Much of the charm of the original Metal Men (who first appeared in 1962) lay in their clear personalities and interactions with one another. So Tin was extremely timid, but given to acts of astonishing heroism in an attempt to overcome what he saw as cowardice, Mercury was an egomaniac who tended to end up splashed all over the place, and Platinum was tough and brave, the whole marred only slightly by her tendency to break off whatever she was doing, be it overseeing an experiment or fighting off intergalactic monsters, to declare undying love to her creator, Doc Magnus. Indeed, a lot of the fun lay in the fact that the Metal Men were far more human than their rather tiresome creator, whose repeated statements that they were only robots, and robots didn’t do that kind of thing, made one wonder if if he really was as bright as he was claimed to be.
In this twenty-first century reboot, much of that charm is lost. The Metal Men are reduced to a collection of cheerful dunderheads, who are almost always in the background of a story of alarming convolution. One might wish that they were given more opportunity to take the foreground and shine. So, Platinum’s love of Doc Magnus only appears about two-thirds of the way through, and is dealt with in the form of a few throw-away comments, then forgotten again. A new Metal Man, Copper, is introduced, apparently to have more than one woman in the team, only to be given nothing whatever to say or do. Now, of course, there’s no reason why the new Metal Men should be the same as the old. The problem here is that the writer appears to believe they should be both the same and different: they should be a comic chorus and have the same traits as the old characters. This doesn’t really work.
This, however, is not really my reason for the three star rating. The story, as these things go, is fine, if rather over-complicated, and I think I understood more or less what was going on. What I did not understand, however, was the treatment of the lead female character, Doc Magnus’ girlfriend. She is reasonably important in the first two-thirds of the book, but then she simply drops out, to become a mute walk-on character, having been thrust into the arms of a character who screams ‘rotter’, and is then the object of a grotesque example of male willy-waving, where Doc Magnus and the rotter argue over her ownership in terms like ‘Your name isn’t written on her; I know, I’ve looked all over her’. And she doesn’t object, and goes away quietly and submissively with the winner of the argument. That this kind of thing appears in a recent book is bad enough, but when one discovers that its sole purpose is to make the hero look pale and romantic (thwarted in love, he has only his work) it goes beyond bad and into the territory of despicable. Especially if one considers what the original Platinum might have made of a Doc Magnus with a steady girlfriend . . .