Showcase Presents: Metal Men - VOL 01 Paperback – Oct 3 2007
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The Metal Men are a group of six robots built by Will Magnus, each representing a different metal and able to reshape itself to adapt to various situations. Each has a "responsometer" that gives it intelligence and a personality. Gold is the most intelligent and the natural leader when Magnus is not around. Lead is somewhat dense, both literally and figuratively; he's good-hearted but not all that bright. Iron is the reliable strong-man of the group. Mercury is, well, mercurial. Tin stutters and has an inferiority complex. Finally, there is Platinum, the one "female" robot who is in love with Magnus.
The issues within Showcase Volume 1 introduce the team and highlight their first battles. Typically, they are opposed by other robots, either from outer space or built on Earth. Most signicant is Chemo, a giant toxic robot and various "relatives" of the Metal Men, including the ill-fated Uranium and the Gas Gang. Generally, Gold, Iron and Lead are the less interesting characters, with Mercury and Tin standing out more, and Platinum standing out most of all.
In fact, the Platinum/Magnus relationship shows the weakness of reading these issues in a Showcase format rather than reading the comics in the original bi-monthly format. Every issue seems to have Platinum declaring her love and Magnus saying insisting she's merely a robot with a defective responsometer (although it's clear he secretly has affection for her too). On an every-other-month basis, this might not be bad, but if you read several issues at a time, it can come off repetitive.
That, however, is a criticism of the Showcase format (which nonethless, I like overall), not a criticism of the individual stories within. The Metal Men may not be the most popular team, but they are an entertaining example of what mid-1960's DC had to offer.
The first Showcase issue contained the menace of a giant prehistoric flying Manta Ray that spewed out highly destructive radiation bursts. This harkened back to the giant monster movies of the period. While I found the concept intriguing, I skipped the next several Showcase issues. (I did get the Showcase Chemo issue. Chemo was a gigantic humanoid toxic waste dump that spewed out highly corrosive chemicals which threatened civilization.)
About a year later I purchased Metal Men #1. In this issue, another great menace threatened Earth-- this time it was the Missile Men. Once again I liked the characters and the concept but not enough to follow their adventures on a regular basis. Perhaps I thought each issue wagoing to be a replay of the giant monster-threatening-mankind routine.
I have been wanting to purchase the DC Showcase: Metal Men (combining the original 4 Showcase issues, the first 15 issues of the Metal Men and The Brave and the Bold #55) for some time now, and finally got it several months ago. So what did I miss as a young teenager? Within the limitations of the series formula, I liked it quite a lot. Every issue did not have a giant monster threatening the extermination of mankind (or sometimes just the annihilation of the Metal Men). The silly "romance" between Dr. Magnus and Platinum was a cute and enjoyable subplot--James Babcock mentioned it reminded him of the romance between Genie and Colonel Tony Nelson on the TV series "I Dream of Genie." Magnus, as mentioned above, blames a faulty responsometer for Platinum's human-like emotions. In MM #3, while putting Platinum back together, Dr. Magnus inserts a new responsometer into the "robonet," and a new cold and unemotional automaton results. The new Platinum proves to be very unpopular and after it is destroyed she is reassembled and the original faulty responsometer reinstalled, Tina is back in all her glimmering, flirty glory.
It was interesting seeing the heroes being blasted, melted, blown apart, smashed, crushed, thrown into vats of acid and otherwise demolished. Of course, we knew that Dr. Magnus would reconstruct the robots and they would be as good as new by the next story. The Metal Men was a difficult formula to make work, but veteran comics writer Robert Kanighter pulled it off rather well. The Metal Men, as a bi-monthly, didn't suffer from over-exposure. Even though the Metal Men could be "killed" you knew that they could be resuscitated within a few panels or by the next issue.
Some of the plots were not just improbable but plain silly. Two issues (#s 4 & 5) had a giant Queen Robot on another planet wanting Tin to be her consort. Be that as it may, the series was good-spirited and you knew who the good guys were and who the bad guys were. The characters had a goofy goodness and light-hearted charm that made the stories seem more substantive than they actually were. There was a sense of continuity between the stories as issues 3-6 naturally flowed into each other making for a 100-page saga. It is not overstating that this constituted an early story arc. Two of the better stories (#s 8 & 9) involve a blind boy named Timmy whom the Metal Men took on an outer space adventure.
Kanigher did a good job of pulling off this fantastic human interest tale, pushing the right emotional buttons to draw the reader into the unlikely story events.
As mentioned earlier only three of the robots had any real personality Platinum was characterized by her womanly emotions and love for Dr. Magnus. Mercury was a grumpy complainer and often argued with (or belittled) Platinum. Tin had an inferiority complex and was always over-compensating and trying to prove himself by rushing into dangerous situations with the result that he was often the first destroyed. Kanigher used Tin as a focal point for several stories. He proved to be the most sympathetic of the Metal Men and one that many readers could readily identify. Gold was the good guy group leader, Iron the strong man and Lead the rather dumb protector metal. Kanigher didn't seem to have a handle on these three characters as well as he did on Platinum. Mercury and Lead.
I `ve come to appreciate Ross Andru and Mike Esposito's rather understated artwork. They were excellent craftsmen, using their skills to the max to produce clear, clean and inventive visual story telling. Andru and Esposito had a style that wasn't flashy but told the stories very well. Also as an afterthought, it is only when one goes back and actually examines the art that you realize that these guys were some of the best comics storytellers of the period. Mike Esposito says this of Ross Andru: "Bob [Kanigher] thought Ross was a genius at storytelling." (Alter Ego #54, p. 4). He also asserts, "Ross was brilliant in storytelling and layouts, and was one of the few guys who did multiple planes: the picture would go in and in and in." (Alter Ego #54, p. 10). Andru and Esposito had the misfortune of replacing the original artists on comic strips like Wonder Woman and Infantino's Flash, and suffering by comparison. Not so with the Metal Men. This was their strip. They designed the characters and set the tone for the stories.
Does this volume make me want to buy the recently released second Showcase: Presents: Metal Men? Yes, very likely. The Metal Men were goofy, endearing and fun and a perfect example of the Silver Age comics.
With every silver-age collection comes certain genre staples that today's readers will find somewhat repetitive and simplistic, yet I was amazed at how engaged I was with the Metal Men stories. Chief among the highlights is a loose sense of continuity between the issues that I didn't expect from this relatively "self-contained" era in storytelling. Though there are no year-long plot threads or epic story arcs, the events of one issue frequently affect the next one; so if Tin is left in space to contain some dangerous microbes at the end of issue 3, issue 4 picks up with the gang trying to rescue him. Or if the Metal Men are melted together into one alloy, there will be a story where Doc attempts to separate them first before things return to status quo. Platinum robot Tina is told by Doc that she'll be a museum piece in the early issues, and he actually attempts to donate her once before giving up on the idea. It's small stuff, but goes a long way in making you want to keep reading.
The Metal Men also build up a few recurring villains in the short span of a few issues, chief among them being the well-known Chemo, who debuted here. Where the Justice League faced the Secret Society, the Metal Men take on evil counterparts called the Gas Gang, and there are also BOLTS and the Missile Men to name a few. Surprising is how frequently the Metal Men are "destroyed" in their various battles - though Doc can always put these guys back together again, they often take a beating and have to be scraped off the ground at the end of each story. Again, a nice twist on the formula.
Beyond that, the stories have a great, light-hearted tone emphasized by the lovable dynamics of the cast. The characters are pretty one-note (Tin stammering about being useless, Mercury's hot temper, Tina constantly flirting and being rejected by Doc) but it works considering so many of DC's other heroes of the era were so interchangeable.
A great read. Those who want more Metal Men should also check out Showcase Presents Metal Men Vol. 2