Learning with the Metal Men

Category: Metal Men
Last article published: 16 June 2015
This is the 5th post under this label

As that parent's letter in Metal Men #1 suggests, the responsometered robots are meant to be EDUCATIONAL. Even as you're having fun, you're learning about different metals (no alloys). Gold and Platinum aren't just beautiful, they're the most pliable. Iron is tough and strong. Tin is thin and fragile. Lead is heavy and protects you from Kryptonian prying eyes and radiation. And as Mercury was fond of telling us, he's a liquid at room temperature. I added Copper in there as she was a member of the team for a while. She's a good conductor, and maybe tends to be tarnished, I dunno. No Veridium - sorry Doc Magnus - that's not a real thing and it doesn't belong in this EDUCATIONAL book. What are you tryin'a do, DC? Rot our kids' brains?!

But if we were to dig through the OTHER Metal Men that have shown up over the years, how many COULD be good and EDUCATIONAL members of the team (give or take a little reprogramming)? In Metal Men #2, we met the Robots of Terror:
Wait, are these ALL metals?! While we have a very specific notion of what metals are, the chemical reality is that most elements are considered metals. Pretty much so long as they're solid at room temperature (except for Mr. Exception up there, of course). All of these are metals:
So let's get into the Terrorbots and see how they rate. Do they have some special ability to bring to the team?
Barium: He makes firework attacks in the comic, because that's what you put in your rocket to give it a green color (the comic does not understand this). It's the most reactive metal in this group (see below for the others), and a superconductor as well, but I think the Metal Men should be shapeshifters and not have blaster attacks. Rejected!
Aluminum: Would be light on account of his low density, non-magnetic and ductile. But I don't think his protective layer of oxide brings anything important to the table.
Calcium: Great for writing on a blackboard, but you also make lime out of it and his attack on Iron seems pretty corrosive (but calcium is used to make steel stronger in industrial processes - maybe it just hurts). Like Sodium, he's soft and gets bubbly. These Metal Men are the stuff of nightmares, visually. I've seen safety warnings about metallic calcium causing irritation when interacting with body moisture. Looks dangerous and gross - it's a pass.
Zirconium: Flashbulbs are made of this, so the robot can explode into a blinding flash. As the connection to diamonds implies, it's also highly resistant to corrosion and heat. So where Lead melts, Zirc can go. And yet, there are better choices for an "illuminated" Metal Man.
Sodium: In the story, he's ordered to "fizz 'em to death", as it is a highly reactive metal. If the Metal Men ha been ice on pavement, they would have been done in for sure. He has potential.
Plutonium: They have him blow up in an atomic explosion (in space, we're okay) but on the every day, this guy's super power would just be to give people cancer. No thanks. (Same with Uranium who shows up in The Brave and the Bold #54, and who I'm not going to discuss separately since the element is about to be represented again.)

Issue 31 features the "Second Metal Men", who are just straight replacements using different metals. Gold is replaced by Silver, Mercury by Gallium, Iron by Cobalt, Lead by Osmium, Tin by Zinc, and Platinum by Iridium. Close analogs, these tend to be more brittle than the their counterparts. Let's just move on.

In 2007, long before all this Death Metal nonsense, Metal Men vol.3 gave us the Death Metal Men:
Uranium: High melting point, but exposure to just free radical will make him blow. I don't think that's safe at all.
Thorium: Another burner, this guy ignites and burns brilliantly in contact with air. These Dark Metal guys just can't be let loose in public.
Radium: The heaviest of the earth metals, he's highly radioactive, just ask Marie Curie. Can he see through walls?
Strontium: Also ignites in air, also highly radioactive. The worst of both worlds.
Polonium: The most dangerous yet! Another Curie special and even more toxic.
Fermium: Another radioactive, but even the lengthy Wikipedia entry has trouble finding a use for it outside of pure research.

So all of these are rejects because 1) they're dangerous and 2) they're all basically the same. So in terms of education, we've learned our lessons pretty quickly. So when Copper showed up Legends of Tomorrow (the comic, not the TV show) with her All-New Metal Men, none of the Death Metal guys got a makeover. She DID, however, enlist tough old Zirconium, and a much stumpier Aluminum (who wraps opponents in foil), plus:
Lithium: The lightest metal, he can glide on air! Normally, it combusts in air, but they don't use that in the book. He mentions batteries as if equipment could conceivably run off him. One wonders if he has mood-stabilizing abilities as well.
Magnesium: Here's the better "burner" on the list. Nothing radioactive or even explosive here. He should also react interesting in water. (There was also a Tungsten in an issue of Doom Patrol, so there's call for a flashy Metal Man, it seems.)
Silicon: Calls himself one of the slickest elements, so he's a slippery devil, hard to get a hold of. Kinda liquidy, but is it? Muddy, maybe. The "silicon blast" also seems suspect. Weakness: Chemo's breath crystalizes him dead.

I would say all the All-New Metal Men have their place and can teach good lessons about metals. They also had more personality than than the previous two groups - the courteous Lithium, battle-ready Aluminum, dumb jock Zirconium... but in most cases, those personality types already exist in the main team. Still, writer Len Wein did a good job of creating a team at least based on the originals' paradigm.

But from which interesting metal was a Metal Man never fashioned and should?


Charles Izemie said…
Iron Man, of course. With a special ability of camouflaging himself under a massive pile of cease-and-desist letters.

But really, it's hard to take them seriously when they lack the most important attribute of self-respecting Metal Men: long hair.
Green Luthor said…
Honestly kind of surprised there wasn't a Titanium.