Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Comic Book Robot of the Month: Jack Kirby's FABIAC

The story I Want to Be a Man from Harvey's Alarming Tales #2 (November, 1957) contains some great science fiction themes and may be one of the finest robot stories produced in the 50s. It all begins with a giant supercomputer named FABIAC who has developed artificial intelligence and communicates with the scientists, especially his creator David Randolph. I don't know the first time AI was used in comics, but it is handled very well here, and FABIAC ultimately requests that he be made into a man. Initially, his request is rejected but FABIAC claims that it is his right. It's a rather daunting task, compared to putting 'and elephant in a briefcase'. The supercomputer is retrofitted into a rather hulking robot, but FABIAC is delighted - thinking that he is now a real man.

FABIAC dreams of leaving the compound, but he is told to never go beyond the wall. Randolph receives an emergency call and returns to discover that FABIAC has destroyed himself after learning that he was not, in fact, a 'real man' after seeing himself in a mirror. Most of this is handled off screen, and we only are only shown the now dead FABIAC, lying face down with Randolph wishing that he'd been able to grant the robot his wish. It's a very effective tale, with some real emotional impact arising from both the notion of the right of a free thinking robot, and his inability to have a wish fully granted. I've got to think that this was the first robot suicide in comics. Kirby's design of both the computer giving a hint of what he'd produce in the years to come. FABIAC is as good as robots get.

3 comments:

Andrew Wahl said...

Scott:

Thanks for this review. I hadn't heard of Alarming Tales until earlier this year. The more I hear the more I like. It seems to be a transitional series for Kirby, one that offers clues to where he was headed. I'm thinking need to move this series higher up on the want list. (Sounds like it might be a good candidate for an odd-ball collected edition, too, if a publisher could track down the copyright holder.)

Cheers,
Andrew
http://ComicsBronzeAge.com

Scott M said...

Andrew

It would be great to see the whole series reprinted. It's still Harvey property, as far as I know.

This story, and many others from this period, was reprinted in the Shocking Tales digest from 1981 that I featured on 'Add It To My Want List' a while back. I did end up picking up a copy from Lone Star Comics.

Andrew Wahl said...

Thanks for the Shocking Tales tip. While I'll still want the originals for my collection, the 1981 digest will give me an excuse to write about 1957-58 stories on Comics Bronze Age : ) To the want list ...

Andrew