Robots make for crap super heroes. We want robots as friends, pets and secret lovers, but NOT as replacements to our own lives. In a medium all about projecting our own wants onto fictional characters there is a gigantic flaw to robots as super-heroes:
NO HUMAN WANTS TO BE A ROBOT.
One need only to look at a few mainstream comic book robots to realize that the robot super hero does not compute.
THE HUMAN TORCH
One of Marvel’s very first super heroes was a robot named Jim who could control flames to melt tanks while flying. If you were a flaming android, wouldn’t you chose the name “Human Torch,” too? NOTHING says “Robot in the closet” like the name Human Torch.
Torchy had a buddy robot, a slew of appearances in the War era and a recent resurgence at Marvel due to the recent Invaders series. Still, he was never as popular as Captain America, nor his other Invaders team-mate the Sub-Mariner, probably due to being a soulless, stinktastic robo-doofus.
If after Seventy years in this business you are still less popular than Namor, you need to seriously go to 10 and rethink your future in the cape biz.
THE METAL MEN
A great and beloved team of robots from DC, the Metal Men (and lady) are robots each build predominantly from certain metals which give each fantastic powers! Gold was shiny and smart and could stretch his metal body, Iron was strong, Lead could shield you from radiation, naturally, Platinum was a sex-robot…you know, the common traits of each of their respective metals. I don’t think I need to explain this further.
The Metal Men stories were gentle, sweet and fun silver age stuff. The robots often struggled with their robot natures, but if it was used for pathos it was resolved quickly.
WHY the Metal Men worked was the times. People could read about a robot super team in 1962 and NOT need it to be a metaphor for our own insecurities as people, or our lack of ability to connect to others.
The number one reason robots make lousy super heroes is about projection. We just can’t project onto a machine. The Metal Men walked a fine line, but they were always entertaining and they never veered too far down the second pitfall of robot characters: They’re too dang preachy.
Nowadays a robot cannot be in a comic book without it standing as a symbol for some emotional outcast, or how we mistreat those we view as “The Other.” There are people suffering out there in the world, and to escape feeling bad about it we’d like to read about colorful characters who can help them, characters we’d like to be.
We don’t want to read a morality play about a hunk of metal which reminds us how little we cared about the very people we turned to comic books to make us feel better about not caring for in the first place. Capiche’?
This I call “The Machine Man Boondoggle.” Marvel’s Machine Man, the current star of Marvel Zombies, is cool when he’s walking around on his metal stilt legs or using his arms as machine guns, but he is WAY uncool when he’s love lorn for other robots and/or respect from people.
I already know what real pain is, I’m a human being. I don’t need a robot to remind me. That’s just insulting, and if I have to read about a love-lorn robot one more time, I’m gonna’ reboot.
Speaking of which:
Marvel revisited the “Robot as Hero” thing again with an Avenger named The Vision, and to a lesser extent with Wonderman. What, you didn’t know that Wonderman is a robot? Girlfriend, please. Half of the Avengers are robots.
The Vision is the “Martian Manhunter” of the Avengers, the weird green guy who hangs around all stoic and spooky providing “Heart” or “Loyalty” or some other unquantifiable team-building glue that fixes them to the roster year after year. That the Vision is a robot is sometimes played up for comedy, sometimes for Pinocchio-esque tragedy.
It, i.e. the Vision DID get to moonlight as a neck messager when it married noted psycho-whack-job and slutty dresser the Scarlet Witch back in the 80’s, a union that may or may not have produced two heroic children and a LOT of questions.
“How did you, I mean, with a lady, if as a robot you, to be frank, uhm..”
“Magic, got it!.”
DEATH BE NOT MECHANICAL
The Vision and Wonderman spell out the third biggest problem with Robo-Heroes. Even though superheroes die and come back all the time, it’s even worse with robots. As mechanical being they get blown up, shredded, mind wiped and generally fragged more often then their human cohorts, yet return more often because they can have their systems backed-up, downloaded, rebuilt or what have you.
Predictable storytelling is the death-knell of the comic book industry, and as sure as Batman’s going to drive a black car, a robot sure hero is going to blow up and be rebuilt.
OR GO ROGUE! DC’s Red Tornado is a robot, and on one of his few appearances on the Batman Brave and the Bold cartoon he had to go evil due to faulty programming. It makes robots seem like more trouble than they’re worth when half the time they show up they’re going to ADD to the problem by turning evil.
The only robot I’ll give two usb chords for is M-11, the non talking, non thinking robot buddy of Marvel’s Agents of Atlas. M-11 goes where he’s told, does what he’s told and blows up whatever he’s programmed to feel like blowing up!
It may sound insensitive to robots, who might I point out have no feelings, but robots should not be sympathetic characters desperate for acceptance. Those are human beings. Robots should be mechanical face-smashers who take a licking and keep on ticking…LITERALLY!