Robotman | Origin

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Detective Comics

These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number. They 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 face mask to make himself look human; these anticipated 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 (#7, April 1942). Writer: ?. Art: Leo Nowak. The Origin of Robotman.

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 here, 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. Hal Jordan joins the Green Lanterns of multiple worlds, and the athletes in such Broome Strange Sports Stories sf tales as "Danger on the Martian Links" (The Brave and the Bold #46, February-March 1963) and "Warriors of the Weightless World" (The Brave and the Bold #49, August-September 1963) have their own professional groups. The lonely hero of "The Secret of the Tom Thumb Spacemen" (Strange Adventures #78, March 1957) also finds support in an organization. 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 (#194, April 1953). Art: Joe Certa. Robotman meets a collector of armor. This is a minor story. It is mainly notable for how one of the hoods in the story is dressed. Certa has him wearing a tee shirt under a sharp double-breasted suit. This is a look that Don Johnson would later make famous on Miami Vice in the 1980's.

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 (p1) 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.