Comics

There Are No Strings on Me: Ultron and the Top 10 Comicbook Robots

Ultron may be the most famous, but he's hardly alone in the ranks of comicbook automata. Here's a list of the 10 most interesting and important robot characters in comicbook history.

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)

 
6. Brainiac

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)

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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