DC Comics History: Robotman (1948 - 1951: End of an Era)
By Deejay Dayton
March 17, 2016 - 10:43
Robotman proved a popular enough character during the period 1948 – 1951: End of an Era that even after his series came to an end in Star Spangled Comics, he moved over to Detective Comics, and would continue throughout the rest of this period, and into the next one. There was no major difference between the strips in the two books, although Robbie the Robodog got dropped along the way. But by this point, Robbie was no longer the major character he had been in the strip, even in Star Spangled.
Robotman gets his origin recapped in Detective 138, which begins his series in that book. The tale starts as Robert Crane’s robotic form is torn apart. The parts are gathered together in a lab by a scientist who finds the blueprints for Robotman concealed in the body's heel, and the story recaps his origin.
Robert Crane gets shot, and his friend puts Crane's brain into a robot body he had already constructed. Robotman has a plastic face he wears, pretending to be Paul Dennis. His body gets re-assembled, and Robotman takes down the villain who thought he had destroyed him.
His final story in Star Spangled, in issue 82, ventures back into the question of whether or not Robotman is human. The tale starts as Robotman displays a new function, telescoping legs, which enable him to jump form great heights without damaging his body. He captures a thief, and carts him off to jail. But during the trial, Robotman's testimony is dismissed, because he is not considered human.
This completely ignores the big trial issue from a few years earlier, in which Robotman's humanity was established in the courts. Rather than dig all that up, Robotman simply builds himself a brand new head, complete with a camera, and captures the next thing the thieves do on film, projecting it in their next trial.
The story in Detective 140 feels like it will delve more into the Paul Dennis identity, but alas, it doesn’t. Robotman, in his guise as Paul Dennis, is mistaken for another man who looks just like him. Although the story fails to pursue this direction, the lookalike must be the man who posed for the mask that Robotman wears. The man is a banker, and a really clumsy one, as he dropped thousands of dollars into a lake.
Oops! Robotman attempts to retrieve it, but can’t. So the rest of the tale is Robotman using his attachable body parts to do a variety of odd jobs quickly and earn back the missing money.
One of my favourite Robotman adventure takes place in Star Spangled Comics 77. Both the title and the image on the splash page make one expect that this is going to be a battle between Robotman and a Plastic Man-type character, but the story never really goes that far, unfortunately. Robotdog is in this story, but doesn't overwhelm it.
There is a really good page of Robotman pursuing the carnival rubber man turned thief through some sewer pipes. And the story just leaves one wanting more, which isn’t such a bad thing.
Although Robotman has no recurring villains, some of the one-shot enemies are decent. In Detective 143 Robotman faces the Baffler. The Baffler is an inventor, who has created a number of devices to use against Robotman if he intervenes in his crimes, which is good, because that’s exactly what happens.
Rocket roller skates get the Baffler and his men away the first time. The Baffler also has an impressive buzz saw to cut through Robotman’s legs. Robotman simply attached the wheels to the stumps and captures the Baffler.
A few of his stories, often the better ones, see Robotman dealing with other robots.
In Star Spangled 81 another inventor invites Paul Dennis over to show off his cooking and cleaning robot, which looks pretty scary for a domestic servant. The inventor then gets attacked, as does Robotman, by thieves wanting the cleaning bot. Robotman escapes his watery death trap, and tracks the bad guys. It turns out the assistant of the inventor is part of the plot. But the butler bot gets damaged, and needs some repairs before they can sell it.
Robotman alters his own body, and impersonates the robot, pretending to be poorly functioning, so maybe the bad guys will just give up on their scheme. The actual domesticbot comes to life, and must get very jealous, as it starts attacking Robotman. But despite its flame hand, it's really no match for the hero, who triumphs over it and the thieves.
Robotcrook appears in Detective 150, and is exactly what he sounds like. The main difference is that Robotcrook is controlled from afar, rather than having an implanted brain. Robotman manages to hold off his rival, and find the controller, Gimmick Gus.
Robotman is pitted against a double of himself in Detective 153, when a scientist friend constructs a similar body, and implants the brain of a recently deceased man. The man inside the new body turns out to be a criminal, and a pretty fanatical one.
He takes no time to try to conceal his evil plans, announcing them to everyone. Good thing he did, because Robotman knows to attack him right away. In attempting to electrocute Robotman, the new robot-man kills himself instead.
If I had to pick only one Robotman story from this era, it would be, without question, the story from Detective 151. The story opens with a man discovering a box containing Robotman’s head.
Ah, that panel made me laugh so hard. It is absolutely my favourite panel from any Robotman story.
It turns out Robotman allowed himself to be used to test out a new motor an inventor had created, but it sent racing uncontrollably around the world until he smashed his own body in order to stop.
Robotman continues in the next period, 1952 – 1955: We Don’t Need Another Hero
Robotman: Star Spangled Comics: 76 – 82 (Jan – July 48)
Detective Comics: 138 – 154, 156 – 178 (Aug 48-Dec 49, Feb 50 – Dec 51)
Next up – Ghost Patrol!
Last Updated: May 19, 2020 - 12:25
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