Year of the Robots

Generally speaking robots did not appear often in Simon and Kirby productions. But for some reason S&K produced three stories about robots over a single year towards the end of their collaboration. Actually I am doing a bit of a stretch when I say that. It is not clear that it is a robot in one story, “Gizmo”, but it sure looks like one. Another story is an early Challengers of the Unknown and although Joe Simon help create that team it is uncertain if he had anything to do with the initial stories.

SPOILER ALERT: I will be discussing stories below including their endings. so do not proceed if you have not read these yet but still want to.

Black Cat Mystic #58
Black Cat Mystic #58 (September 1956) “Gizmo” page 3, art by Jack Kirby

The sudden appearance of the large Gizmo brings terror to a small family. Neither the walls of the house or bullets will stop it. In the end the family’s baby puts an end to Gizmo’s destruction, he was only looking for someone to play with. The arrival of an even larger version showed that Gizmo was just a baby. As I discussed above, Gizmo may not really be a robot. In fact the boy describes him as a man from Mars. But clad in metal he sure looks like a robot and we do not learn he is a baby until the end of the story. After all how could a baby robot possibly grow?

Showcase #7
Showcase #7 (April 1957) “Ultivac Is Loose” page 4, art by Jack Kirby (from DC Archives)

An evil scientist creates the ultimate machine. Unfortunately for him the robot escapes. It is the Challengers of the Unknown team to the rescue! Except a beautiful scientist seems to be the one that convinces Ultivac that he need not fear humans. A meeting is arranged with the leaders of the world where Ultivac promises to help mankind solve many of their problems. But up springs the mad scientist who destroys Ultivac rather then lose his creation. Ultivac can still be used as a computer but is no longer sentient.

Alarming Tales #2
Alarming Tales #2 (November 1957) “I Want To Be a Man” page 1, art by Jack Kirby

A scientist’s advanced computer develops consciousness. To keep Fabiac happy, the scientist makes him a robotic body. This ploy works until Fabiac sees himself in a mirror and realize he never will be human. Gee you would think he would just look at his hands and see something was not right.

There seems to be a common threads to these stories. In all of them the robot is very large and only marginally human in shape. This was done to make so that their fearsome appearance would belie their true nature. In all three stories it turns out that the robot does not truly want to hurt anyone. In two of the stories the robot wants to help mankind, but that help is ultimately lost.

The robot for the last two stories have similar names; Ultivac and Fabiac. These are take-offs from the names of two very real computers. ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer) was completed in 1946. UNIVAC (UNIVersal Automatic Computer) was first released in 1951. These were very significant and widely reported developments. By the time these stories appeared, UNIVAC cost about a million and a half dollars. That is a lot of money even today (50 years later) especially since the computer may only have had 60 kilobytes of memory.

I have no idea what was the source that sparked these robot stories. Part of the explanation was that S&K stories had gotten substantially more science fiction based at this time. Still it is likely that something in particular inspired this effort. I do not think it was the movies. “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951) had a large robot but it was not nearly as large or “roboty” as in these stories. “Forbidden Planet” (1956) had a sufficiently convincing robot but it was neither large nor threatening. I suspect the source was some science fiction pulp or book that Jack and Joe had read.

3 thoughts on “Year of the Robots

  1. Stan Taylor

    Hi Harry,

    Early in their careers, Simon and Kirby were doing a lot of sci-fi stories, and robots did show up. Off hand I know jack had one in a news strip series Cyclone Burke, and in one of the Blue Bolt stories there was a robot. Even in Fighting American we see a robot appearance. Yet the robots were not central characters like in the stories you mention.
    There was another sentient robot story from the same time frame. Though not published till 1966, there is a 3 Rocketeer story where the three “teers construct a robot to stage a sporting event, and when their robot is struck by a meteorite, it gains sentience, and saves the day.
    This was planned for Race For The Moon #4 in 1958.
    There was another Challengers story where the Challs are pressed into service to help overthrow robots who have taken control of a planet.

    There is even a sort of tie-in found in Sky Masters. There is a “moon robot” named Mister Lunivac (another Univac sound alike) that is involved in an accident with radioactive material, and ignore human commands and runs amok. Though its body is tanklike, it does have a humanesque face, and was constructed to do jobs in palce of humans.


  2. Luke Blanchard

    I just read Adam Link – Robot, a collection of Eando Binder Adam Link stories (originally published in pulp magazines in the late 30s/early 40s). Adam Link is a sentient robot who wants to win acceptance as human. To achieve this he must overcome the fear he inspires and win over public opinion. To me this recalls Kirby’s Machine Man, particularly the direction that series takes after the Ten-For story, when Machine Man’s existence becomes widely known and he must defend his right to exist before the authorities and to the public.

    The Link stories are narrated by Link in the first person. From what I can tell – the stories have been superficially novelised – the earlier tales all had fairly downbeat endings. (Spoilers) The first apparently ended with his probable destruction at the hands of a mob that believes him responsible for his creator’s death. In the second he’s put on trial, found guilty, and sentenced to execution. In the later stories he begins to win over public opinion by his noble actions, and acquires a female counterpart.

    Now, four pulp covers illustrating the Link series can currently be seen at . The latter covers depict him as comparatively human – like Machine Man – but the first emphasises his inhumanity. So I’d suggest that the stories could also have been the inspiration for those 50s Simon and Kirby tales. But I should note that the Adam Link – Robot collection wasn’t published until the 60s.

  3. Harry Post author


    Thanks for the information. It is quite probable that Kirby knew of thes Link stories. Both Joe and Jack were advid readers of pulp and science fiction. I notice that one of the Link stories was publish in the same pulp as a Edgar Rice Burroughs story. Joe once told me he was a particular fan of Tarzan so it perhaps he was aware of this particular pulp issue.

    I agree that these Link stories are likely prototypes for the S&K robot stories that I posted on, and the Challerger story in particular. But because the Link
    stories were published in the 30’s and 40’s while the S&K robot stories are from ’57 and ’58 I feel it still remains to be determine why such robot stories became so important to Joe and Jack after so many years.


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