Friday, February 21, 2014

The Senses-Shattering Saga of the Metal Men! Special Edition -- Justice League #28

I figured this would be a great way to get back into the Metal Men groove -- with the first New 52 appearance of the team. Being a Geoff Johns joint, I'm going to try to rein in any inherent negative bias and take a look at this in the most impartial way possible.

The story opens during Forever Evil; Cyborg is consulting Dr. Will Magnus about bringing the Metal Men in to fight the Syndicate and save humanity. Doc isn't sure about this plan, and a flashback to six months ago tells us why...

In some military complex, a general and the Secretary of Defense are picking on the misanthropic agoraphobe Doc, a twentysomething super genius who hates human contact and thinks robots are cool because they're so logical and obedient. He refuses to talk to them or let them into his lab because this is the start of his character arc and that means he has no redeeming qualities yet.

Doc goes about his business, finally ready to put the finishing touches on his Metal Men. He dips the responsometers he developed into vats of pure metals, and what comes out is... surprisingly emotional and full of personality.

The Metal Men are basically the exact same characters they've always been, except for tweaks to Platinum (getting to that in a minute) and Gold. Gold, who I think we can all agree was a rather flat character before, is here characterized as narcissistic and uber-confident. He gave himself hair, for crying out loud. His status as the leader is justified by having him appoint himself to the position, reasoning that he should be in charge because gold is obviously the best metal. Not 100% sold on this, but I don't hate it. Anyway, the rest are very much recognizable -- Tin stammers, Lead is dim and speaks haltingly, etc.

They even do the "talking about the properties of their metal" thing from their earliest appearances. Oh, and I give special mention to Iron, whose personality is the same as ever but comes on a lot stronger

That left panel was like 3/4 of the page before I cut it down, practially a full body shot, just in case you couldn't tell what she was getting at. Two awesome things about the new Platinum: 1. She clearly likes Doc but isn't a goddamn lunatic about it or anything 2. She's called "Platinum". I always hated the nickname "Tina", I mean really. Doc is baffled by all the emotions, unique personalities, and distinct physical appearances the Metal Men exhibit -- this wasn't part of the plan at all. He eventually lashes out and gives us an old-Doc chestnut: "You're robots, you can't feel anything!"

Things go downhill from there; Doc quickly reconciles with the Metal Men but his military employers bust in and demand he fork them over. When it's clear that the military wants to use them as assassins instead of rescue workers, they bust a move and get out of there, only to resurface in Doc's apartment. And then Chemo shows up.

As Do says, Chemo was created with a stolen prototype responsometer. It's not clear who was behind this, but they clearly knew about Doc's work so it was likely someone at the military compound. The Metal Men burst into action immediately, focusing their efforts solely on clearing the area of civilians before anything else. Ultimately, they rely on a Metal Men classic strategy -- a suicide attack -- to take care of the menace.

Doc was touched by the selflessness of their actions - they saved a lot of people from Chemo without ever considering their own safety, and gave their lives to bring an end to Chemo's rampage. In the present, Cyborg pushes Doc about his reasons for not wanting to bring them back -- in the brief time he'd known the Metal Men, Doc had come to care about them, and he isn't willing to lose them again.

I think that's pretty cool; old Doc usually didn't think much of popping everybody into the Metal Recovery Chamber, though the Metal Men themselves tended to act as though every death was final. Anyway, Cyborg manages to convince him to help out because it's what the Metal Men would want.

All told, I'm very happy with the New 52 incarnation of the Metal Men. They're all essentially the exact same characters (except Gold, who let's face it didn't have much of a character in the first place), they do the same things, act the same way, and have the same relationships with one another. The new Doc grated on me at first because I thought he'd stay the misanthropic asshole he was at the start, but we ended up with a version of Doc who thinks of the Metal Men as his only friends and family, who cried when they sacrificed themselves to stop Chemo. In a lot of ways I think it improves on the group as previously depicted -- Platinum seems interested in Doc but is absolutely not a weirdo about it, for instance, and while I admit I'm not crazy about Gold the preening narcissist it's better than the dull "standard sci-fi hero" personality he had before.

I could go on forever -- this incarnation of the Metal Men is the best yet. It's very faithful to everything I loved about the Silver Age version, with all the stupid parts (Crazy Platinum, the nickname "Tina", Doc's awful treatment of Platinum, Doc's paternal detachment from the group, boring Gold, and, most of all, 'Nameless') surgically removed. I'm very surprised at just how much I enjoyed this issue, and I really love what Johns and Reis did with these characters. I know Geoff Johns isn't much-beloved these days, but after this and his great Aquaman run, I'm reconsidering hating him so much. Reconsidering.

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