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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    • While we are at it... are you aware of the 2019 story that has lots of impact on Machine Man?  I am trying to avoid spoilers.

  • Although so far I have covered every appearance of Machine Man... up through 1980, that is not the purpose of this thread...

    ...but I probably could if I wanted to. The last time I became interested in Machine Man I filled all the holes I knew of, although I didn't necessarily read them at the time. One such "hole" was Iron Man Annual #11 (1990), which I have just read now. Machine Man bopped around the Marvel Universe for four years between the (second) cancellation of his regular series and the first issue of the (first) mini. One such appearance, a significant one, is Marvel-Two-In One #92-93 (written by Machine Man scribe Tom DeFalco), which revealed the not-final fate of the robot Jocasta, a key element of the 1984 mini-series.



    Iron Man Annual #11 not only reveals how Jocasta came into the possession of Sunset Bain, but it is also, I believe, the point at which reality diverged between the Marvel Universe proper and the alternate 2020 reality of the 1984 mini-series. In addition, it is also where [SPOILER] Peter Spaulding is killed [END SPOILER], as revealed in the mini-series. That alternate reality spring from the fact that Sunset Bain was able to capture and keep Machine Man, but in the annual he gets away. Plus it alludes to another tie-in story I may have missed. At one point Iron Man thinks, "I remember now--Cap and a makeshift Avengers team team found Jocasta's cranium after the High Evolutionary's sub-sea base blew up"... unless that's a reference to Avengers Annual #17, which I do have and I did read, but I don't remember. (I'm pretty sure it was 1988's "Evolutionary War" saga that turned against Marvel annuals for years to come.)


    While we are at it... are you aware of the 2019 story that has lots of impact on Machine Man?  I am trying to avoid spoilers.

    I appreciate that, but you'll have to give me more to go on than that. It's not ringing any bells...?

    • It is a very short but very consequential story that somewhat retcons, in different ways, the Iron Man Annual story that I mentioned earlier; the ending of the X-51 series in 2000 and Machine Man's next appearance in Nextwave #1 (2006); and many other stories, including the 2-issue "2020 Machine Man" series that actually came later during the "Iron Man 2020" event.

      Beyond that, I get the impression that Jocasta was meant to have been destroyed in Avengers Annual #17; she certainly offers to sacrifice herself. Iron Man Annual #11 has a thought balloon revealing / retconning that her head was later found after the explosion.

      But the reason why I am so fixated on the Iron Man Annual is because it sets things up so that the 1984 "Machine Man 2020" series might have happened in its future, far as Sunset Bain and Jocasta are concerned.  

  • It is a very short but very consequential story...

    Yes, but what comic book is it that you are referring to?

    Beyond that, I get the impression that Jocasta was meant to have been destroyed in Avengers Annual #17...

    Yes, especially given that thought balloon from Iron Man Annual #11 you mention, I agree. I wonder if Jocasta's appearance in Avengers Annual #17 was a mistake...? (I just reread enough of it to refresh it in my memory.) Jocasta "died" in Marvel Two-In-One #93, setting up her appearance in the 1984 mini. But then she turns up, with no explanation, in the Avengers annual. Did Jocasta appear at all between MTIO #93 and Avengers Annual #17? I get the impression they wanted to explain how Sunset Bain acquired her head, forgetting that she was "dead."

    ASIDE: I think I had already dropped the Marvel annuals by 1988 but I bought the Avengers one because of the eclectic mix of Avengers. 

    • No, Jocasta did not appear anywhere between MTIO #93 and Avengers Annual #17.  Except, of all places, in Avengers #231 where we had the memorial services for her.  I don't think we ever had an explanation for her turning up aline and well in the Annual.

      The comic is Marvel Comics #1001.  It does not fit very well with the Iron Man 2020 event that came a few months later, though; it may make more sense if we assume that the event happened before that Machine Man story (which is easily done).

    • The comic is Marvel Comics #1001.

      Ah! I've got that. (Now if I can just find it.)

  • MARVEL COMICS #1001 - "See What's Become of Me" by Roger Stern & Jerry Ordway

    It is a very short but very consequential story that somewhat retcons, in different ways, the Iron Man Annual story that I mentioned earlier; the ending of the X-51 series in 2000 and Machine Man's next appearance in Nextwave #1 (2006); and many other stories, including the 2-issue "2020 Machine Man" series that actually came later during the "Iron Man 2020" event.

    I see what you mean. 2000's X-51 series is next on my list, but I don't plan to hit it very hard... just the ending, as a matter of fact. That's where I was planning to end this discussion. Although I did read some "Machine Man" stories beyind that point (Nextwave, specifically) I didn't much care for the direction which Marvel allowed Machine Man to be taken. "Nextwave" (Agents of H.A.T.E) a team of five super-powered heroes characters belonging to the Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort: Machine Man, Monica Rambeau, Elsa Bloodstone and two others. Elsa Bloodstone never made too much of an impression on me, but Machine Man and Monica Rambeau were once favorite characters of mine. (I was going to ask whether or not Machine Man appeared between X-51 #12 and Nextwave #1, but you've already addressed that.) The title's slogan was: "Healing America by Beating People Up" (which gives you an idea of the series' direction. Yes, I get it: it's satire. But it wasn't for me. As Don Thompson used to say, "If this is the kind of thing you like, then you'll like this."

    Back to the story from Marvel Comics #1001... Philip Portelli recently brought "Panther's Heart" to my attention, the story of an "alternate past" of Monica Lynne which appeared in Black Panther Annual #1, and I immediately incorporated it into my "head canon." It is the same way with "See What's Become of Me" by Stern and Ordway. So thanks, Luis, for bringing it to my attention.

    • You're welcome.

      BTW, Ordway draws a superb Aaron.

    • Yes, Ordway pretty much draws a superb everything.

  • X-51:


    X-51 is one of three short-lived "M-Tech" titles, the other two being Deathlok and Warlock (the mutant/alien one), which sprung from a three-way crossover of the X-books (and, in Machine Man's case, two oxymoronic "annuals"). But I don't have too much to say about that series, apart from the final issue, which folds the "Monolith" from 2001: A Space Odyssey back into the mix. (It was the Monolith which facilitated X-51's escape from government forces in his first appearance.) X-51 #12 is an illustrated prose story which recaps Machine Man's entire existance, from 2001 #8 through the "M-Tech" series and reveals the Monolith to have been a tool of the Celestials all along. Although X-51 was released starting in 1999, given the vaguries of "Marvel Time" I like to think of it as having occurred after the mini-series set in 2020. I prefer to think of the 1984 mini-series "fixed" in 2020; others may feel it's fixed "35 years in the future." In any case, at the end of the X-51 series, the Celestials (via the Monolith) take Machine Man off into space.

    And that's where I had planned to end this discussion... until Luis brought that Stern/Ordway one-pager to my attention. Now I am content to let "See What's Become of Me" stand as Machine Man's "final" story. At least until/unless some better direction comes along.

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