Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Machine mail

First, Betsy Thompson personally asked me to review her book, Walking Through Illusion, based probably on my last post. Like her, you too can send me anything through the mail that you think is of interest to Be Chill, Cease ill. I'm pleased as punch someone thinks that way of my humble scrivenings.


“A Persecuted Machine”

Maria, from the movie Metropolis, is probably the first "robot who thinks it's a person" in popular fiction, though Pinocchio has a claim on the concept, too, as much as does the organically-based Frankenstein, at least.

“Science like Pandora’s Box has released a marvel too hot to handle. What’s more, the advocate of Machine Man’s extinction is a vengeful and determined “Javert” who will track him down to the ends of the Earth.” ---Jack Kirby

Along with his colorful turns of phrase---more at home here on the text page where he is himself, free of the criticisms that traditionally come against his ear for dialogue---Machine Man’s first issues mixed Kirby’s pitch for the title with the opening of a conversation I’m sure he looked forward to having on the letters pages. Unlike these days, when a history lesson is de rigueur for the resurrection of characters for new titles, Kirby’s efforts were new, unpreviewed, personal occasions as well as properties. When he invites us to see our relationship to the title character to ourselves “howling to reduce him to harmless hardware,” he’s really giving us a panorama of the possibilities present in our post-person.

He really gets into his sensibilities to sympathize with every character, from his dark side in Ten-For to Dr. Spalding's desire to observe and the new reporter friend's sympathy (she's popping up in #5) to scarred, angry Colonel Kragg himself, with a directly related wound and fatalities that make his motivations, if not always his turn of phrase, believable.

“Our past performances demonstrate our eagerness to rid ourselves of what we consider and impending threat.” I wonder if an American of my generation would think so today? Or tomorrow? Certain reality shows may be some indication of a popular desire to sneer at decadence. I think, depending on the outward good our machine person could demonstrate, political agendas would use him as a distraction every August. His popularly- acknowledged existence would lead to many attempts to impose authority on his life. He would be considered a hoax by a quarter of the country at any given time, too!

I think Machine Man’s life would be closest to Brad and Angelina. (Now as to him adopting children...there was a lot of places to take Machine Man, if you think of him as a man first. Trick was, in 1978 he had to be competitive as a super hero first.) He would be the humanitarian, travelling abroad, retreating to a secure villa for privacy...he might even take up a residence in France. Though he’d be offered free land in Siberia if he would just go there, you can bet! I cannot blame him for realizing he should go Kerouac and look for the individuals and different flavors of regions, not deal with some monolith of anomie called “society.” But how long would it probably be before we found him hitchhiking again to the “sad, walking away music”?

As a being that doesn’t eat or presumably smell, it’s difficult to imagine how to touch his mind with the fellowship and history cuisine offers. There must be legions of robo-porn cartoon clips and anime I will never, hopefully, see, but Jack didn’t give him attributes readily available for romance and its biological, squishy component. I’m not saying he couldn’t appeal to older people, especially with all the identity questions on hand, but I definitely thought he was made to make kids say “Wow!” And childhood comes in all ages and sizes.

You could imagine our prototype post-person, probably under the best of circumstances, signing agreements not to work as an invading force for any nation...the trial for his citizenship will be one of the century, and would involve exciting, Kirby-perspective pointing!

Let’s face it, though: one successful Machine Man is one idea, but fifty other working models/ possible psychotics is a whole other matter. I’ve already pondered the story as Machine MEN. I think, like every great comic hero, he’s often profoundly alone. Would we---or Kirby?---have him any other way? There is no one to relate this condition to, though he may share common cause with any socially marginalized being. But then, to a point, while mental capacity may limit or engender one towards a particular similarity, ultimately people of all looks and capacities and social standings have found themselves befriending people of all stripes.

Machine Man really couldn’t be blamed for participating in the existence of another of his kind, or even the creation thereof. How would we feel about this cybernetic procreation? I think something akin to the fear of mutants would follow the founding of the Machine Man Family Reunion. But would they have t-shirts and hot dogs?

If we decided fear was against our better judgment, we might actually be rooting to have one of them as our friend. Notice the difference in some remote government machine man soldier under orders, and your reaction to one going for a walk with you. Kirby’s Machine Man quite self-consciously recognizes this.

When do pants stop being pants?

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