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My Own Boiling Point Is 56.7 Degrees Celsius

October 7th, 2007

In the ’60s, we got to the moon by flying through a PICTURE of the moon.

While my love of so-called “Silver Age” (1956-69 or thereabouts) DC Comics remains unabated, I have to admit that in rediscovering them through the massive reprint volumes known as Showcase Presents I’ve found that all too often, they…well, let’s just say that they’re not quite as good as I remembered.

Must be a Russian robot.

The Showcase books, which reprint entire runs of comics in chronological order, aren’t necessarily the ideal format for these stories. Consuming issue after issue in one go rather than waiting a month or two for the next installment highlights their repetitive and formulaic nature.

Submitted in support is the most recent volume, featuring the Metal Men. This unusual super-team debuted in 1962, in issue #37 of the original Showcase title. Showcase (no “Presents” back then) was a book which tried out new characters and concepts, with the most popular given their own titles. “Metal Men” was originally intended as a mere fill-in story, but the heroes were so well-received that they appeared in four issues before spinning off into a bimonthly series which ran for another seven years.

Lead became so concerned over his atomic weight that he developed an atomic eating disorder.

The Metal Men were robots created by the brilliant Doc Magnus, each a shape-shifting humanoid endowed with the properties (and anthropomorphized personality) of a metallic element: noble Gold, strong man Iron, slow-moving Lead, hot-headed Mercury, weakling Tin, and beautiful Platinum, the latter the only female in the band.

Look, I said it was the ’60s.

It was established from the beginning that the effectiveness of the Metal Men as superheroes stemmed from their imperfections. The “responsometers” that governed their actions left them with human-like emotions, ironically making them better at their job than mere robots would have been. On several occasions, Doc built duplicate Metal Men without this flaw, and the dopplegangers inevitably proved a danger to others.

Platinum (aka Tina) got the worst of it, exhibiting stereotypically “female” behaviors as only a ’60s comic book writer could envision them. While the other Metal Men were loyal to their creator, Tina was in love with Doc, and said so…constantly. Doc had to keep reminding her that she was “only a robot.”

Get used to this line of conversation. It’ll come up again.

As I mentioned, comics of this period frequently repeated themselves, often for the benefit of new readers. You could bet that most of the following would occur in any given Metal Men story:

  • Mercury would arrogantly declare that he was the only metal that was liquid at room temperature.
  • Doc would tell Tina that she was not a woman, and that she should behave like a robot.
  • The Metal Men would announce their respective atomic weights and/or boiling points. DC Comics were scientific like that.
  • Tin would fret about his uselessness, then rush the latest menace in a foolhardy and ultimately futile gesture. (Each time he met another pathetic fate, the other Metal Men commented on his bravery. To them, it seemed that “bravery” was expressed as pathological, self-loathing suicide.)
  • Tina would act like an unpredictable woman, forcing Doc to remind her that she was, in fact, not one.
  • One or more of the Metal Men would die horribly, to be rebuilt in a later issue. (The very first story killed off the entire team.)
  • Did I mention that Tina was really a robot? And not a girl?

Just another day at the office for Tin.

The Doc and Tina relationship got pretty sick. Doc kept promising to ship her off to the Museum of Science (or, as I prefer, Museum of SCIENCE!!!). This he eventually did, but they sent her back because the patrons complained.

Museum goers are a tough crowd.

That’s because the Museum of SCIENCE!!!, when gifted with a metamorphic, self-aware work of unparalleled genius–which could stretch itself thinner than a human hair and was capable of pleasuring others in ways of which human women had never dreamed–could think of nothing better to do with it than to lock it in a glass coffin and demand it to stand very, very still. And they were dissatisfied when it began to mope.

I can hear the families now:

“Mommy! That robot lady is crying!”

“Well, naturally, Jenny. She’s a sentient being put on eternal display in an enclosure slightly larger than herself. Now, eat your ice cream while you appreciate her endless, living hell.”

I know that rationality was not the order of the day here, but it occurred to me that if one was a scientist who had committed to donating one’s fabulous platinum robot to the Museum of SCIENCE!!!–and had, in a previous story, built a second model without those pesky human behavioral traits–one would really be an asshat to give them the crying one.

That’s Doc Magnus, inventor and asshat.

Only 37 more times. This issue.

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