I wasn't about to let the year go by without presenting some sort of "2001" homage. But what sort of connection is there to Spider-Man? This is the best I could do.
In 1976, Jack "King" Kirby wrote and drew an adaptation of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey which appeared in the oversize Marvel Treasury format. Shortly thereafter, Kirby created the 2001 comic book which ran for ten issues (December 1976-September 1977). In 2001: A Space Odyssey #8 (July 1977), Jack presented a new character; a sentient robot originally called Mr. Machine. His name eventually became Machine Man. In Marvel Team-Up #99 (November 1980), he met up with Spider-Man.
It is late at night by the time Graduate Teaching Assistant Peter Parker puts aside his research. He has been at it for five hours, all in preparation for a "forty minute classroom lecture which most of my undergrads will sleep through". But, though he finishes up with a big yawn, he is not ready to call it a night. Instead he feels that he's "earned some fresh air and a good work-out... a chance to unwind and relax". How do you combine all those things? If you're Peter Parker, you change into your Spider-Man costume and take to the webs. (I was going to leave it at that but I just have to quote this Spidey line: "You don't get action like this from roller-disco!" Now, twenty-some years after the fact, it's hard to recall whether that line was intended to be taken seriously or not!)
Meanwhile, at Ryker's State Prison, two guards look in on the imprisoned Sandman. One worries that the super-villain is "getting restless" but the other guard (whose name is Rocco) is not concerned. The Sandman can turn his entire body into sand and slip through the tiniest cracks but he is currently being held in a "free-flowing plexi-glass bubble... composed of unstable molecules... designed by Reed Richards, leader of the Fantastic Four". This doesn't stop the Sandman (dressed in his metallic-looking costume with the green mask which he wears throughout this entire story even though he is shown on the cover in his old-time striped green shirt) from vowing he will escape from the giant transparent bubble that stretches when he stretches and flows when he flows.
Elsewhere in the prison, Grant Stevens, a guard, makes his evening rounds. Grant is not enjoying himself one bit. In fact, he hates his job. "We don't reform criminals - we merely collect 'em - and hide 'em from a frightened public," he thinks. Perhaps it is this disenchantment that makes him easy prey for what happens next. He looks into the jail cell of the villain known as Baron Brimstone and stops in surprise. The Baron, a red-haired man with a red beard, red mustache and red eyebrows (all of which connect up to his hair so that his face is sectioned off into thirds), is levitating in the lotus position at least five feet off the ground. Now that he has Stevens' attention, the Baron gazes deeply into the guard's eyes and dominates his will. He orders the cell to be unlocked and Stevens immediately complies. Then he instructs Stevens to accompany him "to the property office" so that he can divest himself of his prison greens and get back into his own costume.
And so it is that moments later, a ball of flame and swirling yellow mists appear within the Sandman's cell. Rocco and two of his pals respond immediately. They open the cell door and step in to investigate. But before the guards can take more than a few steps inside, a caped figure appears within the fireball and the officers find themselves "blasted by bolts of pure energy!" Baron Brimstone appears from the flames, dressed in a blue suit (and cape) with white shirt and string tie. "Mortal", he tells the Sandman, "I bring you greetings from beyond this Earthly realm" but Sandy isn't falling for these "crummy special effects". All he knows is that the Baron must need him for something or else he wouldn't be here.
On the floor, one of the guards starts to recover. He reaches for his gun, knowing that he could be promoted to sergeant for preventing the escape. But Brimstone "could sense [his] returning consciousness" and he zaps the guard with another energy bolt. Quickly, the Baron turns back to the Sandman and asks for his help "on a matter of personal vengeance" in exchange for releasing him. The Sandman agrees and Baron Brimstone gestures hypnotically (oh no, wait... that's Mandrake). The plexi-glass bubble melts away. The Sandman can't believe it. The bubble resisted all his escape attempts and Brimstone is able to wipe it out with a gesture. "My awesome abilities transcend the laws of science," says the Baron, then he "bends time and space" to teleport himself and his new ally to his "Upper Westchester estate" (which looks like the White House). It is, he tells the Sandman, "my retreat for when the rigors of crime become too pressing."
The Sandman is impressed but, if he's going to partner with the Baron, he wants to know the truth. Is Brimstone "the greatest magician alive" or are his feats pulled off with illusions and tricks. The Baron tells him that he "obtained a certain competence in the mystic arts yet I am not above employing advanced technology when it suits my purpose". And, as if to demonstrate this to the reader, he removes his cape (which through the power of the mystic arts has now turned red) and reveals some sort of metal contraption on his back. I suppose this is supposed to be the device he uses to teleport (since he would have teleported out of his cell if he could do it with his own powers) but it really only looks like he accidentally lay down on and flattered a garbage can.
The two men settle into a very swank and spacious sitting room. The Baron offers the Sandman a Bailey's Irish Cream but Sandy is content with a beer. "Who's the creep ya want wasted?" he asks. "A living robot called Machine Man" answers the Baron. He explains that Machine Man "disrupted a highly profitable enterprise of mine" (Machine Man #16 (August 1980)) and he seeks revenge. The Baron notes, "During our bout, the robot exhibited an unnatural interest in one Pamela Quinn - a file clerk for the Delmar Insurance Company". The Sandman gets the picture. The plan is to kidnap Pamela Quinn (or as the Sandman puts it, "we snatch the frail") and use her as bait to attract Machine Man. Sandy promises to "mash" the robot good. Brimstone proves his resolve by using a power bolt to wipe out Sandman's discarded beer can. (Oooh! I'm impressed!)
The next morning, Peter Parker arrives on the E.S.U. campus, ready to put in a good day as a teaching assistant. He has "classes to lecture, labs to proctor and reports to type". He passes by a student carrying a boom box and hears a special report that the Sandman has escaped prison. "So much for lunch!" thinks Peter.
And in an apartment on the East Side, psychiatrist Peter Spaulding walks into a room and comes upon his roommate Aaron Stack without his face on, cleaning the metal extensors of his right leg with a rag wielded by an extended right arm. Aaron Stack is Machine Man, a robot originally dubbed X-51. He is designed to look like he has a purple costume on and usually wears a human-like mask to cover his robotic facial features. His arms and legs can lengthen out, looking something like Stilt-Man's stilts. Aaron has been befriended by Peter Spaulding and has a job as an investigator at the Wall Street headquarters of Delmar Insurance where no one knows he is a robot. He also has a "genius mechanic" friend named Gears Garvin who can whip up modifications on his robot body anytime he needs a little help. (Gears will make his appearance a little later in the story.) And that, my friends, is about the extent of my knowledge of Machine Man.
In any event, Peter Spaulding enters the room to tell Aaron that Baron Brimstone has escaped prison but Aaron already knows because his "internal monitors were tuned to the news". He puts his human mask on, preparing to go to work. Since Brimstone never seemed "the forgiving type", Aaron assumes he will hear from the villain soon.
Later at Delmar Insurance, Eddie Harris accosts Pamela Quinn with yet "another get-rich-quick scheme". (Eddie is pudgy and wears a green suit with a bow tie. Pamela is blonde and dressed in a blue skirt, white blouse, and blue vest. These two are near dead-ringers for Foggy Nelson and Karen Page from the early years of Daredevil. Add Machine Man, who must wear dark glasses when disguised as Aaron Stack in order to conceal his big glowing-red robot eyes, and you have the look-alike for blind lawyer Matt Murdock; the office worker who is also a super-hero.) Eddie tells Pamela that he has a tip on a quarterback who is planning to throw a football game. He wants to place a bet to clean up. Pamela is appalled. "Betting on football is illegal," she says. "Nah!" says Eddie. (Maybe not, Eddie, but a quarterback throwing a game sure is.) "The point spread is as much a part of the game as Howard Cosell," he says. (I don't know about the rest of you guys but I miss Howard Cosell.) Pam is uninterested so Eddie hits up Aaron who remembers too well the time that Eddie "tried to con me into investing in designer diapers for fashion-conscious toddlers". Eddie stalks off, insulted, vowing to soon be "rolling in big bucks". Pamela leans up against Aaron's desk to talk about Eddie and Aaron is confused by the "puzzling sensations" he gets from his "computerized brain... whenever she's near". (Just like Matt Murdock!) But a flash of light and the appearance of two men interrupt all of this. It is Baron Brimstone and the Sandman and they declare that they "have come for Pamela Quinn!"
Brimstone shoots out very threatening-looking energy blasts from his hands and the Delmar office workers run for the hills. The Sandman smashes desks aside, clearing a path, until he recognizes Pamela "from a picture Brimmy had". Aaron realizes that the Sandman has spotted Pam so he makes her hide in the recessed area of his desk and leaps to the attack. The Sandman is unimpressed by the sight of an insurance investigator coming at him by jumping off his desk. He rears back with a giant sandy fist and punches Aaron through two walls of the offices. Hidden from view, a recovering Aaron (who might "be one mangled mess" if it wasn't for his "mighty metal frame") strips off his business suit and his glasses. It is time for the appearance of Machine Man.
Outside, Spider-Man swings through the city. Peter Parker has cancelled his afternoon classes, hoping to get a lead on the Sandman. Suddenly, his spider-sense kicks in and leads him to the Delmar Insurance building. Spidey crashes through the window at the same time that Machine Man attacks from the other side. The Sandman sees them both, sinks down to the floor in his sand form, and allows the two heroes to collide with each other.
Baron Brimstone is surprised to see Spider-Man enter the picture and he decides that the circumstances dictate a retreat. The Sandman grabs Pamela Quinn in his big sandy paw and tells the Baron to "set yer hexes hummin' and let's split". Brimstone does not appreciate being ordered around by the Sandman and tells him so. This leads to that wonderful inevitable moment in nearly every comic-book villain team-up when the partners simultaneously think about how they are going to get rid of their associate the first chance they get. "I'm gonna cool this conjuring clown" thinks Sandman. "I must rid myself of this muck-encrusted misfit," thinks Brimstone.
The villains start to disappear in a cloud of smoke. A woozy Spidey manages to flick a spider-tracer at the bad guys as they go. The tracer lands securely on Pamela Quinn's butt. Machine Man extends his arms about ten feet out and leaps at the cloud but he is too late to prevent Pamela's abduction. And, wouldn't you know it, Spidey takes one look at Machine Man and assumes that he is "one of the baddies [who] got left behind". Good thing the wall-crawler is so suspicious because we have three pages of story we need to fill with the obligatory battle between the heroes.
Actually, Machine Man isn't so trusting himself. With the Baron and Sandman gone, Aaron turns on the web-slinger. He recalls that the Daily Bugle calls Spider-Man "a menace". Still, he prefers to render his own judgment but he is suspicious over the timing of Spidey's arrival, which "prevented Pam's rescue". The wall-crawler is thinking similar thoughts. He knows that "according to the media, Machine Man's a mechanized marauder" so he leaps over and socks Aaron right in the jaw. "You jaw feels like steel," says Spidey and it's hardly surprising considering that Machine Man is a robot. Aaron, meanwhile, puts up a token protest ("Spider-Man stop! We need not fight!") then decides awful quickly that the webhead won't listen to reason. He extends his right arm out and wallops Spidey in the snoot. An even longer left arm follows this up. All of this punching and extending forces Spider-Man to leap up and cling to the ceiling. "I could easily pluck you from your vantage point" brags Machine Man, "but I prefer to talk!"
But Spidey's having none of that. He shoots his webbing and ties Machine Man's hands together. The robot hero is much tougher than Spider-Man supposes, however. He extends and swings his arms, which rips Spidey right off the ceiling. ("You ripped me right off the wall!" yells the webster, not knowing the difference between a wall and a ceiling.) MM slingshots the wall-crawler into a wall, then uses his "internal heating units" to melt the webbing off his hands. Quickly, Spider-Man recovers and leaps back, attacking with his feet. Machine Man returns serve by wrapping his extended arm around Spidey's chest like a Doctor Octopus tentacle and jamming the web-swinger halfway through the floor. Spidey counters by grabbing the robotic arm and cracking the whip, which plows MM's head into the floor. (And I should probably mention that both heroes are quipping like crazy throughout. Machine Man utters such gems, as "I am a somewhat lovable living robot, a highly sophisticated multi-functional mobile computer who has been programmed for combat. I also play a mean kazoo and I'm murder at backgammon!" and "My warranty is good for thirty-three more fights!" Spidey seems to specialize in insulting monikers for a robot, calling Aaron "Circuit-Breath", "a simonized stooge" and "Transistor Toes" in rapid succession.)
Machiney immediately recovers and the battle resumes. However, not all of the employees have taken flight. Eddie Harris is crouching behind a broken desk, waiting for the phone call that will deliver his hot tip. The phone rings across the room and Eddie decides that, super-hero battle or no super-hero battle, he must answer that phone. He almost makes it, only to be grabbed and pulled away by Machine Man at the last moment. The call is "not worth your life" according to Aaron. "Wanna bet?" replies Eddie. But it's too late. MM punches Spidey hard and the wall-crawler lands on top of the ringing telephone, flattening it. With the tragic end of the phone and the hot tip, Eddie collapses. Machine Man follows up by wrapping both "Ock-like" arms around Spidey. He lifts the webhead into the air, then, rather than "pulp your bones", releases the wall-crawler, proving his good intentions. A chastised Spidey realizes "I treated MM the way Jolly Jameson treats me; I immediately assumed the worst!"
Now that our three-page battle has ended, the police arrive, having gotten a report of a riot. Machine Man extends his legs into stilts, crashes through a window, and escapes. He tells Spidey to join him "if you wish to continue our conversation". The wall-crawler barely hesitates. He leaps after the fleeing robot leaving the police empty-handed.
Soon after, Spidey hangs by a web from a rooftop ledge while Machine Man negates gravity and stands on the wall just below. The web-slinger explains that he dropped a spider-tracer on the bad guys but that the signal disappeared "when the baddies zapped-out". Machine Man believes he can re-establish contact with the signal if Spidey will lend him another tracer. He opens a plate in his chest to reveal his mechanical insides and places the tracer within. (This surprises Spidey. "MM's so humanlike", he thinks, "I forgot he was a machine".) Machine Man's attempt is successful. He pinpoints the signal to "thirty miles north of the city". The next step is to pick up some transportation.
To that end, the duo head to Garvin's Garage to get some mechanical accoutrements from irascible old Gears. ("So! You young yahoos wanna go fer a jaunt in the suburbs!" says Gears, "Well, la-de-dah!") Garvin attaches an "additional power source" onto Machine Man's back to give him enough juice to carry Spider-Man. Then he attaches a propeller to the top of MM's head, making it look like he's wearing the world's biggest beanie copter. Spidey sits in a swing made of webbing that hangs off of Machiney's waist as the robot uses his new propeller to take to the air. ("Don't go getting yourselves killed", says Gears, "I want dem parts back!") In less than a half an hour, Machine Man zeroes in on the spider-tracer's signal, emanating from Baron Brimstone's mansion.
Within the building, BB and Sandman have tied Pamela Quinn to a chair, demanding that she contact Machine Man. Pamela tells them she doesn't know how. Besides she's "terrified of that grotesque mockery of humanity". But, the Baron asks, "didn't he once save your life?" "Yes", she replies, "but that doesn't make him any less frightening". Brimstone is about to pursue the matter but he is interrupted by a stream of webbing that suddenly attaches to his cape. Next thing he knows, he is sailing through the air, courtesy of spider-strength. The web-slinger swings the Baron directly into a wall.
The Sandman figures Brimstone has had it. He chides himself for teaming up with "that fright-faced freak" but he doesn't plan to go down as easily. He turns the lower half of his body into a big sandy steamroller and barrels down the hall towards our heroes. Spidey and Machine Man (who has somehow dispensed with his propeller) leap away and the Sandman smashes right through the wall. The good guys decide to split up, with Spidey taking on Brimstone and Machiney jumping through the wall to tackle the Sandman. (Ah! The old switcheroo!) But when he gets to the other room, MM is surprised to see that the Sandman has disappeared. He lets down his guard, allowing Sandy (who was hiding out by spreading his sand across the floor of the room) to rise up and attack.
Back in the other room, Baron Brimstone has recovered and tosses three spheres at Spider-Man. The webhead's spider-sense tells him to dodge and it's a good thing he does. The sphere's are "filled with lethal explosives". If not for his spider-speed, the wall-crawler would have been caught up in them. With Spidey distracted, Brimstone "conjures up a dimensional gateway" and tries to make his escape. But the web-slinger leaps up at the glowing portal and manages to dive through before the magic spell fades away.
Much to Spidey's surprise, the Baron has not escaped to a "quiet conservative community" ("like downtown Teheran" says a wall-crawler still living at the time of the Iranian hostage situation) but to an entirely different dimension. This one looks like all the other Ditkoesque Dr. Strange dimensions of years past with floating islands, planetary bodies, and tree limbs that lead to nowhere. The Baron stands on one of those islands, powering up his mystic energies. "I deliberately led you into this bewildering blustering quasi-universe", he says. Then he strikes with a mystic blast that Spidey just barely evades. The blasts continue even as, behind the web-spinner, a red mist appears. Three giant demons (two green and one red) appear from the mist. "A veritable army of them!" yells Spidey. (Uh... no, wall-crawler. Just... three!)
Our hero is frightened but he doesn't let that hinder him. He lashes out at the first demon with a right-handed punch. Unfortunately, the demon's head dissolves into a green mist and the punch goes right through. (Spidey also lashes out with some pretty lame dialogue: "The ghastly goon is dissolving before I can make contact", he says. Yes, he really did say "ghastly goon".) The webster knows he can't hurt the demon but the demon can hurt him. He tries to punch the big green guy in the shoulder, only to have the shoulder turn to mist. The demon reaches out with a big right hand and completely envelopes Spidey's head. He rears back, like a baseball pitcher in his motion, and tosses the web-slinger over to the red demon, who catches him and whips him over to the third demon. All of this tossing is wearing Spider-Man down. He knows he must put an end to it, so he shoots webbing at one of the tree branches, swings around and finds a perch on it. He realizes that he could be left behind in this dimension if Brimstone decides to take a powder so he takes three leaps, bouncing off the head of each demon (before they can turn into mist) and comes in for a landing right on the good Baron.
Brimstone grabs Spidey around the neck and threatens to use his "dark forces" against him. The web-slinger fights back and, in his struggle, finds the squashed garbage can on the Baron's back. He disconnects a couple of wires to see what happens and, instantly, the two men are back in the Baron's mansion, appearing right next to the battling Sandman and Machine Man. Now, Spidey is really confused. He doesn't know if the other dimension was real or "simply a masterful mind-bending illusion". The truth is, he doesn't worry about it very long. He punches the heck out of the mystical villain and knocks the Baron flat out.
The Sandman, meanwhile, has enveloped Machine Man in sand but the sudden defeat of Baron Brimstone has distracted him. Aaron takes advantage of the moment to loosen his "waist couplings" allowing him to "whirl [his] upper body like a giant fan". The Sandman realizes that the robot hero is trying to disperse his sandy form so he alters his density and becomes rock-hard. Just then, Spider-Man enters the fray. He blinds the Sandman by covering his eyes with webbing. All of this is according to Machine Man's plan. He was hoping Sandy would get solid. Now, with the villain grappling with Spider-Man's web, MM extends an arm out to a nearby electrical socket. He plugs in with one hand as he touches the Sandman with the other. Using his metal body to conduct the electricity, Machine Man succeeds in shocking the Sandman into unconsciousness.
Unfortunately, Baron Brimstone has used this time to recover and repair his "garbage can" apparatus. He babbles something about mere mortals not being able to triumph over him because he grows in power with each confrontation (yeah, yeah, whatever), then disappears in a puff of red smoke.
Machine Man goes over to the kidnap victim and unties her hands. A grateful Pam Quinn tells him to "keep your cold inhuman hands away from me!" then runs into Spider-Man's arms. "I wish Aaron Stack were here", she says, "he'd protect me from that... that thing!" Spidey can hardly believe that Pam is "hysterical with fear" over Machine Man and he realizes how hard the robot super-hero has it. "At least I can take off my costume and associate with my own kind", Spidey thinks, "but try as he might, he can never forget that he'll always stand apart from humanity... apart and alone". And a spurned Machine Man turns and walks slowly away all alone.
In spite of his boasts, Baron Brimstone never amounts to anything much after this. He shows up next in Avengers #251 (January 1985) where he is pretty easily dispatched by the Wasp and Paladin. He shows up so briefly in Fantastic Four #336 (January 1990) that you wouldn't even know it is him. In the midst of the "Acts of Vengeance" storyline, the FF is attacked by so many villains that they easily beat, they can hardly keep track. In one panel, Reed Richards lists some of them off, "May I introduce you to the Armadillo, the Owl, Orca the Killer Whale, the Man-Ape, Stilt Man, and Whirlwind. And I think the one who's still smoldering is Baron Brimstone." That's the guy down in the corner who looks like a silhouette with bubbles hanging over him. After that appearance... well, that's all there is. The Baron hasn't shown up anywhere since.
The Sandman, on the other hand, has made so many appearances it's nearly impossible to list them all. I'll take a deep breath and recite as many post-MTU #99 appearances as I can before I have to inhale again. Ready? *Huuuuuuuuuuuuuup!* AmazingSpider-Man#214AmazingSpider-Man#215AmazingSpider-Man#217AmazingSpider-Man#218MarvelTwo-In-One#86MarvelTwo-In-One#96MarvelTeam-Up#138AmazingSpider-Man#280AmazingSpider-Man#281SoloAvengers#6SoloAvengers#7AmazingSpider-Man#302AmazingSpider-Man#303SoloAvengers#17WebofSpider-Man#50 *Huuuuuuuuuuuuuuup* That's the best I can do. Those of you savvy enough to look at an issue number and know what is what will note that this appearance took place just prior to the events that led the Sandman into going straight and becoming a crime-fighter; a pretty neat concept unfortunately thrown away by our old friend Howard Mackie.
Machine Man's series was only a few months away from being kaput at the time of this team-up. He has since turned up in various mini-series and relaunches; the latest being X-51 (September 1999-July 2000) which I didn't read and of which I know nothing. (And I don't think I'm alone in this, judging by the brevity of the series.) Still, he is a Kirby creation and can stand proudly with Captain America, the Fantastic Four, Thor, the New Gods, Mr. Miracle, the Demon, and (uh) Devil Dinosaur in that regard. I'm sure his shiny little bod will return again somewhere down the line.