A Tribute to the of

When we last left the unique Metal Men in their debut appearance, things were looking pretty grim.  While they'd successfully saved the world from the "The Flaming Doom," they'd also paid a high price in that each and every one of them was destroyed in the effort.  If you need a quick refresher, click on over to the archives for Showcase #37.  You'll discover, among other things that the writing and editorial staff invited the readership to decide whether the Metal Men should return.  Apparently it was a collective thumbs up, because return they did, in the very next issue of Showcase, #38, to be precise, from May/June of 1962.  This time the intrepid metal band is up against "The Nightmare Menace!" Now let's explore what the creative team of writer/editor Robert Kanigher and artists Ross Andru & Mike Esposito have wrought.

Things begin, as one might expect, with a short rehash of the robots' heroism in news sources throughout the world and the burning question:  Where are they now?  It is even suggested that they are the United States' answer to Soviet superiority with their recently launched Sputnik.  While they aren't named directly, we soon get a long view of a "foreign country" (with ornately domed structures all around) where a discussion is taking place between a shadowy uniformed official and Von Vroon, who has developed terror weapons that they hope will eliminate the Metal Men.  The evil inventor looks every inch the diabolical sort with his combination frown and grin and angular features.  Move over, Simon Bar Sinister.

Quickly switching scenery, we now join Col. Caspar in Washington as he's instructed to present the Metal Men for a recognition ceremony.  The Colonel explains it's impossible.  Not only are the Metal Men not human, but they've been destroyed while saving the world.  The General tells Caspar to have Doc Magnus recreate his robots.  Soon a helicopter is landing at the massive laboratory complex of the inventive genius and the Colonel finds Magnus brooding over statuettes of his creations.  The military man gives the scientist instructions to recreate his inventions and a reluctant Will Magnus agrees.  He's obviously carrying an emotional attachment, but is determined to behave like the scientist he is. 

Soon he's feverishly at work, constructing exact duplicates of Tin, Gold, Iron, Mercury, Lead and Platinum.  Upon completion he announces that they're to receive medals for heroism.  As one they reply, "Yes, sir!"  Magnus addresses Tina, the Platinum robot, separately, explaining that he'll have to keep his promise to send her to the science museum.  Once again, it's a stoic "Yes, sir!"  Colonel Caspar comments that these new automatons seem unlike their predecessors.  They appear to be…robot-like.  He further comments that the original Metal Men would have been excited about the trip, while the current batch sits passively in the rocket platform.  Will says he followed his original format, so they should be identical in every way. 

The flying craft is soon hovering down to their destination, a huge outdoor amphitheater where a massive crowd awaits.  Within the crowd is a familiar face.  It's Von Vroom and he's standing by to activate his own mechanical creatures with a remote control device.  Moments later, when the metal band is assembled to receive their reward, a skyscraper-sized robot converges on the gathering.  Doc Magnus instructs Tina to form a platinum web to contain the creature.  She obeys, but somehow ends up entangling the Metal Men and their inventor instead of the interloper.  Since there's a flying guard of honor on hand, the lead fly boy tells the rest of his flight that he's going to take a pass at the creature.  Back on the ground, a disgruntled Magnus is barking orders.  He tells Gold to flatten himself out and ram the creature while Iron grips his legs, much like they did in the last battle they had.  Sadly, it's another faux pas and Gold manages instead to ram into the jet.  Magnus again calls a play from the old playbook and instructs Iron to shape Lead into a cannonball, but it's another screw-up as Iron merely manages to melt Lead by using too much force.  The Nightmare Menace, in the interim, continues forward, directed by the remote control of Von Vroom, who grins maliciously as the crowd disperses in panic, ending Part I.

Part II shows the climax of the humiliation of the Metal Men, with the pilot of the collided aircraft hitting the silk and his fellow flight members having their jets disabled by a ray from the Nightmare Menace.  Von Vroom finally orders his contraption to auger itself into the ground to await a future mission, supremely confident in his victory and the shaming of America in the process.

A chagrined Magnus loads up the metal band and lifts off amid jeers and booing from the crowd.  Upon arrival at his lab complex, he retracts part of the floor of his flying craft and drops the robots into the smelter as Colonel Caspar looks on.  A little later, inside the lab, the officer asks the inventor if something unique had happened when the original Metal Men were created, causing their special natures.  Will pulls his notebook out and discovers that an intense aurora borealis had occurred at the same time he was fashioning them.  Inspired, he quickly re-boards his flying platform with Caspar in tow and they go forth to retrieve the fallen robots, both on land and under water.  After working feverishly, they are at last ready to be reactivated, but will they be the same?  We'll find out in Part III.

With some trepidation, the scientist approaches each figure in turn, activating their individual switches.  To his relief they seem to be their old selves as evidenced by the first words each speak to their creator, beginning with Tin:  "I know I'm not as strong as other metals—but if you'll only give me another chance!"  "You've got nerves of steel, Tin—and that's what counts!"  Moving on, Iron is next:  "Don't mention steel in my presence!  Steel's still wearing diapers compared to me!"  "No question that you're one of the oldest metals known to man, Iron!"  "I may not be the oldest—but I'm the most unusual!"  "True, Mercury!  You're the only metal liquid at room temperature!"  "I've got a gimmick, too!"  "Right, Lead!  You form a protective shield against atomic radiation!"  "Only kings could afford shields made out of me!"  "At 35 dollars an ounce—you can say that again, Gold!"  (35 dollars an ounce…well, it was 42 years ago…)  "I hope you've forgotten about sending me to the science museum!"  "I did promise them a robot for display, Platinum!  What will I tell them?"  "That you can't part with me—like so many other artists who fell in love with their own creations!"

Doc then briefs his robots on what has happened and they agree that they must redeem their honor and that of America.  Fortunately, a great opportunity presents itself as the United States is hosting a World's Fair, putting American ingenuity on display.  Von Vroom sees the headlines and vows to bring more humiliation to the nation while the Metal Men also plan to attend. 

Following their arrival at the fair, the Metal Men and their inventor are subjected to scathing insults from the other attendees.  Grimly, they continue walking.  By coincidence, they nearly meet up with Von Vroom, who quickly retreats to a carousel before he can be spotted and perhaps recognized as an escaped Nazi scientist.  The ride has a dizzying effect on him, though, but we don't get to see what Von Vroom does next as we rejoin the robots as they try to redeem themselves, first by reuniting a lost child with her parents and then rescuing stranded riders on a sky high ride that has stopped.  Still, the crowd is derisive.

As the air show begins, the giant robot of Von Vroom again makes an appearance, burrowing up from the ground and beaming a ray from its lantern-like "face" causing the aircraft to melt slightly and weld together.  Platinum and Iron spring into action, with Tina forming herself into a net while Iron serves again as anchor.  As they carefully lower the jets to the ground, the Metal Monster retreats.  Magnus orders the robots to pair off and split up to find and fight the robot, though personally I don't know how something that big is going to hide.  Soon the team divides up and searches out their quarry.  The first team to encounter the menace is Gold and Tin.  Gold once again uses his malleability to stretch himself into a battering ram while Tin tries in vain to duplicate Iron's anchor routine.  Of course the much lighter metal cannot duplicate the feat, so he finds himself being catapulted like a slingshot directly into the face of the robot, shattering it and knocking it to the ground.  Then to their amazement, the body of the robot flips open to reveal another, smaller version of itself.  Shortly this new evolution of the Nightmare Menace encounters Mercury, the hot-headed Metal Man.  Soon the beams are flying and once Mercury is struck he takes advantage of the literal heat along with his figurative heat and blasts upwa rd, smashing the robot in the face yet again.  This time, still another smaller version comes forth from the fallen framework. 

Later, Iron and Lead are on deck and they follow a familiar plan of attack as Iron again shapes lead into a cannonball to hurl at the robot.  Again, victory and again a new and smaller robot emerges. 

Next, at the rendezvous point, the Metal Men and Doc Magnus compare notes and decide on a strategy.  They don't have long to ponder matters, however, as the latest version of the giant robot has come to attack.  Caught off guard, the unique Metal Men begin to melt under the malignant ray of the robot while trying to fight back and spirit Magnus out of harm's way.  Platinum manages to entwine the robot, but once more it opens to reveal a new version, just about man-sized who promptly gives chase to the inventive genius.

Doc rushes into the fun house, taking a slide down to a large spinning wheel with the robot on his heels.  Once the two figures hit the wheel and the spinning begins, a cry emerges from the robot:  "S-s-stop th-that sp-spinning--!  C-c-can't s-s-stand it--!  G-g-getting d-d-dizzy--!!"  Finally it stops and the figure of Von Vroom emerges from the skin of the robot, disoriented and ill.  Magnus recognizes the Nazi and vows to turn him over to the authorities for his crimes.

The final panels have the Metal Men assembled in the laboratory of Will Magnus, fully restored from their ordeal and raring to go on another mission.      

I've mentioned before that you can't go into a Metal Men story expecting much more than a little adventure, some camp and a little fun.  This story was no exception to the rule.  Overall it was pretty hokey.  The "Nightmare Menace" was a size large robot with a searchlight for a face who behaved like a Russian Matruska doll.  I'm not sure where the "nightmare" came in.  The techniques of the Metal Men were repetitive, not only in this story, but as a direct takeoff from their debut story and Doc was referred to as "The inventive genius" a good half dozen times throughou t the tale.  Finally, beating the villain just by accidentally getting him dizzy didn't strike me as exactly inspired, either.  So, even though I've long had a soft spot in my heart for this hardy metal band, this story was pretty ho-hum and I'll give it a 5.  

You won't want to miss the next edition of the Silver Age Sage, which will be posted in about two weeks, when we celebrate the 100th edition of this feature!  While you await that magnificent milestone, take a few moments to drop a line to us via e-mail at professor_the@hotmail.com.  We look forward to hearing from you.

Long live the Silver Age!

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