Thursday, September 30, 2010

Machine Man says, find yourself another hero!

MACHINE MAN #5 “Non-Hero” Jack Kirby Edits, Writes, Draws
Mike Royer Letters ‘n’ inks Petra Goldberg, Color Consulting Editor, Jim Shooter

The powerful signal emanating from Ten-For’s hand array antenna calls the intergalactic Autocron Fleet to Earth. Machine Man stands ready to shove that plan down Ten-For’s steel gullet. What of the innocent bystanders, frozen by Ten-For into status? Machine Man’s magnetized boots prove irresistible in their molecular call, yanking Ten-For across the street to him. A blast mostly misses Machine Man’s head, as he kicks Ten-For head first into the pavement. The Autocron’s chest generates a ray nearly as explosive as the one behind his hinging face plate. Now he presses the stunned hero, grappling, wrenching a light post, constricting, kicking, damaging Machine Man’s body to prevent transfer long enough for the fleet---“and that may come tomorrow ‘mister obsolete!’”.

They battle on, the floored Autocron holding Machine Man back with an energy barrier after his flung light post scores home. Now the military charge in (I don’t see their special sonic cannons in this scene; Kragg’s unit has them but has yet to converge). Running out the clock, Ten-For offers himself peacefully, attempting to play sympathies against “such a psychotic type!” Angry, Machine Man calls baloney, warning of the galactic fleet. There is no time for courts: thousands of invaders, he believes, land tomorrow. Now he’s recognized as the x-51 fugitive demonized by Washington, and the persecution complex reaches fervor peak. Brushing the soldiers aside, Machine Man springs to a nearby rooftop, with a very hostile attitude towards the duty and responsibility that drove him to act. “You’re dead to me!” he says, basically, with a fist shake in general towards humanity.

Conscience and duty: Machine Man bitterly refers to these as his failings. His trouble in taking the situation personally marks his personality, at least, as unmistakably human, and gives him a refreshing personal flaw to overcome. I find him short-tempered and abrasive many times in this run---difficult aspects to like in person---yet his despair, sarcasm and anger make him unique. There’s certainly been little relief and of course, there’s no time to meditate over the issue. Only when he resolves to accept his outcast status and impending doom does he finally find himself in the swing of things, passing as part of humanity, however condescendingly, at a party.

First, though, we have an argument between Doctor Spalding and Colonel Kragg. Spalding’s cooperated fully in the matter, and through some very strange Kirby dialogue we get a recap of the series status. Spalding speculates Kragg won’t find peace in destroying Machine Man, just as the destruction of his prototypes has not helped him, either (and military health should be a little more concerned about giving him this mission, realistically). Kragg accuses him of naturally defending a friend. (But wouldn’t a friendship help rate MM as human, even to Kragg? Perhaps a better charge, if outside Kragg’s limited representation, would’ve been Spalding’s opportunism, with this unique scholastic opportunity of analyzing a thinking machine.)

In fact, Spalding participated in bringing Ten-For to Earth (see #3---Lilting Lue), which in today’s comics would result in Blackwater-style interrogations. Spalding pitches the idea of amnesty, for this one being who can transfer Ten-For back to outer space. (Return-to-Marvel Kirby originals seem often as though they exist in their own pocket universe apart from his former tried-and-true toybox; no mention of the Avengers or Fantastic Four is here made.)

The skulking man machine answers a call from a window to join a costume party. Continuing his perverse pleasure in freaking people out, Machine Man demonstrates his strength, reflexes, and a metallic-tape wrap function to various loud mouth party guests, who coo over the (then contemporary) campy late 70s fascination with UFO culture without seriously believing the intergalactic invasion he mentions casually.

He’s relieved to be asked to dance by a masked woman we will soon know as Tracey, who’s pegged the fugitive actual identity. (He actually tries a little charm and flirtation upon her invitation.) Disappointed they won’t continue dancing, Machine Man dutifully follows her to the television set, where she wants to show him the intermittent bulletins, this time featuring Doctor Spalding’s appeal. Machine Man replies sardonically, pessimistic as to his own survival even if he dispatches Ten-For. (But you brought Ten-For to Earth, against your better judgment, asshole.)

The time has come to unmask, so Tracey does this and also introduces herself as being “in communications”; I like to think of her as a producer, but it’s not clear. Machine Man gently mocks her sense of devotion to her job, while she upbraids his lack of responsiveness, as this invasion threat seems actual. Why won’t he can the petulant child act and be a man? Now he takes his face off---his “mask”---and asks her if she knows if he is a man or a machine. Her heart goes out to him, as she at last understands his bitter anomie. Now, however, she must prepare a crew to follow up the story, and he wishes her good luck “and watch out for space lasers!” In solitude, Machine Man dramatically curses those who created him, leaving him truly unique, confused—and alone.

Meanwhile, the distant Autocron fleet bears down on Ten-For’s coordinates (That planet’s really in the boondocks, remarks one Autocron, LOL). On Earth, Spalding walks in and badgers the transparently villainous Ten-For, who relishes the coming enslavement of humanity.

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