There’s no denying it, we’ve pretty much concluded that Silver Age comics are completely bizarre. They all seem to follow the same formula: villain does something nefarious, hero intervenes, hero appears to fail miserably, hero totally psychs everybody out and saves the day. This happens every fucking time and somehow it never gets old. April 1962’s Showcase #37 (which, by the way, is the first appearance of Will Magnus and the Metal Men) took this formula to a whole new level, though. It has been a long time since a Silver Age book actually managed to throw me a curveball and leave me shocked at the end. Yeah. It’s probably better if I just explain this with a recap.
Our story starts out in a jungle millions of years ago, where radioactive fire rains from the sky, wiping out everything on the planet with the exception of one creature: a giant flying manta ray with both heat and ice powers! Suddenly, without explanation, the ray is frozen in a glacier that was in a jungle for whatever reason. And then, years later, global warming melts the glacier and the ray is free to wreck shit up! After using his heat ray to melt a lighthouse, his freeze-y ray to crash a jet, and setting the entirety of the fucking Empire State Building on fire, the military decides to intervene. But who can they get to help?
Colonel Henry Caspar takes a quick helicopter ride to the headquarters of none other than Will Magnus, who he finds slow dancing with a shiny silver woman. Magnus invites the colonel to dance with her and he discovers that she is made of metal! What kind of sorcery is this? Before the colonel has time to recover, Will goes, “Oh shit, yeah, I got a whole bunch of these guys.” The Metal Men proceed to introduce themselves and bore readers with random facts about metal (yes, yes, mercury is liquid at room temperature, we know!). The colonel asks Magnus if he can send the Metal Men to help defeat the marauding freezing and burning manta ray. Magnus agrees. Oh, except he doesn’t want to send Platinum because she’s a useless woman. That’s not a joke, he explicitly states that. She ties Magnus up with her power to turn into wire and he relents with, “Fuck, fine, whatever. Everybody into my thought-controlled hovercraft.”
They come across the giant manta ray fucking up some bridge and go into a huddle. After arguing about which of the robots can do the job better, Magnus determines that Iron should shape Lead into a giant ball covered by Tin and throw it at the ray. Perfect! Except when they do that, the ray slaps the giant metal ball back at the hovercraft, knocking out Magnus and crashing it into the rooftops. The ray circles around to shoot his heat ray but Tin jumps in the way, melting to death. Way to go, Metal Men!
Lead turns into a shield against the ray’s rays, allowing Magnus to wake up. He devises a new plan, using super-stretchy Gold as a lasso with Iron acting as an anchor. Surely the ray can’t lift both of them off the ground! Except he does. And then he drops them into the ocean, rusting Iron to death and killing Gold somehow. Way to go, Metal Men!
Fortunately, Will Magnus always has a backup backup plan. What would happen if they cut off the ray’s oxygen? Using Lead as a shield again, Mercury throws his liquid-y self at the ray, coating it completely. Yeah, it doesn’t die. Magnus realizes that it doesn’t breathe air, but draws it’s life from radioactivity! Suddenly, the ray whips its tail around, grabbing the hovercraft! To save her beloved creator, Platinum turns herself into wire, tying up the ray. Lead takes the opportunity to jump at the ray, blocking it from it’s radiation lifesource. The ray wrapped in Mercury wrapped in Platinum wrapped in Lead crashes into the sea, killing them all. Way to fucking go, Metal Men!
Now, this is (one of) the thing(s) that weirds me out. The very last panel of the comic is Will sitting at his desk, bumming out at little statues of his now dead Metal Men. Colonel Caspar stands behind him and does something that I have never ever seen before: in a precursor to the Jason Todd phone poll, he addresses the reader directly, asking us to send postcards to Julie Schwartz about whether or not we want them to bring the Metal Men back to life. The end!
Now, I don’t know how long it took to write a Silver Age comic, because the very next month’s issue of Showcase also starred the Metal Men. Unless the poll was just some weird way of giving the fans a sense of interacting with the story, it doesn’t really seem possible to conduct a survey of that magnitude, plus script, draw, print, and ship a comic all in the course of a month! You know what this seems like to me? Remember in Peter Pan when he makes the kids slow clap to bring Tinkerbell back to life? Replace Tinkerbell with potentially killer robots and Peter with DC Comics’ editorial staff, and it’s the same fucking thing. Whoa, I think I just blew my own mind.