REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS METAL MAN MERCURY
I've found it both interesting and enjoyable to discover that Mattel's superb line of DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figures is willing to present us with characters from some of DC's assorted special teams, that perhaps otherwise wouldn't see that much of the limelight. We've had two members of the Doom Patrol thus far, in the form of Robotman and Negative Man, as well as two members of the Metal Men, with Iron coming out a while back, and Gold being part of the Walmart exclusive Wave 14. A third Metal Man, Mercury, has just been introduced within Wave 16 of the line.
Let's consider the history of the Metal Men, with a little help from some online research. They are a team of robotic superheroes, created by writer Robert Kanigher, and first illustrated by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. They first appeared in Showcase #37-40, in 1962, as part of a four-issue story created as a last-minute filler feature. They proved unexpectedly popular and the characters were revived for more stories under their own title. Reviving them is relatively easy given their robotic nature, and it's not uncommon for them to be destroyed and then reconstructed, often in the same story.
The Metal Men were presented as advanced artificially intelligent robots, created by scientist Dr. Will Magnus, or "Doc Magnus", as he is better known. Magnus states that their intelligence and personalities are generated by devices called "responsometers". They mirror characteristics commonly associated with their namesake metals, both in personality and substance. According to some accounts the Metal Men are actually composed of various metals, while in others, they are made of a chemical substance that can duplicate the properties of a specific metal as determined by the programming of their individual responsometer.
The team consists of their field leader Gold, strong man Iron, slow-witted Lead, insecure Tin, hot-headed Mercury - notably for being the only metal that is liquid at room temperature, and Platinum, the female member of the team, sometimes nicknamed Tina.
While all of the Metal Men are basically shapeshifters, each of them has additional abilities that reflected the traits of their namesake. Gold is able to stretch his body almost infinitely. Iron is super-strong. Lead can block harmful radiation. Mercury can readily melt and reform himself through small spaces, or over vast distances. Platinum can stretch and flatten herself, usually into coils of thin strands. Tin usually acts as a small container, or "can".
On several occasions, Magnus constructed new robots of different metals such as Uranium, Silver, Cobalt, Chromium, and others, but these always ended up on the scrap heap for one reason or another.
The Metal Men had a rather broken run of sixty issues of their own comic book title. The first 41 issues began in 1963 and ended in 1970. As part of DC's company-wide effort to include more "hip" and "relevant" plots, issue #33 changed the focus of the Metal Men saga. Doc Magnus fell into a coma after being injured, and the Metal Men found themselves being hunted by the authorities after faulty responsometers were installed. When these changes resulted in a massive sales drop for the title, a second-retooling was implemented which saw each Metal Man assume a human identity, and they were given the task of apprehending Doc Magnus, who had become a fugitive after being kidnapped, awakened from his coma, and brainwashed by a mad dictator, turning him into a scientist dedicated to global conquest. Sales took an even more severe dive, and the series was canceled after issue #41.
I've said it countless times -- there are aspects of the pop culture world, both in comics and toys, that really need to learn the axiom, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it..."
The Metal Men reappeared in 1973, with art by Walt Simonson, and stories by various writers. Doc Magnus' sanity is restored and he once again joined his robot creations. The comic's publication run ended with #56 in 1978 when, despite acceptable sales, the book fell victim to the notorious "DC Implosion", which saw a great many titles canceled abruptly.
The Metal Men would guest-star in various titles in the ensuing years, notably "Brave and the Bold" alongside Batman, and occasionally in "DC Comics Presents" with Superman.
A four-book mini-series was printed in 1993, that presented a rather different origin for the characters. Here, it was explained that the Metal Men carried the intellects and personalities of various real-life friends and family of Doc Magnus, who had been transferred into blank robots in a laboratory mishap, rather than being artificially generated by responsometers. In the course of the mini-series, Gold was destroyed, and Doc Magnus mortally wounded. He transferred his personality into a blank robot known as Veridium, made of a green alien metal, and became the new robotic leader of the Metal Men. Despite several appearances in other titles, this episode was later removed from continuity as a delusion suffered by Magnus. Shame in one sense -- I sort of liked Veridium.
During the course of the Infinite Crisis, it was shown that Superboy-Prime had the ability to affect reality itself. Pounding on the walls of the strange dimension in which he, Superman and Lois Lane of Earth-2, and Alex Luthor of Earth-3, had fled to at the end of the Crisis on Infinite Earths, it was noticed that Superboy was causing the fabric of reality itself on Earth to shift. This was used as a means of explaining various continuity glitches that had taken place in the ensuing years since the first Crisis.
One of these reality shifts affected the Metal Men, restoring Gold, returning Magnus to human form, and re-establishing the original storyline that the Metal Men are robots with responsometers, with the "human personalities" aspect dismissed as the aforementioned delusion.
The responsometers are now described as containing an "artificial soul" invented by Doc Magnus, inspired by criminal scientist T.O. Morrow, who is revealed to have taught him at college and to have been the only one not to laugh at Magnus' theories.
Several adventures later, the entire Metal Man team appeared in a three-part story in the Superman/Batman title. This story introduces a new member to the team, a female robot named Copper, possessed of a rather sarcastic personality. The Metal Men are hired by Lucius Fox as security for WayneTech, but come under the influence of Brainiac.
They have since starred in an eight-issue mini-series, published in 2007, a story in the Wednesday Comics mini-series, taking place before their existence became public knowledge, and in a backup feature in the Doom Patrol title, which was written by Keith Giffen and rather unfortunately played for the sort of laughs that Giffen specializes in (and which in my opinion grow old rather quickly).
Most recently, the Metal Men appeared in the series "Justice League: Generation Lost", where they have been captured by Maxwell Lord, and brainwashed to attack the members of the new Justice League International. They are subsequently defeated. I'm sure we haven't seen the last of them, as they remain a popular part of the DC Universe. And if nothing else, Platinum was seen as still existing in the 853rd century during the "DC One Million" storyline. The Metal Men have also turned up in the animated "Brave and the Bold" series.
So, how's the Mercury figure? Quite impressive, and entirely distinctive. Unlike the Metal Men figures of Iron and Gold, Mercury is an entirely unique figure. But then, he needs to me.
Iron and Gold are the only two male Metal Men who can be said to have fairly standard male super-heroic bodily proportions. Similarly, Platinum and Copper have fairly standard female builds, should Mattel get around to figure of them at some point, which I would welcome.
But -- Lead is a wide-load, Tin is a shrimp, and Mercury is a stringbean. Of the three, Mercury probably was the easiest to do. From a resources standpoint, Lead would have required a lot more plastic, although I can arguably see him being the next in line should Mattel decide to continue the Metal Men. Tin, I get the feeling, would be a difficult design, because he's so small. He'd be difficult (but not impossible), to articulate. Mercury comes decently close to the standard size shared by Iron and Gold, as much as anything having an overall slender build that still carries over the musculature of the others.
Mercury is also the only member of the Metal Men who does not have a standard metallic color. Sometimes I think this is why Veridium was developed. His alien green color gave the team a little broader visual spectrum. The Metal Men are an interesting group, but they're not overly colorful. Platinum and Tin are a silvery shade, generally rendered as white with some color reflectivity in the comics, Gold is -- well -- gold; and Iron and Lead are different shades of gray. Mercury, on the other hand, is a fairly intense red from head to toe.
Technically, the actual metal mercury is not naturally red. I saw a sample of it once as a kid, and it was, if memory serves, clear. As explained in the backstory for the Metal Men, Mercury is the only metal that is liquid at room temperature. We're used to seeing mercury used in thermometers, where it is colored red so that it can be seen along the course of the temperature gauge. However, this is coloring added to the mercury itself. Precisely what the coloring is, I don't know, but it's probably some simple dye that doesn't have an adverse effect on the properties of the metal itself. I suspect red was chosen when mercury thermometers were developed because it would stand out and be relatively easy to read.
But, with that typical interpretation of mercury being common knowledge, one would believe that DC Comics, when the Metal Men were first developed, chose to give Mercury a red color out of simple familiarity -- as well as perhaps wanting to add some color to the characters -- and within the DC Universe, that Doc Magnus probably came to the same conclusions.
Mercury has a slight metallic finish to his color. Metallic red isn't the easiest color in the world to produce. I know this from some prior painting experience of my own. I'm not entirely certain whether Mercury was molded in this color, or molded in a close color and then painted head to toe in the somewhat more metallic shade. I am leaning fairly strongly towards Mercury having been painted red, since some of his articulation areas, especially the pegs and near his wrists, do not seem to be quite as metallic as the rest of him.
Mercury is about the same height as a standard DC Universe Classics figure, including his two fellow Metal Men, but he is definitely more slender. He also has rather more exaggerated features in some respects. Nowhere is this more apparent than on his face. Unlike the relatively normal-looking faces of Iron and Gold -- their metallic colors notwithstanding -- Mercury has a very exaggerated chin and a length of nose. Amusingly, it appears that for whatever reasons of molding restrictions, Mercury's nose was molded as a separate piece, and attached to the rest of the face during assembly!
The overall likeness is excellent, and I have little doubt that the sculpting and design team of the Four Horsemen had some fun with this character. Certainly his face provided some variety for them, more than the usual. Mercury's facial expression gives the figure a slightly downturned brow, and a smile on his face that borders on a smirk. As stated, his personality does tend towards the ill-tempered, and he's certainly capable of wisecracks and sarcasm. The facial expression seems to match this. He's just waiting for someone to say or do something stupid so he can complain about it.
The body of the figure is, for the most part, straightforward, if slender. There's nothing really all that unusual about it. The upper legs end in a sort of tunic, sculpted as part of the articulation design, and he has visible tops to his gloves and boots. Unusually, his boots have a distinct raised heel to them. This is unusual not just for the Metal Men, but for the DC Universe Classics line.
Affixed to his chest is a large triangular piece, typical for all of the Metal Men, which bears the chemical symbol for mercury on it, sculpted and imprinted in black. This same symbol also appears on his forehead.
Mercury lacks one thing that his two compatriots have -- metal parts. The hands of both Iron and Gold were made from die-cast metal. Mercury's are not. However, given his slender build and the fact that his hands are not formed into fists, this might have been determined to be less feasible on this character than on the other two. It's not a big deal to me one way or the other.
Like all of the Metal Men, Mercury is a shape-changer, and tends to be more of one than the rest. He's frequently seen stretching his limbs and neck, often to the breaking point and sometimes beyond. He seems able to achieve a near-liquid state and still main control over his body, even if sometimes it goes a little bit to pieces.
Obviously, shape-shifting is not an especially easy super-power to duplicate in an action figure -- Transformers notwithstanding. Both Iron and Gold came with accessories that could be attached to their hands that mimicked their shape-shifting abilities. In Mercury's case, he comes with a piece that is designed to replace his left hand.
In the package, the figure is shown wearing the shape-shifting piece. Fortunately, he comes with a "standard" hand. The switchover is not easy. The pieces tend to be pretty secure. But it is possible. In Mercury's case, his shape-shifting piece looks as though his hand is extending itself into a series of linked, liquid red bubbles, that eventually transform into -- of all things -- a pair of scissors.
Relative to the scale of the figures, the scissors are huge. They're the type of thing you'd expect to see used as some grandiose ribbon-cutting ceremony where the mayor shows up or some such. Relative to actual human scale, the scissors are fairly small, although I've seen smaller, generally little scissors for children, or of the type one might use for trimming fingernails and toenails. The "cutting blades" are about 1-3/4" in length. The handles are really too small for an adult's finger to use, but a fairly small child might be able to take hold of them. Not to worry, however. Although the scissors do have an actual hinge, and move back and forth like an actual pair of scissors, they're just plastic, not the least bit sharp, and can't even cut a piece of paper. And yes, I tried.
Any complaints? A couple. Mercury, unfortunately, has been saddled with the double-jointed articulation in the elbows and knees, that so many figures in this wave have been inflicted with. I've said it before, and I'll say it as many times as it's justified -- this is not necessary for this figure line. I have honestly yet to see an action figure line where it looks good or works well, and DC Universe Classics is such an impressive-looking line, so superbly designed, with an excellent established level of articulation, that it just categorically doesn't need to do this, and I sincerely hope it's a short-lived aberration.
It was doubtless given to Mercury since he is an entirely new figure, so they could do it. He almost gets away with it by virtue of being a robot, and there's certainly figures that it looks worse on (Robin), but still -- he just doesn't need it. None of them do. I'll eschew my usual dissertation about this, but if you'd like my more extensive opinion about why I believe this sort of double-jointed articulation is a mistake, especially on DC Universe Classics, then look up my reviews of Robin, Black Hand, or the Manhunter Robot.
Another problem, if you don't mind a bit of irony. His left leg is stuck. Now, I'm sure this isn't the case with all of the Mercury figures, but -- it's still annoying, and I've been encountering this problem with greater frequency lately, enough to worry me. Unfortunately, quality control on assembly has been a problem that has plagued this line. I thought we were past it, but it seems to be rearing its ugly head again, and this line deserves better. The left leg moves outward, but is very reluctant to move forward or back. And I'm reluctant to try to force it, because experience has taught me that all that does is twist the rather small leg joint, sometimes until it just plain breaks. And these figures are too expensive to do that to.
I really don't understand why this should happen at all, really. Mattel's other major action figure line, Masters of the Universe Classics, has very similar design parameters to DC Universe Classics, and I've never had it happen with any of them. I sincerely hope this doesn't become an ongoing problem.
So, what's my final word? Overall, I'm very pleased with Mercury. He looks cool, is an effective rendition of the character, and I'm pleased to see an additional member of the Metal Men join the team. I realize that some of the remaining members of the team would be a little problematic, but I do hope that we haven't seen the last of the Metal Men in the DC Universe Classics line.
In the meantime, the DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of MERCURY of the METAL MEN definitely has my highest recommendation!