Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by Steve Bennett of Super-Fly Comics and Games in Yellow Springs, Ohio.  This week, Bennett analyzes the potential of the impending Robot Revolution being led by the much despised H.E.R.B.I.E.

Last week I wrote about Marvel’s oversized one-shot Incoming (see “Confessions Of A Comic Book Guy -- Incoming/Upcoming"), and how it might be nice if Marvel and DC did more of those kinds of cross-company overlooks, especially around the Holidays.  What I neglected to say though was while not a “Christmas comic,” it would have made a great Christmas gift for comic fans.  Retailers are always keen on selling customers on giving comic books as Christmas gifts, and this would have made a great gift for the person in their family already reading comics.

Empyre isn’t the only Marvel event that gets set up in Incoming.  There have been rumblings of a Robot Revolution in the pages of Tony Stark: Iron Man for months now, which kicks off in earnest with the release of this week’s Iron Man 2020 #1.  But Val Richards, the teenage daughter of Reed, seems to have escalated it by doing something that sure seems kind of impulsive and short-sighted.  Out of nowhere, she decides that resident robot H.E.R.B.I.E. (Humanoid Experimental Robot, B-type, Integrated Electronics) is “enslaved” and removes his inhibitor chip and language censor.  The results were The Fantastic Four's Cutest Member Is Now a HUGE Potty-Mouthed Threat.

As most of you almost certainly already know, H.E.R.B.I.E. infamously first appeared in the 1978 animated series The New Fantastic Four as a replacement for the Human Torch because the rights of the character were then held by Universal Studios for a live-action series pilot that was never made.  Stan Lee suggested he be replaced by a “cute robot sidekick” and Jack Kirby designed a character he called  "Z-Z-1-2-3", who (according to the notes on the original design) was “a calculator, security guard, automatic pilot and a great cook!"  Making the much-maligned machine one of the last of the Lee/Kirby collaborations.

Comic book fans naturally hated him, primarily because he wasn’t the Human Torch of course, but to be fair it was also because he was silly, and for Marvel fans, especially back then, that was the worst.  Neither they nor the characters they loved got much in the way of respect and for them, H.E.R.B.I.E wasn’t just a silly character in a kid’s cartoon (intended specifically for kids) but an obvious sign of that disrespect.  Plus, it needs to be said, that even among the many, many goofy irritating comic relief robot sidekicks that appeared in 1970s kids cartoons, H.E.R.B.I.E seemed especially annoying.

As for myself, if I remember correctly (and it really is getting to be a very long time ago), I don’t think I cared all that much.  I certainly didn’t like H.E.R.B.I.E, but I managed to tolerate him - he was a minus, but the show had plenty of pluses.  Chief among them being the voice cast which included the great Ted Cassidy (Lurch from The Addams Family) as The Thing and character/voice actor Mike Road (Zandor from The Herculoids) as Reed.  And Fantastic Four co-creator Jack Kirby worked on designs and storyboards for the series. 

But in spite of fans' animus towards the character, or maybe because of it, he made his first Marvel comics appearance in 1979’s Fantastic Four #209 and inexplicably, kept on making appearances for the next 40 years as mostly a background character.  Though he also didn’t seem to be favorite among creators either given the way H.E.R.B.I.E was treated being repeatedly destroyed, disrespected and possessed by evil entities.  Even when he finally got a meaty role in Chris Eliopoulos' brilliant Franklin Richards, Son of a Genius, he served as young Franklin’s long-suffering babysitter and personal butt monkey.

And Val just unleashed all those decades of bent up repressed rage and resentment on the Marvel Universe, on basically a whim.  This seems horribly out of character, given how she’s repeatedly proven herself to be smarter than her father.  She was the only one who realized that by increasing the intelligence of the Dragon Man, “an artificial dragon-like humanoid android,” she could turn a perpetual menace into a valuable ally.  After all, if she wanted to “liberate” an artificial life form from its programming, wouldn’t it have been more logical for her to start with the one she reprogrammed herself in the first place?

While it does have the advantage of having a "torn from today's headlines" quality (I keep finding headlines online about the "coming A.I. revolution"), as a lifelong lover of all things robotic, I can't say I’m keen on this “Robot Revolution” event.  For one thing, it seems like a pretty standard rehash of dystopian SF tropes from people who don’t seem to have done a lot of research on artificial intelligence. 

And for another, as a lover of minor Jack Kirby creations, I'm saddened to see Machine Man (aka Minster Machine, aka Aaron Stack aka X-51) being one of its ringleaders.  The formerly noble, if somewhat bland, raised-by-humans android has been hanging around the peripheries of Tony Stark: Iron Man for a while now as a “militant of mecha-activism.”  Up until now he's just been bitterly complaining about how oppressed robots, are to anyone who would listen.  Without ever actually showing us just how they’re oppressed.  This is nothing new, he’s been acting like a antihuman tool ever since he first appeared in Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen's Nextwave: Agents of Hate from 2006, but this is a major escalation in his antisocial behavior.  Here’s hoping that by the end of this storyline someone will press a button at the back of his head and he’ll revert back to his original 1977 factory settings.

It's hard to imagine that being upgraded into a potentially existential threat to humanity will gain H.E.R.B.I.E any more fan respect, but then, I can’t imagine this permutation of the character lasting very long either. But then, I don’t suppose it’s exactly fair to say that “everyone hates H.E.R.B.I.E” anymore; too much time has passed and there are so many other fresher things for fans to feel aggrieved about.  He must have his fans, just look at all of the H.E.R.B.I.E merchandise, nobody makes toys of a universally hated character.  Maybe this undoubtedly short-term turn to "The Dark Side" is just the thing fandom needs to finally fully embrace him.  And they'll express their affection for him in the only way they seem to know how; through outrage.

After all, nobody knew that everyone loved Hawkeye until Marvel temporarily killed him.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of