Last week, Marvel and ABC announced that J. August Richards would be returning - as Deathlok - in an upcoming arc in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. And the fans rejoiced: "Yay, more J. August Richards!" Followed promptly in some quarters by, "Hey, what is a 'Deathlok?'"
Well, that second question is a little complicated, because depending on the decade, who or what a Deathlok is changes at old Marvel HQ.
So join us as we take a look at Deathlok's comic past and our best guesses about what that means for his future on TV.
6. When Marvel Created Robocop... In 1974!
Cast your imagination back to the year 1974: Vietnam is still churning along, Nixon's presidency is coming to an end, and The Six Million Dollar Man presages the era of our bionic overlords. The nation is primed for a savior, one who will confront the corrupt politicians and War-Wolves bringing tarnishing this once-great nation's name.
Enter Rick Buckler and Doug Moench's creation, Deathlok, who made his debut in the pages of Astonishing Tales's 25th issue during the summer of 1974. And what a debut: an injured soldier rebuilt as a cyborg in the rubble of 1990's Detroit, he's the second most famous kill-bot from the Motor City.
When the bulk of Luther Manning's human bits are destroyed in combat, evil government stooge Simon Ryker crams Manning's brain (and the surviving half of Manning's face) into a shiny cyborg body for a new military weapons program. But before you can say "ghost in the machine," Manning rebels, going after the evil corporate goons and military overlords who have risen to power in the early 90's, before time travel shenanigans send him back to the then-present, because how else are you going to have him team up with the Thing?
Like Officer Murphy, Deathlok would struggle to keep the human parts of his personality alive, even as the lure of being a shiny, metal kill-monster was constantly tugging at his cybernetic half-brain. And also like Officer Murphy, poor Deathlok just wanted to be reunited with his family, and like Officer Murphy, 2014 will see Deathlok probably get some ill-advised visual reinvention that purists will complain about while everyone else kind of shrugs.
And with that, you now know everything there is to know about Deathlok.
5. Except for the Part Where Deathlok Has Been a Lot of Other Dead Guys
Deathlok has had more reboots and reinventions than Terry Bollea. And like the Hulkster, Deathlok's next phase began in the 1990s when a once-good man became a hideous monster thanks to sinister corporate manipulations, only to return time and again in new and baffling incarnations.
In 1990, Marvel brought Deathlok back as pacifist-turned-murder-machine Michael Collins in the pages of the character's new ongoing, Deathlok. The late, great Dwayne McDuffie wrote the character's reintroduction into the mainstream Marvel U, this time using the fictional conglomerate Roxxon as the heavies who thought it was a good idea to use a person antagonistic to everything they stand for in a nigh-invulnerable cyborg body.
Collins would truck along for several years in the Deathlok identity before regaining his body, but he wasn't the last character to carry the mantle (or half-face death machine design). Jack Truman, Larry Young, Jack Kelly, and a short-lived The Thing With Two Brains were at some point versions of Deathlok, and more broadly as some variation of the Project Deathlok concept, which alternately saw the creation of brainless cyborg assassins occur both in the present and expanded in the future of the Marvel U.
Now here's where things could get weird, interesting, or interestingly weird for Deathlok on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
4. "Project: Deathlok" Is a Terrible Idea That Makes for Great Stories
We know J. August Richards' character Michael Peterson will somehow be transformed into Deathlok in a future episode of ABC's series about how black science resurrected a bureaucrat from the Marvel movies. Which likely means that the character's introduction will be both interminably teased as well as mind-numbingly dull when it finally occurs, likely under the auspices of not-A.I.M. heavies, Centipede.
But it has the potential to be so much more.
In all likelihood, the AoS writers will introduce Peterson as some iteration of the Project Deathlok program, potentially sending him after our Gap ad-ready team at S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ (although the the spy organization has been responsible for its own Deathloks in the past). And it's similarly likely that the character's struggle to maintain his humanity and not re-kill Clark Gregg will form the backbone of most stories involving the Petersonlok.
But oh, man, what if they introduced Project: Deathlok?
While broadly used in the Marvel U to describe the various corporate programs which ended up creating the cyborgs that set out to destroy them, one of the more compelling recent versions of the program saw Deathloks being mass-produced from the corpses of fallen soldiers, back when Norman Osborn was legally appointed as the head of the world's most dangerous spy organization.
Besides worrying about Peterson's zombie half-face zombie trying to murder the good guys, could we see multiple zombie half-face cyborgs running around Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? Could the introduction of the impending cyborg murderpocalypse be the way to keep the series afloat as a visually interesting and topical source of cannon fodder (as well as some easy monsters of the week)?
More importantly, what if the show's writers manage to create in Deathlok a character that people actually care about, on a show with a definite lack of those very things?