Tuesday, November 1, 2016
MYTHCOMICS: METAL MEN #21: "THE METAL MEN VS. THE PLASTIC PERILS" (1966)
In this essay I noted that DC writer-editor Robert Kanigher tended to toss off super-science concepts with little or no consistency, in contrast to contemporaries like John Broome and Gardner Fox. That said, Kanigher wasn't incapable of emulating some aspects of the "science-nerd" comics-schtick, so that he did sometimes produce moderately complex cosmological myths. METAL MEN, which was his own creation, sometimes benefited from a bit more creativity than, say, WONDER WOMAN, which was almost certainly nothing but a job to him.
The Metal Men concept, for those who may not know, concerned a team of robots, whom genius "Doc" Magnus invented for the purpose of their fighting crime. Each of the original six robots was supposedly constructed of just one metal-- respectively, Lead, Gold, Iron, Mercury, Gold, and Tin-- although at one point Kanigher introduced a second Tin robot into the mix, about whom the less said, the better. All of the robots, instead of being obedient automatons as their creator desired, had human personalities, albeit rather one-note ones. Gold was a "noble" leader, Iron was a tough guy, Lead was slow-witted, Tin was bashful, Mercury was conceited, and Platinum-- the only one to merit a human-like nickname, "Tina"-- was eternally in love with her own creator: a situation that Kanigher never tired of comparing to the Pygmalion/Galatea myth. The stories sometimes incorporated scientific or pseudo-scientific trivia into the stories, though Kanigher never let science stop him from spinning wild yarns about giant centaurs or balloon men.
This 1966 story, "The Metal men vs. the Plastic Perils" is one of the few times Kanigher stuck fairly close to a given myth-theme. In this case it was the basic idea of opposing the hero's power against something with opposing characteristics. Thus, when the heroes meet the "Plastic Perils"-- a bunch of mindless plastic androids who do the bidding of criminal scientist Professor Bravo-- the android-maker boasts that, "The age of metals has passed! You haven't a chance against plastics!"
Some plastics can multiply under pressure, says Bravo, which sounds like pretty dubious pseudo-science, even for a kid's comic. But at least there's some indication that Kanigher might have done a little research, as when he traps Tin and his female partner in a plexiglass prison, a.k.a. methacrylate:
Not surprisingly, after Bravo taunts the robot-heroes for most of the comic about their lack of scientific knowledge, they get some book-larnin' and decide that their strength as metals is that they can resist heat a lot better than plastics can. They melt the plastic perils and give Bravo a butt-scalding for good measure.
In addition to the cosmological myths in the forefront, there's a minor metaphysical one that Kanigher had used in many comics prior to this one. He liked to pretend that the Metal Men were real characters who just happened to see their adventures published in comic books, so in #21 the writer even has the heroes read fan mail, telling them to fight fewer robot-menaces. Kanigher has fun with the Metal Men being self-conscious about being "in a rut," to the extent that they visit other cities looking for human crooks, only to see other DC crusaders going their crimefighting thing: Flash, Batman, and Wonder Woman (all character whom Kanigher had scripted). In addition to subverting fans' demands with this story, Kanigher also subverts-- though not with much wit-- the idea of the mad scientist, as the plastic-making professor claims, "I'm not even a real professor! I gave myself the name out of a book! I learned everything I know out of science books!" Not unlike a writer, rushing to brush up on his basic science-factoids...