Machine Man


In 1976, Marvel entered into an agreement with MGM to produce an adaptation of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey in "Treasury Edition" format. An original ongoing series sprung from that, and Jack Kirby wrote and drew both the adaptation and the series. The series was, frankly, my least favorite of Kirby's output during his mid-70s return to Marvel (except for, perhaps, Devil Dinosaur). The first seven issues followed a boring an repetative formula which was replaced in #8-10 with something the series desperately needed: an ongoing character. 

#8 introduces X-51, a sentient robot slated for destruction. The 50 previous models all suffered breakdowns when they became aware that they were machines. But X-51 was under the supervision of Dr. Abel Stack, who reared it like a son and gave it a human face and a name, Aaron. The project is overseen by Dr. Broadhurst, and the head of security is Colonel Kragg, an Army officier with a grudge to bear against robots due to the loss of an eye. Stack removes the self destruct mechanism from X-51 and sends it on its way, but is himself killed when the device detonates. The robot is captured, but the Monolith appears in its cell at the end of the issue.

Coming face-to-face with the Monolith usually triggers a transformation into what Kirby has dubbed a "New Seed," but it this case it merely facilitates X-51's escape. In #9, X-51 adopts the name "Mister Machine." It can fly by "cancelling the gravity equation" (whatever that means). Mister Machine encounters the Monolith again, just before meeting little Jerry Fields. Jerry has an older sister, Olivia, and they give him a ride into town, but are attacked by the forces of Mister Hotline and his assistant Kringe. Mister Hotline has been monitoring the progress of the AI robot project (referred to here as "thinking machines"), and sees this as his opportunity to capture one.

In #10, Mister Machine learns of his "father's" death from Judge Fields, Jerry and Olivia's father. Mister Hotline works for an entity known as The Monitor, which ends up being a super-computer (designed, for some reason, to project a hologram of a demon or devil). Mister Machine defeats the Monitor and heads off to have further adventures but, because Marvel did not have clear rights to the contents of the 2001: A Space Odyssey comic book, the character's name was changed to "Machine Man" and was spun off into a series of its own.

Jack Kirby contributed four essays to the first five issues of Machine Man's solo title: ""The Machine--As the Dude Next Door" )#1); "A Persecuted Machine: (#2); "The Unexpected Robot" (#3); and "Would You Like a Machine to Fight Your Battles?" (#5).

ISSUE #1: For those who did not read 2001 #8-10, those reading Machine Man #1 might have thought the character burst on the scene assisting a group of hikers, saving one who had fallen off a cliff (a typical action-filled "Kirby" way to start a story). Following that scene, Dr. Broadhurst provides a recap of everything a new reader would need to know about Mister Machine's Machine Man's previous appearances as he reports to a nameless beaurocrat, who ends up shutting down the entire "X-Model" project. After that, Machine Man clears a fallen tree blocking the road and bums a ride with a psychiatrist named Peter Spalding, who, by accident or design, lives in Central City. 

The reason I say "by accident or design" is that Central City is "The Birthplace of the Fantastic Four," yet there is no indication that this series is set in the Marvel Universe proper. Indeed, given its 2001 roots, one might well conclude that it is not, despite a plethora of references to Marvel comic books (by Jerry Fields) in 2001 #9-10. When Machine Man finds out that Spaulding is a psychiatrist, having no wish to be psychoanalyzed, he leaves the car. His main schtick at this points is gimmicks and gadgets, some of which couldn't likely co-exist in his frame (such as tank treads as well as ladder rungs both housed in his arms). Colonel Kragg intalled a homing device in Machine Man in 2001 #10, and orders his troops to attack. Machine Man escapes and, discovering that Central City is only two miles away, decides to pay Peter Spalding a visit after all.

ISSUE #2: Aaron Stack awakens from a nightmare, proving that Machine Man dreams. He is still on the run from Colonel Kragg's troops and is making his way to Peter Spadling. Meanwhile, in the sanitarium in which Spalding works, the patient in "Room Zero," a "penniless derelict with an eighth grade education" named Mr. Price is apparently receiving transmissions from an alien astronaut in distress. On the outskirts of Central City, Machine Man acquires three tires from a garage and converts himself into a three-wheeler. He arrives at the sanitarium after dark when Spalding is the only staff still there and is able to confirm that Price is somehow receiving some sort of transmission from outer space. 

ISSUE #3: Answering a transgalactic distress signal, Machine Man attempts to rescue an astronaut from a doomed spaceship about to crash into a sun light years away. Despite the astronaut's arrogant attitude, Machine Man follows the being's instructions how to build a trans-dimensional space-time bridge, which is intended to switch the places of the oporator with the astronaut. Despite even this betrayal, Machine Man rejiggers the device to create a reverse displacement field which will instantaneously transport the astronaut to Earth. What emerges is a Galactic Rover of the robotic Autocron Empire which describes itself as a Holocaust Specialist First Class named Ten-For.

Just then, Colonel Kragg's forces attack, but Ten-For misinterprests that they are attacking him at Machine Man';s behest. The two robots immediately come into conflict, and Ten-For disables Machine Man with a verigo inducer before heading out to engage Kragg's forces. When I was younger, I couldn't get past the CB-inspired handle "Ten-For," but I guess it's no more silly than Kal-El or Mar-Vell or Shalla-Bal.

ISSUE #4: Part 2 of Machine Man's battle with Ten-For.

ISSUE #5: Part 3 of Machine Man's battle with Ten-For.

ISSUE #6: Part 4 of Machine Man's battle with Ten-For.

Obviously more occurred in #4-6 than that. For example: Machine Man hallucinates a philosophical conversation with its "father"; Spalding and Kragg discuss amnesty for Machine Man (the first hint that Col. Kragg is more than a one-dimensional character); Machine Man attends a costume party; new character Tracy Warner of ABS news is introduced; and Machine Man has a two-page conversation with cab driver Barney Bates. But this thing I remember most about these issues is that it took four issues (five including #2) to polish off this second-rate threat. Similarly, it took Ikaris and company three issues to defeat the "cosmic-powered Hulk" over in Kirby's Eternals

ISSUE #7: Machine Man is call to testify before a Congrssional Committee. The first hearing is dismissed so that Machine Man can get a lawyer. The unscrupulous Congressman Brickman is introduced, but Col. Kragg refuses to go along with his schemes, another indication that Kragg's character is softening. He apparently lost his eye just prior to the beginning of the series, and there is no indication that he is undergoing any kind of counseling or anything. It's pretty obvious that, up until now, he has been taking out his rage on Machine Man. A humorous subplot deals with Professor Hiram Girk and his remotely-controlled robot "Paratron" attempting to subdue Machine Man to curry public favor, but MM takes him out in three pages. The main plot deals with Peter Spalding being kidnapped by a criminal cartel not-yet-identified as The Corporation, led by a man not-yet-identified as Curtiss Jackson.

ISSUE #8: Machine Man surrenders to The Corporation in order to secure the release of Peter Spalding. Their aim is to duplicate Machine Man and sell the copies to the highest bidder. Their leader has still not been identified by name, at this point going be "The Chief." After Spalding has been released, Machine Man turns the tables on them, but The Chief gets away and blows up The Corporation's secret underground lab.

ISSUE #9: Maching Man survives the explosion. Kragg has completely changed his attitude by this point and, from this point forward, will be an ally of Peter Spalding and Machine Man. The Corpooration hires a mercenary named Konik to capture Machine Man. Machine Man plays baseball. Peter Spalding hires Miles Baker to represent Machine Man on the recommendation of a friend, but the real Baker has been replaced by Konik. On Konik's advise, Machine Man disables all of its weapons, but doesn't fall into Konik's trap. Konik, however, gets away.

This is the last issue of Jack Kirby's Machine Man. The title goes on temporary hiatus at this point, but the "next issue" blurb advises: "The saga of Machine Man is far from over! His story will be continued in the pages of The Incredible Hulk. Watch for it!"

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  • A pet peeve of mine: X-51 feels like it took some inspiration from the second Captain Marvel (the one that said "split" and was published by M.F. Enterprises in 1966-1967), but apparently no one else noticed or agrees with me.

    Both are androids with single-color costumes of not too dissimilar shades; both have let go of their worlds of origin; both have arms and legs with odd properties that extend their range.

  • My main memory of this book is a scene where Machine Man talks to an African-American cab driver about being a  "minority of one".

  • X-51 feels like it took some inspiration from the second Captain Marvel... but apparently no one else noticed or agrees with me.

    Jack Kirby famously did not read other people's comic books; frankly, I can't see him even being aware of this Captain Marvel. The similarities you point out are unmistakable, but I'm inclined to chalk it up to coincidence, such as the Doom Patrol and the X-Men or Swamp Thing and Man-Thing (although admittedly those situations are different because of their proximity to each other). 

    My main memory of this book is a scene where Machine Man talks to an African-American cab driver about being a  "minority of one".

    That's from #6 (the scene with Barney Bates I mentioned above). I think this is a very "Kirby" scene; it reminds me very much of the scene between Clark Kent and the boxer from Forever People #1: "Poor Rocky. Poor Superman." I think the scene from Machine Man #6 was a bit less ham-fisted. 

  • I always saw Machine Man as a mix of Iron Man, Mister Fantastic and the Silver Surfer yet still a uninteresting character.

    They pushed MM for a few years with both Kirby and Ditko but never gave the more popular Vision a solo shot in the 70s!



    The Incredible Hulk #235 was, for all intents and purposes, my introduction to Machine Man. A friend of mine had a small stack of comics (like, five), and one of them was Kirby's Machine Man #2. I flipped through it, but I didn't read it. It was drawn by the artist I identified at the time as "that guy" and looked as if it was aimed at children. At the time I was following only three series regularly (Hulk, Captain America and Avengers), and I wasn't looking to add any new ones. I was perfectly content to ignore any new series and/or characters until and unless they crossed over in some integral way to a series I was reading. Machine Man's appearance in Hulk #235-237 was not such an appearance.

    Machine Man arrived with his supporting cast intact: Peter Spalding (now spelled "Spaulding"), Colonel Simon Kragg, Tracy Warner, Congressman Brickman and Curtiss Jackson of The Corporation. As editor of Captain America and writer of Incredible Hulk, Roger Stern had been tying off some loose ends of Jack Kirby's Captain America and Machine Man runs. Senator Eugene Stivak (a.k.a. "Kligger"), the head of the East Coast branch of The Corporation, was killed in Hulk #232, and #235 reveals that the governor has appointed Congressman Brickman to replace him. Consequently, when the hearing to determine the legal status of Machine Man is reconvened, Brickman postpones it indefinitely, places Machine Man in the custody of Peter Spalding Spaulding, and adjourns the meeting. Machine Man's allies interpret this to mean that he is a "de facto human being," so I am going to drop the "it" pronoun in refernce to him at this point.

    The Hulk sidekick at this time is Fred Sloan, and they both had been staying with Trish starr at a co-op in Berkley. [ASIDE: I had either completed my collection of Hulk by this time or I was very close to doing so, yet when Trish Starr was introduced into the cast, I had no idea who she was! She had been introduced in The Defenders, which started me on a Defenders backissue quest (which I had planned to do once I had completed Hulk, anyway).] In Hulk #234, Curtiss Jackson had one of his men, dressed as Machine Man, kidnap Trish Starr and direct the Hulk to Peter Spaulding's house (in revenge for thwarting Jackson's scheme in Machine Man #7-9). #235 ends with the Hulk quite literally beating Machine Man to pieces. #236 leads to a gas main explosion in Central City's suburban Calvin Lane district where Spaulding lives, and #237 sees the destruction of The Corporation's 80-story Mid-State Tower in Central City's downtown business district. Machine Man mesmerizes the Hulk, cancels gravity out from under him, then collapses. 

    ""The saga of Machine Man, the Living Robot continues next month in his own magazine... by Marv Wolfman and Steve Ditko!"

    • Loved this story.  X-51 is portrayed with a very sympathetic personality.  He consistently takes the most constructive choices available and is neither scared nor resentful towards the Hulk despite being brutally assaulted without warning.

  • MACHINE MAN #10-19:52168027456.10.jpg

    Issues #10-14 were written by Marv Wolfman, #15-19 by Tom DeFalco.

    ISSUE #10: This issue picks up right from where Hulk #237 left off, with Maching Man being carried into the lab by Peter Spaulding and, surprisingly, Dr. Broadhurst, the former head of the secret "X-model" project, useen since #1. Broadhurst recaps Machine Man's otigin, providing details which Spaulding (and new readers) may not have known. Broadhurst then redesigns Machine Man to a certain extent, giving him smaller eyes (easily concealed with a pair of sunglases) and removing extraneous devices (flame thrower, lasers, stun capability) and other that couldn't possibly co-exist, such as the "arm treads" (given his telescoping arms). The explanation given for these devices being installed in the first place for for testing purposes and, now that they have been removed, they will lessen the power drain and make him stronger. Steve Ditko provides a full-page schematic of Machine Man's revised capabilities. A holographic project of Dr. Abel Stack provides further details of Machine Man's origin. Eventually the plot becomes Machine Man and the supporting cast (Peter Spaulding, Dr. Broadhurst, Colonel Kragg and Senator Brickman) trapped in a cave together.

    ISSUE #11: This issue introduces a new job for Aaron Stack (insurance investogator for the Delmar Insurance Company), a new supporting cast [Byron Benjamin (president), Brock Jones (vice-president), and co-workers Maggie Jones (flirty) and Eddie White (boorish)], and a new villain (the Binary Bug). Senator Miles Brickman may not be a member of The Corporation as was his predecessor, but he is equally corrupt, with his eyes on the Presidency. He launches a campaign of fear directed against Machine Man. Aaron Stack replaces Joe Rambo, who become the Binary Bug with the help of the Tinkerer. Rambo had been stealing from clients, and his goal is to gain revenge upon Byron Benjamin by attacking Demar clients and forcing his former company to pay. Marv Wolfman quotes liberally from The Home Computer Book by Len Buckwalter, footnoting such terms as "RAM" and "byte." Binary Bug eventually attacks Delmar client Kublai Khan of Xanadu ("Xanadu" being a dirigible). Machine Man defeats Rambo (who is killed), but comes under Khan's attention. 

    ISSUE #12: Frustrated with humanity, Manchine Man releases an electrical burst into the atmosphere. Somehow this discharge transforms five orginary people into god-like beings, when then set about judging him. Machine Man refuses to defend himself, but a young boy whose father's life he saved comes to his defense. I can remember greatly disliking this highly unlikely story when I first read it, but I recognize it now as the philosophical vehicle it is. At the end of the story, the five beings head into space, never (as far as I know) to be seen again. 

    ISSUE #13: Kublai Khan, who wants to transfer his mind from his obese body, makes his play against Machine Man, but is apparently killed in the process. (At least he has had no further appearances to date as far as I know.)

    ISSUE #14: Barry Witherspoon is the subject of an experiment which makes his skin super-dense, boosts his strength, and makes him susceptible to hypnoticsuggestion. This plays right into Senator Brickman's plans, who orders him to be dressed as Machine Man and sent out to commit crimes. Public opinion begins to turn against him, especially because of Fox News TV reporter Dorothy Mayson. Machine Man turns himself in, however, and is cleared when another robbery is committed and witherspoon is caught on tape. Machine Man captures Witherspoon, who is cured and cleared. Brickman gets off due to lack of proof against him.

    ISSUE #15: New series writer Tom DeFalco arrives and brings with him the Fantastic Four (two of them, anyway), a new villain, and two new supporting characters. The first of these supporting characters is Delmar Insurance file clerk Pamela Quinn, a much more likable character than either Maggie Jones or Eddie White. the second, and more important, of these characters is Oswald F. "Gears" Garvin, an auto mechanic. Dr. Voletta Todd is a research scientist at Alternative Resources Center, a client of the Demar Insurance Company. An experiment to produce clean energy turns her into a mass of sentient electromagnetically-charged ionized gas called "Ion" and drives her insane. 

    ISSUE #16: New villains: Baron Brimstone and the Satan Squad. Brimstone is a self-styled "Master of the Mystic Arts" (although his "powers" may be gimmicks), and the "Satan Squad" are "Hammer" Harrison (strongman who wears titanium steel blocks on his hands) and contortionist "Snake" Marston. The Chem-Solar Corporation, clients of DelMar Insurance, have requested increased coverage, and Aaron and Eddie have been sent to evaluate their security arrangements. Chem-Solar's biggest product is the Sol-Mac, a solar-fueled microwave transmitter, which Baron Brimstone wants to steal. During the course of the story, Machine Man's arm becomes separated from his body and, at the end of the story, it is missing.

    ISSUE #17: New villain: Sunset Bain, a.k.a. Madame Menace, "arnorer of the underworld." Gears Garvin and Peter Spaulding meet for the first time... and do not get along. Gears fashions a tracker for Machine Man's arm, which leads him to Madame Menace. [Between issues, Machine Man appears in Marvel Team-Up Annual #3.]

    ISSUE #18: Guest stars: Aurora, Northstar and Sasquatch of Alpha Flight. After Machine Man negated gravity under the Hulk and sent him floating away in Hulk #237, the Jolly Green Giant landed in Canada (Hulk Annual #8), and his subsequent fight with Sasquatch destroyed vast tracks of prime Canadian timberland. Now, acting on intelligence that Machine Man sent the Hulk floating into Canadian air space on purpose, the Canadian government is seeking compensation. They send members of Alpha Flight to apprehend Machine Man while "Agent K" inventigates the source of the report.

    Meanwhile, Madame Menace seeks revenge on Machine Man by luring him into a trap. The three Alphans catch up with him just as he enters the trap. Elsewhere, Senator brickman's campaign for re-election isn't going so well. It seems his constituants are more interested in the issues (inflation, unemployment, foriegn policy) then his personal vendetta. But he assures his advisors that he has, "personally, taken steps to ensure the utter and irrevocable obliteration of that rascally robot!" During his fight caught between the forces of Madame Menace and Alpha Flight, Machine Man's face is half melted. Meanwhile, Agent K discovers the source of the report against Machine Man: Senator Brickman. This is branded as "a plot to have foreign governments rig America n elections," and Brickman's career is ruined. 

    ISSUE #19: New villain: Jack O' Lantern. Machine Man tries to come to terms with his "face" being destroyed, but is on the verge of going berserk. Gears Garvin tries to repair it the best he can. Delmar Insurance has been involved with years of research designing and constructing a prototype super-embassy impervious to attack. It is to be unveiled to visiting foreign dignataries at the Hallowe'en costume party. Meanwhile, a mercenary who calls himself "Jack O'Lantern" (a poor man's Green Goblin) plans to steal the technology. Machine Man has a skirmish with him before the party and the repairs Gears made to his face become undone.

    On his way to the party, he buys a "Superman" mask off a kid in the street and wears that (just the mask) with his regular business suit. At the party, he is ridiculed by Maggie and Eddie for his lack of inagination. Maggie renoves his masak, revealing his roboric head beneath. His "costume" is a big hit, of course, prompting the question why he didn't just go maskless in the first place. (Maybe he really is unimaginative.) Jack O'Lantern attacks and Machine Man drives him off. Later, Gears Garvin discovers the same battle that scarred his face also blew some circuits and tangled some wires in his robotic brain, which accounts for his feelings of rage. (Gears is a high school dropout who just intuitively knows how to apply car repair to computer programming.) Macine Man's last line is, "I intend to be around for a long... long time," which I can't decide if it's ironic or foreshadowing.

  • MACHINE MAN (1984) #1-4:


    Although so far I have covered every appearance of Machine Man (except Marvel Team-Up Annual #3) up through 1980, that is not the purpose of this thread. My intention is to hit only the highlights, and the series that made me a fan of Machine Man is the 1984 mini-series by Tom DeFalco, Herbe Trimpe and Barry Windsor-Smith. I don't recall whether it was this mini-series which led me to seek out backissues of the original Kirby/Ditko run(s) or if it was my burgeoning intrest in Jack Kirby's solo work, but I'm certain I read the mini-series first. The story jumps ahead 36 years to the near future world of 2020 (September 23-27 to be precise). I thought at the time that this story would come back to bite Marvel in the arse when 2020 rolled around, and I vowed that, in that year, I would buy whatever comic they released to smooth over the alternate timeline. [NOTE that I did not even consider that I wouldn't be reading comics 36 years later.] The future came, I bought that comic, and... I didn't read it. I'd read it today but I have no idea which "miscelaneous" box it's in. I did reread the 1984 Machine Man limited series, though.

    A wiser man than I recently said that "'continuity' can be for you whatever you want  it to be, as long as you understand that no one else is necessarily going to agree with you." Keeping that in mind, I have long thought of the Machine Man limited series as occupying a "fixed point in time" (i.e., the year 2020). Originally, Machine Man was to have been held in storage by sunset Bain for some unspecified amount of time before being freed by the renegade group The Wreckers. The beauty of that scenario is that the mini-series did not even remove Machine Man from present-day continuity, so long as someone at Marvel remembered to show him being captured by Sunset Bain at some point within the next three decades. I don't think that story was ever told [I didn't read Machine Man 2020 (2020), remember], but his time being deactivated shrunk in reverse proportion to the amount of time Captain America spent in that iceberg as time went by. 

    When Machine Man was reactivated, there was no mention of COVID, the impending Presidential election, or anything I remember from that year. Then again, we were all in lockdown, so who knows what was going on in the outside world? Seriously, a close read of this series precludes any notion that it takes place in anything other than an alternate timeline. As I read, my mind kept envisioning that "ripple effect" from the ST:TNG episode "Yesterday's Enterprise" as the timeline kept resetting itself. For example, Arno Stark, the villainous "Iron Man of 2020" could actually be Tony Stark at this point.

    Three characters carry over from the original series: Sunset Bain, Gears Garvin and Miles Brickman. Sunset Bain is the most interesting to fit into "Marvel Time." She's obviously "had some work done" (as they say)... a lot of it. She still looks mostly like a young woman, except around the eyes. It's easy to imagine that she was much older than she looked in the Ditko issues if one cares to speculate that those stories occured "just a few years ago" Marvel Time. Gears Gavin has lost some hair and is a bit paunchier, but some people show their age more quickly than other at a certain point, and Gears may be one of those people; his aging could be attributed "artistic license." Miles Brickman is more problematical; he is absolutely elderly

    Not having read Machine Man 2020, I can't really comment on how well (or even if) Marvel smoothed over the alternate reality of the 1984 mini-series. It's not as "high profile" as "Days of Future Past" for example, so maybe they just ignored it. I think Marvel did a very good job of rectifying the original Deathlok timeline (from 1974, set in 1990) with the MU timeline in 1983, paving the way for a new Deathlok when the actual year 1990 eventually rolled around. Maybe I'll look at that series one day. I seem to be drigting from my original topic, which is usually a sign that it is time for me to stop writing.


    • Jeff, do you have Iron Man Annual #11 (1990)?

      Machine Man IS captured by Sunset Bain there. There are some other events that are of this séries there, too.

    • Ah! As a matter of fact, I do. I was looking at it just last night but I have never read it. In addition to Iron Man Annual #1 I also have Avengers Annual #19 (parts two and five of "The Terminus Factor"). They are in bags with pricetags from my current LCS, which tells me I acquired them during my last flirtation with "Machine Man" (circa 2005 I estimate; sometimes my "acquisition phase" and my "reading phase" do not overlap). I'll give it a look before moving on.

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