Issue(s): Deathlok #1, Deathlok #2, Deathlok #3, Deathlok #4
This prestige format ($3.95 per issue) mini-series introduces a new Deathlok. The original Deathlok is mostly not covered in my project because his series in Astonishing Tales took place in the future (the future of 1990, appropriately enough, given when this series was published). But he did spend some time in the present day Marvel universe. The connection to the original series is minimal. There's a Harlan Ryker in this book; that was also the civilian name of the Deathlok villain Hellinger (Harlan also had a brother, Simon Ryker). And at one point Nick Fury sees this Deathlok and says he's surprised because he thought Deathlok was destroyed. But there's no direct references to the previous character (there may be other subtle things that i missed since i haven't gone through the original Deathlok's stories in detail). That said, the character's look is based directly on the originals and this series continues one of the best features of the original's story: the back and forth internal dialogue between Deathlok's human and computer sides.
The original Deathlok was previously a soldier, Luther Manning, before he was turned into a cyborg. One innovation with this new Deathlok, Michael Collins, is that he's a pacifist. So in an era of Big Gun characters like the Punisher and Cable, we have a character trapped inside the body of a robot killing machine that explicitly rejects lethal force. Superficially, of course, he looks like a Big Gun character, and his re-emergence in the 1990s probably contributes to the overall sense that the era was full of such characters, but the story is actually bucking that trend.
Another new aspect of this character is that he's African American. Dwayne McDuffie and the second artist on this series, Denys Cowan, will later be founders of Milestone Comics, which was created to address problems of under-representation in comics. The fact that Michael Collins is black is handled with no fanfare. He's not a jive talking stereotype and he's also not dealing overtly with problems of racism. He's a computer engineer at a high tech company (unaware that his work is being used for a weapons program), and he has a loving relationship with his wife and son.
It's also interesting to note that Michael Collins is a little older than your average Marvel super-hero. In addition to being old enough to have a son that seems older than Franklin Richards, he's got a mustache and maybe a receding hairline (i know anyone can have a mustache but in comics it tends to symbolize an older character). A lot of new characters being introduced around this time - Night Thrasher, the new Ghost Rider, Rage, Darkhawk, Sleepwalker(the human side) - are young. Teens or thereabouts. Cable, as a grizzled veteran, is an exception. But Collins is unique in being a middle aged man from a middle class family. Not "relatable" to a younger audience, perhaps. But he adds a different kind of diversity to Marvel in that sense.
Let's start with Collins' family situation. That's an opportunity to look at the Big Gun criticism and the Collins family's normal middle class existence AND remind ourselves that the first two issues of the series are drawn by Butch Guice, with all the cheesecake that implies.
I said there's nothing overtly about race/ethnicity in this series, but there may be some intentionally subtle things, like young Nick Collins designing a white super-hero character.
Michael goes to work at Cybertek, a Roxxon subsidiary, where he finds that his project's schedule has been unrealistically moved ahead. When Michael hacks into his superiors' files to find out why, he learns that the artificial limb technology he's been working for is actually part of the Deathlok weapons program. It turns out his friend and partner Jim Dworman knew about it. "Everybody who could handle it knew."
Michael goes home where, in some really nice writing, his wife Tracy tells him that she didn't marry a job, she married a man.
The next day, Michael goes to his boss, Harlan Ryker, and confronts him. Ryker claims to have not known that they were working on a weapons program, but we've already seen scenes that show otherwise. And Ryker is looking for a new brain for the Deathlok cyborg after the original one failed. So when Michael threatens to go to the press, Ryker shoots him with a dart. Tracy is told that Michael had an accident, and is in a coma. Michael's brain is transferred into the Deathlok body, and he's sent to the country of "Estrella" in South America (where they speak Portuguese). Deathlok has been rented to Clayton Burr, a Roxxon exec. Deathlok's job is to clear out a group of rebel guerrillas that are opposing the creation of a dam. Deathlok proceeds to slaughter the guerrillas...
...but Michael's brain begins to assert itself.
The computer tries to take control back, but Michael wins out, just before he would have killed a little girl.
Michael doesn't fully have control of the body yet, and he's taken back to Cybertek's American lab for a review. The mission was still considered a success since he wiped out most of the guerrillas. "Days later", as Cybertek's technicians are investigating what went wrong, Michael asserts control again.
He immediately initiates a "no killing" parameter.
And he ditches the helmet that allows Cybertek to control him.
Note that giving up the helmet also means giving up a number of "powers".
Michael escapes and tries to go home, but it doesn't work out.
He later tries to communicate to his son over the computer.
Deathlok realizes he needs to apply the lesson about being a better hero to himself, too, and that's how the first book ends.
At the beginning of issue #2, Deathlok rescues a guy from a group of muggers.
The guy's name is Jesus. He works as a sculptor for a haunted house at an amusement park on Coney Island. Jesus takes Deathlok to his house to help him hide from the police.
Meanwhile, Nick Fury starts to put pressure on Roxxon over the missing "weapon".
Fury doesn't yet know what's really going on, but Roxxon is nervous that SHIELD will get more involved. So they step up their efforts to find Deathlok. That includes keeping tabs on Michael's friend Jim Dworman, and Jim is eventually contacted by Michael. Michael asks Jim to steal the file on Estrella, and Roxxon allows Jim to steal it and transfer the file to Deathlok. Roxxon traces the file transfer and attacks Deathlok at Coney Island.
Roxxon's armored goons are being directed by a guy named Mainframe...
...who has no problem endangering civilians, and who can take over the Roxxon suits when the troops in them try to flee from Deathlok.
Mainframe could have taken control of Deathlok as well, if he hadn't ditched the helmet.
The attack on Deathlok is very public, and some reporters in a traffic helicopter film Deathlok clearly rescuing civilians from the armored goons attacks and fighting off the attack.
Deathlok (with a little help from Jesus) manages to fend off the attacks and eventually Roxxon calls them off because they are so public. Mainframe is arrested, and Deathlok gets away and heads to Estrella.
It's the footage from that battle that causes Nick Fury to recognize Deathlok (we are into issue #3 and the Denys Cowan art now).
In Estrella, Deathlok meets up with the remnants of the guerrilla forces that he attacked earlier. It turns out that the girl that he spared is the daughter of the leader. Deathlok convinces the guerrillas that he's on their side, and he leads an attack on the Roxxon dam.
The main concern is a force of giant mechanical ants.
During the fight, we learn that Deathlok's gun only works for him.
A Ben Jacobs was in charge of defending the Roxxon dam. This is the second time that Deathlok has gone up against Jacobs, who fought Deathlok with a tank when he was escaping in issue #1. The character will appear again. For now, Deathlok is able to force Jacobs to tell him where Ryker is, and then Deathlok blows up the dam.
Meanwhile, Ryker reaches out to a Shiro Yoshida to discuss an arms deal. You may recognize that name as the civilian name of Sunfire.
Deathlok returns to the US and goes after Ryker. He's met by Nick Fury and a giant Stane tank.
But Fury lets him proceed, with the idea that Deathlok will turn Ryker over to SHIELD. Instead, Ryker tempts Deathlok with the restoration of his brain to his real body.
Deathlok accompanies Ryker to Japan, where they meet Shiro Yoshida and conclude the negotiations on the sale of weapons from Cybertek. Shiro (Sunfire) is working for an older man named Yorimito who is pushing to get Japan to re-arm itself.
Sunfire sees it as a question of self-defense but Yorimito is secretly angling for a more aggressive stance. It's kind of a regression for Sunfire, recalling the way he was misled by older WWII dead-enders in his earliest appearances.
Yorimito stages attacks on both Sunfire and Deathlok, tricking each side into thinking that the other is attacking them.
And that primes them both for a Misunderstanding Fight.
Sunfire's powers are similar to the energy that Deathlok's gun fires, and Deathlok is able to reconfigure his gun to "guide" Sunfire's shots.
Once Deathlok has Sunfire subdued, he's able to convince him that they're both on the same side, and they go after Yorimito. But Yorimito has launched a nuke, so they have to concentrate on stopping that.
Deathlok is able to stop the nuke. Yorimito and Ryker are captured by SHIELD, who Deathlok called in soon after arriving in Japan. Ryker seemed to be legitimately willing to restore Deathlok to his human body even after the arms deal, and he asks Deathlok to lie and corroborate his story that he was trying to recover stolen weapons from Yorimito. Deathlok almost agrees, but then changes his mind and agrees to turn in evidence on Ryker. The theme of being a hero and doing the right thing is brought up again at the end, although it's a little lost after all the twists and turns.
The story ends with Nick Fury bringing a note to Michael's wife, Tracy, telling her that he's on a secret mission for SHIELD and not able to see her (Tracy was earlier led to believe that the cyborg that she saw was a robot that Michael had been working on, with corrupted AI that made it think that it was Michael).
A really nicely written launch. If i have a complaint it's that the story feels more like the start of a serial than a complete story in its own right. The fact that we suddenly go to Japan for a confrontation with Sunfire feels a little out of left field. If Deathlok became morally conflicted at that point, either by seriously being tempted by Ryker's promise to restore his body or, in the opposite direction, to kill Ryker, it might feel more thematically linked. But while there are feints in both directions, Deathlok remains pretty steady as a character throughout it all, contacting SHIELD about the arms deal the first chance he gets and only hesitating a few times regarding letting Ryker get away, and never doing more than temporarily disabling his no kill policy towards Ryker. It's not a bad thing, especially knowing that the book will return as an ongoing in 1991.
The art is generally pretty nice. Guice's cheesecake aside, his issues are very good and the art enhanced by the prestige format. And that's true of Cowan as well, at least for issue #3. I've always thought of Cowan's art as having a shaky quality to it, but it's much more solid looking in issue #3. The art does kind of fall apart on issue #4, which is not a surprise considering the "others" that needed to be involved in the inking. It always bugs me when a special project like this still faces deadline issues necessitating extra help.
Dwayne McDuffie & Gregory Wright will continue their writing partnership when Deathlok is brought back in the ongoing series. After the first issue, instead of co-writing the series, McDuffie and Wright will actually alternate, with each writer taking an arc or so. Denys Cowan will also remain as artist.
Quality Rating: B+
Chronological Placement Considerations: "Days" pass during issue #1, after Deathlok returns from Estrella. And more time passes between issues #1-2, enough time for there to have been multiple sightings of Deathlok in the Coney Island area, where he's captured about 40 muggers.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (11): show
According to Gregory Wright, Marvel was unable to use Luther Manning for legal reasons:
Posted by: Michael | July 18, 2015 2:29 PM
Yeah i debated including N'Gami. I've added him.
Posted by: fnord12 | July 18, 2015 2:32 PM
For some reason, I thought Luther Manning was black. So to me, Micheal Collins just seemed another black Deathlok.
I guess its impossible not make this feel like robocop.
Posted by: kveto | July 19, 2015 5:56 AM
In the interview Michael links to, Gregory Wright says "Dwayne also suggested that perhaps the person going to be put into the armor was black, because he felt the original maybe was supposed to be black."
Posted by: fnord12 | July 19, 2015 8:15 AM
kveto, I too always thought Luther Manning was black. Learn something new every day!
Posted by: Bill | July 19, 2015 4:50 PM
The original had grey skin and talked funny w/ many contractions, and no better than 70's Marvel writers wrote 'black' dialect, it's not an unreasonable assumption.
However, the four-part Cap appearance (with the great Zeck covers) which predated this by about five years featured a fully-human clone of Manning who was totally Caucasoid...
Posted by: BU | July 20, 2015 1:06 PM
Flashbacks and what not portray the Luthor Manning Deathlok as being white. And I always assumed the grayish skin on what remained on his human face was that of a deteriorated corpse, which also explains why his nose is gone too.
Posted by: Red Comet | October 10, 2015 8:28 PM
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