Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Chicks Dig Giant Robots Part 2

All right, after that interlude, it's time for the second part of my list of favorite robots. This time, we're going for less colossal ones. So, onto the list.

1. Lieutenant Commander Data from Star Trek, the Next Generation

Perhaps the best known android who wants to be human. Always a popular character in TNG, due to the versatility of Brent Spiner when he puts his mind to it. Throughout the series, we watch as Data tries to come to some conclusion about the human condition, on what it is that make us tick. And through this, we see both the good and the bad about ourselves.

And of course, as far as the series tells us, Data doesn't have emotions. And yet, sometimes he gets damn close. A shining example of this is the episode "The Most Toys," in which he's kidnapped by an amoral collector of art and antiques. For good or for ill, we have to wonder if Data is more than the sum of his parts, and in turn wonder if we are more than the sum of ours.

2. Bender Bending Rodriguez from Futurama

And here we have a humanoid robot with no interest in being any more human. The breakout character in Futurama, and by far the most popular. He has no compunctions about lying, cheating, and stealing in order to get what he wants. And what he wants is just so pedestrian it's hilarious: liquor and hoes.

The fact that he violates so many stereotypes about robotic behavior (he's probably the most outlandish member of the main cast) makes him all the more entertaining, while delivering "Take thats" to other robots in the Sci Fi genre. I'm pretty sure it was Bender who said, "I can't feel human emotions and that makes me very sad," poking fun at Data a little bit.

3. Heat Man from Mega Man 2

Okay, if I really put my mind to it, I could probably populate this entire list with Mega Man characters. More often than not, Capcom designed some really funny, utterly idiotic robot designs (Spring Man, Sheep Man, Top Man, I'm looking especially hard at you). A robot that's a giant lighter? Hilarious AND awesome. But that's not all there is to it.

The main series of games are relatively bright, plotless, and dialogue free. Evil scientist, has robots, tries to take over the world, we stop him. But aside from that, we really don't get much in the way of personalities from the robots, leaving various artist fans to come up with their own ideas. In the grandpappy of sprite webcomics, Bob and George, Heat Man is a relatively bland straightforward villain character. However, let's take a look at another webcomic, In Wily's Defense. Heat Man is literally convinced he is God, so much so that the almighty feels the need to drag him to the afterlife to convince him differently. And fails. And I find it more and more entertaining the farther the comic goes on.

In STARK contrast, let's take the Megas take on him in the song Man on Fire. Suddenly, he's no longer a goofy, obnoxious anti-hero; he's a psychotic villain, and is terrifying. And the fact that you can do that with these characters is half the fun.

While, yes, there are Robot Masters that I do like better, Heat Man's consistent ability to show up and be reinterpreted gets him a spot on the list. At least until the Megas do a song about Gemini Man.

(Oh, and look up their take on Magnet Man, while you're at it.)

4. 4-LOM from Star Wars

Yet another of those characters you see in the background, but never get a story on. More specifically, he's one of the six bounty hunters assigned to go after Han Solo and the Millenium Falcon by Darth Vader in Empire. If you don't get into any of the Expanded Universe stuff, that's all you see of him.

On the other hand, if you go into Tales of the Bounty Hunters, you get a little more info on him and his ailing partner, Zuckuss. Turns out 4-LOM was a protocol droid (a la C-3PO) who worked security on what was more or less a cruise line. Using his advanced robot brain, he decided that the people who went on the cruises were too stupid to deserve all the possessions they got. So he became a security guard and a thief simultaneously. Eventually he grew bored with small time gem theft (after getting some sizable loot, too, including one supernatural object) and managed to contact Jabba the Hutt, who upgraded him and paired him with the Gand precognitive bounty hunter Zuckuss. They went after several prestigious bounties, all for the goal of making money.

Then tragedy struck. Zuckuss was injured, critically. His lungs were damaged beyond repair. Simple bounties became harder to catch.

In their story in the book, we see 4-LOM attempt to learn Zuckuss's skills at seeing the future, and calculating the odds of successes at bounties with Zuckuss's current state of health. And we don't know if he's thinking of just dumping his partner, or if he's attempting to learn these things in order to make enough money to get his partner the illegal treatment that he needs to survive. It might not be the best written story, but it was always one of my favorites, a tale of partnership, sins, and redemption. And that's why 4-LOM edges out many other droids on this list.

Oh, and also, the people at Lucasfilm made 4-LOM's name as a joke: it stands for, "For the Love of Money."

5. Office Joe Pi from Top Ten

Okay, I'm going to pause for a moment to shout angrily at some people. I know a lot of my readers a very well familiar with Neil Gaiman's Sandman. They consider it perhaps the best comic book series ever written. They want to have his babies. I'm okay with them liking Gaiman. He writes good stuff (mostly, I was a little underwhelmed by 1602, and while I liked his run on Eternals, I'm pretty sure it got mixed reviews at best).

That said, WOULD IT KILL YOU PEOPLE TO READ SOME ALAN MOORE? Come on! Moore is the guy Gaiman wanted to be! Sandman was his attempt to emulate the sort of magic and mystery in Swamp Thing!

Right, so this is one of Moore's lesser known works, but that by no means makes it bad. In fact, I found it to include some of the most brilliant and hilarious middle fingers to the mainstream comics industry. The concept is that this city was built to house all those "Science Heroes" from World War II. It takes place in the present, following the officers in Precinct Ten.

Officer Joe Pi is a post-organic member of the force, and a latecomer. Y'see, in this city, Robots are treated as a separate ethnic group. So, naturally, there has to be racial tension. But Officer Pi takes it in stride and in humor: in one particularly memorable scene, a bigoted member of the force is talking about how those "clickers" are out to steal the meaty folk's women while fiddling around with a vending machine. To which Officer Pi responds something to the effect of, "Well I'm not the one feeling up YOUR sister in front of people." The officer runs away in horror.

Joe Pi is clever, kindhearted, and definitely makes a spot on the list.

6. The Vision from Marvel Comics

So, the whole "Is an android a person" debate has been done out the wazoo, especially in comic books. In both Marvel and DC, I can think of, offhand: the Red Tornado, the Original Human Torch, the Third Hourman, the Tomorrow Woman, one incarnation of the villainous Amazo, and I'm sure there are plenty of others I'm missing. But, for some reason, of the comic book batch, the Vision remains a favorite of mine. His power set is pretty cool, kind of a Martian Manhunter lite: the Vision is super strong, and can increase his density to increase his durability and strength, or he can decrease it to the point of intangibility. He can also shoot solar powered rays from his eyes.

But there is one thing they do slightly different from most takes on this sort of story with the Vision than they usually do: they make it clear he has emotions. He, in fact, falls in love and marries his teammate, the Scarlet Witch (yes, THAT Scarlet Witch). However, both of them acknowledge that he's still not exactly the most emotional being out there. I felt this was captured really well in a storyline in which the Avengers are battling lesser known super team the Defenders for *Artifact of Doom Here*. Over the course of a battle with the Silver Surfer, Scarlet Witch chides him for being too logical at one point, while later he chides himself for being too emotional and panicking at a situation he could easily handle. Each of them see him as imperfect, but in different ways. But then, when the Witch is in danger from an erupting volcano, and it seems like it's the Surfer's fault, the comic points to the real chink in the Vision's armor as we see him become enraged:

"Too logical, she said. Too emotional, he said. Too much in love!"

Like Data, the fact that such an inhuman character can be so human (but in different ways) is powerful, moving.

7. K-9 from Doctor Who

So, we all know R2-D2, savior of the universe many times over, blah de blah blah.

Now imagine him with a voice. And as a little tin dog. With a laser gun in his nose. Congratulations, you have K-9.

One of the long running companions for the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, it's hard not to like the little guy, in all his cheesy seventies sci-fi glory. Used to hack into computers, to analyze strange compounds, and to blow crap up. He truly is man's best friend.

8. Duff McWhalen from Mega Man X5

If I had more readers than just people I knew, I would be pretty sure that I'd catch some flak for this one.

So, like a lot of video games, Mega Man X5 came over here from Japan, so some translation was required. Capcom USA's staff translated the manuals, and the bosses names.

But then, some translator who was actually working on translating the in game text (because unlike the original series, the X series has something resembling a plot) decided he didn't like those names. And so he substituted his own, based on the names of various members of the band Guns 'N Roses. This is a very divisive issue among serious fans (because, after all, Mega Man is SERIOUS BUSINESS), with some people getting into an uproar if you don't use the "real" names.

Personally, I LIKE the Guns 'N Roses names, and can never remember the "Real" names anyway. And for some strange reason, this is the one boss from Mega Man X5 that sticks out. He wasn't a particularly hard boss (in fact, if you got the weapon from Grizzly Slash, he was a cake walk). Maybe it was the fact that he was a whale: Lord knows I love me some sea monsters. Or maybe I just thought his name was the coolest of the lot. Who knows?

9. Mack Megaton from the Automatic Detective

Okay, you all have heard this sort of story at some point or another: Mad scientist creates robot to destroy humanity. Robot develops conscience. Robot rebels. Blah blah blah.

But what happens afterwards?

If you're Mack Megaton, war machine of doom, you go to Empire City, the capital of weird science, become a cab driver, and try to earn citizenship. And then get involved when your neighbors get kidnapped. And team up with your talking gorilla friend. All the while, wondering whether it would have been so bad to just go out and kill all humans like you were supposed to.

Do I really have to say anymore?

10. The Legendary Golems from Pokemon


What? What do you mean they aren't robots? I mean, sure they're Pokemon...


Oh, don't be like that. Just because they aren't in the original 150 doesn't mean they don't count as Pokemon. In fact, they're from my personal favorite set of games.


Yes, I liked that set of games. And sure, they're catchable monsters, but they're also self motivated being made of inorganic materials. I think that definitely counts them as robots as well.

So, if you've played the Pokemon games, you're probably at least passingly familiar with the idea of Legendary Trios. In the original games, you've got Legendary Birds of Fire, Ice, and Lightning. In Gold and Silver, you got Legendary Cats/Dogs/Gerbils/Beasts of Fire, Light, Ice (Okay, Water).

Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald, however, decided to do things a bit differently. After solving some Guide Dang It Puzzles, you're able to find these three: Regirock, Regice, and Registeel, the three Legendary Golems. If you can't guess what types they are, then there's probably no hope for you. But they were the first Legendary Trio to break that formula, and I always thought they looked damn cool.

So, that should do it with the robots for now. Unless I come up with another reason to stick more robots in here. So, for now, this is J. K. Lantern, signing off!


  1. You know, I really like your list, JK. It's filled with some really cool robots, but I have to take exception to your categorization of golems as equivalent to robots. Yes, they're both composed primarily (or entirely) of inorganic materials, and yes they're "Self-motivated" (Though I think if that were a hard identifier, then the majority of your first list might be disqualified, as they're puppets, machines piloted directly by humans), but there exists one important delineation: animation.

    Namely, Golems are products of magic, while Robots are products of technology. I know, Arthur Clarke says "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." He's right, functionally speaking, but I think the difference is in spirit. While the highly advanced technology of Robots in Sci-fi settings is unintelligible to we plebians, there exists some progression that led to these advancements. Explanation is eschewed. Magic, however, defies explanation.

    "Wait, how did the simple villagers in this low-tech setting manage to erect a lighthouse hundreds of feet tall, and ridiculously wide?"

    "... a Wizard did it."

    "Okay, but why is it that we have the technology to bring these tiny critters to perfect health in mere moments, but we still require magic rocks to help them grow?"

    "... a Wizard did it."

    "How can this planet be inhabited by just an old couple? What happened to the rest of the colony? How do they get supplies? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?"

    "... a Wizard did it?"

    That's not to say there aren't definite similarities - in origin, purpose, concept, and especially an illogical attachment to humanoid shape (wouldn't it be better to have a golem with dozens of multi-use appendages?). All I'm saying is they come from two seperate paradigms of nerd-dom.

  2. I knew someone was going to call me on that one.

    While, yes, in most (if not all) settings magic defies explanation, in some it could be considered exceedingly alternate science. For example, in the Bas Lag novels, the magic in New Crobuzon is based entirely on alternate takes on physics, biology, and chemistry. The people who know a lot about it aren't usually called "wizard," but rather professor.

    Of course, that has absolutely nothing to do with Pokemon. Also consider the fact that, despite differing origins, golems and robots tend to fall into the same tropes: either a silent engine of destruction, a little sidekick helper thingy, or a being wondering about whether it's truly alive or not. So a golem is merely a fantasy equivalent.

    That said, I will admit I was debating on whether to include them or not.

  3. You adequately placed Hypno. After the original 150, I try and forget that Pokemon exist. :-)