Category Archives: Robots

More Simon and Kirby Robots

I have previously written on some Simon and Kirby or just Kirby stories from the late ’50s linked by the subject of a giant humanoid robot (here and here). In the comments to the first post, Luke Blanchard pointed out Eando Binder’s pulp stories about Adam Link as likely inspirations for these S&K robot stories.

Marvel Stories v2 n2
Marvel Stories v2 n2 (November 1940) “A Dictator for all Time” art by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby

I offer another image from the golden age of pulps. The table of contents list Joe Simon and Jack Kirby as the illustrators for the stories. Joe was Timely’s art editor at this time but this was before Simon and Kirby’s great success with Captain America. The illustration is a good model for the type of robot S&K would use in 1957 and 1958. Overall humanoid in shape, but blocky enough so that its mechanical nature is obvious.

Still unresolved is why robot stories became so important Simon and Kirby in the late ’50s.

More Robots

Blast-Off #1
Blast-Off #1 (October 1965) “Lunar Goliaths” pencils by Jack Kirby inks by Al Williamson

In the comments to my recent post on the Year of the Robot comic scholar Stan Taylor pointed out another robot story “Lunar Goliaths”. As he indicated although it was published in Blast-Off in 1965 it probably was originally intended for Race For The Moon #4 which, if it had not been cancelled, should have been published with a cover date of January 1959. As with the other robot stories that I covered in my previous post, the robot in “Lunar Goliaths” is oversized and although has an broadly human shape is mechanical enough that it would not possible me mistaken for a man. Like two of the previous stories the robot achieves consciousness (in this case when struck by a meteor) but is destroyed by the end of the story.

Blast-Off #1
Blast-Off #1 (October 1965) “Space Court” art by Al Williamson

Joe Simon’s collection still includes much of the original art for Race For The Moon and Blast-Off. Joe has all of Kirby’s contribution to Blast-Off #1 (“Lunar Goliaths” and “The Great Moon Mystery”) as well as most of Al Williamson’s “Space Court”. Despite that fact that the art has not been trimmed, none of the Kirby pages show the Comic Code approval stamp. I suspect that Joe was going to send the pages for approval back in 1958 but did not bother once the title was cancelled. In 1965 Simon probably did not pay much attention and just mistakenly believed the art had already been approved. However all the pages Joe has for “Space Court” had received the Comic Code approval stamp on March 8, 1958. This not only shows that the story was originally meant for Race For The Moon, but was actually approved earlier then some of the art that was published in Race For The Moon #3 which have a March 28, 1958 stamp.

Al Williamson not only provide two stories that were eventually published in Blast-Off #1, the Jack Kirby Checklist also credits him with inking the art that Jack penciled in that same issue. I have not carefully studied Al’s inking techniques but it does seem to me that inking of the Kirby art was much more restrained then that done on the Williamson story. However I am confident that the difference in inking technique was not due to someone else actually inking the Kirby art. The Kirby inker used the back of the art to either test or prepare his brush. He left brush marks that trace a curved path. This brush work only occupies a portion of the paper but it seems the inker also occasionally rotate the paper 90 degrees so that in the end the brushings would form a rough oval shape. This exact type of brush marks are found on the back of Williamson’s “Space Court” as well. Although I have seen other inkers leave brushings on the back of art pages, I have never seen any others remotely resembling Al’s unique marks.

Blast-Off #1
Blast-Off #1 (October 1965) “Space Court” color guide

Simon’s collection also includes some color guides for Blast-Off. As can be seen by comparing the two scans, the printer followed the guide pretty carefully. I asked Joe if he had done the coloring. Joe replied that although he might do color guides for a cover he would never have done one for a story.

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.