Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Adam Link: The Autobiography of a Mechanical Man [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

Sympathetic robot characters were not the norm in the 1930s. Robots were either the tools of mad scientists or out-of-control monsters. Isaac Asimov's fame as an SF writer rests partly on his tales of likeable robots. He created the famous "Three Laws of Robotics," logically deduced rules that robots would have to follow to be used safely in society. Asimov wrote entire novels around possible issues with the Three Laws and how robots would be accepted or not by humans.

But this was in the 1940s. Asimov's first story, "Robbie," was written in 1939 and did not see print until September 1940. Authors who predated Asimov include Neil R Jones with his stories of the Zoromes and John Wyndham (under his real name of John Beynon Harris) with "The Lost Machine," but most influential was Eando Binder (Earl and Otto Binder, a brother team). They created Adam Link, a robot who is judged by humanity, but not found wanting. The stories of Adam Link appeared in Amazing Stories between January 1939 and April 1942. The first of ten stories was entitled "I, Robot," because the narrator of the piece is the robot itself. This was revolutionary. Nobody had ever told the story from the robot's point-of-view before. When the stories were collected in book form the title I, Robot (1965) was selected. This was also the name of Asimov's first robot collection (1950), with the Binders' permission.

The original Binder stories are more like episodes in a novel. (In fact, when it came time to collect them, the story titles were dropped and only chapter titles were given.) The first story, "I, Robot" ends with Adam Link in prison, waiting for his destruction. The second part, "The Trial of Adam Link," has Adam being represented in court by Dr. Link's nephew, Thomas. This story ends with the case lost and Adam's facing death again. The next story has reporter Jack Hall finding the people Adam saved from a fire (and a small child from a speeding car), who speak out and free him. It is these two stories that will form the television adaptations of the future. "Adam Link in Business" has the robot searching for some form of meaning and employment. Jack Hall is interested in Kay Temple, but she falls for the metal man. Adam is forced to leave so that Kay can fall in love with a human. The story leaves off as Link goes on a new journey. What will happen to him next? These cliffhanger endings worked well to force editors and readers to ask for the next portion of the tale. In consecutive episodes, Adam fell under the control of an evil scientist, created a metal mate named Eve, then became a detective to save her from the Black Fist Gang's frame-up, and he became an athletic champion to win over public opinion and the right to have American citizenship. He even fought for humanity against alien invaders. Not bad for a robot.

Asimov casts a big shadow, but SF fans still have a fondness for Binder's Adam Link. The stories were adapted into comics and television. First in 1955-56 with EC's Weird Science-Fantasy #27-29 (March/April 1955 through May/June 1956). Adapted by Al Feldstein and drawn by Joe Orlando, the last three issues of this title adapted "I, Robot," "The Trial of Adam Link," and "Adam Link in Business." Feldstein's adaptation simplified the stories a little, but otherwise were faithful. Joe Orlando's art was low-key by EC standards, drawing Adam with a pointed conical head.

"I, Robot," the original story, received two television adaptations, first by the original Outer Limits (November 7, 1964) and again in the new version of Outer Limits (July 23, 1995). The best thing about these two, very similar versions is that Leonard Nimoy was featured in both. In 1964 he played the journalist Jack Hall (renamed Judson Ellis) who acts as a kind of foil to the lawyer, Thurman Cutler (played by Howard Da Silva) who represents Adam Link and loses. In the 1964 episode, the lawyer is not the relative. That is the beautiful Marianna Hall as the professor's niece, Nina Link. In 1995, Nimoy got to play Cutler himself (and wins the case) with his son Adam Nimoy directing the episode. Cynthia Preston is the prof's daughter, Mina Link, now playing foil in place of the reporter.

The first television version may have sparked an interest in another comic version. More likely it was an adaptation of "Adam Link's Vengeance" in a fanzine, Fantasy Illustrated #2, adapted by Otto Binder and drawn by D Bruce Berry and Bill Spicer. This piece won the Alley Award for Best Fan Comic Strip of the Year. Binder was interested in adapting more of the Adam Link stories, but who would publish them? The unusual choice was James Warren's Creepy. Known for down-beat horror, the magazine in its early days was edited by Archie Goodwin and attracted the likes of Frank Frazetta, Gray Morrow, Reed Crandall and Steve Ditko. The new adaptation by Otto Binder would be drawn by Joe Orlando, the original artist of 1955!

As you'd expect, Binder's adaptation is accurate and he gets to tell five more episodes about Adam Link. Orlando's second time around as artist is interesting because rather than replicate what he did ten years earlier, he uses the black and white medium well with gray shades and a more realistic look. He drew Adam differently too, abandoning the conical head for a more human one. In the end, the Creepy adaptations were well done, but ended too soon when the Warren company fell on hard times. In the end they published "I, Robot" (Creepy #2, April 1965), "Trial of Adam Link" (Creepy #4, August 1965) "Adam Link in Business" (Creepy #6, December 1965) "Adam Link's Mate" (Creepy #8, April 1966) "Adam Link's Vengeance" (Creepy #9, June 1966) "Robot Detective" (Creepy #12, December 1966) "Adam Link, Gangbuster" (Creepy #13, February 1967), and "Adam Link, Champion Athlete" (Creepy #15 August 1967).

Except for the 1995 Outer Limits episode, Adam Link's career ended here. And it's not surprising. He had a lot more competition by 1967. Robots were appearing in all kinds of media from books like Philip K Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? to television with Lost in Space and Astro to films like Forbidden Planet to comics like The Metal Men. Likeable robots are here to stay and Earl and Otto Binder did their share to make them a permanent part of the science fiction fabric.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.
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