Machine Man Paperback by Tom Defalco, Herbe Trimpe and Barry Windsor-Smith (graphic novel review).

I was telling my dear brother about ‘Machine Man: The Complete Collection’ by Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko. ‘Complete?’ said he. ‘So it’s got the Barry Smith stuff as well?’ No, I admitted. In fact the ‘Complete Collection’ is quite incomplete as it doesn’t have the stories from Kirby’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ neither but, never mind, my bro lent me this volume which contains a four issue mini-series from 1988 with a story by Tom DeFalco set in 2020. With decade’s end looming nearer, it’s entertaining to see what was envisaged back then.

Society has changed. The machinery is much more advanced and most people have little work as the ubiquitous robots do nearly everything. Many are ‘vidiots’, who spend their time immersed in entertainment, not even perceiving the world around them. The biggest fish in the capitalist pond is Baintronics, founded by Machine Man’s old enemy Sunset Bain, using technology wrested from him. Machine Man has been dismantled and consigned to a packing case in a warehouse but an automated ‘bot scouring for rubbish, picks it up and discards it as obsolete.

At the dump, he’s recovered and reactivated by a gang of scavengers colloquially known as Midnight Wreckers, who are involved in the illegal robot trade. The midnight wreckers are regularly hunted down by Baintronics forces. When Sunset Bain discovers that Machine Man is reactivated, she fears for her business and safety and proceeds to hunt him down.

Machine Man is a Kirby concept, of course, and the Midnight Wreckers, though young adults, are somewhat reminiscent of those old Kirby kid gangs. The layouts for three quarters of it are by Herb Trimpe who picked up a lot from Jim Steranko and has always been good at the storytelling aspects of comicbooks even if his illustration skills weren’t terrific. The finished art and colouring is by one-time Kirby clone Barry Windsor-Smith who turns in a beautiful job as usual. Early in his career, Windsor-Smith dropped Kirby for the Pre-Raphaelites and began doing very detailed line-work which established him as one of the greats. Odd that he chose to work over Trimpe layouts but maybe he was rusty on panel-to-panel art after doing those high class expensive limited edition paintings. At any rate, the two men combine beautifully and Barry did his own layouts for the last issue. The detailed and beautiful colouring is much better than you get in the standard comicbooks of the time.

The plot’s gripping enough and the dialogue is clever. When scripting the latter issues of Machine Man’s own title in 1978, DeFalco had him wisecracking like Spider-Man and also went in too heavy with alliteration in both dialogue and captions. That was annoying. A decade later, he had lost those bad habits and the script is very good. Several characters from our hero’s past show up as well as the 2020 version of Iron Man, a bad guy working for Bain in the future.

Serving up 93 pages of solid story this is an enjoyable read with excellent visuals. It retailed for US $ 6.95 or CAN $ 9.25 when it was issued. Unfortunately, it now costs £19.99 second hand on the UK version of the world’s biggest book site. The price is probably due to art by the famous Barry Windsor-Smith but you might pick it up cheaper elsewhere. It’s worth trying.

Eamonn Murphy

December 2016

(pub: Marvel. 96 page graphic novel softcover, 1988. Price: around £19.99 (UK). ASIN: B00071OMTW)

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