Monday, 30 August 2010

A to Z: M is for Metal Men

Sometimes there just isn't a decent opening paragraph to give these A to Z entries. They're usually a mildly related tangent up till I get to a point where I can bring up the comic being featured and segue into the full article. But really, what can I talk about that's related to Metal Men?

I could talk about how it's such an interesting concept in comics for a writer to lay out ideas for another creator to pick up and turn into a miniseries, as Grant Morrison does for Duncan Rouleau in this series, or perhaps how comics companies can use their collected editions as a chance to correct any lettering, colour or art errors found in the original product, as DC completely failed to do here. Heck, I could even go on about how that whilst too much text in a primarily visual medium can be a horrific thing, that in the right hands it can work splendidly, especially in science-based series like All-New Atom, Fantastic Four, or indeed this title.

But instead I'll just tell you that I love the Metal Men. Every single one of them. Copper most of all, if only because she's never really used enough, as the latecomer to the team, and I love an underdog. It's a series that started out as a the epitome of the utterly insane silver age of DC comics and when it returned in 2008 under the creative strength of Rouleau, continuing the momentum built up by their appearances in the weekly series 52. If you try to do something sensible with it you're going to fail. Which is why I really wanted to spotlight someone doing it right.

I wanted so much to talk about Duncan Rouleau's Metal Men... So I am. Let's begin, shall we?

If there's one thing I have to say it's that you simply MUST get this series in TPB/HC over single issues, for this cover alone. Not that it's the most amazing thing ever, more that the single issue covers, whilst well-themed and interesting, are kinda crappy in comparison

Metal Men is an 8 issue miniseries following the titular group of periodic substances (Tin, Mercury, Copper, Gold, Platinum, Iron and Lead) and their creator, Doctor Will Magnus as they face a veritable ton of their opponents, from Chemo to themselves (as the vicious Death Metal Men) in an adventure that spans from ancient Egypt, to Will Magnus' early days in robotics, and indeed into the present day madness. I won't say too much about what goes on (because that would, ya know, RUIN the plot beats), but rest assured that family and time travel are core components of the dense adventure.

And it IS dense. To say that this is full of text (as I alluded to earlier) is to give the writing a disservice. It's BLOODY TEXT HEAVY. I mean we're talking enough text that a single issue of the series takes about thrice the amount of time to read than the majority of comics out there (which when I think about the whole craze of decompressing comic issues to the point of distraction nowadays isn't really saying much). In a way it's a sign of the mental capacity of most characters involved, being scientists and super-robots and the like, but more than anything it feels like a throw back to DC's silver age when the Metal Men were at their best, in densely packed stories where information was thrown at you in sizeable chunks. Here though it's less the silver age tradition of a lot happening between panels than it making sure that a lot happens in EVERY. SINGLE. PANEL. It's almost to the point where the book would have benefited from an extra couple of issues to spread it out, but if you have the patience to deal with heavy text in a visual medium then you're in for a treat, because the writing is pitch perfect. Everyone has a voice of their own and it's never broken for the sake of exposition or something annoying like that. I mean when Platina speaks, she's THE Platina, the fawning, slightly slutty, shiny robot that loves Dr. Magnus more than anyone would be comfortable with. When Tin speaks he's an endearing nervous wreck with hidden strength at his core. It's just so right, through and through.
An example of how there can be a LOT of text on a single page (in this case really a single image and some headshots) without it becoming overwhelming. each bit of speech carries the charm of the relevant character, helping endear the writing style to the reader.

Changing subject slightly I feel there is something that I must inform you of: this DOES retcon the origins of the Metal Men, moreso the responsometers that give them life and soul. Again, I don't intend to spoil it too much but it connects the idea of alchemy in ancient Egypt and living monsters made of the elements of the earth as a starting point that through a strange meeting carries over to Magnus, who fully implements the idea.

Now, retcons are almost universally proven to be painful in execution and often anger fans but to me (and I can only speak for myself, obviously) the retcon here is well executed and if anything has a positive effect on the origin of the Metal Men. I mean before I just knew of their origin as wacky silver age creations where reason wasn't REALLY that important. Instead what we have here is a story that can be referenced and utilised to tell future stories, to give more strength to a group of characters that wouldn't really be capable of supporting a series without it.

Finally I wanna show you where DC have shown a complete lack of initiative, with an error in the issues that was never corrected for the trade. Observe these headings for Chapters 15... and Chapter 15... What?
An issue apart.... (EEEEEE TIN!)

.... with another chapter between them. Competent, yes?

It's a basic lettering error that could surely have just been fixed. I mean there's every chance that they didn't notice it, never got a letter about it or something like that, but it's a sign of an issue I've had with DC on even their greatest titles. Their proofing is just TERRIBLE. Here it's only this and... I think another couple of small cock-ups here or there, but then we have titles like the best-selling Batman & Robin, which has two issues in a row where the letterer thought Batwoman was Batman and Batman was Batwoman. That's pretty damn significant. It's distracting and really makes you feel like you're paying for a rushed, sub-par product. Which is a crying shame because when it comes to titles like this, which stand head and shoulders above so many other titles from Marvel or DC at present, it's just depressing.

Still, don't let that put you off. Metal Men is a great series that needs more attention, and if you give it a chance and the necessary time you won't regret it. You can find the hardcover pretty cheap if you look around various sellers, and even then the tpb is a pretty tidy price for 8 issues too. You can find both versions at Amazon (HC) (TPB) (UK HC) (UK TPB), though I'm sincere when I say get the Hardcover. It's awesome and the engraved picture under the sleeve is the cheeriest face you'll ever see on the front of a book.

So that's M. Next up is my favourite miniseries in recent history, and my second favourite of all time. That's right, it'll be N, which is NOMAD: GIRL WITHOUT A WORLD!