Wednesday, October 29, 2014

’Borg, ’borg, ’borg: Comics’ Best Cyborgs

Today marks the debut of a new go-round of Deathlok by writer Nathan Edmondson and artist Mike Perkins, starring a new version of the character spinning out of the events of Marvel’s Original Sin.

Comics are a great medium for tales of half-men, half-robots. Especially ones that carry guns, have blades for fingers, skulls for faces and look like total badasses. With that in mind, let’s pay tribute to those characters who blur the line between human and machine.

Deathlok: There have been many Deathloks. Many, many, many Deathloks, to crib from Commandant Lessard. The original Deathlok, Luther Manning, was introduced in Astonishing Tales 25 in 1974, about a year after the government rebuilt Col. Steve Austin faster, better, stronger, to create the Six Million Dollar Man for television. Future Deathloks would include John Kelly, Michael Collins, Jack Truman, Larry Young, Rebecca Ryker (who went by Death Locket) and the latest, Henry Hayes. Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD TV show created yet another Deathlok, Mike Peterson, played by J. August Richards. Hordes of half-superhero Deathloks ran amok in the second arc of Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force. The point is, anybody can be Deathlok. You just have to believe, and be a cybernetically enchanced corpse.

Cyborg: Boo-yah! It’s the guy who kicked Martian Manhunter out of the Justice League. Some 
people know Victor Stone from the old George Perez New Teen Titans comics. Some know him as one of the founding members of the New 52-era Justice League. I know him best as one-half of the comedy tag team of Cyborg and Beast Boy on Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans Go!

The Reavers: Australia used to be lousy with half-robot thugs who had a mad-on for Wolverine just because he sliced many of them to ribbons in their pre-cyborg lives. The most famous of the Reavers may be Lady Deathstrike, who frequently seeks vengeance on Wolverine for the theft of her father’s adamantium-bonding formula, despite the fact that he had nothing to do with it. But my personal favorite has to be Bonebreaker, not just because he rolls around on tank treads, but because he has a Mohawk that looks like a fluffy bunny tail, sunglasses with thin slits for lenses and wears a bondage vest. If that’s not 1980s cyberpunk/Mad Max fashion at its finest, I don’t know what is. For more on the Reavers, consult your local library. Or read this.

Metallo: While Wolverine seems to attract the most cyborg enemies for Marvel, Superman appears to fill that role at DC. Some version of Metallo has existed since 1959, back when cyborgs were still powered by steam (and lest you were worried, there are whole Etsy shops dedicated to fulfilling your steampunk cyborg needs). Metallo’s backstory has been tweaked as many times as there’s been Crisis crossovers, but the general gist is that he’s a cyborg, he hates Superman, he’s got the hots for Lois Lane and he’s powered by a Kryptonite heart. Serious question: If kryptonite can be used to power killer half-bots, could it also be used to power, say, people’s homes? And if so, does that mean Lex Luthor could theoretically build, say, a kryptonite-powered Lexcorp employee Levittown that Superman would have to avoid, giving him an inconspicuous base from which to plot evil? Also, has somebody already written that story? 

Cable: Nathan Christopher Dayspring Askani’Son Pryor-Grey-Summers has the honor of being the only cyborg baby on this list. Apocalypse infected baby Nate with a techno-organic virus in a 1991 Chris Claremont-Whilce Portacio X-Factor storyline, and poppa Cyclops tried to save him by giving him away to a complete stranger claiming to be from the future. Cable’s telepathy keeps the virus in check, but he still is generally drawn with a metal arm and cybernetic eye.

Silvermane: Crime boss Silvio Manfredi (What if the Kingpin’s real name were Kingsley Pinman?) was so obsessed with reversing the aging process and finding immortality, he had his head grafted onto a robot body. His noggin was later used as a living MacGuffin in Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber’s Superior Foes of Spider-Man, one of my favorite titles of the Marvel NOW! era.

Hank Henshaw: Henshaw was one of the faux Supermen to rise up in the wake of the real deal’s death. He became a half-metal man after he, his wife and two others suffered a horrible accident in space. So essentially he’s a composite rip-off artist.

Cameron Hodge: Hodge started out as Warren Worthington’s friend from college whom he hired to act as the P.R. guy for the pre-Peter David version of X-Factor. Hodge worked behind the scenes to destroy the team, leading an anti-mutant group called The Right that hunted down mutants in egg-shaped smiley-face suits and making a pact with the demon N’Astirh for power. After being decapitated by Archangel, Hodge shows up on Genosha, leading anti-mutant efforts there in a robot body that artists increasingly drew like a creepy cybernetic spider. Defeated yet again, Hodge becomes part of the Phalanx, the techno-organic alien race that was cool for like a split second in 1994. He was also one of the mutant haters resurrected by Bastion around the time of "Messiah Complex."

Lucia Von Bardas: The Latverian prime minister cyborg-ed up to get revenge on Nick Fury and his superhero covert cops team during Marvel’s 2004-05 Secret War miniseries, turning scores of Marvel’s tech-based villains into a giant bomb.

Robocop: That’s right, kids, you actually used to be able to buy that for a dollar! Peter Weller’s cybernetic cop of the future has had series at Marvel, Dark Horse, Avatar, Dynamite and Boom.

Darth Vader: Emporer Palpatine turns Anakin Skywalker into the Sith Million Dollar Man at the end of Episode III. Sadly, I tried to Google what the buttons on Vader’s chest plate do, and all I came up with were a bunch of message boards asking the same question. For more on Star Wars’ legacy in comics, click here.

Post-Extremis Tony Stark: Iron Man may have started out as a dude in a metal suit, but Warren Ellis’ 2005-06 Extremis story bonded man and Iron Man on a molecular level. The Extremis formula allows the armor to become a part of Tony, part of it living just under his skin. It also apparently turns him into a gigantic tool in the upcoming Superior Iron Man book.

 Dan Grote has been a Matt Signal contributor since 2014 and friends with Matt since there were four Supermen and two Psylockes. His two novels, My Evil Twin and I and Of Robots, God and Government, are available on Amazon.

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