Continuing our ongoing celebration of the best robots to grace the pages of comic books, here is our third entry in the series.
15 - Amazo
First appearance: Brave and the Bold #30 (June 1960)
Amazo is one of those rare Justice League villains who predates the actual Justice League of America comic. Created by Professor Ivo, Amazo has the omega-level power of being able to duplicate any hero he comes in contact with. In his first appearance, he defeats the League from the onset, but by the end of the issue, he’s beaten and becomes an addition to the JLA’s trophy room. During the Silver and Bronze Age, he’ll make several appearances (often as a tool to help the heroes regain their lost superpowers), but as time moves on, he proves to be less popular with writers.
Check this out. Despite being a perfect villain to bring out for a DC team comic, here’s a list of comics that NEVER featured Amazo:
- Giffen/Dematies JLA
- Grant Morrison JLA (though he does show up on Aztek! And Mark Millar uses him in JLA 27)
- Batman and the Outsiders
- Teen Titans
- JL Europe
- Byrne’s run on Superman
- Legion of Superheroes
- All-Star Comics
- Infinity Inc.
Now, the heroes could have just overpowered Amazo in an battle royale, but you don’t really start seeing that type of storytelling come into vogue until the late 1990s. It’s really not until the advent of Warren Ellis’ The Authority and Mark Millar’s Ultimates that modern writers start using a more cinematic approach to superhero comics and the battles become more widescreen in nature. As it would so happen, Amazo has made almost as many appearances since 1999 as he had in the entire Bronze Age.
Most recently, he’s appeared in the pages of Geoff Johns’ New 52 Justice League in the Amazo Virus storyline (though I think that storyline is about a computer virus that infects people than an actual epic throwdown with Amazo).
Will we ever get a real event level storyline with Amazo? Only time will tell.
14 - NoMan
First appearance: T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 (November 1965)
NoMan even managed to score his
own mini-series spin-off. In the '60s,
that sort of thing didn't happen.
Most of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents are equipped with high-tech gadgets left behind by a deceased U.N. scientist, Professor Jennings. NoMan, however, stands out from the rest of the team. The only T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent responsible for his own powers, he IS both a high-tech gadget and a deceased U.N. scientist. To cheat death, Dr. Anthony Dunn had invented an android body into which he could transfer his consciousness. When his physical body dies, he lives on in the android form of NoMan. If T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents were a Marvel or DC title, that might be the sum of NoMan's super-hero high concept. Brown and Wood, however, extend the conceit to its natural next step, surmising that any scientist with the knowledge and resources to build one android body would have the knowledge and resources to mass-produce them — which Dunn does. As NoMan, he sheds bodies with an abandon that almost qualifies as its own super power. The in-story effect is a T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent who "dies" again and again, often just to escape traps.
|Government waste, super-hero style.|
13 - Spider-Slayer(s)
First appearance: Amazing Spider-Man #25 (June 1965)
The first robotic Spider-Slayer was created by Spencer Smythe with financial support by J. Jonah Jameson. While this robot would fail in its task, Jameson would commission Smythe to build several more Spider-Slayers, all with the promise of being an improvement over the last version. Alas, each of these new models would fail as well. Eventually, after years of working with highly unstable materials to build his robots, Smythe would succumb to the effects of radiation poisoning, a fate he blamed on Jameson. In 1976 (Amazing Spider-Man 162), Jameson would enlist another scientist, Dr. Marla Madison to build new Spider-Slayers. While her Slayer was no more effective than its predecessors, but the project wasn't a total failure for Jameson as he fell in love with Marla and would eventually marry her.
|Dr. Marla Madison, future wife of J. Jonah Jameson|
Most recently, Alistair's designs favored a more exo-suit approach with him controlling the Spider-Slayer. Combining Spider-Slayer technology with Mandroid suits, Alistair created an Anti-Spider Squad. Unfortunately, despite these fresh new approaches, Alistair was no more successful than his father and was killed by Superior Spider-man in Superior Spider-Man 13.
Overall, comic readers have been treated to a wide variation of Spider-Slayers (about 20 in all):
While considered an antiquated gimmick by some readers, I actually like the Spider-Slayers as I think they have a huge advantage over other opponents for Spider-man. For one thing, they constantly change and improve. Let’s face it, the first dozen or so battles with the Scorpion are pretty much all the same. He, like a lot of villains, has one shtick and he sticks to it. Not so for the Spider-Slayers. They can be revamped to look and behave any way the writer/artist wants them to. Didn’t like the mecha-Spider version? No problem! Here’s a giant robot version!
Though, I must confess a fondness for the classic Steve Ditko Spider-Slayer. Some things never go out of style.
12 - Superman Robots
First appearance: World’s Finest #42 (1949)
Pinning down the first appearance of a Superman robot is a bit tough. The DC Wikia page suggests the first one was a robot created by Superboy named Friday (after the character in Robinson Crusoe.) Whereas Supermanica Wikia points to World's Finest 42 as the first appearance of a Superman robot. Because the DC Wikia page doesn’t specify which issue of Superboy the robot named Friday shows up, I can’t really verify that claim, but I was able to read the World’s Finest, which first appeared September 1949.
During the ’50s, due to the restrictions placed on comics by the Comics Code Authority and shrinking comic sales, DC Comics tended to publish stories that emphasized fantastic and sensational situations involving their heroes.
It was in such stories that the Superman Robots really found their niche. Initially, they were used to trick villains, as in World’s Finest 42, when a Superman Robot (SR) is used to convince aliens from Uranus into believing all earthlings are robots. Sometimes they were substitutes for the Man of Steel when he was away in space as in Jimmy Olsen 55, where Superman gives Jimmy Olsen a SR to divert a runaway planet on a crash course with Earth.
As the years continued, the robots would be relegated to more mundane duties such as scanning visitors in the Fortress of Solitude, filling in for Clark Kent to fool Lois Lane, or picking up stray Kryptonite when necessary. During this time, the robots tended to reside either in Clark’s closet or the Fortress of Solitude. Also, they grow in power with each appearance to the point by 1960, Superman declares they possess all his powers. (Except they are not invulnerable.)
By 1961, Superman Robots are shown acting on their own volition using sophisticated artificial intelligence and self-awareness. This brings about some interesting conundrums:
- The robots often address Superman as Master. Yet if they truly possess self-awareness, doesn’t this put Superman in oppressive role as a robot-slave owner?
- Because the robots are programmed to only do good deeds, would they recognize this suppression of free will?
- When Superman turns them off, do they resent this time in isolation? Are they even aware of it?
With that, the Superman Robots were shuffled off into the realm of the Pre-Crisis universe. (Along with a lot of other cool stuff, but that’s a rant for another day.)
11 - Red Tornado
First appearance: Justice League of America #64 (August 1968) ... and (sorta) Mystery in Space #61 (August 1960)
Remember what we said about the massive influence of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents a couple of entries back? Well, three years after NoMan debuted, both Marvel and DC elected to have android members join their premier super-teams — at almost exactly the same time. The Red Tornado first appeared in the August 1968 issue of Justice League of America with the Vision following hot on his trail in the October issue of Avengers. The similarities between the two could fill an interesting blog post on their own. (In fact, here's one.) Rather than puzzle over the yin-yang nature of the Big Two's team-player androids, let's look at what makes the Red Tornado unique.
|Good plan, Tommy O. Solid.|
|The Overeager Tornado.|
For a while, Red Tornado enjoyed something akin to a status quo. He was a member of the JLA in good standing who adopted a human identity, complete with a face, and used it to meet a nice single mom with whom he embarked on a relationship. That all fell apart in the '80s, beginning with an ambitious retcon of the Tornado's origins by Gerry Conway. T. O. Morrow returns — a sure sign you'll end the story scratching your head over his motivations, powers, and sometimes how many of him there actually are — to kick off a story revealing that the Red Tornado android is actually inhabited by the spirit of an Adam Strange villain named Ulthoon, the Tornado Tyrant from a 1960 issue of Mystery in Space — who went on to reform and appear as the Tornado Champion in an early issue of JLA, #17 (February 1963).
|The first appearances of the Tornado Tyrant and the Tornado Champion.|
Not especially robotic.
Without a robot body, Red Tornado went on to become a wind spirit, a living tornado who threatened environmental vengeance whenever he showed up in DC titles of the late '80s and early '90s. Leveraging the Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot, Cary Bates in Captain Atom and John Ostrander in Firestorm recast him as a wind elemental of the planet Earth, doing away with his Ranagarian back story. Professor Ivo replaces T. O. Morrow as Reddy's creator in the new history. I suspect T. O. Morrow stories were too painfully nonsensical for post-Crisis writers to bear. He eventually got a new robotic body and spent time alongside Primal Force and Young Justice before finally settling in as a background placeholder in various modern incarnations of the Justice League.