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Metal Men
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Fred Hembeck

Metal Men
Uploaded April 1, 2002

This one is for all of you metallurgy fanatics out there reading these things. I figure there must be at least three of you.

Created by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru, the Metal Men ran in four consecutive issues of the Kanigher-edited Showcase title, before graduating to their own series in 1963. The series ran for 56 issues with a publishing hiatus or two thrown in. Apart from a mini-series almost ten years ago, they've fallen back into guest-star mode for the most part.

For the uninitiated among you, here's the pitch: genius inventor Will Magnus created a group of sentient robots, each one based on a different element of the periodic table and capable of re-shaping and adapting its body in ways supposedly consistent with the properties of said element. The first metal man to roll off of the assembly line was actually a metal woman, Platinum, which leads to all kinds of speculation about Magnus' real motives, particularly since her personality seemed almost slavishly devoted to him. This probably says more about Kanigher's attitudes towards women than anything else, but - considering as an example the prevailing notion among the entertainment grand poobahs at the time, that a woman couldn't serve aboard a starship without wearing a mini-skirt and go-go boots - perhaps I'm reading too much into this.

Anyhow, just as Magnus was preparing to ship Platinum - nicknamed 'Tina' - off to the Science Museum, military authorities asked Magnus for help in dealing with a recently thawed prehistoric monster that was wreaking havoc. Magnus created five more robots to battle the monster: Gold, Iron, Lead, Mercury, and Tin.

No, it's not my idea of an all-star periodic table line-up either.

Side note: the prehistoric monster is shown as a 747-sized green radioactive manta ray with heat vision strong enough to melt skyscrapers. Right.

Most of the villains that the Metal Men fought were cut from the 1960s sci-fi mode, with lots of robots and other experiments gone awry. The most notable example of the latter was something called 'Chemo', whose origin should really appeal to all of you chem labrats.

A professor trying to come up with a chemical formula that would cure disease and otherwise provide a miraculous panacea for humanity had the odd habit of dumping all of his chemical wastes and failed experiment reagents into a giant, man-shaped plastic mold. When the thing finally got filled to the brim, the chemicals somehow (a favourite word in comic book origins) combined to create a basic intelligence - or at least an instinct to create mayhem - and hello, monstrosity.

Now, there are times and places for inevitably clueless behaviour - first dates being the obvious example, to everyone's collective chagrin - but NOT IN A CHEMISTRY LAB! Did the professor deserve to die from the chemical stream spewed at him by Chemo? If applied stupidity is any barometer for such things, then you can bet your sweet bippy he did. You just don't mix chemicals indiscriminately unless you're looking to experience the afterlife first-hand.

But mix them he did, and the Metal Men - having been rebuilt from their most recent 'death by destruction' - leapt into action to end Chemo's gurgling days. Only for a while, though - he came back eventually. They always came back. Even the Metal Men kept coming back. They'd go out, they'd fight a menace, they'd get their responsometers handed to them, and Doc Magnus would have to re-build them. Again, and again. No wonder he had a nervous breakdown; he'd created his own albatross.

Still, for sheer mindless silliness, the Metal Men are a fun read, particularly the Walt Simonson run in the mid-1970s, written variously by Steve Gerber, Gerry Conway, and Martin Pasko. Those stories are collected, incidentally, in the 'Art of Walter Simonson' 200-page trade paperback that DC really should bring back into print. It turns up on eBay every so often, chock full of Simonson goodness. Yum!

- NP

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