Doc Magnus’ creations tried on new identities as The Silver Age was winding down

 

Dear Mr. Silver Age,

It is my understanding that near the end of their illustrious Silver Age publishing run, The Metal Men adopted human identities. Why would such impressive super-heroes wish to perform such a contrary act?

Jim H.

Avengers Mansion.

Mr. Silver Age says: It’s true, they did, Jimbo. The short version of the reason is this: They created human identities so they could continue to help humanity even though humanity hated and feared their robotic selves and tried to destroy them. But as you know, here in this column, we seldom settle for the short version of anything.

The wheels began turning with Metal Men #33 (Aug-Sep 68), which unofficially was called (at least on the cover) “The New Hunted Metal Men!” Through a flashback a few pages into the adventure, we learned that Doc Magnus, aided by his brother David, had undertaken a dangerous experiment to accomplish two things: replace those danged faulty responsometers with professional-grade models and increase The Metal Men’s powers.

Unfortunately, Doc’s experiment worked only half-way: The Men’s personalities remained the same as they ever were, but they received considerably more power, which they couldn’t control. Even more unfortunately, especially from Doc’s point of view, a loose connection jolted Doc into a coma, leaving The Men without the brains of their outfit.

Between losing their strategic leader and misjudging their newly enhanced powers, the robots botched several minor emergencies, endangering cops and fire fighters on the scene. I would suggest that the fire chief may have gone overboard in demanding that the cops shoot down the robots because of these mishaps, but I can see that he might’ve been overwrought. Then when Tina inadvertently smashed up a few police cars when the team tried to make good by catching some crooks, the city turned on them.

Ultimately, deciding they really were a danger, The Men agreed to allow themselves to be de-activated. Doc’s brother took control of the activator, which he agreed to use only when requested by the authorities. That didn’t take long, since gigantic alien insects picked that moment to invade Earth. Heck, I might’ve even been willing to call out The Justice League for that battle! But they, um, were sick that day. So The Men got the job done themselves—only to face a crowd that still was hostile and fearful toward them.

The team’s position wasn’t enhanced in the next issue, which picked up with another gigantic, powerful alien suddenly appearing. But when he scooped up Tina to get a better look, he became infatuated by the sleek robotess. Meanwhile, The Metal Men were botching their attempts to defeat the alien, making the cops more upset. I’m not sure that still called for shooting them, but since bullets just bounced off, it didn’t much matter.

The team’s “hunted” status continued through two more adventures in #35 and 36, first while they battled Volcano Man and then when they were captured by menacing alien clowns who threatened to kill them if they didn’t amuse their gigantic captors. Hoo boy. Their status took another nose dive when the rocket ship they used to return to Earth at the end of #36 crash-landed at the beginning of #37 (Apr-May 69), causing mass destruction. Oops.

That really put the capper on their image, and this time a “jury” of city councilors and the mayor found them guilty of being dangers to society. They were condemned to death and taken to a junkyard to be put through the metal crusher.

But when they awoke, they discovered they’d been saved through the subterfuge of the mysterious Mister Conan, who had finagled the city into using his own junkyard to carry out the “execution.” He told them he agreed they had outlived their usefulness, but they had potential to help with his new secret worldwide organization “to eliminate the forces which threaten all that is best in humanity.”

The Metal Men agreed, but pointed out that their effectiveness was hindered by being hated on sight. Conan resolved that through the auspices of Dr. Peter Pygmalion—hey, I don’t name them, I just read about them. Dr. Pygmalion covered the team members with a protein-based plastic he’d invented that looked, felt and smelled like skin. Then Conan set them up with human identities, which allowed them to blend with society but kept them on call to perform super-heroic deeds around the world in the name of good.

Gold became Guy Gilden, Wall Street genius, philanthropist and lady-killing swinger. Platinum became Tina Platt, world-famous cover girl and fashion model. Lead and Tin became Ledby Hand and Tinker, respectively, a folk-singing duo. Mercury became Mercurio, a famous artist and sculptor. And Iron became Jon “Iron” Mann, an incredibly successful engineer of bridges, tunnels and dams.

The caption indicated we were picking up the tale six months later, when Conan proclaimed that all of the robots were “securely fixed” and “doing quite well.” I dare say. I mean, fashion, art, finance and music may throw a hero up the pop charts at a moment’s whim, but it usually takes a little bit of time for a guy to come outta nowhere to build bridges, tunnels and dams that have highway departments oohing and ahhing.

In Metal Men #38 (Jun-Jul 69), the team went on its first mission for Conan, in which they battled a coven of witches, who intended to bring on an Age of Evil. The team stopped them, mostly acting as humans who occasionally had a little bit more oomph—Iron pulverized a couple demons with his iron hands, for instance, while Tina corralled some spiders with her platinum fingers. But for the most part, the story was about a spooky chase through the dark of night to find the witches before the witches killed these somewhat-powered heroes and let evil run rampant.

The next issue dug even deeper in genre clichés, as Conan lined up a special mission for the team to um, help him produce films for TV, movies and schools at a movie studio he had just renovated. Yeah, that’s bound to help eliminate the forces of evil from the world! Gold helped work out the studio’s financing, Lead and Tin provided background music, Mercury and Iron did unspecified things, and Tina starred in the big movie (of course).

The flick was a variation on The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but it came to a halt when (wait for it) a real misshapen creature swooped in to kidnap Tina just as the cast learned that the movie’s actual creature-star had been killed! The real creature kidnapped Tina, he explained, because she was so compassionate and he needed human companionship—which, ironically, Tina couldn’t really provide.

The mayhem brought the police, especially homicide Lt. McDonald, a suspicious guy who was always just one step away from learning the robots weren’t really human. He also took a fancy to Tina (as everyone did), complicating things further.

The story again played the team mostly as adventurers tracking a mystery, except for little bits of metallic business. These included Iron crushing a gun when a police officer almost shot Tina by mistake, thereby leaving a clue that he was more than human, and Mercury stretching his neck around corners to see what was happening.  (Iron also discovered he had a glass jaw, an obviously ironical characteristic for Iron).

That story ended with Conan announcing he had major news about their creator, which was revealed in #40 (Oct-Nov 69): Doc had come out of his coma and been kidnapped by Karnak, the ruthless dictator of a small country. He brainwashed Doc into helping him conquer the world. Don’t you hate when that happens?

The Metal Men’s task was to infiltrate the country, find Doc and kill him. They were outraged by this assignment, of course, but Conan explained that Doc’s brainwashing was irreversible, so they had to do what they had to do. The rest of the issue was spent parachuting into the country, infiltrating Karnak’s headquarters dressed as guards and stopping Karnak. But Doc escaped, leaving Tina injured in the melee.

Next issue, as Conan and the team tried to revive Tina, they learned that Doc had stolen a hydrogen bomb from the Air Force and isolated himself in a mountaintop retreat. This adventure involved the team using its metallic powers to scale the impossible-to-climb mountain and dropping in on Doc. He, sadly, turned out to be nuttier than a fruitcake and tried to kill them all. That didn’t work out so well, but they didn’t capture him, either.

When they returned to base, they visited Tina in the hospital, only to find Lt. McDonald there, ring in hand, proposing. What a whirlwind courtship that was! The final panel showed McDonald walking out and Tina in tears, obviously knowing that she couldn’t marry a human (especially one who wasn’t Doc).

On that note the series ended, but that wasn’t the end of the human Metal Men (although it was the end of Lt. McDonald and Mr. Conan). The team returned in Brave & Bold #103 (Sep-Oct 72) to help Batman stop a robot/computer that had gone haywire at the center of America’s defense systems. The computer, called John Doe, was demanding that all positions of power on Earth be filled by robots.

Meanwhile, Mercury had embraced a new movement called Robot Lib. He convinced Gold, who was still using his human disguise, to help round up their teammates, who Gold noted he hadn’t seen in years.

The others had retaken their robotic identities, with Iron working in an auto graveyard (ironically doing to other metals exactly what officials had tried to do to him a few years earlier). Lead was working with isotopes in a research lab, Tin and Beautiful were living in a vine-covered cottage doing who knows what, and Tina was go-go dancing (yikes).

They went to a Robots Lib meeting, which also was attended by vast quantities of other robots who came from I don’t even want to think about where. Batman met the team and tried to gain their help to stop Doe, but they weren’t interested in helping humans. So Batman whipped out his trump card: the last will and testament of Doc Magnus, which implied that the Docster now was pushing up daisies, even though we hadn’t seen it happen.

Doc predicted that the team someday would resent humans (possibly because their creator gave them uncontrollable power, went nutso, stole a hydrogen bomb and tried to kill them several times over, but that’s just a guess). He told them in his will that mankind, ultimately, was good but needed help, so they should provide aid when they could.

So the team agreed to try. That worked out pretty well, and the combination of having Batman’s support and saving the world put them back in good standing with the world.

The team returned to aid Batman in B&B #113 and #121, while Gold helped Superman and Batman together in WF #239 (Jul 76). By then, the team had returned to adventuring (after three reprint issues) in its own title with Metal Men #45 (Apr-May 76), the only one of these tales (sob!) to be reprinted (in The Art of Walt Simonson).

That story revealed that Doc wasn’t really dead (what a shocking turn of events), which brings up the question of how the World’s Greatest Detective got hold of Doc’s will. Instead, he had been captured by the CIA and returned to America, where he underwent a number of brain operations and therapy.

By the end of that issue, Doc was well on his way to recovery, and he vowed to rebuild the team. And he had to rebuild them because, as usual, they hadn’t come through an adventure with Doc all in one piece.

It’s odd that they were able to remain intact for all those issues when he wasn’t participating, isn’t it? It almost makes you wonder if his cunning plans mostly were designed to let him keep playing with his robotic Tinker Toys.

-- MSA

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Comment by john brezina on March 5, 2014 at 10:51am

I have only read the earliest issues of the Metal Men. In these, Lead spoke with a normal voice. I understand later he started speaking with  slow "Duh" type dialogue. When did this change occur?

Comment by Kirk G on June 14, 2011 at 10:51pm

Was this the reason for Marvel's shift to monsters?

I was under the impression that Stan Lee's famous anti-drug, non-code Spider-man stories were the first step, and then the Morbius, the Living Vampire was the next step... and Sauron over in X-men was a psychic vampire...

and then the flood gates opened with Werewolf by Night, It the Living Colussus, Tomb of Dracula,  Frankenstein's monster... and all sorts of wierdness with Him/Adam Warlock, and Dr. Strange.

Am I right, Mr. S.A.?

Comment by Mr. Silver Age on June 14, 2011 at 8:52am

The late '60s are fascinating for that reason, because super-heroes weren't selling, so what do you do with all those super-hero comics? GL decided he wouldn't use his ring, WW lost her powers, the Metal Men got secret identities, and Showcase was full of all kinds of genres that were everything BUT super-heroes. 

The problem is that none of it really worked, and it definitely didn't work with the former super-heroes. I don't think, for example, people looking for international spy romance and horror stories looked to WW, and the (apparently few) fans who wanted to read WW didn't like her not being there except in name. It was a lose-lose deal, and none of it lasted long.

-- MSA

Comment by Kirk G on June 13, 2011 at 10:54pm

Another effort to make comics more relevant... I could always tell when creators (or editors) were getting desperate to attract new readers... there were always these left field surprises that someone had a long lost brother, or a new power discovered, or had to go underground to resist the authorities.  It was a red flag that the series was "circling the drain".   The worst example I could think of was when Alex Summers was introduced as the "best kept secret in the Summer's clan"...and then almost immeidately, the artwork shifted to that no-talent unknown "Neil Adams" and became hyper realistic.  Yeesh, I shunned it... for about a half a year, and then desperately started hunting down back issues, cause, you know... it turned out to be REALLY GOOD!

(but it was too late... the book was cancelled within another half year, complete with the RETURN of the dead Professor X, and then the awful guestar filler issue with the Hulk!  Kiss of death: Surprise gueststars!)

Comment by Emerkeith Davyjack on March 30, 2011 at 10:25pm

...Cmdr.: Maybe Bob Haney thought an entertaining story was paramount ???

  Considering tthat E1/2 was thought up as way , by ( then- ) latter-day fans , to explain " inconsistencies " of before , mebbe Bob , if he thought about it at all , though " Screw it , the few fan-persons who care will come up with an explanation ! " ???

  Oh , and considering DC's old " Editors = miny-duchy " system...mightn't Murray Boltinoff's preferences have had something to do with it as well ???

Errors below .

  oH AND , CONSIDERING dc'S OLD " EDITORS' MINY-DUCHY " SYSTEM , MIGHT mYRRAY bOLTINOFF - i THINK THE EDITOR FOR ALL hANEY'S WRITING - HAVE HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH hANY'S " INCONSISTENCY "/proto-Hypertime as well ???

Comment by Emerkeith Davyjack on March 30, 2011 at 10:19pm

...I don't quite dislike this period as much as many others here . I was exposed to at least touches of it at the time , and then , when a few years later I was a fan and buying back issues , bought some , at least , of them . However I admit that thet certainly showed how DC at the time was flailing around , certainly as regarded their previously standard Silver Age stalwarts ! Something to do with Warner Brothers' then-recent acquisition of DC , perhaps ?

  For more discontinuity , IIRC the later MM issues completely ignored Beautiful ( Who was in the title when I first started reading it , and whose rather pretty face occured to me as i was just writing this . ) , while the first B&B gave us a from-the-back one-panel appearance that didn't literally say that it was her - and then , the rest of the decade's B&Bs AND the Wein-Pasko-Simonson book proceeded to ignore her again !!!!!!!!!

  The revived title DID give us some additional background on Doc's recovery , it was mentioned that Doc's recovery had been an extraordinarily destructive and bloody mission that had turned the tiny country's inhabitans against the U.S....At the end of the 60s a lot of DC titles ended with plot elements left unfinished , in some cases reciving brief one-panel wrap-ups sometime in the Seventies , in some cases not for many years ( Element Girl ) or not to date !!!!!!!!! ( The kidnapping of Hawk& Dove's judge father . )

Comment by Dandy Forsdyke on March 30, 2011 at 9:22am

Mark S. Ogilvie said: "Given how good special effects are now I think the that Metal Men are a movie waiting to happen"

--

I've often said a Pixar movie would be the way to go. I want to see it.

Comment by Mr. Silver Age on March 28, 2011 at 5:58pm

Thanks, guys! It's really fascinating to watch DC try to turn its super-heroes into something else, kinda but not completely. They didn't want to lose the super-hero fans, but they wanted to try to tell other comics readers that these weren't super-heroes any more! A lot of these efforts are really painful. 

-- MSA

Comment by ClarkKent_DC on March 28, 2011 at 2:29pm
Thanks, Mr. Silver Age. This covers an era (like Wonder Woman's "Emma Peel" phase) that I've always heard about but never witnessed. Plainly, DC here was, once again, trying to ape Marvel, although I hope there wasn't a "Metal Men: Threat or Menace?" headline in the Daily Planet ...
Comment by Commander Benson on March 28, 2011 at 1:58pm

Note:  David Warren's post before mine was in response to the one above and originally followed it.  Because there's no edit function for blog posts, I had to delete my original post to correct a couple of serious typos.

 

That bounced Mr. Warren's response ahead of the post to which he was responding.  So, no, he isn't crazy; we're all cursed by the limit of this technology.

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