A Tribute to the of






Before it became yet another regular haunt for Batman and after it was relegated to the Silent Knight, Viking Prince and Robin Hood, among others, the Brave and the Bold title ran Showcase a little competition as the test bed for some new characters including the Justice League of America, Cave Carson, Hawkman, The Suicide Squad, and Metamorpho.  Someplace in between it was used for some other heroic team-ups and that's what we'll examine this time around with The Brave and the Bold #55 featuring the Metal Men and the Atom.  This edition came out in August/September of 1964 and was written by Bob Haney, penciled by Ramona Fradon (cover and interior) with inks by Charles Paris and edited by George Kashdan.  The title is "Revenge of the Robot Reject!"

The splash page shows Doc Magnus, famed inventor of the Metal Men, being menaced by a new metal man, accompanied by a metal woman.  Doc sees the Atom nearby, bearing a burden of different colored metal chunks, presumably of Iron, Lead, and Gold and perhaps Tin.  Doc thinks, "The Atom…our only hope!  But can even he defeat this Uranium villain?"

Things start at an orphanage where Magnus and his Metal Men are providing some entertainment for the children.  The metal wonders are shaping themselves into amusements similar to a carnival for their enjoyment.  Miss Gibbs, the director, expresses her appreciation and Magnus comments that children are the greatest fun in the world.  Tina, the platinum girl, seizes upon the remark and says that she and Doc will have lots of children one day.  Magnus reminds her that she's a robot and they cannot marry, much less have children, but she insists that he can make them, just like he made the Metal Men.

After the activity is over and the metal band and their inventor return to his lab complex, Platinum is still giddy and is dancing around and singing.  Doc warns her that her high resistance is a danger and to move away from the electrical generator, but something has made her dizzy and she plunges into the apparatus, which reduces her to a smoldering heap.  Upon examination, Doc determines that her atomic structure has been altered, but he's even more concerned with what caused her fall in the first place.  As he and the remaining Metal Men work on reconstructing Tina, Iron succumbs to an odd feeling of disorientation that causes him to fall into a nearby magnetic force field, effectively disintegrating him.  Again an atomic change has happened to one of the robots and Magnus' attempts at repair aren't bearing fruit.  Soon, another casualty as Gold similarly begins to stagger about and manages to fall smack into a vat of Aqua Regia, a potent combination of Nitric and Hydrochloric acids that dissolve gold with ease.  (It kind of makes you wonder why something like that would be around in the first place, but far be it for me to wreck the traps in the storyline.)

By now, Magnus is seeing a distinct pattern and he orders the remaining Metal Men into the temperature control chamber before any more accidents occur.  As he searches for an answer, Mercury, quite unhappy with being locked up, flies into a rage and twists the temperature control handle in the chamber, sending the thermometer plummeting to 459.72 degrees below zero or Absolute Zero.  Since his body is made of Mercury, inevitably he begins to shrink down.  He pleads for help, but the cold is interfering with the movements of Tin and Lead and they cannot stop the hot-headed Mercury's demise.  He ultimately pops out of sight.

With great effort, Tin shifts the control in the other direction, but goes too far and rapidly melts into a Tin puddle before Lead can adjust the control.  Magnus then enters the chamber and has Lead collect Tin's melted form to try again for a restoration.  Again, the inventor's efforts are in vain and he notes that each robot fell victim to an unseen force that seemed to know their greatest weakness.  Lead tries to lift his inventor's spirits by reaching toward a high shelf for a series of Metal Men statuettes, but Doc cries out that he's forgotten how non-elastic he is.  The Metal Man explodes, leaving Magnus to wonder anew what's gone wrong.

The scene then shifts to a secret lab beneath the Earth where Uranium and Agantha gloat at their victory.  They're facing a table with moving atomic models labeled with each of the Metal Men's individual names.  Close Part I.

Part II opens with a despondent Doc Magnus cradling the statuettes of his greatest creation when the door opens and he is greeted by Uranium.  The incredulous inventor says that he destroyed him, but Uranium replies that he came back and introduces his girl Agantha, the silver metal, who he created.  Agantha says if she weren't taken she could go for Doc now that his Platinum companion is gone.  (Those metal women seem to love a man in a lab coat.)  It is then that Magnus realizes the duo know of the fate of his Metal Men.  Uranium cautions the genius not to lose his cool, reminding him that he lost it with Uranium once and Doc retorts that creating the robot was his biggest mistake.

A brief flashback shows Doc's first attempt at a robot, but Uranium was something of a problem child, destroying Doc's other experiments through his powerful radioactive emanations.  Finally, determining Uranium to be too dangerous, Doc used a device that reduced the robot to an inert, nearly coffin-like form.  Uranium says that the government lab where his remains had been sent used him in an atomic test that revived him and now he has the ability to control any element and has come for revenge and to prove his superiority to the subsequent Metal Men.

Soon Uranium has Doc helping him with a mysterious scientific project that involves laser light.  Magnus seizes an opportunity to use the laser to send a virtually invisible S.O.S. in photons of light.  Luckily for him, the beam reaches the laboratory of Ray Palmer, nuclear physicist at Ivy University.  Ray converts the laser signals caught by his photon condenser into electronic impulses that translate into Morse code.  Reacting quickly, Ray activates his controls and changes into the Atom to render aid.

No sooner does the Atom arrive at the vast laboratory complex when the device Uranium and Magnus have been working on is completed.  It's a metal ionizer, which Uranium explains uses laser beams timed to the electronic orbits of any metal's atomic structure, allowing him to dissolve the target to dust.  The Atom makes his presence known later to Doc as he rests and plans are laid.

The next morning, the Atom follows Agantha as she goes on an errand for Uranium back to their secret lab.  Palmer quickly investigates to find out how the Metal Men were destroyed and discovers the atomic structure models of each metal.  Using his scientific training, Ray soon deduces what had happened.  Each of the models has a missing or scrambled component, so Uranium used the long range laser to project the faulty atomic models, in conjunction with an atom smasher, onto each corresponding robot, causing them to respond in kind and destroying themselves via remote control.  The Atom then begins the laborious process of collecting the remains of the Metal Men and transporting them to Uranium's lab.  Placing the remains carefully and activating the cyclotron, the Atom shrinks further down to electron size to effect repairs through the electro magnetic field.  He succeeds in rearranging Iron's atomic structure and then proceeds with the rest until the Metal band is fully restored.

Meanwhile, back at Magnus' laboratory, the first test of the metal ionizer is horrifyingly effective and Agantha insists that Uranium now do away with his creator, since his services are no longer required.  When the rogue robot hesitates, she turns the device on Doc, but then the door bursts in under the arrival of the Metal Men, concluding Part II.

Part III is nearly a duplicate of the cover with the Metal Men leaping into action to stop the evil robots, though the flung Tin is a boomerang rather than a pointy-nosed projectile.  The Lead sphere bounces harmlessly off Uranium as they're both atomically related and incredibly dense.  The Tin boomerang flies back and slices Mercury in half and Uranium pulls a fire hose on Iron, causing some instant oxidation, but Gold plates his partner, making a rust-free amalgam.  The Atom shows up just about then and while the Metal Men have their quarry surrounded, the surprises aren't over yet as Uranium unleashes some bullet-like figures from his body by the name of Alpha, Beta and Gamma, which of course are the names of the common forms of radiation.  The figures start knocking the Metal Men for a loop and Doc wonders aloud where the sole robot that can resist, Lead, has gone.  Tina soon finds him, befuddled by the distraction of Agantha.  Tina acts swiftly, using her patented maneuver of stringing her body into a thin but strong wire to hamstring the robot femme fatale.  The silver robots then do battle with Tina transforming into a platinum hammer and prevailing over Agantha.

Meanwhile, Lead has created a shield of his body to protect his teammates and it is so effective that Uranium summons the radiation beings back into his body and retreats.  Doc dispatches Mercury to give chase, but before he leaves the Atom has a plan.  He instructs Gold to make himself into a heating coil surrounding Mercury and Lead.

Uranium plods toward his secret lab, but due to his weight and density, it's slow going.  Mercury soon catches him and he unleashes Alpha, Beta and Gamma yet again, but they bounce off Mercury as completely ineffective.  He orders them on the attack again and again and still they are thwarted.  Uranium then begins to melt into a heap of radium and when Doc and the others arrive a fading voice emerges from the glowing pile saying he did it all to impress Doc.  He then utters a feeble "goodbye."

The final page ties up all loose ends as it is revealed that Mercury could withstand Uranium's bombardment due to the fact he was amalgamated with Lead.  Uranium's fate was sealed as he dispatched the radioactive minions to the point of exhausting himself, which caused him to disintegrate into radium.

Well, once again, a Bob Haney story didn't quite turn my crank.  This story seemed like more of the same Kanigher formula.  Doc is in trouble.  The Metal Men are destroyed, etc., etc.  Additionally, while I appreciated the shot at a science lesson with the atomic level destruction of the Metal Men I merely found it confusing and had to re-read it to begin to grasp what had happened.  Overall, it just wasn't a terribly impressive story, so I give it a 5.

This edition of the Silver Age Sage does hold a major saving grace, however, namely my e-mail interview with artist Ramona Fradon.  Here is what she had to say in response to a few of my questions about her work in the Silver Age:

Prof:  According to some information I found, you began at DC in 1951.  The industry was pretty much on the ropes at that point.  What prompted you to try comics at that particular time?  

Ramona Fradon: I didn't know anything about comics at the time and didn't know if the industry was on the ropes or not. You might say my husband and I were on the ropes financially, having just gotten out of art school and living on 75 dollars a month from the GI bill. A friend of ours, George Ward, who was later Walt Kelly's assistant, urged me to make some samples and take them around to the comic book companies, which I did.

Prof:  What was your first job at DC?

RF:  It was a four page Shining Knight.

Prof:  Did you have aims to be a comic book artist?

RF:  No. I had read the newspaper strips when I was a child, but had never read comic books and had never thought of being a cartoonist. I married one, however, and that had an influence on me.

Prof:  Gaspar Saladino began his career in the fashion industry.  Is your background similar?

RF:  No. I came right out of the Art Students' League in New York having studied fine art. My father wanted me to be an artist so I went to art school, but had no idea what I wanted to do after that. I was lucky to fall into comics, I guess.

Prof:  How many other women were working as comic artists when you broke in?

RF:  As far as I know, Only Marie Severin at Marvel.

Prof:  Was there any resistance to your penciling super heroes?

RF:  The only resistance was on my part. I always hated drawing superheroes and the editors kept assigning them to me. I preferred drawing the mysteries and goofy characters like Plastic Man and Metamorpho.

Prof:  Did Bob Haney have a specific look for Metamorpho in mind or was the design left up to you?

RF:  I did a number of sketches before I arrived at Metamorpho's look. Bob and George Kashdan both approved it.

Prof:  Why did they use the Brave and the Bold title for Metamorpho's try-out instead of Showcase?

RF:  I have no idea.

Prof: A house ad in the Summer of 1966 stated that Metamorpho and Wonder Woman would be appearing in the fall on television in "Colorful Animation," but it never came to pass.  Do you know why?

RF:  No. I knew at the time that someone was interested in doing a cartoon of Metamorpho, but I stopped drawing it and lost touch with what was happening.

Prof:  Have you seen Metamorpho's animated debut on the Justice League series recently?

RF:  Somebody sent me a video of an episode, but I must confess, I haven't looked at it yet.

Prof:  Why was your run on Metamorpho cut short?  Do you think his magazine's early demise was influenced by the change in artists?

RF:  I only agreed to get it started. I had a two year old daughter and wanted to get away from deadlines and be a full time mom. I suspect that it was. Bob Haney and I had a synergy when we were working on that feature, and I don't think it had the same energetic core or humor after I left.

Prof:  Sapphire Stagg was sort of a cheesecake character and she and Rex Mason did something unusual for the day, which was to publicly show affection.  Whose idea was that?  Was there any flack about it?

RF:  Bob Haney wrote the scripts and it was his idea. But even more unusual was having a freaky looking character like Metamorpho be a romantic hero. But that was the sixties, and what can I say?

Prof:  What sort of model did you use when you designed Java?

RF:  I had my big brother in mind who was a kind of caveman type. He used to torture me when we were kids and I got back at him by drawing Java. I never told him, of course.

Prof:  Did the fact that Rex Mason didn't want to be a hero influence how you handled the character? 

RF:  Rex's dialogue and actions spoke for themselves and influenced the way he looked.

Prof:  Did you prefer covers to interiors?

RF:  I didn't like doing covers, especially since I had to produce sketches on the spot for George's approval and I couldn't think under pressure.

Prof:  Which editors did you work with?  Were they easy to get along with?

RF:  I worked with Murray Boltinoff, George Kashdan, Joe Orlando and Nelson Bridwell. Nelson was the only one who you might say was difficult. He was very exacting and protective of his story lines. He designed a lot of the characters and didn't want any deviation. I preferred inventing my own characters, but these were kind of mythological archetypes and I suppose they had to be what they were.

Prof:  Were deadlines pretty tight?

RF:  They were only tight because I would wait until the last minute to do the drawing.

Prof:  Charles Paris inked a lot of your work.  Did you like his style?  What other inkers did you like?

RF:  I liked what he did on Metamorpho. I think he contributed a lot of energy to the feature.

Prof:  What other pencilers did you like?

RF:  At the time I wasn't aware of who was doing what. My favorite cartoonists are Eisner and Bruno Premiani.

Prof:  How was Bob Haney to work with?

RF:  I enjoyed working with Bob enormously. His scripts influenced my drawing, and my drawing influenced him. We had such a rapport on that feature you might say we were walking around in each other's heads. 

Prof:  I can think of one magazine in the Silver Age you did outside the usual assignments; Brave and the Bold #59 with Batman and Green Lantern vs. The Time Commander.  Was that a fill-in or were the editors trying you out on other characters?

RF:  I don't know.

Prof:  Are you still active in the industry?

RF:  I do an occasional story for publication and I do commissions and drawings for conventions.

Prof:  What was the page rate at the time and did they pay you the same as your male counterparts?

RF:  When I quit in 1980 to draw Brenda Starr, I think I was getting $75 a page.

Prof:  Have you seen the modern version of Aquaman?  What do you think?  For that matter what do you think of modern comic books?

RF:  Yes, I've seen it. Maybe the changes appeal to current readers, but he's not the simple, clean-cut Aquaman I knew. I suppose sooner or later he had to reflect on his situation, but why the beard, the hair and the hook? Maybe he's become delusional and identifies with Neptune? 

Prof:  I spoke with Neal Adams earlier this week and he said he was a big fan of your work.  Did you know that?

RF:  No, I didn't. But I'm pleased to hear it.

Prof:  In later years you worked on the Super Friends and Plastic Man.  Did you enjoy those assignments? 

RF:  See #6 and #16.

Prof:  I understand you did work on the Sponge Bob Square Pants cartoon with the spoof Aquaman characters, Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy.  True?  If so, what was that like?

RF:  I loved it. The goofier the better. I just finished doing a Radioactive Man for Bongo and had great fun doing that, too.

Prof:  You're still very active in the convention circuit.  Are the fans receptive to your contributions?

RF:  I go to San Diego almost every year and will probably go to the big New York show from now on. I also do others occasionally. Yes. I sell a lot of pencil sketches and enjoy meeting the fans.

Prof:  You still do commission work.  How would someone contact you for a job?

RF:  I can be reached by E-mail at ramonafradon@earthlink.net.  

I was very impressed with Ramona's quick wit and thoroughly enjoyed her observations.  As the sole female creator at DC during this era, I felt it was quite important to tap into her thoughts a bit.  I hope you enjoyed the insights as well.

Don't forget to join us again in about two weeks for the next review and yet another interview with an important creator from the Silver Age.  If you have questions or comments, please direct them to my e-mail.  I'm always interested in what's on your mind:  professor_the@hotmail.com.

Long live the Silver Age!



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