The Metal Men Archives: Volume 1 (graphic novel review).

I’ve been meaning to lay my hands on ‘The Metal Men Archives’ for some time, more so as I only bought 9 issues of its early run and then followed more of it when it was revived and followed the same numbering. It felt like the right time to read the early 1962-63 material with Showcase # 37-39 and then Metal Men # 1-5 in this first volume. Back in the day, stories were 28 pages long sans adverts so there’s a lot more in these volumes than you would think. All were written by Robert Kanigher with art by Ross Andru and inked by Mike Esposito.

In many respects, the Metal Men aren’t exactly robots in the mechanical sense as they don’t possess cogs and gears inside. All they are is pure metal and have is a micro-responsers or responsometers, although their inventor, Dr. Will Magnus originally described it as ‘a nuclear-powered microscopic activator’ which probably sounded a bit of a mouthful but something you would only learn from reading the early issues. These gadgets controlled a pure metal form which was vulnerable to extreme heat, above their metal’s normal melting point and acid/alkali attacks from the likes of Chemo-Man.

Something else I didn’t know was Platinum aka Tina was the original prototype who he was originally planning to donate to a museum. Indeed, that did finally happen and an instant failure. Considering that Magnus created a couple more robotic-like Platinums, you would have thought he could have donated one of them instead. As to whether these robots can cry? They can manipulated their pliable metal, so metallic tears aren’t out of the question.

With the resurrection of some sort of prehistoric giant flying manta creature, the military go to Will Magnus to provide some sort of means to stop it. Back in the day, you would have to wonder why no one thought to ask Superman or the JLA but the DC Earth was more segregated back then. Magnus creates the rest of the Metal Men: Gold, Lead, Iron, Mercury and Tin. Each of which could govern the properties of their metal forms. Interestingly, Gold and Tina are the only ones who could really turn into long strands. Tin thinks he is the under-achiever, being the weakest metal, but invariably shows his worth. It doesn’t matter because although by the end of the first story, they stop the monster but all melt in the showdown.

For the second story and a need for public thanks, Magnus has to create them anew but these are nothing like the originals. Robots in name as well as nature and fell dismally when trying to stop a giant robot. Magnus discovers that there was an extreme aurora borealis at the time of their original creation that might have affected their responsers. Collecting the remains of their original bodies, he effects repairs and the original Metal Men are back. It’s a credit to Ross Andru that the differences in body languages between the two sets of robots shows the second set lacking personality and expression when you consider that this was only their second appearance and had already got to recognise them.

Considering the number of times the team were attacked and melted, you would think the Melted Men might have been an appropriate name.

There is a trip to the Moon in one of the stories which raised an interesting question as to why would the Metal Men need spacesuits as they don’t breathe. However, they do need air to speak in and although not explained in the story would make a lot sense.

The secret to all their resurrections is Magnus and any surviving team members is finding the responsometers and incorporating it into a new body. Considering that the responsometers are nuclear-powered, albeit it must be a tiny particle, at least it is unlikely to risk radiation contamination. Trying to locate it each time invariably means picking up the remains than just looking for it.

In many respects, ‘Metal Men’ is more science fantasy than even super-hero. Writer Robert Kanigher seems more content to remind people about the various metals melting points and some of their physical properties. I do think him getting their nuclear weight as a means to gauge how heavy each of them is at full size not being entirely accurate. With the exception of Tin and Mercury, they must all be pretty heavy. With Mercury being liquid at room temperature, it’s a wonder no one spotted his fumes would drive people crazy unless he was containing it somehow. There’s also a matter of why no one has addressed why no one has considered just how much the bodies of Gold and Platinum are worth. Mind you, they can defend themselves.

The strength of the Metal Men is dependent more on their characters than their opponents. Certainly the odd romance of Tina and Doc Magnus is, well, peculiar but endearing and who wouldn’t feel something for Tin who thinks he has to live up to his fellow Metal Men.

There is some wonder why the Metal Men hasn’t followed the Doom Patrol onto TV. Granted it would need a lot of CGI but not impossible to achieve, more so as they are so character orientated.

GF Willmetts

June 2020

(pub: DC Comics, 2006. 245 page graphic novel hardback. Price: varies a lot but shop around as it can be bought cheap ISBN: 978-1-40120-774-8)

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