Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sunset Bain and the Machine Man to come

Then the hand culminates in a finger pointing to the credits. Genius.

This is probably my favorite Ditko splash page of his run; the arm is the border against pitch blackness, representing the lost limb that carries the plot ---straight to Madame Menace.

There’s a terrific metaphor---the hero sacrifices his arm for one person he finds worthy and inspirational---then his arm becomes subject the attentions of greedy manipulators who want to sell the value of his arm to the highest bidder. Whoever thought up the plot could’ve been talking about Kirby, or many others besides, and if it was Ditko, it has a nice Randian subtext while maintaining the crackle of a superhero adventure.

Machine Man searches the area of his battle (near the cathedral last issue) but gets no signal from his detached arm. He checks in on Pamela Quinn, who finds him cold and unemotive but senses something mysterious beneath that...as well as a touch of déjà vu, like she knows him.

The next-to-last piece of MM’s rogue’s gallery enters the stage: vivacious Sunset Bain, sophisticate and schmoozer of the power elite. Her exclusive parties enable her to rub elbows with senators and many of their donors---but this life is a cover. The card presented to her signals her secret terrorist organization.

She is the least bizarre Machine Man enemy; in fact, even with the necessary hi-tech weapons for gloss, she’s uncomfortable realistic, for me. Particularly if you think of her in context of international high finance. I don’t want to point a finger and turn this into the Political Thread, but you see what I’m saying.

Finally, best of all, she comes back one day as the cyber punk Barry Windsor-Smith design in Machine Man 2020, a four issue limited series that came out when I was ten. That was really my first actual Machine Man comics, and the two issues I got my hands on rocked my socks. The story centers around his revival in a New York absent of super heroes, so we got Machine Man as Kirby intended---a science fiction story not set in the Marvel Universe we knew---with one villainous heir to the Stark Iron Man armor that captured the flair of the 1984-85 sharp edges and gears look that is punk rock future nihilism and classic comics at one go. I love it that I realize now Steve Ditko created or co-created (with Tom DeFalco) Gears Garvin and Madame Menace from that story, bringing Kirby and Ditko together in a new way. Machine Man just becomes pure Machine Man again, no secret i.d., and, in a world of muted tones and dark skies and moral ambiguity, he's fire engine red.

Maybe my favorite Tom DeFalco story!

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