Wednesday, September 13, 2017
Machine Man - Mister Kirby!
Not unlike his stint at DC, Kirby found himself with something of a second wave in his Bronze Age stay at Marvel. He'd landed with the comics Captain America, Black Panther and Eternals, but later found that sales were against his efforts.
That meant new comics and we got two new ones from Kirby, a brand new romp called Devil Dinosaur and a spin-off from 2001: A Space Odyssey called Machine Man. Machine Man had been called "Mister Machine" in that three-issue run but the name was made more straightforward for this own magazine.
In the first two issues of the run we meet X-51, the last of the robots created in a secret government project. These robots had proven to be unstable and ultimately dangerous to their creators and so there was a relentless effort to destroy them. X-51 was saved when his "father" Dr. Abel Stack pulled his auto-destruct mechanism and sacrificed himself. Now an orphan of sorts the highly capable but somewhat naive X-51, dubbed "Machine Man" by those who chase him dodges the military who seek to end him. He is helped by a psychiatrist named Peter Spaulding in his efforts to understand his role in the world. He is pursued by Colonel Kragg, a man who has lost men and and eye to the other robots in the program.
That musing is interrupted when Spalding and Machine Man help to save an alien robot named "Ten-For". He is an "Autocron", a space-spanning race of robot beings who seek conquest and Ten-For is an advanced scout who has claimed Earth for his destructive fellow Autocrons.
The next several issues of the comics detail Machine Man's efforts to stop Ten-For's plots and despite some momentary doubts he ultimately is able to stop the threat to Earth and end the menace of Ten-For. That doesn't make his life any sweeter though.
He still must battle for his own salvation and that means facing up to the government which seeks his destruction. He confronts a Congressman named Brinkman who will become a longtime nemesis and for his own reasons Brinkman seeks to use Machine Man.
A secret organization called "The Corporation" seeks to gain control of Machine Man and fending off their plots occupies the next several issues of the comic.
Despite seeming atomic destruction Machine Man is able to survive intact and finally gains a measure of security as he is released into the custody of his friend Peter Spalding and as Jack Kirby steps away from the series it goes on hiatus with a new status quo established.
My thoughts on Machine Man are somewhat changed over the decades. When it was first appearing on the stands I was rather cool to Kirby's latest effort, finding it relatively small potatoes to the epic schemes of many of his other efforts. This one alongside Devil Dinosaur were not top of the line for me. But I've matured and I see the more subtle aspects of this story (as well as DD). I was particularly enthralled by the Ten-For saga, a truly awful villain who seems to almost be winning before he's not. It was a really interesting outing and I plugged into Machine Man's plight a bit more this time around. When he comes back, he will be very different, but I find this one works for me after all these years.