Sunday, November 2, 2014

Deathlok The Demolisher!


One of the most vibrant and memorable concepts of the Marvel Bronze Age is Deathlok the Demolisher. The creation of Rich Buckler and Doug Moench, Deathlok debuted in a gloriously exciting story in Astonishing Tales #25. Buckler and Moench presented us with a man trapped between life and death, and slave to the whims of a devilish master.



One of the more enthralling aspects of Deathlok was his "'Puter" which spoke to him and with which he had many a frustrating conversation. For some issues there was even a third voice in his head, a weird synthesis of him and the computer. This was sometimes confusing but nonetheless fascinating.

But recently Marvel has pushed to revive Deathlok, thanks in part to the success of the TV version, and so they reprinted most if not all of his original adventures in Deathlok the Demolisher The Complete Collection. It's been decades since I read them and they were revealing.

First it's a perfect example of the dysfunction which ruled Marvel during the Bronze Age, a comics company with only the echo of a vision and run by writers who mostly had their own immediate interests at heart. The Deathlok series is a ramshackle mess of production, overcome with missed deadlines, foreshortened stories, patchwork artwork, and a storyline which at once sputters and stalls and simultaneously fluctuates.


It speaks to the strength of the original idea that it could survive in my imagination so strongly given the miserable presentation it gets in these initial chapters. I don't know who to blame, so I won't blame anyone, but it's a pity that this series suffered so mightily given the absolute power of the concept.

Bill Mantlo's arrival as scripter gives the series some minor cohesion, but by then it was clear they wanted to adjust the direction of the series though frankly they never seemed clear on what they wanted to do. The series gets cancelled and begins many years in the wilderness showing up in spurts in Marvel Spotlight and later as guest-shots in Marvel Team-up and Marvel Two-In-One. The Deathlok character gets brought out of the future but almost immediately is lost in the recesses of the then modern Marvel mythology.

Many years later J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck revive him as part of a memorable Captain America trilogy and attempt to glue all the weird elements together. Some of it works and they leave a workable concept behind, though by that time it was sadly too little too late.


To get the whole story check out this link which gives amazing detail on the now defunct future world of Deathlok.
I love the idea of Deathlok the Demolisher, a remarkable character. But I discovered much to my dismay that I really was not all that taken by Deahtlok's old stories. Sad, but true.

Here are the covers to the issues in this collection.




















The Deathlok story here was presented many years later.

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4 comments:

  1. Brilliant insightful review Rip. Yes, it was a breath of imaginative fresh air in that era - (we also had Don McGregor and Steve Gerber amongst others) and yes, Marvel didn't know how to handle these things properly did they, but Marvel Comics were starting to get easier to find in the UK at the time so I ate them for breakfast! And yes Bill Mantlo I didn't think much of his output but appreciated him bringing some continuity of storytelling back again. Thanks for making me thing Rip.

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    1. Thanks. I was frankly surprised how shoddy the storytelling was in certain issues with virtually nothing happening. Somehow over the decades my memories of the potent concept have dominated and eliminated my memories of the poor execution.

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  2. At the time I'd just managed to find a copy of Gil Kane's His Name is Savage! whose villain was the obvious source for the Deathlok visual. It took a leap to get past the swipe, but I remember thinking that Deathlok felt like a new kind of comic, especially at the beginning.

    The combination of little editorial supervision, a business decision to expand the line fairly rapidly, and a new crop of writers with literary ambitions led to some really unusual comics for a while. Master of Kung Fu, Howard the Duck, Killraven...none of this stuff was conventional superheroes. It was an exciting time to read comics.

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    1. It was exciting, palpably so. I'm glad I was around to enjoy it. But for all the Jim Shooter naysayers, he is right when he says his firm editorial hand was needed to bring some order out of the chaos. Some of the pure creativity might've dimmed but it was nice to know that comics were going to arrive with intact stories. His need for control got out of hand eventually, but there's little doubt his style was needed for a time.

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