Thursday, 20 December 2007

Who the hell is: DIGITEK?

Is the question that a fair few people were asking during Marvel Comics' Civil war storyline last year, courtesy of a section of panels in the series Civil War: Frontline.

But we'll get to that.

This is the first of a series of blogs in which I am to introduce the uninitiated to the characters of Marvel UK, and try to explain why they are still viable characters, waiting to be revived or reinvented, in a modern book. Or, I'm sure in some cases, why that shouldn't ever happen...

So today, we start with one Jonathan Bryant - who went by the name of DIGITEK.

Now, despite the reprints in Marvel UK's anthology title, OVERKILL, making it perhaps seem longer, Digitek actually only ran to a four issue limited series, baring his name. He was written by John Tomlinson and Andy Lanning, and the painted (That's right painted) artwork was supplied by Dermot Power.

Now while Tomlinson and Lanning are still out there, plying their trade as editor and writer Power is a name you may not have heard in a while. He had some successful stints producing work for Judge Dredd and Slaine for 2000 AD, but these days Power's chief gig is doing conceptual art for movies - such as V for Vendetta, Attack of the Clones and some of the Harry Potter movies.

The painted artwork may, sadly, have played a part in why Digitek only lasted 4 issues. It looked okay, but of all the books in the launch of the Marvel UK imprint this was the one title which did not seem to fit with aesthetic of M:UK's house style, at the time. That changed later, but while conceptually there can be little doubt that it matched the other titles of the imprint, art-wise it conflicted a little bit. Not badly. But a little.

So what WAS the concept? Well, Digitek as a character kind of spins out of the Marvel UK series Warheads. The Warheads were charged by their employers (The Mys-Tech Corporation - the age-old demon-serving business bad guys of Marvel UK) to travel across Marvel's Omniverse, picking up technology from alternate universes. One such piece of technology was the substance known as Protosilicon. (With me so far?)

A Protosilicon Geoid (Still with me?) was taken to be analysed by a team of scientists led by Jonathan Bryant. However, one of Bryant's underlings did the dirty on him, and sold out information on the substance to a rival company, who then sent in an armed retrieval team to nab it. During the chaos that followed Bryant was killed, but only after having come into direct contact with the geoid, creating a transformation within his body.

The result is that Bryant's physical body is completely incinerated, but due to his contact with a) The Geoid and b) the array of computers monitoring it, parts of all three have become a new gestalt life form. A life form with the personality and memories of Bryant, with a physical form which in some way kind of resembled Bryant, but which is malleable and transportable through all kinds of digital medium.

And this is where as a sci-fi concept, in many ways Digitek was kind of ahead of its time (1992). This new digital form could be assembled and disassembled at will, allowing for such quirks as travelling down power and phone lines - packing up at one end, unpacking at the other. A neat little idea, years before The Matrix came along. The form was only solid when it wanted to be, could reconstruct itself after being smashed to pieces, and (Because it was the 90s) could form impossibly large guns out of next to nothing, at the drop of the hat. ;-) Still, I think that most of those abilities are quite handy, and usable in a modern comic. We're talking about a being who can never truly be killed (Although perhaps might be susceptible to data corruption, and viruses) who can communicate with pretty much any machine on the planet, and who can be pretty handy in a fight - should it ever come to that.

So what's the flaw? What's the catch? Well, just look back at the cover to that first issue. See the weird looking electrical samurai guy? Yeah, that's Digitek's chosen form. Of all the things he could have looked like? That's what he chose. Needs a little reinvention, methinks. In the early 90s, with the West discovering Manga and Anime for the first time Samurai's, along with anything even remotely Japanese, were cool again. Now? Well, it all seems a little cliched. I think there's potential in the character to be used again. His form would be better left looking more like a simple humanoid, but he does have potential.

Maybe Marvel disagree.

And this where Marvel's 2006 Civil War event fits in. One of the back up stories in the series Civil War: Frontline detailed the scapegoating and incarceration of Speedball, the one surviving member of the New Warriors (Who's failure to stop a huge explosion outside a school started the whole event). Speedball, along with any other super-powered individuals who refused to register their identities and powers to the US government, found themselves incarcerated in a prison built in some obscure dimension the Fantastic Four knew of. With little chance of ever leaving.

In issue #6 of Civil War: Frontline, the following panels appeared:

To save your eyesight from trying to figure out the hand-written scrawl, the text says:

Panel 1: My buddy in the next cell was called Jonathan. Back in the real world, he used to be called Digitek. He told me that when he was a hero, he had the powers to re-form parts of his body into machinery, or weapons.

Panel 2: Yesterday, Jon formed an M-110 particle shotgun out of his right arm. Four guards tried to stop him as he yelled something about his wife. And then he blew his own head off.
This does, however, raise two questions. 1) Is he really dead, or was this an attempt to escape out via any electrical equipment that happened to be lying around, and 2) How exactly did he get there? Digitek, or at least Jonathan Bryant, was a UK citizen. Why would he have been effected by an American registration act? There's no logical reason why he would be expected to sign it.


Well, maybe that's a story for another day, and another writer to pick up on.

Any thoughts or musings on Digitek? Add a comment.


  1. I got alerted to your 'digitek' article this morning. I was the artist and I gotta tell you that year working on Digitek was the most miserable of my whole career..and it shows in the art. I didn't know what the f*ck I was doing...all that glowing airbrush-ugh. I think Andy and John would have been better served with a traditional line artist (maybe use me for covers). As for being ahead of its time; well T2 came out that year and suddenly 'digitek' (sounds like a 1982 calculator brand) could change his arm in to a icbm if needed. why not a F11bomber...or a planet? jeez.. I got more to say about why marvel flooded the market with titles around that time..but this is probably not the venue.

  2. Hi there. Well, this is a turn up for the books. Sorry to hear your experience was not so great.

    I guess when I'm saying 'ahead of its time' I'm meaning in terms of the concept. Sure, the name seems pretty bad, but as a concept for a power set there's a character that I think could have the potential to be used again some day.

    Even if he did blow his own head off... ;-)

    That's kind of the way I see a lot of Marvel UK properties, now. Great ideas, in many cases, that perhaps didn't come off as hoped.

    I certainly wouldn't say that your art here sucked. Granted I've seen you do much sounder work for 2000 AD. I think it's just that it stood out against the rest of the line at the time. Had this been out a year or so later, of course, it would have fitted much easier.

    But certainly don't put it down. I own every issue, and I know a fair few other folks who remember it too. And for the right reasons.

  3. The problem with the painted art format for Digitek was that it was perfect for Overkill - planned by Paul Neary as MUK's answer to 2000AD - where painted covers and a painted strip sat well with the expectations of the target audience in the UK.

    In the US, despite the quality of the art (whatever Dermot thinks about it now!), painted art was still a rarity, certainly for a Marvel book, and the orders from retailers reflected that.

    As the book's editor I no doubt gave Dermot a hard time (because that's what I was getting as we all stepped into the Paul Neary "Learning Zone", which took no prisoners). But it was still a good book.

    Pity poor Mark Harrison though, whose painted Warheads/Death's Head four parter was never published at all (but you can find it on the web).

  4. I posted a link to Harrison's Loose Cannons story, a while back. It's been put up on the 2000 AD site, so at least people got to see it in the end.

    It really is a shame that Marvel US took so long to embrace painted artwork in comics. DC were far more willing to embrace it, but it took them a while, too.

    I do think that Overkill was a nice idea, as a magazine. It offered an alternative to 2000 AD, here in the UK. I bought both, but it was interesting to see the differences.

    I am curious, though, about one thing. Was there a particular reason as to why the stories reprinted in Overkill had the guest characters in stories chopped out? I can remember when I started reading Hell's Angel US format issues that the stories actually seemed to make a bit more sense when I realised what was missing.