Kirby Explores the Soul of the Machine in Machine Man #1, at Auction

The character Machine Man was the result of a confluence of a number of events at Marvel during the later 1970s.  The company was launching a number of high-profile science fiction projects based on movies, it had acquired the license for Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and comic book industry legend Jack Kirby had just returned to Marvel after a six-year stint at DC Comics.  The most-remembered result of that particular mixture of events was the character, Machine Man.  To the extent that any Jack Kirby series is overlooked, Machine Man is a little bit of underappreciated magic that is far more interesting than it gets credit for.  And by the standards of most Bronze Age Marvel keys, it's downright cheap. There's beautiful high-grade Machine Man #1 (Marvel, 1978) CGC NM/MT 9.8 White pages up for auction in this week's 2022 January 9-10 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122202 from Heritage Auctions.

Machine Man #1, Marvel 1978.
Machine Man #1, Marvel 1978.

Marvel had comics based on Star Wars, Logan's Run, and 2001: A Space Odyssey either in production or in progress around the same time during this period.  While both Logan's Run and Star Wars were new releases at the time (and in fact, Marvel's involvement with the Star Wars property was announced while the film itself was still in production), 2001: A Space Odyssey was a different in this regard — the legendary Stanley Kubrick film had been released eight years earlier in 1968.  It's possible that Marvel's interest was sparked by a successful 1975-76 re-release of the film.

Whatever the reason, Jack Kirby adapted the film for comics in a 1976 treasury edition, and Marvel then launched a series based on the film's concepts with new stories by Kirby.  The series lasted 10 issues, and Kirby introduced Machine Man, then called "Mister Machine" in 2001: A Space Odyssey #8. The character continued through the end of the series. There's some debate as to why the series ended, but nobody knows for sure. Some theories imply that the material had strayed outside of what MGM was expecting for the series, but the saga of Mister Machine seems very much in keeping with the original story, which includes one of the most infamous rogue AIs of film history in HAL.  Mister Machine had been created as part of a U.S. military project to create intelligent robot soldiers.  Unlike the other models, Mister Machine aka X-51 was taken home by a scientist involved in the project and raised as if he were his human son.  The other robots in the project eventually had mental breakdowns and went insane, causing the project to be cancelled and all of the robots to be ordered destroyed.  Mister Machine survived, went out into the world to understand his place in it, where he came to be hunted by the U.S. Army.  The themes explored are similar to themes in later films like Blade Runner and Ex Machina.

The Marvel series 2001: A Space Odyssey would soon come to an end, but the character was given his own series shortly after, reportedly renamed Machine Man due to a naming conflict with an Ideal Toys robot named Mr. Machine.  Marvel would also launch series by Kirby such as Black Panther and Devil Dinosaur during this period, but 2001: A Space Odyssey and Machine Man particularly played to his strengths both artistically and thematically.  In a sense, Machine Man was a "Kirby Machine" which explored the scope and nature of life itself, as the page one blurb stated, "The adventures of a robot with a soul."

A classic Bronze Age series launch by one of the most important creators in comic book history, there's beautiful high-grade Machine Man #1 (Marvel, 1978) CGC NM/MT 9.8 White pages up for auction in this week's 2022 January 9-10 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122202 from Heritage Auctions.

Machine Man #1, Marvel 1978.
Machine Man #1, Marvel 1978.

Machine Man #1 (Marvel, 1978) CGC NM/MT 9.8 White pages. Jack Kirby story, cover, and art. Overstreet 2021 NM- 9.2 value = $42. CGC census 1/22: 562 in 9.8, 3 higher.

View the certification for CGC Certification ID 2089805008 and purchase grader's notes if available.

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About Mark Seifert

Co-founder and Creative director of Bleeding Cool parent company Avatar Press. Bleeding Cool Managing Editor, tech and data wrangler. Machine Learning hobbyist. Vintage paper addict.
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