A Tribute to the of

Happy New Year to our readers! As 2014 dawns we look forward to what may come and continue to look back with great fondness on our beloved Silver Age of DC Comics. Thanks for joining us on the journey.

2013 was a good year, but one of change, sadness and loss as well. Some of our dear friends like Nick Cardy and Al Plastino left us. At the risk of publicly embarrassing them, I enjoyed the generosity recently of Allen Bellman, who mailed me an autographed photo of himself with Nick and Al in Florida at the convention and Al’s wife sent me a print of a Christmas card Al drew in a wonderfully detailed religious motif of the Madonna and babe. I haven’t enjoyed an interview in a long time, but hope I’m not completely done with them. My family and I moved to another state for my doggone day job. Yes, many changes, but the small, familiar things bring their comforts and for me that includes these great old stories and comics, which the webmaster and I enjoy sharing with you.

I was thinking of my friend Mike Esposito recently and decided it must be time for another trip into the word of the Metal Men. I selected issue #6 (+ Spanish language cover) from February/March of 1964 where Editor/Writer Bob Kanigher (I still don’t know how you successfully do both jobs) scripted “The Day Doc Turned Robot!” Cover and interior art are provided ably by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito and this issue gives us our first glimpse of the Gas Gang.

Things begin in a pretty familiar way when our heroes are once again in recovery mode after their latest adventure, referred to with an image of the cover of issue #5 on page 2, where they took on another mechanized menace. Tin is fully functional, but Gold, Lead, Mercury and Iron are being attended to on Doc Magnus’ rocketship that is returning to Earth while Tina is seemingly awakening from a sleep and telling her inventor that she had a wonderful dream of them falling in love.

Just then the ship is struck by a meteor which embeds itself into the structure. Doc dons a space suit to remove it before it causes further damage while Tina tags along to assist. Doc, of course, tells her this is man’s work and orders her back inside, but she impulsively tries to protect him from more meteors in the shower and seems to have been severely damaged in the process. Doc carries her form back to the airlock, closing out Part I.

Part II has our metal band fully recovered, but when Doc comes in with the inert form of Tina he goes directly into repair mode, not even pausing to remove his space suit. Gold notices that the suit has been perforated by cosmic rays (took a page from the Fantastic Four, did we Kanigher?) and within days the effects are apparent. Doc doesn’t require food or sleep for days and then his appearance makes a bizarre change when he becomes a silver colored robot. The Metal Men are alarmed except for Tina, who is ecstatic upon her recovery that at last, Doc is now in a form that won’t stand in the way of their being a couple. Her rapture is short-lived, though, when Doc’s feelings and heart, never the warmest, are now as cold and hard as his exterior. He demands all the Metal Men get to work and fulfill their functions, ending Part II.

While the Doc Robot is manning the controls of the ship, a distress signal is received from another U.S. manned rocket being threatened by a comet being. Doc ignores the cry for help, but his inventions cannot and while he is distracted with his work, they exit the vessel and go to the aid of the distressed spacecraft. After some harrowing moments and typical teamwork, they triumph, but when they rejoin their inventor, they are read the riot act, accused of acting very un-robot-like and threatened with being rebuilt when they get back to the lab.

After landing, Doc muses to himself that he’ll melt them all down and start over and might even rethink the basis for his inventions. “Why not robots of gases or liquids…” Right about then Gold has had enough and with the help of Iron they shove Doc into his quarters and seal him in allowing him some time to come to his senses, drawing the curtain on Part III.

I should note here that the next page is the letter column, Metal Scraps, which includes a note from none other than Roy Thomas:

Dear Editor: The latest issue of METAL MEN that I read (No. 3) was the clincher that proved what I have suspected a year or so ago—that the metallic crimebusters deserve their own book. True, I liked the Metal Men from their first Showcase appearance, but I had grave reservations about their staying power. I feared they would degenerate into a pale imitation of the Justice League—something they definitely have not become. There are a number of faults in the comic yet, based on my eighteen years of comic-book reading, but you slowly seem to be overcoming most of them. For one thing, there has been less emphasis on giant monsters. The amoeba-thing generated by “moon-dust” was a sort of throwback in this direction, but still not as bad as the giant creatures the Metal Men fought in the Showcase issues. When I see the Metal Men battling colorful human villains, I’ll feel they have finally arrived… The quarrelsomeness of Mercury is another source of the book’s appeal to me. So far you have scrupulously avoided over-doing it…I’m sure some of your fellow-editors—perhaps yourself—think it absurd for people out of their teens and in some cases over 30 to read comics; but we don’t mind. Magazines like Metal Men make comic-reading seem more respectable than heretofore. Just one final suggestion: Has Doc Magnus ever considered making a metal pet for the Metal Men? Or maybe a glass one, who is always getting shattered? No super-group I know of so far has a mascot.

And the editorial response:

Dear Roy: As you probably realize, your remarks anent giant creatures are strictly controversial. Most readers can’t get enough of them. We’ll start polling the letters, and try to get some kind of a consensus. We personally like the idea of a pet, but we’ll have to take it up with Doc. In the last analysis, it’s his decision to make. He has to invent one!

And now, back to our story and the concluding Part IV. Doc Magnus is pissed. He’s beating on the door to his confinement and is shouting threats to the Metal Men, who sadly walk away, continuing to hope that he’ll somehow revert to his human form or at least become more rational like his old self. The robots conduct some experiments of their own to try to help, but keep coming up short.

A while later, an enormous explosion gets their attention, and Doc emerges with his latest invention, new robots not of metal: The Gas Gang, including Oxygen, a walking O2 tank; Helium, Chloroform, Carbon Monoxide and Carbon Dioxide. Each takes a particular form, reminiscent of a tank of different shapes, though Carbon Monoxide looks sort of like a Bunsen burner, while Carbon Dioxide is similar to a chunk of ice.

Doc promptly orders Chloroform to spray them and the Metal Men react with uncontrollable laughter.

Okay, I know and love these tales of the Metal Men and they tend to be lighthearted fun, but I must ask the rhetorical questions: Since when do the Metal Men breathe and isn’t Chloroform designed to put people out? Nitrous Oxide is “Laughing Gas.” C’mon, Kanigher. Keep it straight.

Gold decides to try to counteract the effects of the Chloroform by grabbing and expelling some Oxygen, but that has the unintended consequence of beginning the oxidation process on the robots. They’re all starting to rust.

Time out again. I’m not a metallurgist by any stretch, but outside of Iron, I don’t believe any of the metals among our heroes are prone to rust. Certainly not Gold or Lead or Mercury. What is wrong with you, Bob Kanigher?

The reeling Metal Men are now double-teamed by Carbon Monoxide and Carbon Dioxide. The former is trying to knock them out (again, I don’t believe any of them are equipped with a respiratory system) and the other by freezing them. They continue their retreat when Helium gets into the act, expanding to ever greater heights to crush our heroes.

Backed up against some lab equipment, they try a last, desperate gamble when Gold hooks himself into an apparatus that allows him to conduct high heat from the coils he forms himself into. He surrounds the Gas Gang and Doc and they end up as harmless steam. Doc, however, is rendered unconscious.

The Metal Men gingerly take their creator to the metal recovery room and hope for the best. Tina stands by him when he finally revives and is restored to his human form, ending this book-length story.

Make no mistake that I am a big fan of the Metal Men. So much so, that my very thoughtful lifelong best friend and your webmaster here commissioned me a Mike DeCarlo cover re-creation from one of my favorite issues, #22, of the series. I readily acknowledge that these aren’t science texts, either, but by golly Molly, when Julius Schwartz edited a magazine, he got the facts straight and usually Bob Kanigher did, too, but I’m having a heck of a time overlooking the gross errors in this issue. Yeah, you’ve got to have a conflict and overcome it, but fer crying out loud, you can be a little more credible. This one gets a middle of the road rating of 5. Not a bad story and the Gas Gang was an interesting take on things, but Bob must have been off his game on this script, and I would think the danger of being your own editor is that you don’t know when your story is filled with holes. (The Gas Gang reappears in issue #10 and The Brave and the Bold #187 [June, 1982].) Full kudos and credit to our artistic team, though. I’ll bet designing the Gas Gang was a fun and different project.

We appreciate your patronage, dear reader. There’s plenty more Silver Age exploration to go and as long as the fates allow, we shall continue onward, just like we have for literally years right at this handy space on the World Wide Web.

Remember to express yourself at my convenient e-mail: professor_the@hotmail.com. Please keep reading and I’ll keep writing and we’ll continue in our respective ways to make certain that this era is documented and appreciated.

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2014 by B.D.S.

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