Philosophies Of Marvel: What Is The Boundary Between Humans And Machines?
April 23, 2013

Philosophies Of Marvel: What Is The Boundary Between Humans And Machines?

Around since 1961, Marvel has seen a lot of changes over the years, and not just with its own massive expansion, its changing characters, and rise in the entertainment industry, but also in the world around them and the change in their audience. Don’t believe me? Look at comics written in the 80s and the comics written now. However, the ideology and philosophy of Marvel seems almost unchanging. In fact, they have seemed to introduce even more beliefs in their works.

This being said, there is one idea that Marvel has had a sort of odd fascination with; what is the difference between man and machine and where does one draw the line? Marvel has introduced many robotic characters (both good and bad) including Ultron, Jocasta, Danger, Warlock, and Vision. And let’s not forget the X-men’s greatest nightmare, the Sentinels.

The first five play a unique role in the Marvel universe, as all are considered “sentient beings.” All of them, to some extent or another, display human-like behavior and most exhibit emotions of one form or another. Ultron, created by his “father” Henry Pym, is purely evil and considered by all as a super-villain to be feared. However, though Henry Pym constantly blames himself, no one considers him at fault, blaming the A.I. for its actions (even though the A.I.’s thoughts are based off Henry’s own brain patterns!). Ultron is treated, not as a tool gone wrong, but as an evil individual with a major Oedipus complex.

Vision also displays a unique aspect of Marvel’s philosophy. A member of the Avengers, Vision has been treated as no less than a trustworthy teammate and even having a romantic relationship with the Scarlet Witch. This union between the android, Vision, and Scarlet Witch is accepted by all without any protest. However, Spider-man, in the third issue of Avengers: Disassembled, makes the point that Scarlet Witch was dating a “robot” and goes as far to say “If I was dating a robot, you’d all talk about me behind my back” (pg. 8).This highlights the confusion between human/machine inter-relationship and whether such relationships could ever be societally acceptable. Before this, Vision also expresses constant confusion about his role in a world of people when he is merely an android. Although he is capable of all human emotions (even if he may not always understand them), he is still a machine with all the capabilities of the most advanced super-computers. This really forces the reader to re-examine what makes anything “sentient” or even “human” for that matter.

By far one of the most touching moments that blurs the line between being “alive” and being simply a “machine” is Juston Seyfert’s Sentinel in Avengers Academy, issues 32 and 33 (published June 20, 2012 and July 18, 2012 respectively). For those unfamiliar, the basic story line is a tie-in to the Avengers vs. X-Men event. The background for these two issues is that Emma Frost (with part of the Phoenix Force’s power) decides to eliminate all Sentinels, since they are a reminder of the worst of mutant history. Emma arrives to Avengers Academy with the intent to destroy Juston’s Sentinel. Juston tries to protest against this, claiming that he loves his Sentinel and that his Sentinel loves him in return. Despite never being able to completely remove the “destroy all mutants” program, Juston is convinced that he has re-programmed the Sentinel enough so that it won’t attack unless largely provoked, or if it bypasses every single superior directive he installed.

Emma, unconvinced of course, begins to attack his Sentinel, which responds with its own retaliation and the rest of Avengers Academy tries their best to protect Juston and his Sentinel. As the Sentinel follows his directive to “Protect Juston” from Emma, Juston yells for his Sentinel to follow his prime directive: “Will not abandon Juston. Not ever. No matter what”. Before anyone can react, the Sentinel overrides its prime directive and protects Juston in a suicidal attempt. As a reader, this scene was moving to the point of tears. Pym explains, for those who don’t understand the gravity of the situation, that what just happened was simply unfeasible; that overriding a prime directive was impossible… for a machine.

In a world becoming more and more in touch with technology every day, where machines and software are sometimes given pseudo-personalities, the idea of machines behaving like people is not just feasible, but a distinct possibility. Marvel’s philosophy on the boundary between man and machine may become important as we move into an age where technology gains ever-more prominence in our lives.

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