It looks as if the Marvel Age of Movies is still upon us. Avengers: Age of Ultron has already made a ton of money at the box office and is poised to make an awful lot more. More than a little of that success can be attributed to the marvelously wrought villainy of James Spader’s Ultron, a character who more than earns his place in the movie’s title.
As with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki in the first Avengers film, Ultron proves to be a match for even the Mighty Avengers. The robot menace not only gives the heroes a run for their money, he also plays a significant part in the creation of the Vision (Paul Bettany) who, along with the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver (Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson), are the latest Marvel Comics superheroes to appear on the big screen.
Robots, of course, are certainly not new to the comicbooks from which the Marvel Cinematic Universe draws its characters and ideas. Indeed, along with superheroes, gods and aliens, robots are arguably some of the most important characters in comics. To prove my point, I have put together a list of what I believe are the ten most interesting and important robot characters in comicbook history.
Before we get started let me point out a few criteria that I used to narrow down the field. They are pretty simple. First, I was looking for robots with at least a minimum level of human-like intelligence and unique personality. This means that as much as I love Doombots and Robot Supermen, they didn’t make the cut. Second, I was only interested in robots that have a basic human-like body design. That means that advanced AI programs that aren’t embodied in some traditional robot form didn’t make the list. (I’m looking at you, Brother Eye.) Third, this is a list of robots, not cyborgs. This means, obviously, that I could not include the character of Cyborg. It also means, less obviously, that Robotman is excluded as well; after all, there is a human brain inside his robot shell. Finally, I limited my list to robots that have their origins in comicbooks and left out robots that have played important roles in comics but were, nevertheless, not born in the medium. This means that you’ll find no Transformers here, no Micronauts, no C-3PO and no R2-D2. (For the sake of fairness, this also means, unfortunately, that I didn’t include Rom the Space Knight. Yes, I know, Rom is also a cyborg and not a robot, but it would have been nice to have included him.)
So, here they are, my top ten comicbook robots of all time. Perhaps, one day, they’ll all follow the lead of Ultron and the Vision and find their way onto the silver screen.
10. Victor Mancha
You know why Victor Mancha is cool? Well, for starters he is the son of Ultron, villianous star of Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, and the grandchild of original Ant-Man, Hank Pym. But, even better than that, Victor was an important member of two fabulous teams: The Runaways and Avengers A.I., where he never failed to bring genuinely human enthusiasm to his role as a superhero. I know that, technically, he may be a cyborg rather than a robot, but I’m going to let that pass because the twist here is that it is only his exterior that is human. At heart, he is pure machine.
Created by: Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona
First Appearance: Runaways vol 2. #1 (April 2005)
9. Machine Man
When comics legend Jack Kirby was tasked with adapting Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey for Marvel Comics in 1977, he wasn’t content with working with the rather limited cast of characters from the film. Instead, he created his own denizens of the, then, future twenty-first century. None are more memorable than Machine Man: The Living Robot. Raised as a human child, Machine Man was brought to a state of full human consciousness by the mysterious Monolith. Known by both the robotic name of “X-51” and the human name of “Aaron Stack,” no name suited him as well as “Mister Machine the Machine Man.”
Created by: Jack Kirby
First Appearance: 2001: A Space Odyssey #8 (July 1977)
8. Metal Men
What the Fantastic Four were to superheroes the Metal Men were to robots. Not so much a team as a family, a family that just so happened to be full of robots with quirky personalities and strange powers. Created by scientist Will Magnus, it’s a wonder that the Metal Men didn’t set the comicbook world on fire. Though they may have instead been relegated to B (or maybe even C) level status in the DC Universe , it’s clear that they should have been stars. Tactical Gold, powerful Lead, volatile Mercury, loyal Iron, hesitant Tin and confident Platinum: the team members’ powers came from the characteristics of their respective metals, but what made them memorable was their quirky personalities and ability to always bounce back from defeat.
Created by: Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru
First Appearance: Showcase #37 (March-April 1962)
7. Red Tornado
DC’s Red Tornado has one of the strangest origins in all of comics. Created by evil genius T.O. Morrow, the Red Tornado was subsequently vivified by an extraterrestrial sentient Tornado known as Ulthoon, The Tornado Tyrant of Rann. (Don’t ask.) Beginning his career as a member of the Justice Society of America, most of his career was spent as part of the better known Justice League. When the Red Tornado wasn’t making stupid mistakes that almost cost his team victory he was usually moping around feeling sorry for himself for not being a real human. After Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Tornado became an air elemental and things got really weird. For me, however, the Red Tornado, a.k.a. John Smith, is always up there in space, aboard the JLA satellite, pining for his humanity while keeping a vigilant watch upon the human world that he loves but to which he can never really belong.
Created by: Gardner Fox and Dick Dillin
First Appearance: Justice League of America #64 (August 1960)
One of Superman’s greatest villains, Braniac was responsible for shrinking the Kryptonian city of Kandor and preserving it under glass. Sometimes green-skinned and humanoid (and adorned with incredible head-gear), Brainiac was also known to take on a more mechanized and threatening form. Since his first appearance in 1958, Brainiac has provided a foil for the Man of Steel time and time again, playing the role of both an obsessed scientific collector and a truly deadly menace. On top of all that, his descendant, Brainiac 5, was the heart and soul of the futuristic Legion of Superheroes.
Created by: Otton Binder and Al Plastino
First Appearance: Action Comics #242 (July 1958)
5 – 1
Magnus, Robot Fighter was Russ Manning’s Tarzan of the future. In the year 4000 A.D., in the great continent-sprawling metropolis of North Am, Magnus is the only one who stands between humans and the hidden robot threat. Raised by the mysterious robot, 1A, Magnus was trained to understand secret robot language and to strike a blow against the ever growing robot menace with his unique steel-smashing powers. 1A was Kala to Magnus’ Tarzan.
Created by: Russ Manning
First Appearance: Magnus, Robot Fighter #1 (February 1963)
The Robot menace, Ultron, is a classic Avengers villain. Created by Avenger Hank Pym, Ultron is the ultimate Oedipal threat. He turns against his creator-father and builds a robot bride in the image of his mother. A central character in the last forty-five years of Avengers history, Ultron is not only responsible for some of the team’s most exciting battles but also for some of their most compelling human drama. He’s bad. Very bad. But the Avengers wouldn’t be the Avengers without him.
Created by: Roy Thomas and John Buscema
First Appearance: Avengers #55 (August 1968)
3. The Original Human Torch
One of the first and most significant superheroes of the Golden Age, the original Human Torch was a breakout star for Timely Comics, an early incarnation of what would become Marvel. Along with Captain America and the Sub-Mariner, the Human Torch battled the Axis powers of World War II. Created by scientist Phineas Horton, the android who burst into flames upon contact with the air was a misunderstood monster before teaming with his teen sidekick, Toro, to become a full-fledged superhero. The Human Torch gave his name and power set to the teenage member of the Fantastic Four and he gave his body to the android known as the Vision. Without him, one might argue, the Marvel Universe that we know today would never have been.
Created by: Carl Burgos
First Appearance: Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939)
2. Astro Boy
Astro Boy, also known as Mighty Atom, is not only an important manga character but is also centrally important for the origin and development of anime. Created by a scientist, Doctor Tenma, as an unsuccessful attempt to replace his lost son, Astro went on to become a powerful hero who battled aliens, evil robots and other, more decidedly human, threats. Astro can fly, has lasers in his fingers and is equipped with machine guns that fire from his butt. It is easy to see why Astro Boy has been a vibrant star in Japan, and around the world, for generations.
Created by: Osama Tezuka
First Appearance: Shonen (April 1951)
1. The Vision
Created by Ultron from the android body of the original Human Torch and programmed with the brain waves of anti-hero Wonder Man, the Vision is, nevertheless, thoroughly unique. His brooding presence was the emotional core of the Avengers for years and years and his quest to understand who, and what, he was served as the motivation for many of the team’s adventures and misadventures. The Vision is incredibly powerful, with the ability to fly, fire laser beams, and alter his body mass from intangible to diamond-hard, but he is most memorable for his identifiably human personality. We marveled when Ant-Man took his ant companions — Crosby, Stills and Nash — inside the android’s body. We cried along with him, when the offer of membership in the Avengers brought the Vision to tears. And we watched in wonder as the Vision and the Scarlet Witch fell madly in love. Of all comicbook robots, the Vision is clearly the most complex and interesting, the most heroic and, finally, the most human.
Created by: Roy Thomas, Stan Lee and John Buscema
First Appearance: The Avengers #57 (October 1968)