Friday, July 20, 2007

Comic Book Robot Design in the 50s

By the time the 50s rolled around, robots had been streamlined considerably. Gone were the boxy behemoths that battled Golden Age heroes. Replacing them were slimmer, more agile successors. These robots seemed to take on a bit more of a human look. Here are some of my favourite examples in this next stage in the evolution of robot design:

When I think ‘50s robot’, I immediately think of Bob Powell’s cover to Avenger #3. This series may have been short-lived, but Powell’s Robot Robber had lasting impact. He has so many cool features, beginning with his size. He is no giant, but sufficiently larger than a human to be intimidating. His is somewhat humanoid in shape, but I like the fact that his torso is so large that his legs come out the sides. He looks like a prototype for the Go-Bots. Another cool design feature is how his arms and legs become much larger at the elbow and knee, respectively. This gives the robot a real Popeye effect. Finally, his head is beyond cool, as it looks almost as though he is wearing a helmet and visor to hide his features. Powell hit the ball out of the park with this one. Alter Ego recently featured an homage cover, with Daredevil taking on the robot.

The 'more than a little disturbing' cover to Amazing Adventures #4 looks more like a pulp cover than a comic book cover. That makes perfect sense, as the publisher, Ziff-Davis, was a much larger player in the pulp world than it ever was in comics. This rather amorous “Love Robot” has some great features, including metallic blue hair. Unlike many robots from the 40s, the facial features on this Romeo are quite human. It’s not the robot’s advances that I find to be disturbing, but that the woman seems to be pretty into it. If there’s a word for robot-human sex, I’ve never heard of it. It’s too bad that this robot can’t be controlled by remote because three’s a crowd.

Another one of my all-time 50s comic book robots is the Iron Emperor from Blackhawk #42. He’s quite human in detail, especially his facial features. He comes across like some sort of fully articulated action figure – with enhanced dexterity from his hands and fingers. Even with all of these advances, he still has the single radio antenna atop his chrome dome, giving him a bit of a retro look. The thing I like most about this particular robot is that instead of shooting guns out of his chest, or laser beams out his eyes, he carries a simple Morning Star Mace for protection. This damsel doesn’t seem to have Robo-Fever like the blonde from Amazing Adventures. Overall, this is just great work by Reed Crandall.

DC’s sci-fi and adventure books featured a ton of great robots, but these guys from My Greatest Adventure #26 really stand out as a strong example of 50s robots. I can see the influence of two outside sources on robots such as these. First, this type of skinny-legged destructive giant brings to mind the tripods from War of the Worlds. Secondly, the notion of a creator losing control of a ‘good’ robot shows the impact that the likes of Asimov had on comic book creators. So many of DC’s writers (Edmond Hamilton, Gardner Fox, Otto Binder) had pulp fiction backgrounds, that it was inevitable that many of the Creator vs. Creation themes were to find their way into the funny pages. These robots are certainly menacing but something about their bulging eyeballs and lantern jaws makes them look a little dense.

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