Duncan Rouleau’s idiosyncratic take on the Metal Men has juggled half a dozen narrative balls in the air since the first issue of this series, but now that the final issue is here, I can’t say that the whole performance was much more than a brightly-colored diversion. Every issue has been emblazoned with a “Based on Ideas by Grant Morrison” credit, but Morrison’s limited used of Doc Magnus in “52” was far more vigorous than anything we see in this overwrought, frantic “Metal Men” series. Rouleau’s Doc Magnus, the obvious star of this comic, is a complicated character, but the multiple timelines, doppelgangers, and variations don’t ultimately add up to anything as interesting as Morrison’s Oolong Island showdown in “52.” “Metal Men” #8 demonstrates the failure of this ambitious series, representing, as it does, all of Rouleau’s excesses and his inability to create an effective climax and resolution.
As an artist, Rouleau creates a wonderfully vibrant world, full of high-tech monstrosities and impressionistic layouts. As an artistic feat, this mini-series is gorgeous, and Rouleau is a perfect artist for the Metal Men themselves. He’s able to capture their metallic sheen and their flexible movements as well as, if not better, than any artist working today. He gives each member of the team a unique look, appropriate for the character, while establishing them as part of something larger. He makes their inconsistencies consistent. And his Doc Magnus moves from uncertainty to smugness to passion and back again throughout the series as he struggles to understand the power he has unleashed.
When the hardcover collection comes out this summer, I will be tempted to buy it, just for Rouleau’s artwork. It’s that good. But Rouleau’s story fails to match the quality of the art.
The first problem, as “Metal Men” #8 shows, is that the Metal Men don’t feature as prominently as you might expect. They are merely supporting characters in Magnus’s story, and their participation in this issue consists of exposition (Magnus is broke), repetition (as they are being programmed by the bad guy), and then one shot of them leaping into action. But it cuts away before the action itself; we don’t see the battle with the giant manta ray in this issue. Giant manta ray? How can you go wrong? You go wrong by not showing it, and by cutting back to a Doc Magnus voice-over about how he likes to build stuff.
The second problem is the shockingly dense dialogue. There’s so much dialogue in the issue that it constantly puts the breaks on any plot momentum. Doc Magnus travels through time to save his Metal Men in the past (or is it future, or is it a pocket of time that never occurred? It’s open to interpretation) and as the heroes are whizzing about, we are stuck with expository word balloons which fill up 30% of the page. All of the excitement Rouleau creates with his art is dashed by the endless, hyper-specific dialogue. Perhaps its an allusion to the over-written DC sci-fi books of the Silver Age, but it certainly doesn’t help make this comic read smoothly.
The final problem is that the multiple timelines and twisted plot threads never fully pull together into a coherent story. At least not in issue #8. Perhaps, as a whole, read in a single sitting, the entire series makes perfect sense, but in “Metal Men” #8, supposedly the conclusion of the story, there’s too much left unresolved, too much that hasn’t been fully explained. Even with page after page of lengthy exposition, the story is too complex in the end — too complex for Rouleau to manage in eight issues.
When this series began, I raved about its ambition. It’s difficult to make the “one-joke” Metal Men into something fascinating, and that’s what Rouleau seemed to be doing at the beginning. But, by the end, he just couldn’t pull it off. If you haven’t read any of the earlier issues, “Metal Men” #8 will leave you completely scratching your head. And if you have read the earlier issues, you’ll be left thinking, “this is how it ends?”