Issue(s): Deathlok #2, Deathlok #3, Deathlok #4, Deathlok #5
One thing that is immediately noticeable is that the series gets a lot more political, specifically about identity politics. When i read these the first time, i saw the parallel that was being made between cyborgs (and robots) in the Marvel universe and the experiences of black people living as minorities in America. That parallel is overtly made. But something i wouldn't have been tuned into at all when i first read these was how much of a parallel there is between cyborgs and transgendered people. Reading it now, when discussion of trangender is more mainstream, it seems obvious, but it would have been completely over my head at the time ("at the time" being when i picked these issues up in bargain bins after the comics market crash after 1994; i did not buy these issues in realtime).
What's kind of disappointing is how these topics are mixed in with seemingly silly and kiddie super-concepts like "Capturebots" and a "Mechadoom" that is indeed a mechanical Dr. Doom (at least the character appearing on the cover of issue #4 isn't named Brain Drain like i would have thought). I would not have touched a comic in 1991 promising "Capturebots". Which is a shame when there is actually some intelligent stuff going on inside. Overall the arc is kind of a mixed bag, with a questionable use of Ultron and some other things like that, and maybe a little heavy handed or even illogical on the messaging, but on balance it's an interesting and worthwhile effort.
The story starts with Forge and Misty Knight fighting off those Capturebots. These two characters have never appeared on panel together before so you may wonder what they are doing together now, but the answer is that they are both technically cyborgs. Misty has a bionic arm and Forge has a bionic hand and leg.
Forge is captured. Misty goes to Deathlok for help. How does she know Deathlok? The answer is that he's been surfing the (proto-) internet for clues about his missing body, and he's been noticed by others. More on that in a second. Here's Misty's first face to face meeting with Deathlok.
Misty's reaction to Deathlok's roommate Jesus was the first thing that caught my attention. Substitute "cisgendered" for "fully".
She then refers to cyborgs and robots under an umbrella term called "cybernets".
I caught the references to passing and taking back the language the first time i read it, but i would have seen it only in terms of race. Now it feels like the decision to refer to all people with the same term is similar to how in the trans community the idea is to not judge or categorize people based on, for example, whether or not they have had surgery, use hormone therapy, or whatever. I don't know that McDuffie was intentionally making these connections. He explicitly refers to race a little further ahead, and what he has Deathlok and Misty talking about here is applicable in a different way to the disabled community, which may really have been what he was going for. But it's amazing how well the basic sentiments can be applied to various situations, and it shows how powerful metaphor in super-hero comics can be. To be clear, i'm probably personally way out of my depth talking about this stuff, but i can't help notice the similarities.
There's also a part of me that is screaming that the lumping together of Deathlok and Misty Knight is unbalanced. Deathlok is trapped in a corpse animated by a robot body, and he shares a brain with a computer. Misty Knight has her arm replaced. It trivializes the former to lump him in with the latter. But that is actually the point of the conversation that Deathlok and Misty are having in the scans above. I do find the conversation to be a bit too expository, and the introduction of a never before seen "community" in the Marvel universe, creating previously unseen connections between the likes of Misty Knight and Forge (let alone some of the other characters we'll meet), does make me a little uncomfortable from a continuity geek perspective. But i still like that this stuff is being tackled; it's something that i think has been a little too subtextual in the X-books so going a little overboard in the other direction here might have helped balance things out.
Misty tells Deathlok that the Capturebots have been kidnapping lots of "cybernetics" (or "netters", the slang term). Deathlok initially doesn't think it's his problem since he's occupied with getting back in his real body. But Misty points out that the Capturebots will be coming for him too, and he agrees to help. They are then attacked by a capture bot. Deathlok destroys it but it blows up Misty's car in the process. And they're not able to get a cab to Misty's office.
At her office we get to the overt race parallel (as if the cab sequence didn't make it clear)(and also note a more technical point, that Deathlok has to drink Ensure for nourishment because his stomach can't digest solid food).
Note Misty's promise to help Deathlok get his real body back. She will appear again later in this series.
Misty is waiting for some of Forge's "friends" to contact her to help with his capture, but in the meantime she takes Deathlok to where one of the capturebots was destroyed. He decides to try to repair it so that it can take them to its place of origin. After a little hijinx...
...he manages to do that, and he and Misty are taken to an undersea facility where we see that a number of cyborgs and robots have been captured.
Going around the circle, that is Forge, Ultron, Bushwacker, Ruby Thursday, Jocasta (or at least her head), and Machine Man. Ruby Thursday surprised me. It is true that Steve Gerber described her head as an "organic computer" in her first appearance, but i guess i just think of her as being Gerber Weirdness as opposed to a cyborg.
And it appears that Dr. Doom is the person responsible for the kidnappings.
"Doom" is depicted as a scary threat. Deathlok's computer is unable to scan his armor, and immediately begins working on a retreat plan.
Misty winds up getting her bionic arm blown off (I feel like a "not again!" is in order here, since this just happened in Namor #10)
Deathlok fares a little better, and i suppose now is a good time to mention that a text piece in issue #2 says that Deathlok's chassis is made of adamantium.
Their fight takes them to another section of the undersea facility where it turns out that Doombots are being manufactured.
And at this point Deathlok asks his computer to see if the Doom that they are fighting is also a Doombot, and it turns out that it is. According to Deathlok, "that changes everything!", and now the Doombot is easily dispatched.
I've noted this before a few times (e.g. when the Avengers were fighting the Hulk in Hulk #321), but i don't see how it can be that when you're fighting someone like Dr. Doom, the only thing that is keeping you from winning is that you're too nice a guy that refuses to go all out. You go all out against Dr. Doom (or the Hulk). Your best effort might hurt him a little if you're lucky, it probably won't kill him. I can see this type of thing working when it's Spider-Man holding back because he thinks he's fighting regular humans. But i don't see it when someone is fighting Dr. Doom. I do accept that Deathlok, since he's a new hero, might hold back, but i don't think Deathlok even at full power should be able to penetrate Dr. Doom's forcefield, even if the real Doom isn't behind it. And if the Doombot is one of the lesser quality ones that crumble with a touch (as we'll see will be the case with Doombots later in this arc), then it shouldn't have been giving Deathlok so much trouble all along.
Anyway, Deathlok collects some pieces of the Doombot, retrieves Misty, and leaves without freeing the other captives. He goes to Four Freedoms Plaza, and my first question is "Is Roberta part of the cybernet community?".
Mr. Fantastic constructs a new arm for Misty.
He also confuses Deathlok with the original one from the alternate future. Michael Collins is surprisingly uninterested in that...
...and instead shows Mr. Fantastic a piece of the Doombot he fought. Mr. Fantastic says that it is "utterly unlike anything I've seen from Doom before" and that it is "the most advanced robotics I've ever seen". He wants to wait for the rest of the Fantastic Four to get home from the West coast and then investigate the undersea lab, but Deathlok doesn't want to wait. So Mr. Fantastic lends him a sky cycle...
...and Deathlok returns to the base, this time getting attacked by Mechadoom.
Deathlok's systems are shut down, with 3 hours being needed before motor functions are restored. That time is spent in cyberspace (which Deathlok seems to be surprised to see, even though we saw him surfing it in the first part of this arc, and it looks the same), where the two netters battle.
We eventually learn that this facility was created by Kristoff, who was trying to prepare for the possibility that Dr. Doom might regain control of his Doombots (which did happen in Fantastic Four #350). Mechadoom was created via a process that tried to circumvent the Doombots' original program and accidentally created true artificial intelligence.
Mechadoom's account of things is fundamentally wrong. Kristoff never "conceived of a plot" to take over Latveria. Dr. Doom was thought killed in an unrelated incident, and as a contingency, Kristoff was brainwashed into thinking he was the real Doom and was put in charge of Latveria. Kristoff believed he was the real Dr. Doom the entire time he was in charge. He wouldn't have worried that the Doombots would revert to control of the real Dr. Doom based on their original programming. Mechadoom's knowledge of the situation may be fractured, and maybe he's filling in blanks based on things he's read in news reports (although the fact that he doesn't know why Kristoff abandoned this project suggests otherwise).
While we can, and in fact must, blame Mechadoom's account of things on bad data, i think probably Dwayne McDuffie didn't really know what had been going on with Doom. There should have at least been a footnote saying something like "Or that's what Mechadoom thinks, but see Fantastic Four #278 and Fantastic Four annual #20 for what was really going on". The fact that Mechadoom is mistaken here could suggest that he's not really fully functional, which in a way undermines the story McDuffie is trying to tell.
Anyway, the story is that Mechadoom is trying to replicate the situation that created himself to create more like him. Mechadoom's failures in this area give us a complimentary addition to Walt Simonson's "choose your own Doom" retcon from Fantastic Four #350. Any really goofy Dr. Dooms might have been malfunctioning bots created by Mechadoom.
Mechadoom has been kidnapping the other cybernetters in the hopes of learning how to recreate the artificial intelligence that he has. And, again, i can see why Mechadoom would be interested in robots or in cyborgs that have a computer brain opponent like Deathlok (or Coldblood), but i don't see how analyzing Forge's leg is going to do anyone any good.
While Mechadoom and Deathlok are communicating, the Fantastic Four, some of the the X-Men (Forge's "friends" that Misty referred to earlier), and a few other heroes like Misty Knight and the Vision show up.
Like i said, truly disposable Doombots. But it's thanks to a device from Mr. Fantastic.
And i guess this is meant to answer my forcefield complaint.
It was probably too soon for letters to have come in about the previous issue, but i wonder if someone around the Marvel office saw Deathlok blast away the Doombot's forcefield and had the same complaint as me.
At this point Deathlok's 3 hours are up and his mobility is restored. So he fights Mechadoom while the other heroes deal with the Doombots. Deathlok destroys Mechadoom's power source.
Deathlok forces Mechadoom to release and repair his captives.
Ultron isn't happy about having been captive. And... the other heroes just let him walk away? Sorry. You don't let the murderous robot that has sworn to wipe out all of humanity just walk away. I'd expect Mr. Fantastic or someone to say "Forget this Mechadoom nonsense. The real threat here is Ultron!".
The question of what to do with Mechadoom is debated, with Deathlok taking the position that he shouldn't be killed.
You'll notice that Storm is taking a different position here than she did in Wolverine #39.
The decision is left up to Deathlok.
But it's really left up to Ultron. I told you not to let him go.
Ultron gets away again with no one stopping him.
The issue ends with Deathlok quoting Du Bois again.
So, some interesting ideas here, but rather than really being integrated into the plot, they really kind of bookend a mundane adventure story with murky continuity. Things get a little dry in the middle, especially during the cyberspace encounter between Deathlok and Mechadoom. And another problem that occurs to me is that Deathlok has now just made connections with a whole bunch of other Marvel super-heroes, several of whom have resources that should be able to help him in the quest for his body. Granted, Deathlok already should have been getting help from SHIELD after the mini-series, so the idea of him getting outside help has already been swept under the rug a bit. I like the idea of Deathlok being on his own, but that can't happen if he's having half the Marvel universe over as guest stars.
Quality Rating: B-
Chronological Placement Considerations: Misty Knight is appearing in Namor at this time, so this needs to take place during a logical break in her appearances there. Also needs to fit into breaks for the X-Men and the Fantastic Four (the reference to the rest of the FF being on the West coast doesn't seem to refer to anything in particular). Coldblood is not shown in this arc except in a flashback evading capture by Mechadoom, but the MCP list him as as appearing here.
Since i don't see him in the present day sequences, i haven't listed him as a Character Appearing.
I should note that the Ultron in this story calls himself Ultron-11. When we saw him in Avengers West Coast #65-68, he was Ultron-13, and that same Ultron subsequently appeared in the Vibranium Vendetta annuals. Ultron-12 was "Mark", the one that gained a separate sentience and reformed. I don't know if the Ultron appearing here was meant to be another divergence, or if Ultron-13 transferred his consciousness to this body temporarily or reverted to the old numbering. I mention all this because the next time we see Ultron, in Avengers West Coast #89-91, he's a prisoner of the Vault, despite having escaped capture in both Vibranium Vendetta and this story. Unless i run into anything that contradicts it, i'm going to assume that he reverted to the old numbering and then got captured off panel somewhere and was sent to the Vault.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (5): showBushwacker, Deathlok (Michael Collins), Forge, Human Torch, Invisible Woman, Jesus Badalamente, Jocasta, Jubilee, Machine Man, Misty Knight, Mr. Fantastic, Roberta, Ruby Thursday, Storm, Thing, Ultron, Vision, Wolverine
This is the wrong approach to make a Deathlok series work. The concept of a secret government project to create cyborg warriors of the dead brings to mind lots of stories, but this isn't one of them. This is way too cheesey. Dwayne McDuffie was a very good writer in many respects, but the stories he wants to tell aren't appropriate for this title. Certainly not a title that is just being established.
Posted by: Chris | October 27, 2015 6:14 PM
I've always thought one shouldn't make a minority metaphor too close to the actual minority. You shouldn't act like mutants and homosexuals are the same thing any more than you should act like homosexuals and minority races are the same thing. Each groups have issues of their own and I'd think accusing a human minority of sharing the same issues as cybernets or mutants would get a "piss off, I'm not a walking wmd!" Or something among those lines. Alas there are times it seems writers try to make responses towards them far too similar ("have you ever tried not being a mutant?" As if there is ANY dispute that mutations are DNA based).
The Ultron thing is pretty weird. It seems strange that McDuffie would write a story in response to Doom being stingy with cash when Earth's Mightiest Heroes watching Ultron casually walk off (and the mere act of Ultron casually walking off like he's not even expecting resistance) seems like the bigger offense. You'd think he was the sort of guy who wouldn't overlook that. Could we like just... Blame encephalo-rays?
Posted by: Max_Spider | October 27, 2015 6:23 PM
Note that Bushwacker's face is unscarred in this story when it was scarred during his last fight with the Punisher.
Posted by: Michael | October 27, 2015 8:00 PM
Dwayne McDuffie was indeed a superb writer, but I fear he is trying way too hard here, in a framework that just does not play to his strengths.
Misty, in particular, comes across as way out of character. As noted, her cybernetic arm was never that big an issue for her before. Even if it were, there is still a fundamental difference between someone who has to wear long sleeves all the time and someone who has neither full control of his own brain nor any normal body part.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | October 28, 2015 7:49 AM
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