One day my read pile looked at me and said:
“Seriously. I’m huge. My bulk is ridiculous. You read too slow, slowface. Pick up the pace or like Khrushchev…I will bury you”.
One can’t seem to argue with such logic, so I sat down and finished one series in a night, in hopes that it would lessen the sensation of drowning in my own geekiness. Luckily it was only 4 issues long and a fairly quick read to boot given its crisp well plotted nature. I’m talking about the Machine Man 2020 mini series from the mid 80s.
This series written by Tom DeFalco with art mostly by Barry Windsor-Smith was a sequel of sorts to the main “Machine Man” title which ran for 19 issues in the late 70s. It tells the story of a cyberpunk near future, where robots and flying motorcycles are as common as bread and soup. The title character, Machine Man, had been deactivated for some 30 odd years before a group of hacker/pirate/emo “The Cure” listening kids find him in a junk yard and put him back together again. Machine Man then proceeds to help the punk kids defeat an evil industrialist who copied Machine Man’s programming and made all the said machines that are running a muck in Futuretown USA.
In other words for those that watch Futurama, Farnsworth’s cloned boy finds Bender, give him some brews, Bender fights MomCorp. It’s as simple as that.
…well maybe not that simple, as the series also introduces the character of Iron Man 2020, the mercenary nephew of the original Iron Man, who bit the big one sometime prior to the beginning of this chain of events. And this Iron Man has a contract to deliver Machine Man’s ass on a platter to said evil industrialist, or die trying.
A rather fun concept to be sure, but one that really makes this story easy to dismiss as not being a part of the main stream Marvel continuity, but rather some sort of alternate future like in a “What If” tale. Mainly because it supposes that Marvel would really allow Tony Stark to die and stay dead long enough for his nephew to get his sloppy seconds. But that aside, Iron Man 2020 does make a formidable villain for the piece and it is tons of fun to see the character of old Shell Head make like IG-88, bounty hunting like a champ all over Machine Man’s mechanical mug.
Having read the entire original run of Machine Man I have to agree that the character is done well when in the hands of Tom DeFalco much more than any other writer (including Jack Kirby). 2020 is therefore even more of a treat because DeFalco gets to really start from scratch with the character, cherry picking the best parts of the previous Machine Man continuity and making up the rest. Especially a new supporting cast of characters in the teenage hackers and the whole subculture they belong to (really channeling some solid William Gibson in the process.)
The result is a more focused character driven piece which allows for Machine Man to really shine, which is a great thing for those of you that really have no clue about what makes this clockwork man tick.
I have to admit that I didn’t really know much about the character prior to this year other than his hilarious beer fueled mayhem found in the pages of “Nextwave”. But after getting a great deal on a classic Jack Kirby drawn t shirt, I felt it was high time I read up on the adventures of old X-51 so that I could wear it without looking like a stooge.
So far 2020 is the best story I’ve read about the character, but in part that’s because I read the first 19 issues of his regular series too. There are subtle nods to that series in the book, which although you don’t really need to know about to enjoy the story, are kind of like Easter Eggs for those that took the time to slog through some of those stories.
As for the art, if I wasn’t a confirmed fan of Barry Windsor Smith before, I definitely am now. My first impression of everything was that I was reading a classic Valiant title such as Archer & Armstrong or Solar, Man of the Atom. And I forgot about how much I loved those comics, mainly because they looked awesome. Same thing with Conan.I really do love the way he frames shots with a sophisticated and intricate style. Plus anytime he gets to design basically a whole universe from scratch, whether that be the far future or the barbarian past, he takes his time and does it right.
His Machine Man looks more robotic, yet more realistic with an intensity not seen in the previous series (and that was drawn by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko for Pete’s Sake). The fight sequences are tight as hell and there’s no wasted movement or detail.
I guess in the end, the worst part about the entire series is that it only lasted for 4 issues. I feel that Machine Man could have been a much more well known character in the Marvel universe if he would have had 19 issues of this 2020 series instead of the sometimes confusing mess that was his original series. With solid writing, good supporting characters and villains, and excellent art, its no wonder this series was universally acclaimed when it was originally released.
But again, if it was praised so much, why weren’t we given more?
Evidently just to piss me off years later…it’s really a damn shame.