MACHINE MAN (2015)
When it comes to art, sometimes I like something immediately and other times I need time for it to grow on me. For example, I didn’t care for Nirvana the first time I heard them but after a couple of listens I became a huge fan. In regards to comic book art some of my favorite artists started out as some of my least favorites. Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy, and Mike Allred, the creator of Madman, are prime examples. Jack Kirby was one of those artists that I needed some time to absorb.
When I got into collecting comics in the 1980s Stan Lee was still very much a part of Marvel. He wasn’t necessarily writing any of the famous characters he co-created (Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, etc.) but his editorial column, Stan’s Soapbox, appeared in every comic and he popped up on TV quite a bit. He was essentially the face and spokesman of Marvel comics. To this day he’s synonymous with Marvel, making cameo appearances in all of their films.
I was aware of Jack Kirby back then, the artist who co-created those characters with Stan, but I didn’t truly appreciate his contributions until many years later. Kirby was basically retired by the time I got into comics and he wasn’t a public figure like Stan was so I didn’t know much about the man or his art. I only ever came across his drawings in reprints of old comics and his style struck me as old-fashioned. I appreciated that he had a hand in creating the characters I loved but in my young mind the artists of the 80s and 90s were far better then Kirby. How naive I was.
As I got older I gained more of an appreciation for Kirby’s work and I began to understand why every comic book artist that has come along since his time has cited him as a major influence.
And then one day a few years back it just hit me like a slap in the face. It was as though something had awakened inside my brain and suddenly I didn’t just appreciate Kirby’s artwork but I absolutely loved it. I finally saw what all those great artists who were inspired by him saw. His style wasn’t old fashioned, it was revolutionary.
I have since made an effort to read classic books drawn and written by Jack Kirby on a regular basis. My comics library now features a healthy dose of Kirby’s genius as does my wardrobe.
One of Kirby’s lesser known characters, that he created all on his own, is Machine Man aka Aaron Stack aka X-51. Machine Man first appeared in the 10-issue “2001: A Space Odyssey” comic published by Marvel in 1977. From there he spun-off into his own short-lived series also written and drawn by Kirby. From then until now Machine Man has been one of those obscure Marvel characters that shows up as a guest star in random books from time to time and occasionally stars in his own mini-series. He never caught on as a mainstream super hero.
I’m not sure what the first Machine Man book I read was but I’m betting my first exposure to him was in the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, a reference series which provided bios of all the characters in the Marvel Universe. I probably thought he was pretty stupid looking back then because when not drawn by Kirby he has the potential to look particularly lame. I remember he was featured in a story in the anthology series “Marvel Comics Presents” but I can’t recall the details of it. Then he was in Deathlok and the West Coast Avengers and probably a few other things. More recent stories that I’ve read that featured Machine Man were Next Wave, Marvel Zombies, and Red Hulk. Somewhere along the way I came to like the character.
Machine Man is a robot whose only notable abilities are his telescoping arms and legs. He’s strong and fast too and I think he has some hidden weapons like arm cannons and whatnot but that stuff is pretty standard. He’s essentially Inspector Gadget but the one thing that elevates him above similar characters is his simple and elegant Kirby design. Machine Man is basically just a dude in a purple unitard with bulging eyes, he looks like the Phantom getting ready to lay in a tanning bed, and yet somehow Kirby makes it look great.
This hot-off-the -presses Marvel Legends figure that I bought last week isn’t necessarily based on Kirby’s artwork but it captures that Kirby vibe. Pretty much all of that comes through in the face sculpt as the body is a standard one that has been used multiple times in the Legends line. I wasn’t a big fan of the Legends figures for a long time, which is why I focused on collecting the smaller 3 3/4″ Marvel Universe line, but Hasbro has been putting out some really great Legends figures lately. The fact that characters like Agent Venom, Scarlet Spider, and Machine Man aren’t even available in the smaller scale makes the Legends versions must-haves.
Machine Man’s body may be one we’ve seen before but it’s a good one. The muscle details are very well done and the articulation is good. The new pieces added to the standard body to create Machine Man are few and far between but very effective. There’s the excellent head sculpt, the thick ribbed belt, and most importantly the telescoping arms. The metal rods can be attached at the wrists and you can put either open hands or closed fists at the ends of them.
The other thing that needs to be mentioned is the paint job. The metallic purple used on this figure looks fantastic and gives it a believable metal sheen. It’s broken up nicely by the flat grey and the bright orange eyes give him just the right amount of flair. This is a top notch action figure. 10 out of 10.