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Metal Men 8
"Playground of Terror!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND June-July 1964; DC Comics (National Periodical Publications); Robert Kanigher, editor and writer; featuring the Metal Men in the "Playground of Terror!", a book-length story by Kanigher and artists Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. On the cover by A and E, the Metal Men and a friend are riding a roller coaster which really lives up to the names, which some amusement parks give to their thrill rides, such as "Monster" and "Villain". This coaster has a malevolent face in front and has extruded claws to seize and hold the Metal Men. While Tina (Platinum) in the front seat tries to fend off the claws, her companion, a little human boy, urges her, "TINA!-- Don't stay because I'M blind-- save yourself!"

Review by Bill Henley

Since the Metal Men have come up for some discussion on ths list lately (inspired by my query about the merits, if any, of the new DC Metal Men miniseries) I decided to review one of their "classic" tales. On the splash page, not only the roller coaster but a whole amusement park full of rides is attacking the Metal Men, as Iron comments, "It's as if they're ALIVE!" (Odd that a Metal Man, of all people, er, robots, would be surprised at the idea of mechanical devices coming to "life".) Again Tina is trying to protect the little blind boy, and again he protests, "Don't sacrifice yourself for me-- just because I'm BLIND!"

(This raises an interesting question for science fiction fans. Do Isaac Asimov's famous Three Laws of Robotics apply to the Metal Men? If so, then Tina would have no choice but to protect the boy, since the First Law reads, "A robot shall not harm a human being nor by inaction allow a human being to come to harm". On the other hand, the Second Law, "A robot shall obey a human being," obviously does not apply to the MM, since they (especially Tina) disobey Doc Magnus and other humans preety much whenever they feel like it. So probably the Metal Men's "defective responsometers" do not have the Three Laws built in-- perhaps this is what makes them "defective"-- and Tina protects the boy just because she wants to.)

As the story begins, a despondent little boy sits on a front stoop as other kids run laughing past him, eager to get good seats for an exciting event-- a show for kids put on by the famous Metal Men. When the other kids urge little Timmy to come along, and see the Metal Men, he demurs; "What's the good of going-- I CAN'T see!" If he could, though, he would soon see the Metal Men even without going to the show, since they happen to come skimming along his street, in their jet platform, on their way to the show. Tina notices the one little boy about to miss their show and wants to invite him to attend, but Doc Magnus is in too much of a hurry to stop. "You're a great scientist, Doc, but you have no heart!" "Stop talking as if YOU'RE the human-- and I'm the robot!" To avoid delaying the other Metal Men, Tina spins herself backward in wire form while still linked to the moving jet platform, and urges the boy to come along. But hearing only a well-meaning female voice, Timmy turns her down; "Leave me alone, lady! I--just-don't--feel-like--going,that's all!" Crushed, Tina returns to the jet, apologizing, "Sorry...I...I didn't mean to..to force you...to see the Metal Men...!" As tears fall from his sightless eyes, Timmy mutters to himself, "I'd give anything to SEE the Metal Men--but I'll never be able to SEE! Never--never-- NEVER!"

Meanwhile, the Metal Men put on their show for the kids who can see. Mercury stretches and shrinks under the influence of the hall's erratic air conditioning. The next act calls for Iron to catch a shower of Gold coins into which the noble metals transforms himself, but Tin tries to crab the act by catching the coins himself. Instead Tin is crushed under Gold's weight, but the kids laugh and cheer, taking Tin for the clown act of the Metal Men. Next, Iron shapes Lead into a horseshoe and hruls him at Doc to make a "ringer". Good thing Iron has good aim, or Doc would be squashed flat.

But in Part 2, when it comes Platinum's turn to perform for the crowd, she is still haunted by the one little boy who "didn't want" to see the Metal Men. "I'm going back to keep that lonely little boy company!" Finding him still sitting on his stoop, Tina tells Timmy, "If YOU won't go see the Metal Men-- then THEY'll come to see YOU!" But when Timmy replies, "I couldn't see them!" Tina at last realizes he is blind. But now Timmy "sees" Platinum in his own way, as he reaches out to touch her metallic face and feels tears on it. "There's only ONE metal in the world that can CRY! You must be TINA-- the PLATINUM robot!" Now happy at last, Timmy asks if he can "see" the other Metal Men by touch as well. Tina is heartbroken, or responsometer-broken, to have to tell him that only she is there-- until she turns around to find that the other Metal Men, and Doc, have indeed followed her to find out what's going on. "You all heard our young friend, Metal Men! Let him 'see' you!" As each Metal Man greets Timmy, he gives a clue to enable to boy to guess which metal he is; "You'll find ME in tooth fillings!" "GOLD!" "I--I'm used in cans-- guess who I--I am?" "TIN!" "If you want to know how hot or cold you are-- just ask me!" "MERCURY!" "I'm---uhh-non-conductor! A shield!" "LEAD! "That's a REAL muscle!" "IRON!"

Finally hearing all the commotion involving her son, Timmy's mother comes out and explains that a cure for his blindness has been delcared hopeless, at least until "new dhemical compounds are discovered!" But at least heis now realizing another hopeless ambition, as he has idolized the Metal Men and dreamed of meeting and visiting them. With his mother's permission (which she probably wouldn't grant if she had any idea how much trouble her son would get into) Timmy goes off to spend a whole day with the Metal Men. But then, the irrepressible Tina makes a rash promise; Doc will cure Timmy's blindness. Timmy's brief hopes are dashed as Doc explains, "I can't do anything the doctors can't!" But Tina is insistent that Doc try to find the "new chemical compounds" that might help Timmy. She tries to persuade Doc with a kiss, but he complains that it "tastes like being smacked by a cold, wet platinum bracelet!" Nonetheless, Doc agrees to go to his lab and search for a cure while the Metal Men take Timmy on his tour of their lab and headquarters. Having heard about the Metal Men's visits to other worlds in their giant rocket, Timmy asks if he can visit the rocket and "maybe touch the controls". The Metal Men offer him more than that; touch the launch button, and, after a "short flight", despite his blindness, Timmy will return to Earth as "the first boy astronaut in history!"

After a house ad for issues of JLA and HAWKMAN, we have two pages of "Metal Facts and Fancies!" After humorous descriptions of the real-life uses of various metals, we see a line of rejected robots at a stage door, being told, "Sorry! We haven't discovered any parts for ACTINIUM, AMERICIUM, BERKELIUM, CALIFORNIUM, FARANCIUM, NEPTUNIAM, PROTACTINIUM, RUBIBIUM, and RUTHENIUM! But we'll keep trying!"(sic) (Did they? Some of these names sound vaguely familiar, as if I'd heard of them being used for something during the 40-some years since this page first appeared.)

Meanwile, back in Part 3 of "Playground of Terror!", Doc is entirely unaware of his robot babysitters' excursion into space as he labors in vain in his lab. He finds no chemical known on Earth can cure Timmy's blindness; "It's hopeless-- HOPELESS!" (Seems like it might be more within Doc's specialty to try to create some sort of bionic eyes for Timmy.) Things aren't going so well for the Metal Men and Timmy either, as their supposedly short space flight is extended by a "vast cosmic turbulence that's pulling us away from Earth!" As the rocket flips end over end, only Tina forming into a safety net prevents the other Metal Men from tumbling into the fragile Timmy. Finally, the Metal Men find themselves "out of the cosmic storm" but "far from our own galaxy!" (Funny how Kanigher can be a stickler for scientific minutiae involving metals, but so cavalier about the size and scale of a galaxy or the unlikelihood of traveling millions of light-years in a few minutes of time.) Trying to turn a lemon into lemonade, Tina suggests that "boy astronaut" Timmy become the first boy to land on an unknown planet. Curiously, when they approach this planet, it contains some rather familiar Earthlike artifacts-- rides resembling those found in an Earth amusement park. You'd think Timmy's excitement potential would have blown a fuse by now, but he's enthralled by the thought of visiting an alien amusement park, since due to his blindness he's never been allowed into the crowds and commotion of an Earthly amusement park.

Gold cautiously lands the rocket some distance from the "park" "in case we're met by any threats!" He's noticed that the planet seems entirely deserted of any life or any habitation other than the "amusement park". (So you're going to be careful with the rocket, but you're taking the little boy with you right into this potential threat? Right, Gold.) As they walk toward the "park", Tina notices Timmy is counting, and he explains he is counting steps and keeping track of turns, blind people's means of keeping their bearings in a strange environment (and presumably he's never been in a stranger one than this). When they reach the rides, Timmy is disappointed to find no controls to make the rides go. But he and the Metal Men take seats in the roller coaster anyway, and Timmy muses, "I guess-- all I can do is WISH-- that this ride can GO--!" (Be careful what you wish for, kid....) When the roller coaster starts moving, the Metal Men deduce the ride must have its own "responsometer" to act on its own. But these responsometers are apparently even more defective than those of the Metal Men, as the ride seizes and traps the Metal Men with claws. "Now you know what happened to the people who lived here! The robot rides they built must have turned on them!" (Didn't this planet have any safety regulations for amusement rides? And were the inhabitants such thrill-ride fanatics that tey lined up to ride even after the rides started killing people?)

Before Part 4, we have the "Metal Scraps" lettercol on which letters are answered by the Metal Men themselves. One reader, Leo Steiner of Detroit, asks for advice in dealing with a friend who won't read the Metal Men because he thinks they're "boring" (maybe he was a Marvel fan). Iron's suggestion is, "Tell him to have his responsometer checked! It must be rusty!" A femmefan, Connie Graff of Titusville, PA, wants Doc Magnus to create a whole new team of Metal Women, but Platinum wants none of this idea; "I already have enough trouble getting Doc to notice ME! Why should I ask for a whole flock of robot girls surrounding him?" (Despite Tina's wishes, a later issue, MM #32, did feature the creation of a band of Metal Women, though they proved short-lived.)

Back at the extraterrestirial Coney Island in Part 4, the Metal Men struggle to escape the clutches of the monster roller coaster. Gold escapes in the form of a shower of gold coins (though how he manages to function while separating himself into separate pieces, only God and Doc know). Mercury separates into globules to ooze away, and mighty Iron pulls apart the claws holding Lead long enough for Lead to escape. Tin tries to perform the same service for Iron himself, and succeeds, though the humble bends and buckles in the process. And Tina spins free, carrying Timmy with her, though he urges her to escape on her own and not sacrifice herself for him. Back on the ground, the Metal Men and friend find they are not out of danger, for the coaster is not the only amusement park attraction to run amuck. A spinning "rocket ride" hurls its rockets like missiles at them on the ground. Iron and Lead transform in turn into ground-to-air missiles to halt the attack. A Ferris wheel rumbles forward to crush the robot visitors (resembling the giant War Wheel of Blackhawk infamy) but despite his skepticism that the ploy will work, Mercury follows Gold's directins to spin himself through the center of the wheel and spin it off into space. Heading back for their rocket, the Metal Men pass a giant "photo booth" which suddenly goes off in a gigantic flash-- and now, all the Metal Men are just as blind as their young human charge! Not to mention, a sinister rumbling indicates all the evil amusement park rides have uprooted themwleves and are pursuing the fugitives. Now their only hope is the "helpless" Timmy, who has memorized the route and number of steps back to the rocket. Will they make it, and launch away from the planet, before the rides get them? Back on Earth, will Doc find a cure in his lab for Timmy's blindness? And if and when the Metal Men get back there, will they be up on charges for reckless child endangerment? You can probably guess the answers, but if not, you'll have to (a) look up the next issue in your own collection, (b) pick up the new METAL MEN Showcase book, which includes this issue and the next one (though I'm reviewing it based on the original issue) or (c) wait for me to get around to reviewing the next issue.