You may have heard recently that the DC Archives were going to be flooding the market at a substantial discount. Well, www.cheapgraphicnovels.com was initially offering them up at 70% off (that was only $15 each). They’ve since raised the prices up another five dollars, but not before I got six of them. I asked Jim for some advice on what was good and he had positive things to say about the Metal Men. I was already interested in the book, because one of my all-time favorite Spider-Man artistic teams was responsible for the art: Ross Andru and Mike Esposito.
I’ve only read the first four introductory issues so far that originally appeared in Showcase #37, 38, 39 & 40 during 1962. I even managed to read one issue to my six-year old (sneeze-barfing) daughter Faith, so I’m looking forward to more shared moments with her. Although the book was published some 12 years prior to Andru and Esposito’s work on Amazing Spider-Man it looks just as awesome to me. The figure work is amazing and has a very classic newspaper adventure strip vibe to it.
After my initial exposure, I can honestly say that the Metal Men’s abilities are the SOME OF THE MOST RIDICULOUS CONCEPTS I’VE EVER SEEN IN A COMIC BOOK!!! The team consists of six robots: Gold, Lead, Mercury, Iron, Tin, and Platinum, all led by their creator Doctor Will Magnus. Now, the key component of their powers is that they have the properties of the metal from which they are made. We get those great Silver Age science lessons about the metals including melting points, strength, and the ability to be shaped. The latter is used repeatedly and is often a combination of Plastic Man and Mr. Fantastic with Lead always being used either for radioactive shielding or being turned into a giant cannonball. But think about this for a minute, in order for all this to work, every piece and inner working of their bodies has to be entirely made of the same metal. How Mercury even stays solid at room temperature is a complete mystery. It just makes no sense in the real world.
The great thing is that I don’t care about any of that. What makes the Metal Men work so well is their personalities. Mercury is hot-tempered, Gold is the steadfast leader, Iron is the strongman, Lead the protector, Tin is always trying to prove himself despite his limitations and Platinum…she just may be one of the most beautifully drawn women in comics. Okay, that may sound superficial about Tina (her nickname), but the way Andru illustrates her body language is really a huge part of her character. You see due to her nuclear-powered microscopic activator, she acts like a real woman, not a robot. She dances with Doc, drapes her arms around him, and responds emotionally to everything (in a good way). I can see why Doc fell in love with his creation (not that he would admit it). He treats her as a real woman, not a robot, but then she reminds him that since she is just a robot, she can do what any other Metal can, meaning be put in harm’s way. Their relationship is really dynamic and by far my favorite aspect of the series. As you can gather, Doc’s personality is really well developed too and there’s even a good supporting character, Col. Caspar Stares. Writer, Robert Kanigher has done an exceptional job developing these “people”.
The stories are very entertaining. In Showcase #37, the Metals fight a giant radioactive prehistoric flying stingray called the Flaming Doom. I like how they actually use the term “The Flaming Doom” (also the story title) repeatedly. At the end of the story, the Metal Men save the world, but only after sacrificing themselves. First issue and “they’re dead, Jim.” But then remarkably Col.Stares breaks the fourth wall and asks the readers to write in if they want more Metal Men.
From what I can remember most early DC Silver Age stories were primarily stand alone with a loose continuity, but the second Metal Men appearance (and all I’ve read so far) pick right up from the previous issue. Maybe the Fantastic Four was an influence on this change. So in Showcase #38, the world wants to reward the Metal Men for defeating the Flaming Doom, not realizing they were only robots that are now rusting inert at the bottom of the ocean. The pentagon orders the mourning Doc Magnus to make some replacement Metal Men to receive their medals. The only thing is that these lack any personality and are totally inept when a foreign super-power (Russians) uses an ex-Nazi’s inventive genius to humiliate the Americans with his Nightmare Menace (really tall robot). I guess customs security was a lot more lax back then. Doc figures out that the reason the new (now scrapped) Metals were different is that there wasn’t any Aurora Borealis Activity during the creation like there was last time (works for me). He and Caspar retrieve the original Metals and repair them. They save the day at the nearby World’s Fair (when’s the last time one of those were held – maybe Epcot perpetually takes the place of one) by primarily getting the Nazi sick on a spinning ride. (I can relate as I hate those things.)
Showcase #39 features the debut of the famous Chemo, who has a really great and funny origin. This scientist created a big plastic mold of a man to hold all of his failed chemical experiments. Because mixing strange chemicals together is ALWAYS a great idea! Needless to say Chemo comes to life, reaches gigantic portions (a recurring theme) and is out to wreck lots of havoc. He’s such an indestructible force of nature that the Metal Men fail trying to defeat him. A good thing he gets trapped by some gas jets underground. You think he might come back someday? The last panel is another plea to the readers from the cast for more feedback on the series.
In the last issue before they got their own solo series nearly six months later, Showcase #40 has some important repercussions from the previous issue. Doc Magnus got zapped by Chemo down in the caves and has now turned to metal (good news Tina thinks so they can be together), but unfortunately he’s dangerously radioactive and growing into yet another giant. The solution is to send Doc off into space. Tina purposefully gets close to Doc so she’ll be radioactive too and can go with him (that’s love folks). The one complication, Chemo’s back again. He ends up hitching a ride up in space with the loving metal couple and burns to a crisp (for now). Luckily, thinks to the poor shielding on rockets in the DC universe, Doc is bombarded with cosmic (rays) matter and turns back into “a real boy”. The two rebuild the Metal Men (another recurring theme) and everyone lives happily ever after. Well, maybe not…Doc is threatening to send Tina to the museum again. The End.
I was so enthralled by this series that I’m already planning on getting the next Archive volume next spring. I also purchased the mid-70’s revival run that featured some early art and co-plotting by Walt Simonson. That package arrived today and I can’t wait to read it.
Have a great weekend everybody!