|Relax. This post isn't really about RoboCop 3.|
Ower, a glint in his eye, popped a piece of chewing gum and began to talk. The chewing gum was a context clue; Ower had suffered partial paralysis in his face and used gum to keep the saliva flowing as he held court in the classroom. Him unwrapping a piece before his answer told us there was going to be more to this than a capsule review.
Over the next ten minutes he leapt excitedly from the pervasive anxiety over industrialization in 19th-century literature to the idealization and fetishization of efficiency in Germany, explicating how these impulses had sidelined the rhythms of birth of theretofore traditional femininity, putting labor and child-bearing on a schedule. He talked about how these impulses toward mechanization, born of hope for a better future, had instead led to desensitization and images of the masculine and feminine that retained all their fetishized ideals but none of their humanity. (Notice how Robotman and Jocasta have idealized secondary sexual characteristics but no primary ones.) In Germany, they led to a mechanized breeding ground for the S.S.
These were important ideas, Ower explained, that defined our modern world and our place in it. They were no less important when our pop culture grappled with them. Perhaps they're especially important when the movies recognize policework as the battlefield of robopathy and sympathy and action movies as the genre where the tension between machismo and reality is as its greatest. He made an eloquent case, one the increasing cyberneticism of our lives has made more eloquent over time.
It was lost on the guy who asked the question.
But it hasn't been lost on me. I share that story here to make the point there are many different ways to look at stories of robots in our culture. Even the most trivial or cliché-ridden can reveal our anxieties and aspirations. On some level, I doubt there's any insignificant robot story.
With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the automatons who didn't make our recent countdown of the "25 Greatest Robots in Comics." To come up with our countdown, we each rated a list of dozens of 'bots from the comics. These are the ones who scored highest with individual voters but not high enough to break the top 25.
|First appearance: Scud the Disposable Assassin #1|
Scud the Disposable Assassin
Before Rob Schrab was making sardonic, ironic TV for the Millennial generation, he was making awkwardly sincere indie comics for Generation X. Scud is the missing link between Ambush Bug and Deadpool — or, to put it in '90s terms, he's Lobo's emo cousin.
|First appearance: Atomic Robo #1 (October 2007)|
Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, and company's Atomic Robo will always hold a special place in this blog's heart for proving you can release comics in a digital format and actually make money at it. From unexpected iPhone smash in 2007-'08 to going digital-first in 2015, Atomic Robo has put the future back into robot comics.
|First appearance: Richie Rich #100 (December 1970)|
When we first discussed doing a countdown of the top robots in comics, the Netflix Richie Rich show wasn't on our radar. Little did we know that by the time we were considering
|First appearance: New Mutants #18 (August 1984)|
(& Magus & the Technarchy)
Sometimes a hulking, screaming impressionist painting; sometimes a zany living cartoon — Warlock joined the New Mutants as the embodiment of teen angst and isolation married to technology. He was the perfect harbinger of a generation raised on, inseparable from, and perhaps even infected by technology.
|First appearance: Amazing Spider-Man #8 (January 1964)|
The Living Brain
Though rarely counted among Spider-Man's most memorable foes (and the Spider-Slayers made our list, guys!), the Living Brain nonetheless has staying power. With an unforgettable visual that's part Lost in Space and all Steve Ditko, he's hard to leave in mothballs — but maybe it's the '60s-era design that keeps him from coming back in stories as more than a nostalgia trip.
|First appearance: Strange Tales #135 (August 1965)|
S.H.I.E.L.D. Life Model Decoys
When it comes to plot fodder, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s "life model decoys" (or LMDs) put Superman's and Doctor Doom's stand-in robots to shame. You'd think a spy organization that had perfected robot duplicates so indistinguishable from the people they supplant would be unbeatable — but the LMDs' realism and undetectability have been a greater liability than they've ever been an asset. (See, for example, Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D.)