Forgotten Villains: Who's Ultivac?

Who's This? The big robot Mr. Poseidon controlled in the Forgotten Villains was actually from an entirely different story/franchise/decade.

The facts: Ultivac first appeared in the Challengers of the Unknown's second appearance (Showcase #7), which is historically important because it was June Robbins' first appearance as well, and the issue she joined the Chals. Plus, Jack Kirby. So even if Ultivac has appeared less than the Faceless Hunter, he's probably still the Forgotten Villain you're most likely to come across.
How you could have heard of him: Showcase Presents the Challengers of the Unknown is a cheap reprint trade, and you don't have to dig very far for Ultivac's issue. The robot also appeared in Young Justice #50 and of course, Resurrection Man #25.
Example story: Showcase #7 (March-April 1957) by Dave Wood and Jack Kirby, reprinted in Challengers of the Unknown #75 (1970)
So the Challengers are doing their thing, living on borrowed time and doing dangerous stuff, when they get a visit from a Nazi war criminal called Felix Hesse, who used to hold a high position in the Ministry of Science. He got caught and made friends with a bank robber interested in math and science and together they started to plan for when their sentences would end.
They built "a new type of calculating machine", and now their creation is after him. What kind of calculator puts so much fear into the hearts of men?
A calculator built into a giant robot and who through some twist of faith has developed sentience. Oh, and cool propellers!
Ultivac flies off with his creator and the Chals are stumped as to what to do next. They need help understanding these new-fangled "calculators", so they head to a Washington D.C. research lab to meet Director Robbins, a computer - sorry, I mean CALCULATING MACHINE - expert.
Meet June Robbins, a smart feminist way ahead of her time whose destiny is about to become entangled in the Unknown. Speaking of destiny, her own computer makes a prediction as to how Ultivac might be stopped:
Right, she invented the Magic 8 Ball. How cryptic and user unfriendly! Clearly, Windows Vista's direct ancestor. Meanwhile, Ultivac is building robot copies of Hesse (a THOUSAND of them) and he sends them out into the world to get supplies. Maybe he'd have supplies left over if he hadn't built a thousand robots, but Ultivac is 1957's ultimate computer. Who am I to argue with his massive intellect? When the FBI starts capturing these fake Hesses, they auto-destruct harmlessly. Red and June follow one of them into a high-tech helicopter and stow away. But when they get to the caves where Ultivac is hiding, they discover another of the robot's powers:
Damn thing is telepathic! June's natural machine empathy makes Ultivac trust her immediately, but Red still stages an attack and an escape, with the help of Hesse who secretly made a gun able to deactivate his creation. He and his bank robber friend plan to make millions by bringing Ultivac under control (somehow), but June and Red seem to think the government should be in charge of this dangerous robot (simpler times). Hesse presents his now enslaved creation to the world at Yankee Stadium, but when June tries to help the sad bot, he turns into King Kong and makes off with her like some brunette Fay Ray. Ace flies a mission to save her, but his plane gets downed. Prof follows them into the sea, but gets captured too. Oh! And this sequence features my favorite of Ultivac's abilities: His head doubles as an air-tight cockpit!
June makes a plea for Ultivac and humanity to trust each other, but when Ultivac sends a robot double out of the water, he's destroyed by Red and Rocky. Clearly, it's not going to be that easy to make peace between Monkey and Robot. Ultivac calls a press conference where Hesse claims the robot is his property, while June calls for him to be government property.
A slave either way, but between the U.S. government and a NAZI WAR CRIMINAL, I think I can tell which is the lesser of two evils. Hesse pulls a gun and destroys Ultivac. Rocky jumps him and gets fatally shot as well. Oh no! That punchcard prophecy came true! Computers ARE infallible! Just like Nostradamus! It's a mad rush to the hospital, but Rocky dies. Ah well, June offers to join the Chals and they've got an open spot so accept. And then, thanks to "new techniques" of "heart massage", the doctors save Rocky! I guess it's a good thing the Chals don't have a "Four" in their team name (at least not yet, if you know what I mean). And Ultivac? June rebuilt him as a big calculator, his sentience gone.
And that's where Mr. Poseidon finds him in DC Comics Presents #77, using a special ring to turn him into a sentient (and thus, once again, enslaved) killer robot. An unwilling villain to the last.

Who else? I hope you liked Forgotten Villains Week. Up next on Who's This? a Golden Age villain. Those are as good as forgotten too, aren't they?

3 comments:

Zundian said...

Nice of Clark Kent to deign to cover the press conference. Probably hoping for a new addition to his private collection of super-robots.

d said...

That Forgotten Heroes/Villains story in DCCP was one of my favorites and probably what triggered my love of obscure DC Silver Age titles. Right now I'm looking at a box full of old Challengers, Rip Hunters, Blackhawks, etc.. (as well as bunch of Bob Hopes & Jerry Lewises). No Sea Devils tho, got to do something about that soon...

Siskoid said...

Sea Devils IS a major hole in that particular collection I agree!

My own love of more obscure characters I can probably trace to Who's Who itself, though my first taste was DCCP as well. I was always more interested in the offbeat team-ups than Superman hanging with members of the Justice League or something. Which is why its replacement, Byrne's Action Comics, was a disappointment on a certain level.

 

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