Pop Culture Gadabout
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
      ( 8/14/2007 01:07:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"YOU AND YOUR KIND ARE A BLIGHT ON THIS LAND" – Compare the covers to the premieres of two new DC mini-series, Black Adam and Metal Men, and it's instantly apparently that the titles'll be providing two very different reading experiences. Though both books' covers trumpet the characters' involvement in DC's recent event maxi-series, 52, it's clear they come from different realms of the comic book universe. Metal Men's cover, featuring our metallic leads scrunched together to form a giant number one while pipe-smoking scientist William Magnus provides the number's visual base, is light and slightly silly. In contrast, Black Adam's cover (one of two variants) is slimy green and shows the title anti-hero grimly holding up a moldering female corpse. A little necrophilia for the kiddies, eh?

To be fair, these two titles are focusing on very different super-types. The Metal Men, from their Silver Age inception have always been more than a bit goofy. As conceptualized by Robert Kanigher & Ross Andru, the sextet (now a septet) were robot creations whose personalities comically meshed with the element that they embodied. Thus, Lead was slow and bulky; Mercury more, well, mercurial – and so on. It's to writer/illustrator Duncan Rouleau's credit (working on ideas developed by Grant Morrison, the Concept Man) that this new mini-series clings to these appealingly one-note characterizations without attempting to refit 'em to modern mainstream comics parameters.

In the case of Black Adam, writer Peter J. Tomasi & artist Doug Mahnke are working with a much revamped character. Originally a one-time villain in the comparatively child-friendly world of Fawcett's Captain Marvel, Black (a.k.a. Teth) Adam has seen a host of character revisions since his resurrection, becoming much more modernly psychopathic in the process. This variable characterization is captured in an opening two-page spread which attempts to chart the various phases of B.A.'s career, but unless you've made a point of intently studying the character (I haven't), it's not very clear-cut.

Main thing to note is that Adam, who supposedly was defeated at the end of 52, has somehow gotten back into the supervillain game. The first time we see him, he's encouraging a follower to mercilessly pummel his face so that he's no longer recognizable to his enemies. When Adam's facial reorganizer momentarily balks at further ravaging his leader's visage, our lead taunts him into finishing the job. ("Your parents should have aborted you in the womb before you had a chance to taint this world with your sad and fragile . . .") Somebody's been spending too much time re-reading 300, methinks.

Because the focus of the B.A. six-ish mini-series is on an outlandishly murderous villain who's not averse to eating his own followers when there's nothing else at hand, the reader might wonder who gets to play Dennis Nayland-Smith to Adam's Arabic Fu Manchu. It's hard to guess on the basis of the first issue: midway into the story, we're provided a brief scene featuring several recognizable DC superheroes, but none of 'em are distinctly enough rendered to suggest that they'll be the one to thwart our supervillain's plans. Even the book's coloring (by Nathan Eyring) seems designed to make these powerful figures blend into the murk. I thought the point of having a bright spandex suit was to make your figure pop off the page.

As for Black Adam's dastardly scheme, it apparently relates to the resurrection of his long-dead love Isis via a long-established DC plot device known as the Lazarus Pit. The first issue concludes with a moment that already has elicited much scorn among critics in the comics blogosphere. When Teth's naked love emerges from the pit with all but a ring finger intact, it's clear her Barbie-like breasts are nipple free. Perhaps this is meant to signify that she's not the nurturing type?

Metal Woman Platinum (and her new robotic female teammate Copper) don't have nipples either, but, then, we don't expect 'em to. When we first see our troupe of robotic do-gooders, they're charging into battle against a giant hive-mind silicon robot, and though they defeat this menace, some super-suited government contractors show up immediately afterwards to demand that their inventor Magnus hand over the robots' "responsometers," so that the devices can be examined to determine whether the robots are on the side of good or evil. In the future, an alternate version of Doc Magnus is meanwhile planning to alter time so that our metallic protagonists no longer exist. Why he's doing this is something we'll have to wait at least one more issue to learn, though it's clear he has considerable scorn for his "pigheaded buffoon" younger self.

Unlike the ham-fistedly "dark" Black Adam, the new Metal Men eight-ish mini-series series actually has me anticipating future installments. Writer/artist Duncan Rouleau (a member of the Man of Action creative collective) handles his material with a considerably defter touch, and he displays a Morrison-esque ability to convey complex sci-fi exposition without stopping his story cold. I was a little thrown by the first issue's prologue – a mysto-babble-packed sequence which read like someone at the printing plant had inadvertently slipped the first few pages of Cthulhu Tales in between the covers – but once we got into the story proper, things started to pick up. Rouleau's art is a major selling point here: it's engagingly stylized in a way that happily recalls comics artists like Jerry Grandenetti. And while there's not a single severed body part or naked female form to be found in the entire ish, I had a much better time perusing M.M.'s expressive panels than I did Black Adam's grimly stolid compositions. A little visual wit'll definitely take you places . . .
# |

Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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