2001: A Space Odyssey #1-10
Issue(s): 2001: A Space Odyssey #1, 2001: A Space Odyssey #2, 2001: A Space Odyssey #3, 2001: A Space Odyssey #4, 2001: A Space Odyssey #5, 2001: A Space Odyssey #6, 2001: A Space Odyssey #7, 2001: A Space Odyssey #8, 2001: A Space Odyssey #9, 2001: A Space Odyssey #10
Now, you might be wondering what the heck this series is doing in a project covering Marvel's chronology. The short answer is that Machine Man debuts in this series. The truth is that, like the Eternals, this series was not intended to be part of Marvel continuity but, like the Eternals, it was eventually brought in. If you were only interested in Machine Man, you can easily skip the first 7 issues of this series without missing anything. The series makes a dramatic shift with issue #8 and effectively becomes a Machine Man series. Before that, he doesn't appear. But i thought it would be useful to do a quick (ha!) run through the entire series. If you'd like to skip right to the Machine Man part, click here.
The first six issues are very formulaic, although some variation is introduced with the latter half. The formula takes its cue from the movie: show a prehistoric human discovering a Monolith and gaining some new technological know-how from it, and then show a descendant in the future discovering a monolith, having a trippy space journey that lands them in a idyllic setting where they quickly grow old, die, and are then reborn as the floating space babies known as New Seeds.
The first two issues follow that formula exactly. A "neo-man" (Kirby is not going to worry about anthropological accuracy but then, neither did Kubrik) has already consulted the Monolith once and learned how to sneak up on his prey by climbing trees. A subsequent encounter with the Monolith teaches him to start fashioning weapons with stone blades. He uses one to kill a Zabu.
Then, in the year 2001, astronaut Woodrow Decker, a direct decedent of the Neo-man "Beast-Killer", is stranded on an asteroid with another astronaut named Mason. They find strange ruins on the asteroid, make their way inside, and are attacked by a tentacled alien.
Decker flees and finds a Monolith. He jumps into it...
...experiences some trippy scenes...
...and then winds up back on a farm.
As he walks around the farm he becomes old and tired...
...and soon dies and becomes a New Seed.
The second issue repeats this same format. In the past, Vira the She-Demon discovers fire thanks to the Monolith, and uses it to establish the first government among primitive man.
In the future, astronaut Vera Gentry is chased by aliens on Ganymede...
...and discovers a Monolith. Spacy trip.
Idyllic, familiar surroundings.
Grows old, dies, becomes New Seed.
Issues #3-4 also repeat that format, but devote a lot more time to the prehistoric phase, devoting all of issue #3 and half of issue #4 to the exploits of the conquering prehistoric chieftain, Marak, at the dawn of the Bronze Age.
Marak discovers an old man that has a bronze club that destroys Marak's stone axe, and Marak spares his life...
...and follows him to the Monolith that taught him how to create bronze tools. Marak has a vision of another leader, the woman Jalessa...
...and he has the old man create a number of tools, including bronze armor, weapons, and shields...
...as well as containers for transporting food and also the wheel. And Marak has his soldiers capture and domesticate horses.
Probably my favorite scene in the series is that panel with one of Marak's soldiers suggesting that they just eat the horses instead of trying to ride them.
Jalessa has her own Monolith...
...and when Marek eventually makes his way to her, they form a union.
Then, in the year 2001, Herbert Marik is commanding a space station that is getting bombarded by meteors. To ensure that the crew evacuates safely, he stays behind. But then he escapes through a Monolith that comes with the meteors.
In his idyllic post-trip environment, he finds his Jalessa analogue...
...and in the first real twist of the series, he opts to not age and die, and instead live out his life there.
Issues 5-6 forgo the prehistoric portion while still keeping essentially the same formula. They focus on Norton of New York, in 2040. In what may have been a response to the letters from superhero comics fans (see below), issue #5 opens with Norton experiencing comics the 2040 way, where you don't read them; you act them out.
Norton's superhero is the White Zero, who gains his powers from the zero on his forehead. If you're not getting that metaphor, see me after class.
Thanks to the appearance of a Monolith, Norton realizes that his mundane life is not allowing him to reach his potential, so he joins the Space Program. And they discover a capsule with a female alien.
More aliens show up.
The other astronauts can't understand what they want, but Norton, with his "comic book mentality"...
...immediately understands that they are after the "princess", and he needs to rescue her.
He winds up back in her home galaxy...
...and eventually helps her get away before he himself enters a Monolith where he gets to be a real superhero, with a star on his head...
...before aging and becoming a New Seed.
While chased by the "Princess's" pursuers, Norton responds to an explosion by saying "They've set fire to the universe!". Wild, crazy phrasing.
Issue #7 finally does something new, and focuses on a newly born New Seed.
It floats around, observing planets in various stages...
...and eventually takes two lovers from a post-apocalyptic world and uses their life essence to create life on a new world.
And that's basically it for anything really relating to 2001. I'll pause here and look at these issues a bit more before getting into issues #8-10, which cover Machine Man.
People looking for something very faithful to the film will be somewhat disappointed. In the movie, the Monolith doesn't float. You don't jump into it. The post-trip scenes are very different than the one in the movie; they bring people to comfortable places, often seemingly from their own past, and with other people, and then they age immediately and die. Whereas in the film it was that weird uncomfortably quiet mansion and the protagonist, alone, jumped from body to older body rather than simply aging. The inclusion of aliens of the bug-eyed monster variety might not seem appropriate. And the idea that there were multiple Monoliths on Earth that guided humanity throughout pre-history seems like a fundamental deviation not intended by the film. Seeing New Seeds talk and being privy to their thoughts was surely almost blasphemy.
But if you're not that particular, it is arguably true to the basic themes of the film. It's inevitable that a comic was going to seem like it was dumbing down the film concepts a bit, and any expansion was definitely going to take liberties. This is in part because the film left a lot of things deliberately unexplained. And a monthly comic just can't spend 15 pages showing a space shuttle docking at a space station. I really can't think of any other comic creator better suited to handle this series. Whether this series ought to have existed at all is a separate matter (the same could be argued of Arthur C. Clarke's sequels and the 2010 film sequel).
Issue #1 has a kind of thesis statement in a text piece. Very out there. A sample:
Still, the Monolith is a fictional element in a very real process. I believe that it is this process which intrigues us. And it is this underlying thought which has made SPACE ODYSSEY such an immortal product in the cinema, in literature and now -- all willing -- in comics.
As with the Eternals series, the lettercols are full of people writing in to ask how this series fits in to Marvel continuity. Are the New Seeds related to the Watchers? Were there also Monoliths in the Kree galaxy? How does this relate to the Eternals? The "princess" is obviously a Rigellian. Maybe Dr. Strange, or the Vision, or Moondragon should show up. Marvel tries to respond at first by saying that this is an alternate reality, "much in the same manner that our PLANET OF THE APES book is". But the questions keep coming. As we'll see with a lot of licensed material, there was obviously real pressure for everything to fit into the Marvel Universe. For the most part it's not even a question or a demand. It's just assumed and people want to know how it fits.
There are additional complaints from fans of the film ("I really liked your Treasury adaptation... but please stop your regular-sized book before any damage is done."), and more generally about the craft. Regular letter writer Ann Nichols complains of Kirby's "sophomoric captions and dialog", and other writers want to know where the series is going. Is it all just going to be repeats of the same formula? The response to this last complaint is that Kirby has a definite idea where the book is going and it is unfolding like chapters in a novel, and will be better absorbed when all of the issues are out. For the individual issues, "his focus is close", meaning that we're not seeing the larger picture yet. I have doubts that it was actually the case that Kirby was working off a larger plan; similar to the Eternals series, it seems Kirby was using the 2001 elements as a basic environment from which to create stories. There's no evidence that it's leading anywhere larger.
It is possible that the abrupt shift to focus on Machine Man was due to an abandonment of a larger story regarding the New Seeds because of fan reaction, but while i think Machine Man was a response to fan reaction i doubt it was at the expense of any developed plans. And anyway after 7 issue it was already past time to broaden the focus if that was the case.
Kirby's scripting is definitely "sophomoric" as it is on all of his writing at this time (for what it's worth, because of the metaphorical nature of this story it works better here than, say, Captain America). And the issues are definitely repetitive and directionless. But as a vehicle for Kirby's imagination, especially artistically, it's all you could ask for. Kirby gets to draw everything from cavemen to bronze age warriors to spaceships and aliens and spacey acid trips and giant floating space babies. My only complaint is that Kirby is so Kirby that even his mundane scenes - like the guys cosplaying as superheroes - are rendered so awesomely it's hard to see it as a set-up for the real majesty of the Monolith-influenced scenes.
We start with X-35, an out of control robot.
This marks the failure of the X series of "thinking machines" and the head of the project, Dr. Broadhurst, is forced to trigger the self-destruct sequence.
Each robot has a bomb in the back of its neck, and they'll all explode in the next 30 minutes. Broadhurst contacts a Dr. Abel Stack, who has taken his robot, X-51, home to attempt to imprint a human identity on it. He's named it Aaron, and it calls him father. He's removed the number from his forehead and given him a prosthetic face.
Also a costume, which is a little hard to square. Wouldn't regular clothes have made him feel more human?
But regardless, Abel Stack removes the bomb and tells Aaron that it is time to go. X-51 flies by "canceling the gravity equation".
For some reason, Abel can't just chuck the bomb into the woods. He has to stand there holding it while it explodes.
Aaron is unaware that his "father" has died.
It seemed that Abel Stack had explained the situation to his "son" ("the moment we've always talked about has come") but Aaron soon winds up in a big city, gets himself noticed...
...and is captured and brought to Broadhurst's facility. The man in charge of the military side of the project is Colonel Kragg.
Kragg and Broadhurst have disagreements on how X-51 is to be treated, but while they are arguing, a Monolith appears and allows X-51 to free himself.
The soldiers at the facility are unable to stop X-51 (sonic weapons seem to work best), but all he really wants is his face returned...
...so Broadhurst eventually convinces the military to stand down and he's given his face, and costume, back.
It's during this exchange that he dubs himself Mister Machine, which is what he's actually called (as opposed to Machine Man) in these issues.
Later, after leaving the facility, Mister Machine encounters the Monolith again, but he seems to reject it, and then when a little boy notices him near it, he lies about it, or perhaps actually no longer remembers it.
Notice also the reference to "the Marvel Super-Heroes". There are several references like this in the remaining issues of this series. Like the Eternals, the Marvel universe is discussed as if it is a fictional thing that only exists in comic books.
After fighting off some flying egg devices sent by some corny villains...
...the boy describes them to the police as something that Hydra would use, and suggests that they bring in Nick Fury. His mom dismisses it as comic book talk.
The villains are part of the Brothership of Hades, run by a demonic looking creature.
Mister Machine learns from the family that he's picked-up by that his father was killed, but before he can have a proper reaction to that, the Brothership arrives, threatening to kill the family with a suicide bomber if Mister Machine won't go with them. So he does, and they dismantle him.
We learn that the Lucifer creature is really a supercomputer that wants to remove all free will from the world.
Mister Machine defeats the computer and rescues the family. Standard super-hero stuff now.
Even Mister Machine says to himself, "By all the old cliches!".
Although you can read the boy's constant references to comic book super-heroes as some kind of meta commentary.
Mister Machine's powers are manifold, but two things familiar to later readers will be his ability to extend his limbs (although without the hydraulic extenders that will later be drawn)...
...and his ability to control them remotely.
It's almost heartbreaking to think that Kirby gave up on whatever his plans were for the 2001 series to try to accommodate fan demand, so i prefer to think that themes about Machine Man and the Brotherhood's supercomputer were inspired by HAL 9000. But Marvel had been doing "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" type stories since at least the introduction of the Vision and this isn't covering new ground. Still, the Machine Man becomes an enduring character and indeed after this issue the series is restarted with a new #1 as Machine Man.
There are multiple layers to consider when asking about how this fits into continuity. There's the fact that this is coming off of a film that is quite obviously not part of the Marvel universe. We could fanfic the hell out of it; Marak and Jalessa are good candidates for Eternals (even Marek's rejection of the Monolith could be seen as a symbolic representation that the Eternals have evolved as far as they can; unlike regular humans but like the Kree they don't have any further potential), the "princess" certainly could have been a Rigellian, the Monoliths could have been the device that the Celestials used to experiment and modify their species (or they are portals sent through time by the Chief Examiner to get people into Questprobe games!). The New Seeds could really be out there; in addition to the Watcher we've seen the basic giant baby template as an endpoint of human evolution in Alpha the Ultimate Mutant and Reed Richards friend from Fantastic Four #215-216, among others. Scenes in the future obviously only represent alternate realities and the stuff in the past could have been one-off aberrations rather than fundamental changes to human evolution. Or we could discard the first 7 issues entirely and just start with the introduction of X-51, which seems to take place in the present day and doesn't show any other time periods. That just leaves us with the question of the Monoliths, but considering the way Machine Man seems to reject and forget them after issue #9 (there is no Monolith in #10; it's the only issue of the series to not feature one), they could be written off as almost anything: a programming glitch, something sent by the Brotherhood, etc..
Finally there's the fact that "Marvel" is only a fictional universe in this series. That was ignored for the Eternals series and the same could be done here. It's easy enough considering that Marvel comics are published in the Marvel universe, and we've seen other examples of people outside the New York area not really believing that super-heroes exist.
In any event, i don't think that Marvel ever references the stuff in the 2001 series again outside of the fact that it's where Machine Man and support characters Broadhurst and Kragg came from.
Quality Rating: C-
Chronological Placement Considerations: See above for what this is doing in this project at all. Beyond that, Machine Man next appears in Machine Man #1, and it's not a direct continuation, storywise.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
The lady Norton runs into seems to be wearing Granny Goodness' costume(from DC's New Gods).
Posted by: Mark Drummond | June 7, 2013 4:05 PM
This is the first I truly learned of 2001 #9-10, and you know something?
They read like a parody of the android Captain Marvel, the one created by Carl Burgos for MF Enterprises in 1966. Down to the odd coloring and eyes, the splitting members and the somewhat meta-aware youngster fan. Both even leave behind the Earth they know early on their careers, never to return.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | August 21, 2013 9:40 PM
The Monolith appears again in Alex Ross' EARTH X miniseries (or is it UNIVERSE X?). So does Rom, for that matter. I don't know where fnord's project stands on "alternate future" stories like EARTH X, but it does validate the idea that 2001 somehow functions within the Marvel Universe.
Posted by: Jay Patrick | August 22, 2013 8:07 PM
For perspective, Marvel lists the world of Planet of the Apes as one of their alternate future Marvel Earths (based on the Planet of the Apes comics they published in the 1970s). It was listed in the Official Handbook:Alternate Universes comic, in the back-matter.
Posted by: Chris Kafka | August 22, 2013 8:24 PM
I think they got around ROM in Earth X by just having his humanoid form and someone referring to him as "the greatest of the Spaceknights".
And honestly with all the other weird evolutionary means in this universe, I don't know if they should have had enough room for Kubrick/Clarke's Monolith.
Posted by: Ataru320 | August 23, 2013 9:23 AM
Ataru, that is how they referred to Rom in Earth X, but my point was that they were making an effort to remind us that the various licensed properties were still a part of the Marvel Universe, even if they had to be cagey with the names. I believe the Micronauts characters appeared at around that time, too, though the word "Mictonauts" was not used.
Posted by: Jay Patrick | August 23, 2013 1:17 PM
Yeah Marvel seems to like to think that if ever happened in 616, it's still there even if they have no control over it anymore. (I was laughing at the "mutation" of Godzilla in a later comic recently) Honestly it would be funny if they found a way to "refer" to the Transformers in some massive companywide event considering those comics were there too. (and rather notable at that) Really all Marvel could do is just say "that happened in another universe with similar characters" but it does feel like to them "if it was documented and we haven't said so, it's 616". (of course ROM and the Micronauts aren't really that well known anymore while Godzill and Transformers remain huge franchises...)
Posted by: Ataru320 | August 23, 2013 1:25 PM
Theoretically they could use CIrcuit-Breaker from TRANFORMERS any time they wanted too. Put a generic robot behind her and people would get the idea...
Posted by: Jay Patrick | August 23, 2013 2:42 PM
Marvel owns the right to all the Space Knights, except ROM, and the Dire Wraiths, because Marvel created all those characters and likenesses. It's just ROM that is not Marvel property.
Posted by: Chris Kafka | August 23, 2013 5:41 PM
I was gonna say that the stuff with X-51 in Earth-X now makes sense. But it still doesn't make sense - now I simply know where it all came from.
Posted by: Erik Beck | March 30, 2015 9:44 PM
Seeing as you asked about the licence, the 2001 adaptation came about as a tie-in to the first tv broadcast of the film. Don't think Kirby had anything to do with that; its possible he then pushed for the assignment, but I guess he would have been the obvious choice to do it anyway.
Posted by: Feral Prole | October 9, 2015 12:46 AM
I revisited your review to see if it could shed any light on the "monolith" currently being featured in Agents of SHIELD.
Posted by: cullen | October 27, 2015 11:46 PM
Around the same time, Kirby was also working on a comics adaptation of that other great 60s enigma, The Prisoner, but that never got past some very striking initial pages. It would have been interesting to see what he would have done with that.
Posted by: The Small Lebowski | January 4, 2018 8:54 PM
My theory is that, with the monster hit that "Star Wars" was, when Kirby was negotiating his return to Marvel, they flat-out asked him to adapt a sci-fi movie, and there weren't any, really. Maybe "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," but that wouldn't be as appropriate for Kirby and anyway, it would have been the wrong time. Lucas actively worked to get a comic book on the stands before the movie came out. Spielberg didn't, not that it mattered to "Close Encounters"s success. His next two movies, "1941" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark," did have comic book tie-ins.
Anyway, I think Marvel was hoping Kirby could recapture that spark, and unless he wants to rework some b-movie, "2001" was the best they could come up with without going back and trying to get the rights to "Flash Gordon" or "Buck Rogers" (which Lucas had originally intended to do with "Star Wars.") "2001" was the only thing anyone could think of that they could get the rights for.
I would guess that "The Prisoner" fell into the same category - what popular/cult media property does Jack want to do? - which is why Kirby started doing an adaptation, but that failed even sooner than "2001."
Posted by: ChrisW | January 4, 2018 10:27 PM
Star Wars wasn't released until May of '77. The cover date of 2001 #1 is December '76 and it would have been released even earlier. So Star Wars (certainly the phenomenon it became) probably wouldn't have had anything to do with this, though the deal to do the Star Wars comic may have at least been in the works.
Posted by: Morgan Wick | January 5, 2018 12:11 AM
It's outside the scope of this project, but I recommend anyone who hasn't read it pick up a copy of the Marvel Treasury adaptation. It's just gorgeous.
Posted by: Andrew | January 5, 2018 7:16 AM
Kirby's take on 'The Prisoner' couldn't have turned out any worse than the eventual comicbook sequel by Dean Motter, which reads more like John Le Carre on a bad day than Patrick McGoohan.
Posted by: Oliver | January 5, 2018 7:54 AM
Marvel did publish an adaptation of Close Encounters by Walt Simonson.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | January 6, 2018 2:36 PM
Ok, if my speculations weren't 100% wrong, they were close enough. I haven't been able to find when the adaptation of "Close Encounters" came out. I admit I didn't look too hard, but this link says Simonson was working on it before it was released, even if he was still doing pencils after it was in theaters. That can probably be chalked up to ignorance of the lead time required for comics relative to movies.
The only thing I may possibly have been right about was that Kirby's return came around the same time as the "Star Wars" adaptation. My understanding is that Lucas was very interested in having the comic book out first so kids might be familiar with the story first, but I've looked up "Star Wars" #1's cover date and it wasn't that far in advance of the movie. The deal would certainly have been in the works by then, but it's unlikely that it had much to do with Kirby doing 2001.
Posted by: ChrisW | January 9, 2018 9:18 PM
Regarding the genesis of the 2001 comic, I think two things were coming together here. One, certain types of science fiction movies and television shows were very popular in the 70s (before Star Wars), particularly among teenage boys. I'm thinking specifically of the Planet of the Apes movies, Logan's Run, the Star Trek show, etc. 2001 is more high-minded and challenging than those, but was part of the prevailing trends in science fiction of the time (based on ideas and "what if?" scenarios). Star Wars changed all of this by focusing on visual storytelling and action instead of scientific speculation (being a fantasy film that happens to take place in a galaxy far far away). I agree that Kirby likely started working on the 2001 comic before Star Wars started production.
Second, Jack Kirby throughout the seventies grew more and more interested in themes about the nature of mankind, mythical archetypes, cosmic ideas, and so forth. You can trace it back from the trippier stories in Fantastic Four through his Fourth World stories for D.C., and forward. Kubrick's film about the nature of human evolution was right up his alley (as was Erich von Daniken's pseudo-historical non-fiction book Chariot of the Gods, which was as much fiction as 2001).
Also worth noting, that while most films have a short theatrical life, 2001 was still making money ten years later, through revival screenings (often at midnight). It was still prominent in the culture in the mid-70s.
Posted by: James | January 10, 2018 7:30 AM
Comments are now closed.
|SuperMegaMonkey home | Comics Chronology home|