Legendary creator Len Wein kicks off a new Metal Men story he's calling "classic in a modern way," in Legends of Tomorrow, DC's new anthology series that kicks off this week.
Wein, who's also bringing classic elements to Swamp Thing in that character's current title series, said "classic" means he'll walk the line between silly and serious, capitalizing on what makes the Metal Men fun while embracing the characters' search for humanity.
The Metal Men have gone through several incarnations since they were created in 1962 by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru for an issue of Showcase. Most recently, they were modernized for the "New 52" in an issue of Justice League by writer Geoff Johns.
Wein will be working with artist Yildiray Cinar on the Metal Men story for Legends of Tomorrow, a six-issue anthology that also includes three other stories: Gerry Conway and Eduardo Pansica's Firestorm, Aaron Lopresti (both writing and drawing) on Metamorpho, and Keith Giffen and Bilquis Evely on Sugar & Spike. Newsarama talked to Wein about why he loves the Metal Men, the story he's writing for Legends of Tomorrow and why he thinks the Metal Men could work in film.
Newsarama: Len, we've seen a few different approaches to the Metal Men over the years, including a recent "New 52" one. Can you describe your approach in this story?
Len Wein: We're trying to do a classic book in a modern way. That's the only way to describe it.
There's a lot of different bits of business in the first issue that will remind you of the original run, and it sets the scene. Like we're doing the character Nameless. He's a little different character in this version. But I loved the classic, and I'm trying to get back what made that work so well.
Nrama: Were you a fan of the original?
Wein: Oh, I loved the classic! When I was, I don't know how old, maybe nine or 10? A kid. When the first issue of Showcase came out with the Metal Men in it. And I read that book. It was the very first comic book I ever read that actually made me cry. When they all sacrifice themselves, one after the other, at the end to save the world, I cried my eyes out.
And I knew that anything that affects me like that is something I want to be part of my life.
And so I've loved the Metal Men ever since. Always loved them.
It is, arguably, one of the silliest books DC's ever published, but there is something wonderful about these characters. Their quest for humanity, their quest for being real — they're well aware that they're just machines — is kind of what the backbone of this whole story is about.
Nrama: It's something that's so central to really good robot stories. It's kind of the Pinocchio theme — the desire to be a real person, a good person, part of humanity. Why do you think that resonates so much with people?
Wein: Well, I think it's something everyone desires. Fans of science fiction and comics — you know, we geeks have inherited the Earth — we question things. We question what humanity means. Everybody is looking for that secret to life, to being accepted. And that's a big part of the characters.
Nrama: Which of the Metal Men are in this serial you're writing?
Wein: Tin, Iron, Lead, Gold, Platinum, Mercury…
Nrama: So all the classics…
Wein: Yep, and some others along the way, but I don't want to talk too much about them.
Nrama: So are you inventing some?
Wein: Yes, I am inventing some. Of course, at some point, Chemo will be there, because I can't do a Metal Men story without using Chemo.
And Doc Magnus, of course. We're doing the version that Geoff Johns and company designed for the Justice League, so Doc Magnus is the boy genius, as opposed to the old, classic, '60s, "you-can-tell-I'm-a-scientist-because-I-smoke-a-pipe" version. We're doing the more contemporary Will Magnus.
Nrama: And what's the threat to the Metal Men in the story?
Wein: Their quest for humanity makes them unique. And there's a new/old villain — I'm not sure how else to put it — who wants them because they are the only artificial intelligence that's not linked to the internet. Their Responsometers make them unique. They are independent. They have no connection to any other electronic force.
The villain is going after them using other characters, trying to get them. He's creating chaos everywhere, basically saying, give me what I want and I'll go away. Give me the Metal Men and I'll stop destroying things.
Nrama: And the personalities of the Metal Men are similar to their classic versions? Those distinct personalities among them?
Wein: Yes! Absolutely! That's one of the most wonderful things about what Bob Kanigher did when he created the Metal Men.
And I love the story of how they were created. Basically, Showcase was the try-out book, for trying out new concepts. And it rotated among the editorial staff. And the month that Metal Men appeared, one of the other editors was supposed to have a project finished, but their artist got very sick or something terrible happened — there was some unforeseen circumstance, which often happens in real life.
And the editor came in on Friday in a panic saying, "I'm not going to have a book! There's no way my artist can finish it; I can't replace the guy in time! It can't be done! I don't know what the hell to do!"
And Bob said, "Don't worry about it. I'll take care of it."
Monday morning, he came in with a script for the Metal Men. He had invented the entire thing over the weekend, written the entire issue. All the personalities, which were these six perfect metals with six perfect personalities that went with the metal. He thought about, if metal were human, what would they be like? It's what he did.
I thought it was one of the most brilliant concepts ever. And he did it as a one-shot! I mean, it was Bob filling up space for the guy. Which is why he killed them all at the end.
But people liked them more than he expected them too! And the next thing you knew, you had the Metal Men.
Nrama: You're working with Yildiray Cinar?
Wein: Yes. He's really good. And it gets better with every issue.
And he has a great sense of humanity in his faces, which is exactly what the Metal Men need. It's important to get across those different personalities.
Nrama: There's been a some talk about Metal Men possibly being a movie. We've seen a lot of characters turned into movie gold — as you know, having created some of them yourself. Do you think the Metal Men could work in movies?
Wein: I'd love to see them in a class Metal Men story. The question is what line you walk. Exactly how weird you get with the characters and their adversaries. How silly do you want to make it? And I don't mean silly in a derogatory way. Part of the great fun of the Metal Men is not knowing what was going to happen next. But who thought Guardians of the Galaxy or Deadpool would be as successful as they've been? The Metal Men have as good a shot as any. I think if you keep the personalities and you keep the basic core of the characters, the heart of the characters, then I think you can make a terrific movie out of this.
Nrama: There are certainly a lot of people who love these characters.
Wein: Everybody does! I've never met anyone who, when I said, "I love the Metal Men," replied to me, "are you crazy?" Never. Everybody says, "Me too! Me too! I love the Metal Men!" We'll see if they like our story. I look forward to people's reactions. If they like it half as much as they've been loving the new Swamp Thing book I've been doing, I'll be a very happy man.