March 1980: Machine Man 15 Or is that what insurance adjusters actually do?


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Synopsis: Machine Man 15 was written by Tom DeFalco and drawn by Steve Ditko and opens with Aaron (Machine Man) Stack getting himself ready in the morning, along with his room-mate Peter. At Aaron’s job at Delmar Insurance, colleagues Pamela Quinn, Eddie Harris and Maggie Jones talk about Aaron as if he isn’t there, before the company boss calls for Aaron to his office. At the Alternative Resources Centre, prickly physicist Dr Violetta Todd is failing in her attempt to create a new fuel and since this is a comic, there’s an accident.

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This is where Aaron comes in as he is send by the boss to assess the damage and see what help Delmar Insurance can offer. Seeing the blazing fire, Aaron changes to Machine Man and flies in to find survivors. There are some and he saves them, but in doing so shows that he is mechanical in nature, this is not taken well. Machine Man then finds Dr Todd, who is now some kind of gaseous electro-magnetic being, who refers to itself as a monster and becomes enraged when Machine Man debates that. The former Dr Todd (who is later referred to as Ion, by the police for NO APPARENT REASON) attacks Machine Man, hoping that he will kill her and end this mockery of life she has left. Machine Man escapes, critically damaged and finds his way to a  local autoyard, where he is found by mechanic ‘Gears’ Garvin, who despite Machine Man’s attitude, helps him repair his arm and replaces his broken leg pieces with a single wheel, giving him mobility.

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Meanwhile Ion (really, didn’t call herself that at all) is on her rampage to be either killed or cured and ends up at the Baxter Building, home of the Fantastic Four, with two of them Benjamin J (The Thing) Grimm and Johnny (Human Torch) Storm, who get into a battle with the creature and when Machine Man follows the police reports and debris to the fight, is also attacked by the two of the four, because it’s comics.

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After quickly taking the pair of heroes out of the equation, Machine Man convinces Ion to chase him and he leads her to a meat market and uses the cold of the meat locker to change her temporarily to human form because SCIENCE and Machine Man decks her. He then waxes philosophically about her being able to rejoin humanity while he remains on the outside.

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Notes: When I first read this, I was less than impressed with the change in art from Jack Kirby to Steve Ditko and I get the impression I short changed this comic as a result. Through the podcasting work of Andrew Leyland, I’ve had a new perspective on Ditko’s work and when I re-read this, it was a lot better. It’s very silver age, but not in any bad way.. The pace is quick, moving the story along frenetically. Some details about Aaron’s job are glosssed over, but really it only serves to get Aaron to the fire.

The characterisation of the supporting cast, is at best minimal, giving the whole thing a sort of saturday morning cartoon feel. The characterisation of Machine Man himself is where the writing comes into it’s own. He’s human, he’s unpleasant, cantakerous and ascerbic, far from the android putting humanity on a pedastal trope.

The art, is where this comic rises and falls and it rises. Ditko has a very singular style and it’s used to great effect. The injured Machine Man flying is fantastic in it’s ungainly movement and the gaseous creature takes full advantage of Ditko’s skills. No one here looks heroic, the best thing about Kirby is often his downfall, everyone looked heroic and epic, but Ditko makes everyone look more lived in and real. The introduction of ‘Gears’ Garvin is handled well in the handful of panels he gets this story.

Overall this is a fun, very one off story comic and I may go back to the rest of the series before long.

Next Time: Miller and the Man without Fear


Addendum: This is the link for Palace of Glittering Delights, an Andrew Leyland podcast, where he has recently been reviewing the seminal Lee/Ditko run of Amazing Spider-Man.

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