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DC Comics History: Robotman (1952 - 1955: We Don't Need Another Hero)

By Deejay Dayton
July 27, 2016 - 10:11


As Robotman’s series in Detective Comics came to a close during the period 1952 – 1955: We Don’t Need Another Hero, it bore little resemblance to the way the strip had begun years earlier.  There was no longer any supporting cast at all, not even Robbie the Robodog.  We rarely saw the hero in his Paul Dennis identity.  This was largely due to shrinking page counts.  The Robotman stories in this era were all quite short, and gave little opportunity for development.

Most of the stories, as a result, dealt with the functions of his robotic body.  While none were really ground-breaking, I will highlight a few of the better tales from these years.


In Detective 181 Robotman becomes a living, walking bank for a charity event, with contributors depositing money directly into his robot body.  This prompts two separate criminal events.  The more typical one involves thieves capturing the hero, and trying to open him up to remove the deposited coins.  Robotman is aided in taking these bad guys down by the other evildoer in the story.


The man has been putting fake silver dollars into Robotman’s body.  The coins are filled with gunpowder, and his scheme is one of revenge, to blow up the hero.  But Robotman notices that the silver dollars to not weigh as much as they are supposed to, and turns the tables on his would-be killer, shooting him with the other coins deposited inside him.


In Detective 183 the bad guys take the place of the manufacturers who create replacement parts for Robotman, when his limbs get wrecked during the course of his battles.  They provide him with inferior replacements, which leaves the hero both legless and armless at the climax of the tale. But even as a torso, Robotman is able to stop the bad guys, spraying them with the oil he uses to grease his gears. This story also reveals that Robotman has a microfilm file inside himself, which he can consult by viewing his hand.


A common thread in the Robotman series had been the use of robotic impostors.  Detective 185 contains one of the best of these tales.  The bad guys go whole hog, creating three fake Robotman that they manipulate by remote control, and use successfully in crimes that play off the trust that people have for the hero.  While this is still nothing out of the ordinary for the strip, there is a nice twist at the conclusion, when Robotman uses a fake body of his own, to decoy the villains into thinking that they have destroyed him.


One of the best stories of Robotman’s run appears in Detective 188, when a criminal scientist discovers that he can take control of Robotman’s body using radio waves.  Robotman’s mind remains unaffected, but he is unable to prevent himself from stealing for the bad guys.  Robotman triumphs only by using some reverse psychology on the villain.  He pleads with the scientist not to send him to rob a charity fair, knowing that broadcasts being made at the event disrupt his body.  Sure enough, the man sends him out to rob the fair, but the broadcasts jam the villain’s radio waves, and Robotman is able to once again control his actions, and take the bad guys down.


Robotman makes his final appearance in Detective 202. The story pits him against thieves who have stolen US military equipment. It’s one of the most visually dynamic of this tales, short and action-packed, and a high note to go out on.


Robotman did not appear again until an issue of Justice League of America in the mid-70s, and has rarely appeared since then.  In the mid-60s, a different version of Robotman, Cliff Steele, was introduced as a member of the Doom Patrol, and has “owned” the name ever since.  Curiously, for DC, the two Robotmen have never met in any story.

Robotman: Detective Comics 179 – 202 (Jan 52 – Dec 53)

Next up – Wonder Women of History!

Last Updated: May 19, 2020 - 12:25

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