3 out of 5
Not counting his later forays into DC Focus and Vertigo, Steve Gerber’s DC work was very weird. Not, like, Gerber weird, but weird for the creator – he had some various notable Superman work, and then the rest of it is scattered, bits and bobs, onesies and twosies. Over at Marvel, when he would bop around on titles, it kinda made sense: Steve was yer fix-up guy, who would jump on a book and tie up loose ends and then leave, but the DC stuff felt much more like work-for-hire. There is, perhaps, some world where Steve pulled a Man-Thing or Howard the Duck on some DC title, and then established himself over at that imprint… and because there are definite differences in the general “flavor” of DC and Marvel books, especially in the 70s, that’s an interesting line of thought.
Anyhow: Metal Men is very much one of these work-for-hire seeming dealies, although it has the whiff of Steve’s fix-up projects as well, since the title had lain dormant for a bit and, after some reprints, was kicking off with this issue, which, indeed, tied up some loose ends to let forthcoming writers start fresh. Given only one issue to do that, though, keeps the reins very tight on what Steve can accomplish, making it read like the guest spot it actually is, and not something on which the writer can blow things up especially inventively.
It’s still a very fun (and silly) tale, with Doc Magnus in the crazy house (due to matters in previous issues), and creating a radioactive Plutonium Man that the Metal Men have to pseudo-science their way into defeating, and Steve gets some good pokes at authority and big business in there, while – I think – kinda sorta purposefully overdoing the villainy of the villain who arranged this whole deal, just to make him extra campy. Matched with some classic Walt Simonson art, it’s an issue that’s full of punchy dialogue and action, if, again, not really feeling like it matters all that much, except to reintroduce everyone. The “secret” here might be the thank you to Metal Men’s original writers / artists in the last panel – suggesting maybe this book was a favor to editor (and incoming writer) Gerry Conway, with Steve just doing a straight-forward tribute to a title he perhaps once enjoyed. But the ephemeral nature of the whole thing is backed up by the editorial page that follows, which hypes up Things To Come, but doesn’t really have anything to say about the issue we just read.
Metal Men would’ve been a good book for Gerber to pull a Howard the Duck on, come to think of it. Oh well.