1978 · The 70s

January 1978: Machine Man 1 – In which we learn that Machine Man doesn’t really know what well adjusted means

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Synopsis: Machine Man #1 was written and drawn by Jack ‘The King’ Kirby, with letters and inks by Mike Royer and opens with Machine Man extending his arm to save a falling hiker. After a false start or two, he saves the man and after telling the hiker’s friends that he tests space age technological marvels, before walking down the cliff using magnetised soles on his feet. At no point, does he mention not being a human being. We then move to a government lab, where Doctor Broadhurst is discussing the failures of the X-Model project to a government official. He talks about the 50 X-models that failed after they suffered mental breakdowns due to their non-human nature, but X- 51 was a success after being treated like a son by psychologist Abel Stack. He was named Aaron and is now walking around, acting and thinking just like one of us.

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The official points out that the project has been scrapped and that the X-models must be destroyed. An army colonel called Kragg is given the assignment, which he takes with glee, as he lost several men and one eye to the other 50 x-models and wants vengeance against the innocent X-51.

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In a forest near the cliffs, Machine Man finds a holidaying psychiatrist Peter Spalding, trapped on the road because of a huge tree having fallen. In exchange for a lift, Machine Man lifts the tree out of the way and the two drive on, before Spaling’s on the spot analysis of Machine drives a wedge between them, forcing the two to part ways and Spalding tells him to look him up in Central City.

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As Machine Man skateboards away, he is tracked and then attacked by the Army as he approaches a neighbourhood. They show no mercy and damage much of Machine Man’s systems and gadgets, forcing him to retreat. With nowhere to turn, Machine Man heads for Central City to meet up with Peter Spalding. Although not keen to befriend a psychiatrist, he realises that he needs help urgently.

Notes: This comic showcases much of the flaws of Kirby as a writer, the dialogue is stilted, the plot moves at odd places and the characterisations of the ‘bad guys’ is more than a little cartoonish. There I said it. That said, I loved this comic. Think of your favourite books, films. comics and TV, are they all technically excellent? Chances are no and neither is this, but that doesn’t matter because it also plays to the King’s strengths. The art is dynamic as f#@% and his design of Machine Man is amazing, simple and yet ornate at the same time, Kirby-tech on legs. The dialogue’s oddness plays to the character as well, instead of the calm and dispassionate Vision, or the emotion-less and child-like Data from Star Trek, Machine Man is at times grumpy and downright unpleasant. But sometimes, aren’t we? The selling point of Machine Man isn’t how different he is to us, but how similar he is to us. He’s sitting in a van, getting annoyed by the guy sitting next to him. He’s attacked by the army and fights back. Kirby gives us a character who isn’t a hero, but you’re rooting for him anyway and while the army stuff is a little by the numbers, the high tech action is brilliant.

Revelance: This was the one of the last blasts at Marvel for Jack Kirby and soon after the 9th issue, he was gone and the world of comics became a less colourful and exciting place. But I am glad we got this little gem before he went.

Next Time: Sweet Christmas, it’s Heroes for Hire

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