Duncan Rouleau Does the Heavy Lifting on "Metal Men"

Duncan Rouleau was looking for a project.

DC Comics was looking for a writer and artist for "Metal Men."

So, when his old "Action Comics" editor Eddie Berganza offered up the book, Rouleau said it took him about half a second to make his decision.

It was a match forged in alchemist heaven.

"I gave Eddie a couple of characters that I wanted to work on and all of them were tied up," Rouleau told CBR News. "Eddie said, 'What about the Metal Men?' which I hadn't thought were available. And I love the Metal Men! The minute he said, 'The Metal Men,' I was like, 'Oh my God! Yes.'

"So, we started kicking around ideas and approaches. They are just so much fun, they're energetic; it's not serious and brooding and all those kinds of things. It's just something that I thought I could really do well and I have just always really loved the characters."

The Metal Men were originally created in 1962 by legendary writer Robert Kanigher ("Unknown Soldier" and "Haunted Tank") for "Showcase" No. 37 as a fill-in and features Dr. William (Will) Magnus and his team of robot superheroes, each based — in terms of design and personality — on a particular metal including Gold, Iron, Lead, Tin, Mercury and Platinum.

Rouleau,, who has also previously worked on "M. Rex," "WildC.A.T.s," and "Wolverine, " is along with Joe Kelly, Joe Casey and Steven T. Seagle a principle in the multimedia think tank Man of Action. The writer-artist says the Metal Men have enjoyed a bit of a renaissance of late in popular books like "Superman/Batman" and "52," but that his mini-series will be a complete re-imagining of the team of artificially intelligent do-gooders.����

"It is a new origin for the Metal Men," explained Rouleau. "We really don't touch that much on '52.' I mean, there is the aspect that Magnus isn't totally stable and I do use that as a storytelling element but it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with '52' directly. It's a re-origin but I take a couple of the different past origins of the Metal Men and intertwine them in this book because there is a little time-hopping."

While the Metal Men will be exploring different eras of their existence, the look and feel of the book will be much more of a blast from the past. "Although it doesn't take place in the early 1960s, the vibe is the Atomic Age," said Rouleau. "The book is high-tech and the metal being seen as cutting edge is one of the storylines which is little more like a Metal Men: Year One aspect. So I get to have a lot of fun, make it a lot goofier, more light-hearted and all of the things that we have always loved about the Metal Men — a kind of scientific romp."

One thing Rouleau does want to set straight for fans both new and old is that his version of the Metal Men will be fueled by responsometers just as they were in their first incarnation. "I deal with the Metal Men that are kind of now-ish, where they are a much higher-tech version of the Metal Men," Rouleau said. "They are kind of caught between two worlds. In some ways, since they are half-human they are not really regarded as living entities. And I will be using the responsometer concept, which I give a whole new origin to. I am dropping the bodies-inside-of-the-metal idea. I am going back to the responsometers strictly. I can't give you too much on that but I hope that I give a really good and clear definition of how the responsometers work and it has a little bit of … let's just say, I take that quote from Arthur C. Clarke, which is, 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.'"

With a "Metal Men" movie in the works from the production team of Lauren Shuler Donner and writer Geoff Johns, Rouleau wasn't putting forward any names as potential cast members but he did say his own take on Magnus, as one can see from the solicited cover for "Metal Men" No. 1, is of the Jimmy Stewart/Bing Crosby variety. "Absolutely, he is much more in the mould of those kinds of fellows," concurred Rouleau. "A little bit of Fred McMurray in there, too, of 'The Absent Minded Professor' in the sense that he is affected, but he doesn't know that he is affected.

"He is honestly in his own world. Things are falling apart around him, a little bit. I do have a love interest for him, which they did introduce for him in the 'Superman/Batman' stuff and that is Helen. I just love nerd love. The two of them trying to out top each other in the science talk is great. I've got three brothers who are engineers, so I am full of pseudo-science. I really love that the two of them are kind of lost in their nerd world a little bit."

Rouleau also said that his team will, for the most part, stick true to the original roster."We have the basic six — Gold, Lead, Iron, Mercury, Platino, which we are calling Platina, and Tin — and also in the present day stuff, we see Copper," confirmed Rouleau, who says that while DC has solicited "Metal Men" as an eight-issue finite series, the daring droids may be destined for more.

"It's going to be eight issues for right now but we are talking about doing six issues and then (another) six issues as my schedule allows it," explained Rouleau. "I'll take a two-month break so I can stay ahead of it since I am writing, drawing and inking. That's where we are discussing it right now whether or not it goes that way, we will see."

According to Rouleau, the folks calling the shots at DC — namely executive editor Dan Didio and Rouleau's editor Berganza — have liked what they have seen to date of Rouleau's Robots. "I know that both Eddie and Dan have been really supportive and are really enjoying what's happening in the book and I have been having so much fun working on it," said Rouleau. "I really hope when you read them, you have as much fun as I have had writing them. All of these books are so heavy now a days, I just really wanted something that has real stories, so it's not just kid stuff, but that it is like the Metal Men. They are a little hopeful, a little joyous and quite frankly, a little tongue-in-cheek.

"I mean you could go, 'These aren't your mama's Metal Men,' but I just personally didn't feel that was the direction that they should be in. I think that is the thing that has made them so great. I said in my proposal, 'You know, people either have one of two reactions to the Metal Men. They're cool or they're weird but cool.' Those seem to be the only two reactions. There isn't anybody who says, 'I hate the Metal Men.' How can you hate them? I really didn't want to go dark with them. I think they are a comedy act but I think the moment you write a comedy comic book, you are setting yourself up for the fall. The comedy comes out of the characters and the ways that they interact in the family, the dysfunctional family.

"I compare them to the Chinese acrobatic team or Cirque du Soleil. They do these amazing things and they are very performance-minded."

Unlike many authors, Rouleau has no problem singling out his favorite character. "I am having the most fun writing Mercury," confessed Rouleau. "Maybe I am just putting all the people I ever wanted to make fun of into the character. The thing is finding their really distinct personalities and making sure that they shine. Gold is probably the most difficult to write because he is ultimately the Superman character, the good guy. Where his character comes into play, you define his character how everyone else reacts off of him, like he is the shining knight."

Rouleau says elements of each of the Metal Men seep into his personality, and vice versa, but that the character he sees the most of himself in is their creator, Will Magnus. "I probably have most in common with Magnus," Rouleau explained. "I think as Magnus is inventing the Metal Men, which is one of the storylines, there is the idea that he is struggling and trying to make his way and trying to figure out what's in his head but he is trying to make it in the real three-dimensional world. It's a journey that is very familiar to anyone who writes or draws or tries to create something. So I sympathize with him as he is going through this. There are two characters that are really pulling at him from two very different ends of the rope. He is the middle of this rope."

And the two characters are…

"I can't share who those are because those are the big surprises but I can tell you that there is going to be an awful lot of cameos of the old familiars like Chemo and the Missile Men," revealed Rouleau, speaking of two of the Metal Men's most revered rogues. "Although, I have taken a twist on the Missile Men a little bit where they were. Dr. Tomorrow will show up too but I have also invented a bunch of new villains. One of the things that I personally like whenever there is a re-launch is that you always want to see some of the familiar characters but I also want to see something new, too.

"Every time they re-launch any of the classic characters, it's always 'When is the Joker going to show?' And you want to have those but I also think that in catching the spirit of the book, if you are not bringing something new to it, some new stuff, those other ones just become kind of a litany of the old characters. So I want to make sure they are in there but I want to make sure that this is the new Metal Men — a new adventure, a new romp."

Rouleau, who has an extensive personal Metal Men collection, said he was a fan of the Walt Simonson run on the book but does not want to recreate that author's mythic mysteries. "I don't want to re-do what was already done before. There are things that I have read but what I don't want to do. What I do want to do is catch the spirit of those books," said Rouleau. "There are elements of some of the Simonson stuff and actually some of the earlier stuff. One of them is the Metal Facts and Fancies that used to show up. I am doing a twist on it because I love that. To me, that's part of the comic book. It's part of this medium, totally part of this medium. And I wanted to bring some of that stuff in."

Metal Facts and Fancies were, and apparently still are little factoids about the various metals presented throughout the book in a 'Bill Nye the Science Guy' sort of a way, for readers to bone up on their periodic table if they happened to sleep through chemistry class in high school.

Speaking of school, Rouleau likes the idea of taking your text book B, or even C-List players and placing them at the top of the class. "Myself, personally, in both DC and Marvel, I am always fascinated with what people would call the second-tier characters," explained Rouleau. "I always have been. Possibly because they weren't always fully developed or maybe because they were a little odd and they were just a little out of the stream. Ultimately, to me, that's what makes them so interesting.

"The big guys kind of get in the way. That's another aspect that I really wanted to do was focus on the Metal Men. I don't necessarily have any cameos with any of the superheroes. I want this to be their book and for people to get to know them."

Rouleau is also busy these days with the web comics for the hit TV series, "Heroes." He and his Man of Action colleagues are writing the books along with the staff writers on the show, who are led by superstar comic book writer Jeph Loeb. "I am writing some of the upcoming issues of the online book," said Rouleau. "'Heroes' approached Man of Action because we all know Jeph Loeb quite well. All of us individually have worked with him. He asked if we could handle the online comic books. Number one, it's such a fun project to work on and two, working on it as a company seemed like something that we could all handle together.

"We have been working principally with the writing staff of the series, just making sure there were certain things we could not step on. It's been really great. It's been effortless. As far as that aspect goes. It's really been a pleasure and we also feel privileged to be working on such a big project."

If that weren't enough, Rouleau also has "Ben 10" re-launching on Cartoon Network with a new title and a whole new angle on the character as well as two other TV projects — one for Cartoon Network and one at Kids WB. "They haven't been greenlit to go on air yet but one of them is based on a comic book that Joe Kelly and I had created many years ago," revealed Rouleau.

As far as comics go, Rouleau is busy with "Metal Men" but admitted he we would love to work on a re-imagining of the Jack Kirby creation "The Demon," if the project ever came available. "I would probably handle him very much in the same vein as the early Kirby version," said Rouleau. "And 'The Invaders' was one of my favorites from Marvel. I loved the first run of 'The Invaders.' They have done so many since then but that first run, I just swallowed that up. And 'The Human Fly.' What I like about all of them is that ultimately, they brought me a lot of joy when I was reading them and those are the kind of books I want to do for people."

And what about an impressionable eight-year old? Could he or she read this book? "When it comes to kid stuff, I don't think I necessarily tried to target one specific audience. I just don't think with the Metal Men that you need a whole lot of gratuitous violence. And ultimately, the fact that they get destroyed almost every issue, and they probably will in my book, is they are metal and they get re-built again and there is something even wonderful about that. I think where the genuine threat and danger comes in the series is always through the characters and how they perceive the threats and how they react. How they move through the world. And once again, Magnus is probably the most complicated character that way.

"He could be a little more mature, I suppose but honestly, I am not writing "Jack the Ripper" here.

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