Author: Lee Goldberg
Publisher: Adventures in Television
Published: February 2012

McGrave is a quick fire novella from Lee Goldberg, based on a pilot script for a television show, which never eventuated. And its humble beginnings are very evident as you read it. It is written in present tense as a script would be, and the action scenes are described, rather than lived, if that makes sense. If that simple framework doesn’t appeal to you, then you’d probably find McGrave a rather annoying book.

However, if you have no qualms about how your thrills are served up, then McGrave is a balls-to-the wall action adventure that doesn’t let up. John ‘Tidal Wave’ McGrave is a no-nonsense old-school L.A. cop. He gets results, no matter what the cost. He the type of fellow who would destroy $250,000 worth of property to capture a criminal stealing $100 worth of goods.

After such an incident (although more was at stake than $100), McGrave is booted off the force. But like any cop worth his salt, he doesn’t give up the case and follows his leads to Berlin. Then you’ve got you classic fish-out-of-water story. Much mayhem and property damage ensues.

Maybe it’s just my age, and growing up watching material such as this, but I found McGrave to be an absolute hoot. There’s no message beyond ‘enjoy the ride’ and that’s just the way it should be.

Here’s Lee’s promo spiel:

Los Angeles cop John “Tidal Wave” McGrave is an unstoppable force of nature who always gets his man…even if it means laying waste to everything around him, including his own career…which is exactly what happens in his pursuit of Sebastian Richter, the ruthless leader of an international gang of violent thieves. When Richter flees to Berlin, McGrave chases after him…even though the cop doesn’t know the language, the laws, or the culture. But McGrave doesn’t care…he speaks the universal language of knee in the groin and fist in the face…and he won’t let anything get in his way.

What follows is, I hope, a wild, action-adventure novella that captures all of the fun, excitement, humor and pure escapist pleasure of the Dirty Harry, Lethal Weapon and Die Hard movies…

McGrave is an experiment for me. I set out to write something specifically for the Kindle that would take advantage of the way people read on the device…but that would also capture the pure, escapist fun of watching an action movie. I thought these were very compatible goals.


Death Hunt (1981)

Director: Peter Hunt
Starring: Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, Carl Weathers, Andrew Stevens, Angie Dickinson, Ed Lauter
Music: Jerrold Immel
Editors: Allan Jacobs & John F. Burnett
Director of Photography: James Devis
Writers: Michael Crais, Robert Victor
Producers: Albert S. Ruddy, Raymond Chow

Death Hunt is allegedly based on a true story. The film opens in Yukon Territory in November 1931, and man, it looks imposing and icy cold – it looks dangerous! But one man who seems to be in his element in this hostile environment is Albert Johnson (Charles Bronson). We meet him as he is riding down from the mountains on his way home. As he passes through a settlement a vicious dog fight is taking place with a crowd of hardened mountain men circled round. The fight is in its final stages, and one of the dogs is owned by this fella called Hazel (Ed Lauter), and the beast is copping a hiding. It is covered in blood and can barely defend itself. The fight should be called off, but Hazel is too proud to give up – even if it costs the dog his life. Finally the fight is stopped. Hazel is angered and embarrassed, and pulls a knife, preparing to take out his frustrations on the dog. That’s when Johnson wades in. He knocks Hazel to the ground and picks up the wounded animal. Hazel is not happy that a stranger has intervened. Once again he has lost face with his peers. Johnson throws one hundred dollars at Hazel for the half dead dog. Still angered and petulant, Hazel demands more money. Johnson throws another bill at him, and then rides off with the dog on a stretcher.

Of course, Hazel doesn’t leave it there. First he approaches the local Mountie, Edgar Millen (Lee Marvin), demanding justice, claiming that Johnson forced him to give up the dog, so it was theft. Millen knows the type of guy Hazel is, and ignores the complaint. So Hazel takes matters into his own hands. With a posse of men, he rides out to Johnson’s lodge intent to kill him.

One of Hazel’s posse shoots the dog, and in anger, Johnson shoots the shooter down. Now Hazel runs back to Millen demanding action, as Johnson is no longer just a thief, but a murderer. Millen understands that the killing may have been self-defense, or Johnson was simply pushed to it – but the law is the law, and Millen sets off to reluctantly do his duty.

Millen, and a posse (mostly Hazel’s men) go to Johnson’s lodge. Millen tries to bring Johnson peacefully, but Johnson refuses. He dosen’t believe he has done anything wrong. When one of Hazel’s dupes opens fire during the negotiation, it becomes one big gun fight. With the numbers stacked against Johnson, it would appear he doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell.

One of the more interesting aspects of Death Hunt is the changing relationship between the two main antagonists. At the beginning of the film, Johnson is the good guy who is being treated wrong. However, when he refuses to go with Millen and have the matter sorted out – and inadvertently turns the investigation into a seige – he becomes the bad guy. As for Millen, he too starts out as the good guy but as he allows himself to be coerced into hunting down Johnson, even though he knows he is innocent, he becomes a bad guy. But even though they have both become bad in their way, you can still sympathise with their characters, because it is the people around them that have turned them bad. In their natural state, for want of a better expression, both of them are good men.

Please correct me if I am wrong, but is Edgar Millen Lee Marvin’s last great film role? Don’t you dare say Delta Force! Of course, he did work after this, but his age was really catching up with him and he didn’t seem to choose (or was offered) roles that weren’t age-appropriate. He was still playing the same hard living character as he had through the 60s and 70s as if time had stood still. Unfortunately it hadn’t, and some of his later roles are just hard to watch, such as The Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission.

Death Hunt is one of my childhood favourites. I watched it many times on video, and still enjoy watching repeat viewings now. It is interesting to compare it to the film First Blood with which this film shares many common themes, and shares more than one or two similar scenes.

As a final bit of trivia, Death Hunt was directed by Peter Hunt, who directed the Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – and who would go on to direct Bronson again in the Secret Service thriller, Assassination.

If you have never seen Death Hunt, it is well worth a look.

Death Hunt (1981)

Music of Hugo Montenegro

Today I am going to look at the work of composer Hugo Montenegro. Montenegro is probably more famous for his re-interpretation of other composer’s music. His version of Ennio Morricone’s The Good, The Bad And The Ugly topped the U.S. charts (making it to #2). But Montenegro did his own tunes as well and provided the soundtracks to a few spy movies, namely The Ambushers, and The Wrecking Crew – starring Dean Martin as Matt Helm. He also composed the theme (from 2nd season) for the TV series, I Dream of Jeannie, which has got to count for something!

Montenegro’s re-versions of other composers tunes, in this day and age are a little redundant – as it is quite easy to access the originals. But that wasn’t always the case. As a lad, growing up in rural Australia, it was virtually impossible to access Morricone’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly – whereas Montenegro’s was easy to find. I still have several western compilation L.P.s, from my childhood, with Montenegro’s version on them. On top of that, it got radio play too.

I must admit I find Montenegro’s original movie scores a bit too scattered for my liking, and don’t follow the plot. A wild swinging tune is great to listen to, while not watching the movie, but with the film, if the intent is to convey suspense – then the number fails – such as in the Frank Sinatra detective thriller, Lady in Cement.

I almost see Montenegro’s music as a toy from my youth. It was great when I was young, exposing a young fella to the wild multitude of sounds out there. But now as an adult, I think Hugo can be locked away in the cupboard, (or slipped into the bottom of the toy-box) and in its place, composers such as Morricone, Goldsmith, Bernstein, Williams et al should be sampled.

Mort Goode’s liner notes to the album, ‘Original Music From The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ say this about Montenegro’s contribution:

‘One of the most intriguing elements that keeps “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” moving sprightly or stealthily each week is music. It sparkles or sputters. It tantalises or tickles. It relieves or revives. The variety of musical themes has been expanded for this album. This original music is fascinatingly arranged and conducted by Hugo Montenegro with a swashbuckling orchestra conjuring up images of U.N.C.L.E. escapades. Several talented and renowned composers have contributed to the music.’

Soundtracks Include:

The Ambushers, The Wrecking Crew, Original Music From The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Lady in Cement, Charro, The Undefeated.

Music of Hugo Montenegro

Get Ready to Rumble…

I was recently tagged in the Next BIG Thing internet meme by Carol Borden from the legendary Cultural Gutter website. Carol has two cracking monster stories in the Weird Noir anthology, which I have been reading over the holiday period.

I have quite a few writing projects on the go at the moment – some of which I cannot talk about (loose lips sink ships). But the next project to be published will be my second contribution to the Fight Card series – so I’ll share that one with you. Below are my answers.

1. What is the title of your book?

Rumble in the Jungle

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

I wanted to write a follow-up to my Fight Card novelette, King of the Outback, but I thought I had gone as far as I could with the characters in that story. That is to say, I couldn’t write a direct sequel.

Also, other writers in the Fight Card series – such as Eric Beetner and Heath Lowrance – wrote fantastic books showcasing boxing, intermingled with the seedy American underworld. I knew I couldn’t walk down that path, or if I did, all I would be doing, was writing a limp pastiche of what had gone before.

So to move forward, I knew I had to look for other ideas and settings. The first flash of inspiration came on the train to work. I happened to be listening to an audio book of Ian Fleming’s Moonraker, and a passage described how James Bond looked to casual observers. Actually, here’s the passage.

Moonraker. Ian Fleming (1956) – page 28 of the Pan paperback (24th printing, 1969).

And what could the casual observer think of him, ‘Commander James Bond, CMG, RNVSR’, also ‘something at the Ministry of Defence’, the rather saturnine young man in his middle thirties sitting opposite the Admiral? Something a bit cold and dangerous in that face. Looks pretty fit. May have been attached to Templer in Malaya. Or Nairobi. Mau Mau work. Tough looking customer. Doesn’t look the sort of chap one usually sees in Blades.

Mau Mau work. The idea of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya struck a cord with me. It suited the time frame perfectly, as the Fight Card books are all set in the 1950s. And on the surface, the Mau Mau seemed like a ready made villain. I thought it would be great to drop a boxer, smack dab into the middle of that conflict. It seemed perfect.

However, the conflict was far too complex and multi-faceted to provide an entertaining framework to build a story around. At least, without spending many thousands of words on lengthy explanations of the conflict – certainly not suitable for a 25,000 word novelette. Also, history has changed the perception of the Mau Mau conflict greatly. What was once considered a violent rebellion, is now considered a turning point to Kenyan democratic freedom. So unlike in Fleming’s time, the Mau Mau are now the good guys.

If you want to know more about how distorted and complex the Mau Mau rebellion was – check out this article, PSYOP of the Mau-Mau Uprising by SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)

Instead, I created the fictitious country of Sezanda, and the villains are not so much the Sezanda Socialist Army (standing in for the Mau Mau), but a group of neo-Nazis who are behind a similar style of rebellion.

I was sad to see the Mau Mau go, but if I continued with the style of story I wanted to write, I would have appeared as a blinkered, ignorant, racist – which was certainly not my intention. I simply wanted a conflict as background, to drop my protagonists into. But that’s the thing with any conflict I guess, there is always two sides.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

It is an unashamedly old fashioned pulp, with a capital P – U – L – P.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Josh Hartnett in The Black Dahlia

I think Josh Hartnett would make a good hero, playing Brendan O’Toole – the reluctant hero of the piece. Maybe for the villain, the brutal neo-Nazi, Kommandant Krieger, Mads Mikkelsen. Brendan Gleason would be perfect for Danny Reilly, the barman with the heart of gold.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A hard punching, outrageously paced, adventure, in which the reluctant hero has to fight not just for his life, but for his very soul!

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It will be self-published, but with the backing and support of the Fight Card team.

7. How long did it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About six months for this one. Admittedly, I also worked on other projects concurrently, so it didn’t have my sole undivided attention.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Men's Adventure Magazine - with a riding crop wielding Nazi

As I mentioned at the top, I was very keen to write a boxing story that was very different in style to what has been previously published in the Fight Card series – so while I am happy to compare it with the other boxing tales, it has a different style. If there is a Pulp versus Noir barometer, this story falls completely on the pulp side. I believe this one owes more to the outrageous Men’s Adventure Magazines of the 1960s – especially those with a picture of a Nazi holding a riding crop on the cover – than a hardboiled noir piece.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

King of the Outback
King of the Outback

I had such a blast writing my first book for the Fight Card series that as soon as I finished King of the Outback, I knew I wanted to write another one. Furthermore, Paul Bishop and Mel Odom, the creators of the series, are such great mentors for a new writer, such as myself. I guess every writing project is a learning process, but when you’ve got writers of that caliber in your corner, you know that you’ll be a better writer at the end of the project, than you were at the start. Their knowledge and experience was (and is) invaluable. I know that sounds twee and backslapping, but I am sure anyone who has worked with Paul and Mel will back up my words.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Rumble in the Jungle contains more action than two full length novels, and hits harder than a Mack Truck. It’s also a story about redemption. I am looking forward to unleashing it upon the world next year.

Now, I am supposed to tag five writers to continue the Next BIG Thing, but as Christmas is upon us (and tagging somebody to post on Boxing Day is a bit cruel), I will simply link to five other Next BIG Thing posts, written by friends or writers I admire.

1. Terrence McCauley, who talks about Prohibition and Against the Ropes.

2. Andrew Nette, who talks about Ghost Money.

3. Matt Hilton, who talks about Rules of Honour.

4. Andrez Bergen, who talks about Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa.

5. Eric Beetner, who talks about The Year I Died Seven Times.

Enjoy the festive season everyone, and I’ll be back sometime in 2013. Stay safe.

Get Ready to Rumble…

Man v. Machine: The Artificial Evil

We’ve been talking extensively about robots so far, so let’s switch gears today and take a look at computers. I was originally going to cover a bevy of espionage films today to build my ideas around, but why bother? Why bother when a shining example has been provided by one of the greatest films, espionage, sci-fi, period, of all time: Jean Luc Godard’s Alphaville.

Alphaville Poster, Art by Armstrong Sabian

Brief recap: In the futuristic titular city, journalist / secret agent Lemmy Caution arrives on a secret mission from the outlands — to capture Professor Von Braun, the creator of super computer Alpha 60, and to use his knowledge to take down the dictatorial machine. In Alphaville, Caution encounters automaton after automaton, people ruled by the cold logic of a computer that has outlawed love and poetry. In Alphaville, logic is order, and those who act illogically pay the price with their lives. Caution falls in love with Natasha, Von Braun’s daughter, and his ability to have emotions, to act illogically, serves as a monkeywrench in the orderly machine that is Alphaville.

If you haven’t seen it, stop reading now, and do yourself a favor. It’s one of a number of full-length movies recently uploaded to Google Video, so go watch it.

There exists a myriad films about amoral computers driving out the experience of humanity with logical function — within the genre of espionage, I’d also thought of discussing The Billion Dollar Brain and The Prisoner episode The General. Perhaps the most well known of these computers-gone-bad is HAL 9000 from the Kubrick/Clarke film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and his oft-quoted line, “I’m afraid I can’t let you do that, Dave.”

But as with our previous discussions on robots, I question whether the actual evil might lie with the creators of HAL.

Luciano Floridi and J.W. Sanders addressed the idea of computers perpetrating evil deeds in their 2001 essay, “Artificial Evil and the Foundation of Computer Ethics” by creating a new nomenclature for … well, evil. They start by defining the nebulous term with the help of Kekes — evil is an action that “causes serious and morally unjustified harm” — and identify two traditionally acknowledged forms of evil: Moral Evil (ME), that which results from human autonomy and responsibility, and Natural Evil (NE), which comes from the natural world (i.e. earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters). These terms, they offer, are not enough to describe modern occurrences of evil:

More and more often, especially in advanced societies, people are confronted by visible and salient evils that are neither simply natural nor immediately moral: an innocent dies because the ambulance was delayed by the traffic; a computer-based monitor ‘reboots’ in the middle of surgery because its software is not fully compatible with other programs also in use, with the result that the patient is at increased risk during the reboot period. The examples could easily be multiplied. What kind of evils are these? ‘Bad luck’ and ‘technical incident’ are simply admissions of ignorance.

To this end, Floridi and Sanders offer a new term: Artificial Evil (AE). They address the question above as well — are not the evil actions of the man-made system the fault of the men who made them?:

…This leads precisely to the main objection against the presence of AE, namely that any AE is really just ME under a different name. Human creators are morally accountable for whatever evil may be caused by their artificial agents, as mere means or intermediaries of human activities (indirect responsibility)….In the same way as a divine creator can be blamed for NE, so a human creator can be blamed for AE.

Some technologies, they argue, exist as artificial and autonomous agents: (remember this was written in 2001) webbots, expert systems, software viruses, robots. These agents are nomologically independent from their human creators, and therefore their ability to initiate evil actions is also independent from their human creators.

Today’s questions:

1. Do you think there is truth to Floridi and Sanders’ claims?
2. If so, what can be done?
3. Do we see these autonomous agents, capable of enacting artificial evil, in current society, even if not on the scale of a city-running, dictatorial super-computer?

This post first appeared on the Mister 8 website, 20 June 2009

Man v. Machine: The Artificial Evil

Man v. Machine: Goodguy Cybernauts

Fiction, especially spy fiction, is rife with robots created by evil geniuses bent on world domination and/or destruction. Sometimes those robots are destroyed by superhero secret agents, but sometimes they miraculously develop a moral consciousness, turn on their creators, and choose to do good. Let’s take a look at a pair of those today!

The first is truly a “cybernaut,” a human-looking (specifically Dick Gauthier-looking) bot named Hymie, invented by Dr. Ratton and dispatched by KAOS to kill Maxwell Smart (of Get Smart, naturally). In the end, when Hymie’s creator calls him a monster, he short circuits and is able to overcome his programming and save the day:

Hymie became a full-fledged member of CONTROL, though he was sure to say that his first preference is IBM, which he thought would be a, “nice way to meet some intelligent machines.” I’m wondering if, since the Avengers episode that seems to have coined the term “cybernaut,” hadn’t aired in the U.S. yet, if the episode where Hymie first appears was the first time American audiences heard the word. I also wonder if the writers of Get Smart used the term independently of the Avengers?

(For anyone interested, Dick Gauthier sells autographed pictures of himself as Hymie, for a relatively inexpensive price, as far as celebrity autographs goes.)

Our next good guy robot is not from a secret agent television show, but, like Jonny Quest, exists in a world predicated on Cold War tensions. Even beating out the Pixar movies, which I adore, this is my favorite animated film of all time: The Iron Giant.

Based on a novel by Ted Hughes, The Iron Giant was directed by Brad Bird, who later went on to make The Incredibles, Ratatouille and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. The film features a giant metal man who crash lands off the coast of Maine, and the young boy who teaches him about the important things in life: love, fun, Superman. A four-story tall robot is hard to hide, and so rumors begin to spread about the Giant. Those rumors are investigated by the U.S. Army, specifically Kent Mansley, who comes to see the Giant as a threat to the American way. Mansley, though the villain of the piece, does have a semi-valid point: the Iron Giant is a weapon, though with Hogarth’s help, he learns to suppress his violent programming.

If you haven’t seen this film, go out and find it. Playing the voice of the Giant is by far Vin Diesel’s best performance, and I still prefer this over Bird’s Pixar films.

Two questions to think about today:

1. Isn’t a robot that breaks programming, by it’s very nature, defective?

2. Is it wrong (speaking hypothetically) to build robots that do bad, or morally ambigious things, to give them self-awareness to realize this, and yet to not allow them to break their programming?

This post first appeared on the Mister 8 website, 5 June 2009

Man v. Machine: Goodguy Cybernauts

Man v. Machine: Badguy Cybernauts

Peel and Steed encounter a Cybernaut

Today, we’ll be looking at the trenchcoat- and trilby-wearing metal automatons known as the Cybernauts! The bots made their first appearance in the October 1965 episode of The Avengers that was later the first one to be broadcast in the United States (in March 1966). The episode has proved to be popular on both sides of the pond, and many media critics cite it as an episode important to the thematic growth of the series.

James Chapman in Saints and Avengers: British adventure series of the 1960s (2002) suggests that the episode presents an about-face to earlier views of technology seen on the program, and stemmed from growing fears of a society ruled by technology:

While resistance to progress is dangerous, so too is progress itself if it remains unchecked. Whereas earlier Avengers episodes had advocated investment in science and technology as the key to securing the nation’s future, the series now suggested that in the wrong hands they could be used for diabolical ends. Again, The Avengers can be seen as responding to contemporary concerns, particularly the ideas expressed by academics such as Theodore Roszak that technocracy (the organisation of society based on principles laid down by technical experts) could all too easily lead to a form of totalitarianism. The danger of technocracy taken to the extreme became a prominent theme of the ‘classic’ period of The Avengers.

Jeffrey S. Miller, writing in his Something completely different: British television and American culture (2000) builds on David Buxton’s view that The Cybernauts, and similarly themed episodes, reflected a British class struggle that was mostly lost on Americans:

Of those narrative conventions coming out of the Bond movies and other secret agent shows, none was more important, as “The Cybernauts” would indicate, than the menace of technology. David Buxton argues that The Avengers represents a discourse on the place of technology in accommodating modernity to the traditional British class structure. A danger when used by a nouveau riche class (including scientist / entrepreneurs such as Armstrong) without regard to a traditional elite, technology is equally problematic when used by aristocrats to defend the old order against the rising welfare state. The middle ground, he argues, is technology in the service of consumption and fashion, a middle ground American audiences already found themselves occupying, thanks to Bond, UNCLE, Drake, and other secret agents….The narrative deployment of technology as the tool of evil, familiar to American audiences not only through previous secret agent movies and television programs, but through their own fears of nuclear holocaust, became the central motif of Avengers plots, superseding the Cold War even in many episodes in which Cold War concerns were directly referenced.

Norman Weiner
The use of the portmanteau term “cybernaut” appears to have originated with this episode, though later it was used by scientists in descriptions of potential robot-manned space flights, and more recently has come to mean anyone who explores digital space — the internet, virtual realities, MMORPGs, etc. The word draws its meaning from Norbert Wiener’s use of “cybernetics,” or technological mechanisms, in his 1950 book The Human Use of Human Beings : Cybernetics and Society. Wiener would later go on to be a major influence on those who pioneered the field of robotics, but, fittingly, worried about the effect that robots might have on society — not because they’d go evil and run amok, but because they’d put people out of jobs. As he wrote in The Human Use of Human Beings, “The automatic machine, whatever we think of any feelings it may have or may not have, is the precise economic equivalent of slave labor.” Wiener set forth ethical guidelines and ideas in his work that he hoped would guide inventors and developers of the future.

But what do mad scientists care of ethics? In their world, cybernauts are the economic equvalent of hitmen-for hire, as John Steed and Emma Peel soon discover. While investigating the murders of businessmen set to bid on a new kind of integrated circuit, the pair find themselves searching for someone who can walk through walls, crack down doors, and break necks with a single blow. Eventually, the trail leads to crazed wheelchair-bound inventor Dr. Armstrong, who is using the faceless steel strongbots to eliminate his competition (Wiener was right — early in the episode, Armstrong brags to Steed that he has no need for employees besides the cybernauts). To give you a taste, here’s a tension-filled clip from the finale of the episode (note the casual glance Emma gives as the cybernauts beat up on their creator):

Steed and Peel faced off against the Cybernauts again in a later episode, in which the mad scientist role was played by Hammer horror films veteran Peter Cushing. In the sequel, Cushing plays the brother of Dr. Armstrong, and uses a new wave of cybernauts to take revenge on Peel and Steed for his brother’s death:

But that wasn’t the end of the Cybernauts. They returned again, in an episode of The New Avengers, where Steed, Purdey and Gambit fight the robots sent on behalf of a former double agent, Kane, who blames them for his disfigurement. Kane teams up with the man who originally developed the cybernauts for Armstrong, and in the conclusion winds up becoming half cybernaut himself — a cyborgernaut, if you will:

The last of the cybernauts? Not hardly, though this marked their last time on television. John Peel and Dave Rogers revived the killer robots for his The Avengers: Too Many Targets, which found Steed teaming up with all of his former partners to take down a new cybernaut threat. In the book that, in his Spy Television, fellow COBRAS agent Wes Britton calls, “One of the most interesting literary incarnations of any secret agent venture,” The Avengers, all of them, are in Africa investigating the murder of two agents when judo punches start to resound with a familiar clang. Here’s a taste:

Steed stared down at the broken robot. “It’s familiar, wouldn’t you say?”

“Very,” Emma admitted, chilled. “It looks like a Cybernaut. But it can’t be.”

On his knee, Steed poked at the exposed circuits with the ferrule of his umbrella. “A new generation of Cybernauts,” he agreed. “Ones that look like people we know–and act like them. These are sophisticated, Mrs. Peel. Very sophisticated.”

Emma thought back to their previous two encounters with the Cybernauts. They had been cold, emotionless robots, built by the crippled Dr. Armstrong. Powerful, silent, and programmable, they had twice been turned against her and Steed. The first time had been by Amrstrong, and the second time by the late inventor’s brother, Paul Beresford. But Armstrong had died, killed accidentally by one of his own creations.

“How can they be?” she objected. “Armstrong was killed.” She didn’t like where Steed’s thoughts seemed to be heading.

“So were the Cybernauts,” Steed said softly. “But machines can’t die.”

The question I’ll leave you with is this: are the cybernauts badguys? Or are they just a reflection of the evil desires of their creators? Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the opposite — a cybernaut created by the forces of good.

This post first appeared on the Mister 8 website, 3rd June 2009,

Man v. Machine: Badguy Cybernauts

Man v. Machine: The Robot Spy

For our first Man v. Machine post, I wanted to look at one of my all-time favorite cartoons. Jonny Quest may not have been a spy show, strictly speaking, but it’s definitely a product of the Cold War spy era. Writers Timothy and Kevin Burke hit the nail on the head when they describe the series in their book, Saturday Morning Fever: Growing up with Cartoon Culture:

For us, the original Quest episodes, which began appearing in prime time in 1964, are as perfect a distillation of their time as the early James Bond films, a luscious cocktail of technophilia, blithe masculinity, and charmingly innocent cold war ethnocentrism. Like James Bond, the Quest team lived off of a regular diet of evil Oriental masterminds, vaguely East Bloc no-goodniks, various supersecret gadgets, and manly derring-do, though they didn’t indulge in women, martinis, or caviar.

Particularly Bond-like is the bodyguard Roger T. “Race” Bannon, an agent from Intelligence One sent to protect the scientist Dr. Benton Quest and his inventions, lest they fall into enemy hands. In fact, according to Quest creator and artist Doug Wildey, Joe Barbera wanted to specifically draw on the James Bond series to set the tone of the series:

The Barbera influence was felt there because he had gone to see a movie called Dr. No and wanted to get in stuff like “007?– numbers. Which we included, by the way, in the first Jonny Quest. It was called “Jonny Quest File 037? or something. We dropped that later; it didn’t work. But that was his father’s code name as he worked for the government as a scientist and that kind of thing. That influence was felt.

Dr. Benton’s son Jonny, his friend Hadji, and the family dog Bandit were the real heroes of the show, which premiered in prime time (following the success of The Flintstones), but quickly transitioned to Saturday morning. If Jonny Quest indeed counts as an espionage show, I’m sorely tempted to call the theme song, by Hoyt Curtin, the greatest spy theme of all time (sorry, John Barry!). Often playing the Dr. No role for the series (appearing four times in the original series and returning for updates and movies) was the villainous Dr. Zin…

Because this post focuses on Man v. Machine, I want to feature Dr. Zin’s most popular appearance, and certainly one of the best episodes of Jonny Quest: The Robot Spy. In the episode, Zin sends a new invention to spy on Quest headquarters, an invention that is one of the most recognizable robot characters ever on a Saturday morning cartoon show.



Jonny Quest was a high quality television show from a time when Hanna Barbera held high standards for the quality of their animation. If you’re interested in seeing other episodes (and I hope you are), Amazon carries The Complete First Season (quite inexpensively too, if you’re willing to take a used copy).

A memorable show is sure to spawn imitators and homages, and Jonny Quest led to one of the best: The Venture Brothers, soon to enter a fourth season on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. In a second season episode called Fallen Arches, the robot spy makes an appearance as an invention of Dr. Rusty Venture, in a quite humorous send-up of comics, Quest, and Cool Hand Luke. Track it down!

This post first appeared on the Mister 8 website, June 2, 2009

Man v. Machine: The Robot Spy