Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Comic Book Robot Design in the 70s

Here’s the thing; my thesis on 70s robots is a bit wonky as I believe that the first batch of 1970s robots appeared in 1965. I am talking about those mutant hunters known as the Sentinels. What sets them apart from earlier robots is a look that can be best described as ‘Sophisticated Evil’. 70s robots are well-made, sleek killing machines with a single purpose in life. They often have a very militaristic look to them and just reek of pure evil. These are not your father’s robots. These guys are all business.

Just one look at the Sentinels is enough to strike fear into the heart of a reader, never mind a mutant. The were fairly threatening when first introduced, but got really scary during the Thomas/Adams run at the tail end of the 60s. When the series was re-launched in the mid-70s, Dave Cockrum’s Sentinels kicked all kinds of ass. The Sentinels ushered in the most frightening period of comic book robotics, culminating in the Days of Future Past storyline. How cool was it to see those Danger Room Sentinels in X-Men: Last Stand?

Like the Sentinels, Ultron also first appeared in the 60s, but to me he is the perfect example of a 70s robot. Ultron is beautifully designed, very sleek and powerful. He’s got that frightening facial expression and he really just has one thing on his mind: destruction. Ultron is constantly undergoing upgrades, but keep the same basic design. He is a chrome killing machine. One of my most powerful memories of reading comics as a child was the battle sequence from Avengers #161, when Ultron dismantled the team with ease and Jarvis returns to see the mansion in shambles. I was so freaked out by Ultron back then. I still am a little.

The Construct’s Cannons are perhaps DC’s answers to the Sentinels, but the Construct is dedicated to wiping out all of humanity, not just muties. Their design borrows a bit from Ultron, but have some pretty cool features unique to them, especially their cannon blasting arms. These are designed for only one purpose: killing. In the 40s and 50s, many robots seemed to want to play checkers with Superboy. These guys would just want to destroy him. Of course, they might be more bark than bite as Willow makes pretty quick work of them were a pair of hooker boots. Justice League of America #142 remains one of my favourite comics of all time and the look of these Cannons, along with the Construct itself, is a big reason why.

Warren magazines featured some great robot designs, perhaps none better than this one from Creepy #104, which brings to mind Stormtroopers or Cylons. It has that military look, right down to the fact that it is wielding a weapon and the awesome gas mask. I would not want this guy chasing after me. We’ve obviously come a long way from Bozo the Robot. I love this cover sooooo much. I love this robot. I love Warren publications. Robots, Robots, Robots, indeed.


Anonymous said...

Why not "Robot Design in the '80"??
or '90s?
or 2000?

Anonymous said...

Hey, if you thought those Neal Adams Sentinels were scary, you're not alone. The shear terror of the invation in Xmen #56 could only be outdone by the climax in #59 "Do or Die, Baby"! I was on the edge of my seat! That story can still move me. They fooled me with the costume switch, and the sense of panic desperation is so real you can taste the fear in Scott's mouth! (Compare this to the almost comical origin of the Sentinels from back in X-men #14-15-16. No comparison at all.
But I have to agree, the end of all in X-men #142 "Days of Future Past", with everyone dying was certainly moving for me...the first time it was presented!