Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Grease is the way we are livin': a commentary on Machine Man Grease

I was thinking of how delightfully out of contact with the “latest” Kirby’s Machine Man is, in 1978; the robot is practically a metaphorical persona for the out-of-place cartoonist himself, reinvented as a young man who just might live forever in the pre-pubescent four color world that gave him birth. The then-dated Beat-style lingo and thinking, mixed with fringe mass culture elements such as u.f.o.’s, is so yesterday that I crush on it ironically and un-ironically.

My parents were enjoying being a young couple in 1978, so I have regarded that time fondly as I wrote. The fetish for things ‘50’s in those times also reveals just where Machine Man, who is more Twilight Zone than Twilight, really fit into the culture.

The artificial intelligence storyline never gets too technical; it is more Bradbury than Heinlein, except Machine Man is rather a bit like more like a Heinlein character, himself. If Nova would’ve been the best Saturday morning cartoon of the late ‘70s, then Machine Man’s storyline is like a throwback to the alien marauders of the 1950s cinema. His mechanical can-do, the Army, the extra-terrestrial invader...and especially the ending of the Ten-For saga...all would’ve been right at home in 1950s science fiction thrillers. Considering what the Japanese were doing with cartoons like Gatchaman, one can only dream of what his development could’ve been like, paired with passionate animators!

He is like an ultra-modern Universal Monster, in the wake of the exploration of consciousness that marked 1960s counter culture. He is a strange anachronism, a deliberately non-sexual being in a decade of sexual revolution; he is as alienated as any Silver Age Marvel hero ever was, as little understood, cursed and blessed in balancing measures with some unusual state of existence. If you can imagine him, as with the best, you are challenged to consider a new state of being. He is Mary Shelley’s synthesized Byronic hero, retooled for the lately-passed 20th century, by the masterful hands of a soul who imagined himself a young man, forever.

A less romantic version of the machine man, outpacing the human in the workplace, has come about in the years since. Robots have, indeed, taken jobs on Detroit assembly lines. But the fun in Kirby’s creation lies in the disarming glimpses at discrimination, trust, faith, wonder and humor afforded when we realize a part of ourselves, too, that is more than the human we know!

Meet me over at Be Chill Cease ill blog soon: artificial intelligence and other matters!

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