DC FLASHBACK: The Metal Men

Fri, August 17th, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Brian K. Eason, Guest Contributor

"Metal Men" #1 by Duncan Rouleau, on sale now

When we enumerate the great super teams of the DC Universe, the JSA comes to mind, as does the JLA, the Teen Titans, the Green Lantern Corps, the Outsiders and even the Doom Patrol. The Metal Men is traditionally not the first team that comes to mind-- perhaps not even in the top five -- but the Metal Men have been well loved by fans for decades, and perhaps more interestingly, well loved by comics writers as well.

The Metal Men returned this month in an all-new eight-issue miniseries written and illustrated by Duncan Rouleau ("Ben 10"), and Geoff Johns is Executive Producing a Metal Men film. In honor of the new book and forthcoming movie, CBR News invites you to flashback and look at the history of Dr. Will Magnus and his Metal Men.

In 1962, the Atom was the star of DC's "Showcase," which as the title indicated was a stage for concepts that might stand a chance at carrying their own books. DC decided that the Atom had proved himself in "Showcase" and was given his own comic. Unfortunately, there was no backup plan for the next issue. As the story goes, Robert Kanigher was tapped to script an 11th hour story for the series and the first Metal Men story was created over a weekend. The art chores were given to DC workhorses Ross Andru and Mike Esposito.

The Metal Men were a team of robots created by Dr. Will "Doc" Magnus. Doc explained to us that his robots' personalities and artificial intelligence were the results of components called responsometers; with the characters' attitudes mirroring the metals from which they were made. The Metal Men consisted of the noble Gold, the strong Iron, the temperamental Mercury, the faithful and dull-witted Lead, the insecure Tin, and Platinum, who called herself Tina.

"Showcase Presents: Metal Men," reprinting the classic stories, on sale September 26
The team was killed off in the first story because the creative team figured there would never be a second. On the contrary, the Metal Men proved to be wildly popular, and DC gave the team a chance and asked for three more issues. The beginning of "Showcase" #38 depicted Doc Magnus scavenging for the parts of his destroyed team -- especially the responsometers that gave the robots their personalities. Basically, the Metal Men died at the end of each issue, only to be resurrected in the next. This went on for years.

The Metal Men themselves were subject to occasional (if temporary) change. Several times, Doc Magnus would create new robots of differing elements such as Silver, Chromium, Cobalt, and even the radioactive Uranium. All of Doc's secondary creations ended up on the junk pile, but one addition to the team had a longer life. The perennially shy and timid Tin built a girlfriend from a kit, adding a responsometer and naming her Beautiful, though she was known as "Nameless" to the rest of the team. Nameless had a number of appearances with the team before disappearing into obscurity.

The other "female" on the team is especially worthy of note. While the "male" members of the Metal Men had the sort of personalities typical of what one might expect from a group of heroes created in the 1960s, Platinum (or Tina) was different. Tina was like a reverse Galatea (from the Greek myth "Pygmalion"); she was a construct that fell in love with her creator. Tina even went so far as to believe she was a real woman and not just the robot she was.

The classic Metal Men in "Showcase"
DC Comics is famous for its rogue galleries and the Metal Men certainly contributed. It probably doesn't hurt that many DC villains have their foundations in the Golden Age, when talents like Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created villains that reflected the psychology of their heroes. Many Silver Age writers followed suit, as did Metal Men scribe Robert Kanigher. Elemental evils like the Gas Gang were joined by mechanical menaces such as the Missile Men, and a robotic version of Chang Tzu (later of "52" fame) appeared with the name Dr. Yes (as a lampoon of Ian Fleming's Dr. No).

No discussion of the Metal Men can take place without special mention of the king of the Metal Men villains: Chemo. As over the top villains go, the creation of Chemo was at the tip-top. Chemo was a huge, humanoid, plastic vessel filled with toxic chemicals. Why would you create a humanoid, plastic vessel full of toxic chemicals? Mad scientist Ramsey Norton created the vessell to contain the by-products of his failed experiments to motivate him into actually succeeding. Ramsey attempted to create a formula that would increase the size of plants to help feed the hungry. As usual, Ramsey failed and poured his growth formula into Chemo, which finally topped him off. There was a freakish chemical reaction and Chemo came to life and grew to enormous proportions. Chemo then poisoned the Ramsey and went on a rampage.

In the end, the Metal Men defeated Chemo, but because of his unique creation, Chemo proved to be immortal and has since grown to be a bigger threat in the DC Universe of today. In "Infinite Crisis," Lex Luthor's Secret Society of Supervillains dropped the monster like a bomb onto the city of Bldhaven, killing nearly one million people. Chemo bathed the city in toxic chemicals and radiation. The Teen Titans and other superheroes attempted to save the citizenry, and Chemo began to reconstitute itself. Superman fought the monster, forcing it to regenerate by absorbing the radiation and toxins from the city. In the end of the battle. Superman tossed Chemo into space, but it's likely twe'll see the creature return in the upcoming "Metal Men" series.

Duncan Rouleu's Metal Men origin from "52"
As a result of the popularity of their original four-issue "Showcase" run, the Metal Men were awarded their own bi-monthly title in 1963 and lasted 41 issues. With issue #33, DC management decided to set a dubious new "hip" direction for the Metal Men. Bad responsometers were installed, Doc Magnus fell into a coma and the Metal Men became hunted by the government. The changes resulted in a huge drop in sales, but further changes were to begin driving nails into team's proverbial coffin. In an attempt to stay "relevant," the Metal Men were given secret identities and began passing as human. The "New" Metal Men then set about attempting to capture Doc Magnus who had been brainwashed by a crazy dictator after waking from his coma. As a result, sales tanked and the original series ended with issue #41.

The Metal Men returned in 1973 with issue #42 (a reprint, as were #43 and #44), and new adventures began in "Metal Men" #45 (April-May 1976) by a number of writers and with art by Walt Simonson. Most notable among the Metal Men writers was Steve Gerber, who wrote "Evil Is in the Eye of the Beholder" in "Metal Men" #45, in which Doc Magnus regains his sanity and rejoins his team. The new run ended with issue #56 (1978), although the characters made regular guest appearances in many titles including "The Brave and the Bold." Especially notable was issue #187, which explored the mysterious disappearance of Nameless.

"Metal Men" #2
Then, as we are compelled to say in nearly every edition of DC FLASHBACK, came "Crisis on Infinite Earths."

After the Crisis, the Metal Men became second-rate guest stars, greatly fallen from their Silver Age glory. In 1993, a four issue miniseries appeared, and in one of the most controversial retcons on record, the Metal Men origin was rewritten. In the series it was revealed that the Metal Men had the personalities and souls of real human beings: Gold was Doc's brother, Platinum was Doc's fiance, Lead was a pizza guy, Mercury and Iron were lab technicians, and Tin was a janitor. At the end of the series, Gold was destroyed and Doc transferred his mind into a robot known as Veridium (a green alien metal).

In "52," this tale was itself retconned away as a part of Doc Magnus's ongoing series of mental problems. The responsometers were said to contain "artificial souls." The cured Doc Magnus said that he was no longer able to recreate artificial souls, and therefore could not recreate his team while taking the medication for his bipolar disorder. Readers also discovered that Doc's work is based on the work of villainous scientist T. O. Morrow, who was Magnus' professor at University. During a visit to Morrow in his padded cell, Morrow warned Magnus that DC's mad scientists were being abducted. Eventually, Morrow himself disappeared, but left a note for Magnus that described some kind of machine code.

"Metal Men" #3
Doc used the code to revive Mercury before being kidnapped by Chang Tzu and taken to Oolong Island along with Dr. Morrow and a variety of other mad scientists. Chang Tzu instructed Doc to create a Plutonium robot, but Doc stalled because he believed the Plutonium Man was inspired by his own depression. Doc confided this to Morrow, and Morrow informed the scientists' leaders. The scientists confiscated Doc's meds and he began work on the Plutonium Man, but he also began to scavenge gold, lead, iron, mercury, tin, and platinum. From these elements, Doc recreated the Metal Men in miniature. The micro-Metal Men provided a support system for Doc, helping to keep him level despite his lack of medication. They even convinced Doc to turn off the Plutonium Man. When superheroes attacked Oolong Island and Chang Tzu ordered the Plutonium Man be activated, the Metal Men revealed themselves and attacked Chang Tzu, allowing Doc to escape and turn off the Island's defenses. Magnus finally confronted Chang Tzu, appearing to kill the villain with the aid of Lead and a particle wave ray gun. In the end, Doc screamed, "You shouldn't have taken away my meds! I told you I do crazy things without my meds!"

While the Metal Men have appeared briefly in "Justice League of America" and "Superman/Batman," it appears the team will be making its true Modern Age debut in the pages of the upcoming miniseries by Duncan Rouleau. With a new, more retro look and the addition of the saucy Copper to the team, fans can hope that the Rouleau can recapture the team's former glory and show us all the mettle of the Metal Men.

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