Thursday, January 21, 2016


"Try the Yellow Pages, under 'Robots, Killer'"

Both Marvel and DC Comics have a long and rich history of science-fiction and horror anthologies in their collective pasts, although Marvel has arguably made better use of the creations within those books. Not being afraid to reach back into their non-superhero genre titles, for instance, granted Marvel license to force Iron Man into confrontation with Fin Fang Foom, assembled the Headmen to fight The Defenders, and turned the monosyllabic would-be world conqueror Groot into a movie star.

Ooh, check out Mister Sensitive here ...
DC, on the other hand, hasn't made much use of those characters who weren't explicitly created as superheroes in those books - Adam Strange, Animal Man, Ultra the Multi-Alien and so on. With the exception of The Faceless Hunter from Saturn, to name a very deep cut, I'm not sure any of the old characters from their 1950s/1960s sci-fi books have made it onto television in any form.

Which is a shame, because there's limitless fodder for extrapolation in many of these old stories. Take, as an example, the Otto Binder and Harry Sharpe creation Tim Steele, a golden, murder-minded robot whose story ran through two back-to-back issues of Strange Adventures in issues No.53 and 54.

Debuting in "The Millionaire Robot," Steele is the surprise guest at the reading of the will of recently deceased inventor Jonathan Murdock. Much to everyone's surprise, Jonathan fails to leave his considerable fortune to his beloved nephew Harvey, and instead leaves it to Tim Steele, a "thinking robot" of his own invention who smugly accepts the cash, despite being a six foot tall humidifier.

I'm so tired of the mainstream media's pro-killer robot bias.
Of course, to accept the cash, Tim must be declared human. Luckily, Murdock stipulated that the courts should, by his wishes, declare Steele to be human. Big deal, except according to Murdock's lawyer, "Last wishes must always be respected by law!" Oh shit, this is an opportunity. I am putting some amazing requests into my will. Most of you will end up pantsless on national TV if I have my way.

Steele begins to spend the money on ridiculous, pointless and destructive avenues. He smashes an expensive sports car ($15,000! Which is exactly how much my Scion XB cost the day I drove it off the lot. I feel so fancy!), sinks a yacht, bets on losing horses and just straight up throws money into a fire. I like this 'bot's anti-capitalist style.

Harvey pieces together the truth of his uncle's death, in the interim. It seems that Tim used a hidden super-magnet in his chest to knock his inventor off of a tall roof, while the old man tinkered with a "sun mirror invention" (my guess is that it's a giant mirror which the sun can use to make sure it looks nice before a big date).

"I meant 'shoot him,' Ted. Go pick up your gun."
Of course, the now-considered-human-by-law mechanical murderer poses a problem for law enforcement - he can't be executed or imprisoned! By his second appearance, Steele is leading the po-po on a "robot dragnet" (the most exciting cop procedural of the 25th century). Defying guns, acid, tanks, planes, bombs and public dissatisfaction with his "destroy human civilization" platform, Steele begins to indulge himself in symbolic demonstrations of strength. "The bank robbery will serve as a demonstration of my powers" he says, ripping a vault door from its hinges, adding"And this squandering of the loot as my scorn for money!"

Harvey tricks Steele into thinking that his electronic brain is in dire need of recharging, luring the rampaging robot back to his creator's lab and into the clutches of "deadly fission-rays" which are poured into the robot's noggin, fatally. Hooray for humanity, that's one for us and a million dollars' worth of burned money for the robot!

Tim Steele's look (and name) predates DC's hallmark automaton, Cliff Steele, a.k.a Robotman of the Doom Patrol. In fact, Cliff had also gone on a multi-issue rampage in the back pages of the Doom Patrol's eponymous title (he didn't throw wads of cash into an incinerator, though). It's nothing compared to Tim Steele, Millionaire Robot, though ... a perfectly good character they just chucked on the scrap heap, he's probably been hollowed out and used as a junk drawer by now.

1 comment:

Eric said...

Now, this is interesting: your description of the plot of "The Millionaire Robot" / "The Robot Dragnet" sounded an awful lot like the plotline of the Adam Link stories that were adapted in Warren's Creepy in 1965-1967, which in turn were adapted from a series of Adam Link short stories written and published 1939-1942 (I've read the Creepy versions, but not the originals).

Adam Link (you may know this, some readers may not) was created by "Eando Binder," a pseudonym originally used by brothers Earl and Otto Binder and later by Otto Binder on his own (when he wasn't writing comics and stories under his own name). The adaptation in Creepy wasn't the first comic book adaptation of the character: EC published a version of the first Adam Link story, "I, Robot," at approximately the same time as Tim Steele was appearing in DC (Link showed up in the Jan/Feb 1955 issue of Weird Science-Fantasy; Strange Adventures #53 was the February 1955 issue).

So... y'know, my first thought was that maybe someone at DC ripped off "I, Robot" (perhaps unconsciously) and gave Otto Binder a last-minute writing credit (in much the same way Frederic Brown got a last-minute credit on the Star Trek episode "Arena" after someone noticed the plot was identical to an old Brown story), but then looking at the DC Wikia, it kinda looks like the person at DC who ripped off "I, Robot" was... Otto Binder. Meanwhile, the Grand Comics Database suggests that their contemporary version of "I, Robot" was scripted by Al Feldstein from the original story.

All of which has me wondering, what happened? Did Otto Binder unconsciously or semi-consciously plagiarize himself? Did he have some kind of problem with Feldstein's version of the story and decide out of pique to write up a competing version for DC? Was it simply a matter of being tired and harried and figuring he could double a sale by selling one version to EC and then re-writing a slightly different version (in which the robot really is a villain, instead of just being misunderstood) for DC? What's going on?

Interesting. Any further insights? And thanks, as always, for the blog.

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