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Metal Men 37
"To Walk Among Men!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND April-May 1968; DC Comics; edited by Mike Sekowsky (who had handled the art chores on MM since issue #32 and took over the scripting and editing as well with this issue; I think George Roussos provided the inking).

The cover is in a funereal motif with "Here Lie the METAL MEN-- R.I.P."; the faces of the six robots are carved into a headstone, as in the background six humans (?), standing under umbrellas in the rain, observe. (All comic book funerals take place in the rain, of course.)

The story title is "To Walk Among Men!" The plotline picks up from the previous four issues, which had been billed as "The New HUNTED Metal Men" and had the misunderstood mechanoids dodging hostile humans while Doc Magnus lay in a coma. At the end of #36 the Metal Men returned from an encounter with the "Cruel Clowns" in outer space; but their landing back on Earth is a rough one as their spacecraft runs out of fuel and goes out of control. They manage to steer the craft to a spot where only cars in a parking lot are wrecked, and Mercury complains, "Gold, as a PILOT you make a good TOOTH FILLING!"-- though on the previous page it appears to be Iron, not Gold, at the controls. Crawling out of the wreckage, the Metal Men find more hostile humans-- "We might've known-- where there's DESTRUCTION, you'll find the METAL MEN!"-- and they are taken into "protective custody" by the police. Hauled away in a paddy wagon, the robots ruminate on their woes... Mercury: "Blasted humans! What's so hot about gooey flesh and blood, anyhow!? Ugh--DISGUSTING! I wouldn't be flesh and blood if you PAID me!" Gold muses, "I think I would..." and Platinum chimes in, "Me too! I'm TIRED of being hated-- despised-- treated as an OBJECT!" Lead tries to cheer her up-- "You're still the CUTEST object in the world!"-- but his effort at reassurance goes over like, well, a lead balloon.

While protesters call for the Metal Men to be dismantled as a "failed experiment" and a news commentator notes, "The public is crying for blood--er--gears and coils!" the MM face a kangaroo court in the form of "an impartial commission to decide the fate of the robots" named by the unnamed city's mayor. The head of the commission, a grim-looking white-haired fellow, declares the verdict: "In view of the considerable DAMAGE caused by the robots-- and in view of the fact that their INVENTOR is no longer able to control them-- we had only one choice-- that is to condemn the Metal Men to IMMEDIATE DESTRUCTION! The, er, SENTENCE will be executed at Barney's Junkyard!" Lead protests, "But they can't treat us like THINGS! We can THINK...FEEL..." but to no avail, as a truck hauls them off to the "graveyard for ruined machinery". They are herded one by one into an auto compactor which apparently mashes each robot into a small block of its component metal. The last is Platinum, who tearfully concludes, "Mercury was RIGHT! Humans are BRUTES...worse than animals! And yet...I..I loved them!"

But after a house ad and a Fact File page on Sargon the Sorcerer, there is an irascible voice out of the darkness; "BLASTED HUMANS! Can't even do a good job of killing! I can still think...talk..my responsometer must be intact!" It's Mercury, of course, and not only he but the rest of the MM are completely intact. Why? How? The answers come from a gentleman who introduces himself as Mister Conan, and who is, in fact, the same man who condemned the robots to "death". "I had to order you DESTROYED in order to RESCUE you!" Conan explains. "With the whole of the civilized world AGAINST you, it was becoming IMPOSSIBLE for you to function! But I know Dr. Magnus...know his GENIUS! I am CERTAIN the Metal Men can STILL serve!" He explains that he is a billionaire who has decided to use his wealth to combat oncoming "chaos" in the world, and has chosen the Metal Men as agents for his "worldwide organization". The MM are willing-- it beats the trash compactor-- but wonder how they can possibly function publicly without being hunted down again. The answer comes from another of Conan's agents, Dr. Pygmalion, inventor of a "protein-based plastic that looks, feels and smells like skin-- it will be a simple matter to COVER your metal bodies with it-- to DISGUSE the fact that you are ROBOTS!" Conan adds, "Dr. Pygmalion's skill can provide you with bodies all but human.. and I can provide you with everyday identities-- if you're willing!" Gold replies, "You're giving us a chance to continue living-- continue doing what we were BUILT to do! We'd be metal FOOLS to refuse your offer!" and even Mercury admits, "Mr. Conan's an exception to the general run of humans! He isn't a FINK!" The MM submit to the ministrations of "experts in metallurgy, electronics, cybernetics, bionics and several specialties too new to have names".... and the final result is told in a caption: "Yes, the Metal Men now have secret identities, just like SUPERMAN, BATMAN, and everybody!" So what, you say? Just wait'll you SEE those identities...." and the rest of the issue is devoted to full page introductions for each of the "new" Metal Men.

Gold becomes blond-haired Guy Gilden, "Wall Street genius, philanthropist, and hard swinging lover of the good life!" (But though he's shown consorting with beautiful women, it's not made explicit whether his new persona is "anatomically correct" and "fully functional".) Platinum becomes silvery-haired Tina Platt, fashion model; (she) "launches a thousand fashion firsts...and only SHE knows that once, she was a MERE MACHINE!" Lead and Tin team up as Ledby Hand and Tinker, a rock and roll duo. Mercury is the shaggy, red-bearded Mercurio, "artist and sculptor...a smooth-talking charmer equally at home on the Riviera or in a low dive!" Much more conventional looking is Jon "Iron" Mann, engineer and "builder of bridges, tunnels, dams...construction executives beg for his services-- and wonder why they have heard of him only recently!"

Conferring by TV link with these six new celebrities, Mr. Conan confirms that they are settling into their new identities but getting itchy for action, as Gold says: "Life has become so soft that I forget that under this tanned exterior beats a heart of GOLD...and a built-in need to use it in the service of JUSTICE!" Patience, Conan counsels; he is almost ready to unleash the New Metal Men against a "secret group based in New York... a twisted, thoroughly EVIL group which threatens the safety-- the SANITY-- of every man, woman and child on Earth!" We catch a glimpse of this horrific group on the last page, though, and they look more like a Halloween party than a world-shaking conspiracy; six people in fright masks huddled around a candlelit table. Nonetheless, "These are ugly remnants of mankinds' darkest past... witches and warlocks dedicated to doom...this is THE BLACK COVEN! And this is the beginning that might mean the END of the New Metal Men..."

The New Metal Men went on a "Witch Hunt--1969" in the next issue; Tina got involved in a Beauty and the Beast/Phantom of the Opera type riff in #39; and in #40-41 the team went to the dictatorship of Karnia with orders from Conan to try to destroy their own creator Doc Magnus, who had emerged from his coma an insane would-be tyrant. The final caption of #41 was "Is it really true? Has Doc turned RENEGADE and TRAITOR? Find out in the NEXT THRILLING ISSUE of the ALL NEW METAL MEN!" But there was no next issue, thrilling or otherwise... that was the last of the MM's original run, and when the Metal Men reappeared-- first in BRAVE & BOLD with Batman, and then in a mid-'70s revival-- they were back in their more familiar robotic forms, with only a sentence or two of explanation that they had decided to return to their "true selves".

Those few issues of the "New Metal Men" weren't the greatest comics ever... not much was done with the MM's new "human" identities, and when they went into action they had the silly-looking habit of taking off their flesh-gloves and extruding giant metal hands. Still, as a teenage comics fan I enjoyed those issues and was sorry when the title was cancelled; and I still think the concept of the "New Metal Men" could have worked, given more time for development. For that matter, *somebody* at DC must have really liked the general idea, because they used it again a year or two later with the Teen Titans-- the Titans fall into disgrace with the general public, abandon their costumed roles, are taken under the wing of an altruistic billionaire (that one was Mr. Jupiter-- maybe they should have brought back Mr. Conan for another try) and start a new, civilian, non-costumed modus operandi. Come to think of it, though, that didn't last very long either.