Metal Men

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Metal Men #48 © 1976 DC Comics. (Cover art by Walt Simonson.)

Metal Men

(pop culture)

Born out of necessity and desperation, the Metal Men were one of the more inventive concepts of the 1960s. The strip was created over the course of one weekend in 1962 by writer/editor Robert Kanigher and artist Ross Andru, to fill the pages of Showcase #37, when a previously scheduled feature suddenly fell through. Kanigher dreamed up a group of robots, each made out of a different metal and each having powers and personality reflecting its particular metal. The origin story recounts how brilliant, pipe-smoking government scientist, Dr. Will Magnus, creates six robots in his giant, secret laboratory and fits each with a Responsometer, which gives them human characteristics. During their creation, the robots are affected by a powerful Aurora Borealis event, which somehow gives them the personalities and emotions of real people.

The robots’ abilities were as distinct as their “personalities.” For example, Gold, the leader, could stretch for miles and was brave and serious. Mercury could melt at room temperature and was a real hot-head. Platinum (or Tina as she called herself) was tough and resilient, and could weave herself into all sorts of constructions; she was also in love with Doc Magnus. Lead acted as a barrier and was large and slightly slow-witted, while Iron was incredibly strong, if slightly dull, and Tin was a rather weak, timid, stuttering character, who tried his best, but lacked the powers of his teammates.

Kanigher was an endlessly creative writer, often basing his stories on gimmicks or plot twists; with the science-based Metal Men his writing occasionally resembled a chemistry lesson. The team members were in some ways the ultimate establishment heroes, funded by the Pentagon and operating out of an army compound at the government’s behest, but for all that, what made the strip so enjoyable were the robots’ clashing personalities, particularly the cantankerous Mercury. Readers also immediately responded to the timid but plucky Tin who, like them, had no real powers, but the focus of the strip was more often on the doomed love of Platinum for her all-too-human creator.

Right from the beginning, the Metal Men’s foes were often robots themselves, be they giant robots, wooden robots, dinosaur robots, or even robot termites. The group also had a cadre of chemical opponents, including the Gas Gang and the giant, walking chemical vat, Chemo. Uniquely, the Metal Men often died in their stories, only to be resurrected by Doc Magnus in the next issue; but after a while their Lazarus-like rebirths began to wear thin. In 1963, after four issues of Showcase, the Metal Men were given their own title, which was also produced by the Kanigher/Andru team, but when artist Andru left to take over the Flash, the comic’s direction began to change. Andru’s replacement, Mike Sekowsky, soon became editor and writer, too, and introduced a darker element, with a storyline involving the characters becoming hunted outcasts, while Doc Magnus went into a coma.

With issue #37, the Metal Men effectively dispensed with their “superhero” identities altogether, much as the Teen Titans and Wonder Woman had. They met up with wealthy financier Mister Conan and assumed human identities. Donning synthetic skin, Gold became jet-set swinger Guy Gideon; Tina was Tina Platt, a model; and Lead and Tin became Ledby Hand and Tinker—a sort of Simon and Garfunkel singer/songwriter duo. Iron assumed the form of builder Jon “Iron” Mann, while Mercury became the red-haired artist Mercurio, whose wild appearance and savage temper apparently echoed Mike Sekowsky’s. Sadly, the new direction, which touched upon the supernatural and involved an insane Doc Magnus bent on world domination, was to prove stillborn as the comic was soon canceled (with issue #41 in 1970).

After a lengthy fallow period, several guest slots with Batman in The Brave and the Bold and three reprint issues in 1973 resulted in a second chance for the team when their series was revived (with issue #45 in 1976). The human identities had gone, Doc Magnus was cured of his megalomaniacal tendencies, Chemo was rampaging again, and all was right with the world. Over the following twelve issues, the Metal Men battled Eclipso, the Plutonium Man, and Dr. Strange-glove. They squabbled, fell in love, and died a couple of times. Even so, the public failed to warm to then, and they faded from view, with the exception of a 1993 miniseries, which gave the Metal Men a new origin and turned Doc Magnus into a robot. The Infinite Crisis series (20052006) restored the metal Men’s original origins and established that Magnus was never a robot.

The Metal Men received a new limited series in 2007, and star in the backup feature of the new Doom Patrol comic book that launched in 2009. They debuted in animation in “Clash of the Metal Men!,” a 2010 episode of the television series Batman: The Brave and the Bold. —DAR & PS

References in periodicals archive ?
The metal men are set to headline this year's concert series at the famous central London park in July.
I did find the collection too Anglo-centric, particularly since the vast majority of automata and other mechanical devices that gripped the English Renaissance imagination were European or Arabic in origin: the Strasbourg clock; the hydraulic garden machinery of Pratolino; the metal men of the Alexander romances; even Hermione's statue is purportedly sculpted by an Italian, Giulio Romano.
Several of the pubs we have listed are located close to the shore, making it easy for them to visit the Metal Men and then join them at the pubs for a pint of real ale.