Too Many Long Boxes!

End of Summer

It's the 30th you know where your robots are?

by Chaim Mattis Keller

One of the more interesting things about the world of the Legion of Super-Heroes, as contrasted against the future envisioned in most twentieth-century science fiction, is the relative lack of robots.

It seems that by the thirtieth century, sentient organic beings only trust robots with menial, well-defined jobs. And why not? The planet Colu, with its history of being dominated by computer tyrants, is part of the United Planets, and could very well have the clout to ban serious artificial intelligence work.

There does not seem to be any beneficent artificial intelligences in the pre-Zero Hour thirtieth century. The first A. I. featured in a Legion story was Karth Arn, in Adventure Comics # 327. In a story that has eerie echoes of the Kubrick/Spielberg movie from this past summer, Arn was a work android created by Doctor Mar Londo. However, Arn became so attached to Dr. Londo, that he considered the man to be his father and grew almost homicidally jealous of Londo's biological son, Brin. Arn eventually brainwashed Brin Londo into believing himself to be the android Karth Arn and passed himself off as Brin Londo until a series of thefts attracted the attention of the Legion, who revealed the truth to Brin and to the world. Brin Londo eventually became the heroic Timber Wolf, but despite his fearlessness in most ways, he had, until the end of his life, a deep-seated apprehension about androids.

The next artificial intelligence encountered by the Legion was Brainiac 5's creation, Computo, in Adventure Comics # 340-341. What can be said about Computo? Its smug sense of superiority led it to believe that its destiny was to destroy humanity and take over the Earth...possibly all of the United Planets. It killed one of Triplicate Girl's three bodies before being stopped by an unpredictable "anti-matter force thing." It returned again to almost kill the Legion several years later in the first Legion Annual, taking up residence in the mind of Danielle Foccart, whose brother Jacques had to become the second Invisible Kid to stop the monster. Following that, Brainiac 5 managed to tame Computo for a while and make it serve as the majordomo of Legion headquarters...but when the Legion was disbanded by the Dominator-controlled Earth government, the Dominators seized Computo and implanted its intelligence circuits into B.I.O.N., another menace the Legion could almost not defeat.

And then comes Tarik the Mute. No, he's not a robot, but he had a robot henchman to do all the talking he could no longer naturally do. Sound like the simple menial stuff? If only. Tarik died in prison, but he made sure his robot was smart enough to carry out a revenge scheme against Colossal Boy, the Legionnaire who was primarily responsible for his defeat. The robot got hit men to turn Colossal Boy's mother to glass, and the Legionnaires only changed her back by forcibly taking the information from the robot's data banks. Not to be outdone by this is Professor Ivo, the old Justice League foe and creator of Amazo, who had a robot programmed to kill descendants of Justice League members at every full moon for one thousand years, until the Legion unraveled that plot in Legion of Super-Heroes (Levitz series) Annual # 1.

How about Pulsar Stargrave? The aforementioned Computer Tyrants of Colu, defeated in the late twentieth century by Vril Dox II, who tortured beings of thousands of species out of cold scientific curiosity. They then intentionally traumatized Lydea Mallor of Talok VIII as part of a revenge scheme against Dox, and succeeded in having the girl kill her own mother. By the time the thirtieth century rolled around, the body occupied by these guys had developed an identity as Pulsar Stargrave, and tried to trick Brainiac 5 into betraying the Legion in order to obtain power that would make Stargrave master of the universe. Fortunately for the Legion, he was much less powerful than he presented himself to be, and not only did the Legion manage to defeat him, but he was later humiliated by Matter-Eater Lad and the Legion of Substitute Heroes.

Attempts at having artificial intelligences enforce the law proved to be failures. Although the people of Yal are proud of their robot police force, those robots have proven highly corruptible, as shown in issue # 33 of the latest Legion of Super-Heroes series. Seems they should have taken their cue from something the Guardians of the Universe had learned two billion years previously, when the Manhunters revolted against them. Speaking of whom, one other artificially intelligent foe the Legion faced was a Manhunter android, which disguised itself as Legion Academy student Laurel Kent in order to act as a sleeper agent in the robots' ongoing war against the Guardians. The Legion didn't truly defeat Laurel; Laurel chose to self-destruct when it could find no trace of the Guardians on Earth and determined that its mission was a failure.

As I said, there are other robots in the DCU...performing menial jobs. In the very first Legion story, Superboy stops a runaway robot, and robots are shown serving ice cream at the Nine Planets Ice Cream Parlor. In Adventure Comics # 301, Bouncing Boy credits his origin to watching a Robot Gladiator match and being too captivated by it to notice that he was drinking a scientific formula that would turn him into a human rubber ball rather than soda pop. We are treated to sights of robot chauffeurs and waiters in such issues as Action Comics # 381 and Legion of Super-Heroes (Levitz series) # 34. And the organic androids called Probes were omnipresent in the background during the Giffen-Beirbaum era.

But it seems that the thirtieth century has soured on the notion of artificial intelligence being a helper to humanity.

And, judging from the recent Legion Worlds miniseries, it doesn't look like Zero Hour has improved things at all. The biggest threat to the United Planets is clearly the entity Robotica, a "robot paradise planet" which was once so quiet as to be thought only a legend, but has now spread across the galaxy like an aggressive tumor. Despite the heroism of robots and androids in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, apparently thirtieth-century man (with the exception of Brainiac 5, who seldom seems to learn anything) has learned that creation of intelligence is a task best left to...someone else.

Letters Editor Chaim Mattis Keller, aka Legion-Reference-File Lad, is a computer programmer who lives in New York City with his wife and four children.

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