Robot 6

The Fifth Color | Marvel’s robot revival

AvengersAI_1coverEvery so often, public opinion shifts and popular culture gets a craving. Remember when everything was all about pirates? Then we all got on this huge kick about vampires and the supernatural, and we had a variety of different television shows to slake our thirst? The remnants of those yearnings still linger (well, not so much the pirates), and now the masses have all lined up for zombies.

Zombies play into so many metaphors for the fears that plague us (death, communities turning against us, a loss of identity and so on), and they can even reflect economic shifts with consumerism and political-mob mentalities. That latter point is probably why Game of Thrones (a fantasy political drama) and The Walking Dead (a morality play on humanity versus its corrupted self) are TV-ratings gold.

Sadly, this cannot last. I’m not saying zombies are on their way out, just that the cultural craze is reached a peak and is moving toward something new — and Marvel comics has your back.

With robots! They’re fantastic and a personal favorite of my science fiction-loving heart, so the announcement of Avengers A.I. left me looking past our zombie-filled present with a hope for a new future-craze. We should be looking forward to what comes after our old rotten selves, pushing forward with our fiction to better understand the human condition. There is no better metaphor than that of the robot to help us grasp our own humanity and morality by looking through mechanical eyes; the future of our pop culture might not be full of artificial men, because who can really predict the public’s taste for fantasy or fiction? But Marvel seems primed and ready to try to take us into a new age of androids.


It’s not like the publisher doesn’t have the tools, story resources and impetus for a robot revival. Rick Remender has been laying the groundwork for quite a while, and some of Marvel’s most interesting heroes and villains list themselves as automatons (or simply as our betters). But why robots? Why do they provide such a wealth of self-exploration and opportunity to learn about humanity and morality? Bear with me as I gleefully explain.

The word robot was introduced in 1920 with R.U.R. (“Rossum’s Universal Robots”), a Czech play about labor and exploitation. From the get-go, robots have been a way to look at how we treat ourselves, and what exactly makes us human. The concept of the creation of life, and what it is, is a lot easier to discuss when you can be there for the tightening of the bolts and screws. What is living and what is a paperweight can be debated by looking at a replica of a human being for comparison. What makes us a man and not a toaster? Can intelligence and the spark of life come down to a bit of electricity? And is that spark aware of what it is? Isaac Asimov nearly made it a career to define all these questions in a myriad of books before reality caught up with fiction and now we can have Siri explain the weather to Zooey Deschanel in a commercial and think nothing of it. But why stop there?

Sideshow-Collectible-Ultron-07Jack Kirby’s Machine Man, a personal favorite, tried to get at this idea of understanding a mechanical man and how we relate to him (and he, us) in a mighty Marvel fashion, full of bombastic introspection and military chase scenes. Is Ultron an evil robot or are his motivations corrupted by his creator’s continual condemnation? If Hank Pym had just hugged his robot son more, would we not be living in a post-apocalyptic age? Does being human or having human characteristics place upon you the ideas of good and evil? I mean, it’s easier to judge a robot because we can simply take them apart and search through their programming, something I do not recommend trying with a human being. Whatever comes of Age of Ultron, the idea of Hank Pym as the “godfather” of artificial intelligence taking a group of mechanical men and women on an Avengers quest seems like something that’s been long coming.

Brian Michael Bendis had promised us an “Age of Ultron” for years. Remender started with a small appearance by Dethlok that built up into an incredible multi-part epic for the end of his run on Secret Avengers. Jeff Parker hasn’t let go of Machine Man, just as much a main character in Red She-Hulk as the title role. And, let’s face it, mutants are a mess at the moment and just aren’t cutting it for teaching us about philosophy and the human condition. So why not robots? They seem to be testing well as both Age of Ultron and the sci-fi starter Guardians of the Galaxy topped the charts last month. Could we be looking at the next pop-culture zeitgeist?

Who knows? All I can say is that we’re about due for a revolution.

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18 Comments

Bob from Accounting

April 5, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Victor should have more important concerns right now than joining a new team, what with Nico and Chase missing. But I guess this along with Arena represent Marvel pulling the plug on Runaways for good. I hope at least that Molly, Karolina, Klara and Old Lace will go to good homes and not be trapped in comicbook limbo.

Oh gee whiz, I hope this doesn’t become Marvel’s attempt at forcing a robot revival. I have no opinions on robots–if the public wants them, then Marvel would be smart to capitalize it. It’s just that of late, Marvel has often tried to “push” a trend that just wouldn’t take off. Remember their big vampire push and “The Forgiven”? Those guys were popping up everywhere, but I don’t recall anyone caring. The same with “Hit Monkey”–the solicits indicated that he’d be the next Deadpool, but again, I don’t think the Market fell for it.

Actually, this isn’t our first brush with this sort of thing–look at the 1990′s tv show Exosquad; it’s very much the same argument as robots, only the Neo-Sapiens are more ‘organic’.

Battlestar Galactica was pretty enormous a few short years ago. Reinvented the robot genre so successfully it’s a wonder it hasn’t been built upon.

Adam, wasn’t it pretty much just Victor whatshisface that was pushing vampires and everyone else kind of being “… Okay?”

Game of Thrones has nothing to do with zombies. Whitewalkers are NOT zombies.

*AHEM* 2 words.. Ultron Unlimited followed by 2 more words…Annhilation Conquest… Age of Ultron has a LONG way to go to surpass those 2 tales…

Just don’t let Hank Pym come out of this whole Age of Ultron stuff as a big heel.

@Steve–

Gischler. And maybe it was isolated to him, I’m not sure. I tried to avoid the trend, other than the HULK VS DRACULA series, which I bought purely because it was a Hulk book. Shortly after, I was reading FEAR ITSELF: THE FEARLESS–a book I largely enjoyed–except that those “Forgiven” vampires were shafted in there.

With Northlanders, Helheim, and the mythological bend of the current arc of Thor, I’m predicting the rest of pop culture will catch up to comics and VIKINGS will be next. And I welcome our Norse overlords. Go read Northlanders, there are amazing stories to tell in that vein.

As for robots, you’re right in that they’re interesting thematically and can cover a lot of interesting territory in terms of concept but, as characters, I always find them a bit boring. I mean, NOT having a personality is what defines them, so you’re off to a bad start right away. Good for exploring existentialism, horrible for being warm and knowable.

We need something to replace zombies. That zeitgeist has endured far too long

I could have done without the mutant statement. They are very near and dear to my heart.

There is also talk of a Metal Men book at DC, which I think would be great. It’s time for them to come back.

I have yet to see anyone point out that Victor is a cyborg, he has a human brain and a cpu. I hope that isnt ignored in the book.

But are we sure that’s the real Victor and not a Doombot? (If I were Doom I’d be jealous that Pym had created a self-aware robot before he did.)

Of all the artificial life forms in the Marvel U, why a Doombot. Doom’s my favorite villain, but you have Super Adaptoid, Sentinels of all kinds (Nimrod would be cool), Cable’s former AI, Professor, X-51(currently running around with Red She Hulk), the original Human Torch (unless he dies during Remener’s SA run), and they use a Doombot. I won’t question it too much without seeing what their story is though.

No Human Torch didn’t die during Remender’s Secret Avengers run. In the end he was walking off and considering an age of robots so maybe he’ll come into the picture somewhere in this book or down the road in Uncanny Avengers. I prefer him as a hero as he seemed like a nice character often under-used or misused except Byrne’s run in West Coast Avengers, Marvels and another Alex Ross project or two. I felt a bit empty with Remender’s arc but that might have been the art and the storyline getting interrupted by event after event.

I’d much prefer Jim Hammond/Human Torch to a Doombot. I love the way Jeff Parker uses Machine Man in Red She-Hulk and yes it’s a great book that’s under-the-radar. It’s fun to read. I’m happy the Vision is getting the spotlight again but not so happy they’re putting all their eggs in one basket here. I think Vision is best utilized like Human Torch or Wonder Man along Avengers of all types. Some of the best years for the character were the 70′s/80′s on Avengers and WCA. On the same team as a Captain America, Iron Man, Thor or Hulk it’s cool to see an android like Vision or Human Torch or even Machine Man the way Parker uses him.

I think lumping all the “robots” or androids on one team misses the point that they are best used in the mix with different characters of all types which is why Vision or Human Torch always played better off of the other Avengers than on their own. Hulk can even be seen the same way as some of my all-time favorite Hulk scenes are in the Avengers books or mixed with other Marvel heroes or villains and just look at the films the Hulk films did mediocre and when he’s in The Avengers he stands out as he plays off the other characters and them off of him. Vision-Wanda-Wonder-Man have always been the best usage of the character so I’d hope to see some interaction with those other two as an uncaring/unfeeling Vision defeats the purpose of the character.

Only mentioning because I enjoy very minor characters, but how come no Livewires or Machine Teen added to the list?

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