Wednesday, July 05, 2017

"Scrap" Appears To Be Their Default State

Duncan Rouleau's 8-issue Metal Men mini-series from 2008 is kind of an odd duck. It starts the story by playing off fallout from Joe Kelly's Obsidian Age story in JLA, which came out, six, seven years earlier. It incorporates parts of the Oolong Island thread from the 52 series, and probably all sorts of stuff from the Metal Men's backstory I didn't know about. Like Will Magnus having an older brother in the military, who happens to be a total dick.

The story is a lot of different forces wanting to exploit the Metal Men for their own purposes. The Nameless, an ancient being, thinks the Metal Men will grant it control over the Earth, and tries to encourage a young Magnus in his endeavors. Will's brother, having gotten his hands on a time machine, is trying to keep the Metal Men from ever being created. And Magnatech, a company formed by robots that survived whatever went down on Oolong Island, keep thwarting him because they're trying to use the Metal Men to shape public opinion of machines to their advantage (and they have some novel takes on corporate culture). The story jumps between at least three time periods, has at times two different sets of Metal Men, surprise betrayals, characters being reversed, Will Magnus' broken heart, a renegade Manhunter, and T.O. Morrow as a sort of wild card in Magnus' life.

There's a lot going on, basically. It's comprehensibility is questionable. When I'm reading it, I can pretty much follow what's going on and why. But sitting here trying to organize it from memory is turning into kind of a mess. The story seems to revolve around making an embracing a choice. The Nameless insists Magnus' made a mistake giving the Metal Men free will, that they should have been blindly obedient instead, while Magnatech and Will's brother try to bend events around him to either make him create and use the Metal Men to protect humanity, or whip them out. Doc himself never intended to go into robotics, the Metal Men were just something he created to help him along the way to the work he was interested in, except they kind of ended up dominating his life. Which might explain why he always acted in the old comics like it was such a pain to have them around, yet kept putting them back together and sending them off again.

Ultimately, he has to accept that this is where things are at, and he can't go back and change it. Whatever he had with Helen Garin is gone. Being bitter and resentful towards her for not waiting endlessly for him to confess his feelings, or towards his brother for not being able to be the bigger man, isn't helping anything. He might be frustrated he never got any further with his Hypo-Hyper Flux theory, but that's a choice he made. Whether he wanted to admit it or not, he got caught in having created the responsometers and the Metal Men, and the celebrity from saving the world. He could have gone back to his original pursuit, but chose not to.

And the Metal Men, as always, have people trying to make all the decisions about them for them. The Nameless, Magnatech, David Magnus, Checkmate supposedly pops up with some division to decide whether to classify them as a threat or not and keep them deactivated until then. Morrow turns them into the Death Metal Men. Magnatech comes the closest to giving them an option, but it's the old, "Work with us or perish" choice. That said, it still feels like more of a story about Doc, him dealing with his issues, than one about the Metal Men. I guess there isn't much question about whether they want to surrender their free will.

I don't know if this is the first appearance of Copper as part of the team, but of all of them, she's the one who shows the least personality. I can't readily define her compared to the others. Doc says he thinks she'll have multi-task capability, maybe be able to help with bookkeeping. Maybe she's the smart one. Seems level-headed but practical, not a leader, but insightful. It's hard for her to get much panel time with so many characters and factions running around.

Rouleau's very fond of pages consisting of five wide panels, one on top of the other. How much he uses it varies, sometimes 3 pages in a row, or 6 out of 10. Seems to be most common in the sequences set in the past. In the present day parts, or the scenes that take place outside time, Rouleau leans more towards one large image in the center of the page, with varying numbers of smaller panels set against it either above or below. In fight scenes, it's common for the Metal Men to be all over the place, stretching from one panel into another, or over the top of it. On pages with those larger central images, which don't have panel borders, it can turn into a mess trying to parse what's happening. There's robot heads on stretched out necks all over the place.

That said, Rouleau has some fun with the shapes he can contort the Metal Men into. His style is more exaggerated with them than with most any of the other characters, including the other robots (who generally don't shape-shift). He also takes advantage of setting the story in different time periods to draw the Metal Men as various models. There's an extreme prototype, when his work first catches notice, and it's all about function. Then a style where they've adopted a more human form (except Tin, who hadn't settled on a style, perhaps due to his thirteen different isotopes), but still have certain archaic elements, antennae as receivers. And the current day forms, which are much more sleek, but also show more of each one's personality.

His style's more restrained with the human characters - except for Morrow's mustache, that thing is an impressively wide handlebar - although he also reuses panels from time-to-time with them. Or maybe it's just that there are a lot of panels of Doc with his pipe in his mouth, looking into the middle distance.

The coloring by Moose Baumann and Pete Pantazis could probably stand to be brighter. In the sequences taking place outdoors, or in what are supposed to be well-lit locations, it works well. The colors aren't incredibly vivid, but they're bright enough. But the parts set inside, or outside time, are almost overwhelmed with gloom. Deep shadows and purples that overpower all the other colors. The whole page tends to look like someone set the brightness down a few notches.

There's also this technique being used of shading by using a bunch of small, individual dots. It only seems to be used on the human characters, mostly in close-ups. I thought it was restricted to the flashbacks, trying for a retro-feel, but that isn't the case. I can't really trace a pattern, other than it gets more use in extreme close-ups, and it's used to imply deeper shadows within the shadows. Curious it isn't used for the artificial life-forms.

It's not a bad mini-series, although it gets a little too tangled up in all the time-travel stuff, and I'm not as interested in Doc Magnus' relationship issues as Rouleau wants me to be. But I enjoy the art, and Rouleau certainly tried to give the reader their money's worth in terms of how much is going on. I can't speak for how a Metal Men fan would feel, but I liked it pretty well.

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