Created by Bob Oksner
Appears in Wonder Comics #1 (1944)
What stands eight feet tall, has metal arms as thick as pylons, leers through dead indigo eyes, grins a metal rictus of sharp iron fangs, and is also -- according to its biggest fan -- “practically human?” It’s no human that I’ve ever met, but it IS Mekano the Wonder Robot!
Like other robot superheroes of the era, Mekano obviously draws his inspiration from Elektro, the seven foot-tall star of the 1939 and 1940 World’s Fairs. Chromium characters like Jerry Siegel’s Robotman or Quality Comics’ unsettling Bozo the Iron Man were reminiscent of Elektro in a multitude of fashions, not the least of which being that both Elektro and Robotman boasted pet robot dogs.
Constructed for Westinghouse Electric’s World’s Fair pavillion, Elektro was capable of a few simple mechanical marvels -- he spoke from a record containing a vocabulary of 700 words, could distinguish between colored lights, lift his arms above his head, smoke a cigarette and blow up a balloon. I know it sounds like I made up the last two actions to be funny but, nope, he had lungs. Human lungs*. However, he couldn’t bust through a building, rout a Nazi armada, or make terrifying eyes at a helpless lady newshawk -- for that, you need Mekano!
*THAT part I made up.
Created by inventor and electrical engineer Bill Foster, the remarkable robot Mekano -- a terrifying titan colored an unappetizing indigo and exuding malice from every seam, if we’re being fair -- is capable of some similarly humble stunts as its inspiration. Counting on his fingers and sputtering a soul-gripping “HELLO -- GLAD -- TO -- SEE -- YOU --” from his lipless maw, Mekano stays on display for public review (like Elektro, at the World’s Fair -- the famous Perisphere and Trylon are even visible in the background). Unfortunately, Mekano has only one fan, and no more. Conversely, his one fan is Tommy Clark. And Tommy is SO! INTO! MEKANO! UNNNGH!
Tommy goes so far in his fandom that he actually gets into a fight with a full-grown adult member of the unappreciative audience, which earns him Bill Foster’s friendship. The pair feed each others’ sense of enthusiasm, and soon Bill is fired up about straight-up makin’ Terminators! Dedicating themselves to improving Mekano’s capabilities - from novelty to independently moving and maybe even *thinking* juggernaut of relentless steel and circuitry -- they also pick up a third human member for their cast, Sandra Kent (of the Tribune!) who smells a scoop!
Things go well for Team Mekano until Billy gets a little frisky with the “Go And Rampage And Destroy Things” button, which I can’t believe they even installed in the first place. This sends Mekano on a rager throughout the streets of the city, destroying property and terrifying passers-by. Bill, himself passing by at the best possible time, sees his pet project curbstomping a nine year-old girl, and hurriedly shuts down the amuck mass of metal with a garage door opener he keeps in his pocket. On the plus side, Sandra got her scoop!
The now-deactivated menace is taken into police custody, and is promptly thereafter lost to Nazi agents. Is this what we pay taxes for? To ensure that Mekano can be used as a Nazi weapon against the forces of the free world, Bill is also abducted for his unique scientific understanding of his robot. Tommy and Sandra sneak on board the ship being used to haul the stolen cargo (and on which Bill is getting tortured a little bit. You know, informally tortured).
This, naturally, turns out to be the Nazi’s downfall. Once back in the European theater Bill rigs a special voice control on Mekano which not only makes him more responsive -- it seems to germinate the seed of that independent intelligence Tommy had always been so hype about. Uh oh.
I’ve seen Terminator, you’ve seen Terminator, we all probably have also seen Terminator 2, I never saw T3 and I think there’s a T4 and I heard there was a Genisys, or Genysis? Anyway, what I’m saying is we’ve all seen a sufficient amount of assorted Terminator-related media to know that a thinking giant robot that only knows how to destroy is problematic.
Nonetheless, Mekano wipes the beach with Nazi soldiers during a fortuitously simultaneous Allied landing. Despite having wandered well out of Bill Foster’s voice control, Mekano manages to sort his targets accurately without any additional input. The robot sure cleans house on the Nazis, literally crushing them under his menacing metal boot. Mekano strikes a blow for Democracy! Here’s hoping he never turns on us!
Mekano was the creation of Bob Oksner, a legendary DC Comics artist whose work typically graced the company’s licensed humor properties -- assorted titles featuring Dobie Gillis, Sgt.Bilko, Pat Boone, Welcome Back Kotter, Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis. While Mekano is pure action-adventure, it moves with the urgently frivolous pace of Oksner’s comical voice. The captions in particular seem to have no time to waste. Their tone is so urgent that it seems admonishing -- “why are you looking up here? The story is down there! Meanwhile! That’s what Meanwhile means!!” Assembled together, they become a manic tone poem. Please enjoy:
There’s no second adventure for Mekano. Despite being part of a “future [which] science hopes for--” the big indigo nightmare never manages to get past its present. If I had to guess what kept Mekano from showing his terrifying head a second time, it would be that Tommy hit the “Run Around And Murder Everybody” button again and there wasn’t anything to show in Mekano’s second appearance except crime scene photos.
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