Publicly admitting you read comics means you’re willing to put up with a perplexingly persistent notion of the medium as the exclusive domain of the super heroes. Even in the current realm of savvy pop art dabblers as likely to pray at the altar of independents like Image Comics as they are the Big Two there’s this lingering idea that in the beginning there was only the cape and spandex set and it’s just in the past three decades that we’ve really let in the serious Graphic Novelists and autobio peddlers. Sneering intellectual jokesters will spit at the funnybooks without recognizing the origins of that alternate name and basement dwelling dilettantes will tell you it was only when the bearded British men came to our shores that we got hip. But comics have always been weird. Comics have always contained multitudes.On a weekly basis at the start of the 20th century, Winsor McCay cranked out surrealist panel breaking masterpieces lushly detailed enough to inspire both Dali and Moebius decades down the line, with nary a cape in sight. Before Marvel was even an idea, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created romance comics, presaging the soap operas that would eventually inspire Chris Claremont’s convoluted narratives in that other misbegotten Kirby co-creation X-Men. And then there was Herbie. Continue reading…
Posted December 8, 2011
Manipulated by mad scientists, humiliated for humanity’s pleasure, will robots and apes tire of making our cars, vacuuming our floors, fighting our wars, washing our cats and smoking our cigarettes? Who will break first as humankind continually fails to distinguish androids from robots, apes from monkeys?
We return again to the question that 2012 inevitably raises: Who will claim the earth, monkeys or robots?
M-11, the Human Robot (Jeff Parker, Gabriel Hardman, Leonard Kirk and Carlos Pagulayan. Agents of Atlas; Atlas. Marvel)
M-11 is an excellently drawn retro-Cold War robot. He looks like Gort from The Day The Earth Stood Still and his death ray illuminates his victims’ skeletons. Developed as a robot with explicit programming to destroy, M-11 became the “human robot” when his dying creator transferred something of himself to M-11. Since then, M-11 has joined the agents of Atlas, making his own decisions for his own reasons. He’s a remarkably strong character for one without facial expression or much dialog.
The Iron Giant (The Iron Giant, 1999)
Adapted from Ted Hughes’ story, the robot in The Iron Giant is a giant, creaky, cool Cold War robot. And it faces some of the same dilemmas M-11 does. The Iron Giant was a weapon, but, through the help of a young boy, Hogarth, and his Superman comics, the robot develops a sense of free will and becomes a moral agent, chosing who it will be and what it will defend.
Unlike M-11 and the Iron Giant, Ambassador Magma probably finds it easy to benefit humankind, at least non-dastardly humankind. After all, he’s a Space Ambassador. And I know some of you are thinking, “Magma isn’t a giant robot. He’s a giant made of living gold.” That is beyond me, and possibly beyond Carl Linnaeus. Taxonomists will be vexed for years to come. Is Ambassador Magma a robot? What does it mean to be “alive?” Magma straddles the line between robot and human—or robot and living metal. But I can’t worry about it, because he turns into a rocket. And he shoots beams from his antennae and rockets from his chest. Magma (aka, Goldar), his wife Mol (Silvar) and his be-vested son Gam stand between humanity’s destruction and a legion of alien-generated giant monsters in manga, anime and live-action tokusatsu tv shows.
Robot (Sara Varon. Robot Dreams. First Second, 2007)
The robot in Sara Varon’s nearly wordless Robot Dreams has an entirely different problem. It’s a robot with feelings. A dog builds a robot to be his friend. They go to the beach and the robot unwisely swims. Rusted and seized up, he is left behind by the dog. Lying on the beach for months, the robot dreams of his friend and of rescue, until he is finally found and rebuilt by a raccoon. Fortunately, the robot does not hold a grudge against human or dog-kind.
The Clique (Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire. The Metal Men 100 Page Spectacular. DC, 2011).
The Clique are three mannequin-based fembots, Betty, Carrie and Annie. But unlike many fembots, despite all their thoughts and feelings having been implanted from Prof. Miklos Rumpus’ students, they do not suffer from false consciousness. Instead, as the Cliques’ leader Betty declares:
We’re better than human. Which is why we’re never going to be lab rats for some dotty old scientist…. We’re the most magnificent robotic creations in the history of the world and under my extraordinary leadership, we’ll be able to—dare I say it?–rule the world!
Kriegaffe (Mike Mignola. Hellboy: The Conqueror Worm. Dark Horse, 2002)
Mad scientist and Nazi war criminal Prof. Herman von Klempt created Kriegaffen [sic], “war-apes,” cybernetically-enhanced apes to help him in his nefarious schemes probably because it’s hard for a disembodied head floating in a bell jar to do much. (Gorillas are apparently de rigeur for every disembodied mad scientist). Sadly, von Klempt seems to only have one Kriegaffe at a time. But then, I guess that is for the best. As cyborgs, Kriegaffen could decide to overthrow their fleshly oppressors in favor of robots, but I suspect given free will, they’d throw down for apes in the end.
Crowned Chimp with Tommy gun (Mike Mignola, The Amazing Screw-On Head)
Another creation of Mike Mignola, the chimp is a hench-ape of Screw-On Head’s nemesis, Emperor Zombie, in the animated adaptation of Mignola’s Amazing Screw-On Head one-shot comic. It has a crown and tommy gun and it appears very grumpy. That’s enough for me.
General Urko (Return to the Planet of the Apes; Planet of the Apes: The TV Series; Planet of the Apes Annual. Marvel)
General Urko is a genocidal militarist gorilla in both Return to the Planet of the Apes animated and live-action Planet of the Apes tv shows. In both, General Urko hunts human astronauts from the 1970s who have crashed in a distant future when apes rule the world. In the live-action show, Urko is sinister and performed by Mark Lenard. In the cartoon, Urko shares not only Fred Flintstone’s voice, but his penchant for orange and turquoise. This characterization could only fuel Urko’s genocidal wrath.*
Doctor Gori / Space Apeman Gori (Spectreman)
Banished from his alien ape planet, Dr. Gori, and alien gorilla assistant, Karas, journey to earth. Gori decides that the only solution to humankind’s pollution of the earth is conquest. Unfortunately for him, earth is protected by Spectreman, a “cybernetic being” disguised as a guy working for the Japanese equivalent of the Environmental Protection Agency. Gori sends many a pollution-based giant monster to advance his schemes and Spectreman defeats them all. But it is sad that they could not see past their paradigms and work to preserve the environment together… Wait, what am I saying?
Ken Hale, Gorilla-Man (Jeff Parker, Gabrial Hardman, Carlos Pagulayan. Agents of Atlas; Atlas; Gorilla-Man. Marvel)
While still completely human, mercenary Ken Hale shot killed the legendary Gorilla-Man, taking on the curse and becoming the Gorilla-Man himself, a human consciousness trapped in an immortal gorilla body. Since then, he worked for S.H.I.E.L.D. and is now a general in Atlas’ Secret Empire. M-11 and Ken Hale work for the benefit of humanity as agents of Atlas, but is that merely a result of their own humanity? What if they weren’t partially human?
In his own way Ken Hale, Gorilla-Man and general, represents the nightmarish possibility of ape/robot cooperation–tactical geniuses like Dr. Gori, General Urko, Dr. Zaius or even highly trained military specialists like that chimp with a tommy-gun controlling killbots like the Iron Giant. What chance would humankind have?
*It’s gotta hurt Urko that the Iron Giant was voiced by Vin Diesel.
Carol Borden only hopes this information has not come too late to save humanity!