Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Creature Commandos continue (Weird War Tales #100)

This is the big one -- the CCs aren't quite permanent headliners yet, but they were a big enough deal that they starred in the cover story of WWT's 100th issue. This is something of a crossover between the CCs and "the War that Time Forgot", a feature that chronicled the numerous attempts made by Allied forces to capture Dinosaur Island, which is exactly what it sounds like.

This episode was also adapted into the Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon, which added Myrra Rhodes and Batman himself to the team and featured the Ultra-Humanite (in a T-Rex body) as the villain.

So, despite last being seen in occupied France, this story takes the CCs to the Pacific, where they ambush a Japanese landing party at the edge of a jungle. There's a whole page dedicated to summing up who the Creature Commandos are and how they got that way, but if you've been reading along with me you basically know that already. As usual, despite being greatly outnumbered the CC have the upper hand, but as the battle is nearly over, even more bizarre creatures emerge from the jungle -- dinosaurs drawn without any reference or scale! 

The CCs escape the dinosaur, uh, stampede, regrouping in the jungle. Shrieve fiddles with a camera as he recalls their mission.

Shrieve and Velcro discuss how the discovery of the dinosaurs has screwed up everything. Shrieve, for his part, thinks they can be an asset to the mission. Later, as Shrieve forages for food, they run afoul of a massive, hostile, fakey dinosaur.

This is a tough fight for all involved (except the dinosaur I guess). As Shrieve frantically takes pictures of the beast, Velcro tries to distract it in his nimble bat form, but can't hold its attention while Griffith claws at its back. The dinosaur bucks, sending Griffith hurtling "hundreds of yards" away. When he lands, he's involuntarily turned human, and even worse, is captured by a Japanese patrol. Lucky ends up climbing up its neck, which he manages to snap in two. 

Griffith remains captured for about one page; he's tortured in human form by a Japanese officer, but the session is cut short by the other CCs arriving and wrecking the place. Griffith turns back into his werewolf form to take revenge on his tormentor. Shrieve is about to use a stolen Japanese radio to inform HQ about the situation when he sees the convoy they'd been sent to stop passing by. Thinking quickly, Shrieve scales a rock face to reach a pteranodon's nest, and basically does exactly what you would expect Shrieve to do: shoot helpless baby animals.

They grab onto the pteranodon and Shrieve starts steering it towards the convot. As Shrieve had anticipated, the pteranodon doesn't appreciate the Creature Commandos wrangling her, and her screams attract the attention of the other pteranodons on the island, as well as the sea-dwelling creatures that live in the water around it. They ravage the Japanese convoy, enraged by her cries. The CCs even do their part, landing on a Japanese cruiser and doing their thing.

The team escapes on a life raft. As they await extraction, Shrieve is very pleased with the mission's outcome -- especially the pictures he took. Army Intelligence is going to turn those dinosaurs into beasts of battle the second they see the photographic evidence. Man, Shrieve never met a freak he didn't want to exploit, did he? The Creature Commandos share a knowing look, and Lucky grabs the camera from Shrieve's hands, flinging it into the ocean.

This is a great ending to this story because it encapsulates how the team "works". The individual Creature Commandos are extremely different people who rarely get along very well, but they also share a strong sense of brotherhood as Shrieve's "freaks" -- and an even stronger resentment towards Shrieve. And, to be honest, it's pretty well-deserved, there's very little to like about him besides the way he fills out that sweater.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Senses-Shattering Saga of the Metal Men (part 3)

I think it's important to get my Metal Men stuff done all in a cluster and not broken up by months of other stuff (only days of it!), because as I've mentioned before, it's one of the only comics of its era to follow a continuing storyline from issue to issue. Last issue ended with Tin careening through space, holding twisted mutant lifeforms from the moon inside him. As with Platinum's brief "death", this isn't to last -- and, also as with Platinum, Tin is (apparently) returning first as a villain.

Is that even necessarily an "evil" Tin, so much as simply a giant one? I get the feeling this is EXACTLY what regular ol' Tin would do if here were suddenly giant sized. Also, maybe it's just me, but I would've gone for the yo-yo first. 

Another angle on the cover, duh (although with Lead and Tina having switched places, and a totally different arrangement of items in the machine, I can't help but notice. Also, get real, scissors? Just buy some damn scissors.) This strikes me as a bold, almost artistic thing to do, and it's not something I've seen in any other Silver Age comic, though most imitate the cover or at least "adapt" it in some way on the first page. Dang, the claw machine has knobs instead of a joystick, too -- this must take place after the 500 times Tin didn't get anything.

Well that's a sad note to begin on. Of course, it was a sad note for last issue to end on, too. Note the discarded rocket stage; if this comic were made today there would be 15 more of those in every panel. Anyway, Tin, naturally, is feeling quite lonely, but he's also dedicated to containing the horrible microbes. People around the world keep track of Tin's orbit, evidently mesmerized by his misfortune. A scientist remarks that if the microbes housed in Tin were to ever escape, Earth would be in terrible danger, effectively cursing Tin to eternity orbiting Earth. Jeez, this comic doesn't mess around. 

Even though I know this will be reversed by the end, it still feels like a gutsy move to put a main character in such a predicament. If I had to explain the difference between this and, say, that issue of Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane where Lois is turned into a centaur, I'd have to say that this wasn't a shock-value "buy this comic" stunt -- it's not mentioned on the cover, for instance, and you'd only know about it if you'd read the previous issue.

Back at Doc's lab, Lead, Iron, Gold, and Mercury are all looking at Tin's lonely orbit via a huge telescope with a bunch of eyepieces. Platinum bothers Doc, who is hard at work trying to figure out how to save Tin. He exasperatedly refers to her as a "woman"; naturally, Platinum isn't going to let him hear the end of this and takes it as a sign that he's finally warming up to her.

Elsewhere, trouble is brewing, as the tyrannical queen of a planet of robots has fallen in love with Tin.

Is it me or do they look like a robot prop for a crappy 60s sci-fi show, easily constructed out of stuff a tv studio would have lying around? So the queen sends a team to capture Tin for her, and it's hinted that she has the wrong idea about tin because all she's seen of him is his bloating "tin can" form, and the picture she had taken of him doesn't provide a good look at his face. 

Back at Doc's lab, each of the Metal Men shows just how much they care for Tin by offering to take his place. Even Mercury, who spins it into trying to one-up Gold. Doc angrily barks that he's the scientist around here, and he doesn't need to be bossed around by his own creations. Clearly, even Doc is put out of sorts by Tin's absence. That's sweet, it really is.

So Doc already had a plan before Platinum started bugging him -- they'll go up to Tin in a rocket, transfer the microbes to Lead, melt Lead down until the microbes are dead, and, finally, repair Lead. Man, with Doc, if it's not metal robots, it's rockets. 

Tin's orbiting the Earth still (duh), and passes the Sputnik, when the "tin amazon" rocket comes towards him. Reading that he contains deadly microbes, the ship's crew bursts him open with a laser blast, releasing the microbes just in time for the Metal Men to see. As the aliens grab Tin and take him away, Doc is forced to take care of the microbes first before they can endanger Earth again. 

Lead goes back into the rocket via a hatch that leads to a smelter, for the "melting down Lead" part of the microbe extermination plan. As Lead boils, the Metal Men basically make their version of small talk, with Platinum weeping about Tin, Doc telling her she's just a robot, Mercury insulting her, that sort of thing. Soon the microbes are destroyed, and in a move that surprised me, Lead is reassembled and A-OK to continue on the adventure. Meanwhile, Tin is presented to the alien robot queen.

Determined to make Tin the titan she dreamed of, she angrily berates her scientists for not "adjusting" him beforehand, and demands they make him to her liking immediately. The Metal Men tracked Tin's captors and land on the planet; before they get anywhere, Mercury pressures Doc to force Platinum to stay behind, due to her "defective responsometer" -- until she saves them from a giant robot falcon. It looks like all the life on this planet is mechanical (and giant), with flowers looking like gears on top of pipes. Soon Doc's jaw drops as he sees a giant tin robot falconer wheeling towards them.

Doc foils the giant falconer (who was looking for "toys" to amuse the queen) by having Gold use his unique malleability to turn into a deck of cards, which Iron then "shoots" at the giant

To think just two issues ago Gold got razzed for having no unique power or ability. Their victory is short-lived, as they're ambushed by another giant who hits them with a freeze-ray. Doc tries to confess something to Platinum before he freezes solid, but can't get it out. Awww. Doc and the Metal Men are placed on a "charm bracelet" for the queen, which is the chain they're wrapped in on the cover.

The queen's scientists succeed in making Tin giant by exposing him to native food. He grows to the queen's size, and stops stammering -- but becomes a gigantic ass at the same time, a literal tin tyrant. The Metal Men are wheeled in, inside the prize machine on the cover. Tin doesn't seem to remember them, but as they caught his eye, wins them from the machine immediately. Turns out I was kind of wrong -- this is, more or less, evil Tin (although it's really more like the "Asshole Superman from Superman III" version of Tin). 

Tin madly pounds them against the table and into a bowl of fruit, soaking them in fruit juice. Platinum's screams snap him out of his trance -- though he still doesn't stammer, he's the Tin we know again, and he bravely affects an escape with the Metal Men in tow. But when they get back to the rocket, Tin shrinks to his normal size as everyone else grows giant, due to exposure to the fruit juice! 

As no one else will fit in the rocket, and they can't wait for everyone else to turn normal again because the queen's stooges are on their heels, Tin is forced to head back to Earth alone, which is an ironic development , as this means the adventure both began and ended with Tin missing the Metal Men and vice versa. Doc and the other Metal Men are still chained together, and have to evade capture from the evil queen's minions as they await some unlikely rescue by Tin. This is the first issue so far where nobody's dead at the end, I should mention.

Let me tell you something about this comic -- this comic used giant robot fruit juice as a plot point and I care about what happens to the people affected by it. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

It all started with the Big Bang! Part 3 (Issue #2)

Moving on with another issue of Big Bang Comics, this one is as interesting as the previous one for a few reasons.

That's one right there -- this issue features a team-up between the Knight Watchman and a fake Silver Age version of Image character Shadowhawk. Meaning, yes, Batman is teaming up with Batman. Incidentally, calling those aliens red is pretty charitable, and the Knight Watchman overdid it a little with the purple here.

So, Dick Sprang style places this in the fake 50s, and the story is about being invaded by angry reds. In case that's too subtle for you, the story opens at a US Senate hearing chaired by a Senator MacNamara. MacNamara is trying to crack down on costumed superheroes, and challenges any of them to come forward and speak in their defense. This challenge is heard both by the Knight Watchman in his Watchtower and Shadowhawk in his Shadowlair. They both decide to head for Washington immediately to give their testimony. 

As it happens, Shadowhawk also has a kid sidekick, Squirrel, who is also his son. I'm not especially familiar with Shadowhaw, so I don't know if that's based on anything from the character's history, but I would be surprised if it were.

Anyway, the Pentagon receives a message from one of the red aliens on the cover and title page, and the Knight Watchman and Shadowhawk both run into a flying saucer on their way to Washington. I just want to point out Shadowhawk's "Shadowcar" real quick, it's amazing.

They start tailing the saucer, and it starts to dive sharply until it crashes into the ground. They get out to take a look and introduce each other; apparently they know of one another but have never met before. Cut to a secret lair in Washington, where the mysterious hooded Agent X receives radio communication from some guy about their saucer.

J. Edgar Hoover puts the Knight Watchman and Shadowhawk on the saucer crash investigation, and the Knight Watchman soon realizes it's not an alien craft, but the creation of his old friend Dr. Igor Eisner, who has been missing for some months. The Knight Watchman says the saucer was wired to crash if it got close to the Flying Shield, and notices a clue hidden in the wiring, as well, and this is a perfect example of Silver Age silliness if I ever saw one. 

As you can imagine, Agent X has Eisner captive, but not for long, as the Knight Watchman and Shadowhawk burst into the room and start clobbering Agent X's fake alien goons. Agent X is about to get away when Dr. Eisner stops him by throwing his t-square ruler at him. Agent X is unmasked, revealing Senator MacNamara, who was trying to discredit masked heroes so nobody would be able to stop him. The story closes out with a hearty handshake between our heroes, who also have crazy huge smiles on their faces.

Moving on to the real money story this issue, starring the Badge.

The Badge (and the Rookies, Bobbie and Trooper) are the second interesting thing in this issue -- virtually everything in Big Bang Comics is based on DC material, and while this is partially true of the Badge by way of the Guardian, he's mostly Captain America, especially owing to his costumed kid sidekicks and their marching band uniforms. Note the credited names: Jack Simmons and Joe Kingler, mangled versions of Joe Simon and Jack "the King" Kirby.

So the Public Enemy #1 the newsboy is barking about is Louie "Scarface" Provolone, who is for all intents and purposes Al Capone, duh. As he's taken to the electric chair, the Badge and the Rookies wait atop a city rooftop for the telltale toll of midnight (wherever this is it has a huge clocktower with bells). The Badge is happy to be rid of Scarface, but knows that someone else will take his place sooner or later. 

A bank security guard tells them that he fired the shots, at thieves -- but bullets didn't slow these guys down! They wore gowns and had skin white as snow. As the Rookies follow some footprints they found, the Badge responds to a cry for help from a nearby apartment, where a woman claims her recently dead husband robbed her. Her description of him matches that of the bank robbers. Knowing that at least one of the culprits is supposed to be dead, the Badge does the logical thing and goes to the morgue, which is incidentally where the footprints led.

"A week's allowance" -- are these his kids? Anyway, Dr. Cadaver, who is clearly the most trustworthy, honest man in the world, laughs at the idea of bodies getting up and walking... until Bobbie points out fresh mud on Lieber's, and the Badge notes a man whose toe tag says he drowned has clearly been shot.

I'm just going to hope Cadaver would have disposed of that evidence had he the chance; these guys did kind of come minutes after the zombies returned, and all. So Cadaver confesses that he reanimates corpses to commit crimes, and calls himself the city's new crime boss. He also pulls a gun on them and makes it clear that they aren't leaving alive if he has anything to say about it. Jeez, the Badge was talking about a new bad guy filling the void left by Scarface, but the first known zombie crime was mere moments after Scarface's death. 

Cadaver uses comic book science and a big console with levers to control the zombies; he commands them to kill the Badge and the Rookies as a demonstration. While Trooper and the Badge contend with the zombies, control over them is wrested from Cadaver by Bobbie. However, Cadaver has a surprise in store: a resurrected Louie "Scarface" Provolone! Would Cadaver really have his body not half an hour after his execution? 

Scarface feels no pain and his body is hard as rock now, so he's more dangerous than ever. When the Badge resorts to using Cadaver's dropped gun, the bullets sink into Scarface's flesh harmlessly. At first, he's still not sure what happened to him; he doesn't seem to remember his execution. Cadaver tells him everything, including the "Dr. Cadaver is the new crime boss" thing, as he hands Scarface a tommy gun. Naturally, Scarface objects to being anybody's lackey and shoots Cadaver full of lead first thing.

I just realized that this story has gangsters, zombies, kid sidekicks, and lots of gunshots -- if the Phantom Lady were here, every Comics Code no-no would be represented. The gun jams, giving Bobbie the time to flip the switch on Cadaver's console, "turning off" the zombie crime boss -- for good this time, ideally. Is it me or did Bobbie do all the real work throughout the caper? The Badge and Trooper better step it up next time. Glad to be done with this, the heroes leave after taking note of Cadaver's body. However, a police medical examiner later discovers that Cadaver has been dead for months. DUN DUN DUUUUN.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Creature Commandos continue (Weird War Tales #97)

WWT #97 marks the second appearance of the Creature Commandos, and it's about a year's worth of upcoming issues before they graduate to permanent headliner status along with G.I. Robot.

Having read ahead a little, I feel like the team really is missing something without Myrra Rhodes; shame she's not coming up for a little while. 

Anyway, the story opens with the Commandos still in occupied France after their first mission. Velcro does some aerial recon in bat form before swooping down, turning back into vampire mode, and meeting with the others.

I didn't think Death's opening was interesting enough to mention, but like in the team's last appearance, he's wearing a different uniform in the CC story than he was in the whole comic's introduction.

Again, I think Velcro is really the figure you're meant to identify with the most, and I find that pretty interesting since he's a murderous ex-con turned vampire. Shrieve and Griffith both bark at Velcro to give his report; Velcro inwardly reminds himself that underneath Griffith's furry muzzle is a cowardly weakling, which helps stay any fear he might feel towards the werewolf. Velcro reports that the intelligence they received was right on, and is positive the Germans in the nearby encampment know the location of captured Allied VIP Dr. Frederique. 

Based on the "every issue is someone's first" principle, everybody's origin gets a token mention before the action starts. Oh, and I know Shrieve is the worst of the bunch, but I think we need to be honest with ourselves and admit that Griffith is just barely below him on that hierarchy. Anyway, Shrieve doesn't see any point in waiting and has the team mount an assault. The following page is a really great example of the Creature Commandos in action, their effect on enemy soldiers and all that.

Some of the Germans survive and run for their lives; Shrieve tries to take some credit for that despite having done nothing. Lucky busts open the doors on that armored truck, which Shrieve suspects contains Dr. Frederique. Frederique turns out to be an attractive young woman, who is naturally frightened by the Creature Commandos. Shrieve is all too happy to comfort her. As they trek to the rendezvous point, Frederique and Shrieve discover they disagree on some fundamental issues: Frederique grew to like her captors somewhat after seeing that they are just normal guys. Shrieve thinks every "Nazi pig" is just as bad as Hitler himself, and can't wrap his head around the idea of a good German. Frederique remarks that it's easy to think that way when you see a group as a faceless mass, rather than as individuals, as men.

There's a relatively pointless scene where Griffith saves the group from feral wolves (while, naturally, horrifying Frederique) and Lucky takes care of a huge tree that was in their way.

They reach the rendezvous point, which is heavily fortified and filled with German troops; it turns out Frederique is an impostor, a German spy who was meant to lure them to their dooms. However, at the last second, she sacrifices herself to save them -- she saw the American monsters for the men they are inside.

The commandos clear out the village with incredibly brutality and rapidity. Velcro suggests they bury Frederique, or whoever she was, but Shrieve doesn't see why they should bother.

Is that a tear running down Shrieve's face? Jeez, I had no idea he had emotions besides hatred. He's turning into every bit the tragic monster his "freaks" already are. Am I being too hard on him? Maybe. I guess it's a little ironic that I have trouble seeing Shrieve as human compared to the Creature Commandos themselves.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Senses-Shattering Saga of the Metal Men, Part 2!

One thing that you learn in reading early Metal Men is that, unlike a lot of its contemporary books, it had an ongoing storyline. Sure, the plot threads were often nonsensical, but there was a plot that flowed from issue to issue; the "one-and-done" stories of the day are nowhere to be found except for like the first issue I guess. While this is of some historical curiosity, it kind of puts a damper on my plan to NOT do every last issue but the first (or their appearances in Showcase) -- there's a whole arc about the Metal Men in space, and this is the issue that really kicks it off. It also ties into the previous story, which ended with the "death" of Platinum, as it deals with her coming back.

Naturally, the first page is another angle of the cover, and it represents a scene later in the story. Lead has this amazing expression of utter befuddlement on his face, which is all too appropriate for endearing dummy he is.
As it happens, I pointedly refuse to play their game and call Platinum "Tina" -- I kind of get it, it's a way of humanizing the Metal Man who wants to be human the most, but until Iron is "Ron", Mercury is "Merc", and Lead is "Eddie", "Tina" will always just be Platinum to me.

Surprisingly enough, the story opens with the Metal Men and Doc flooded by postcards -- due to overwhelming fan response, Doc is keeping his word and rebuilding Platinum. Naturally, Mercury is none too pleased about this, but to be honest he's not pleased about much. Doc flashes back to last issue's climax, where Platinum sacrificed herself to destroy the evil robot Doc she created and his nuclear Metal Man Plutonium. And you know what, the art (and even the words) for the flashback are all new; today they would have just been copied and pasted from the previous issue. 

This also sort of retcons the events slightly, as in this version the rocket makes it to the moon before Plutonium blows, as opposed to having him explode on the way. This is a significant detail, no doubt added so they could spin a larger story arc out of it. Also of note: Doc says that Platinum's tearful farewell to him "wrung [his] heart", which I think is pretty sweet. He might come around to her yet!

Back in the present, Tin is tearing up from the memory of losing Platinum, and Gold insists that Doc bring her back. Doc remarks "bringing Platinum back" would be an arduous task, and would first require the Metal Men to search the surface of the moon for traces of her. No, instead he'll simply create a new Platinum -- ideally, the one he set out to create in the first place, one with a personality more in line with the other Metal Men and who isn't in love with him.

However, the emotional reunion of the Metal Men and Platinum isn't quite what anyone expected -- she has no emotions except disdain, chiding the Metal Men for their sentimentality. Even Doc is taken aback at this; much as Platinum drove him crazy, he didn't want her to be cold and abrasive. And where the original Platinum loved Doc, this one thinks him a fool for creating such flawed robots.

She insists on being taken on a "trial run" so she can show off her capabilities, and expects Doc to scrap the existing Metal Men once he sees what she can do. Doc is still flabbergasted, stammering like Tin in the face of this new Platinum, but agrees to her suggestion. Mercury, the hothead whose relationship with Platinum has always been rocky, is naturally furious, and goes on an angry rant about the new Platinum as soon as she and Doc are out of earshot. I have to say, Mercury and Platinum are probably the Metal Men who are the easiest to write, as their personalities are both very "in-your-face". I think that's why at this early stage, they're getting all the big character moments. 

For once, other Metal Men share Mercury's concern, if not his anger -- Tin and Lead, despite Gold's assurances, are both worried that Platinum really will show them up and Doc will scrap them. Mercury's boiling anger is quelled as he's chilled by the thought.

One act break provided by ads later, the Metal Men watch Platinum and Doc from a camera feed in their waiting room, and see them board Doc's flying saucer. And, I'm just going to come out an say it, Platinum is a plain bitch; she treats Doc like absolute garbage. This comes to a head when Doc falls from the saucer over a large river, and Platinum doesn't try to catch him until he commands her to -- by the time her extended arms reach him, he's already underwater. However, she doesn't pull him up; he realizes that she just followed the command to catch him, and isn't going to do anything else. Vulcans, man. As his breath begins to run out, he's saved by Iron and Mercury, who followed Doc and Platinum in case something went wrong. 

Oh, and it looks like Doc has a couple saucers, because Lead, Gold, and Tin are waiting above the river to meet Iron and Mercury. However, they've run afoul of Platinum, who isn't willing to let anyone interfere with the orders Doc gave her.

This is probably going to teach Doc a lesson about appreciating Platinum as she was and not trying to make anything else of her, but I'm going to go ahead and guess that he's not going to do that when all is said and done. 

So Doc gets her to let everyone go and they all head back to the lab. Doc asks Platinum to jump down a chute, and she obliges, falling right into a smelting pool and melting away into nothing. I found this way, way too comical. Soon, the overjoyed Metal Men and Doc are headed for the moon to recover whatever they can of the real Platinum. So much happens in a Silver Age comic, jeez there's enough material in any one issue of Metal Men for five issues of a modern comic. 

So they go to the moon, find what they need, and return in the span of two pages, because it's the Silver Age. 

And Platinum's back! Doc still isn't crazy about her affection for him, but anything's better than the Platinum they had earlier this issue. So Platinum starts bugging Doc about cooking for him, because, again, Silver Age. He decides to let her, thinking if he indulges her she'll tire of acting like a human woman eventually. However, as she's frying up an egg, it stars growing and growing until it fills up the whole kitchen! Doc says it's an amoeba, and thinks they brought some unpredictable microorganisms back from the moon by mistake.

However, Lead can't hold up against the amoeba's onslaught (though I would blame that on his leaving a huge gap between the top of his wall and the ceiling), and nearly flattens the other Metal Men as he topples over. Lead is engulfed by the creature; Tin respects his sacrifice, and wishes he were capable of such bravery. This pattern repeats itself a few times, with a Metal Man trying to cover the others' escape but being absorbed by the amoeba, and Tin thinking about how he wants to be useful to the team.

The Metal Men, minus Lead, Iron, and Mercury, escape to one of Doc's saucers. However, the fiery jets used to take off cause the amoeba to a swarm of giant microorganisms. I'm just along for the ride at this point, there's not a lot I'm unwilling to accept. They're forced to herd them into a large canister (formed by Tin) and send them back to the moon using an experimental catapult spacecraft. The spaceship misses the moon, and Doc is forced to send the microorganisms (and Tin) into a cosmic ray storm, which will likely kill the creatures -- and Tin as well! Tin faces this fate with courage. Platinum calls him the bravest of them all as she and Doc head back for Earth.

See, this is a book that doesn't pull any punches. Ongoing story, frequent deaths of most of the main cast, it's really something apart from your standard superhero fare of the period. Obviously, the stakes aren't very high, because the Metal Men are robots and can be repaired or rebuilt, but this issue ended with Iron, Lead, and Mercury dead and Tin careening through space -- that's ballsy.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

It all started with the Big Bang! #1, part 2!

Future issues will probably just be one post, I'm getting into this "brevity" thing.

Alright, this is the first Knight Watchman story (in color at least). One thing I really like about the Knight Watchman is how well the earless, capeless Batman costume meshes with the knight theme. This story, naturally, is in the style of Dick Sprang -- it's credited to Tom King, as seen below, but that's the fake Big Bang universe version of Bob Kane.

The Quizmaster is, naturally, based on the Riddler, who if I'm remembering correctly was not quite as transparently inspired by the quiz show fad. As it happens, a plot very similar to this was used in a Riddler episode of the "The Batman" cartoon, though in that case it was Batman both in the chair and answering the questions.

We open at the Randall residence, where fashion mogul Reid Randall and his nephew Jerry (AKA the Knight Watchman and Kid Galahad) are sitting down to watch their favorite quiz show, "What Do You Know?". Oh, and Reid's mother is there, too, they all live together. Anyway, the episode features a special announcement: Kid Galahad will be a contestant on the next episode!
Man, they don't have to lay it on so thick. So, naturally, that guy is the Quizmaster. The next day, a local newspaper, the Midway City Monitor, receives a message from the Quizmaster, addressed to the Knight Watchman and Kid Galahad. Editor Frank Spaulding, who seems to know the heroes and have some direct line to them, contacts them immediately and passes the message on. The note says that if Kid Galahad goes through with his appearance on "What Do You Know?", the Quizmaster will humiliate him and reveal his and the Knight Watchman's secret identities.

The Knight Watchman's reaction is pretty sensible: he thinks this is either a prank or that the Quizmaster is just a loon, and that there's nothing to worry about. His balks at the Quizmaster's threat makes the front page of the Monitor, and are seen by the Quizmaster in his secret identity, that of quiz show writer Nestor Whitt. Whitt is enraged by the Knight Watchman dismissing his challenge, and vows that the world will learn to respect the questions of Nestor Whitt, the Quizmaster! Meanwhile, it turns out the Knight Watchman actually took the threat seriously after all, and was deliberately trying to draw the Quizmaster out.

Steranko, an artist best known for Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD, was also a noted escape artist. Oh, and, gee, I wonder if Kid Galahad's reading up on escapes is going to come in handy later when he's tied to an electric chair. So their "watch alerts", which are something like Jimmy Olsen's watch in reverse, start vibrating, and they head to their secret hideout the Watchtower. Whereas the Batcave is underneath Wayne Manor, the Watchtower is hidden in a water tower atop the building the Reids live in.

Mention is made of the pair's respective nicknames, the Twilight Paladin and the Kid Whiz. It takes dedication to go forward when the only equivalent of "Dark Knight" you can think of is "Twilight Paladin."
The police contact the pair via the Watchtower's radio, and inform them that businessman Vernon Macklan has been kidnapped and a note with a clue was addressed to them. 

I'm going to spare you the clue and the solution, they're both pretty painful. They find Macklan and rescue him, and leave without seeing the Quizmaster, making me wonder what the point of that all was. That night, they arrive at the TV studio for Kid Galahad's appearance on What Do You Know?, and are greeted by Nestor Whitt, who leads Kid Galahad into the dressing room and knocks him out with a huge hammer as soon as the Knight Watchman is out of earshot. Afterwards, he takes the Knight Watchman through a door to "Studio 3", which is really some vaguely-defined trap room that he can't escape from. 

Looking around, he can see Kid Galahad tied to an electric chair on a fake soundstage, with the Quizmaster at the center of it all. 

Kid Galahad obliquely yet covertly assures the Knight Watchman that he can escape from his bonds given time, so the Knight Watchman is willing to play along in order to buy him some time.

Naturally, this is all being filmed and broadcast in What Do You Know's regular timeslot, because the Quizmaster is starved for attention and all. The questions start, and I thought this was sort of cute

He can't dodge the next question so easily; when the Quizmaster asks who Kid Galahad really is, the Knight Watchman can only say that he's really his nephew. That's not enough for the Quizmaster, who point blank asks what their secret identities are... just before Kid Galahad has freed himself and tackles him, that is!

Incidentally, if you go to, panels from this story make up the background. True enough, it's a pretty solid signifier of the kind of thing Big Bang does.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Metal Men (part one of a hopefully to-be-ongoing series)

I think the Metal Men are just about one of the best teams in comics. This is a group that is just a team, and with few exceptions, is pretty static in terms of membership, moreso than even the Fantastic Four. I'm willing to concede that there aren't many team composition shuffles among, say, the Sea Devils, but come on, who cares about them?

More to the point, I find Silver Age Metal Men material (AKA most of the Metal Men stuff out there, period) to be even more uniquely charming than any other SA fare. Sure, a story where Superman is turned into a giant baby by red kryptonite is silly, but it wouldn't have the "heart" of the story I'm going to look at now: 1963's Metal Men #2, "Robots of Terror!"

One of the most endearing things about the Metal Men, in my opinion, is the fact that their earliest adventures  had two common themes: One, everyone but Platinum usually dies only to be rebuilt almost immediately. And Two, the stories went out of their way to feed you fun facts about the metals our heroes are made of -- take, for instance, this scene from Metal Men #1, which ably displays both of the things I'm talking about.

Look for all of that in this issue, because you're totally going to see it. If you're wondering why I'm not looking at #1 in detail, it's because despite the Missile Men being pretty ridiculous villains, I found it kind of dull. 

Can I just say, I like the "first page is another angle of the cover" thing. Oh, and as alluded to on the cover, this is clearly all Platinum's fault. Platinum is head over heels for Doc Magnus, who rewards her affection with open, seething hostility. So the story opens with the Metal Men, namely Platinum, helping a little girl's cat out of a tree. Mercury calls her a show-off, but gets burned by Platinum. Suddenly, gunfire erupts from the street, as what Tin describes as a "gangster car" tries to make a getaway. Tin turns into a sheet and rushes at the car, apparently trying to obstruct the driver's view or something, but gets shot full of holes by the passengers. Iron saves the day by turning into a wall. Mercury, again, tries to undermine his compatriot's accomplishments. Iron takes Tin back to Doc's lab for recovery. But it's not long before another crisis arises!

Real quick, I just want to say that this early in the series, the Metal Men's personalities weren't as distinct as they would get later.  Mercury's an arrogant hothead, Platinum's a needy flirt, and Tin's a stammering coward, but Iron, Lead, and Gold wouldn't come into their own for a few issues. I can't wait for Lead to turn into the lovable oaf who can't complete a sentence without saying "Uhh..." a few times.

Lead diffuses a busted power line before it can hurt anyone. See what I was saying about the real properties of metals? Not that I mind, it's one of those things that gives it the charm I was talking about. Anyway, yet another problem comes up -- a man's daughter is trapped inside a vault! It has an emergency "inside lock", but the girl doesn't know the combination and can't hear anything form outside. Mercury finally gets his time to shine, slipping through the cracks (so to speak) and enters the inside combination. Afterwards, Mercury is feeling pretty full of himself, and mocks Gold for not doing anything all day. Lead, of all people, agrees; I didn't really take him as the the type to talk back to authority. Gold says it's not important which of them helps somebody, as long as one of them does. "Doc invented us for service, not cheers!"

So the Metal Men arrive at a hospital, where they meet an old friend of Doc's, Col. Caspar, and Caspar's niece Jane. Jane has gotten over some injury recently and is afraid to walk, and, uh... I think this speaks for itself.

That's certainly special. It's not just me, right, that's a ridiculous scene? Gold's unique power is apparently that he looks cool and people have a special reverence for him, which is true I guess, I think his relative malleability for a metal is a little more significant, isn't it?

So we get to the real story of the issue, which is about Platinum, her love of Doc Magnus, and Magnus' dismissive attitude towards women. Platinum is of course the only female member of the team, though a 2008 miniseries would introduce Copper as a second one. I just wanted to mention that Copper fits in perfectly with the group and could have easily been an original member. Moving on.

Apropos of nada, we're at Doc's lab, where Platinum is bothering him as usual. She wants to "borrow some of his magic" and create a string of inventions to impress him. He rebuffs her, she starts crying (Doc invented robots that cry I guess)' this is how a lot of their interactions go. Tin is repaired, but Platinum is still trying to put the moves on Doc, saying she learned to dance from watching TV. Suddenly, a woman appears, asking Doc if he's ready for their date. As Doc leaves, a teary-eyed Platinum turns to his books, determined to win his heart by appealing to his intellectual side


And, as I'm sure you've no doubt guessed, the result was, bafflingly, a robotic Doc Magnus who loves Platinum. It looks identical to the real Doc. Robot Doc takes Platinum on a night on the town, but something's wrong -- he's kind of an asshole! He carelessly knocks people over dancing, and flies Doc's flying saucer like he's got a death wish. Platinum objects to his behavior, but can't stay mad at the love of her life (or a robot version of him, at least.) Not to be crass, but I think programming a Doc robot was clearly a step too far -- a Doc dummy would have served Platinum's purposes better.

They head back to the lab, where robot Doc says he has a surprise waiting for Platinum. Or, he will -- he needs time to work on it and tells Platinum to go chill with the other Metal Men for a while. Soon, he reveals his surprise: a new group of Metal Men!

I have to wonder if these guys could look more forthrightly villainous. Or, with the exception of Plutonium and maybe Aluminum, be more boring metals. So Iron realizes this Doc is a fake, and that's where things start going downhill: Robot Doc and his Metal Men become hostile, as he commands Sodium to "fizz them to death!" while he escapes with Platinum. Sodium releases a torrent of explosive liquid, which is what the Metal Men are struggling to contain on the cover. Platinum realizes that a momentary power outage during her creation of the robot Doc must have messed up his personality and made him evil.

The real Doc gets in touch with the Metal Men and hurries back to the lab, abandoning his date. He advises Tin to contain the sodium pool and the rest to give chase to Robot Doc before anything happens to Platinum. Doc's date, Marsha, is furious that he's leaving her to play with his robots, and particularly that he's so concerned about Platinum, and vows never to speak to him again. Doc admits that he does care about Platinum quite a bit -- as one of his robot creations, she's invaluable!

Unlike what was depicted on the cover, Tin easily contains the sodium stuff by himself. Man, you know what would have made for a better cover? A crazy Doc endangering himself and Platinum by flying like a maniac. Anyway, Mercury stretches toward the fleeing Robo-Doc and his evil Metal Men, determined to save Platinum. However, he first has to contend with Aluminum, and what comes to pass is something I find even more ridiculous than the gold carpet thing from earlier.

That's both the ultimate expression of "psuedo educationally spouting the properties of the various metals", and a ridiculous stretch of that idea -- being used in aircraft isn't a property of Aluminum, it's a use of it. Anyway, Aluminum turns into a propeller, cutting the liquid Mercury to ribbons. However, Aluminum comes out of the equation bent out of shape himself and just as unable to continue.

So Robo-Doc is headed for the flying saucer, and thereafter for a rocket primed for launch, and has designs on world domination. The rest of this is basically the "what are the new Metal Men used for" circus -- Zirconium takes care of Lead by blinding him with a flash of light, as he's used to make flashbulbs, for instance. Gold is taken out by Barium's explosive fire powers, based on his use in fireworks, etc. In each case, the attacking evil Metal Man and his victim are both incapacitated, until only Robo-Doc, Plutonium, and Platinum remain.

Then the real Doc shows up with a formation of bomber planes (!), telling Platinum to get away any way she can before his bombing group levels the launchpad. That seems a little excessive if you're just after one crazed robot (or two, I guess, he still has Plutonium). In fact, Robo-Doc is counting on Plutonium as his insurance against such an attack -- Plutonium is essentially a walking A-Bomb, and nobody would risk setting him off. Doc, who is only hearing about this now, calls off the bombing for just that reason.

Yikes. Realizing the depth of Robo-Doc's insanity, Platinum decides to stop being a helpless damsel and take matters into her own hands. She turns into thin wire, tying up Robo-Doc and Plutonium and tethering them to the rocket. Robo-Doc activates Plutonium, who is due to explode any minute, but Platinum planned for that -- using remote controls to launch the rocket, she has all three of them hurtling towards the moon, where Plutonium's explosion can't hurt anybody (or at least, anybody human). Doc witnesses her heroism and, with very real concern, begs her to let go of the rocket before it's too late. She insists on staying to the end -- it's what a real girl would do!

Plutonium explodes before they reach the moon, but after they're out of the atmosphere, taking Platinum and Robo-Doc with him. I thought this was sort of moving, but...

Oh, yeah, that's nice and appropriate, sure. Is this a sales grab? Were people complaining about Platinum? I don't even know, man. Platinum would return to the Metal Men in the next issue -- evidently response was pretty overwhelming. I don't think the Metal Men "work" without Platinum, any more than they would without any of the others.

Anyway, that's the Metal Men. Being one of my favorite teams and some of my favorite characters in general, I'm probably going to write about just about every series of theirs sooner or later. The hamfisted science lessons of early Silver Age Metal Men material is never going to get old, nor will the distinct personalities of the Metal Men themselves.

 If you want me to revisit the Metal Men, drop a comment only!