Robotman | Origin

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Star Spangled Comics Detective Comics These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number. The Detective Comics tales were edited by Jack Schiff.


Robotman was a detective with a robot body and a human brain. He could disguise himself as a human, and had a human secret identity of Paul Dennis. He wore a plastic covering over his face and body, to make himself look human; these anticipate the plastic face masks regularly worn by people in disguise in Superman.

Robotman appeared in Star Spangled Comics from #7 (April 1942) to #82 (July 1948), then in Detective Comics from #138 (August 1948) to #202 (December 1953). There are 140 Robotman tales all told from these two comics.


The Birth of Robotman (1942). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Leo Nowak, Paul Cassidy. The Origin of Robotman. (Title for this titleless story provided by the Grand Comics Database.)

This story creates the basic premises of Robotman, in a remarkably complete way. We get Robotman's origin as a human brain in a robot body; his ability to disguise himself as a regular human; his superpowers. It also includes a full origin, showing how these came about.

Siegel includes an amusing reference to Siegel's most famous hero Superman, and an accurate comparison of Robotman to Superman (page 7). Superman is described as "the Superman we read about in the funnies". The tale does NOT try to make Robotman and Superman share the same "universe". Instead Robotman is seen as analogous to an earlier comics hero.

There is also a brief humorous reference to Superman in the second Robotman story "Horror Hospital".

In this first tale, Robotman has a hyphen in his name: "Robot-Man". It is only in the second tale, Siegel's "Horror Hospital", that his name achieves its standard form "Robotman".

Later Tales

The Testing of Robotman (1951). Writer: Joe Samachson? Art: Joe Certa. Robotman tries to join the Cluesters, a club of the world's greatest detectives, and has to solve a mystery challenge as an initiation test.

I do not know the author, but the story has features one associates with John Broome. The group of detectives in this story resemble those in the final Justice Society tale, John Broome's "The Mystery of the Vanishing Detectives" (All Star Comics #57, February-March 1951). They are the sort of "great sleuths" familiar to people from mystery novels and movie whodunits. They are from countries around the world, just as in the movies, and both stories include a Chinese sleuth, who is treated in a respectful manner. This is a notable early occurrence in the comics of positive Asian characters. He behaves in a manner of complete equality with the other great detectives from France and England. Broome would be a pioneer in integrating non-white characters into the comics.

Also Broome-like: the way this story concentrates on high tech traps from which the hero must escape. Sinestro in Broome's Green Lantern tales often faced such traps.

The way that the hero is seeking respect and acceptance from society is also very Broome-like. This was often denied his heroes, even though it is very important to them. Broome characters often try to join a group, an organization of their peers:

Paul Dennis will go through an initiation into a club in "Superstitious Robot" (#200, October 1953).

Robotman Becomes a Robot (1952). Art: Joe Certa. Crooks find a way to take over the control of Robotman's robot body, forcing him to help them with their crimes. The robot set-up is similar to many that will appear in Otto Binder tales during the DC Silver Age. The robot body is radio-controlled by the crooks, who use a control panel in their headquarters. They also wire the robot with a TV camera, so they can monitor his activities, although we never actually see this monitor, unlike later Binder stories. The whole set-up is similar to what will become the default appearance of many robots in later stories. What is different here is that Robotman's human consciousness is trapped inside, watching everything. It is an ingenious premise for a story.

The flying discs here used by Robotman to patrol the city anticipate both the Bat-Eye in Edmond Hamilton's "The 1,001 Inventions of Batman" (Batman #109, August 1957) and "The Game of Secret Identities" (World's Finest Comics #149, May 1965) and the television arrows used in Green Arrow.

The Super Magnet (1953). Art: Joe Certa. A lab accident causes Robotman to become magnetized, attracting all metal near him to his robot body. This story anticipates the transformation stories Otto Binder would later write for Jimmy Olsen, and other Superman family comics. As in them, the transformation jeopardizes Robotman's secret identity - Paul Dennis also becomes magnetic, of course, threatening to reveal that Paul and Robotman are the same person.

The press shows little sympathy for Robotman here - they are just out to get scoops about Robotman, whether they help or hurt him. The Daily Planet will later treat Superman with more consideration.

Paul Dennis is shown doing experiments in his lab; he is clearly a gifted scientist, as are many of DC's heroes, including Superman, Batman, the Flash and the Atom. Such respect for science is a major attitude in the Silver Age.

The Crime Collector (1953). Plot: Carmine Infantino. Script: Jack Miller. Art: Sid Check. Robotman meets a collector of armor. This story has two main virtues: the mystery plot and the costumes.

MYSTERY PLOT. There is an impossible crime mystery plot. The solution is not brilliant. But it does explain the mystery, in a satisfyingly imaginative way.

Robotman comes up with a solution to the mystery, part way through the story. But it turns out to be incorrect. Such "false solutions" are usually interesting parts of mystery plots, including this one.

COSTUMES. The costumes are notable for how one of the hoods in the story is dressed. The artist has him wearing a tee shirt under a sharp suit (pages 4, 5). This is a look that Don Johnson would later make famous on Miami Vice in the 1980's. The hero of the film New Orleans Uncensored (William Castle, 1955) wears a similar look, with a sweatshirt underneath his suit,

The men guests at the Charity Bazaar are in tuxedos (page 2). This contrasts them with the crooks, who are in regular suits.

The tied-up cop (bottom left panel of page 2) seems to be wearing a different uniform than the "special guards" (bottom right panel of page 2). Both uniforms are sharp. The "special guards"have a lean, aggressive look.

Robotman --- On the Loose! (1953). Art: Joe Certa. When Robotman gets amnesia, and no longer remembers who he is, crooks persuade him to aid their schemes. This plot too anticipates many stories that will appear in Silver Age Superman family tales.

The panel (page 1) showing theater goers in New York City is a vision of cultured people in evening clothes on the sidewalk in front of the theater. It is an archetypal image of how the world imagined sophisticated New Yorkers. It evokes an era in which people aspired to dress up, not down.

Please see my list of Comic Book Heroes in Tuxedos.