The concept of “automaton” is derived from the Greek word αὐτόματον, meaning “acting of one’s own will.” The first automated robotic persona emerged in Greek mythology in 450 B.C. Named Talos, it was a giant bronze automaton created by Hephaestus, god of the forge. It circled the island of Create three times a day to protect it from invaders. Talos was ultimately killed by Jason of the Argonauts by removing a bronze peg in his ankle to allow the life-giving “ichor” to flow out.
It is believed Leonardo Da Vinci built a physical prototype of an armored Germanic knight automation in 1495. Based on various surviving Da Vinci sketches, the knight was powered by a mechanical crank and used cables and pulleys to sit, stand, turn its head, cross its arms and even lift its metal visor.
The word “robot” first appeared in 1921. Karel Čapek borrowed from the Slavonic word, “robota,” meaning “servitude,” “forced labor” or “drudgery” and inserted robots into his play called R.U.R., or Rossum’s Universal Robots.
Today development of robots is progressing exponentially. Built by Hong Kong based company Hanson Robotics the “social robot” Sophie was activated on February 14, 2016. Its face was modeled after the ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti and has since become a full citizen of Saudi Arabia.
Golden Age Comics
Robot comic book covers are an avidly collected genre within the hobby. A list of robot covers has been put together here on the CGC message board.
The first appearance was “Hugh Hazzard and his Robot” in Smash Comics #1 (Aug. 1939). Later named “Bozo the Robot” it appeared on the covers of Smash Comics for the first thirty issues, ending its cover run on February 1942.
The next two earliest robots appeared in Timely comic books (but not on the covers). One named “Electro” started in Marvel Mystery Comics #4 (Feb 1940) and the other named “Marvex” started in Daring Mystery Comics #3 (April 1940).
The second ever comic book cover with a robot was drawn by L. North for Exciting Comics #1 (April 1940). Featuring character Major Mars, the story was adapted from the “Captain Future and the Space Emperor” in pulp fiction book Captain Future (Winter 1940). Both comic and pulp were published by Better Publications as a multi-media launch of the character.
There were several robot appearances in the Exciting Comics run, including #45 (March 1946). One of many classic Alex Schomberg robots covers it features the Black Terror in a laboratory, punching out a knife and pistol wielding robot being controlled by a crazed, murderous scientist.