Current Reviews


Metal Men #1

Posted: Monday, August 6, 2007
By: Thom Young

Duncan Rouleau
Duncan Rouleau
DC Comics
"Based on Ideas by Grant Morrison"

Where do I start?

Well, let's start with the title that I've given this first issue of Metal Men #1--"Based on Ideas by Grant Morrison." Actually, I'm not certain that's really the title listed for the story. However, the credits are listed on the final page of the issue, and the title usually appears with the credits--so "Based on Ideas by Grant Morrison" is what I'm going with since that's the only thing that looks like a title on that page.

What's truly amazing about this title is that Grant Morrison was only two years old when the Metal Men debuted in 1962 in Showcase #37--and nowhere in this issue does it say "Metal Men Created by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru," which wouldn't have been a very good title either.

However, there are titles listed for the three chapters in this issue.

The first five pages are called "Chapter One: Et in Arcanum Ergo" and the opening caption informs us, "Time. 411 A.D." The next eight pages are called "Chapter Two: Theories of Relativity" and take place "Now." Finally, the last nine pages are "Chapter Three: To Serve with Love" and the time is "Four years, three months, six hours, and twenty-three minutes earlier."

Don't you just love that last time stamp? The precision down to the minute. I guess it's because the Metal Men are examples of precision technology--so it's supposed to be amusing how precise the time stamps can be. I just don't understand why we couldn't have been given the time down to the nanosecond.

Anyway, let's look at that first chapter--"Et in Arcanum Ergo." I'll admit my Latin is a bit rusty, not having had to use it since graduate school, but I believe the title means either "Also Preceded with a Secret" or "And then a Secret" (depending on whether we're supposed to read et as an adverb or a conjunction).

To tell you the truth, the title doesn't make much sense to me either way--but, like I mentioned, my Latin is rusty. I'll assume writer/illustrator Duncan Rouleau is much more proficient in Latin, and that the title of chapter one actually makes sense.

However, if Rouleau is proficient in Latin, then he might know that "A.D." stands for the Latin phrase "Anno Domini" (or "In the Year of Our Lord")--and that, according to the rules of Latin grammar, it should precede the year. Thus, Rouleau's opening caption should have read, "Time. A.D. 411." But that's nitpicking on my part, isn't it?

Let's forget that for now and get into the actual substance of chapter one. The story begins in 411 CE, which the second caption tells us is "One thousand, six hundred, and forty-three years after the Second Fall of Atlantis"--which would mean that the Second Fall of Atlantis occurred in 1232 BCE.

According to Plato, Atlantis was destroyed over 9,000 years before he wrote about it in his dialogues Timaeus and Critias--or around the year 9400 BCE (give or take a century). I guess Plato must have been referring to "the First Fall of Atlantis," so "the Second Fall of Atlantis" seems to have taken place in the DC Universe almost 8,000 years later in 1232 BCE.

I'm usually pretty good with knowing the minutiae of the DC Universe, but this reference threw me. Perhaps this "Second Fall of Atlantis" is something that relates to the history of Aquaman or was mentioned in an Arion story--or perhaps it has something to do with Skartaris in Mike Grell's Warlord of which I have forgotten the details.

Unless you're a diehard, longtime reader of DC, my references to Aquaman, Arion, and Skartaris may have made you feel like you needed a program to know what I was referring to. Well, that's exactly what I felt like reading Metal Men #1--even though I am a longtime reader of DC. However, my "diehard" title is starting to wear down with each story like this one.

I have no idea what this "Second Fall of Atlantis" refers to. Perhaps it's an artifact of Superboy Prime punching the crystal wall of his bedroom. Who knows? Okay, more nitpicking. I promise I'll focus on the actual story this time.

"Et in Arcanum Ergo" is a chapter about a sorcerer/alchemist fleeing from some demonic rock beings with fiery red eyes, mouths, and symbols tattooed on their black, rocky skin. The fleeing sorcerer/alchemist refers to one of these demonic rock creatures as "Dolomite"--so I guess that's what their black skin is made of. However, dolomite is usually white or pink (or sometimes gray) rather than black. Sorry, nitpicking again.

Since this sorcerer/alchemist is battling these creatures in 411 CE (presumably somewhere in Europe), I guess he's supposed to be speaking Latin--which, I guess, is also why the title of this chapter is in Latin. During the course of this five-page chapter, the sorcerer/alchemist makes his way to the "Inner Sanctum 8th House of Crystal" (whatever that is) where he halts before a flaming altar on which rests a metal glove.

Apparently he's one of Zatanna's ancestors because he speaks backwards to the metal glove--telling it (in reverse here), "Open hand of Tezumak, Zosimus, keeper of the book of Orin commands you!" I was confused at first until I realized there were two commas missing--one after "Open" and another after "Orin." I know, more nitpicking--but punctuation really is an important part of conveying information clearly in writing.

Anyway, it turns out that Tezumak must have been the original owner of the metal glove, and he "fell beneath that traitorous whore Ganemenae and her so-called League of Ancients." This Tezumak fellow was "a priest to his heathen spirits. It was from them he drew his power."

To tell you the truth, I wanted to stop reading this issue at this point. I can't stand this type of gibberish, especially when I haven't been provided with a program to keep all this nonsense straight. Am I actually supposed to be drawn into the story by this arcane mumbo-jumbo?

In any event, something then flies out of Tezumak's metal glove after the sorcerer/alchemist is killed by one of the black dolomite rock creatures--as a sacrifice to Tezumak's gods . . . or something.

After turning the page, we see that what flew out was a red and yellow disk that sort of looks like a mandala--which, of course, is used in Dharmic religions (such as Hinduism and Buddhism). It's caught by one of the black rock creatures, but a man in a time machine suddenly appears and takes the red and yellow mandala away from the rock creature--who shouts, "Nooooooo!" End of "Et in Arcanum Ergo."

I was wishing it was the end of the issue, but there were still seventeen more pages to go.

When I was a kid, my only exposure to the Metal Men was when they appeared as co-stars with Batman or Superman in either The Brave and the Bold or DC Comics Presents, respectively. Nevertheless, I recognized that the mandala that flew out of the metal glove was a "Responsometer"--the device that gives each of the Metal Men his or her respective personality. In effect, a Responsometer is a Metal Man's soul.

I could immediately guess where the story might go from here. We'll learn that the man in the time machine is actually Dr. Will Magnus (which was later revealed to be the case on the last page of the issue). I'm guessing that we will discover he didn't invent the Responsometers. Instead, he scavenged them from the past in his time machine--or at least he scavenged this first Responsometer.

I figured that a Responsometer will eventually be revealed to be:
  • An ancient Dharmic mandala with great mystical powers,

  • An ancient Atlantean mandala with great mystical powers, or

  • An ancient Atlantean high-tech device with great high-tech powers.
Okay, the idea that a Responsometer is actually one of those three things sounds like a Grant Morrison idea to me. However, just because a Morrison idea appears in a story, it doesn't mean the writer of the story knows how to execute it well. Rouleau seems to get caught up in the arcane gibberish and nearly lost this reader.

I won't spoil the rest of the issue by relating what happens in chapters two and three--except to say that when chapter three jumps back "Four years, three months, six hours, and twenty-three minutes earlier" (that's earlier than the "now" of chapter two), we are shown Will Magnus as a graduate student who has a booth at the "Future Young Inventors Show."

A few booths down from Magnus is a young Ray Palmer (also a grad student, apparently) who is there to present his invention of "Atomic Dentistry"--in which he proposes shrinking dentists down to one inch so they can climb inside their patients' teeth to fix cavities and such. Isn't that hilarious?

Oh, one more nitpick, though. I don't believe Ray Palmer was a graduate student only four years before "now"--at least not unless "now" means something other than 2007 CE.

By the way, another idea that probably came from the mind of Morrison is the notion of having Will Magnus's graduate work be on something called "The Hypo-Hyper Flux Theory" (that's his presentation at the Future Young Inventors Show).

Essentially, this theory (as Magnus explains it) is associated with the alchemist concept of the transmutation of metals--from base metals like lead to precious metals like gold--which, of course, connects the story back to the sorcerer/alchemist in 411 CE and his interest in the metal glove of Tekamuk (or whatever his name was).

I hate to point this out (more nitpicking), but scientists have been able to change lead into gold for a few decades now by using a particle accelerator to remove three protons from a molecule of lead to transform it into a molecule of gold. It turns out those ancient alchemists might have been on to something.

However, the cost of the energy needed to create a molecule of gold from a molecule of lead far exceeds the value of a molecule of gold--making the practice entirely impractical. I guess the advantage of Magnus's Hypo-Hyper Flux Theory is that it's cost efficient.

Finally, there's one other item that seems like a Morrison idea on the surface, but I doubt it actually was Morrison who suggested it. It's when Lead (the Metal Man, not the metal) says, "Look I'm a floating head!"

You see, the Postmodern-esque joke is that Rouleau introduced the Metal Men at the bottom of page six by drawing only their heads--a common comic book convention for introducing the members of a team book, dating back at least to Mike Sekowsky's work on the original Justice League of America--as well as his work on the first Metal Men series in the 1960s. Grant Morrison is a Postmodernist, so the joke might have been his--but I'm guessing it was Rouleau's idea.

Either way, it didn't make me laugh.

In fact, despite the obvious attempts to make Metal Men a humorous series, nothing in this first issue made me laugh. However, a recent study published in the July issue of the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society suggests that "older adults [may] have greater difficulty with humor comprehension due to age-related cognitive decline."

In other words, my lack of laughter could be a sign of impending Alzheimer's rather than Rouleau not being funny.

I will say, though, that I enjoy Rouleau's illustrations. He has a style somewhat reminiscent of Steve Rude's, and it is well suited for drawing a story involving robots with a bit of a retro-science fiction look.

If only Morrison had written this story with Rouleau as his illustrator, then the concepts introduced here might have worked better. However, despite a somewhat intriguing reveal on the last page, I won't be coming back for seconds.

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