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 be used
as this ultimate killing machine and something backfired."
-Dave Mustaine of Megadeth who wrote and performed the song
In honor of it's 45th anniversary, this segment of MMP is dedicated
to Marvel's very 1st Cyborg, that “killing machine, that’s
downright mean,” and not to mention, one of my favorite Comic/fictional
characters of all time-Deathlok. (Originally published in Talkbacker.com 2013)
During the early to mid-70’s 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 rise of Marvel’s Bronze Age, one 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 during time.
His name is DEATHLOK THE DEMOLISHER, 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 80’s dystopia, Deathlok had tried to make his Escape from New York, while taking on a mob of cannibals way
before Snake Plissken.
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 topics being featured
in today’s world of information (Newspapers, Interwebs, etc.), the comic had foreseen this over 40 years ago!
This uncertain future had occurred when the Roxxon
Corporation enacted operation purge; a projector that is capable of banishing
all earth’s super powered humans and in return would offset the balance of
power. Thus giving the corporation the advantage of taking over America through
Following the events of the purge, America became a
battlefield and conflict had 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 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.
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
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
Megalomaniacal ambitions once and for all. Thus, began the journey of Marvel’s mechanical Antihero.
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.
"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 widowed Janice, not being able to
recognize Luther under the rotting face and steel limbs, goes into a shock,
shields their son then referring to her late husband as a “Monster”.( It's also
interesting of note, that this was among the first examples of an comicbook Interracial
relationship, which was still considered taboo during the early seventies.)
Leading to a pivotal moment where Manning attempts to commit
suicide via pointing his Laser pistol to the Brain. However, due to internal
program, 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.
I for one, can’t help but “marvel” at those unapologetic panels which to no doubt, was inspired by cynicism via the Vietnam war and of
course, Nixon’s 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 OR MERELY A COINCIDENCE
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 corporation.
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
& 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.
Cyberspace, you say? Before The Matrix, Assassin's Creed, Lawnmower Man, Inception there was “The
God Machine”. 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
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
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 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, 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, especially nowadays in the internet and social media. (Facebook is
watching you! So is Google and now Amazon!)
This was a very influential comic and highly recommended! Accept no substitutes, Deathlok Lives!
Here's some accolades courtesy of Rich Buckler!
The reprints of the late 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.
Remembering Rich Buckler
Here's a shoutout of one of Comicdom's greats and a friend of mine. The late, great Rich Buckler!
Kill-Monger was Co-created by Buckler.
Rich Buckler may not have been within the confines of the latter two, however, his contributions toward the comic medium as well as pop culture in general has not gone unnoticed.Especially to me.
After a long battle with Cancer, Buckler (68) had finally succumbed to his illness and it came as a shock, because I for one, wasn't aware of his condition after speaking to him in person, during a few occasions not too long ago.
Rich is solely responsible for the creation of Deathlok-a Man resurrected from death as a cyborg struggling to maintain his humanity within a world gone mad. Deathlok is by all means, Rich's greatest and most influential creation to the extent that a few movies and comics in one way or another, borrowed ideas and aesthetics from the cult classic seventies comic.
Deathlok was the first antihero I became a fan of and his world was rich with groundbreaking concepts and perhaps a forerunner of the cyberpunk formula.
Besides Deathlok, Rich also experienced a few pockets of critical acclaim primarily to his stint on Jungle Action featuring Black Panther, Fantastic Four and the Death of Jean Dewolf arc from the Spectacular Spider-Man comics.
I had the pleasure and honor of knowing Rich since arriving at the 2014 New York City Comic Con and after I had mentioned my Deathlok article during the days of Talkbacker, he quickly cited what I had written and mentioned it on his Facebook page. I received a signed Deathlok print free of charge as a means of appreciation. Rich was both humble and outspoken, especially in regards to how artists and writers were unfairly treated. Its no secret that he tried to sue Marvel for full credit on his creation, Deathlok, but abandon the suit because of mounting lawyer fees or emotional exhaustion. I was happy to find out that Rich is acknowledged as the sole creator of Deathlok and applauded during the Black Panther's credits the second I noticed his name listed as "Special thanks" for his work and contributions for the Jungle Action comics. His long and hard fight against both Marvel and Cancer, is a testament of his fortitude! Rest in power, friend.
Rich was kind enough to give me this sketch during the 2014 NYCCC.
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