Metal Men #1
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Duncan Rouleau
Colors: Moose Baumann
Letters: Pat Brosseau
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.65 CAN
Duncan Rouleau twisted, surreal and fluid style is a perfect match for DC’s oddball, shapechanging robotic heroes, the Metal Men. Rouleau is mainly known to DC and Marvel super-hero readers as an artist alone, not a writer. He’s no rookie when it comes to plotting and scripting, though, as those who have read his graphic novel, The Nightmarist, can attest. Just as he boasts an unusual and unique approach in his art, his writing is unconventional in tone as well. That makes for a challenging read, though, and that holds true here. The plot incorporates magicks from the dark ages, theoretical physics about the building blocks of reality and shapeshifting super-heroics. It’s not easy to follow the storytelling here, but one can’t deny the fun that’s to be had. While Rouleau’s time-jumping plot has yet to fully reveal itself, there’s enough entertainment value here to keep me on board until things make a little more sense.
Dr. Will Magnus’s heroic Metal Men are back in action, and this time, they’ve got a new member: the female robot known as Copper. It’s a good thing the team has expanded its ranks, and it’s about to face off against an immense threat. U.N.I.O.N., an artificial intelligence in control of a gigantic body made up of smaller pieces of technology, is running amok in a major city, and the Metal Men have to find a way to stop it while also avoiding being taken over by the menace’s hive mind. Meanwhile, an even greater threat is travelling through time, manipulating the past in a way that will impact the lives of Magnus and his Metal Men in dramatic ways.
The energy in Duncan Rouleau’s artwork is undeniable. His characters move quickly, even frenetically, and it’s sometimes difficult to keep up with the visuals. His artwork is incredibly dense as well. Just look at that fight scene with U.N.I.O.N. There are so many panels, so many characters and so many word balloons that one really has to study the linework carefully. Like I said, Rouleau’s work is a challenge, but it’s also quite attractive. He brings a different and inventive look to the Metal Men, making them seem more high-tech while also incorporating something of a “clockwork” look into the characters. It makes for a nice balance between the old and the new. The flashback sequence also provided Rouleau with an opportunity to provide cruder designs for earlier incarnations of the Metal Men. He also manages to depict Will Magnus as clearly and significantly younger than his present-day counterpart. Maintaining clear visual cues that set apart specific scenes and times is helpful for the reader.
I’ve been singing Moose Baumann’s praises for his work in recent years on various Green Lantern comics, but his dazzling contributions to those books are limited to glowing greens hues (and sometimes some yellows). He’s able to let loose with a much wider palette here. His colors for the title characters parallel the vibrant, fun personalities within. Baumann also does some great work when it comes to bringing the sci-fi entity of U.N.I.O.N. to life. The colors on the first page were a bit too dark and muted for my tastes, though, as they made it difficult to discern exactly what was happening.
There were a lot of light touches throughout the book that made it clear that Rouleau is ultimately out to tell a fun — even goofy — adventure story. His use of “floating heads” to introduce the title characters early on in the issue was fun, especially when the characters break the fourth wall and recognize the technique in their dialogue. The banter among the Metal Men is as entertaining as ever, but the characters don’t quite come off as one-dimensional as they have on occasion in the past. Tin is not defined by his stuttering and timidity alone, for example, and one gets a clear sense of the strength of the heroes’ friendships. Copper has a great debut; Rouleau writes her as being an equal to Gold in terms of team tactics and leadership.
Where Rouleau goes awry is with the presentation of the plot. It’s not entirely clear what this story is meant to be about. Later in the book, I had the impression it’s more about the relationship between Magnus and bad-guy scientist T.O. Morrow, which makes sense, given the prominent roles the two characters had in 52. This is, after all, billed as a 52 spinoff title. But I get the distinct impression that all of the ancient Atlantean characters from the opening scene really bear little relevance to this story, leaving me to wonder why we had to trudge through the dark, confusing sequence in the first place. The pacing of the plot, high energy of the art and radical shifts in setting (both in terms of time and place) makes this super-hero comic seem like a hyperactive child telling an odd, rambling but cute joke. The experience is a bit puzzling and almost frustrating, but it’s also amusing in the end. 6/10