Robots have been a part of comic books from the beginning, but they certainly weren’t the sleek, adamantium-shelled menaces we have today. The best word to describe comic book robots in the 40s would be Clunky. That’s not to say that they didn’t kick ass, but they just look a little soft in the middle when compared to latter day bots. Here are a few prime examples.
Perhaps the Godfather of all comic book robots is Bozo the Robot (yup, that’s right) who was a major feature for Quality’s Smash Comics. The look is completely comical by today’s standards, but he was probably cutting edge at the time. He actually brings to mind the earliest Iron Man armor from Tales of Suspense #39. Perhaps Tony Stark had a stack of Smash Comics in his POW camp. Even without a streamlined look, Bozo was plenty agile as can be seen on this cover to Smash Comics #5. Those alligators don’t seem at all fazed by the fact that they are chewing on tin.
Another early example of 40s robot design can be found on the cover to Pep Comics #1, featuring a trio of Irv Novick designed robots. The thing I love about these guys is how much they look like movie gangsters. I guess it’s appropriate seeing how the Shield is a federal agent. My guess is that Novick was trying to design metallic Jimmy Cagneys, and he did a great job. The weakest part of the design is most definitely the ‘skirt’ look that would later haunt both 1950s Robotman and 1960s Iron Man. The thing I like most about these particular gangster bots is the chest gun design. It’s just so cool that back in the day robots weren’t equipped with lasers, but still have to pack heat like everyone else.
The Justice Society had to take on robot threats more than once during the 40s, but none quite as distinctive as this particular ‘Metal Menace’. As far as I understand, this is actually a living metal being from Jupiter, but in my world, if it looks and walks like a robot, it’s a robot. He looks as though he was cobbled together by a 12-year old using scrap metal. I am not sure what the heck those antennae do, but they do give the robot a bit of an insectoid look. It must be a very well oiled machine if nobody in the JSA can hear him coming. Maybe Hawkman heard the robot but can’t warn the others because he doesn’t have a mouth.
Our final example of 40s robot design is from later in the decade and represents a slightly sleeker and shinier look – something that would carry over into sci-fi comics, pulps and movies in the 50s. This ultra cool robot was drawn by Alex Schomburg during his airbrush Xela period. Matt Groening was obviously a fan of this design as he used it for Bender on Futurama. The thing I like about this robot is the fact that he’s not afraid of rust, as he’s wading his way through a pond. He must be made of new alloy. The weakest part of the design is the car radio antenna atop his head, but I’ll cut my man Alex some slack, as he’s created the ultimate 40s robot.
Let me know if you’ve got any favourite comic book robot designs from the 40s. In the not-too-distant future, I’ll be looking at robot design in the 50s, 60s and 70s.