HERO HISTORY: Machine Man

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Or – “Is The Man Half-Machine, Or Is The Machine Half-Man?”

There have been literally thousands of heroes created since Jerry and Joe had their brainstorm in the late 30’s, from the ridiculous to the sublime, any and all of which have at least something awesome that makes them unique.  Heck, even Shaft from Youngblood is SOMEBODY’S favorite character.  (That somebody’s name is Robert Liefeld.)  But when you think about the genesis of today’s entrant, there’s a real sense of amazement at his pedigree.  Originally written by SF titan Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey was turned into a film by visionary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick.  When Jack Kirby returned to Marvel in the mid-70’s, he was given writer-editor priveleges on a comic book adaptation of the film, and an ongoing series involving concepts from the movie.  Pretty fertile ground for a soopahero in any case, but Kirby added additional wrinkles by creating a character who was (in the Mighty Marvel fashion) left adrift in a world he never made.  In the years since, he’s been all around the Marvel Universe, he’s been an Avenger, he’s fought the most powerful creatures alive, and travelled the length and breadth of the universe.  This, then, is your Major Spoilers Hero History of the android entity designate X-51, whom his adoptive father named Aaron Stack…  Machine Man!

We begin our story in an enormous underground facility, home of the X-Project, devoted to creating realistic android life.  While the mechanical portions of the units function correctly, there are larger issues with the heuristic processors that give the characters emotions.  The ensuing X-series robots have a slight tendency to… Um…  snap like a Slim Jim and KILL ALL HUMANS!

X-35 there rampages out of control, immune to bullets, to bombs, to pretty much all human measures, causing the scientists to detonate the bomb hidden in his brain (put in there for just such an emergency.)  Of the fifty robots created, each and every one has gone el bonzo seco and forced the scientists to push the self-destruct button.  But, known only to a select few, one more android of the X-series exists…  Doctor Abel Stack, foreseeing the emotional problems that the robots would engender, chose to raise X-51 in his home, treating him like a human child…

Raised as a beloved son, X-51 has a few things that his fellow androids don’t:  a sense of self, a knowledge of his own self-worth, and emotional stability.  When his dad tells him that he has to suit up and run, X-51 (who thinks of himself as Aaron) obeys and calmly takes off into the night.  Abel Stack is left to marvel at his incredible child, and also deal with one last bit of business:  the bomb that would have detonated Aaron’s skull.

Knowing that he couldn’t escape, Abel is willing to die that his son may live.  Of course, nobody promised even a machine man a rose garden, and Aaron quickly finds that floating around in purple armor gets people’s attention.  The police are quickly mobilized to find out what exactly is going on, confusing Aaron greatly…

The sudden attack turns into an all-out assault as the police and the army open fire on the innocent robot in an all-out attempt to take him in or destroy him.  The Machine Man is overpowered and taken into custody by an army regiment in the command of one General Kragg.  Out of his element and abused by the techno-phobic general, Aaron finds himself starting to lose his mind like the previous fifty models…

Aaron gathers his wits, controlling his emotions thanks to his upbringing, and breaks free.  Interestingly enough, he is less angered by the unlawful capture and imprisonment than he is the fact that they’ve stolen his face.  He escapes and goes on the run, but shows himself to be a good samaritan, stopping to help a child he meets in the forest…

Mister Machine becomes Aaron’s first official alias, and young Jerry’s insistence that he is a superhero plants a seed in Aaron’s mind.  Accepting the family’s hospitality, Aaron is surprised by some bad news once he reaches their home…

Mister Machine again leaves, dealing with his grief as best he can.  Wandering the California highlands alone, he comes upon a stranded traveller whom he helps by lifting a tree out of his path with his bare hands.  This stranger quickly becomes more important than anyone since his father to Aaron.

Now calling himself Machine Man for the first time, Aaron embarks on a full-fledged superhero career, living with Peter Spaulding and trying to protect the innocent.  An interaction with a seeming demon clearly implies that Machine Man is possessed of a “soul,” and his life gets more and more complicated as his career goes on.  Human enough to pass among us without easily being noticed, Machine Man even has nightmares of loss and dread…

Machine Man’s strength, laser generator, flame-throwers and other devices aid him in his superhero career, but Aaron’s real power comes with his versatility.  Trapped in a garage, Machine Man grabs a handful of parts, some tired, and in moments engineers his escape, Burt Reynolds-style…

Evel Knievel couldn’t do it better (and he couldn’t smash through a  brick wall to start things off, either.)  Machine Man’s interactions continue, and eventually he starts gaining a higher profile in the Marvel Universe.  His notoriety is such that an evil business tycoon named Curtiss Jackson frames him for a kidnapping, trying to anger a hero who has been a thorn in Jackson’s side…

The hero is infuriated, and finds Machine Man’s home with Jackson’s help.  As for that other hero’s name, some call him Bob, some call him Doc, some call him Bruce…   Those running in abject fear call him the ever-Incredible Hulk!

It’s not every hero who can actually walk away from a direct hit from ol Jade-Jaws, but Machine Man not only gets up, he fights back!  With the raging green behemoth on his trail, Machine Man figures out Jackson’s frame-job, lures the Hulk back to Jackson’s lair and even saving the girl…

And unlike the Hulk, Machine Man is willing to save the life of a man who was willing to kill HIM, proving himself to be the better man in the end.  After the battle, though, Aaron collapses, his systems overloaded from channeling so much power into battling the strongest one there is.  With help from Peter and his associate Doctor Broadhurst, though, Machine Man is repaired almost as good as new, even if some of his more spectacular powers have been down-graded…

Even with his capabilities lowered, Machine Man is still the swiss-army superhero, and he quickly returns to the heroic fold.  His new configurations even make it easier for Aaron to get the last thing that any good superhero needs:  a secret identity.

He apparently works for Dick Clark.  In any case, The Delmar Insurance agency serves as his daytime home, and Aaron focuses himself on learning the whole of human experience.  Unfortunately, his heroic career continues to put him in dangerous situations, in one case losing a limb in combat.  Unlike most of us, though, his stolen arm ends up on the black market, and in the clutches of Madame Menace, a low-grade Tony Stark wannabe…

Menace turns out to be the nighttime face of a woman called Sunset Bain (who we’ll be returning to later.)  Machine Man’s heroic career goes swimmingly, until an interaction with members of Alpha Flight leads to his worst nightmare coming true.

With his human face damaged, Aaron finds the instability of the X-series rising again in his throat, as his sense of self and identity is compromised.  Luckily, Peter’s friend, Gears Garvin, has a few ideas on how to take care of that situation as well.  This doens’t keep Aaron from a little angstiness in the name of his injured face.  (This IS the Marvel Universe, after all.)

Soon after, Machine Man finds himself working along The Thing of the Fantastic Four (against whom he once was forced to fight) to stop the menace of a kindred spirit:  Henry Pym’s robotic “son” Ultron.  Aaron and Ben team up with Ultron’s would-be bride Jocasta to try and stop the indestructible killer robot, and Machine Man engages in some very human showing-off for the pretty silver girl…

Ultron controls The Thing’s mind and forces Machine Man to again face one of the strongest men alive in hand to hand combat.  Their battle rages far and wide, and Jocasta is destroyed during the battle.  Ultron and Machine Man have both fallen in love with her, and Ultron tries to turn Machine Man also to his side…  Aaron has to decide whether he’s willin to sacrifice his heroic identity for a shot at love (with Steel-a Tequila.)

Let me reiterate what you just saw:  Machine Man reached DOWN ULTRON’S THROAT and RIPPED OUT HIS GUTS to stop him.  And since Ultron’s body is made of indestructible adamantium, the ensuing explosion does nothing but destroy the android’s inner mechanisms.

His love interest destroyed, Machine Man finds himself adrift, acutely aware of his android nature and the fact that Jocasta may have been his one shot at love with someone like himself.  When the Super-Adaptoid arrives at his doorstep, offering companionship and a chance to repair his lost love, Machine Man turns to the dark side…

The Adaptoid’s plan involves a cosmic cube and animating half  a dozen artificial life-forms like himself and Machine  Man, and using his power-duplicating abilities to turn them all into real boys without any pesky Blue Fairies necessary.  But even as advanced a machine as the Adaptoid isn’t as human as Machine Man, who reveals that he’s been playing Supes all along to try and figure out and undermine his plan.

Captured alongside the Avengers, Machine Man is forced to watch the Adaptoid as he achieves the power of the Cosmic Cube, and begins turning everyone in the world into mindless Adaptoid slaves.  Of all the assembled heroes, it is Machine man who first figures out how to undermine his fellow ‘bot and save the day…

This interaction with Earth’s Mightiest heroes leads to Machine Man being offered a reservist slot with the team, working alongside East Coast and West Coast branches of the team on multiple occasions.  After everyone in the world started turning into leather clad cyborgs with enormous guns, Machine Man even channeled the greatest wish of hundreds of thousands of fanboys in 1993…

…choking the living $#!+ out of Cable.  Turns out that Machine Man has been co-opted by the mutant-hating proto-Sentinel called Bastion, but a telepathic conference with Cable allows Aaron to re-assert his own mind and overcome the programming of his oppressor.  Not long after, though, Machine Man helps the former New Mutant called Douglock escape from the clutches of the Red Skull, and is trapped aboard a helicarrier when it crashes.  SHIELD agent Jack Kubrick sets out to solve the mystery of what happened to X-51, but the answer he finds isn’t to ANYONE’s liking.

The shattered head of Machine Man proves that he didn’t survive the conflict after all, but Kubrick is stunned to find his own memories glitching.  When his own head is blown off by the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (!) Kubrick’s body puts the disembodied X-51’s skull atop his shoulders and is transformed…

Wait, how is this possible?  Putting a robot head on your shoulders after you die turns you into a superhero?  Somebody should have told Jayne Mansfield!  (Wow, I apologize…  That was in poor taste, even for me…)  No, the real truth is that “Jack Kubrick” doesn’t truly exist at all…

Kubrick is/was nothing more than a Life Model Decoy imbued with a portion of Aaron’s programming at the moment of his “death” in the helicarrier crash.  The combination of his new and old bodies causes X-51 to act irrationally, and his programming is obviously corrupted, since he finds himself compelled to terminate mutants on sight.  This makes for some awkwardness when Justice and Firestar (then-current Avengers) try to find out what he’s up to.  It takes fellow android The Vision to figure out what is really up with X-51…

Due to his interaction with Bastion (who I believe is a time-travelling version of Nimrod after being implanted with Master Mold’s technology) Aaron’s mind has been corrupted by the programming of the mutant-hunting Master Mold, the mind behind the Sentinels.  He slowly pulls himself back together, and even takes on a more human appearance again.  But Machine Man finds himself haunted by visions of the Monolith that watched him back in the lab, the Monolith that may or may not have had a hand in his journey from robot to human.  When the Monolith appears again, Aaron steps through it to commune with the cosmic entities known as the Celestials…

Machine Man comes full circle with this revelation (note that the Monolith is part of the iconography of the 2001: A Space Odyssey series he came from) and disappears for several years.  Eventually though, the covert spy agency called H.A.T.E. (the Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort) assembles it’s own superhuman team of operatives, including Elsa Bloodstone, daughter of the legnedary hunter Bloodstone; Boom-Boom, formerly of X-Force; Monica Rambeau, former leader of the Avengers; and a mysterious man of nigh-infinte power called The Captain.  But even these four wouldn’t be enough to take down the likes of Fin Fang Foom.  No, the NextWAve strike team is missing one important element…

Returned from space with a whole new, more-human-than-ever attitude, Aaron Stack has eschewed his heroic nom de guerre and most of the trappings of the superhero for a more human guise and some serious snark.  As for what happened with the Celestials?

Heh…  There’s ample evidence that the sight of a Celestial making the mark of the loser isn’t entirely what happened, but in any case, Aaron finds a new home with NextWave.  When the team interacts with the mighty powers of Forbush-Man, each is given a vision of the world through Forbush-vision, each showing their worst nightmare.  Aaron’s new robo-superior worldview gives him a new worst nightmare, as well…

His tenure with NextWave leads the team to the center of the corrupt Beyond Corporation, facing down the worst abominations that hte Marvel Universe has to offer, including the wonder that is ELVIS MODOKS.

Unfortunately, upon making their way to the center of the evil shrubbery maze, the are confronted by Number None, the CEO of Beyond, who promptly kills Aaron by stabbing him through the chest with a pike, and making the rest of the team an offer they can’t refuse.  Wait, did I say KILLED with a pike?

I meant to say “irritated” with a pike.  My bad.  After the dissolution of of NextWave, Aaron joined the Initiative, working for Carol Danvers, and ended up in the employ of the secret agency called ARMOR, dealing with an outbreak of the most virulent plague ever seen in the history of the world.  But he’s still not back to his old earnest self, and still doesn’t want to be called…

ARMOR has identified a plague that turns everyone exposed to it into a flesh-eating ghoul (a “Marvel Zombie”, if you will) and has no curative known.  In an attempt to find a cure, the agency is asking him to infiltrate an alternate universe where the zombies have taken over and steal a sample of human tissue to use as a base.  His partner in crime?  She used to be called the Bride of Ultron…

Machine Man and Jocasta enter the alternate dimension, neither of them able to discuss their former relationship, and neither fully comfortable with the other.  It is only when he discovers that the zombies have been cloning humans for use as food that Aaron’s old heroic urges resurface, feeling a kinship with the disposable humans…

The team manages to get the sample they need, but before they can escape, Aaron is blown up and left for dead.  Jocasta closes the portal, but it takes a hell of a lot more than being trapped in the wrong reality to put down X-51…

Heh…  Zombie teleporting bulldog.   While the science team feverishly works to create a antidote, Aaron rips through the undead with every weapon in his arsenal, slashing and hacking superhero zombies to bits with a newfound zeal.  He even chooses to return to the old-school in terms of naming…

Can I get a “Hell, YEAH?”  Machine Man’s unique status makes him ARMOR’s most valuable player, moving from dimension to dimension, become skilled in the eradication of zombie plagues of all types and sizes, regardless of the time or place.  Even in the Wild Wild West, he serves as the last line of defense against monstrous cannibal things from beyond…

He even picks up a new partner, whose acerbic wit rivals even his own…

I think maybe Howard The Duck should get his own Hero History soon, don’t you?  As for Machine Man, even though he was reunited briefly with his lady-love, she was forced once again to sacrifice herself to save the world from the spiny menace of Ultron, leaving Aaron’s more-human-than-he’d-ever-admit emotions a bit fragile…

The legend of Machine Man stretches far and wide, and even into the not-as-distant as it used to be future of the year 2020, where a Baintronics (Toldja we’d get back to Sunset soon enough) warehouse robot finds an odd container hidden far back on a disused shelf…

The crate is dumped in a landfill and is immediately scavenged by a group calling themselves the Midnight Wreckers.  In a world where robots much more complex and powerful are commonplace, the Wreckers reassemble X-51 and even give him a new coat of paint for his troubles…

Having spent decades in storage, Aaron is stunned to find that no one bats an eye at his artificial nature, save to point out how out of date he is.  Unfortunately, Sunset Bain quickly discovers what was stolen from her dumping site, and sends wave after wave of agents to track down the missing body of her old enemy.  Her plan to use X-51 to corner the market on robotics worked, and she wants him destroyed out of sheer meanness.  The Wreckers and Machine Man go to ground and find themselves confronting a familiar face…

Gears has become the leader of the underground resistance, using his knowledge to try and undercut Baintronics stranglehold on money and influence, but even his efforts have only made minimal progress.  When Sunset mounts an all-out attack that leaves many innocents dead, Machine Man has finally had enough, and is forced to act decisively…

Flying straight to Baintronics central headquarters, he is forced to fight Arno Stark, who has adopted the technology of his ancestor to become another Iron Man, and has a mad-on for robots of all stripes.  Machine Man and Iron Man go head to head to prove once and for all whether organics or technology are superior…

Aaron is stunned to find that not only is Sunset a doddering old woman, but that she has resurrected his old flame Jocasta to serve as her personal assistant in all the missing years.  She swears that she will leave him alone, terrified that he has become so ruthless.  Machine Man wants his lady robot pal to come with him, but finds that she has ideas of her own…

Even in the far-flung future, things end as they began, with Aaron Stack flying out into the night to find his fortune.  Of all the heroes of his world, X-51’s path to heroism is among the most harrowing, but also the most rewarding.  The Robot With A Soul isn’t even human, and yet he’s a better man than many of us could ever aspire to be.  From the very beginning, Abel Stack taught his son that people matter, than innocents shouldn’t suffer, that those with power have a responsibility to use it wisely and judiciously.  (I wonder if he knew Ben Parker?)  Machine Man’s interactions with the fleshy ones have ranged from hysterical to tragic and back, and his evolution led him to the heavens, then to the bottom of the barrel, and back up.  He is always full of useful devices, and no matter the situation, Machine Man chooses to act as a hero because he understands what it’s like to be on the wrong end of the stick, and in so doing, sets a heroic example for us all…

**If you’ve enjoyed this Hero History, you might want to ‘Read All About It’ at your Local Major Spoilers! You can just click “Hero History” in the “What We Are Writing About” section on the main page, and read about a hundred or so other guys who are awesome as  heck…   The adventures of Aaron Stack, Machine Man, can be found at your friendly local comic book store (I know that the Machine Man 2020 miniseries is in TPB, as is the highly underrated NextWave series) and he continues popping up throughout the Marvel U.

Next up: Otter Disaster’s fave-rave may get his place in the sun. (For realsies, this time.)  You can check out the Hero History thread in the Forums for more information, and as always…

Watch.

The.

Skies.