, you have Nick Fury the ex-director of SHIELD, the Marvel equivalent of the CIA and the FBI put together, aiding the rebels instead of the government.  What hero was on what side of the Civil War plot line seemed fairly arbitrary.  The fact that the numbers were almost equal was also ridiculous.  More people will follow a law than not follow a law all other things being equal.

Plus, wouldn’t most super heroes prefer to get paid for their work rather than risking their lives for free?  The financial woes of Marvel super heroes is one of the themes that Marvel pursued early on rather than DC.  When the King Pin discovers Daredevil’s real identity in the Born Again plot line, he destroys his civilian identity professionally and therefore economically!  In the very first issue of Amazing Spider-Man, Spider-Man attempts to join the Fantastic Four for a pay check since he is teenager making minimum wage when he can even get a job and promptly leaves the Baxter Building, home of the Fantastic Four, when he finds out there really isn’t a salary.  One of the heroes that joins the government initiative does mention looking forward to getting health insurance for a change!  Under the super human registration act, the super heroes even get to keep their secret identities, they just have to reveal them to the government.  We are supposed to believe about fifty percent of all super heroes will rebel against the government and turn down a paycheck.

The second line a super hero cannot cross is not killing.  Super heroes do not kill!  This is what makes them heroes and not soldiers.  The fact that super heroes do not kill has a history.  The Golden Age Superman and Batman did kill!  As mentioned, Superman beat a robber to death in one of the earliest issues.  Batman killed a villain in his very first appearance.  However, a consensus was reached at DC that super heroes did not kill and more especially Superman did not kill.   A similar consensus was reached at Marvel Comics.  One and only one major super hero in the Marvel Universe, the Punisher, will cross the second line and kill super villains.

Captain America beats the crap out of the Punisher when he joins the Civil War rebellion because the Punisher kills some super villains that want to also join the rebellion and arrive with a white flag.  Turns out the government is employing pardoned super villains to bring down the rebel super heroes so it is a fight fire with fire situation.  For Captain America you can cross the first line and disobey the government but cannot cross the second line and still be a hero.  Cap is a rebel but only to a point.  So lets get this straight Cap, violate Federal law ok, turn down pay check ok but kill scum not ok?  I think it would have been more interesting to see a third rebel group led by the Punisher.  Hey we are outlaws anyway, why not go all the way and do it right and kill the scum who the jails can’t hold anyway.

A really radical rebel hard core minority of super heroes armed to the teeth and trained by the Punisher versus a superhero establishment majority would have been an interesting story line.  Maybe it can be a What If graphic novel in the future.  What if the Punisher had led the rebels during the Civil War instead of Captain America?  A much more interesting exploration of crossing the second line, killing super villains, happened a year earlier in the Batman #635 and #636 over at DC.

In the Under the Hood (2005) story line, Batman faces an ex-Robin, Jason Todd returned from the dead in the form of the Red Hood who argues that Batman is a paper tiger since his rule about not killing is literally a fatal error.  The rogues gallery of Batman is one of the scariest around and I do have a hard time believing that his opponents care about a busted nose or going to jail at all.  If Batman is not a deterrent then how effective is Batman?  Any one over the age of ten realizes that ninety percent of law enforcement is about deterrence, via the threat of punishment, before the crime rather than punishment after the crime.  This is precisely the argument that the Red Hood makes.  Psychopath maniacs like Two-Face and the Joker think Batman’s code of honor is a joke pun intended.

When the Red Hood was Robin, the Joker killed him and the Red Mask was resurrected via cosmic means.  The Red Hood has “really” died in the Death in the Family (1988) story line.  Readers voted to have him killed!  The Red Hood hates the Joker and the demise of the Joker is one of the big goals of the Red Hood.  The Joker was the original Red Hood in the Killing Joke, often considered the best Joker story ever, by Alan Moore.  The Killing Joke may or may not be part of the current continuity, so there is a bit of inside Joke with Jason adopting this persona.  Incredibly, Batman tries to stop the Red Hood from killing the Joker.  The Joker is a mass murderer with hundreds of deaths under his belt largely due to mass poisoning who escapes from Arkham Asylum with ease.  He has shot the original Bat Girl for a lark and made her a permanent cripple.  The Joker has not just killed innocents but permanently injured one member of the Batman super hero family and killed another.  Sorry I am with the Red Hood on this one.  Kill the Joker!

The Red Hood is basically DC’s version of the Punisher.  DC tried a character rip-off of the Punisher called the Vigilante but he was pathetic.   I do think the Red Hood is a much more interesting character than the Punisher.  The Red Hood uses ironic dialogue while attacking Batman and blowing up bad guys that is much more interesting than the Punisher’s pseudo noire cinema dialogue.  The Red Hood, like the Punisher uses firearms but also uses exotic melee weapons that are not the Punisher’s style.  I find the armory of the Red Hood more interesting than the armory of the Punisher.  Go Red Hood!  I do a DC versus Marvel series on this blog and sooner or later will have to pit the number one vigilante of  the DC Universe, Red Hood, against the number one vigilante of the Marvel universe, the Punisher.  Comments ahead of time are welcome but back to the main topic.

Eco makes two errors of fact in his paper.  Eco asserts that comic books are published weekly.  American comic books are published monthly and bimonthly.  Certainly this is the case with Superman and all the other comic book titles he mentions in his paper.  Generally, US comic books are reprinted weekly in Europe and this leads to problems since the entire series is quickly reprinted.  Eco mentions a comic book named Devil.  There is no such American comic book and the author suspects that perhaps Eco is referring to Daredevil.  Daredevil in Italian is titled Diablo or Devil but this is not the name of the title in English.  These are minor factual errors and do not detract from the general validity of his thesis.

Finally, is the story of Superman actually a myth?  A myth is timeless and the fact that the Superman story has been changed to make the story more current and marketable suggests the Superman story is an intellectual property driven by market forces and is not timeless unlike a myth.  On the other hand, many persons familiar with the Superman story may only be aware of an archetype, Silver Age, version of the Superman story that may be timeless because it affects some core element, Jungian(?), of the reader’s psyche unlike revisions of Superman.  The Superman Eco describes may be in fact the Superman most of the world still knows and identifies with.  I would assert that not all comic book heroes are mythic especially in the present but if there is one comic book hero that is mythic then that hero is Superman.

References

Eco, Umberto. “The Myth of Superman.” Diacritics. Vol. 2, No. 1. (Spring, 1972), 14-22

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WereVerse Universe Baby!

DC vs. Marvel: Robots

Braniac ponders the God/Sandwich paradox

Introduction

This is the third post in a series dealing with technology in the DC and Marvel universes.  The first post dealt with weapons at:

https://foxhugh.wordpress.com/2010/04/06/marvel-vs-dc-weapons/

The second post dealt with transportation technologies at:

https://foxhugh.wordpress.com/2010/04/08/dc-vs-marvel-transportation/

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

  1. Ajax ,Wonder-Man, Superman #163
  2. Aluminium, Metal Men #2
  3. Amazo, The Brave and the Bold #30
  4. Amazon Tin Queen, Metal Men #4, #5
  5. Automan, Robot 32198, Tales of the Unexpected #91
  6. Barium, Metal Men #2
  7. Batman Machine, Detective Comics #224
  8. Batman’s Robot Twin, Detective Comics #239
  9. Batman Robot, Detective Comics #281
  10. Black Widow Robot, Metal Men #17
  11. Bozo the Iron Man, Smash Comics #1
  12. Brainiac, Action Comics #242
  13. Brainiac 12, Superman Vol. 2 #200
  14. Brimstone, Legends #1
  15. C.A.P.D., Computerized Automatic Patrol Dog, Weird War Tales #116
  16. Calcium, Metal Men #2
  17. Carbon Dioxide, Metal Men #10
  18. Chemo, Metal Men #14, #25
  19. Chloroform, Metal Men #10
  20. Cobalt, Metal Men #31
  21. Computo, Adventure Comics #340
  22. Construct, Justice League of America #142
  23. D.A.V.E. –Digital Advanced Villain Emulator, The Batman: Episode #039
  24. Death Metal Men, Metal Men #2
  25. Derek Reston, Ace of Spades, Justice League of America #203
  26. Doctor Bedlam, Mister Miracle Vol. 1 #2
  27. Drone, New Teen Titans Annual Vol. 2 #1
  28. Duke of Oil, Outsiders Vol. 1 #6
  29. Dybbuk, Suicide Squad vol, 1 #45
  30. Electrical Warrior, Electric Warrior Vol. 1 #1
  31. Eradicator, Action Comics Annual #2
  32. Eterno, Action Comics #343
  33. Female Amazon Robots, Metal Men #32
  34. Floating Furies, Metal Men #9
  35. Gas Gang, Metal Men #6
  36. Giant Robot, Tales of the Unexpected #68
  37. G.I. Robot, Star Spangled War Stories #101
  38. Gallium, Metal Men #31
  39. Gold, Showcase #37
  40. Gonzo the Mechanical Bastard, Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters #2
  41. Healer, Action Comics #387
  42. Helium, Metal Men #10
  43. Hourman, Android, Justice League of America #12,
  44. Ilda, Star Hawkins, Strange Adventures #114
  45. Indigo, Titans/Young Justice Graduation #1
  46. Kelex, The Man of Steel #1
  47. Kid Amazo, Justice League America Classified #37
  48. Krakko, Weird War Tales #113
  49. Krydel-4, Green Lantern Corps Vol.2 #1
  50. L-Ron, Justice League International #14
  51. Lead, Showcase #37
  52. Living Robots, Mystery in Space #99
  53. Lord Havok, Justice League Europe #15
  54. Man Horse of Hades, Metal Men #19
  55. Manhunters, 1st Issue Special #5
  56. Mechanical Masters of Rann, Mystery in Space #65
  57. Mekanique, All Star Squadron #58
  58. Mercury, Showcase #37
  59. Metallo, Action Comics #252
  60. Missile Men, Metal Men #1, #12, #54
  61. Mister Atom, Captain Marvel Adventures #78
  62. Osmium, Metal Men #31
  63. Oxygen, Metal Men #10
  64. Platinum, Showcase #37
  65. Plutonium, Metal Men #2
  66. Plutonium Man, Metal Men #45
  67. Pulsar Stargrave, Superboy #223
  68. Red Tornado, Justice League of America #64
  69. Red Volcano, DC Universe #0
  70. Reverse-Flash, The Flash Vol. 2 #134
  71. Robbie the Robot Dog, Star-Spangled Comics #25
  72. Robby Robot, House of Mystery #164
  73. Robin, Young Justice #1000000
  74. Robin Robot, Detective Comics #290
  75. Robo, Superman #132
  76. Robot Cop of Gotham City, Batman #70
  77. Robot Eggs, Strange Adventures #197
  78. Robot Master’s Robots, Superman #152
  79. Robot Juggernauts, Metal Men #9
  80. Robot Raiders, Mystery in Space #53
  81. Robot Renegades, Metal Men #2, #3
  82. Robot Space Ranger, Tales of the Unexpected #73
  83. Robot Town, Strange Adventures #164
  84. Robot Who Lost His Head, Strange Adventures #136
  85. Robot Woman, Wonder Woman #48
  86. Robot Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman #111
  87. Robot Wonder Woman 2, Wonder Woman #137
  88. Robot World of Ancient Rann, Mystery of Space #102
  89. Robot X-1, Strange Adventures #169
  90. Robotica, Legion Worlds #1
  91. RRU-9-2, Guy Gardner #11
  92. Servitor, Kobra #1
  93. Shaggy Man, Justice League of America #45
  94. Shaolin Robot, 52 #6
  95. Silver, Metal Men #31
  96. Skeets, Booster Gold Vol. 1 #1
  97. Skyscraper Robot, Metal Men #13
  98. Sodium, Metal Men #2
  99. Solaris, DC One Million #1
  100.  Stel, Green Lantern Vol. 2 #11
  101. Superman Robots
  102. Synthetic Men, Strange Adventures #17
  103. Termite Robots, Metal Men #16
  104. The Metal Mods, Metal Men #26
  105. The Rebel Robot, Metal Men #15
  106. Thor the Thunder Dog, Police Comics #8
  107. Tin, Showcase #37
  108. Tomorrow Woman, Justice League of America #5
  109. Torgola Robot Eater of Metalis, Metal Men #29
  110. Toyman, Action Comics #837
  111. Urthlo, Adventure Comics #300
  112. World Wreckers, Strange Adventures #50
  113. Zirconium, Metal Men #2
  114. Iridium, Metal Men #31

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

 

  1. Acidroid, Earth-616, Cable #65
  2. Adam II, What If #4
  3. Adap-Tor, Earth-616, Iron Man #217
  4. Agent Cheesecake,Earth-616, She-Hulk Vol. 2 #15
  5. Air-Walker, Automaton, Earth-616, Fantastic Four #120
  6. Albert, Earth-5211, Exiles #85
  7. Albert, Earth-616, Wolverine Vol. 2 #37
  8. Alchemoid, Earth-616, Captain America #187
  9. Alex Ellis, Earth-616, Amazing Spider Man Annual #27
  10. Alkhema, Earth-616, Avengers West Coast #90
  11. Alpha, Earth-616, Marvel Team-Up #129
  12. Alpha Ray, Earth-616, Storm Breaker: The Saga of Beta Ray Bill #1
  13. Analyzer  As Recorder Thor #132, As Analyzer Thor #422
  14. Android Andy, Earth-238, Daredevils #7
  15. Android Man, Earth-616, Fantastic Four #79
  16. Aquarius, LMD, Earth-616,
  17. Arch-E-5912, Earth-616, World War Hulk: Front Line #1
  18. Aries, LMD, Earth-616
  19. Arsenal, Earth-1610, Ultimate Comics Armor Wars #4
  20. Arsenal, Robot, Earth-616, Iron Man #114
  21. Arthur Zix, Earth-616, She-Hulk Vol. 2 #19
  22. Assassin, Mimeyoshi, Earth-616
  23. Avalon, Caretaker, Earth-616, Thor #219
  24. Awesome Android, Earth-10102, Exiles Vol. 2 #4
  25. Awesome Android, Earth-616, Fantastic Four #15
  26. B’nee and C’cll, Earth-616, X-Men #137
  27. Bastion, Earth-616, X-Men #5
  28. Baymax, Earth-616, Sunfire and Big Hero Six #1
  29. Behemoth, Atlantean, Earth-616, Tales to Astonish #77
  30. Benedict, Inner Guard,, Earth-616, Avenger #398
  31. Bi-Beast, Original, Earth-616, Incredible Hulk #169
  32. Big Brain, Earth-982, What If Vol. 2 #105
  33. Billy Bird, Earth-616, Marvel Comics Presents #34
  34. Biotron, Earth-616, Micronauts #1
  35. Boak, Earth-4935, X-Factor #67
  36. C-Gram, Earth-928, Ghost Rider 2099 #2
  37. Cancer, LMD, Earth-616
  38. Cavalier, Earth-616, All this and World War II #1
  39. Centrally Located Organic Computer, Cloc, Earth-616,
  40. Cerebrus, Earth-68091, Iron Man #5
  41. Chief Examiner, Earth-616, Questprobe #1
  42. Colosso, Earth-616, X-Men #22
  43. Conscience, Earth-616, Marvel Comics Presents #19
  44. Conserve And Protect, Earth-616, Fantastic Four #554
  45. Cornfed, Earth-616, Livewires #1
  46. Crimson Sage, Earth-9997, Earth X #1
  47. Cyberex, Earth-616, Captain Marvel #8
  48. Cybortrons, Earth-616
  49. Cyclops, A-Chiltarian Robot,, Earth-616, Tales to Astonish #46
  50. Danger, Earth-616, Astonishing X-Men Vol. 3 #9
  51. Dark-Crawler, Incredible Hulk #126
  52. David Jenkins, Livewires #1
  53. Deadeye, Starriors, Starriors #1
  54. Death’s Head, UK #113
  55. Death’s Head, Lupex, Death Head #1
  56. Death Metal, Earth-8410, Death3 #1
  57. Deathlok, Astonishing Tales #25
  58. Destructon, Destruction #100
  59. Diamondback  LMD
  60. Doctor Sun, Earth-616, Tomb of Dracula #16
  61. Dominus, The Uncanny X-Men #21
  62. Doom-Knight
  63. Doombot, Earth-616, Fantastic Four #5
  64. Doomsday Man, Earth-616, Silver Surfer #13
  65. Dragon Man, Earth-616, Fantastic Four #35
  66. Dragorr, Earth-616, Tales to Astonish #94
  67. Dreadnought, Strange Tales # 154
  68. Dynamic Man, Earth-616, Mystic Comics #1
  69. Egghead, Earth-616, Dark Reign: Young Avengers #1
  70. Electro, Robot,Earth-616, Captain America #78
  71. Elektro, Earth-616, Tales of Suspense #13
  72. Eleven, Earth-4935, Cable #1
  73. Elsie Dee, Earth-5211, Exiles #85
  74. Elsie Dee, Earth-616, Wolverine Vol. 2 #37
  75. Eradikator 6, Earth-616, Punisher Annual #6
  76. Exterminators, Earth-616, Thor #220
  77. F.A.C.A.D.E., Earth-616, Web of Spiderman #113
  78. Factor-X, Earth-616, Nova #23
  79. Fixer, Strange Tales #141
  80. Flexo, Earth-616, Mystic Comics #1
  81. Frankenstein’s Monster, Silver Surfer #7
  82. Fury, Earth-238
  83. Galactus’ Cat, Earth-616
  84. Gargantus, Tales of Suspense #40
  85. Gawain, Earth-616, Knights of Pendragon Vol. 2 #1
  86. Ghost Rider 2099, Ghost Rider 2099 #1
  87. Godseye, Earth-616, Incredible Hulk Vol. 2, #89
  88. Gol-19, Earth-616, Bishop the Last X-Man #7
  89. Gothic Lolita, Earth-616, Livewires #1
  90. Growing Man, Earth-6311, Thor #140
  91. Guardian Robots
  92. Guns Gummy, Earth-616, Marvel Comics Presents #34
  93. H.E.R.B.I.E, Fantastic Four #209
  94. Hardwire, Robot, Earth-616,
  95. Hate-Monger, Psycho-Man’s Creation, Earth-616, Fantastic Four #279
  96. Hollowpoint Ninja, Earth-616, Livewires #1
  97. Homebrew, Livewires #1
  98. H.U.B.E.R.T., Fantastic Four #38
  99. Hugo Longride, Earth-616,
  100. Hulk, Arcade Robot, Earth-616, Eternals #14
  101. Hulk, Robot,, Earth-616, Incredible Hulk #4
  102. Human Torch, Jim Hammond, Marvel Comics #1
  103. I.S.A.A.C., Earth-616, Iron Man #55
  104. Invader-1, Earth-616, Avengers Vol. 3 #83
  105. Invincible Robot, Earth-616, Fantastic Four #85
  106. It the Living Colossus, Tales of Suspense #14
  107. Jack Rollins, LMD, Earth-616, Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. #5
  108. Jahf, Earth-616, X-Men #108
  109. Jocasta, Earth-616, Avenger #162
  110. Jocasta, Earth-943
  111. Katherine Pryde, Earth-811
  112. Klag Tales of Suspense #21
  113. Leo, LMD, Earth-616,
  114. Libra, LMD, Earth-616,
  115. Life Model Decoy
  116. Livewires
  117. Living Brain
  118. LYrate Lifeform Approximation, Earth-928, Spider-Man 2099 #11
  119. M-11, Earth-10102, Exiles Vol.2 #44
  120. M-11, Earth-616, Menace #11
  121. M-21, Earth-616, Agents of Atlas Vol. 2 #44
  122. Machine Man, 2ZP45-9-X-51, Earth-10102, Exiles Vol. 2 #3,
  123. Machine Man, Earth-2149, Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness #1
  124. Machine Man, 2ZP45-9-X-51, Earth-616, 2001, A Space Odyssey #8,
  125. Machine Man, 2ZP45-9-X-51, Earth-8410, Machine Man Vol. 2 #1
  126. Machine Teen, Machine Teen #1
  127. Machinesmith, Marvel Two-In-One #47
  128. Macro-Men
  129. Magneto, Arcade Robot, Earth-616, X-Men #124
  130. Magus, Technarch,, Earth-616, New Mutants #8
  131. Mainframe, Earth-982, A-Next #1
  132. Mammoth, Hydra, Earth-616,
  133. Man-Slayer, Earth-616, Captain Marvel #18
  134. Mandroid, Kree,, Earth-616
  135. Manipulator, Earth-616, Avengers #178
  136. Maria Petrova, Earth-50701, Marvel Nemesis: The Imperfects #2
  137. Master Mold, Earth-5700, Weapon X Days of the Future Now #1
  138. Master Mold, Earth-616, X-Men #15
  139. Mastermind, Computer, Earth-616,
  140. Maxis, Earth-93060, All New Exiles #8
  141. Mechadoom
  142. Mechano, Earth-616, Strange Tales #86
  143. Megalith, Incredible Hulk #275
  144. Mekkanoid, Thor #482
  145. Mekkans, Fantastic Four #91
  146. Mendel Stromm, Earth-616,
  147. Metalloid, Earth-616, Fantastic Four #179
  148. Micro-Sentry, Marvel Fanfare #114
  149. MK-9, Earth-616
  150. Mogul, Earth-616, Incredible Hulk #127
  151. MX39147, Earth-616
  152. N-ME, Earth-93060
  153. Nanny, Magneto’s Robot, Earth-616, X-Men #112
  154. Nicole, Robot, Earth-616, X Factor Vol. 3 #16
  155. Nimrod, Earth-811, Uncanny X-Men #191
  156. Number Two, Sentinel, Earth-616, X-Men #59
  157. Omega, Android, Earth-616,
  158. P.L.A.T.O., Earth-616,
  159. Pacifier Robot, Fantastic Four #57
  160. Paradox, AI, Earth-616,
  161. Pisces, Male LMD, Earth-616,
  162. Prime Mover, Earth-616, Strange Tales #167
  163. Prosh, Earth-616, X-Factor #24
  164. Protector, Rhunian Android, Thor #219
  165. Punisher, Galactus’ Robot, Earth-616, Fantastic Four #49
  166. Pyronanos
  167. Quasimodo, Quasi-Motivational Destruct Organism, Earth-10102, Exiles Vol. 2 #4
  168. Quasimodo, Earth-616, Fantastic Four Annual #4
  169. Recorder, Earth-616,
  170. Red Ronin, UJ1-DX, Earth-616, Loners #5
  171. Remnants, Earth-616, Beta Bill – The Green of Eden #1
  172. Replica Model X-2, Thor Vol. 2 #9
  173. Replica Model X-3, Earth-616, Thor #141
  174. Robot X, Amazing Adventures #4
  175. Robota, Planet Terry #1
  176. Robotron, Dazzler #4
  177. Roger Bochs, Box, Earth-616, Alpha Flight #1
  178. Rooster Cockburn, Earth-616, Marvel Comics Presents #34
  179. S.H.I.V.A., Earth-616, Wolverine Vol. 2 #50
  180. Sagittarius, LMD, Earth-616,
  181. Scavenger, Earth-616, Fantastic Four #69
  182. Scorpio, Android,, Earth-616, West Coast Avengers #1
  183. Seeker, Android,, Earth-616, Fantastic Four #144
  184. Sentinel Mk I, Earth-616, X-Men #14
  185. Sentinel Mk II, Earth-616, X-Men #57
  186. Sentinel Mk III, Earth-616, X-Men #98
  187. Sentinel Mk IV, Earth-616, Uncanny X-Men #51
  188. Sentinel Mk V, Earth-616, New Mutants #2
  189. Sentinel Mk VI, Earth-616, Alpha Flight #43
  190. Sentinel Omega Class, Earth-811, The Uncanny X-Men #14
  191. Sentinels, Earth-9997, Earth X #0
  192. Sentry, Kree, Fantastic Four #64
  193. Sentry 213, Earth-616
  194. Sentry 459, Earth-616, Fantastic Four #64
  195. Sentry 9168, Earth-616
  196. Servo-Guards, Earth-616, Fantastic Four #84
  197. Ship, X-Factor Vol.1 #19
  198. Sikorsky, X-Men #156
  199. SJ3RX, Earth-10102, Exiles Vol. 2 #44
  200. SJ3RX, Earth-616, Godzilla #6
  201. Skeletron, Earth-616, Quasar #53
  202. Skrull-X, Earth-616,
  203. Sleeper, Nazi Robot, Earth-616, Tales of Suspense #72
  204. Southpaw, Loonies,, Earth-616, Marvel Comics Presents #34
  205. Spider-Slayers, Amazing Spider-Man #25
  206. Sputnik, Captain America #352
  207. Social Butterfly, Livewires #1
  208. Stem Cell, Livewires #1
  209. Starktech 9, Earth-616, Mighty Avengers #2
  210. Super-Adaptoid, Earth-10102, Exiles Vol. 2 #4
  211. Super-Adaptoid, Earth-616, Tales of Suspense #82
  212. Super-Humanoid, Earth-616, Incredible Hulk #116
  213. Supremor, Captain Marvel #46
  214. Swarmbot, Fantastic Four #20
  215. Tabula Rasa, Earth-Tabula, Avengers #359
  216. Tailgunner, Earth-616, Marvel Comics Present #34
  217. Tara, Avengers Vol. 3 #83
  218. Taurus, LMD, Earth-616,
  219. Temujai, Earth-616, Yellow Claw #2
  220. Ten-Thirtifor, Earth-616, Maximum Security Annual #8
  221. TESS-One, Earth-616, Captain America #8
  222. The Ham, Earth-616, Marvel Comics Presents #34
  223. The Living Brain, Spider-Man #8
  224. Thermal Man, Earth-616, Thor #168
  225. Time-bot, Thor #409
  226. Tomazooma, Robot, Earth-616, Fantastic Four #80
  227. Tommy, Sleeper, Earth-616, Plasmer #1
  228. Torgo, Mekkan, Earth-616, Fantastic Four #91
  229. Tracer, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #1
  230. TransHuman ROBot, Earth-616, Fantastic Four #311
  231. Tri-Sentinel, Earth-616, Amazing Spider-Man #329
  232. Ultimo, Earth-616, Tales of Suspense #76
  233. Ultron, Earth-10102, Exiles Vol. 2 #3
  234. Ultron, Earth-1610, Ultimates Vol. 2 #6
  235. Ultron 8, Earth-90210, Wolverine Vol. 3 #67
  236. Unit, Earth-616, S.W.O.R.D. #1
  237. Victor Mancha, Earth-616, Runaways Vol. 2 #1
  238. Virgo, LMD, Earth-616,
  239. Vision, Earth-161, X-Men Forever Vol. 2 #1
  240. Vision, Earth-2149, Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness #1
  241. Vision, Earth-616, Avengers #57
  242. Vision, Earth-691
  243. Vision, Earth-932, Avengers #359
  244. Vision, Gah Lak Tus, Earth-1610, Ultimate Spider-Man #86
  245. Volton, Earth-616, Invaders  Vol. 2 #1
  246. VOR/TEX, Earth-616
  247. Vostok, Earth-616
  248. Walkabout, Earth-616, Marvel: The Lost Generations #12
  249. Walking Stiletto
  250. Warhawk, Earth-616, Ms. Marvel #12
  251. Warrior Robot, Fantastic Four #85
  252. Watchtower, Earth-616, Wolverine Vol. 2 #154
  253. Widget
  254. Wild Sentinels, Earth-616, New X-Men #114
  255. X, Amazing Fantasy #4
  256. X.E.R.O., Earth-616,
  257. Zero, Earth-4935, New Mutants #86

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!

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.

Conclusion

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.

  1. Continuity leads to suspension of disbelief!
  2. Suspension of disbelief leads to much greater reading pleasure!
  3. Greater reading pleasure leads to greater comic book sales!

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 FantasyAmazing 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.

Agent Cheesecake

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!

  1. Continuity leads to suspension of disbelief!
  2. Suspension of disbelief leads to much greater reading pleasure!
  3. Greater reading pleasure leads to greater comic book sales!

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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