Friday, August 03, 2007

Book of the Week: Metal Men #1 by Duncan Rouleau

I've only had time to read one comic so far this week, but I'm going to go ahead and boldly declare that Duncan Rouleau's revamped (relaunched? reimagined? retroactive? rad?) version of the Metal Men deserves to have great sales (so buy it) and great acclaim (so rave about it).

To make this review all official-sounding, I'm going to apply the Seven Standards of Comic Book Goodness that I made up earlier this week.

One Standard at a time, let's see how Rouleau's Metal Men #1 holds up:

1. Art which helps to tell the story (and does not detract from it or cause unwanted confusion)
--Yes. Rouleau is an experienced artist who has developed his craft well enough to tell a clear story. The only bits that might be confusing are the bits which are clearly designed to present mysterious events.

2. Art which amplifies and accentuates the themes through visual symbolism
--Yes. Rouleau is a master of expressive gestures and he allows the images to tell key parts of the story (i.e. the ring in Young Doc Magnus's hand, and his nervousness about the whole affair, and the theme of human/machine conflict in the opening sequence, in the battle, and in the final image).

3. Stories which resolve in some way
--Not yet. But it's the first issue of an 8-issue series. And Rouleau sets up a LOT of stuff here, and he surely intends on paying it off. I have faith on this one.

4. Main characters who have more than one facet to their personality
--Yes. Not only do the Metal Men ACTUALLY HAVE personalities again (as they should, and DID NOT in their recent Superman/Batman appearance), but this entire series seems to be about exploring the conflict within Doc Magnus's personality. Is he a romantic? A genius? A cold-hearted egotist? A unselfish pawn? A lonely man who seeks only companionship? A stylish dresser? These are facets of his personality which are set up in just one awesome issue.

5. Something to say about one or more of the Essential Human Ideas (aka themes)
--Yes. By not only focusing on what it means for the robots to act "human," but also exploring Doc Magnus in so much detail (past, present, and future), Rouleau sets up an exploration of the themes of love, family, and most importantly: identity.

6. Narrative consistency (in character, plot, setting, and theme–jumps from one setting to another, for example, should be explained or alluded to)
--Yes. Rouleau does jump around, but he provides plenty of visual and written clues to indicate what's happening and when it's happening (except when he's being purposefully mysterious, once again).

7. Something new to say (about the medium, the genre, the characters, or the world)
--Yes. This issue has already shown aspects of Doc Magnus's past which we haven't seen before, and it seems like that approach will be the focus of the series. Metal Men seems to ask: Who would create a bunch of wacky, personable robots, and why?

So, by the Seven Standards, this issue passes the test of Goodness.

The fact is that there could have been a lot less going on in issue #1 and I still would have liked it for the vibrant artwork and the engaging personalities (and the return to robot on robot action that made this series such a classic forty years ago). But Rouleau includes that stuff PLUS a time travel mystery, a mystic legacy, a notion that things aren't what they seem, and a promise that future issues will reveal the secrets to these strange events.

It's so good, in fact, that I can overlook the strange continuity implications about Magnus being a young man just four years ago (along with, presumably, Ray Palmer). That timeline makes no sense at all, but perhaps that's one of the mysterious things we will have to explore in future issues. But, you know what? This first issue is SO DENSE with information, that I'm not too worried about that one strange time factor (and since time is a central plot point, I think it's logical that the inconsistency might actually be explained later.)

Metal Men #1. Book of the Week, and strong enough to stand up to the Seven Standards and say, "bring it on, because I am awesome."


Timothy Callahan said...

Other comments reacting to other reviews of this issue have referred to "confusion" or "not understanding" parts of the story. If you have a question about something you don't understand in this issue, post it here! I'll try to answer it by pointing to things in the text.

Anonymous said...

I'll be honest, I picked this up for 2 reasons: Ideas and Concepts by Grant Morrison, and the depiction of Dr. Magnus in 52. I was not let down at all, and Duncan Roleau seems to be perfectly content to let his imagination run all over the place, both the writing and the art feels "free" while giving you enough to chew on and anticipate the next issue.

Tim, have you read Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters? A lot of people expressed distaste over its broad political debate but I thought it was basically perfect. Ridiculous and hilarious, which is the perfect tone for a book about a literal personification of an American folk hero. I love that the look of the President was based on one of the aliens from They Live. I love that Uncle Sam's headquarters is a Reconstruction-era mansion in a dimenson called "the Heartland". It comes highly recommended.

Timothy Callahan said...

Oh, yeah. I not only read the Uncle Sam mini, but I had read the Battle for Bludhaven leading up to it. Uncle Sam was better, and a lot of fun.

Anonymous said...

I didn't particularly care for Battle for Bludhaven, though that may be my general distaste for the whole Infinite/Identity/Countdown to megacrisis.