Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Robots. They’ve been around a long time. From C-3P0 and R2-D2 to Data on Star Trek, the idea of machine-made man (or the other way around, or man with machine parts, or whatever) is practically, well, boring, by now.

Well, not boring in the sense that we’re sick of robots exactly. I mean, robots are cool. It’s just that it’s hard to come up with something new about robots these days. We’ve seen it all- robots as sidekicks that act like people (Star Wars, Lost in Space), robots who, for some reason, secretly wish to be human (Star Trek, 2001), robots that relentlessly hunt you down and try to kill you dead (Terminator, Brainiac from Superman, Ultron from Avengers), robots who drink and revel in being robots (yeah, I’m a big Futurama fan).

And remember that thing, in the nineties, when everybody was into cyborgs? It was like, if you didn’t have at least one limb removed and remade into some machine form and some crazy suped-up gun and a bunch of wires sticking out of various parts of your outfit, than you didn’t know what hardcore was. Deathlok, Cable, Cyborg, Cyborg Superman (no, that wasn’t a typo- Cyborg A.K.A. Vic Stone is cool. Cyborg Superman, A.K.A. Hank Henshaw is deranged and freakishly evil). And okay- so I like Robocop. There. I said it. Don’t judge me. The third movie will surprise you. I’m not saying it’s a great movie. I’m saying it’ll surprise you. That’s all.

But yeah, we’ve kind of tapped this out, haven’t we? It’s hard to come up with a really good, original robot-like character because, really, what’s left to do? It isn’t that robots aren’t going to be around- why would we ditch them out now? It’s just that there aren’t many original stories left to tell with them, maybe.

Strangely, I find that at times like this it’s the less appreciated characters that have a way of finding themselves in the spotlight. It’s kind of like when a concept gets tapped out, you start to look for the potential in the characters that were overlooked. For example, Metal Men is a pretty frickin’ awesome comic, I gotta say. Like so many great, overlooked DC titles, it got a badly needed relaunch recently as a miniseries. Written and illustrated by Duncan Rouleau, I highly recommend it. A really nice blend of the old 1950’s cheesiness that drove the book with some modern sophistication in the storytelling.

I suppose the Metal Men can easily fall in that ‘cute, sidekick’ category (not that they aren’t a force to be reckoned with- there’s a pretty awesome Superman/Batman arc with them, in case you don’t believe me)- but if something sets them apart, I guess I’d have to say that they're kind of magic? Really, it’s got this almost childlike innocence to it. Like the science isn’t really important- what’s important is that A. they’re alive, somehow and B. they’re kind of their own, unique form of life. So, the Metal Men are like muppets? Yeah, I just said that. They’re like muppets. Seriously- if there was ever a Metal Men movie, I’d want Jim Henson studios on board. It’s that kind of ‘feel’ to it, I think, that makes the book tick.

I think if there’s somebody whose aged well, when we talk about Robots, it’s Metallo, though. I use to think Metallo was the lamest villain ever. Now, granted, I think a lot of Superman villains ARE underrated; Lex seems to be the only one anyone ever remembers, but really, the Superman rogues' gallery is intricate and diverse (Wonder Woman villains get even less ‘press’ and are just as cool- Dr. Poison freaks me the &*%$ out, by the way).

But Metallo never interested me. I even thought his NAME was lame. “Metal-O”. I mean, c’mon. He seemed like a chump compared to Brainiac or Cyborg Superman. It always seemed to go the same way: Superman and Metallo fight, Metallo opens up his chest plate to reveal- GASP- some Kryptonite-fueled reactor-thingy, Superman falls to the ground panting, Lois or Jimmy or Batman run in and use some last minute plan to confuse or distract Metallo and somehow neutralize the Kryptonite, Superman slaps Metallo around. I dare you to find no less than FIVE comics that follow this formula to some degree. Go ahead, look.

But I guess, over the years, he’s kind of grown on me. And if there’s one thing that makes Metallo stick out these days, that makes him scary, it’s this: Being a robot is HELL. It isn’t fun or cool. It’s like being cut off from all human sensation. Like being encased in a metal tomb, only forever.

Metallo’s origin story is a weird Frankenstein-like variation. An extremely deluded UFO-tracker/mad scientist named Emmit Vale seemed to believe he’d be doing the world a favor by getting rid of Superman, fearing Superman would soon lead a mass Kryptonian invasion. A small time crook who got injured in a car crash, John Corbin would have died if Vale hadn’t found him and transferred his consciousness into a new, robotic body. Corbin promptly freaked out, killed Vale, and set out to hurt the obvious person to blame for the whole mess- Superman.

Now, it isn’t that Corbin doesn’t use his body to the best of his ability. Over the years, his form has gotten more and more technologically advanced and he’s got all sorts of nasty little tricks he can whip out when he’s wailing on the Man of Steel- including subverting pieces of technology to his will or reshaping parts of his body. But I think it’s that whole ‘I’ll never be human again’ thing, that really drives Metallo. ‘I’ll never feel again’. Even with Henshaw, I think it was really his wife’s death that he always blamed Superman for. I mean, okay, Henshaw and Corbin have some seemingly redundant powers and characterizations, I grant you- but with Corbin, I think it’s really the ‘you made me a monster’ angle that we’re pushing. And I’ve started to like that, for him as a villain.

Of course, they changed it. I don’t know why, but nobody gets their origin story revamped as frequently as Superman does. Superman by John Byrne post crisis, Superman: Birthright, Superman: Secret Origin…it’s hard to keep up. I think some of it is Smallville related. The show caught on and kind of reset the bar for Clark and Lex’s relationship. I admit, having them know each other as kids is dynamic. And really, I think that’s the ‘movement’ with the Superman-retelling. The characters seem a little more interrelated every time there’s a re-vamp. In the newest incarnation, Corbin is a military soldier who Lois’s high-ranking father would love to see marry his daughter. Of course, Corbin is wearing a Luthorcorp battlesuit and a horrible accident leaves him permanently fused with it.

I think this a cool spin on the really personal hatred for Superman. I mean, the newest Metallo retains a little more humanity, but not much. But not only will Corbin never be human again, but than he’s gotta see the woman he was after with the guy he blames for the whole thing? That hurts.