Retro Review: Showcase #37 (March/April 1962)

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We all know the feeling of being up against a deadline and frantically trying to come up with something, ANYTHING to fill the particular bill we are working towards…  This has led to some awkward moments in my life (including my Master’s thesis), but for Bob Kanigher, it just meant a chance to create some of the most beloved characters of comics’ Silver Age and to make comic book history… again.  Your Major Spoilers review of Showcase #37 awaits!

Showcase37CoverSHOWCASE #37
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito
Letterer: Uncredited
Editor: Robert Kanigher
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: 12 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $1000.00

Previously in Showcase:  The legend, as it has been told, is a compelling one: Strapped for a feature to fill the next issue of his ‘Showcase’ anthology title, Bob Kanigher flips through his Scientific Encyclopedia and quickly assembles a team of robotic superheroes, each of whom embodies a particular metallic element.  With the help of his Wonder Woman collaborator, Ross Andru, Kanigher assembled the issue, and put it to press, but found that they liked the characters enough to turn it into several issues worth of story.  When the sales figures started coming in (a process that took a couple of months in those days), it was clear that Bob and Ross weren’t the only ones enamored of the Metal Men.  But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here…  Let’s turn back the clock a bit to, say, the late Cretaceous period?

Showcase371So we have this creature, apparently a flying, radiation-powered ancestor of the manta ray, coming back to life in the present day (for some values of present, anyway) and going El Bonzo Seco all over our proud civilization.  Destroying lighthouses, melting fighter jets, even leaving the Chrysler Building as a ruined tower of flame, the monstrous Thing runs rampant across the world, leading those who would protect the free world to take drastic action…

Showcase372As much as I love me some Kanigher, this story does show all the earmarks of having been plotted out over a weekend (although you can say that about many issues of ‘Showcase’ from back in the day), but there’s still something wonderful about the armed forces reaching out to someone who is clearly off of science’s beaten path.  Platinum (or, as she prefers to be called, “Tina”) is one of Magnus’ prototypes, a robot powered by a complex device called a Responsometer which gives her nearly human personality, and the emotions of a real human being.  When he sees the radioactive monster in action, Will quickly throws his automated lab into overdrive, using Tina’s design to create the only force capable of stopping the Ray-Ray (because it’s a ray that shoots ra–  Y’know what?  Forget it.)

Showcase373And here’s where the real heart of the Metal Men’s characterization is for me, the obsessive recitation of the abilities and specifications of their respective elements, reminding us that these are artificial beings who only resemble humans.  The concept her is very cool, but Kanigher’s real stroke of brilliance with the Metal Men is in making them each a recognizable personality archetype but making it clear through dialogue that they’re only simulacra.  Each Metal Man has their “gimmick”, and even if they’re dated (especially Tina’s jealous vixen routine), they’re still fun to watch.  Having assembled his army, Magnus and the Metal Men leap into action to put a stop to the ray-related carnage…

Showcase374The Lead/Tin team fails, and worse than that, their “cannonball” gets deflected back into Will Magnus’ own ship, causing the saucer to careen out of control and crash, leaving the Metal Men exposed to the Ray’s rays…

Showcase375Tin’s sacrifice saves his teammates, and Lead barely manages to stave off another blast from the creature, allowing Gold to use his special properties to lasso the creature in an effort to bring it down, with a little backup from Iron…

Showcase376This plan likewise proves to be a failure, as the monster flies so swiftly that even Gold’s incredible ductility to stretched to the limit, and Iron is dragged into the sky with his fellow Metal Man, leading to another automaton tragedy, this one ending in a double-fatality…

Showcase377In fairness, Will Magnus did whip them together in an afternoon.  With half his robotic forces gone, Will Magnus has at least managed to narrow down the creature’s potential weaknesses, leading him to believe he can bring it down by cutting off its oxygen supply.  The army tries to call him back, but Magnus channels his inner Captain Ahab, and informs them that he still has robots left to kill three soldiers left, and sets out to asphyxiate the monster…

Showcase378It’s pretty clear from this first story why later storytellers (especially Grant Morrison during the ’52′ crossover) chose to interpret Magnus as someone with psychological and emotional issues.  Having spent half the issue chiding Tina for acting like a “real woman”, and the other half protecting her as if she were his girlfriend, Magnus is forced to finally treat the distaff Metal Man the same way as he does the male-shaped ‘bots…

Showcase379Mercury and Platinum manage to keep the monster steady, and Lead cuts off his power source, leading to an escalation of the robotic carnage we’ve been reading all issue…

Showcase3710In the end, though all his Metal Men were destroyed, Magnus did save the world (although the Chrysler Building is probably a dead loss, and the thousands of people inside probably burned to death in agony.)  It’s a cute Silver Age tale, one that’s more literate than most, teaching the children reading in 1962 a little bit of science here and there, and Andru’s art job doesn’t show any real signs of the reputed rush job to bog things down.  In fact, the Metal Men are pretty much fully formed here, changing little when they returned (the next three issues of Showcase feature the resurrected heroes in action, leading almost immediately to their own solo series thereafter, a shockingly fast turnaround even for the Silver Age.)  I have to say, this story ages much better than the Dan Jurgens-penned 90s Metal Men revival, a book that added unnecessary and disturbing wrinkles to the origins of the nearly disposable heroes.  In short, Showcase #37 is the start of a bona-fide comic book revolution, taking the inspiration of a weekend and transforming it into a property fondly remembered more than 4 decades later, earning 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.