REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS METAL MAN IRON
Mattel seems to be embarking on a new sub-team within the superb line of DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS action figures. For some time now, they've been producing figures based on Jack Kirby's legendary "New Gods" concept. Orion, Mister Miracle, Big Barda, Desaad, Mantis -- it seemed that scarcely an assortment went by that didn't have at least one character from the New Gods within it. And while there's certainly room for more (come on, tell me that a special edition of Metron with his Mobius Chair wouldn't be immensely cool!), there are certainly other distinctive groups within the DC Universe that are worthy of attention.
And it would appear that the one Mattel has chosen for that attention is the METAL MEN! One of them appears in Series 12, with another one scheduled for Series 14. This review will take a look at the Metal Man known as IRON.
I find it interesting that DC Comics has never really had a strong armored character. The closest they've arguably come has been Steel, who was introduced on the heels of the "Death of Superman" storyline. Now, obviously, Marvel Comics has Iron Man, who's been a mainstay of the Marvel Universe for decades, and has seen his popularity skyrocket faster than his boot jets could go as a result of live-action movies. But for whatever reason, DC has just never managed a really prominent armored character. It could be argued, I suppose, that they just didn't think of it, and that any such character now would inevitably be compared, and probably not favorably, to Iron Man. It could also be argued that most of the heroes in the DC Universe are either powerful enough, well-armed enough, or just plain gutsy enough that an armored battle suit is either not necessary or not desired.
I still think it's a bit of a shame, since a character wearing high-tech armor, especially these days, is almost plausible. But DC has done other things with metallic characters. And that would be the Metal Men. They're not armored individuals -- they're extremely high-tech robots. Unlike the real-life technological plausibility of either powered armor or humanoid robots (and if you think I'm kidding about the latter, look up a robot called ASIMO sometime), the Metal Men are well beyond any real world technology. But that just makes them cooler as far as I'm concerned. And they've been around just about as long as Iron Man himself. Here's some background, albeit slightly convoluted, that I tracked down on the Metal Men.
The Metal Men are a team of robot superheroes created by writer Robert Kanigher for DC Comics in 1962. They made their first appearance in Showcase #37-40 as part of a four-issue series created as a last-minute filler feature. They proved unexpectedly popular and the characters were revived for more stories under their own title and had subsequent appearances in various series in the DC Universe. It was commonplace in the stories for the characters to be destroyed and then rebuilt during the same story.
The Metal Men were presented as advanced artificially intelligent robots, created by scientist Dr. William "Will" Magnus. "Doc" Magnus (as his creations affectionately call him) 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 in 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 "responsometers".
The team consisted of their field leader Gold, strong man Iron, slow-witted and loyal Lead, self-doubting and insecure Tin, hot-headed Mercury (the only metal liquid at room temperature), and Platinum, or Tina.
While all of the Metal Men were basically shapeshifters, each of them had abilities that reflected the traits of their namesake metal; Gold could stretch his body almost infinitely, Iron was super strong, Lead could block harmful radiation and the like and usually morphed into thick shields, Mercury could melt and reform himself through small spaces, or over vast distances, and Platinum could stretch and flatten herself, usually into coils of thin strands. Tin seemed to prefer acting as a "can" or container, his other efforts usually failing due to his weak strength.
On several occasions, Doc constructed new robots of different metals such as Uranium, Silver, Cobalt, Chromium and others. The new robots always went to the scrap heap. The Metal Men also had many adventures on other planets, usually meeting robot menaces.
The Metal Men had a broken run of sixty issues in their own comic book title. Their Silver Age run, from issues #1 to #41, began in 1963 and ended in 1970. Several issues included the "Metal Facts & Fancies" feature which featured factlets about various metals.
The Metal Men reappeared in 1973 in reprints of earlier published material. New stories continued with issue #45 (April-May 1976) by artist Walt Simonson and various writers. Doc Magnus's sanity, which had been used to take him out of the picture for several years, was restored and he once again joined his robot creations. Simsonson was succeeded as artist by Joe Staton. The comic's publication run ended with issue #56 in 1978 when, despite acceptable sales, the book fell victim to the DC Implosion.
The Metal Men have appeared as guests in several other comic book titles including The Brave and the Bold where they teamed-up with Metamorpho, the Atom, and several times with Batman. The Metal Men also guest-starred alongside Superman in DC Comics Presents and Action Comics after it became a team-up title under the direction of artist/writer John Byrne.
A four book mini-series was printed in 1993. In a retcon of their origin story, it was revealed that the Metal Men carried the intellects and personalities of Doc's brother Mike (Gold), his fiancee Sharon (Platinum), two lab workers Redmond Wilde and Randy Pressman (Mercury and Iron), a janitor named Thomas Tinkham (Tin), and a pizza-delivery man named Jack (Lead), which were accidentally transferred to blank robots in a lab mishap rather than being artificially generated by "responsometers" as the story was first told. In a fast and furious climax, Gold was permanently killed and Doc Magnus mortally wounded. Doc 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. This episode was itself retconned away as a delusion suffered by Doc Magnus. (Shame, too -- I rather liked Veridium. His green color added a bit of additional variety to the Metal Men.)
As seen in the Infinite Crisis limited series, the Metal Men are attacked by the super-person killers, the O.M.A.C.S. cyborgs. Lead and Mercury are seen in issue #6, as part of a superhero army assembled to protect the city of Metropolis from the Secret Society of Supervillains. During the successful defeat of the Society, the two are briefly shown confronting Doomsday.
The series also affects the very reality of the characters. When Superboy-Prime pounded on the walls of reality, he caused the very fabric of reality to shift, changing and merging histories. The "blank robots with responsometers" origin of the Metal Men was returned to continuity and the "human personalities and Doc as Veridium" origin was dismissed as a delusion suffered by Doc Magnus after his first mental breakdown.
The responsometers are now described as containing an "artificial soul" invented by Doc Magnus inspired by 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. After the unexplained dismantling of the Metal Men, Doc Magnus is unable to recreate this soul and restore their personalities. He now takes Prozac for the bipolar disorder which caused a nervous break down and depression which led to the creation of the Plutonium Man, a towering, monstruous being similar to the Metal Men, but with radioactive properties and imperatives based upon Magnus' own then-deranged mind, which drove it to kill and destroy as its main objectives.
Magnus is approached by government agents hoping to use the Metal Men as soulless smart weapons, offers Magnus always rejects. Through all of this, Magnus has been visiting Morrow in his cell in Haven. Morrow has warned Magnus that there have been numerous abductions of "mad" scientists, including Doctor Sivana, whose lair Magnus investigates.
Eventually Morrow himself disappears, leaving a note for his former student with a string in machine code. Using the code, Magnus is able to revive Mercury, albeit his robotic friend and creation is apparently destroyed again trying to save him from a conspiracy trying to kidnap all the mad scientists in the DCU. Mindless replicas of the Metal Men force Magnus to escape from his burned house before being captured by what is revealed to be a separate group "Chang Tzu's Science Squad".
This group is based on Oolong Island and has been responsible for the disappearances of the scientists (including Professor Morrow). Magnus is assigned to design and construct a new Plutonium Man robot, but deliberately makes little progress.
When Oolong Island is attacked by the JSA seeking to rescue Black Adam, Chang Tzu orders the Plutonium Man activated. Magnus refuses and the Metal Men attack Chang Tzu allowing Magnus to escape and switch off the Island's defences. While he is doing this Morrow confronts Magnus and destroys Mercury. Magnus explains to Morrow that it's pointless stopping him deactivating the shields as the JSA will get in eventually and instead offers him the chance to teleport out saying that Morrow was "the best teacher I ever knew" and that he tries "to over look the psychopathic super villain thing". Morrow accepts the offer, and Magnus apparently kills Chang Tzu.
The entire team of Metal Men (all with new, modified appearances) appear in a three part Superman/Batman story in issues 34-36. The rebuilt Platinum calls herself Platina, and Gold is a disembodied head, due to the expense of building a new gold body. The team also includes new female member, the sarcastic Copper. The Metal Men are hired by Lucius Fox as security for WayneTech, but come under the influence of Brainiac.
In 2007, DC began publishing a new 8-issue Metal Men miniseries, featuring the new team. The team find themselves up against Will's brother David, who wants to erase the act of their creation because an ancient being known as the Nameless plans to use them to take over the world. Magnus is able to stop the Nameless' plans with the aid of a future self, T.O. Morrow, and Morrow's special time-travelling machines (although Morrow betrays him and Magnus kicks him out of the machine). David is accidentally transformed into a new version of Viridium, and vows revenge on his brother.
The Metal Men have also appeared in a storyline in the "Wednesday Comics" limited series, and were a back-up feature in "Doom Patrol" written by Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis and penciled by Kevin Maguire, the same team responsible for the comedic Justice League of the mid to late 1980's. They tried to do the same with the Metal Men, and -- let's say I'm not that sorry that the back-up stories have ended, although I hope we haven't seen the last of the Metal Men. They seem to be back to their traditional selves, although the Doom Patrol back-up feature also utilized Copper, whom I don't mind since she adds a new female and a new interesting character to the team.
One might also assume that the Metal Men are capable of being notoriously long-lived, since Platinum turned up in the "DC One Million" story line, still very much functional in the 853rd century!
The Metal Men have appeared in the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Clash of the Metal Men", and in "The Super-Batman of Planet X", and Iron and Gold have been added to that action figure line.
So, how's the DC Universe Classics figure of Iron? Very impressive. I'll admit that there were a few things about the figure, or rather, some early photos thereof, that made me have a few doubts about this one.
The first was the texture of the figure. He seemed designed to have a rough, pitted, worn look. I hate that on action figures. Unless it's absolutely necessary, which more often than not it isn't, I don't like to see painted-on weathering or dirtying or battle scars or whatever. Several lines have been egregiously guilty of this. G.I. Joe did it for a while. Star Wars has done it. Some of their items can get away with it. No one expects to see a "clean" Millennium Falcon, but they didn't need to stink up some of the Clone Troopers the way they did. So I was a little concerned about Iron.
However, after looking at some of the artistic references of the character, he really does have a somewhat rough and slightly pitted look to him, even at the best of times. So for the character, in this instance, it's appropriate.
Another thing that gave me cause for concern was the design of the figure. While certainly accurate to the look of the character, I was concerned about articulation hindrances. Iron's upper body looks more like a tunic, as it tapers down to a clear "cutoff" point below his waist. From all appearances, this should cost the figure most of his torso articulation, and be a severe hindrance to his legs. But, it's really not as bad as all that. What Mattel has done is to design a -- torso covering, for lack of a better word, that is molded from flexible plastic and is sealed around the figure's torso as part of the assembly. While the mid-torso articulation point is affected, that's hardly the most major point on the figure, and while Iron isn't exactly able to assume a full seated position, his legs do move, and he can be turned at the waist.
I'll admit, there's still a bit of concern here. Mattel is clearly now marketing the DC Universe Classics line as an "Adult Collector" line. More on that towards the end of the review. I just hope that they don't view that as a reason to diminish the articulation with the opinion that the majority of the people buying these figures aren't likely to be opening and playing with them. Some may not open them. I will be. And while "playing" with them might be less of a factor, I don't know any action figure collector who doesn't like to see a good level of articulation. It's certainly been one of the hallmarks of this line, and needs to continue to be.
One additional concern was that, as a Metal Man, Iron was advertised as having "Die-cast Parts" -- i.e. Some parts of him would be made from metal. With the exception of some Transformers, I've generally found that the combination of plastic parts with die-cast metal in action figures doesn't always work that well, if for no other reason than the weight difference between the materials. I recall a line based on an animated series called "Defenders of the Earth". The figures had die-cast lower arms to throw a more impactful punch or something. Yeah, sounds good on paper. Now try to get the figures to bend their elbows and hold a pose...
In the case of Iron, I wasn't really sure what might have been made out of metal on him. The figure is a uniform color. It certainly wasn't the accessories, although they have a story of their own. I even tried running a magnet over the figure, but whatever metal was used is not magnetic. As far as I've been able to determine, Iron's hands are metal. That's it. And it works out pretty well, since his wrist articulation isn't hindered by it.
Overall, the figure is a superb likeness of the character. Iron is a very dark metallic blue-gray in color. He has been given a black "wash" over his entire body, which on anybody else would look hideous, and is maybe a little excessive here, but is not out of bounds for the character's appearance. Some parts of him, notably his upper arms and upper legs, use existing molds, which is fine and well. I am assuming that the body underneath the tunic does so as well.
The lower arms and lower legs form gloves and boots that are distinctive to the figure, as they have rivets around their edges. Of course, the figure has a distinctive head, with a heroic if -- somewhat artificial looking face. The Metal Men have always been portrayed as humanoid robots, so coming up with a face that manages to look -- not quite as human as some of the other DC Universe Classics figures, but alternatively doesn't look too phony or cartoonish -- can't have been easy, and the Four Horsemen should be commended for doing a remarkable job here.
Iron's body looks like a tunic, with a triangular plate running down the front, and riveted in place. The metallurgical symbol for Iron is sculpted into the chest, and also appears on the figure's forehead.
Of course, Iron has excellent articulation, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles.
Iron comes with two cool accessories, that are meant to represent his shape-shifting abilities. One is a hand extension that has an actual plastic chain emerging from it. Attached to the other end is a wrecking ball, complete with rivets along the "equator". It's not quite 1-1/2" in diameter, and frankly, would probably smart a bit if swung with sufficient force. Do not use on family pets or young siblings, please.
The other accessory shows just what sort of detail and precision Mattel and the Four Horsemen are prepared to put into this line. It's a second hand extension that forms an adjustable wrench. Here's the wild part -- the wrench is ACTUALLY ADJUSTABLE. Now, talk about doing something that one REALLY didn't HAVE to do, but it's still very cool that they did. This item could have easily been stamped out of a single piece. Instead, it's three -- the upper part of the wrench, the lower part, and the adjustment dial. So it not only had to be molded and painted, but assembled, as well! I'm impressed!
So, what's my final word? I'm pleased to see the Metal Men being given the action figure treatment. I look forward to Gold in a couple of assortments. I find myself thinking about the rest of the team. If Mattel decides to proceed, some of them will be tricker than others. Platinum and Copper can likely be turned out from existing female body molds for the most part. Tin, Mercury, and Lead are another matter. Lead is a massive fellow, very wide of body. Tin is, frankly, a runt. And Mercury makes Plastic Man look positively stable, and even when he's not stretching all over the place, he's pretty lanky. These guys would have to be done up from scratch, and Tin's so small he could almost be an accessory with one of the others -- as long as he's as well articulated. We'll see what happens.
However, we've at least got a very impressive start here, and I look forward to seeing where it goes from here. The concerns that I had about Iron were all readily mitigated, and this is one fine figure.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of IRON from the METAL MEN definitely has my highest recommendation!