Retcon This! Deathlok Resurgent

In the ever-evolving landscape of fandom, there are simply some things that should not have happened. In Retcon This!, we examine some of the more questionable aspects of our beloved geek properties.

Some characters will always have a place alongside the big names in comics – Hank Pym, John Henry Irons, Natasha Romanova, Barbara Gordon. They may steal the spotlight every so often, or take extended vacations from time to time, but by and large, they are supporting cast members and ensemble players who are important parts of the universes in which they coexist. Then there are characters who are little more than square pegs trying to be jammed into round holes. And then there’s Deathlok, a rabid badger that someone at Marvel continuously tries to squeeze into a thimble.

But wait! Eagle-eyed readers will remember that I once sang the praises of Deathlok as a Hidden Gem, so what gives? What gives is that the Jack Truman Deathlok was a re-imagining of a character Marvel had kicking around since 1974. It’s that original character – a cybernetically reanimated soldier by the name of Luther Manning – who has been inching his way back into Marvel’s collective subconscious. It has to stop.

First, it was a double Deathlok whammy in ’09. Charlier Huston brought Manning back to the future in a Marvel Knights book that was quite simply painful to read. Apropos of nothing but an apparent desire to publish a Deathlok book, this title retold the origin of Deathlok, bringing evil corporation Roxxon back into the mix as well to serve as Manning’s perpetual foil. At the same time, it seemed as though Jason Aaron might redeem the Deathlok name, as his Wolverine: The List one-shot introduced the concept of a HAMMER sponsored Project: Deathlok – seemingly an initiative for Osborn to create cybernetically enhanced zombie soldiers. A fantastically creepy and cool idea, but one which went nowhere, as the next time we saw Deathlok was in Aaron’s Weapon X series and – guess what – Manning was back in town. This was a fairly typical killer-robots-from-the-future tale and did nothing to elevate the character or give him any real motivation or character to build off of. And yet, building is exactly what it appears Rick Remender is doing in Uncanny X-Force as he’s introduced an army of apparently Luthor Manning-led Deathlok units.

Yeah… it’s all pretty bad and little more than fan service for anyone nostalgic for the old Deathlok stuff. So how do we work this retcon? Well, if you positively need a Deathlok, you’ve got three perfectly viable options:

  1. Re-introduce Project: Deathlok as the HAMMER scientists in charge carry on their work /in the employ of AIM/in the employ of Hydra/secretly while in the employ of SHIELD. You still get cyborg zombies, but you lose Manning and his baggage, as well as that awful retro design. These Deathloks can then be used repeatedly across the 616 by anyone and everyone as they see fit
  2. Re-introduce Larry Young, the ghost in the machine at the end of the above referenced Deathlok vol. 3. The mind of a SHIELD agent trapped within an android body ought to make for a fairly amusing tale of action and intrigue. While I believe the right team could see this version of the character carry his own book, I think the easier sell would be integrating him into a team like the Secret Avengers or Thunderbolts, or even bringing him in as a supporting cast member for Deadpool or Captain America.
  3. Here’s where I really think Marvel missed the boat. Remender likes Deathlok? Didn’t he just write a story where Frank Castle was killed and resurrected (if you haven’t already read this, lucky you. Just take my word for it – he did) as the monstrous Franken-Castle? Rather than playing this resurrection as a somewhat tongue-in-cheek monster mash, Marvel ought to have glued Frank together with some spare parts from Manning’s last visit to the here and now, making for the ultimate evolution of Deathlok. Eventually, Frank would’ve ended up back in a cloned body or something, and the new Deathlok would’ve been out there without Castle’s conscience to rein it in.

Unfortunately, we’ve been given none of these alternatives, and must instead suffer with one of the least interesting C-list characters in comics. Hopefully, this wave of naus-talgia will pass and we can move on to the next big thing sooner rather than later. Maybe an all-new, all-different Hypno Hustler or something…

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Jason Kerouac is a co-founder of Panelsonpages.com. He spends roughly half of his waking life in servitude to the Giraffe. Raised in a town in New Hampshire you've never heard of, he now lives in Indianapolis, IN and is pretty sure that's a step in the right direction.

Comments (5)

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  1. ELI! says:

    I remember the Deathlok series in the 90s being pretty decent, but it sounds like everything since has been terrible. Also, I was like 10.

    • Jason Kerouac says:

      Eli, I believe the ’90s Deathlok of which you speak was Michael Collins. He’s not AS bad as Manning – though physically and conceptually similar, Collins was a modern era character who was created using tech salvaged from the original Manning version.

      To be honest, I’d rather see HIM come back than Manning.

  2. D-Rock says:

    Frank has a conscience?

  3. Heytherejeffro says:

    My memory might be a tad fuzzy, but wasn’t there a reference/plot point in one of Bendis’ Avengers storylines involving this? I recall the phrase “They have a Deathlok!” being exclaimed.

    I’m too lazy to research it.

    • Jason Kerouac says:

      Yes, that’s true. I’d completely forgotten that the Hood bought Deathlok to use as a weapon at one point. At least there he was JUST a MacGuffin

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