A Tribute to the of

Does the following statement sound at all familiar?

"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."

It came at the very end of Showcase #39, which contained the third appearance of the Metal Men, but oddly enough, they were still there for the next issue.

The four Showcase appearances of the Metal Men came about because of DC Comics' Publisher Irwin Donenfeld's inabiliy to squeeze product out of his many editorial and artistic teams. An immenent Showcase deadline was in danger of not being met! Though his next turn (having previously launched the Sea Devils in issues 27, 28 & 29) at overseeing a handful of Showcase issues was a ways off, Donenfeld approached prolific editor-writer Robert Kanigher on a Friday and explained the dire situation. He went on to ask if Kanigher had any new concepts in mind, adding that he had the weekend to work something up. Kanigher thought for a bit and said: "Metal Men: Robots made out of different metals, with distinct human and metallurgic personalities." Donenfeld replied, "Do it!" On Monday morning Kanigher and his frequent artistic collaborators Ross Andru & Mike Esposito had a full-length (25 page) story ready for print! (Kanigher also credited his wife, who typed up the script, and fellow DC editor Julius Schwartz from whose desk he borrowed a copy of "Van Nostrand's Encyclopedia of Chemistry.")

So, finally, here we are with the September/October 1962 edition of Showcase #40 and the Metal Men are still there, this time in a story titled "The Day the Metal Men Melted!"  Scripting was done by Robert Kanigher with art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito.

Initially we see a transport helicopter against the city skyline carrying a large, humanoid figure.  As we zoom in it is revealed to be a glowing, metallic figure bearing a warning sign around its neck:  DANGER, RADIOACTIVE.  The text identifies it as "Doc Evans—creator of the Metal Men—"  "Doc Evans?!"  Okay, I guess Mr. Kanigher got his creations cofused. Doc Evans is the resident physicist/astronomer of Task Force X: Suicide Squad (a review of their first adventure is archived here).  You wonder how it got past the writer-editor, artists and the letterer, but you and I know that should read "Doc Magnus."  It goes further to elaborate that he's become "The most dangerous metal man alive!"

Below, the original Metal Men are watching from a rooftop.  Tina, or Platinum, is distraught over events and begins to propel herself toward her maker.  Doc instructs Gold and Mercury to stop her, and they make a valiant attempt, but the impulsive robot reaches her objective anyway and is now exposed and radioactive herself.

The destination for both the inventor and Tina is a rocket prison-satellite.  The doctor has made arrangements to have himself fired off into space to isolate him from harming humankind in his current condition.  The question, of course, is how it came to this point.

Soon it's flashback time and the demise of Chemo in the prior issue is recapped, specifically the chase through the caverns and his being obliterated by the subterranean gas jet stream.  Doc and Tina then collected the other fallen robots and took them to the recovery room at the huge laboratory complex where all Doc's important work is done.  During the process, Doc's scientific curiosity got the best of him and he returned to the gas-jet caverns.  It just so happened that an electrical storm was going on at the time and a stray bolt of lightning struck the precise spot where Chemo had met his fate.  Wouldn't you know that the kinetic energy of the bolt brought the chemical menace back into existence and he promptly blasted Doc with a burst of chemicals?  I'm guessing Robert Kanigher was going back to the well on this one.  He used lightning and chemicals to create the Silver Age Flash in Showcase #4, after all.  Recovering quickly, Doc makes a mad dash for the exit with Chemo in pursuit, but suddenly wary of the gas jets, slowing him down and ending Part I.

Part II shows Doc's trusty rocket platform jetting away and a large explosion in the caverns from a pre-set explosive charge.  Upon returning to the lab complex he discovers that he is not only growing large, but is also radioactive.  When the Metal Men arrive he warns them away, using Lead to temporarily create a shield around him until he isolates himself and contacts the Pentagon from a lead-lined room in the complex.  He makes arrangements to be blasted off in the X-4 rocket he's provided and then the final reaction to Chemo's assault becomes apparent as he transforms into metal.

Back to the present, the inventor and Tina are dropped on a catwalk leading to the nose cone of the rocket, where they enter and strap in prior to blast off.

Meanwhile at the lab, the remaining Metal Men are deciding how best to continue the legacy of their inventor and begin by selecting a leader.  After balloting, to the surprise of Mercury in particular, humble Tin is chosen.

Switching scenes yet again, Chemo burns his way to the surface where military tanks lie in wait.  Firing upon the menace proves less than effective, however, and when the chemical colossus retaliates, the division lies in semi-melted ruins, closing Part II.

In Part III the monitors in the lab reveal what has happened and Tin orders the band to the rocket platform.  He doesn't have a plan formulated yet, but knows they must act.  Tracking the marauding Chemo to the city where he's indiscriminately applying his chemicals to the buildings, Mercury insists on tackling the skyscraper-sized peril, ultimately wrapping around Chemo like a snake.  Chemo makes quick work of the volatile Metal Man, however, by increasing his temperature until Mercury literally evaporates as steam.  Tin then directs Gold to form himself into many sheets of gold, which Iron then flings onto Chemo in an effort to asphyxiate him.  Iron then forms Lead into a large cup to throw over the top while Tin maneuvers the platform beneath the creature and they begin to fly it away from the city.  They fly by the rocket so that Doc and Tina can see what they've accomplished, but at that moment Chemo bursts free and slides down the side of the rocket.  Acting quickly, Doc instructs the Colonel that he intends to blast off immediately and take Chemo with him.

Once they break free of Earth's atmosphere, Doc jettisons the first stage, where Chemo is lurking, hoping that he and the stage will burn up during re-entry.  Chemo is too fast, though and has climbed to the second stage.  Another jettison takes place, but he has made it to the third stage and finally the nose cone itself.  This calls for desperate measures and the ultimate sacrifice of going into a dive to destroy the nose cone.  The dive somehow knocks both Doc and Tina unconscious but Chemo is burned off into nothingness.  The nose cone is perforated in the process, allowing cosmic matter into the compartment.

Back at the launch site, one of the techs says that "Doc Evans done it, Colonel!  He's gotten rid of Chemo!  But—why doesn't he slow up before the nose cone is burned to a crisp?"  The Colonel replies that he's probably unconscious and they take remote control of the capsule, noting that the radioactivity level is now negative.  Furthermore, Tina comes to and notes that Doc is returning to his natural form just before splashdown.

Our text wraps things up:  "Pronounced completely cured after their re-entry to Earth, Doc Evans and Tina collect the Metal Men where they had fallen in their battle against the world's most unique menace…"

Things end with Doc informing Tina he's going to give her to the science museum for conduct unbecoming a robot.

I like the Metal Men.  I always have.  They allow almost limitless possibilities for stories and adventures because you can mold them into all sorts of shapes and even sizes in answer to a variety of threats.  Each of the Metal Men is a separate and unique personality and metal, with a specific set of properties adding further options to the writer's imagination.  So why in the name of campiness, at least in the beginning, couldn't they come up with anything original for this "unique metal band?"  Granted, this issue all but hollers that they needed something to fill the hole because for all intents and purposes it's just a continuation of its predecessor, Showcase #39, where Robert Kanigher had the Metal Men take on Chemo, "The Deathless Doom!" and all the Metal Men but Tina were destroyed in the process.  Of course going back one step further in Showcase #38 Robert Kanigher had the Metal Men battling "The Nightmare Menace!" which was defeated, but all the Metal Men were destroyed.  Then there was Showcase #37 by Robert Kanigher with the debut of the team taking on "The Flaming Doom!" which was vanquished, but of course…all the Metal Men were destroyed.  At least this time the title prepares you for the inevitable.  Folks, this gets really old.  I'm astounded that they were able to get their own title after this one.  Actually I'm probably more astounded that they managed to stay assembled and functional long enough to be involved in any further stories.  Now in all fairness, according to material I've read online, Kanigher was incredibly prolific and his real forte was the war titles, working hand in glove with Joe Kubert.  He is credited with the creation of many characters, to include Black Canary, Golden-Age Flash foe Star Sapphire, the Harlequin, Rose and the Thorn, Poison Ivy, the Viking Prince, Silent Knight, the Sea Devils, Sgt. Rock and Enemy Ace among many others.  Despite all that, though, this was just plain boring by now and all but pure plagiarism (if you can, in fact, plagiarize yourself) of the last story. It had to have been some 11th hour effort. The repeated goofs in referring to Doc Magnus as Doc Evans only rubbed salt into the wound, so it gets a rating of 4.

Before I leave you I thought I'd make good on a promise made recently to tell you about the wonderful opportunity I recently had to conduct a telephone interview with one of the important but often overlooked contributors to the Silver Age, Mr. Gaspar Saladino, who did the majority of the lettering for many of our favorite titles and worked closely with other names that we know and love from the era.  Gaspar graciously gave me about an hour of his time and I'll share it with you here.  He had a couple of tie-ins to the Metal Men, too, which include his designing their logo and his friendship with Ross Andru, whom he mentions in the interview.  Enjoy! 

Prof:  You were a fashion illustrator when you started with DC in the 1950s. Did you ever regret the direction you took?  Gaspar Saladino:  No.  The fashion business was headed toward photography, so I had no regrets.

Prof:  When Carmine Infantino came on as DC's editorial director, you were taken off of interior lettering, and took on the lettering for virtually every cover DC published. This changed the whole line's look, from Ira Schnapp's more sedate style to yours. How did becoming DC's cover letterer affect your approach?  GS:  It didn't affect my approach, but I enjoyed it much more.  It allowed me some artistic expression that the interiors lacked.  I had carte blanche with sound effects and placement.  There weren't many egos to deal with and it was a very collaborative effort

Prof:  What do you think of digital lettering? Ever feel tempted to try it? GS:  No.  I'm computer ignorant

Prof: The loopy sound effects used in the Batman TV series opened the door for sfx to be bigger and crazier, and you hopped on this trend with a vengeance. Any comments? GS:  It didn't really affect my work that much.

Prof:  Your lettering looks different depending on who penciled a book. At DC, pencillers roughed in all lettering before you ever got at the page. How much of your cues did you take from the penciller? Did your style develop as you translated their roughs into finished lettering? GS:  Again, it was all very collaborative.  I have some wonderful and warm memories of Ross Andru, Gil Kane, Joe Kubert, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson, among others and we always seemed to be able to work well together and to come up with a good product that everyone approved.

Prof:  Your exclamation marks were one of your trademarks, big and bold. Why'd you adopt this style? GS:  It was for effect.  If they weren't there I'd add them

Prof:  Unlike most free-lancers, you actually worked at DC's bullpen. I think you were living in Long Island at the time. Why'd you make the trip to NYC every day instead of working at home? GS:  DC wanted a full-time letterer and by being present I got first choice of assignments.  I also thought it was beneficial to be able to work hand in hand with the artists.

Prof:  When you were doing interiors, pencillers used to beg editors to have you do their books. How were these decisions made? Julie Schwartz and Robert Kanigher seemed to have a lock on your services, while George Kashdan and Murray Boltinoff and Jack Schiff hardly ever got to use your work. How'd all this come about? GS:  Julie was the final word on how work was doled out and it was often time dependent, as in how hot the deadline was.  There were certain "cliques" in the offices and some politics but I never found it to be a problem.

Prof:  Can you tell me anything about Ira Schnapp, whose work pretty much defined DC's covers and logos for 25 years? GS:  "Mr. DC."  He was the original letterer on Superman and Green Lantern in the 30's.  The titles were done by him and he had his own desk in the production department.  It was sad that when he left it was as though he'd never been there at all.  So much of it all came down to business, though.  It was to make money.

Prof:  Wherever the best pencillers were, you were. Who did you enjoy working with most? GS:  I worked with a lot of wonderful people, but was especially fond of Gil Kane.  I was an usher at his wedding and we lived in the same borough in Brooklyn.  Gil could break down a story in 10 minutes for a rough.  Alex Toth was the best hand in Julie's stable.  He drew quickly and well and was the genius of them all

Prof:  Did you use a template for your balloons? They look like they were done freehand. GS:  I did not use a template.  I liked freehand

Following are some other random comments during the interview that didn't relate directly to any questions:

Gaspar began on the "Cowboy Romance" books in 1951.

Joe Kubert sat next to Robert Kanigher.  Bob Kanigher also gave Gaspar complete freedom on sound effects.  He had very good things to say about Ross Andru.  Apparently Ross was agnostic and he and Gaspar made a pact that whoever passed on first would try to make contact with the other.  "I haven't heard anything yet." (To learn more about the life and career of Mr. Andru and that of his inking partner Mike Esposito as well, pick up a copy of this recently released book.)

Deadlines were about a week for pencils on any story.

Bernard Sachs was an inker he really admired.

Original art was stored at the DC offices.  Once the pieces were produced, the artists no longer had any rights to them.  Apparently today the practice is the opposite.  The artists get their copy back.

Curt Swan was a very pleasant gentleman.

On Friday afternoons the writers and artists would gather and the conversations were simply amazing.  It was a "good slice on life."  Many were war vets and they'd swap war stories.

He created the logo for both Swamp Thing and Metal Men among others.  During the conversation I mentioned the way that Metal Men #22, the "Attack of the Sizzler!" issue really leaped out and grabbed you.   Gaspar confirmed that covers like the Sizzler did their job:  They got attention and sales at the newsstand.  He pulled his copy out when we were discussing it.  He also did logos for the Vigilante and Eclipse.

Irv Novick worked well with Robert Kanigher.

Lettering for the foreign issues was done in country.

I can't begin to tell you what a gentleman Gaspar was and what a tremendous pleasure it was speaking to him.  Through it all he kept trying to make things as easy on me as he could, if you can imagine.  Truly a class act.

We appreciate your patronage, reader and are always interested in your comments and questions, so don't be shy and let us hear from you at professor_the@hotmail.com.

Join us again in approximately two weeks for the next installment and…

Long live the Silver Age!

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