Character Spotlight: Deathlok!


Alek: Deathlok – The Demolisher! debuted in 1974, which blew me away since I thought Deathlok was one of the many “just give him a gun and let him kill people” characters of the 1990’s. (Aww….I miss the ’90’s.) And given that he’s a much older character than I thought, I wonder now if the classic cyborg tropes of the day (e.g., robotic killing machine struggles with his programming as his humanity is awakened by some memory of the past…eventually conquering the programming and fighting against his creators…being reunited with his family, but always fearing a return to his cold, unfeeling ways…) were started by Deathlok or just copied by him along the way.

One thing that always confused me about Deathlok was the fact that he looked like zombie/robot hybrid. With all of this technology, his creators couldn’t figure out a way to maintain the small bit of flesh that he had left? Now that I know he began in the 1970’s, it makes a bit more sense…as that was a time of resurgence for Marvel’s “monsters”. Deathlok would fit right in alongside Tomb of Dracula, Werewolf by Night and Morbius. Reading up on his origin, it makes me yearn for the batshit craziness of comics in the 1970’s:

“Colonel Luther Manning is an American soldier from Detroit, Michigan, who, after being fatally injured, is reanimated in a post-apocalyptic future (originally given the date of 1990) only to discover that what remains of his dead body has been turned into the experimental Deathlok cyborg by Simon Ryker. He verbally communicates with his symbiotic computer, to which he refers as the abbreviated “‘Puter”. He battles the evil corporate and military regimes that have taken over the United States, while simultaneously struggling not to lose his humanity. He battles Simon Ryker and the first War-Wolf. He battles Simon Ryker’s Super-Tank, and then begins a hunt for a “cyborg doctor”. He battles Simon Ryker as the Savior Machine, and his mind is ultimately transferred into a Luther Manning clone. He battles mutants alongside a time-traveling Spider-Man. He begins working for the CIA, encounters Godwulf for the first time, and is then finally sent back in time to the modern era. He battles the Devil-Slayer, but then battles demons alongside Devil-Slayer. He later becomes controlled by Mentallo and the Fixer and is sent to assassinate the President, but is stopped by the Thing and Nick Fury.”

Granted, this wikipedia entry is light in details…but Deathlok’s basic storyline was battle crazier and crazier machines…get your mind transferred into a clone of your original body…work for the CIA…then become mind-controlled assassin who targets the President of the United States. Oh yeah…and fight demons too. I love the 70’s!

(Sidenote: More love to the 70’s, as society thought there would be a post-apocalyptic future in 1990. It’s 2015 and we’re still going strong…kinda…I mean we’re still destroying the planet….but hey…we’re in the 10th season of a Kardashian related TV show…that’s progress, right???)

I remember Deathlok being the guest-star du jour during the 90’s. He popped up in every major book that I can remember…which was either due to his overall popularity and appeal as a character…or the fact that Marvel was trying to capture some of that Robocop magic (neither reason would surprise me). Yet, for being such a prominent character in the 90’s he’s been pretty much absent from the Marvel Universe for the past 20 years or so. There’s been a failed mini-series here and there…but nothing that matched his previous success. How could a character that was so “beloved” during the height of the comics boom be reduced to a poor caricature on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D?

While the 90’s version is what worked well in the past…if Marvel wants to reinvigorate the character…they need to go back to the “probably on LSD” days of the 70’s instead of the lame “cross-channel branding synergy” that they seem to doing instead. It’s a ridiculous character…why can’t we just have a little fun with it and push the concept out even more?

Comics have always taken themselves a little too seriously…but I think the power of the medium is the freedom that creators have to experiment. In a medium where stories are literally churned out…you’re allowed to have some missteps…you’re allowed to just throw crap on the wall and see what sticks.

That’s what Deathlok is…although I’m not sure if he’s the crap…or the wall.

I remember Deathlok being the guest-star du jour during the 90’s. He popped up in every major book that I can remember…which was either due to his overall popularity and appeal as a character…or the fact that Marvel was trying to capture some of that Robocop magic.

John: This is a character I don’t much care for. I don’t think he was ever drawn very well. There are a few incarnations of the character, each with their own uninteresting backgrounds and driving forces. His appearances on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. make me want to roll my eyes at an already weak show. I think he sucks.

The thing that concerns me is that Deathlok is one of those characters that was spitballed in a room full of editors throwing crap at a wall as Alek mentioned. Brainstorming is a great method to come up with new ideas and twists, but te problem is that you have to be ready to kill concepts that don’t have the wings to carry it beyond this stage. Deathlok is just one of a slew of these bright ideas. I admit that the concept has merit and could be interesting, but the execution on Deathlok has been wanting. In the end, I think the pressure for Marvel (along with the other major houses) to create new stuff has birthed way too many mediocre or weak story arcs and characters. Deathlok is one of them. Let him get lost in an alternate reality and leave it be.

Note: I’ve been pretty negative on this one. I have little love for Deathlok, but I’m also somewhat hungover so that could be making my outlook more dismal. I hate drinking on a random Wednesday night…

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