DC Comics History: Robotman
By Deejay Dayton
July 25, 2015 - 09:45
Robotman was another new character added to Star Spangled Comics in issue 7. Like the Star Spangled Kid, he was also a creation of Jerry Siegel. The art on the early stories in this era is passable, but nothing really special.
Towards the end of this period, Jimmy Thompson takes over the art, and it dramatically improves.
The first Robotman story details his origin. Scientists Robert Crane and Chuck Grayson were working on building a robot, and had a non-functional body already constructed when the story opens.
Criminals bust in to steal whatever valuable inventions happened to be hanging around, murdering Crane and knocking out Grayson. Grayson wakes, and removes Crane's brain, transplanting it into the robot's body. But then the police arrive, and arrest him for Crane's murder. Hard to prove you aren't guilty when covered in the man's blood.
But then Robotman awakes, and takes to his new state with remarkable ease. No big trauma or torment, you'd think he wanted to be a robot all along. He fashions himself a mask and a pair of rubber hands to adopt a new human identity, Paul Dennis.
I always found it odd that Robotman didn't just choose to make a mask of his own face, but he didn't. Having a new face allows him to attend his own funeral, where he runs into his girlfriend, Joan Carter. He now begins to romance her as Paul Dennis.
But even more importantly, as Robotman he hunts down and captures the men who killed him. Once Grayson is free, he reveals his true identity to his old friend.
At first, the robot body is capable of more strength, endurance and resistance than a human body, but that's it. Later, more and more mechanical additions would be made to his form.
Star-Spangled 13 sees the first of these, a rocket pack added to his back, enabling Robotman to fly for short periods of time.
In the following issue, Paul has to deal with a murderous underwater salvage operation. He has no idea what will happen if he goes in the water with his Robotman body, but discovers that it's airtight nature means that it floats.
In order to go underwater, he uses a pump to fill the empty chambers inside him with water, so that he sinks like a submarine.
In Star Spangled 24 the bad guys disassemble Robotman, and it's darned impressive to see how he manages to put himself back together, turning himself into an electro-magnet to attract his severed limbs.
The most significant story from this era came in Star Spangled 15, when crooks try to get rid of Robotman by making him seem like an out of control monster. He gets arrested, and put on trial. The big question becomes whether he should be considered a human, or a machine.
As the trial plays out, Chuck Grayson testifies as to how Robotman was created, and Joan learns that Bob's brain was transplanted into Robotman's body. But he still keeps her in the dark about being Paul Dennis. After stopping a collapsing ceiling from crushing the jury, they easily find Robotman not guilty, and human.
One of Robotman's creepier villains was the Eye, who appears in Star Spangled 8. The Eye seems to be a giant glowing sentient eye, but is really a manipulative doctor, running a fake accident racket.
Joan Carter believes that she has run down a man with her car, but he is just a stooge in the Eye's scam, and when Joan discovers this, she gets kidnapped. An early story, Robotman deals with the situation in a fairly straightforward manner, without any of the gadgets he would later use.
Issue 10 pits him against a killer hypnotist, the Murder Master. Chuck Grayson is the Murder Master's first pawn, in his plot to kill Paul Dennis, but the story takes a wilder turn when he manages to hypnotize Robotman himself. Exactly why the Murder Master wants to kill Paul is never actually explained. Because Robotman is Paul Dennis, he starts trying to kill himself. The Murder Master interprets this as a flaw in his hypnosis machine, and turns it off to fix it. Silly move. Without the machine controlling him, Robotman is able to get the best of the man.
Star-Spangled 17 is the first of many stories that would pit Robotman against a villainous robot, in this case, Robot Thief. But while Robotman was sentient, Robot Thief was controlled from a distance by its creator. Clearly there was too much room inside Robot Thief, as Robotman actually gets inside of him to take control of the machine, and capture its inventor.
Robotman has to deal with a phony duplicate of himself in Star Spangled 26. The body is merely a shell, with a man inside controlling it, but Robotman essentially has to figure out how to incapacitate himself in order to triumph, and does so by coating the phony in plastic, preventing him from being able to move.
In issue 29 Robotman builds himself a canine sidekick, Robbie the Robotdog.
Despite the fact that Robbie is able to speak, and do other impressive mechanized things, Robotman congratulates himself on making the dog so "real." I take this as a sign that Robotman has been in this body so long that he is beginning to forget what human really is. Certainly both Joan and Chuck Grayson's roles become more and more limited, and Robotman spends less and less time in the Paul Dennis form.
Still, you have to find Robbie the Robotdog, who also appears in issues 31 and 33, a really impressive creation, as the dog is actually able to think, in English, despite not having a real brain.
Robotman continues in the Late Golden Age
Robotman: Star Spangled Comics 7 - 34 (April 42 - July 44)
Last Updated: May 19, 2020 - 12:25
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