Monday, May 13, 2013

The Metal Men (part one of a hopefully to-be-ongoing series)

I think the Metal Men are just about one of the best teams in comics. This is a group that is just a team, and with few exceptions, is pretty static in terms of membership, moreso than even the Fantastic Four. I'm willing to concede that there aren't many team composition shuffles among, say, the Sea Devils, but come on, who cares about them?

More to the point, I find Silver Age Metal Men material (AKA most of the Metal Men stuff out there, period) to be even more uniquely charming than any other SA fare. Sure, a story where Superman is turned into a giant baby by red kryptonite is silly, but it wouldn't have the "heart" of the story I'm going to look at now: 1963's Metal Men #2, "Robots of Terror!"

One of the most endearing things about the Metal Men, in my opinion, is the fact that their earliest adventures  had two common themes: One, everyone but Platinum usually dies only to be rebuilt almost immediately. And Two, the stories went out of their way to feed you fun facts about the metals our heroes are made of -- take, for instance, this scene from Metal Men #1, which ably displays both of the things I'm talking about.

Look for all of that in this issue, because you're totally going to see it. If you're wondering why I'm not looking at #1 in detail, it's because despite the Missile Men being pretty ridiculous villains, I found it kind of dull. 

Can I just say, I like the "first page is another angle of the cover" thing. Oh, and as alluded to on the cover, this is clearly all Platinum's fault. Platinum is head over heels for Doc Magnus, who rewards her affection with open, seething hostility. So the story opens with the Metal Men, namely Platinum, helping a little girl's cat out of a tree. Mercury calls her a show-off, but gets burned by Platinum. Suddenly, gunfire erupts from the street, as what Tin describes as a "gangster car" tries to make a getaway. Tin turns into a sheet and rushes at the car, apparently trying to obstruct the driver's view or something, but gets shot full of holes by the passengers. Iron saves the day by turning into a wall. Mercury, again, tries to undermine his compatriot's accomplishments. Iron takes Tin back to Doc's lab for recovery. But it's not long before another crisis arises!

Real quick, I just want to say that this early in the series, the Metal Men's personalities weren't as distinct as they would get later.  Mercury's an arrogant hothead, Platinum's a needy flirt, and Tin's a stammering coward, but Iron, Lead, and Gold wouldn't come into their own for a few issues. I can't wait for Lead to turn into the lovable oaf who can't complete a sentence without saying "Uhh..." a few times.

Lead diffuses a busted power line before it can hurt anyone. See what I was saying about the real properties of metals? Not that I mind, it's one of those things that gives it the charm I was talking about. Anyway, yet another problem comes up -- a man's daughter is trapped inside a vault! It has an emergency "inside lock", but the girl doesn't know the combination and can't hear anything form outside. Mercury finally gets his time to shine, slipping through the cracks (so to speak) and enters the inside combination. Afterwards, Mercury is feeling pretty full of himself, and mocks Gold for not doing anything all day. Lead, of all people, agrees; I didn't really take him as the the type to talk back to authority. Gold says it's not important which of them helps somebody, as long as one of them does. "Doc invented us for service, not cheers!"

So the Metal Men arrive at a hospital, where they meet an old friend of Doc's, Col. Caspar, and Caspar's niece Jane. Jane has gotten over some injury recently and is afraid to walk, and, uh... I think this speaks for itself.

That's certainly special. It's not just me, right, that's a ridiculous scene? Gold's unique power is apparently that he looks cool and people have a special reverence for him, which is true I guess, I think his relative malleability for a metal is a little more significant, isn't it?

So we get to the real story of the issue, which is about Platinum, her love of Doc Magnus, and Magnus' dismissive attitude towards women. Platinum is of course the only female member of the team, though a 2008 miniseries would introduce Copper as a second one. I just wanted to mention that Copper fits in perfectly with the group and could have easily been an original member. Moving on.

Apropos of nada, we're at Doc's lab, where Platinum is bothering him as usual. She wants to "borrow some of his magic" and create a string of inventions to impress him. He rebuffs her, she starts crying (Doc invented robots that cry I guess)' this is how a lot of their interactions go. Tin is repaired, but Platinum is still trying to put the moves on Doc, saying she learned to dance from watching TV. Suddenly, a woman appears, asking Doc if he's ready for their date. As Doc leaves, a teary-eyed Platinum turns to his books, determined to win his heart by appealing to his intellectual side


And, as I'm sure you've no doubt guessed, the result was, bafflingly, a robotic Doc Magnus who loves Platinum. It looks identical to the real Doc. Robot Doc takes Platinum on a night on the town, but something's wrong -- he's kind of an asshole! He carelessly knocks people over dancing, and flies Doc's flying saucer like he's got a death wish. Platinum objects to his behavior, but can't stay mad at the love of her life (or a robot version of him, at least.) Not to be crass, but I think programming a Doc robot was clearly a step too far -- a Doc dummy would have served Platinum's purposes better.

They head back to the lab, where robot Doc says he has a surprise waiting for Platinum. Or, he will -- he needs time to work on it and tells Platinum to go chill with the other Metal Men for a while. Soon, he reveals his surprise: a new group of Metal Men!

I have to wonder if these guys could look more forthrightly villainous. Or, with the exception of Plutonium and maybe Aluminum, be more boring metals. So Iron realizes this Doc is a fake, and that's where things start going downhill: Robot Doc and his Metal Men become hostile, as he commands Sodium to "fizz them to death!" while he escapes with Platinum. Sodium releases a torrent of explosive liquid, which is what the Metal Men are struggling to contain on the cover. Platinum realizes that a momentary power outage during her creation of the robot Doc must have messed up his personality and made him evil.

The real Doc gets in touch with the Metal Men and hurries back to the lab, abandoning his date. He advises Tin to contain the sodium pool and the rest to give chase to Robot Doc before anything happens to Platinum. Doc's date, Marsha, is furious that he's leaving her to play with his robots, and particularly that he's so concerned about Platinum, and vows never to speak to him again. Doc admits that he does care about Platinum quite a bit -- as one of his robot creations, she's invaluable!

Unlike what was depicted on the cover, Tin easily contains the sodium stuff by himself. Man, you know what would have made for a better cover? A crazy Doc endangering himself and Platinum by flying like a maniac. Anyway, Mercury stretches toward the fleeing Robo-Doc and his evil Metal Men, determined to save Platinum. However, he first has to contend with Aluminum, and what comes to pass is something I find even more ridiculous than the gold carpet thing from earlier.

That's both the ultimate expression of "psuedo educationally spouting the properties of the various metals", and a ridiculous stretch of that idea -- being used in aircraft isn't a property of Aluminum, it's a use of it. Anyway, Aluminum turns into a propeller, cutting the liquid Mercury to ribbons. However, Aluminum comes out of the equation bent out of shape himself and just as unable to continue.

So Robo-Doc is headed for the flying saucer, and thereafter for a rocket primed for launch, and has designs on world domination. The rest of this is basically the "what are the new Metal Men used for" circus -- Zirconium takes care of Lead by blinding him with a flash of light, as he's used to make flashbulbs, for instance. Gold is taken out by Barium's explosive fire powers, based on his use in fireworks, etc. In each case, the attacking evil Metal Man and his victim are both incapacitated, until only Robo-Doc, Plutonium, and Platinum remain.

Then the real Doc shows up with a formation of bomber planes (!), telling Platinum to get away any way she can before his bombing group levels the launchpad. That seems a little excessive if you're just after one crazed robot (or two, I guess, he still has Plutonium). In fact, Robo-Doc is counting on Plutonium as his insurance against such an attack -- Plutonium is essentially a walking A-Bomb, and nobody would risk setting him off. Doc, who is only hearing about this now, calls off the bombing for just that reason.

Yikes. Realizing the depth of Robo-Doc's insanity, Platinum decides to stop being a helpless damsel and take matters into her own hands. She turns into thin wire, tying up Robo-Doc and Plutonium and tethering them to the rocket. Robo-Doc activates Plutonium, who is due to explode any minute, but Platinum planned for that -- using remote controls to launch the rocket, she has all three of them hurtling towards the moon, where Plutonium's explosion can't hurt anybody (or at least, anybody human). Doc witnesses her heroism and, with very real concern, begs her to let go of the rocket before it's too late. She insists on staying to the end -- it's what a real girl would do!

Plutonium explodes before they reach the moon, but after they're out of the atmosphere, taking Platinum and Robo-Doc with him. I thought this was sort of moving, but...

Oh, yeah, that's nice and appropriate, sure. Is this a sales grab? Were people complaining about Platinum? I don't even know, man. Platinum would return to the Metal Men in the next issue -- evidently response was pretty overwhelming. I don't think the Metal Men "work" without Platinum, any more than they would without any of the others.

Anyway, that's the Metal Men. Being one of my favorite teams and some of my favorite characters in general, I'm probably going to write about just about every series of theirs sooner or later. The hamfisted science lessons of early Silver Age Metal Men material is never going to get old, nor will the distinct personalities of the Metal Men themselves.

 If you want me to revisit the Metal Men, drop a comment only!

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