METAL MEN #9 - The FIRST Quirky Team?

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Chuck Gower

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METAL MEN #9 - The FIRST Quirky Team?

I'll be quite honest. I wan't really all that familiar with the Metal Men. But the research has been fun and I've learned a lot.

And the issue I've read here (#9) was entertaining. These days, for $1 you can't beat it.

 

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(METAL MEN #9 - Cover Dated Aug/Sept 1964 - on Newsstands June 25, 1964 - cover art by Ross Andru)

 

Many might think the Metal Men were some kind of rip off of the X-Men or the Marvel ‘team’ concept in general, as they’re a quirky group of misfits with a behind the scenes mentor (ala Professor X) - but the truth is, the Metal Men pre-dates the X-Men by a year and a half!

(Not to get off specifics too much here, but it’s actually the Doom Patrol, who it is rumored to have been put together, based upon inside information on Marvel’s upcoming X-Men series (or was it the other way around?). It (Doom Patrol in My Greatest Adventure #80) debuted on newsstands April 18, 1963, while the X-Men showed up almost three months later on July 2nd, 1963. So who copied who?)

 

Okay, let's stay on course here. The Metal Men. First appearing in Showcase #37 (on newsstands January 30th, 1962), you have to figure, at the time when letters pages printed letters from 3-4 months earlier, that the first appearance was written sometime in September 1961. That means that realistically the concept predates all but the first issue of the Fantastic Four. (FF#2 hit newsstands on September 28, 1961). 

So are the Metal Men the first quirky, off-beat team?

Sure, the Fantastic Four bickered and had issues with one another, but primarily they were a pretty straight forward Alpha Male team - The Big Brain, the Big Muscle, the Hot Shot Teenager, rounded out with the hot, girl next door babe. The Metal Men were kinda goofy. Quirky. They argued too. They gave each other grief. And like the X-Men, they had a behind the scenes 'handler' in Dr. Magnus. 

So did Marvel really innovate... or again rip off and duplicate, as they had for many years?

 

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(METAL MEN #9 - on Newsstands June 25, 1964 - art by Ross Andru)

 

Created by writer Robert Kanigher and artist Ross Andru, the Metal Men were a successful 2nd tier series for DC Comics that saw them peak in the mid 60's (#12 in 1966) but falter later in the decade and eventually get canceled and mostly disappear for two decades. Jack Kirby, who with Stan Lee, was starting up the Fantastic Four at the same time, had come from DC a few years earlier where he'd made a splash with his 'Challengers of the Unknown'. (Which influenced half the Marvel Universe in the beginning).

But I don't remember the Challengers joking around like the Metal Men are doing here, or even having the snappy bickering of the FF, so I may need to read some more Kanigher stuff from earlier in the era to get a better idea of when this started. The catalyst for all of it still seems to be Kirby to some degree and certainly Stan Lee deserves his credit for ideas, editorial structure and promotion, but... there are others who contributed to this change in the way comics were presented, even at boring old DC Comics of the time.

Here in issue #9 of the Metal Men series, the second part of the storyline 'The Playground of Terror', called 'The Robot Juggernaut!', Kanigher and Andru have the team bickering and falling over backward to get their act together while taking on a giant robot. 

This is the type of behavior that history tries to tell us that only Marvel did, but obviously, that isn't true.

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(METAL MEN #9 - on Newsstands June 25, 1964 - art by Ross Andru)

 

So why doesn't it work with Metal Men for me?

When the Russians beat the United States into space in the 1957, our government looked around and saw a nation of rural, uneducated workers. They set about to push education with an emphasis on math, science, reading, etc. By the mid 60's, what you had was a higher educated American than 10 years earlier, and as such, their need for reading that matched their skill level had gone up. 

Not that Metal men is dumb... it's NOT. Robert Kanigher's --script here seems to include information about actual metals and science, on top of having a sense of humor about it that certainly made it a bit more 'hip' than Superman Comics, for sure. But Kirby's street smart New York wise guy thing mixed with Stan Lee's hipster cool made Marvel Comics more contemporary. More knowing. More now (or rather THEN). 

A lot of DC Comics, even this issue of Metal Men, seem written more for smarter young people. Marvel seemed to be written for an altogether older audience.

 

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(METAL MEN #9 - on Newsstands June 25, 1964 - art by Ross Andru)

 

And if I had been 13 years old in 1966 (I was 3), I probably would've thought this comic was awesome. Which is ok, in that it seems to be geared toward a younger reader, DC's success during this time dwarfed Marvel. It would eventually catch up to DC by 1970 as Marvel's continued stories, human characters, social commentary (observed mostly as opposed to preached) and rabid, college fan base would eclipse them as the #1 publisher of comics.

 

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(METAL MEN #9 - on Newsstands June 25, 1964 - art by Ross Andru)

 

I mean, even though these characters joke around and seem to have human characteristics... the truth is, they're robots. It just doesn't register with ME, the way Peter Parker/Spider-man did (one of the few comics I would remain reading into my post teen years).

Once again... it's not BAD. It's moderately entertaining. Just not the kind of thing that makes me want to track down back issues, get a subscription, and follow for the rest of my life. That's just my own personal opinion - believe me, there are plenty of lame azz comics I follow from when I was young that someone else probably thinks stink.

 

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(METAL MEN #9 - on Newsstands June 25, 1964 - art by Ross Andru)

 

And it's weird, but Ross Andru's art here just doesn't move me. I grew up with him as the regular artist on the Amazing Spider-man, so naturally I love his style from it - and I see traces of it here - it's just 10 years earlier in his career. Once again, not picking on Metal Men, but the thing I loved about Ross' art that isn't here (and wouldn't fit here) is his specific detail of New York City that he brought to Spider-man and his amazing (see what I did there) sense of vertigo he gave to Spider-man's interaction from it.

Ross Andru is either loved or hated, and his Spider-man work especially so, but few people brought an almost photo realism to Spidey zipping through recognizable New York City like HE did. The camera angles, the perspective.... go back and look, it's really under valued in its style. Here... it's just a bit more DC. I mean, this is from 1964. We were still 3 years away from Neal Adams drawing for DC and changing how we thought things should look.

Andru's work here is functional and cartoony - which is ok, I like cartoony - I just want it to be more than that. Marvel had a way of keeping the sense of humor without making it a silly, almost parody-like story, but rather the opposite - a serious 'the world really IS ending' with a Ben Grimm saying, "What a revoltin' development!" Yet you never veered off course from thinking the action was... taken seriously. 

Here... not so much.

Once again, it's an enjoyable little story for what it's about. It's fun. It's not meant to scare you. I just have to adjust my expectations for when I pick up some of these Silver Age DC books. Which again, is ok. I can learn to love it for what it is. I read Romance comics for god's sake.

 

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(METAL MEN #9 - on Newsstands June 25, 1964 - art by Ross Andru)

That ending blurb sounds almost like Stan Lee, BEFORE he became Stan 'the Man' Lee with Marvel. Remember, this story is right around the 2nd-3rd issue of the FF!

 

 

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I just got done reading this issue of Action Comics, which made me curious about the Metal Men, and reminded me to check out your journal entry!

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A fun little story that displays all the personality traits of the Metal Men.

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Dr. Magnus seems irritated all the time. 
 

Thank you for writing this entry!

 

Edited by Brandon Shepherd

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