Monday, September 17, 2018

Ralph Roberts--This Is Your Life!


Meet Ralph Roberts, budding R&D entrepreneur who quit his comfy job at Stark Industries and decided to hang out his own shingle. Ralph's story begins when we meet him visiting his younger brother, Ted, at Metro College where Ted is hitting it off with Jean Grey. Ralph and Ted decide to engage in some harmless one-upmanship in pole vaulting--but the harm is yet to come.

As the evening goes on, it's clear that Ralph isn't forthcoming on just why he decided to leave S.I. and strike out on his own. But when he gives Jean and Ted (along with Scott Summers) a tour of his labs, he takes Ted aside and shows him a hush-hush project that starts to clear things up in that regard.

From what we've seen, this new armored character doesn't have much potential for future appearances. With a two-hour limit on how long he can remain suited up in the cobalt armor, Ralph has even less time than Captain Marvel did when merged with Rick Jones and forced to cool his heels in the Negative Zone until Rick "switched atoms" with him. Also, an armored suit that has a major bug of becoming a radioactive nightmare and blowing itself, its wearer, and perhaps an entire city to smithereens wasn't likely to interest the government.

To make matters worse, it looks like Ralph's pole vaulting accident has not only given him the temperament of a super-villain, but also made him especially vindictive toward Tony Stark and, by extension, Iron Man.

All of these circumstances have combined to give us "the Cobalt Man," a character who has managed to stay under the radar in sparse appearances, but, like the explosive device that he is, keeps on ticking.

And that leads us into an explosive new

Marvel Trivia Question

What's the Cobalt Man been doing for the past 50 years?

Thanks to the X-Men, a good dousing in water seemed to ward off the detonation of the Cobalt Man his first time at bat. According to Nighthawk in a later encounter, who recalled a physics tidbit he'd once read, water is the ideal solution for such a problem:

"Atomic piles are built underwater--because water slows down the neutrons passing between atoms, forcing nuclear reactions to stay below a critical level! Underwater, the Cobalt Man's own nuclear reaction may slow--perhaps even halt!"

I don't know how much you'd trust Nighthawk's physics credentials in a crisis situation, but we can all agree that we're lucky he happened to fit a physics textbook in with his usual Wall Street Journal. However, not having a river handy at the time, Cyclops was willing to gamble on a shorter path to victory from the hip, thanks to assistance from Iceman:

Regrettably, Ralph would never take his brother's words to heart.

That brings us to a brief look at an encapsulated history of the Cobalt Man, thanks to machinery that probably looks very out of place in Dr. Strange's sanctum in Greenwich Village--courtesy of Strange's then-disciple, Clea, with the help of the Red Guardian:

If medical science was at the point in 1977 of testing machinery that actually linked up the minds of two patients, we can only imagine what they're playing around with today, forty years later. (Of course, unless hospitals had a practitioner of the mystic arts on staff to provide the life-energy needed for the link, this project likely didn't progress beyond a prototype device.)

As we'll see, while the Cobalt Man's nuclear reaction was avoided in his battle with the X-Men, his encounter with the Hulk seven years later (our time) was another story. (Well, of course it was "another story," but you catch my drift.)

Nearly three years later, however, it turns out that the Cobalt Man has survived--sent into a state of suspended animation by the explosion and subsequently conscripted by the villain Egghead to be part of the new Emissaries of Evil along with Solarr and the Rhino. Rendered unconscious in battle with the Defenders, the Cobalt Man was on the verge of detonation when Nighthawk had the Hulk submerge him in the river--which brings us back to Strange's sanctum, where everyone is now up to date on their foe's status, though no one but Ralph is aware of Egghead's involvement.

Unfortunately for Egghead, Ralph harbors a grudge--and when Egghead arrives to destroy the Defenders himself, and Luke Cage sends him hurtling into the next room, Ralph, in his current state of mind, is quite willing to take Egghead down with him in a final burst of his deadly power.

Unbelievably, Egghead survives, to conduct a new scheme as the leader of the Masters of Evil, while the Cobalt Man was apparently imprisoned at Ryker's Island for a time until he resurfaced in Connecticut--where, like it or not, his name goes down in history as being present during one of the most infamous points in Marvel history. (Though it would be the New Warriors who would bear the brunt of history's judgment.)

This being Nitro, who's no slouch at self-detonation himself, we know what that leer of his leads to: the loss of over 600 innocent lives, including 60 school children.

The Cobalt Man lays low (you would think) for another decade, until he becomes the target of Deadpool and his "Mercs For Money" (are there any other kind of mercenaries?) in Chicago. It's not clear who's put out the contract on Ralph, but it is clear that he's not going down quietly--if at all.

(It's news to me if the Cobalt Man ever battled Iron Man, as he claims. Perhaps he's thinking that it never resonates when anyone boasts about having fought the X-Men.)

We can assume that after all this time unhinged, there's no coming back for Ralph Roberts, who continues to plug away as the Cobalt Man without any clear goals or any regrets. If he's retired, how does he live, having spent a good deal of his life out of circulation or in prison? It's been quite a fall for this pole-vaulter.

A collection of covers from the stories which featured the Cobalt Man.


George Chambers said...

Actually, cobalt isn't really "superior" to iron in any way. Chemically, the two are almost identical. Cobalt has a slightly lower melting point and is not as strongly ferromagnetic as iron. One thing in its favour is that it doesn't rust like iron does; on exposure to oxygen it forms a thin, stable oxide shell that prevents further oxidation. It is true that cobalt-60 is radioactive; I don't know how wearing the armour for two hours causes Co-59 to spontaneously become Co-60. Comic-book physics I guess.

lordjim6 said...

I kind of like the minimalist take on Iron Man’s Original armor that head trauma here tried to pass off as his super gig in the X-men issue

lordjim6 said...

Also, I can see this guy filming a psa while incarcerated. “Don’t be like me kids. Don’t pole vault.”

Anonymous said...

Er, George, so the reason we don't use non-rusting cobalt instead of iron is because it is radioactive? I mean, does it give ya cancer?
Hey, I'm tryin' to learn somethin' here. And I wasn't paying attention that day in chemistry class.

M.P., seeker of knowledge

B Smith said...

For all that he seemed like an odd fit for superhero comics, Werner Roth drew a very agreeable Jean Grey.

Comicsfan said...

Overall, B, I was pleased with Roth's work on the book. Since I first started reading X-Men when the book began publishing reprints in 1971 after the title went into hiatus, his work helped to form my first impression of the team--and it was enjoyable reading for me. I think my only problem with his style was that his characters' faces tended to resemble one another in certain respects (the expressions and eyes are what first come to mind); but that's just a quibble, really.

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