Thursday, September 2, 2010

Machine Man



MACHINE MAN #1 Jack Kirby: writer, artist, editor Mike Royer: inker,letterer Petra Goldberg: Colorist>
Archie Goodwin: “Enjoyer” (most likely, coordinator and cheerleader)


“He Looks like a man...he Thinks like a man...but nowhere in this world is there Anyone as exciting and different as ...” “Machine Man” (title) The story following features four encounters between the Machine Man and humans, along with two interludes at the project base, discussing his origin, where his end is plotted and also argued.


The hiking rescue


A trio of hiking friends cries out for their fallen buddy, and while Machine Man observes “hiker’s carelessness” aloud, his hand telescopes speedily down the sheer face of the cliff to help, with bars from the center of the tentacle-like arm piece that extend “like a ladder!” The hiker, Freddie, slips, so while he knows he’ll blow their minds, Machine Man leaps and engages his anti-gravity units while calming his passenger. Amazed, the girls ask if he is an inventor of technological marvels. “No, I don’t invent them, “he says, retracting the arm into place, “I demonstrate them.” They flatter him, but he reveals a humbleness about the wondrous creation that is his body. “Your friend owes his life to space age experimentation!” he says. (Does anyone remember optimism connected to innovation, as-zeitgeist?) “What do we call you?” they ask, as his boot interface smoothly with the sheer cliff and allow him to walk down it upright. “Just call me...Machine Man.”

Meanwhile, at a top-secret division of governmental research...


Doctor Broadhurst remorsefully engages the bureaucrat who’s come to shut down the department responsible for the x-model robot soldier project. His reluctance does not silence him when asked what went wrong. He theorizes grimly that the self-aware robots “suffered a condition common enough to humanity---an identity crisis! In short, it drove them mad!” He mourns the loss of Abel Stack, the psychiatrist who adopted the x-51 model as his son, giving him a face, love, and guidance, at the ultimate cost of his life, removing the built-in destruct charge. After a deadly battle between the Army and the psychotic x-models, x-51’s termination is mandated.

Into the woods...

Seeking the nearest town without causing a stir by flying, Machine Man, with a mind to hitchhike (!) crosses a forest, where he finds a stalled truck before a fallen tree. “Looks like my day to play Good Samaritan,” he muses, before telling the flustered driver he’d have to go around. The sides are too overgrown for this, so Machine Man demonstrates his might by lifting and turning the tree off the trail.

“Good Lord! He looks like the pilot of a U.F.O.!” thinks the driver. In thanks, he offers M.M. a lift, and happens to live in Central City, California. M.M.’s request not to be pelted with question doesn’t exclude a bit of friendly small talk, and he finds himself riding with Peter Spalding. From his “spot analysis” about Machine Man’s expressed innocence and desire for a relatively anonymous American Dream life, the offended Machine Man deduces correctly Spalding’s a psychiatrist, which turns him off so much he asks to get out of the truck on the highway. Dr. Spalding offers his sincere friendship and tells him to look him up. “Not a chance!” answers our smartly metal pants hero.


Why don’t you go play in traffic?


Momentarily, his choice is his own, for, in an inspired twist worthy of Iron Man’s roller skates, Machine Man snaps together extensions from his boots to make a skateboard, “for tight squeezes. I can regulate my speed with my foot jets.” Looks rather cool, and he’s quite agile with it (what an attachment for a machine soldier, right?), but he annoys the other drivers considerably. When the police hit their sirens, he abandons this mode for his anti-grav flight, thinking: “I need to watch getting myself into tight spots like that in the future!”


Colonel Stagg


Colonel Stagg seems a General Ross type at first glance; his loss of an eye and several men to battle with the x-models makes his orders to take out Machine Man more personal. Dr. Broadhurst, to the last, argues that Machine Man is sentient, with human feelings. Though he begs them not to destroy Machine Man’s brain, Broadhurst complies with a homing monitor. The soldiers follow a tracking device in his skull to his present location, armed with sonic blasters intended to disable his internal circuitry. To himself, to his God, Broadhurst begs forgiveness for “the curiosity which drove him to divine your hidden truths! Forgive us—forgive us all...”


“Take it, you creeps!”

Unaware of this, Machine Man has a blissful moment spying on a subdivision from a thousand yards away on telescoped electric eyes. I love how he plans to walk right up to people each time, as a glowing-eyed robot man, and ask to be accepted just as he is. He walks this last symbolic distance, with faith he will find someone who will not fear “someone who is...different!”

He notes a jet-copter above, and falls victim to a sonic blaster that disrupts his anti-grav capacity and right leg. Deeply resentful, Machine Man activates his hand-weapons-system, ports opening on the joints closes to his knuckles. “I can make things just as hot for you!” he snips, while building a defensive wall of flame against the soldiers. Under this cover, he suffers another blast from behind, disabling his legs, and fires back with “a rude shock---the kind that kicks like a mule!”, shattering the rifle. Before Stagg and his men can press the advantage, Machine Man’s arms open to reveal tractor-type treads that drag him across the field beneath the underbrush.
His evasion complete, Machine Man begins looking over the damage to his body, and decides, two miles outside Central City, he needs shelter for repairs. The city name rings a bell: Dr. Peter Spalding lives there. He must admit, misgivings aside, he could use some help!

Comments: I love Jack’s text pages almost as much as the skateboard scene, or more. Care to hear about “Machine Man---as the dude next door”?


Notice how Machine Man processes information like a personality---not like a computer. For an audience open to more sophisticated speculation, one senses the action demands would be more periphery, as human interaction and quandaries based thereupon seem more deeply intriguing, rather than developing a rogue’s gallery.

I'm working out an essay on consciousness this morning, found over on Be Chill, Cease Ill

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