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Monday, 19 September 2011

Metal Men

Writer and Artist: Duncan Rouleau
Story based on ideas by: Grant Morrison
Colors: Moose Baumann and Pete Pantazis
Letterer: Pat Brosseau
Publisher: DC Comics

What’s it about?
This trade paperback collects the eight issues of the 2007-08 Metal Men mini-series.

The Metal Men are a rather obscure team of DC Comics characters. They were originally conceived as a super team of intelligent robots fighting other robotic menaces under the guidance of their creator Doctor Will Magnus during the Silver Age of comics.
They sort of fell under the radar over the years, that is until after the big Crisis when DC decided to revamp  various old concepts. By giving several of its proprieties a test run to see which characters could support a book in the then-modern market. (amongst others, The Martian Manhunter, Angel & The Ape or even Green Arrow were given a mini-series with only a handful of them ending up with a regular on-going series)
The Metal Men were then reimagined as fellow scientist (and friends) of Doc. Magnus turned into robots in a freak accident. But the concept sort of felt odd, turning these robots into cheap knock-offs of the Fantastic Four or the Doom Patrol.

After that, they weren't much seen anymore for a decade, besides little apperances here and there in other DC books or events.

That is were writer Grant Morrison comes in.
During DC's big yearly story arc 52, narrating a missing year from the perspective of "B and C-lister" type of characters, Morrison decided to give a sub-plot to DC's evil scientists on the imaginary island of Oolong Island. A story in which the Metal Men creator Magnus was abducted by the evil Chang Tzu and forced to work on some top secret projects.
After that, Morrison wanted to write a mini-series which would have seen the return of the Metal Men, based upong Magnus' experience from 52 and building up on his own development in that story.

Finally, Morrison stepping out for other projects (his work on Batman) DC gave the greenlight for this idea and it was creator Duncan Rouleau who took creative control as both writer and artist for this Metal Men book.

"Metal Men" is both a continuation of Will Magnus as seen in 52 and a reimagining of these characters' origin story.
What is good about it?
First of all, let me just say I love Duncan Rouleau's artistic aesthetics.
The whole book as a very hi-tech look. Both in the story telling and the way the comic looks.
Being both the artist and the writer on this mini, he was able to really tell the story as he needed it. The layouts were specially designed around the story and vice versa.

The story isn't linear either. It jumps back and forth around the present and the past.

Flashback sequence

It follows pretty closely the old Silver Age origin of this team of metallic heroes, establishing a new sideplot as well as clarifying the way the Metal Men came to be.
The story follows closely Will Magnus, as he created with the help of his lovely assistant and love Helen Garin these early protypes of AI. With the help of an ancient mysterious artifact, Magnus was able to build his robots articial minds and hearts called Responsometers.

The story moves to the present as Magnus is trying to make a living by offering people the help of his robotic crew, facing giant mechanical menaces and more every day.

The story does a great job of showcasing the various upgrades and updates of these robots over the years, from simple robot puppets to the current incarnations.

Science is also a big part of the charm of Metal Men adventures, and this book is no different in that regards. The team is composed of Metal Men representing only pure "base" metals (there's no transition metal on the team).
Though there's some "playing around" with physics in the story, as the group is turned into radioactive elements nearby in the Periodic table.

The paperback also features an introduction by Dr. Christopher Webster - Senior scientist at Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
It is a nice look at robotics and technology, the comic books as world where dreams can be true... since human's progress aren't ready to catch up any time soon...

What is bad about it?

Well, as much as I liked the very hi-tech look of the book, I know from fact it is also something some people might have a problem with.
It might look a bit too complicated to follow. Specially on the pages more charged in text. It's like watching a big explosion of metals, with shiny colors and bits and pieces going everywhere around the breakdowns of the pages.

Example of layout and text heavy composition

Also, even as it drops complex ideas like the humans composing the Metal Men's personas (from the early 90s mini-series) and goes back to a more "back to basis" approach for them instead, it does keep pretty abstract and purely comic book concepts like time travel.
Will Magnus' brother and T.O. Morrow are showing travelling around time to prevent the Metal Men's creation to avoid some prophecy to come to life.

The book also makes several connections and references to other DC Comics concept making this one a pretty difficult entry point to newcomers. For example, the Metal Men face against a team composed of earlier DCU robots such as the Justice League International's own L-Ron and a Manhunter (from the late 80s crossover Millennium). These nods to the past, which I liked personally, ground the Metal Men in the middle of the DCU but might prove to be a barrier for new readers.

Finally, the redesigns of the Metal Men might not be everyone's taste.
Including the addition of a new female member, Copper!
(like I said above, some will like the art of Duncan Rouleau, others not that much...)

What’s the art like?
The art is very modern.
It gives the book and the characters a very hi-tech look, like I said above. The robots look splendid!
The colors are well used to reflect the mood or the tone of the settings. Meaning scenes taking place in the past make use of a different palette, almost sepia.

While the future while have lots of gradients, lots of contrasts. Almost surreal...

The look of the book is pretty well represented in the various covers Duncan Rouleau did for the mini.
Beautiful concept covers,  representing the issue's nomber..

Other information
Metal Men
200 pg Color Softcover
Priced at approximately £8.25
ISBN: 978-1401222123

I did another review of this book on my own blog, which can be seen as another take here:
CBR Metal Men

If you liked the characters, which were reintroduced first in Superman / Batman #34-36 alongside new member Copper (though the events in that story take place after this mini, with Gold needing to be rebuilt lacking a robot body - gold being quite an expensive metal), don't miss out their following adventures collected in:
DC COMICS PRESENTS: METAL MEN #1 - a mini-series published originally as a back-up feature in Doom Patrol issues. Under JLI's classic creative team of writers Keith Giffen and J.M.DeMatteis, penned by artist Kevin Maguire.
The classic original issues are also collected in these collections:
Metal Men Volume 1 (Showcase Presents)
Metal Men Volume 2 (Showcase Presents)

And you can also follow Magnus (sans Metal Men) on the pages of 52:
52 Vol. 1
52 Vol. 2
52 Vol. 3
52 Vol. 4

And as for Duncan Rouleau, there's plenty of comics based around his famous cartoon series Ben 10 (co-created and designed by Rouleau), such as:
Washington B.C.
Or there's also an original Graphic Novel illustrated by Rouleau:
The Nightmarist - published by Active Images in 2006, it's aimed at a more mature audience though.

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