Monday Morning Paperback: Deathlok (The Godfather of Cyberpunk!) Monday Morning Paperback: Deathlok (The Godfather of Cyberpunk!)
“That’s inspired by a great Marvel comic, Deathlok, a guy whose brain and lungs were stuck into a cyborg’s body. See, he was to... Monday Morning Paperback: Deathlok (The Godfather of Cyberpunk!)

monday morning paperback

“That’s inspired by a great Marvel comic, Deathlok, a guy whose brain and lungs were stuck into a cyborg’s body. See, he was to be used as this ultimate killing machine and something backfired.”

-Dave Mustaine of Megadeth who wrote and performed the song PSYCHOTRON.

 

Today’s MMP recommendation goes to one of my favorite comic characters of all time-Deathlok the Demolisher.

During the early to mid-70s was the era in Marvel Comics that was referred to as the “Bronze Age”. This was a redefining period for the comics company, as they introduced more characters and concepts that would set them apart from their Silver age predecessors like Spiderman, Hulk and the Fantastic Four. Now with new characters ushering the Bronze age of Marvel (Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Man-Thing, Adam Warlock and Killraven) emerging on the scene, many readers who were somewhat tired of the sanitized super heroic clichés turned toward investing their reading time and of course, money into these groundbreaking titles. Within Marvel’s Bronze Age, one in particular had stood out among the rest. Not only for it’s exciting Sci-Fi premise, but also for being perhaps one of the most influential characters from that time period.

His name is Deathlok, A soldier turned cyborg who battles a madman’s privatized army while coming to terms with his lost humanity. Created by Rich Buckler, Deathlok and the dystopian world he lived in most likely were the inspiration for various science fiction movies. An easy comparison would be The Terminator and Robocop who shared familiar similarities to Marvel’s first Cyborg. And while we’re on the subject of classic 80s dystopia, Deathlok had tried to make his Escape from New York, while taking on cannibals way before Snake Plissken.

 

we can rebuild him

Released in August of 1974, Deathlok made his very first appearance in Astonishing Tales #25 and despite being inspired to some degree by the Six Million Dollar Man TV series, Deathlok‘s concept was original enough to stand on his own as well as have a more exciting concept than the classic television series. Whereas Steve Austin was a government operative in modern times, Deathlok became a programmed assassin whose world was filled with the horrors of cloning, genetic engineering, gene-splicing and cryogenics. Despite these aforementioned topics being featured in today’s world of information (Newspapers, Interwebs, etc.), the comic foresaw these almost 40 years ago.

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This uncertain future had occurred when the Roxxon Corporation enacted operation purge a projector that is capable of banishing all of Earth’s super powered humans and in return would offset the balance of power this giving the corporation the advantage of taking over America through conventional methods.

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Following the events of the purge, America had become a battlefield and conflict amassed to a global scale. During that time, Colonel Luther manning was involved in a training exercise, however when a concussion bomb went off by accident, manning became mortally wounded. Major Simon Ryker had preserved Luther’s remains in order to be utilized for the CIA’s “Alpha Mech” project, based on his knowledge and combat experience. Manning was the first to be selected for this Cyborg super soldier project.

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Ryker however, had his own agenda as far as Alpha Mech is concerned, it would be used as a means for his personal ambition which is world domination. The Cyborg was named Deathlok as in a man locked in death. Deathlok had regained his human memories and in doing so, rebelled against his superiors.

Once manning had learned that not only was he declared dead, but his wife remarried his best friend; Mike Travers, he took a personal oath of vengeance against his “Creator” Simon Ryker and in doing so, crush his Megalomaniac dreams once and for all. Thus began the adventures of Marvel’s Antihero.

 

gamechanger

 

Throughout his objective to stops Ryker, there were some notable highlights from Deathlok’s stint in astonishing tales that were nothing short of say, groundbreaking. Despite the restrictions imposed by the Comics code authority, this series did not necessarily skimp on its ultraviolent content. One scene in particular that caught my eye, goes to the ‘lok pulling out a 45 magnum and in doing so blows three dum-dum shells into his pursuer two through the body, one through the face.

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“Warning: Deathlok contains scenes of utraviolence. Reader discretion is advised”.

 

It’s apparent that Deathlok was created out of cynicism toward the United States government due to the fascist Nixon Watergate scandal and of course, the Vietnam war during the era of counter culture. One poignant scene albeit a controversial one, is when Manning discovers that both his wife and son are still alive, unfortunately Janice not being able to recognize Luther under the rotting face with steel limbs panics , shields their son while calling him a monster. It’s also interesting to note that this was among the first examples of an interracial romance which was still considered taboo during that time period.

This was the most poignant scene from the Comic.

This was the most poignant scene from the Comic.

 

This is the part in which Manning attempts to commit suicide via pointing his laser pistol to the brain. However, due to internal programs, he is not allowed to kill himself. Not only can he not live, but he’s incapable of taking his own life. Despondent and pissed off, Manning rips the American flag from his chest and stomps on it. A powerful dialog-free ending that sent patriotic readers on a hate mail frenzy.

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That being said, I can’t help but applaud this bold and impressive scene which no doubt was inspired by cynicism caused by the Watergate scandal.

Despite the comic’s nihilistic approach, there are a few humorous breaks that consist of Deathlok’s bickering with the implanted computer that he refers to as “Puter”. And it’s almost reminiscent to Dave & Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Or nowadays Michael Knight and KITT.

 

influence

The influence Deathlok has had in many major motion pictures is obvious. ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK copies Deathlok’s view of Manhattan as a violent, anarchic hell filled with maniacs, cannibals and gangs. THE TERMINATOR borrows Deathlok’s imagery (right down to the glowing red eye) and even gave him similar computer suggested responses. The ROBOCOP Films, however, are the more inspired example when in comparison; Deathlok was a good man, a soldier with a wife and young son, then he’s killed and resurrected as a Cyborg by a sinister organization. ROBOCOP, same thing. Alex Murphy; a good man, a Police officer with a wife and young son, suddenly he’s killed and resurrected as a Cyborg by a…you guessed it; a sinister organization.

robocop vs deathlok

Both Deathlok and Robocop are preprogrammed by the evil organizations yet resist the company’s brainwashing and attempts to destroy them. They recapture their real identities, keep their evil programmers from wiping their memories, pine away for their families and vow to do their best in life, despite their new situations. Both Protagonists find their heads transplanted into robot bodies. There are quite a few similarities between the comic and the ROBOCOP movies and it’s apparent how one had inspired the other.

Especially notable is a surreal battle between Deathlok and Ryker within a computer network. Keep in mind, that this concept was written and drawn more than two decades before both The Matrix and The Lawnmower Man debuted, not to mention before the concepts of cyberspace and virtual reality became popular.

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Cyberspace, you say? Before The Matrix, Assassin’s Creed, Lawnmower Man, Inception there was “The God Machine” story. Recognize!

 

Once again, there’s that scene right out of the original DEATHLOK comics (Circa 1970s) where he goes back to see his wife but now he’s been turned into a machine, so it’s a big, tragic scene. Moench notes “I have also heard that the people who wrote ROBOCOP are comic book fans, so it seems pretty likely.” “I didn’t realize Deathlok was so unique; I think it was ahead of its time. It’s only in retrospect that people remember it and are really obsessed with it. When we were doing him, there were no movies like that. Now it seems like all the big movies are like the comics we were doing in the early’70s. They’re 20 years behind!”

the future is now

Another rather interesting tidbit is how one may draw parallels from the comic to reality when once again, citing the scene in which Deathlok finally confronts Simon Ryker once and for all.

What makes this scenario interesting is how, in Astonishing Tales #35, Ryker justifies his attempts at establishing a new world order via The God Machine, in this heated exchange between The Cyborg protagonist and his power-mad creator that is somewhat prophetic: “It was for their own good! People need someone to watch over them!” To which Deathlok shouts back “So you elected yourself! Dictator and God all rolled into one! You’re mad, Riker! You’re insane!” The Major’s response to in turn, was “I merely brought our society to a logical conclusion, along a path it had long ago chosen for itself: benevolent control by an impassioned military-industrial complex.”

There was no mention of who was responsible for the bombing of Manhattan that has contributed to the decaying outlook of the city. Could some madman be held responsible, or was it the act of foreign terrorists? Deathlok’s deduction is that Ryker himself, may have caused the disaster in order to give him the opportunity to initiate his fascist policies. This is reflective of real life situations when certain politicians have often utilized catastrophic events such as the September 11 attacks, as a means to pass unconventional and controversial legislation such as the “Patriot Act” or the NSA monitoring phone conversations as a prime example. There are many within the populace that would and have easily embraced these policies when exchanging their personal freedoms for security.

As for the collection itself, Buckler’s art is reminiscent to John Buscema and Jim Steranko which isn’t a bad thing, however, Rich has a style of his own. He doesn’t skimp when it comes to high octane action panels or impressive storytelling aesthetics as with the aforementioned pages.

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The stories can be convoluted at times, but its still a fun read and what I also like about this book is the crossover between ‘lok and my other favorite Marvel character of all time-Captain America! Mike Zeck’s art always delivers and this 3 part saga concludes Manning’s arc.

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This is by all means a must read for its innovation and brave storytelling. Highly recommended accept no substitutes, Deathlok Lives!

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The reprints of Rich Buckler’s Deathlok opus are available for the Marvel Masterworks Hardcover Trade. Or if you’re on the go, try Comixology’s Deathlok the complete collection.

Stalks, out!

 

 

Author Image

Stalkeye

Stalkeye= anagram of Stalker and Snake Eyes. Satirist, Gamer, Artist and Pop Culture commentator- Stalks offers his outspoken views on on most things Geek related as well as WTF is wrong with the world today!

  • KilliK

    excellent tribute article, Stalkey. It’s ironic how such a groundbreaking and influential comic is so underrated and less known. I don how the character is depicted and used nowadays in the comics, but the version in the AOS tv show was horrible.

  • Tarmac492.1

    Great article mang!!! I like his bald Dawn of the Dead zombie resemblance in some of these drawings.

  • Dee

    This is a fucking excelling article, I feel like I learned about a piece of pop culture I never was aware of. Love the art too!

  • Tarmac492.1

    Lawnmower Man, that was a terrible movie. Absolutely nothing to do with the King story. Brett Leonard. He directed some early 90’s garbage. God, I miss crap like that!!!

  • KilliK

    I like Lawnmower Man..its videogame adaptation birthed a whole new “VR” genre in the early 90s.

  • Bop

    When I was an avid collector I never managed to complete the Astonishing Tales run. They were so expensive. Underrated comic. Thanks for the history lesson, Stalks.

  • Stalkeye

    Bro,its good to see you and Tar back. Hope all is well.
    Deathlok’s run sadly didn’t get the notoriety it so deserves because I’m certain most readers at the time were interested in Spider-Man or Superman comics.
    Its always the groundbreaking stuff that gets my attention span.

  • Stalkeye

    Thanks, S! I always saw Deathlok as another unsung concept that was long buried and forgotten to the extent that many Movie enthusiasts thought Robocop or even DC’s Cyborg came first. Buckler has a flair for storytelling and even though a minor few stories were wasted, it’s a smart series with that 70’s “exploitation” vibe. My heart still goes out to Rich, who did not receive any credit for Deathlok’s creation that’s to the suits at Marvel.

    Last i had seen him at the NYCCC he wasn’t really the same.
    I guess the stress from those court battles can take a toll on one’s self.

  • Stalkeye

    Thanks, S! Its funny how many compared Deathlok as this Cyber Zombie which he practically is. I also like the fact that a Comicbook hero, doesn’t always have to look dashing. That’s one of the reasons why Ben Grimm/The Thing is a beloved character or rather was, thanks to the Fancrapstic 4 Movie!

  • Bop

    Thanks, mang. Battling my second flu within a few weeks. There is a big epidemic going around. Mustered up some energy to do a few posts.

    Funny thing is, that Deathlok was once mentioned in a comic and from then on I started looking for the comics.

  • Stalkeye

    Thank you Killik!
    And despite the fact that there have been many versions of the character starting with McDuffie’s, none of them can really hold a candle to the original.
    As for the AOS series,it was a pathetic portrayal of the character and should not have taken place within the Marvel Universe of television. The design is poor and I would rather have Luther Manning in a dystopian setting as opposed to this bastardization that was inspired from the 90’s Deathlok.

  • Bop

    What court battles? Is he taking on Marvel?

  • Stalkeye

    A second flu??? Jeebsus WTF is going on in Holland? You so need to get the Fuck outta there! Not to sound like Big brother but do you take vitamins? That shit works especially the Multivitamins. I only had a minor cold while everyone around me was sick as a dog. (Including the Missus.)

    Feel better, Meng!

  • Bop

    Yes, I need a place where it is at least 20 degrees a day. That would do wonders for me.
    The only vitamins I get are from fruit and veggies, but I guess it is time to start with multivitamins as well.

  • Stalkeye

    He tried to sue for creators’ credit only to lose in Marvel’s favor.
    There’s some things i was very privy of and after learning more about the under-dealings of Marvel, I cannot fully support the company. Sure I love the films and Avengers Earth’s Mightiest heroes, I will no longer purchase their Comics with the exception of the old stuff. Buckler was just another victim of marvel’s Bullshit bureaucracies! Just with Jack Kirby, Steve Gerber, Don Friedrieich (Who created Ghost Rider) and to a lesser extent, Len Wein (Wolverine.)

    Then again DC fucked over Shuster and Spiegal.

  • Stalkeye

    Fruits and Veggies are OK as long as they are Organic. I stopped eating salad the minute i heard of this Listeria outbreak found in Dole products 2 Months ago. So yeah, I’m doing the Centrum. (0=

  • Bop

    Only organic. 🙂 I am pretty much anti pre-fab anything.

  • Bop

    I see. Fucking Marvel as usual. It is a shame when artists don’t get the credit they deserve.

  • I_am_better

    Very cool history lesson again. Maybe we should call you “Professor Stalks”? 😉

  • Tarmac492.1

    You would think that after three attempts they would have made a decent FF film just by accident.

  • Stalkeye

    I know right?

  • Tarmac492.1

    warm water with some lemon and honey helps. I drink one everyday. Supposed to help with immunity. I like hibiscus tea, also. Trying to quit coffee. Sometimes you just cant escape the flu. Insidious. Couldnt believe when me and ten co-workers got bronchitis last July. July?? Heard lots of horror stories about it. WTF!!

  • Tarmac492.1

    Stay away from effing Chipotle!! Jesus, what the fuck they doing with that food?

  • gorgarwilleatyou1

    Great article i used to love Deathlok back in the day, now we need a feature on Rom: SpaceKnight.

  • Stalkeye

    I avoid those fuckers anyway. $7.00 for a lil Taco? Fuck dem Bitches!

  • Stalkeye

    Unfortunately, I never read enough ROM Comics but the issues I read were, very good and its unfortunate that Marvel didn’t get to hold on to the rights for said character.
    I would have loved to have seen a second season of EMH just for this..
    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-fFfXsGMg41Q/T4CtsykyiAI/AAAAAAAAFp4/Edu8Tx5PaS4/s1600/ROM%2Bspaceknight%2Bfan%2Bart%2BHawkeye%2BThe%2BAvengers%2BMarvel%2BComics%2BThomas%2BPerkins.jpg

  • Slate_Fistcrunch

    We call it Tarmacing the food.

  • Stalkeye

    Thanks, K!
    “Professor Stalks”, hmmm, it actually sticks!!
    Pop Culture Historian! Time to change careers. (;’

  • Kylo Ronin

    ROM was epic.

  • Kylo Ronin

    What, no Neuromancer up there? C’mon! Great article btw, Stalks.

  • Tarmac492.1

    wouldn’t feed that shit to a fat, $60 special hooker

  • Slate_Fistcrunch

    I’m not sure how to interpret that. As in the food isn’t good enough for her or she’s not worth of Chipotle.

  • Stalkeye

    What’s interesting about Gibson’s Neuromancer is how he credited John Carpenter’s Escape from New York as the main influence behind his Novel. However, it was Deathlok that was more influential since it was perhaps the very first comic that involved Virtual Reality so yeah, I should’ve included Neuromancer as well.

    Good call Roni, and thanks!!!

  • Stalkeye

    Hoes gotta eat too yanno. XD

  • jim83

    That Mike Zeck art,my god such a great artist.I got introduced to the character through that Captain America storyline.It’s as if both J.M Demmateis and Mike Zeck could do no wrong those years.I just hope we’ll see a proper Deathlok one day in the big screen.Also, congrats on the article.

  • Stalkeye

    Thanks, Jim!

    I was a HUGE fan of Mike Zeck since The Punisher miniseries and before that, the GIJoe comic covers. I collected those sick air brushed posters back in the day and IMO, he should have had a much greater impact within the Comics field. Same with Mike Golden who i also happen to be a big fan of.

    Cap had a excellent run with Demmateis and Zeck. Its was funny to see Steve get his ass whupped by Primus because Cap was always considered the “God of Winning”. When I last spoke to Rich, I said “I want to see a fucking Deathlok Movie” while discussing the shit he went through fighting Marvel for acknowledgment of Deathlok being his sole creation which in fact, it was.
    Marvel has become more of a careless corporate beast, kinda like OCP. XD

  • jim83

    Was Joe Casey’s Deathlok run any good? i remember buying the issues in the late 90’s for the art but for some reason i never got around reading them.i may have to dig in those long boxes.

  • Tim R.R. Something

    Got Deathlok in a box, if my brother didn’t sell him for drug money.

  • Stalkeye

    That’s TMI, TIM. XD

  • Stalkeye

    Hahah, I never got around to the Jack Truman (Rage against the machine) saga since I was letdown by Dwayne McDuffie’s version. I heard a few good things about it as well as this recent Deathlok series. But to me, the Astonishing Tales/Buckler stuff is the only one that really matters. Perhaps I’ll give them a read one day and judge for myself.