This was another book that I wouldn’t have bought if left to my own devices, but which I got a copy of in one of those plastic-wrapped bundles of 5 or 10 comics sold by my local drug store. This would have been my fist exposure to Deathlok, I believe–a character that I wound up liking (and whose 1990s title was one of the first things I edited.) It’s also of interest because it introduces a refugee into the Marvel Universe from far-off places. But we’ll get to that in a second. This was the final issue of MARVEL SPOTLIGHT, and it seems clear from context that the story it contained had been commissioned to run in ASTONISHING TALES where Deathlok had headlined–until that title had earlier met its end. So it’s the last issue of a series burning off the last issue of a series that had formerly been in another cancelled title. Simple, right?
Deathlok had been the creation of Rich Buckler, and while the idea was pretty cool, the execution in the earliest episodes was a bit confused and muddled–while he was an accomplished artist and getting better, Buckler wasn’t really all that much of a writer. So he needed help, and for much of the run of the series, he wound up partnering with Doug Moench and later Bill Mantlo. This final Deathlok solo outing was scripted by David Anthony Kraft. Most of the plotting, it seems, was Buckler’s, but the words and some of the rhythms came from the writers/scripters.Deathlok was a take on a cyborg super hero (the Six Million Dollar Man was popular on television then) and his adventures were set in the far-off future of 1990. Consequently, he didn’t have much of any interaction with the other Marvel superstars up to this point, with the notable exception of a MARVEL TEAM-UP story that brought him into contact with Spider-Man.
So the story opened with Deathlok being banished to the past by his sometimes-ally/sometimes-enemy Godwulf. Meanwhile, in the present, we are introduced on the fly to Eric Simon Payne, who travels under the working name Devil-Slayer. Payne is our immigrant, sneaking his way across the border into the Marvel Universe. He had been originated as Gideon Cross, Demon Hunter over at short-lived rival company Atlas Comics a year or two before this story saw print. When Atlas went belly-up, Buckler (who may have bene promised all or partial ownership of his character by Atlas founder Martin Goodman, as several folks were) decided he’d pull his creation from the wreckage and give things another try over at Marvel. None of this is ever stated directly, but given that Devil-Slayer’s attire is a mirror image of Demon Hunter’s just in a different color scheme, and given that payne’s background maps onto Cross’s perfectly, Buckler really wasn’t trying to keep this a secret from anybody.
(And if you’re interested in learning a bit more about the Demon Hunter incarnation of the character, might I suggest the link below?)
This being a 1970s Marvel book, the outcome here is obvious: for no discernable reason, Deathlok materializes in the very same hospital in which Devil-Slayer is looking for his Ex-Wife. Payne’s sixth sense warns him of danger, he sets eyes on the cyborg from the future–and the two men hurl themselves at one another, battling to the death for the flimsiest of reasons. This wasn’t exactly deft plotting by any means, but these sorts of scenarios meant that Marvel books tended to never be short on action–even if teh causes behind that action were dumb.
The fight goes on for several pages, enough space for Devil-Slayer to show off his abilities and prowess, and for Deathlok to counter with his own cybernetic assault functions, backed up by the computer that speaks to him in his mind and a bad attitude. Just when the pretense for teh battle seems like it’s going to run its course, Devil-Slayer’s ex-wife stumbles into the area–and for no discernable reason save that his mind and systems have been scrambled by their flight through time, Deathlok sees her as his own now-goen wife, Janice. Cory Payne passes out as Deathlok grabs her up–and moments later, the cyborg is stunned to exit the building and find himself in pre-holocaust New York City.
After a two-page interlude back in 1990 with Deathlok’s running enemy Hellinger, setting up plotlines that will never go anywhere, teh action returns to the present. Seeing his ex-wife imperiled by Deathlok, Devil-Slayer counters by pulling the robot-zombie into the limbo world that exists within Devil-Slayer’s Shadow-Cloak. This severely rattles Deathlok, and causes him to start thinking rationally about what is going on for the first time. He begins to sue for peace. Meanwhile, back in the real world, the stunned but unharmed Cory Payne is immediately assaulted by a pair of demons who had taken on the forms of cops. They’ve been hunting Devil-Slayer and were the source of Payne’s sixth sense warning pages ago. And they figure that threatening Cory will bring him to light.
Which is a fair bet, but unfortunately for them, by this point Devil-Slayer and Deathlok have patched up their differences, and these hell-spawn are no match for good old American hydraulics created in the year 1990. So they hit the bricks, running for their lives–and in a scant few panels, Devil-Slayer and Deathlok say their goodbyes, the latter mysteriously teleporting away–into MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE according to the last panel caption. This wasn’t the most sophisticated comic book ever done, but it was a lot of crazy fun, and I really liked it. Unfortunately, it’s just about the last appearance of Deathlok in this particular incarnation–when he’d reappear in TWO-IN-ONE, it would be as a brainwashed assassin, and eventually he’d be lobotomized entirely. While that situation was eventually rectified in issues of CAPTAIN AMERICA many years thereafter, it was the last time that the Luther Manning incarnation of the character was in the driver’s seat. Since then, Deathlok has been relaunched and re-conceptualized time and time again, with no later incarnation quite ever being able to catch on in a substantial manner.