Thursday, February 20, 2014

I Reads You Review: DEATHLOK #1 (1991)


WRITERS: Dwayne McDuffie and Gregory Wright
PENCILS: Denys Cowan
INKS: Mike Manley
COLORS: Gregory Wright
LETTERS: Ken Lopez
EDITORS: Tom Brevoort, Bob Budiansky (executive), Tom DeFalco (EiC)
COVER: Denys Cowan
32pp, Color, $1.75 U.S. (July 1991)

Deathlok is a Marvel Comics character that first appeared in Astonishing Tales #25 (cover date: August 1974).  Also known as “Deathlok the Demolisher,” he is a cyborg and was created by artist Rich Buckler and writer Doug Moench.  There have been different versions of the character, but the recurring theme is that a dead human is reanimated with cybernetic technology and becomes Deathlok.

The character, Michael Collins, was the third Deathlok and debuted in the four-issue miniseries Deathlok (cover dates: July-October 1990).  An African-American character, Professor Michael Collins was a pacifist working for Cybertek, a subsidiary of Roxxon Oil.

Collins was developing software to control artificial limbs, and he thought that Cybertek, a cybernetics corporation, was working towards the same goal of helping to make disabled people walk again.  He was wrong.  What Collins was really working on was a cyborg killing machine named Deathlok.  Collins’ boss, Harlan Ryker, attacked him after the discovery.  Ryker had Collins’ brain transferred into Deathlok.

After the 1990 miniseries, Deathlok received his own ongoing comic book series that ran for 34 issues and two summer annuals (1992 and 1993).  I read the first issue years ago, which was written by the late Dwayne McDuffie and Gregory Wright and penciled by Denys Cowan.  Whenever I came across Cowan’s name or work, for some reason, I always thought about that first issue of Deathlok, for which Cowan drew a visually striking cover.

Deathlok #1 (“The Wolf at the Door”) opens with Harlan Ryker activating a contingency plan.  Facing treason charges, Ryker needs to get rid of any witnesses to his crimes that the government has.  He activates the cyborg killing machine he developed before Deathlok – a creature called “Warwolf.”

Meanwhile, Deathlok is in Paterson, New Jersey at the home of his wife, Nancy Collins, and his son, Nick.  In hiding, he consoles himself and grieves his situation.  He hopes not only to find where Ryker hid his body, but to also be able to have his brain restored to his body so that he can be human again.  First, he has to stop Ryker, and that means dealing with Warwolf.

Rereading Deathlok, I was surprised to find it intriguing.  Other than Cowan’s art, especially the cover, I did not remember much about it – even that Dwayne McDuffie was one of the writers.  Cowan’s art is stylish and has art deco flourishes.  The pencil art has a painterly quality to it, and the compositions display varying degrees of dynamism.  Cowan just seems to know how much energy is needed or not needed to depict the mood and drama in a panel or over a sequence of panels.

Deathlok/Michael Collins’ quest to recover his body recalls the wandering of Bruce Banner/Hulk.  The last panel of this issue reminds me of the end of The Terminator (1984), as Sarah Connor heads off down a lonely highway to an uncertain future.  This is a good comic book, but it isn’t great.  That’s alright; not everything can be spectacular, but being good is good.  I don’t remember if I read the second issue all those years ago, but I want to now.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux

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