Back to the Shop: J.M. DeMatteis on the Metal Men

J.M. DeMatteis on the Metal Men

When the Metal Men get their own "co-features" in the back of the new Doom Patrol series, it will reunite the creative team of J.M. DeMatteis, Keith Giffen and Kevin Maguire.

Known best for their run on Justice League International in the 1980s, as well as the Boom! Studios series Hero Squared, the trio will put the spotlight on the DC team of robot superheroes and their creator, scientist Dr. Will Magnus. Using the classic line-up of Metal Men heroes and honoring the team's recent continuity, the stories will be separate from the Doom Patrol, which is being written by Keith Giffen with art by Matthew Clark.

DeMatteis said the Metal Men characters fit well with the types of stories he co-writes with Giffen because they have a whimsical nature about them.

"There's a real sense of fun and play with the Metal Men," the writer said. "You know going in that this isn't going to be Unrelentingly Grim. That doesn't mean we don't take the characters seriously — we do — just that it's clear the moment you see this team of goofy robots that it's going to be a fun ride."

Created during the Silver Age, but enjoying a recent resurgence since their appearance in both Infinite Crisis and 52 as well as their own miniseries by Duncan Rouleau, the Metal Men robots are shapeshifters whose personalities and abilities reflect their namesake metal.

While DeMatteis said the creators haven't gotten a chance to really delve into the characters yet, he thinks the Metal Men have a simplicity and innocence that makes them unique.

"What's struck me so far is that there's a certain innocence to the Metal Men that I find refreshing — and each one has a character template that's instantly accessible: simple enough for anyone to understand and yet with lots of room for us to layer in as many personality quirks as we'd like," he said. "Also, despite the fact that they're robots (or maybe because of it) there's something warm and lovable about them. You can't help but like these guys."

The writer said the 10-page stories will have an over-arching story that continues from issue to issue, but the creators want to keep each individual story to one or two parts.

"It's actually very refreshing. Not a lot of pressure. Go in, do your song and dance for 10 pages, and then get out," he said. "I also think that many of us have been overindulged by the Grand Comic Book Epic. It's nice doing shorter pieces and stand-alone one-off stories. And, in some ways, it's more challenging. You can't drag the thing out for twelve issues and work out your plot problems six months down the line.

"Also, 10 pages of month gives Kevin extra time to really make each page shine. It's not easy doing 72 panels a page with a different facial expression in each one...especially when each panel has 42 word balloons," DeMatteis joked.

The writer said he's "delighted" that DC is getting the DeMatteis-Giffen-Maguire team back together for the Metal Men co-features.

"It's kind of like The Sunshine Boys," he said. "We have to get our old vaudeville costumes out of the trunk, blow the dust off our old routines, jazz them up for a new audience... and then hobble out onto the stage for one more big show. Okay, it's not exactly like that, but we really do have a unique chemistry and timing that only happens when we work together. And it really is pretty effortless. We don't try to make it happen: it just happens."

Because the team has been together for about 20 years, off and on, DeMatteis said the one thing that has changed is that they've learned to appreciate it more.

"When we started, we were all thrown together by Mad Genius Andy Helfer. (It's like we were the Monkees and Helfer was Don Kirshner. And if you don't get the reference, don't worry.) It was just a gig to us: a great gig, but still just another job," he said. "We were the last ones to realize what a wonderful collaboration it was. But ever since we got back together for Formerly Known as the Justice League a few years ago, working together has become a conscious decision on our part. We're doing it because we really enjoy it, because we really want to do it. Not because we were hired to do it."

But while DeMatteis was more than happy to talk about the team's collaboration, he wouldn't reveal any details about the premise behind the team's stories once he, Giffen and Maguire get ahold of them.

"If I tell you, Keith will get mad and start beating me with a rubber chicken again," DeMatteis said. "You've never known pain till you've been assaulted with a rubber chicken. So let's leave the set-up as a surprise."

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