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Metal Men 9
The Robot Juggernaut!

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND Aug-Sept. 1964; DC Comics (National Periodical Publications; Robert Kanigher, editor and writer; featuring the Metal Men and a guest character of indeterminate name in "The Robot Juggernaut!", written by Kanigher and drawn by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, the second part of a two-part serial that began last issue with "Playground of Terror!" In that issue (which I reviewed last week) the Metal Men met a young blind boy named Timmy. A brief journey into space for the robots and the "first boy astronaut" went awry as the MM's rocket was drawn off course into deep space, to a planet where the only sign of civilization is a robot-controlled amusement park that runs amuck and tries to destroy its metal and flesh visitors (That's no way to get repeat business...) On the cover of this issue, all the Metal Men except one are caught and being squeezed into flat sheets of metal bya giant robot composed entirely of rollers. Platnimum (Tina) desperately hands off a young human boy to the only free Metal Man, while Gold exhorts, "TIN! You're the only one of us left to save Billy!" (Billy?) With his usual confidence, Tin exclaims, ""M-M-ME? B-b-but I'm only T-TIN!"

Review by Bill Henley

On the splash page, the rolling and pressing process seen on the cover has gone farther, as the Metal Men have been shaped into flat, round coinlike shapes and are about to be dropped in that form into a snelter. Never-say-die Lead insists, "We're not uhh-- melted yet, Mercury!" but the normally stalwart Iron asks, "How close can you get, Lead?" And Tina, closest to being plunged in the smelter, says, "Farewell--! Ron!" (Who's Ron? Some boyfriend of Tina's she's been two-timing Doc Magnus with? A pet name for Iron? Or maybe the letterer just left out an "I".)

When we left the Metal Men last issue, they were trying to reach their space rocket, pursued by crazed amusement park rides, with a blind boy named Timmy in tow, and handicapped by a giant camera flash that rendered them all as blind as Timmy. (I've always hated amusement park rides myself, except for the most sedate like the Ferris wheel, and refuse to ride them when my wife, who loves amusement parks, drags me to one. Is this due to some subliminal childhood memory of this story? Especially since the kid got *my* name in this part of the story? Probably not; I just don't find much entertainment value in being turned upside down and throwing up.) Only Timmy's skills at retracing his steps in the permanent dark allowed the robots to find their way back to the rocket. But now they've lost Timmy somewhere (maybe the rides got him) and somehow picked up another kid, one who is also blind and looks a lot like Timmy, but this kid's name is Billy. (All right, all right, it's the same kid, but apparently editor/writer Kanigher forgot his name in between issues. As I suggested in another post, perhaps this is an occupational hazarrd of writer/editors like Kanigher and Stan Lee with his famous "Bob Banner" fluff that led him to declare that the Hulk's full legal name is "Robert Bruce Banner".) Anyway, Timmy, or Billy, or Timothy William, or whoever, has led the Metal Men to the rocket successfully despite an episode of panic by Mercury. But their troubles aren't over, as the robot rides are hanging on to the rocket, and the Metal Men are still blind. Billy is again their only hope, as the robots urge him to launch the rocket by touch. Mercury predicts doom for them all, but Tin, who has more faith in others than himself, insists, "A person c-can do anything-- if p-people BELIEVE in him! WE b-b-believe in you, Billy!" Tina talks Billy through the launch procedure and we have liftoff, but with the evil rides still hanging on outside, until atmospheric friction on the ride up through the atmosphere burns them off. Lead offers blind pilot Billy the ultimate accolade, ""The kid's as smart as uhh- a ROBOT!" (It depends which robot, say somebody is as smart as *you* isn't much of a compliment...) but Mercury, ever the skeptic, reminds them that they're all still blind, Doc Magnus doesn't know where they are (he's back on Earth in his lab and doesn't even realize the robot babysitters have blasted off into space) and "We don't know WHERE we've BEEN-- WHERE we ARE-- or WHERE we're GOING!" And meanwhile, back on Earth, Doc Magnus knows where he is but feels lost anyway, as all his researches have provded that "No known element on Earth will cure him (Timmy-Billy)!" Unwilling to face the child with bad news, Doc plans to hide in his lab and not face him until the Metal Men finish their babysitting stint and take Billy home.

Billy will be lucky to get home, with or without sight, as in Part 2 the rocket is flipped end over end in the grip of a "cosmic storm of titanic force". As Billy tries to concentrate on the controls, the Metal Men tumble around and put dents in each other's fenders. Then the five-second warning for a crash landing sounds and Billy is barely able to bring the ship to ground on yet another unknown planet. As the ship comes to rest, the mostly malleable Metal Men manage to resume their normal shapes-- except for Mercury, who has separated into globules scattered all over the rocket floor. Serves you right for being such a wet blanket, Merc. But meanwhile, yet another set of hostile alien robots is eying the newcomers; "DEMON SPACE SENDS US A NEW SACRIFICE FOR OUR GRAVEYARD! RRRNGGG!" (It occurs to me that if Kanigher had wanted to make this story marginally more plausible, he would have established that Billy flew the rocket just far enough to get away from the mad amusement park and then landed at another spot on the same planet inhabited only by crazed non-Asimovian robots. But then, plot logic and plausibility was never Kanigher's strong point in his Silver Age superhero yarns.) The Metal Men try with limited success to gather Mercury's pieces together, while Merc makes critical comments; (Tina: "Your VOICE BOX is certainly here!" Merc: "Why, you PLATNIUM DOLL--! You haven't stopped gabbing since you came out of a test tube!" "Why don't you crawl back into a thermometer where you belong, you MERCURY JACK-IN-THE-BOX!" No thermometer handy, but the Metal Men are forced to the expedient of carrying Mercury in budkets as they leave the ship, with Billy. At this point the Metal Men find their sight returning, but they don't like what they see-- "robot juggernauts" marching menacingly toward the rocket. Leader Gold directs, "Our best chance is to lead that metal mob away from the rocket-- then double back after we've lost them!" (Hey, Gold, maybe leaving the rocket in the first place wasn't one of your better executive decisions?) Tina forms a platinum net, and, grabbing Billy and the other Metal Men in it, slithers along the ground in flight. Mercury complains that some of his globules are being left behind, but "What's the loss of a little liquid to Mercury! He can always steam up some more! KEEP GOING!"

As the giant robots seize the rocket ship and their dialogue suggests they intend to dismantle this "sacrifice from Demon Space" and consume it, the Metal Men must decide whether to keep running, abandoning their only means of reaching home, or to fight for their rocket. All vote to fight-- even Mercury, whose first instinct would be to run if he still had legs to run with. Billy, who gets a vote as an "honorary Metal Man," also votes to fight, but the real MM refuse to allow him to particpate in the actual fight, and leave him behind for safety as a chemical-tasting rain begings to fall. Then Billy shouts in wonderment, as the chemical rain strikes his face and eyes, "I can see! I CAN SEE! Wait for me!" (Hmmm. The story doesn't make clear if Billy was born blind or not. If he was, the sudden gift of sight wouldn't do him much immediate good, as people born blind who gain sight have to go through a long, difficult process of learning to interpret what they see, and usually are more helpless to start with, with sight than they were without it.) Gold deduces that the rain ex machina contains the very "elements unknown on Earth" needed to cure Billy's eyes. There is little time for celebrating, however, as the Metal Men are attacked by a literal "junkyard dog", a robot dog made of junked parts. Forming into a ball, Tin manages to roll the "dog" into position for Iron and Lead to crush it between them, though then they have to press Tin himself back into shape. Spotting where the "juggernauts" have taken their rocket, the Metal Men prepare to fight; even Mercury manages to assemble himself into a lopsided, misshapen but ambulatory form. But to no avail, as a "unique force" magnetizes nearly all the robots and draws them to the lead giant robot's body where they start to be crushed by the ginding rollers of which the robot is formed, (Unique force indeed, if *all* the robots, not just Iron, are subject to its magnetism.) Only Tin and Billy escape, as Tin forms a wheel and rolls Billy out of immediate danger. Tin is determined to return and try to rescue his fellow robots, however, and Billy insists on going with him. As they roll up to face the foe, though, it seems they are too late. The Metal Men have been formed into flat coin shapes and are dropped by the robots into a giant smelter. As they start to dissolve, only one chance remains; aided by the heat of the smelter, can the Metal Men "join forces" with each other as never before? "Form an alloy! It's our only chance!", Gold urges. Mercury, complaining as always, insists he's too special to form a mere alloy; he's supposed to form an amalgam with a rare metal like silver. Lead disdains this exclusivity; "This is-- whh- an emergency! Do like Gold says! Al--al--uhh--?" And the normally easy-going Iron gripes, "Alloy, Lead-- ALLOY! How are you going to DO it-- if you can't PRONOUNCE it?"

Alloy they do, however-- even if the result is more like a mosaic or jigsaw puzzle than the kind of complete dissolving together a metallurgist would recognize as an alloy. The Metal Men (except Tin) emerge from the smelter as one giant Metal Man, with a head of Gold, strong arms of Iron and Lead, legs of gold and Mercury (which doesn't sound like it would provide very secure footing, and Tna's head sprouting from one of the hips. Now as large as their robot tormentors, the combined Metal Men are able to knock the "juggerrnauts" around, reclaim their rocket, and take off into space.

(It's curious how two well-remembered Silver Age comics both had central characters named Magnus and both closely involved robots. The approach taken by Kanigher on METAL MEN and by Russ Manning and his scripters on Gold Key's MAGNUS ROBOT FIGHTER was worlds apart, though. The Metal Men fought other robots almost exclusively, but often, as in these two issues, the robots they fought battled them out of sheer, unexplained mechanical perversity. and it was unclear who had originally built the enemy robots or why. The ROBOT FIGHTER series, on the other hand, actually put some serious science-fictional thought into how humans would coexist with robots, and the robots Magnus fought always had a clear reason for fighting him. Indeed, that Magnus rarely fought robots who were rebelling against human authority all on their own; rather, usually, Magnus battled human or alien villains who were using robots as their agents or tools.)

Somehow, the Metal Men now know the course to take back to Earth, and Gold promises Billy he will soon see his home world. Maybe not; "I'll NEVER see home! I...I can't see again! I'm just like I was before-- BLIND!" Always ready to see the dark side, Mercury is the one to deduce that the sight-restoring properties of the alien chemical rain were only temporary. On the way back to Earth, the rocket passes through a comet's tail, unable to steer out of the way. To protect Billy from the cosmic radiation from the comet, the alloyed Metal Man huddles around him and Tin forms an extra layer of protection. (Good thing, or Billy might find himself with stretching ability, rocky skin and super-strength, invisibility and the power to burst into flame-- all powers that would be hard to handle while blind.)

As the robots and Billy arrive back on Earth and settle into their landing bay, Doc Magnus finally emerges from his lab, having thought better of his cowardly decision to hide from Billy so as not to have to confess failure. But as Billy leaves the rocket, he greets the inventor, "HI, DOC!"-- and Doc realizes that Billy can see him. It seems the comet-tail radiation, if it didn't give Billy the powers of a certain fantastic foursome, at least proved to be a permanent cure for his blindness. Doc is astounded to see the giant, "alloyed" Metal Man emerge from the rocket. Though now bound to her teammates, Tina remains irrepressible, as she extrudes metal arms to hug Doc. "I haven't changed a bit!" "That's what I was afraid of!" The next issue led the Metal Men into a new adventure in the course of their efforts to separate themselves into their normal individual forms. I proably won't review that issue here, but you can find it-- and these two issues I did review-- in the recently published Showcase METAL MEN volume.