Friday, December 4, 2009

BAB Two-In-One: A PO'ed Cyborg and a Rather Regretful Man-Bat!

Karen: This time I've decided to review a personal 70s favorite, the original cyborg soldier of the future, Deathlok. Deathlok's origin appeared in Astonishing Tales #25 in 1974. The character was conceived by artist Rich Buckler, who plotted, drew, and inked the story. For the scripting chores he brought in Doug Moench, whose name should be familiar to 70s Marvel readers.
Karen: The Deathlok series (which ran from Astonishing Tales 25 to 36) was set in a dystopian future, ruled by corrupt military and corporate leaders. Colonel Luther Manning is killed in combat but brought back to life as a hideous cyborg (for some reason, his face always takes me back to that grade Z 50s horror flick, I Was A Teen-Age Frankenstein!) to do the dirty work of Major Simon Riker. Riker had Manning rebuilt with steel-re-inforced limbs and a computer brain. In fact, he had surgeons keep only a small portion of Manning's brain, supposedly the part that made him a brilliant tactician. However, Manning retains his personality and is able to assert dominance over the computer mind, and break free of Riker's control. In this issue, we see him working as a freelance mercenary, cutting down two men in cold-blood. The story of how he became such a ruthless killing machine is told in flashback. Deathlok was one of the first of that wave of anti-hero characters (including the Punisher, who also debuted in 1974) who would change the face of comics forever.
Karen: Rich Buckler's work here is quite dynamic, his panel designs are creative and exciting - in other words, it wasn't the "Kirby-clone" look for which he had been known previously. Moench does a nice job in balancing the inner dialogue between Manning and the computer; it comes across very believable. The story is a bit short, but some bonus features, including a discussion between Buckler, Moench, and editor Roy Thomas, make up for that. There's also a nice diagram of the cyborg and his "operating systems".

Karen: This issue gives us the origin, but there would be so much more to follow. It just scratches the surface. Especially compelling was Manning's struggle to find his wife and kid - although with predictable results. The concept may not seem so novel now, but back in 1974, believe me, it was. Sure, we had The Six Million Dollar Man on TV, but Steve Austin was a pretty normal looking guy, leading an appealing life. Not so for Deathlok. I think Robocop probably owes its existence to Deathlok, and it surely has been an influence on other works.

Karen: I'm not a fan of the later iterations of the character; they just seem unnecessary to me. I think Deathlok had a finite storyline, and it was a terrific one.

Doug: Super-significant DC comin' atcha! Detective Comics #400: Neal Adams art, 1st Man-Bat (plus origin), first Dynamite Duo -- Batgirl and Robin, and general numbering milestone. All of this = super-collectible!!

Doug: Our first story of this double-feature begins in a museum as exhibits honcho Kirk Langstrom puts the finishing touches on a life-like (though enlarged) bat exhibit. Complimented by the curator, we soon find out that Langstrom is, on the side, experimenting with real bats in an effort to heighten his senses beyond what even Batman possesses. Of course, in the world of stupid comic book protagonists/antagonists, you know where this is headed...

Doug: On the side we have a concurrent story running about a gang of thieves who use the utmost stealth to not only pull off their jobs, but to avoid the Batman as well. This is a really high-tech story -- I'm not sure if we should credit scribe Frank Robbins or artist extraordinairre Neal Adams. But the cat-and-mouse between the gang and Batman is good. One of the better scenes in this part of the story involves Alfred assisting Batman in testing some new earplugs that allow the wearer to hear heartbeats!

Doug: Adams' art is outstanding as usual -- and I really hate to make it seem mundane because it's anything but. He uses innovative panel lay-outs on some pages, and even introduces a new Batmobile. This was the era (1970) where the comics were trying to break away from the campy television show -- gone is the tv Batmobile and the Batcave -- the latter replaced by a headquarters atop the Wayne Foundation building. 

Doug: After an encounter with Batman that foils a job, the shadow gang decides they'll make a hit on the Gotham museum's famed jewel collection. Of course, that museum just happens to be the one in which Langstrom has now begun a mutation into a human bat. As the gang strikes, so does Batman and so does Langstrom. After defeating and chasing the thieves away, there's a brief encounter between Batman and our new friend, the Man-Bat. Langstrom runs from Batman, and the reader is left to ponder in what form he will return -- friend, or foe?

Doug: The second story in this issue is billed as the first team-up of Batgirl and Robin, yet they appear together in only two panels, once when Robin is in his Dick Grayson guise (good point -- with these hero types, which is their true identity?) and once when they don't even realize that the other is in the vicinity. Batgirl arrives at Hudson U. to investigate a murder. Seems a professor who opposed selling off college land for development in the interest of preserving a species of moss that could have medicinal properties is offed. The story moves through some suspects and ends with a cliffhanger -- Batgirl knocked on the noggin, tied up, and left in an abandoned building, only to awaken to find some baddie bricking her into -- her tomb!
Doug: That last story is really just a teaser, but the script by Denny O'Neil is good enough to make me wonder what happened next, and the surprising combination of Gil Kane and Vinnie Colletta works well.


hobbyfan said...

reiI remember buying virtually the entire Deathlok run of Astonishing Tales via back issues in the 80's. These were some tremendous stories. In recent times, Marvel has decided to reboot or reimagine Deathlok at least three times now, including one version with a totally new character. It's another example of how the company keeps messing with its classic characters, even the 2nd or 3rd tier ones, just for the sake of retaining copyrights for the suits. The original stories, though, were and still are the best.

Matthew K. said...

Karen- Like you, I always thought Deathllok was one of Marvel's great concepts from the '70s. As you touched on, it's interesting how he was one of the early pop culture references to "cyborgs" and the like. If it hasn't already been done, that would be a good subject of a longer article.

Doug - thanks for the concise origin of Man-Bat. I hate to admit it, but I was ignorant on the topic until now.

Doug said...

Matthew --

You are certainly welcome! You can find this story and/or issue reprinted in the following places:

The Batman Family (1975) #1
Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams (2003) Vol. 2
Batman: Challenge of the Man-bat (1989) TPB
The Best of DC (1979) #30
Man-Bat vs. Batman (1984) #1
Showcase Presents Batgirl (2007) vol. 01
Showcase Presents Robin - The Boy Wonder (2008) Vol. 01


Andrew Wahl said...

I'll have to give the nod to Karen's pick on this one. While you can never go wrong with a Neal Adams Batman (or Man-Bat) story, I really loved Deathlok as a kid. It was a high-water mark for Rich Buckler, and I think the character lost that "special something" when its creator was no longer involved.


Karen said...

There are definitely some books/characters that just never seemed quite as good once their original creator(s) departed, and Deathlok is one of them. I was not a fan of bringing him into the regular Marvel universe either.

But Marvel sure had some good sci-fi themed books in the 70s, didn't they? I also enjoyed Killraven over in Amazing Adventures, although I'm still missing a few issues.

hobbyfan said...

It should be noted that Rich Buckler was as influenced by Neal Adams as any other artist, which makes your selection of Deathlok side-by-side with Man-Bat rather appropriate. Kudos.

Doug said...

Buckler was somewhat of a chameleon, wasn't he? If you inspect his very earliest issues in his Avengers run, following Neal Adams, he's somewhat of an Adams clone. Of course, everyone recalls his aping of Kirby when he took over FF. Also of note are the Original Human Torch and Sub-Mariner mini-series he did in the late 1980's -- totally different style yet again!



On Deathlok-I often his best strenth was his relationship the computer.
Also I the movie Universal Soldier was a rejected Deathlok script.


How does a Colonel outrank a Major?
When the dopes at Marvel create and draw General Ryker,who who would thus outrank Colonel Luthor Manning,but then decide he looks to much like General Ross_so they bust him down to a major_before the books see"s print.Smart thing would kept him a general,but alter his features to resemble another character.Duh-Marvel.

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