A Tribute to the of

Here at the command center of the Silver Age Sage, aka my humble office, one wall is dominated by a beautiful over-sized poster that faithfully reproduces the amazing George Perez penciled, Alex Ross painted cover to "Crisis on Infinite Earths."  This very intricate work contains depictions of literally hundreds of characters from the DC universe.  562, to be precise.  No, I wasn't dweeb enough to count them.  It came with a handy key.  Characters and scenes important to the story are more prominent than others, but for sheer physical size and scale, one of the most dominating is at the extreme left.  It's the bright green, skyscraper-size Chemo, from the rogue's gallery of the unique Metal Men and this time we'll explore "his" origin.  It's contained in Showcase #39 from July/August of 1962 and is entitled "The Deathless Doom!"  (You may recall that the debut of the Metal Men, two short issues ago in Showcase #37, pitted them against "The Flaming Doom!"  Stick with what works, I guess.)

The splash page by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito very nearly duplicates the cover with both Doc Magnus and Platinum in the grip of a huge human hand while the other Metal Men attempt rescue.

The story by creator-writer-editor Robert Kanigher opens with the favorite ride of the Metal Men, the rocket platform, landing on a downtown skyscraper, bearing not only the robots and Doc Magnus, but also their pentagon contact, COL Caspar.  Tina comments that she's about to burst with curiosity over what they're doing and Doc, ever the pragmatist, responds that curiosity is a human trait and she cannot burst, only melt at 1773.5 degrees Celsius.  Doc must be a real hoot at parties.  Meanwhile, COL Caspar produces a photograph of world-renowned chemist Professor Ramsey Norton who has vanished from his lab within this very building.  The military has somehow isolated it and emptied everyone from it and it's a good thing as in the next moment it begins to shake violently right before that massive hand emerges through the roof, gripping Tina and Doc.  Tin exclaims they must save them, but Doc insists they escape rather than risk capture.  He orders Gold to create an escape bridge to the next building and soon the Army officer and Mercury, Iron, Lead and Tin are making their way across the golden bridge.

Once at the framework of the other building, the Metal Men quickly form themselves into a support system to try and effect a rescue.  Iron and Lead form the girders while Tin mounts his body between them for a cross member that Gold and Mercury in turn anchor themselves to before stretching themselves forth to try and release Tina and Doc.  Unfortunately Tin begins to buckle.  While Gold and Mercury try to pry the massive fingers loose, Magnus instructs Tina to free herself by drawing her body into a fine wire.  The Platinum robot refuses to leave her creator, though, and soon Gold and Mercury lose their grips and the fist plunges back below the surface of the roof, ending Part I.

In Part II we follow the huge fist downward as Tina finally frees herself, but only in order to be next to Magnus.  Finally their descent is complete and the duo comes face to face with the missing Professor Norton who has somehow grown to this massive scale.  The Professor recognizes Doc Magnus and is pleased to be able to tell him of his plight.  The chemist quickly begins to explain what has happened.  He recounts that he secretly built this lab for daring experiments, never suspecting that he would unwittingly loose a deathless threat against the world named Chemo.

It seems the good doctor was trying to perform the ultimate in altruism by using his expertise with chemicals to conquer disease and famine.  Each time an experiment failed, he dumped the chemicals into a large plastic mold in human shape, nearly ceiling high.  "Constantly seeing you in humanoid form—will remind me of my failures!  You're like a ruthless antagonist I have to triumph over—so the world can be the better for it!  You should have a name!  Hmmm—you're a well of chemicals—Chemo—that's what I'll call you!  Chemo!"  Later another experiment took place, but it caused unchecked growth in an orange plant, causing it to grow until it destroyed itself (as depicted by page 9's original art).  Once again the failed compound was poured into the figure of Chemo.  Noting that the mold was now full, Norton decides he'll empty it tomorrow and start over again.  Later, as the chemist dozed over his notes, he awoke to the hissing and gurgling sounds of Chemo and saw to his horror that the figure was growing.  In the next awful moment, Chemo sprayed chemicals onto the Professor, causing him to feel weighed down and then suffering from the same unchecked growth that he'd experienced with the orange.  The weird figure of Chemo then sprays the lab, destroying all until burning his way out of the building itself.  The weakened Norton then called upon his last reserves of strength to plunge his hand upward hoping to find something or someone of help, ultimately snatching Tina and Doc.  He pleads with his fellow scientist to warn the world about Chemo and to destroy it.  Norton then expires.  Doc tells Tina they must find the Professor's notes so that they can determine Chemo's exact composition, but fate intervenes in the form of an earth tremor that begins to shake the building.  Tina grabs her creator and heads for the exits as Part II comes to its conclusion.

Tina uses her ductile capabilities to propel her and Magnus up through the crumbling structure until they are reunited with the rest of the team on the steel framed building.  It is only then they realize that Chemo has arrived on the scene and is burning through the foundations beneath them.  Tina swiftly comes to the aid of her teammates again, anchoring herself to the Lead girder and providing a sort of high wire that Iron traverses, carrying the rest of the Metal Men along with Magnus and COL Caspar to safe haven on yet another building's roof.  They barely make it there when the steel framework collapses, taking Lead and Tina down with it.

The next panel shows the metal band descending to the rubble via the rocket platform, so presumably they evacuated back to the original building containing Professor Norton's lab.  Once they land they discover a huge hole that Chemo burned into the Earth and apparently used to escape.  Soon Iron is forming himself into a crane to life the collapsed girders off Lead and Tina.  The strong man soon uncovers the two robots and they are flown to the laboratory complex of Doc Magnus to restore them to full function.

COL Caspar states that they have to stop Chemo sooner rather than later and Mercury suggests the Metal Men deploy to try and take on the menace.  He proposes going alone while Iron offers to team up with Gold.  Tin meekly asks if he can be given another chance and joins up with Iron and Gold.  Soon they're on their way while Doc lingers behind to repair the fallen Lead and Tina.

We now segue to where an express train is grinding to a halt just outside the city as it encounters Chemo rising from the ground and continuing his mission of chaos by melting the rails with his chemical spewing.  The next attempt to subdue the chemical creation is an armored car equipped with machine guns.  The slugs are absorbed into Chemo's liquid interior and when the drivers leap to safety while using the car as a battering ram the colossus melts it into so much slag.

Chemo continues his inexorable march into the city when he is spotted by the volatile Mercury.  The liquid metal man is pleased to get first shot at the horror and dodges the hot and cold chemical spurts by using his ability to quickly expand and contract, but he doesn't move swiftly enough to avoid a direct hit that reduces him to a pile of globules that are trampled under the massive feet of the towering menace.

The trio of Iron, Gold and Tin arrive just in time to see Mercury's defeat and are anxious to engage.  Tin begs first crack and forms himself into a huge tin can to encase Chemo.  The monstrosity is barely slowed down, however and burns his way through, leaving a crumpled Tin in his wake.  Iron and Gold try a divide and conquer strategy, striking the behemoth from both sides, but soon succumb to the chemicals in chemo by rusting and tarnishing respectively until they fall immobile to the pavement.

Back at the laboratory complex, Doc receives a transmission from COL Caspar updating him on the futile efforts of the Metal Men.  The military man asks if Lead and Tina have been restored yet, but when Doc checks only Tina has recovered.  She and Doc are soon aloft in the rocket platform to take a final crack at their adversary.  They then discover Chemo as he corrodes the top off a skyscraper.  Doc decides the best thing they can do is get Chemo out of the city, so he maneuvers the platform in such a way that the chemical creature falls onto the platform.  Doc flies as swiftly as possible to the outlying countryside before the effect of the chemicals renders the platform uncontrollable.  A crash landing sends the three figures sprawling and Chemo regains his footing with a full assault that Tina and Doc barely escape.  The attack leaves a gaping hole in the earth that exposes a natural gas deposit.  The gas spews forth in intervals and Doc devises a daring plan.  Between intervals, he has Tina uncoil and lower them into the subterranean chamber below.  Chemo drops down in pursuit and they are soon playing a game of cat and mouse in a series of caverns honeycombed with gas jets.  As Doc and Tina flee from the massive form of Chemo they barely miss a pair of colliding gas jets.  Chemo is not so fortunate and is "…impaled by the vise of gas jets…and imprisoned in an eternal tomb!"

Doc and Tina return to the surface and begin to salvage the other Metal Men.  Later at the lab when all are restored, the following exchange takes place between the metal band and their creator:  "G-gosh—that almost was our l-last adventure!"  "Not almost, Tin!  It was!"  "Doc—you can't do this to us!  We're just getting started!  Finding out about each other—and ourselves!  We've only had three adventures!  Give us a chance!"  "It's not up to me, Metal Men!  And Lady!  It's up to the readers!"  The group then faces us and simultaneously asks, "Well--?"  The text takes over from there:  "Readers…this is the last trial issue of Metal Men!  If you'd like to follow their adventures in a book of their own, write to…Metal Men, c/o National Periodicals Pub., 575 Lexington Avenue, New York 22, N.Y."

Nit-picker that I am, I couldn't help but take note of an error in this issue.  While the splash page proudly proclaimed this a "Titanic Four-Part Thriller," after the end of Part II, there is no further break or notation of the last two parts.  In fact, Part III is supposed to start on the 3rd page following the end of Part II, but in fact it's followed directly by the first edition of Metal Scraps, the letters page and the next two pages contain "Metal Facts and Fancies," which has several panels showing uses for certain metals in the real world.  The 4th page, when the story actually resumes, has some extra space at the top of the page for a banner, but it's blank.  From that point on we get nothing until the end panel.  Tsk, tsk Mr. Editor.

At the risk of spilling the beans this wasn't the last we see of Chemo.  He returns to menace the hardy metal band in their next and final appearance in Showcase, #40 (so much for it being the "last trial issue of Metal Men") ending their 4-issue run prior to earning their own title.  I happen to have access to that edition as well.  We'll review it in the future, so be on the look out.

As I've said more than once in the past, I have a soft spot for the Metal Men, but the stories weren't particularly sophisticated and were sometimes repetitive.  This edition was no exception.  Once again they seemed to triumph mostly by accident and all get destroyed in the process only to be resurrected later.  Not terribly imaginative, but they still managed to capture enough of a following to break into their own title.  My rating for this issue is a 6. 

Thanks as always for joining us.  Your opinions and comments are something we solicit, so send them to:  professor_the@hotmail.com.  The next edition of this feature will be in this space in about two weeks.

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2006 by B.D.S.

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