With the release of Metal Men #1 this week, the quirky shape-shifting team of robots returns to DC continuity in a way that series artist Shane Davis says both honors the past and adds “modern sensibilities.”
The book, which relaunches the Metal Men after a long absence from the DCU, is being written by DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio.
Made of liquid metal, the Metal Men are named after various metals and have personalities that tend to correspond with their abilities. And those personalities are played off their more straight-laced creator, genius/scientist Will Magnus.
But for this incarnation of the Metal Men, DiDio and Davis are adding a new Metal Men member to the team - a psychic character made of the Nth Metal, the element that played a central role in the the event series Dark Nights: Metal.
Newsarama talked to Davis to find out more about the new Nth Metal character, what challenges Davis has faced in drawing the Metal Men, and what else readers can expect from the new series.
Newsarama: Shane, what attracted you to this series? Were you a Metal Men fan?
Shane Davis: Yeah, I had seen a lot of cover galleries of Metal Men, probably in my teens. I was pretty fascinated with how the covers were set up - like, one cover, they were melting in a robot’s ray. I found them fascinating.
Somebody explained them to me that, you know, “they think they’re human, but they’re not.” That whole concept fascinated me then.
And then I started to read them. I think I found some digest versions of them or something. This would have been in the late ‘90s - so this is before digital comics. So it wasn’t easy to track down Metal Men stories to read.
I guess it was the covers that first attracted me. I liked the way they had to work together and stretch and melt and all these different things.
Nrama: Now that you’ve started drawing them for the new series, what has been the biggest challenge?
Davis: Yeah, you know what’s funny is that the challenge - and there’s a little bit of a side-story here - but one of the challenges was drawing when they turn into objects. I noticed in the archive editions that they often had this thing where their face just kind of morphs into the object. It’s funny because my first job out of the Kubert School was working with a company that handled a military magazine that Will Eisner had done called PS Magazine. And a lot of times, it would have to deal with vehicles having animated features and talking to the viewer.
Long story short, I had actually dealt with having objects animated. So a lot of times, if the object permits, sometimes the floating face mechanism works. Like, I have Tin turning into a can, so it’s kind of hard to get his face wrapped around the can and not look too distorted, so I had to have the floating face on it. But then I have Lead turning into a vice and crushing some bad guys later on, and the vice had a flat surface where I could easily put in Lead’s face.
But other times, I have to kind of work the face into the shape of the object. So, like, in a kid’s slide, maybe it’s Platinum, and her face will make the base of the slide and the ladder, but her hair makes the actual ramp.
So it’s weird. If the script demands certain objects, then I have to work how the Metal Men’s facial features fit into that object.You have to get creative and work that in how you can.
It’s not like I hadn’t done that before. But it had been years. It’s rare that you have to deal with this type of stuff in comics. I don’t think there’s another comics project like it.
Nrama: It’s really striking during the fight scenes.
Davis: Yeah, it makes the fight scenes look completely new and fresh compared to other fight scenes I’ve ever drawn. Like, somebody just turns into a giant hammer quickly and knocks a guy 40 feet.
But it’s fun. I tried to have fun with it. It’s kind of like Tex Avery animation. It’s not that style, but it’s the same mechanism. I hope it looks fun. If it looks fun, then the reader has fun with it.
Nrama: You’re definitely honoring the classic Metal Men, but there’s a modern feel as well. Was that a conscious decision, to mix those?
Davis: Yeah, yeah.
I know I added one thing that would be a more modern sensibility - they have parts that show when they’re damaged. I know they were supposed to just be liquid metal, but when I had to draw them damaged or broken, there was a bit of a back-and-forth between myself and Dan, because I felt concerned that they didn’t look damaged if they didn’t have robot parts. It just didn’t read right.
So, even with all that said, that they’re liquid metal, I thought…they have to have guts. They have to have parts. These parts just turn into liquid when they activate their powers.
I felt, even though that was making them look more modern robotic, it was also making them look a little bit more human.
So I think that would be a bit more modern, like some of the great robot artwork coming out of things like Ghost in the Shell and stuff like that. Those things set a bar of expectation, and certain Hollywood movies like A.I. or Ex Machina. A lot of these movies established what types of parts are in human robots. I’m definitely influenced by a lot of that on the modern side.
But I’m also mixed - both modern and old.
Nrama: What’s it been like working with Dan DiDio on the book?
Davis: I’ve known Dan for years. Oddly enough, I usually understand what he’s wanting out of something. I can read what he wants.
We work plot, which means he tells me what’s going on on the page, and then I break that down. The plot stuff works better in Metal Men because of the different emotional base each character has - you know, like Tin’s scared, Mercury’s angry, Gold’s the leader, Platinum’s in love with Magnus. You know?
They all kind of have their set emotions.
So I’ve had a lot to play off of emotionally with the characters, drawing their emotional reactions. And then Dan writes the dialogue. It has a really nice flow that way.
Even, like with Platinum, we have a character, Director Klyburn, who’s a pre-existing character, but she kind of comes in as a human love interest for Magnus, which sets up a weird dynamic every scene, where Platinum is jealous of another person. So I get to play a lot with that body language and faces.
So they’re usually playing the same emotion, but on different levels. I get to push that a lot. I push it a little bit more, probably, with characters like Tin and Mercury that don’t have the traditional human features, with their nose and chin the way they are. Characters like that are fun to draw, just drawing different facial features.
Nrama: We’ve been told that there’s a new character, the one who’s constructed of Nth Metal, which spins out of Dark Nights: Metal. Can you tell us anything about that character?
Davis: Well, you don’t get to see his real design at first because… it has to do with the story.
So at the end of issue #2, you start to see what he’ll really look like, which isn’t like the cover.
We wanted to keep him simple because he’s going to be brought into the team, and he’s a psychic metal.
So it was interesting to bring him into the rest of the group.
As far as his design goes, it kind of gives away the story if I say what he’ll eventually look like. And it starts to foreshadow things.
But you know, I really didn’t draw him too differently than I was the rest of the Metal Men, because he’s supposed to fit into the team’s roster.
He can also change the way he looks later. So he may have a bit of a different appearance later on.
He’s a psychic metal, and he’s now within this team that’s all emotional and diverse. It’s interesting - you add a different character to the room, and then a new dynamic starts to happen.
I would say it’s more about his effect on the rest of the team, as far as design goes, than it is his design.
It’s a weird way to answer your question, but there is more effects to the rest of the Metal Men than it is about his design. His design’s very simple.
But that’s not the design part of him. The design part is his effect on everybody else.