Review: Metal Men: Elements of Change trade paperback (DC Comics)


Metal Men Elements of Change

Easy as it would be to see Dan DiDio’s final work for DC Comics — the story of a man outgrown and left behind by his own creations — as a metaphor for his sudden ousting from the company, the similarities are surely coincidental. That said, Metal Men: Elements of Change is a long last look at DiDio’s recent creative work at DC, cameoing a handful of his creations alongside the titular metal heroes. And Metal Men is not unlike DiDio’s other writing work — interesting, neither markedly poor nor markedly exceptional. I didn’t think the book particularly dragged over 12 issues, which might be as much a sign of success as anything, but then neither was I particularly compelled to read more than an issue at a time.

The background politics aside, DiDio recreates and re-origins the Metal Men here. Though DiDio and artist Shane Davis take great pains to acknowledge a variety of Metal Men eras, the takeaway message is that everything you knew before was wrong and everything old is new again. I will admit to not being the most faithful Metal Men fan, as my last big exposure to the group was Dan Jurgens' 1993 Metal Men series (which, hey, there’s a mini that deserves collection), but problematically that story almost 30 years ago was also a “secret origin/everything you knew was wrong” kind of story.

While I certainly can’t fault DiDio for the gaps in my reading, I felt pangs of my general frustration with DC’s output — that this is another story muddling about with the characters' continuity instead of simply spinning a straightforwardly good yarn. Moreover, the (mildly) Hush-esque tour of the Metal Men’s small rogues gallery feels indeed more like a tour than a story itself — that this is not a full Metal Men tale on its own but rather the first, tentative arc in an ongoing Metal Men series. Which, of course, with DiDio’s departure, is highly unlikely. So, some Metal Men is better than no Metal Men, but I’m unsure whether this story will please longtime Metal Men fans or raise their profile any (at least until the feature film).

[Review contains spoilers]

DiDio kicks off Elements with the apparent revelation that any sentience previously attributed to the Metal Men has just been trickery; that their creator Will Magnus, in a “ripped from the headlines” sort of way, overstated his success with the Metal Men so as to compete with DC’s other robot scientists like Professor Ivo and T.O. Morrow. DiDio is not wholly off target from a variety of other portrayals of Magnus, from his Silver Age turn as a supervillain to his 52-era nervous breakdown, though that Magnus was lying (in terms of the retcon) even to the reader seems particularly jarring. (Compare with Jurgens, who reestablished the core of the Metal Men’s origins but didn’t put to lie anything the audience had seen since that point.)

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

It is perhaps in trade-off to this that Elements seems to preserve the entire breadth of Metal Men history, even if nothing happened quite the way we were shown. Nameless, a lesser-know Silver Age team member, is here, as is the manta ray monster from the Metal Men’s first appearance in Showcase #37 (now a spawn of the Dark Multiverse). Ditto Chemo and the Missile Men, all of whom seem to share with the Metal Men a long history. An excellent early sequence by Davis shows Metal Men from throughout the years, now deactivated, though how we’re meant to interpret, say, Veridium, is left unexplained except that it didn’t happen the way you thought it did.

As it turns out, DiDio’s Magnus is not just a liar, but also a creep, as when Platinum discovers that her personality is based on a woman who once rejected Magnus. I’m not convinced DiDio has total awareness of what he plays with here, as Magnus' behaviors threaten to make him irredeemable, and without the runway to make him sympathetic that, for instance, the current Doom Patrol TV series has with Niles Caulder. Not to mention that in the end Platinum appears to be romantically linked with Magnus again, suggesting DiDio doesn’t give Magnus' sins within the story the same reaction that they might get outside of it.

Also appearing are OMAC, the Phantom Stranger, and Sideways, all characters DiDio has written since the New 52. It gives credence to the idea that DiDio knew he was on his way out and this was a last hurrah (especially the Stranger being awkwardly shoehorned in), though there’s also plenty precedence for creators cameoing their creations — DiDio’s collaborator Keith Giffen used the Kevin Kho OMAC in both Blue Beetle and Inferior Five. Too, there’s another story hinted at with Sideways' appearance, though that like other things seems less likely now (though I maintain Derek James is a perfectly viable character ripe for the using).

And so — a little bit great, a little bit tone-deaf; Dark Nights: Death Metal is tied into in a cursory way; history is obliterated but also thoughtfully maintained. Whether Metal Men: Elements of Change was meant as Dan DiDio’s valediction or not, there is certainly no small amount here to remind us of his work.



Did DiDio need to go? I don’t know. Whether 5G was the right approach or the wrong, we were on the cusp of having a DC Universe with an actual timeline for the first time in 10 years, only to have that snatched away. If we can set at Marie Javins door the excellent run of Black Label titles we’ve had lately (I don’t know if we can, but if we can), than that’s certainly a benefit, but surely I enjoyed the sheer amount DiDio interacted (and continues to interact) with the fans. He was a comics exec in the style of Stan Lee, and if they don’t make them like that any more, that’d be a shame.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Comments ( 4 )

  1. 5g was a bad idea. Everything Dan did with DC was bloody bad. He should have been fired years ago. That's said I do not particularly care for the current direction DC is going now. If they had a more competent leader and actually showed respect to the characters we they wouldn't be in this mess

  2. Dan had a genuine love for the characters, and was probably one of the best writers on their roster. Making sense of the Metal Men's complicated history-completed!! successfully !! Really miss DiDio and hope Discovery brings him back, which is the big rumor.

  3. I guess they're referring to Warner Brothers discovery. Technically it's a new regime.


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