Lok, stock, and barrel: A look at Deathlok, the Marvel cyborg turning 50 this year


Deathlok is 50 years old this year, but sadly, none of the cyborg’s various versions have been able to break into Marvel’s A-list.

Cyborg-like characters in comic books are a dime-a-dozen, especially after the Image Comics revolution.

From the Robocop wannabes to every possible man-machine interface permutation, cyborgs are a natural addition to every team formation. While DC Comics’ Teen Titans and Justice League member Cyborg is the only one who actually calls himself “Cyborg”, there were other cyborg-like characters before Victor Stone.

One of those that came way before Cyborg’s first appearance in 1980 was Marvel Comics’ Deathlok, who was introduced in 1974 via the pages of Astonishing Tales #25.

If you are not familiar with that Luther Manning-version of Deathlok, maybe you’d have heard of the Mike Peterson-version in the ABC TV series Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (Season One, Two and Five).

While he may seem somewhat gruesome thanks to his half-zombie look caused by his cybernetic implants, his abilities are akin to RoboCop’s, with the mechanical and cyber implants in his armour making him super strong. One major difference from RoboCop is Deathlok's agility and reflexes, which are augmented by his computer brain.

Deathlok has been around for half a century now, though sadly, he has been little more than a bucket of bolts being passed around a few Marvel books and events. I doubt appearing in the TV shows would do much good in boosting Deathlok’s popularity, but you never know, as the same thing that happened with Punisher may just make this character the next major anti-hero.

Anyway, here is a rundown of who Deathlok is.

The first Deathlok, Colonel Luther Manning, made his first appearance in 1974’s Astonishing Tales #25.The first Deathlok, Colonel Luther Manning, made his first appearance in 1974’s Astonishing Tales #25.

Half the Man(ning)

Created by Rich Buckler, the first Deathlok was Colonel Luther Manning, a fatally injured American soldier who was resurrected in a post-apocalyptic future (circa 1990s) by Simon Ryker, a US army scientist who wanted to create the perfect cyborg soldier.

Assisted by a symbiotic computer aka “Puter”, Manning eventually managed to escape Ryker’s control.

While Manning spent a huge part of his stint time-travelling, he was practically “floating” around the Marvel Universe, jumping from one title to another, while making multiple guest appearances.

His most notable appearances were on the pages of Astonishing Tales (#25-#28, #30-#36), Marvel Team Up #46 and a three-parter with Captain America (#286-#288).

Sadly, Deathlok’s first appearance (Astonishing Tales #25) will always be remembered for the fact that it was also the late great artist George Perez’s first comic book work.

Finding his Collins

The (actual) 1990s saw a new Deathlok emerge in the form of Michael Collins, who fared a little better than Manning, as he managed to pull off a regular series that lasted 34 issues, and also a four-part mini series.

Collins was a computer programmer working for Roxxon Oil who was decieved into thinking his work would on prosthelic limbs would help the disabled, but it turns out he was just a cog in the Deathlok project run by one Harlan Ryker.

When he realised the truth and tried to rebel, he was betrayed by Harlan, who put Michael’s brain into the Deathlok cyborg body. At first, Michael could only watch helplessly as his Deathlok body went on killing missions, but he soon gained control of it and brought Harlan to justice.

The Michael Collins version of Deathlok was probably the most successful one in terms of the comics. — Photos: Marvel ComicsThe Michael Collins version of Deathlok was probably the most successful one in terms of the comics. — Photos: Marvel Comics

Lots of Loks

After Collins, there were other Deathloks, including Jack Truman, Rebecca Ryker, Henry Hayes and Jemma Simmons. While they all had different creative teams, one thing they had in common was the same “origin” – that of technically dead human beings resurrected with cybernetic “Deathlok” technology”. Unfortunately, most of these other Deathloks only had mini series and guest appearances to boast of.

Of all the other Deathloks, one of the more interesting ones was Rebecca “Becca” Ryker, who went by the codename Deathlocket.

Becca was a normal teenager whose father Harlan Ryker (yes, the same one who betrayed Michael Collins!) just happened to be an expert in cybernetics and the lead designer of the Deathlok program at the time.

A Deathlok was sent from the future to kill Harlan, and it succeeded in killing his family and mortally wounding Becca, whom he managed to save by augmenting her with Deathlok cybernetics.

Becca made her debut in Avengers Arena #1 in 2012, and was one of the sixteen super-powered teenagers Arcade kidnapped to be part of his deathmatch.

Deathlocket was one of the super-powered teenagers Arcade kidnapped to be part of his deathmatch in Avengers Arena.Deathlocket was one of the super-powered teenagers Arcade kidnapped to be part of his deathmatch in Avengers Arena.

Greatest hits

In the character’s 50-year career, Deathlok(s) have face-off against big names like Wolverine, Bucky, Dragon Man, Iron Man and Carnage. However, on the top of the list is Captain America, whom the original Deathlok (Manning) encountered in Captain America (Vol.1) #286-#288.

In that three-parter, both heroes engaged in a time travelling journey to “save the past and rewrite the future”. The highlights here are Deathlok battling (and killing) his own clone, as well as prime Mike Zeck art!

Individually, there is a limited scope for grieving cyborg stories, and we have seen almost all the Deathlok incarnations go through that process.

Hence, Marvel has over the years inducted the Deathloks into several teams and organisations, including the CIA (Manning); Secret Defenders, Wild Pack, and S.H.I.E.L.D (Collins); M-Tech (Young and Truman); and X-Force (Prime Unit L17).

The various Deathloks have been part of a number of Marvel’s superteams, including the Agents of SHIELD.The various Deathloks have been part of a number of Marvel’s superteams, including the Agents of SHIELD.

Future imperfect

By now, it is safe to say that Deathlok(s)’ comics career has been less than stellar, despite being around for 50 years now.

Despite getting exposure in various mediums, from television (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Hulk and The Agents of S.M.A.S.H.) to video games (Deathlok appeared as a character in Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage, Lego Marvel’s Avengers, Marvel: Future Fight, etc), and even boasting a number of action figures as well, they just weren’t enough to propel him to the A-list.

In hindsight, had the proposed 2004 Deathlok movie that was going to star a certain Robert Downey Jr in the lead role materialised, we might be talking about a different Deathlok right now. As it is, Marvel’s cyborg remains in the shadows, waiting for his next big break.

Follow us on our official WhatsApp channel for breaking news alerts and key updates!

Marvel Comics , Deathlok

   

Next In Culture

Artist shuts down Israel's Venice Biennale exhibit in anti-war protest
A taste of heritage at the DFP Seni Festival 2024
Faith Ringgold, pioneering Black quilt artist and author, dies at 93
Salman Rushdie's forthcoming memoir 'Knife' will detail his stabbing incident
Restoration of 122-year old Penang gurdwara to finish in two years
Five years after fire, Notre-Dame rises from ashes
'Dungeons & Dragons', now 50 years old, is enjoying a resurgence in popularity
Melaka government allocates funds for preserving historic Villa Sentosa
Writers are refusing PEN America award in protest of its position on Gaza
London's last remaining cabmen's shelter receives official heritage status

Others Also Read