Dan DiDio and Shane Davis separately have a history of mining the classic DC Universe, maintaining what makes them classic characters while tweaking them for modern consumption – Davis on Superman: Earth One and DiDio on, among other things, the best book of the New 52 relaunch, OMAC. But these updates are rarely radical departures. OMAC was no longer Buddy Blank, but he was still a corporate drone dealing with girlfriend troubles fighting for world peace. So when we had a chance to talk to Davis and DiDio about their new book, Metal Men, we asked about what each was drawing from to bring the classic characters to the world of 2020.
“To be perfectly honest,” DiDio says, “one of the things that inspired me to go get started working with Metal Men and working with Shane on this book is Westworld.”
Wait, what? The Metal Men are a weird family of liquid metal robots, created in the ‘60s by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru. They were built by Will Magnus, a scientist who fits the Venture Bros.’ Professor Impossible “aloof moron scientist” archetype as good or better than the Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards. Each robot’s personality and power set are dictated by their core element – stretchy leader Gold, super-strong Iron, dim defender Lead, insecure stutterer Tin, hothead Mercury, and beautiful Platinum. They’re a throwback, generally wholesome with a little military-industrial distrust built in, but they’re definitely not sex robots on the other side of a psychotic break. How sinister can a pipe-smoking, tweed jacketed professor possibly be?
“At the end of the original series, Magnus goes crazy and actually defects against the United States and the Metal Men have to bring him back,” DiDio tells us. “The first issue [of the new series] really is a therapy session with Magnus, talking through everything it took for him to make the Metal Men and then his relationship with them. And then the Nth Metal Man appears, and then all bets are off.”
The relaunch of Metal Men comes after a prolonged absence from the DC Universe. The team of shape shifting liquid metal robots has almost appeared more often on television than in comics the last 10 years – they got an arc in David Walker’s Cyborg, one in “Forever Evil”-era Justice League, the last story in the Legends of Tomorrow anthology (no relation to the TV series), and a handful of cameos in event comics since 2011 as opposed to their own DC Nation short and several episodes of Batman: The Brave and the Bold on television. But they have a long history in the comics, with some killer artists drawing the team from the moment they were created by Ross Andru and Bob Kanigher in 1962. Honoring that legacy is surprisingly easy for Davis, and a lot of fun. There’s a two-page spread in the first issue, he tells us, that lets him draw all of the incarnations of the Metal Men, from Andru to Duncan Rouleau (from Rouleau’s mid-aughts mini) to Jose Luis Garcia Lopez (from the terrific Wednesday Comics) to Yildiray Cinar’s version from the recent (likely noncanonical) Legends of Tomorrow book.
The way the Metal Men use their powers is another fun throwback, but a challenge for Davis as well. All of the Metal Men are shapeshifters, with personalities that track their specific abilities, but this series isn’t afraid to have someone turn into a giant hammer with a face on it. He tells us, “…they just snap quickly into motion and do the object. [I wouldn’t have to] draw three panels of Gold turning into a hammer, or a drill…”
Classic cartoon shapeshifters kept their faces on the outside of the inanimate objects they turned into. This was never any different with the Metal Men, and though this has fallen out of favor in the modern era, it’s always been amusing to see a chin jutting out of a hammer’s handle. Davis says the new book leans into that. “I recently drew Lead into turning into a vise, and there was a piece on the vise that could fit an angry Lead face on, and it worked [great]…that’s how the older stuff worked too. So I definitely didn’t reinvent the wheel on their basic mechanics, and that’s probably the thing I stick to the most is the basic mechanics that were in the older original material.”
This is not a series that only looks back, though. There’s plenty of weird new stuff in it too. “There’s going to be a whole new team that are animal based,” DiDio says excitedly. “If we pull it off right, I think it will have a … I don’t know, retro Hanna Barbera animated feel to the team,” Davis adds. “[Also], the Robot-Con is the weirdest comic I’ve ever drawn.”
The first issue of Metal Men from Dan DiDio and Shane Davis is out on October 16th. Check out these preview pages!