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The Machine (Dark Horse comics) by Mignola

Machine


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

Context

When Dark Horse Comics launched its super-hero universe in 1993, the Machine was one of the concepts they tried in the initial volley of one-shots.

It did get some traction, and the Machine got its own series for a while as well as number of guest appearances – chiefly in Barb Wire.

The Machine’s concept is a man slowly losing his humanity as he’s colonized by nano-machined turning him into… something else.


Background

  • Real Name : Avram Roman, Jr.
  • Marital Status: Single
  • Known Relatives: Avram Roman, Sr. (father), Edna (mother, likely deceased)
  • Group Affiliation: Former employee of Barb Wire
  • Base Of Operations: Formerly the Hammerhead Bar and Grille, Steel Harbor
  • Height: 6’5” Weight: 710 lbs
  • Eyes: Red and artificial Hair: Brown and sparse


Powers and Abilities

The Machine has been conquered by a self-repairing machine colony. There are some organic bits in there still but it’s hard to tell – it seems that a reinforced skeleton is most of what is left, and even it is being replaced by mechanical systems.

When examining the Machine, Salvage noted the presence of meat – it is unclear which parts. Some months after leaving the Hammerhead, the Machine became fully able to function without food or sleep, so it must be very little.

The Machine (Avram Roman) face closeup

The heavy hunk of metal and plastics that is the Machine has a good degree of superhuman and durability. But its most striking feature is its ability to rebuilt itself whenever damaged. He can even reattach his limbs within seconds if they have been severed.

The Machine is nearly impossible to put down without high-powered attacks – doing enough damage at once for the Machine to have to wait for its neural nets to cope with the damage overload and patch everything up.

It has been stated by the machine intelligence that the Machine could never, ever die and would always rebuild itself.

Due to its strength, the 700+ lbs Machine can run as fast as most cars and perform jumps that would be fine by the standards of a professional athlete. He can burst through most walls and floors, lift and throw cars, and his fingers end in scary-looking claws (which he never employs against people, except perhaps as an intimidation tactic).

Another key ability of the Machine is his kinship for electrically-powered technology – anything from a simple telephone copper wire to an alien artefact from a galactic civilisation.

Machine intelligence

Aside from simply overloading and damaging such items with his mind, the Machine can interface with them on a number of levels. He can plug into machines (including phone and data networks, operating systems of various kinds, embedded computers, etc.) and communicate with them at high speeds and with a high level of multitasking.

He can take over the physical operations of a machine by emitting energy at it, for instance to start a motorcycle (bypassing the anti-theft system) and drive it. He can expend a bit more energy and telekinetically animate suitable machines (such as power cables or telephone wires) with his mind. He can project his consciousness into cyberspace.

The Machine’s can overload (in DC Heroes terms, Mental Blast) the electrical installation of an entire building if he can interface with the power box.

The Machine (Avram Roman) sitting, connected

A common trick of the Machine is to animate cables (having them burst free from the walls, crawl free from phones, etc.) to snare opponents and possibly strangle them into unconsciousness.

He’s also hard to match at surveillance – for instance he can ’haunt‘ spy satellites, surveillance video cameras, digital cameras, etc. and he can even telekinetically improve those machines (cleaning lenses, building a servo from other mechanisms within the device, etc.) as he haunts them.

The Machine’s can store large amounts of data, and has downloaded useful files and reference material, such as a dictionary, technical manuals, etc.

After he took over Salvage’s junkyard, the Machine added radio capabilities to his body. The Machine keeps evolving – he did not have all the Powers noted above from day one. It is unclear how powerful and versatile it can eventually get, or even if there is any limit.

The Soul of a New Machine

The machine colony is thought to be a sort of computer or mechanical organism built by the Vortex. It may be somewhat similar to the sphere of Hero Zero or the Motor within Motorhead’s psyche. Apparently, the artificial intelligence of the machine colony is distributed across all of its components.

When the Machine faced the Pentagents (men implanted with further fragments of the machine colony), he found himself in mental contact with an artificial consciousness also calling itself the Machine, and wanting him to let go of his Avram Roman consciousness to be one with the ’original‘ Machine.

It is thus likely that Avram Roman does not host enough of the machine colony for it to genuinely develop full artificial consciousness. But it still has enough computational power to slowly, mechanically impose its OS and needs over Roman’s consciousness.


History

(Part of the story comes from the 2015 Barb Wire limited series. The depictions are different from the 1990s ones, but there’s no genuine incompatibility. This accounts thus integrates both eras.)

Even the Machine himself doesn’t know much about his exact biography. He has very few memories of his childhood, and those are now damaged. He was apparently “created” by a US military intelligence agency.

His father was a veteran of the 332nd Fighter Group , a fighter squadron made up entirely of Black men, and fought over North African and Italy. Nothing is known about his mother. The younger Avram Roman was given his father’s Air Force insignia, which he has always since kept as a precious memento.

There are hints that Avram was affiliated with the top-level military agency running Cinnabar Flats, perhaps as a specialist. The Flats is where the US military had come into contact with the alien technology and energies of the Vortex.

Welcome to the Machine

Officially, Avram Jr. was reported dead in an airplane accident. In actuality, he was implanted with a unique form of alien machinery – almost certainly from Cinnibar Flats.

Apparently the experiment got out of hand. While we can imagine that the goal was to give Avram some well-identified cybernetic enhancements, he was instead colonised by the machinery. Over the years, it replaced everything. He became a complex imitation of life done by machinery somewhat resembling Earth technology – a strange sort of synthezoid .

Under unknown circumstances, Avram Roman found his freedom. He was hunted by Federal agencies but reliably evaded them and hid in Steel Harbor, a broken town with lot of abandoned real estate to hide in. But Roman was eventually tracked down… by a couple of kids.

Barbara “Barb Wire” Kopetski was then about 21, and on her first solo bounty hunt. Using information supplied by her lover Hunter (Wolf Ferrell) and a nosey old woman, she caught Roman in a run-down motel. However, rival bounty hunters cornered the pair. Kopetski and Roman agreed to fight side-by-side and drop the matter of the bounty.

The Machine (Avram Roman) reattaches his arm

Thanks to the arrival of the Wolf Gang, the rival skip tracers were repulsed – and Barb let Avram go. Still operating in Steel Harbor, the fugitive started using his data-mining abilities to send her tips about skip tracers, allowing Barb to become the #1 bounty hunter in town within a few years. She eventually tracked him down anew so she could talk to him.

Roman (now calling himself The Machine) moved to live above her pub, the Hammerhead Bar And Grille. Barb Wire was unprejudiced toward the monstrous Machine and treated him like a person, and the Machine saw how being part of the Hammerhead staff could help him retain some grip on his humanity as it was being overwritten by the Machine.

He also became a friend of Barb Wire’s brother Charlie, a blind genius specialising in electronics. The Machine taught him about computers and gave him equipment for blind computer users.

Hunted

The Machine continued to elude the Feds, largely by using his data-manipulation ability to send them on endless wild goose chases across the world. Several Federal agents became obsessed with catching the Machine, as they rightly understood the incredible power he wielded. Two such agents are notable – Agent Kreip, and Agent Holden.

Kreip found the Machine first. Consumed with the necessity of bringing the Machine back under government control, he had “trained” a cadre of agents altered using the same tech as for Roman. These Pentagents were individually less powerful than the Machine, but already had lost most of their human consciousness.

Looking to destabilise and smoke out the Machine, Kreip anonymously phoned Avram’s aged father and told him his son was still alive and could be found at the Hammerhead in Steel Harbor.

The Machine (Avram Roman) charges into gunfire

The elder Roman’s visit was fruitless – Barb Wire only understood whom the old man was talking about after he had left. When she discussed the matter with the Machine he refused to let his father know about what happened.

The Machine knew he was a monster and that he wasn’t really Avram Roman anymore. Plus, his Avram Roman personality and memories were steadily fading and would eventually go extinct, an experience he refused to inflict on his dad.

The Machine proactively faced Kreip’s Pentagents, and faked betraying Barb Wire so she wouldn’t be caught in the crossfire. Of course, Barb got involved despite his wishes, and placed Kreip under citizen’s arrest. The Machine left now that his hiding place was compromised.

Apparently, he again convinced the Feds that he had moved very far away. The Feds were also seemingly manipulated into believing that Barb Wire had been but briefly used as a catspaw by the Machine.

Leaving the Hammerhead behind

The Machine holed up somewhere in Steel Harbor, largely losing himself in “techspace”. He watched the town through thousands of mechanical eyes and ears. He noticed that a killer cult, the Way of the Flesh, was making headway and inflicting casualties in the Harbor ; among the victims were patrons of the Hammerhead.

Deciding to protect his friends there without their knowledge, he used his extensive means of surveillance to track down recruiters of the Way. As he zeroed in on their leader, Mecha came from Golden City, also investigating the Way. The Machine told him to go away, feeling that the high-and-mighty heroes of Golden City were out of their elements in the squalid Harbor.

Mecha found the leader of the Way, a super-powered man capable of controlling bodies. The cult head took control of Mecha to destroy the Machine, but the Machine disrupted his influence by taking control of Mecha’s armour. The Machine then pretended he wanted to join the cult so he could leave behind his body.

When the leader of the cult ’touched‘ him with his power, the Machine dragged him with him into the matrix through Mecha’s systems, and destroyed his mind. Mecha and the Machine then parted ways, after Mecha managed to reach out and touch the Machine. He told him how they were alike, and how he was permanently trapped within his power armour.

The Machine (Avram Roman) with his claws out

After some weeks the Machine decided to start moving around so the government would not locate him again. As he was repairing a completely ruined car and made it functional again, a badly wounded gangbanger came, asking for his help.

After the Machine saved his life, reflecting upon why he was doing it, it became clear that the man was actually an undercover cop and was chased by a heavily-armed gang. The Machine saved the man again, captured the criminals and handed everybody over to the cops. This failed to significantly improve his relationship with law enforcement agencies, though.

Days later, the Machine was ambushed by a renegade technician called Salvage. The Machine soon overcame Salvage and, fascinated by the amount of equipment Salvage had in his makeshift ’base‘, expelled the man from his own junkyard, taking over.

Lord of his castle

He also kept the half-dozen junkyard dogs that used to be Salvage’s pets, hoping that they would eventually become less afraid of him if he kept feeding them.

The Machine then intervened to investigate some sort of strange creature which was trapped into the truck of a freak show carny, who pretended it was a fallen angel. After dispersing a crowd wanting to lynch the carny, the Machine decided to free the very large and rather odd bird-like creature. However, some hints left the Machine wondering whether the avian was not really an angel.

The Machine (Avram Roman) takes control of electrical wiring

Weeks later, the top-level military agency running operations at Cinnabar Flats lost a Blackhawk in Steel Harbor. This prisoner transport crashed when the murderous creature it transported, Skion, escaped. He used one of the military specialists, Ellen Carluchi, as an energy source – engulfing her into his body and killing everybody else.

The Machine “overheard” the military transmissions of the special team and its USMC reinforcements, and decided to intervene – Carluchi had been a friend and/or a lover of Avram Roman a few years back.

As jarheards swept through largely deserted neighbourhoods of Steel Harbor in full combat gear, a fire team made contact with Skion. Running toward the sound of gunfire, the Machine saved the soldiers, defeated Skion, and made sure that Carluchi could be saved by a medical team.

Subsequent cases

(The Machine and Barb Wire may then have clashed with the Mask – whether that was in continuity is uncertain. While the Mask inflicted considerable damage to Steel Harbor, he was soundly thrashed after he entered the Hammerhead, largely thanks to the Machine’s indestructibility and technokinetic abilities).

Months later, Barb Wire visited the Machine (whom the dogs had finally stopped being spooked of) since she needed help. The Machine, who of course already knew about the situation, coldly rejected her, observing that she had never sought to spend time with him until she needed his help. By this point Barb had been behaving poorly, and many other persons reacted like the Machine did.

The Machine developed closer ties with Hunter and his Wolf Gang, an important faction in Steel Harbor. In exchange for invaluable information, Hunter arranged for specialized supplies to be procured and secretly handed over to his ally.

A few years later, the Machine decided to strike back against Agent Holden to stop the attempts at locating him. Through Hunter, he had a special pistol handed over to Barb Wire. This weapon came from the stocks of Holden’s team, and could be used to depower persons similar to the Machine. Barb used it to take down the superhuman criminal “Wyvern Stormblüd”.

This was detected by Agent Holden, who arrested Wire and threatened her with extraordinary rendition if she didn’t disclose her ties with the Machine. The Machine’s manipulation succeeded, as he used Wire to reel the Federal task force into a trap – apparently intending to kill enough of them for the task force to stop.

However, Barb Wire predictably refused to do as she was told. Instead, she single-handedly captured Agent Holden, allowing the Machine to explain just how vast an access he had to top-secret information. With the Machine able to threaten and blackmail Holden, killing became unnecessary.

With the heat having thus died off, and appreciating that Barb Wire had changed her ways, the Machine vanished again.


Description

The Machine is a large, monstrous living robot with a strangely organic nature. Most people are terrified of him, or at least creeped out. Reportedly, he smells “like an old Chevy with a tank full of formaldehyde”.

The main changes in the 2015/2016 appearances of the Machine was how he looked – it was a much more human appearance than the 1990s depiction. He was also inexplicably light-skinned, presumably as an artistic mistake Our illustrations are of the more distinctive 1990s version, but here is what Avram looked like in the 2016 series :

Machine (Dark Horse comics) - appearance in the 2015 Barb Wire series


Personality

The Machine is deeply, seriously, tragically alienated. Despite all of his efforts his sense of self is slowly draining away. His memories and their emotional significance are slowly fading, his reactions and desires are increasingly cold and detached.

His appearance is scary, and he does not move like a human being. He wants companionship and to be a person, but everything is slowly slipping through his fingers as he becomes… not even machine-like, but more like an alien with little that can be identified as human emotions.

The Machine treasures what little he has in terms of mementos and friends. However, he is also depressive, and like many depressive persons will have fits of despair and throw everything to the winds as he wants to be left alone to die.

He decided that he preferred his parents and other loved ones from his previous life to believe he had simply died years ago in an accident. He also strongly prefers not to drag what few friends he has into his problems, and can easily put himself in very dangerous situations due to that trait.

The Machine (Avram Roman) and Barb Wire

One of the Machine’s few pleasures is to be online – when his consciousness is projected over the network (plain old telephone network, or IP/data) he is light, unlimited, unexamined. He spend hours each day just being plugged in, often with no special purpose. He mixes the Internet, telephone networks, televisions of all kinds, etc.

The Machine is an intelligent, methodical, analytical fighter and planner, and is good at deception. He is, however, socially incompetent – he does not trust people, prefers to be left alone, comes across as curt, laconic, single-minded and perhaps even threatening.

Avram Roman feels empathy toward freaks – and he was himself used as a side show attraction of sorts (while he was inert and being colonised beyond all projections, Kreip would sometimes show him to the brass as a possibly failed project).


Quotes

(As bullets strike him) “No pain. Just an interesting physical sensation. It’s as close to feeling as I get these days.”

“I like Barbara. She treats me like a person.”

“There is nothing for me to fear. The worst thing that could happen to me… happened a long time ago.”

“Barbara, please don’t send Alonzo up to my room anymore. He’s afraid of me.”

“All that’s left in here of Avram Roman are his memories. Fragile engrams inscribed in binary code that can be switched off like lights. And with every passing second, one by one, they are being switched off — erased and supplanted by new data more useful to the machine. I can’t remember what year I was born. Tomorrow, I could forget the date and next week, I might not know my name. […] I can’t stop it. May be soon… I won’t even want to.”

The Machine (Avram Roman) neutralizes enemy cyborgs

(Tearing himself from mental contact with the greater Machine intelligence) “I am… I am Avram Roman !! I am Avram Roman… and I am NOT of the Machine !”

“I am warm again. Hooked in again. Into the media. The matrix. Where a thousand lives brush against me. I know all their secrets. All the secrets they say out loud. It makes me feel less… alone.”

“I know that sounds selfish. But I’ve learned to indulge my human side whenever possible. I don’t know how much longer I’ll have it.”


DC Universe History

A close equivalent would have been for the Machine to work for a while with the Birds of Prey, perhaps after having been an ally of Black Canary or the Huntress for a few months. He may have been colonised back when Metropolis was turned into a super-high-tech city via alien B13 tech.


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

Tell me more about the game stats

Avram Roman

Dex: 05 Str: 09 Bod: 08 Motivation: None
Int: 06 Wil: 05 Min: 04 Occupation: None
Inf: 04 Aur: 02 Spi: 03 Resources {or Wealth}: 002
Init: 017 HP: 035

Powers:
Acid touch: 08, Aura of fear: 01, Claws: 10, Data storage: 12, Density Increase: 02, Detect (similar machine colonies): 08, Drain resistance: 04, Self-Link (Gadgetry): 15, Interface: 07, Invulnerability: 15, Mental blast: 09, Omni-arm: 03, Radio communications: 06, Regeneration: 12, Running: 06, Snare: 08, Spirit Travel: 18, Superspeed: 02, Telepathy: 10

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • Acid touch (actually a swarm of nanobots) can only be done against organisms extensively interfacing with the Machine’s body, as a counter-intrusion measure
  • Aura of fear only vs. animals
  • Density Increase is Always On and Already Factored In
  • Mental Blast only against electrically-powered items
  • Omni-arm is chiefly used to duplicate tools, power tools, welders, etc.
  • Regeneration allows for the reattachment of severed limbs and ’organs’ (though it takes up a Dice Action)
  • Snare is its own AV, but requires an appropriate Object of Opportunity and is Contingent on Interface
  • Spirit Travel can only be used within cyberspace and to inhabit electronics
  • Superspeed only applies to Tasks, and only those performed using Scientist (Computers)
  • Superspeed is Contingent on Spirit Travel and can only be used while it is active
  • Telepathy has No Range and can only be done with computers through standard data ports. it can be used for mental combat against another entity in cyberspace, though.

Skills:
Gadgetry: 05, Medicine (First aid): 02, Scientist (Computers, Research): 09

Bonuses and Limitations:
Gadgetry is Ranged and can be used even in Spirit Travel form, the later is Contingent on Interface

Advantages:
Area Knowledge (US telephone grid (land and cell)), Expertise (Phreaking), Headquarters (Confined – the junkyard formerly occupied by Salvage), Life Support (No Need for Food or Sleep), Lightning Reflexes, Scholar (his data files), Stabilisation

Connections:
Barb Wire (Low), Charles Kopetski (Low), Hunter (Wolf Ferrell) (Low)

Drawbacks:
Serious Ubermensch Syndrome, SPR (No Hardened Defences, see below), Strange Appearance, SIA toward Depression, MIA toward Shielding his Friends from his Problems, Socially Inept


RAPs Against The Machine

The Machine behaves like a Gadget without the Hardened Defence Bonus – a single RAP of damage can inflict significant damage. Note that this is treated as a SPR – machine-like Characters do not generally have this problem, and do not have to buy Hardened Defences. Characters are Characters and, unless they take specific Powers, Advantages, Drawbacks, etc. all react to damage the same way no matter how they are described.

In the Machine’s case, an attack that scores at least one RAP and is of the right nature will deprive the Machine of a limb or some other part of his anatomy (GM’s call – almost always an arm). The “right nature” is anything that could credibly do the deed – attacks with blades or Claws, shotgun blast at close range, Laser Beam attack, firearm with explosive ammunition, etc.

Note that the RAPs are considered to occur after LDD. If the Machine LDDes away all damage, there is no risk of structural damage. Roman often doesn’t bother LDDing, though – he can reattach limbs and regenerate BODY with ease, so spending HPs on LDD is usually a waste.


Night vision and other uncertainties

At one point the Machine makes a reference to having a multispectrum vision, and seems to assume he can navigate in the dark. This did not seem to be the case early in his career. What the Machine can see is never demonstrated, however. A reasonable hypothesis is Ultra-vision: 05 and Thermal vision: 05, but this is just a guess.

The Machine also demonstrates several abilities during a cross-over miniseries with the Mask. The continuity status of this appearance is uncertain, and it definitely took place in an unusual Genre for the Machine. Relevant material from this appearance:

  • The Machine did not actually take any RAP to his BODY when his limbs where separated from his body, and could reattach limbs as an Automatic Action.
  • He produced a forearm-mounted buzzsaw, very similar to those traditionally wielded by Marvel’s Gladiator (Potter). Claws: 09 or so is a likely level.
  • He claimed to have Lightning Immunity: 09 or so

Note that those are reasonable abilities for him to develop over time.


Attacking a building’s power system

When the Machine does the thing where he overloads a building’s power box, everything plugged on the power in the building will be attacked by an AV/EV 05/05 Lightning attack, less with proper electrical security measures. The AV of the attack will rise in the case of old and/or poorly-maintained electrical network.


Power growth

Early on the Machine was markedly less powerful. Many of his Powers were embryonic, and his STR and BODY were 05. However, he also had Acrobatics: 06 and Full vision: 03, which wren’t apparent later. This is the stage when he first encountered Barb Wire.

In 2016, his body sported cables that he telekinetically wielded like tentacles (Stretching: 02, no demonstrated defensive application), and his Scientist Skill had risen to an overwhelming 14.

By Sébastien Andrivet

Source of Character: Dark Horse’s Comics Greatest World (CGW) books and related appearances.

Helper(s): Dr. Piispanen, Darci

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