DC Comics History: Metal Men
By Deejay Dayton
Jul 24, 2017 - 10:39
The Metal Men, a team of sentient, shape shifting robots under the command, more or less, of their creator, Doc Magnus, made their debut in Showcase during the period 1960 – 1964: the Silver Age. A strong and unique concept, the Metal Men moved quickly into their own, ongoing series.
Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito introduce Will Magnus and the Metal Men in Showcase 37. Platinum, Gold, Lead, Mercury, Iron and Tin all get created by Will Magnus, and endowed with responsometers, which give them human-like personalities. It's a really bizarre series, very different from anything else coming out at the time. And though the characters are robots, Kanigher does make them all feel like real people. Their shape changing abilities ensure dynamic visuals in every story. A flying manta ray type creature emerges from a glacier as it melts, and begins a destructive rampage, both because of its strength and beams of intense heat that it emits. An army officer, Henry Caspar, comes to Will Magnus for help dealing with the monster. Magnus has just created Platinum, the first of the Metal Men, and Caspar is astounded at how much more advanced she is than any other robot. Platinum also displays an unrequited crush on Will Magnus.
At Caspar's request, Magnus builds five more Metal Men to help deal with the monster. Each one has some of the major attributes of the metal they are composed of, and personality traits to match. The team struggles against the destructive monster, and Tin is the first one destroyed in battle. That would, I'm sure, have been quiet shocking to readers at the time. Even worse, the Metal Men continue to fall to the monster.
Gold, Iron and Mercury all get taken down and destroyed, despite some impressive efforts. It's left to Platinum to bind the creature, and Lead to coat it, and together they finally destroy it, at the cost of their own lives. Introducing and them promptly killing a team was unheard of at this time. The closing panels ask the readers if they want to see more of the Metal Men, but that's really a bit of a ruse. They return in the following issue. But it does help make this ending a powerful one.
Showcase 38 follows up on the previous issue, and there is a huge public surge of admiration for the Metal Men following the defeat of the flying manta ray, and demands that they be awarded metals. Colonel Caspar comes to see Will Magnus and encourages him to build a new set of Metal Men to receive the medals. Magnus does this, but though the new team look identical to the originals, they lack the spark of personality. When a Nazi scientist sends a robot of his own against the new crew, they are incapable of defeating it, and quickly lose the respect of the public, and get destroyed.
Magnus finds and recovers the bodies of the original team, and works on rebuilding those. He cannot figure out what went wrong the second time, but notes that, when he built the first team, there was unusual activity with the Northern Lights. That's pretty lame as a reason for their human-ish behaviour, but it does promote a notion, developed over the years, that something odd or special happened during their construction.
Magnus brings the rebuilt originals to a circus to show them off and try to win back the public's favour. It's sort of his good fortune that the Nazi sends his robot out after them again. So this time the team defeat the robot, win back the public's love, and end the issue rebuilt and ready for action.
Chemo, who would become the arch foe of the Metal Men, makes his debut in Showcase 39. The story's dramatic opening, as pictured on the cover, has Doc Magnus and the Metal Men searching for a missing scientist, and having the man grab them with his giant hand, thrusting it through the roof. The situation is really completely the guy's fault. He was working on a growth formula, and tossing away any failed serums into a giant plastic human form he calls Chemo. Like, basically just setting himself up to accidentally create a destructive menace. Sure enough, Chemo just comes to life one day from the chemical mix within him.
The first thing he does is spew some growth formula back at the scientist, turning him giant size. So the Metal Men go after Chemo. It's not that hard to find a giant plastic man walking through the city, but his chemical spit, or breath (hard to tell which) is so destructive it can take down buildings.
The Metal Men wind up falling to it, one by one. Doc Magnus and Platinum are the only ones left when they manage to lure Chemo down into a cave, and trap him there, sealed in by vents of natural gas. Doc sets to work rebuilding the Metal Men, and they believe they are done with Chemo, but he returns in the following issue.
Will Magnus really ought to be in a horror movie. He does the classic stupid move of going back down into the cave where they sealed up Chemo to check on him, and of course winds up releasing the monster. Chemo sprays Magnus with his chemical goo, which winds up turning the doctor metallic. Essentially, turning Magnus into a robot. But Will is also made radioactive by Chemo's actions. Platinum chooses to stay with him, but the rest of the team have to operate on their own. In a really good scene, they decide to vote for a leader. Gold feels that he is naturally the one to take command, but Mercury challenges him. Tin makes a plea for them all to work together as one, and winds up elected to lead them.
The battle with Chemo is visually far more interesting than it had been in the previous issue, as the Metal Men make more direct attacks. They succeed in containing him and bringing Chemo to a rocket ship, which Magnus and Platinum are on. They fly the rocket into space, but nothing seems to destroy Chemo. Finally, Magnus turns it back towards Earth, intending to incinerate Chemo, even at the cost of his own life. Chemo does fry up, but the heated chemicals, passing through the spacecraft, have the result of turning Magnus back into a human again, and somehow also protect him from dying.
A few months after their introductory run in Showcase, the Metal Man and Doc Magnus move into their own book. The term responsometer is used for the first time towards the top of this story. Doc Magnus is showing off his Metal Men to the media. Gold, Lead, Iron, Mercury, and Tin all behave as expected, but Platinum, as usual, is more concerned with flirting with Doc Magnus.
Magnus blames Tina's behaviour on a faulty responsometer, and decides to ship her off to a science museum. Then we see the other Metal Men all get destroyed fighting a fire, caused by falling meteors. But seeing the Metal Men destroyed is already part of the fun of the comic, knowing that they will be rebuilt. More pathos is found from seeing Tina cry while on display in the science museum, something which the visitors find distressing.
Meanwhile, we find out that the meteors were sent by Robot Z-1, an alien robot who constructs his own army of miniature robots, the Missile Men, firing them to Earth to get a queen for their leader. And of course, they want Tina.
Doc Magnus retrieves Tina from the science museum, and rebuilds Gold, Lead, Iron, Tin and Mercury. Once again, all except Tina get destroyed in battle, and Tina rebuffs Robot Z-1. Doc Magnus gets rid of the Missile Men by magnetically bonding them together, and dumping them in the ocean.
A second Doc Magnus and set of Metal Men get constructed in Metal Men 2. The story opens with Platinum getting all jealous when she sees Doc Magnus going out on a date with a real woman. She decides to build her own robotic version of Doc Magnus, and does so fairly quickly. It's actually quite impressive that Platinum is able to do this, and build it as well as she does.
The robotic Will Magnus winds up turning evil, and builds his own version of the Metal Men, using six different elements. Then the rest of the story details the war between the original Metal Men and the new group, with loads of shape changing and scientific information, on the relative properties of the different metals.
The story ends with the second group of Metal Men, and the robot Magnus, getting destroyed as Plutonium explodes on the Moon, which also winds up "killing" Platinum. Though it's hard to take the deaths of any of the Metal Men tragically by this point, and it's only two issues in.
Metal Men 3 expands on the conclusion of the previous issue, and provides a sequel to it. The explosion on the Moon that climaxed the previous issue is shown as a much more impressive event at the start of this one. Platinum had forced Plutonium onto the rocket, and rode with it to the Moon, dying in the blast. So Doc Magnus builds a new version of Tina. Lead, Iron, Gold, Tin and Mercury, as well as Will Magnus himself, are a bit dismayed that this new Platinum shows none of the personality of the original.
Platinum insists on being used on a test run to prove her abilities, but her lack of human-ness leads to more problems, as she will not take any action other than what Magnus has specifically told her to do. When this almost causes the death of Magnus, and problems for the other Metal Men, Magnus melts her down, and decides to mount a rescue mission to the Moon to retrieve the original.
Not much is made of this, but Will Magnus has invented "thought-force x," a way of almost instantaneous transportation to the Moon. They gather the bits of Tina, and bring her back to Earth. Magnus rebuilds her, and all seems fine, until she tries to cook some eggs.
The egg grows to immense size, and begin attacking everyone. This is because it is not really an egg, but an alien micro-organism brought back as well. The alien amoeba becomes gigantic, and the Metal Men fight it, as it starts destroying them.
They do get trashed in almost every issue. Tin is able to contain the amoeba, making himself into a giant can, and is sent hurtling into space to protect Earth from the creature.
Issue 4 continues the story. Tin is stuck in space, a giant can containing a deadly alien amoeba. Magnus is preparing to mount a rescue mission to save him, but by the time the Metal Men make it into space, a different alien ship has sliced Tin open, releasing the amoeba, which is inert in space, and taking him away with them. Magnus and the other Metal Men, Iron, Lead, Gold, Mercury and Platinum, follow Tin and the other alien ship to a planet of robots, ruled by a queen.
She wants Tin has her king, and force feeds him some of their food, which makes him grow to her size, but also turns him evil. The Metal Men and Magnus do not fare well on this world, getting knocked out and turned into a charm bracelet, which the queen wears.
Tin eventually regains his mind, and his size, but by then Magnus and the other Metal Men have also eaten the food. It turns them all into giants, but does not warp their minds. So perhaps exposure to the alien amoeba had something to do with that. They get free, and Tin takes the rocket ship back to Earth, but Magnus and the other are too large to board it, and remain trapped on the robot planet.
Metal Men 5 picks up on the end of the previous issue. Doc Magnus, Mercury, Platinum, Lead, Iron and Gold are all still trapped in the charm bracelet on the robot planet, and despite the shape changing powers of the Metal Men, they are unable to escape. As the team flee the queen and her robot slaves, they wind up captured by a robot bird, and become a prize fought over by a couple of the weird creatures. They fare better against the birds, managing to destroy them, but are still stuck in the bracelet.
Tin hasn't gone very far into space, and feels bad about leaving his teammates behind, so he returns to the robot world, and tries to help them, but gets shot down by the queen and her robots.
By the end of the story, Magnus and the Metal Men have returned to their normal size, and Platinum manages to break them all free from the charm bracelet. Platinum also inspires the robot slaves to rise up against the queen, and a full scale revolution breaks out on the planet. This allows Magnus and the Metal Men to escape in their rocket.
Metal Men 6 brings an end to the linked storyline that has run through the last few issues. Doc Magnus and the Metal Men head back to Earth after escaping from the robot planet. They run into a dangerous meteor shower, and Will Magnus and Platinum head out to repair the ship. That all goes well, but it turns out Magnus has been exposed to weird cosmic rays. The rays have the effect of turning Magnus into a robot. The Metal Men return to Earth, but Iron, Lead, Gold, Mercury, Platinum and Tin are not happy with how cold and emotionless the robotic Magnus has become.
After accompanying the Metal Men back into space and watching them deal with a dangerous comet creature, Magnus gets very upset with how the robots are behaving. Robotic Magnus decides that the Metal Men are not functioning as proper robots should, and decides to decommission them. To save themselves, they lock Magnus in the lab. Magnus is not happy, and so he creates the Gas Gang. Sadly, despite their prominence on the cover, by the time the Gas Gang are created, the story is almost over.
The Metal Men and the Gas Gang battle it out for a couple of pages. The Metal Men defeat the new robots by heating them up, which also has the effect of returning Magnus to human form. I'm not a massive fan of the Silver Age Metal Men, but I have to admit this story arc has been impressive in its use of the various characters, their shape changing abilities, as well as Will Magnus' relationship with them.
Metal Men continues in the next period, 1964 – 1967: The New Look.
Metal Men: Showcase 37 - 40 (Mar/Apr – Sept/Oct 62)
Metal Men 1 – 7 (Apr/May 63 – Apr/May 64)
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