Machine Man, beset on all sides. Artists: Jack Kirby and John Verpoorten.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1977
Creator: Jack Kirby
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In the mid-to-late 1970s, Marvel Comics adapted several science fiction movies into comic book form; then, when they'd gone through the movie storylines, continued with the same characters and situations, in new adventures. When they did that with Star Wars, the result …

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… was what many readers considered a classic sci-fi adventure series. When they tried it with Logan's Run, they were shut down one issue into the continuation, by producers who only intended to license the original story and were surprised to see it go on. With 2001: A Space Odyssey, response was mixed. Since not everyone completely understood the movie in the first place, it wasn't entirely clear what continuing it even meant.

The movie adaptation was done by the legendary Jack Kirby, who created or co-created hundreds of characters in comics, from the lofty heights of Captain America and Doctor Doom all the way down to The Two-Gun Kid and Kobra. It was published in a tabloid edition in 1976. The continuation, also by Kirby, was a regular-size comic book, which began cover-dated December of the same year. It lasted ten issues, the final one dated September, 1977. Not surprisingly, since Kirby had no special revelation about what directors/writers Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke were getting at in the 1968 film, it lacked a cohesive and fully comprehensible storyline. Readers didn't really get interested in it until the 8th issue (July, 1977), which introduced the superhero-like Mister Machine.

Mister Machine was one of 51 experimental robots, designed by the U.S. military to mimic human thought, emotion and learning ability, with the idea of making cheap, expendable units they could send into battle instead of expensive soldiers. Dr. Abel Stack, one of the scientists working on the project, figured what the robots needed, and weren't likely to get in the lab, was human upbringing, so he surreptitiously took one home to raise as his own. The ones left in the lab, lacking that advantage, all developed psychoses, became schizophrenic, had nervous breakdowns, and were otherwise rendered useless and dangerous, so the experiment was terminated. When their self-destruct mechanisms were activated, the one in Stack's unit had just been removed from the device, and accidentally terminated the scientist instead.

Naturally, the military tried to hunt Mister Machine (as the device was called) down and kill him. His successful attempts to avoid that fate occupied the final three issues of the 2001 series. Reader interest perked up, but not enough to keep that series running.

Re-named Machine Man (to avoid conflicting with an old trademark Ideal Toys had just revived), the character started his own title with a cover date of April, 1978. With the help of a couple of friends, psychiatrist Peter Spaulding and mechanic "Gears" Garvin, he made himself a secret identity (Aaron Stack, the last name an obvious reference to his human benefactor), got a job as an insurance investigator, and started interacting with the rest of the Marvel Universe.

Of course, the Army was still after him. He managed to fend them off for nine issues, at the end of which he finally established his right to exist, but that marked the end the involvement of Jack Kirby, who left Marvel and comic books in general in favor of other pursuits. It also marked the end of the first phase of Machine Man's series, which went on hiatus for eight months.

It resumed with #10 (August, 1979), under writer Marv Wolfman (Dracula, Night Force) and artist Steve Ditko (Spider-Man, Captain Atom). Since then, a variety of Marvel writers and artists have handled him as he had close brushes with The Avengers (even falling in love with one of their robotic villains, Jocasta), briefly joined their West Coast branch, developed an arch-enemy of his own (Madame Menace) and otherwise behaved like a typical denizen of the superhero world.

His publishing history, however, has been spotty at best. His regular series ended for good with #19 (February, 1981). He had a four-issue mini-series in 1984-85, where he was reassembled in 2020 (after being dismantled at some unspecified time) and interacted with a future version of Iron Man. 1994's Machine Man 2020 reprinted it. Other than that, he's appeared mostly as someone else's guest star, one of many, many Marvel characters like Moon Knight, Elektra and Tigra, who don't always have regular gigs but still "stay in touch" with readers.


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Text ©2006 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Marvel Comics.