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The Cartoon That Never Was
In 1992, Batman: The Animated Series debuted and was a fantastic success. I was entranced by this "cartoon"; quite frankly, I'm amazed that anything this intelligent and artistic can survive on American television. Around the same time, I'd found some old Metal Men comics and was inspired: Wouldn't they also work well as a cartoon series?
I began collecting more and more of the old Metal Men comics. They were fun, uplifting stories (with the exception of their "humans on the run" phase) about six robots defending earth and struggling with their identities. Like the Batman comics, many of the Metal Men issues could be adapted into half-hour cartoons (which are actually 20 minutes when you take out commercials and credits). So, I tackled the project with abandon which says something about me (I don't know what), given that I was only 22 years old, had no experience and no contacts in the comics or animation industries. But I consulted with a local professor of animation, sketched out my ideas and listed the selling points: The series would be numbered. Kids could watch a single episode for the adventure, but adults would be able to notice the robots advancing and growing over time (rather like a nonintimidating Babylon 5).
Marketing prospects would be high. The series features six robots with different abilities. Tell me that isn't action-figure city! Endless robot enemies would ensure a constant supply of new toys.
The series could use computer animation for "morphing" (admittedly, a more unique concept in 1993) and recent techniques could make the robots more reflective and "shiny" while keeping production costs reasonable.
The Metal Men always snuck in an educational aspect; they explained the properties of different metals during fight scenes ("His fists can't hurt me. Gold can be pounded into a film 1/16th of an inch thick!"). I'd keep this idea. Thus, kids watching a Metal Men cartoon would be learning new scientific facts without even knowing it.
I could go on, but my point here isn't to make a cartoon pitch. I just wanted to preface the story you're about to read because it isn't part of DC continuity. Obviously, my idea didn't get farther than my notepad. I realized it was rather silly for a recent college grad in Northern Wisconsin to think that he'd be able to go anywhere with the idea. Plus, when DC changed the Metal Men a few months later, I was so ticked that I didn't want to even think about the characters anymore (you may have detected my annoyance in last month's Retconvention article). I have more confidence in my abilities now, but I still doubt this would go anywhere.
However, my notepad was full of good story ideas and it seemed a shame that they should all go untold, so here's "Cold Metal" the season finale for the first season. The story you're about to read is a prose adaptation of a script, so there isn't any internal dialogue or thoughts, merely descriptions of what you'd see onscreen.
A few things you should know before reading:
All of this leads up to "Cold Metal." MH
"Not sleeping again, Magnus?"
Magnus shook himself, embarrassed at having nodded off for even a second. "I'm sorry, General Caspar. I've been having well, not nightmares. Just upsetting dreams. Last night I had this one where Tin was fired from the Metal Men and had to get a job as a garbage can." Magnus paused as the moving sidewalk deposited them at the tube-like elevator. "The night before that, I was in this theme park in Florida and the Metal Men were all pretending to be presidents."
General Caspar frowned as they stepped into the elevator. "Let me guess: Iron as Abraham Lincoln, Gold as John F. Kennedy, Lead as .I guess Lead would have to be Taft, right?"
Magnus felt his eyebrows rising. "That's amazing. You're right, so far."
"I don't know who the others would be. Wait, we haven't had any female presidents yet. Was Tina in your dream?"
"Sure. She was Marilyn Monroe."
Caspar chuckled. "A psychoanalyst might say that your dreams are indicative of job-related stress. Perhaps you're worrying that the Metal Men aren't proving as useful as you'd hoped?"
Magnus was in a more bitter mood than usual. "It's a good thing you aren't a psychoanalyst, Caspar."
There was an uncomfortable silence as the glass elevator sped past floor after floor of the gigantic Magnus Industries factory. He reached into his pocket and offered a small packet to Magnus. "Gum?" Will Magnus shook his head.
More factory levels went by, allowing Caspar to view the many divisions to Magnus' robotics empire. Robotic arms assembled robotic tanks on a fifty-food wide assembly line. Testing areas, where scientists were improving the microscopic "responsometers" that gave the Metal Men their unique functionality. Recycling areas, where metals and other materials were chopped, smashed and reprocessed. Chemical tanks, where millions of gallons of chemicals were created, refined, stored and distributed across the nation.
Caspar sighed. "Heh. I I hate 'elevator silence'. Can't we talk about something?"
"Why don't you tell me what this meeting's all about, General?"
"Oh, I can't do that, Will. You've gotta wait until we get to your office. The boys worked hard on this presentation. It's got slides and everything." Caspar indicated his briefcase. "Of course, I can tell you that it concerns the Metal Men project."
The elevator reached the top floor and began moving horizontally across the high ceiling of the assembly plant. Magnus lost his temper. "Well, of course it would, General. The Metal Men are the best defensive product the Army's had in years. They're a trained, polished, effective fighting force!"
The doors opened onto Magnus' office floor. As they took two steps into the reception area, Platinum pounced upon Magnus. Her slinky-spring body coiled around his waist and constricted in a tight "hug" as she smiled sweetly at him.
"Will! How good to see you! I wish you humans didn't have to sleep for so long. Eight hours away from you may as well be an eternity," Tina cooed, playing with his ear. "But, you know what they say: 'Absence makes the responsometer grow fonder!'"
Caspar guffawed. "Ah, here's one of our highly trained soldiers now. Yes, this takes me back to basic training."
Magnus fumed, his cheeks beginning to burn. "Tina! Show some decorum. You're embarrassing me in front of a guest!" he grumbled.
Caspar was enjoying this. "Nonsense, my boy. She's obviously doing military exercises. Heck, if I was an enemy soldier, that's how I'd want to be captured!"
Tina extended an arm to cradle Caspar's chin. "Why, general. You sweet talker! You at least know how to treat a woman!"
Magnus pulled her arms down and gripped her by the shoulders. "YOU are not a WOMAN! You're a robot, and a malfunctioning one at that. I've had enough of your flirting. Now behave properly or I'll shut you OFF!"
Tina reformed her lower body into legs again and began to run from the room. "I don't see why I let you treat me this way! You just want to keep dating your bimbos and ignoring me!" Tina stopped by the empty receptionist's desk to grab a tissue and dab at her metallic tears. "When are you going to see that I love you more than any human woman could?! Bwaaah!" Her wails were silenced as the doors slid shut behind her.
Magnus tried to salvage his dignity as he straightened his checkered sport coat. "Um I realize that isn't the best example of my engineering skills."
Caspar patted his shoulder. "If it's any consolation, my rocket launcher says we don't get out of the house enough.
" should provide adequate funding for eight teams of Metal Men across the country by the end of the decade, posted to NASA, the White House, our Lunar outpost and the remaining military bases which you can see on the diagram here." Caspar clicked the slide projector. The screen showed an experimental jet bursting into flame. "OOP! Sorry. Ferris Aircraft was looking for that one." Caspar pulled out the slide and made a note on it. "Sure could've helped in that investigation," he muttered as he tucked it into his pocket.
Magnus struggled to pull his chin off of his hand. "Eight teams? I really don't see how we can have eight teams ready that soon."
Caspar harrumphed and hit the lights. "Well now, I'd been lead to believe that you already had several dozen responsometers in development. And the polyalloy for the bodies shouldn't be a problem; you've got several containers of replacement alloy for when the current team is injured or destroyed."
"It's not THAT. The whole responsometer approach needs substantial improvement." Magnus ran his fingers through his hair. "I thought that my robots would need an emotional base to motivate them. Emotions are what give us our drive. Pride and patriotism to make us leap to our country's defense. Nobility that allows a soldier to sacrifice himself for his comrades. The thirst for knowledge that motivates us to learn. Sure, I could just program in data and commands, but all you'd have is automatons."
Magnus glared at his desk intercom and held down the button. "I'm in a conference right now. Is this an emergency?" There was a long silence. At last, Tin stammered timidly into the phone. "Um. I don't know if if it's really an emergency. Would Chemo's poisoning a fishing bay be considered an emergency?"
Will shot upright and stabbed the red speaker button. "YES, it would!"
"Okay. What about the Missile Men attacking the White House?"
"Good Lord! Chemo and the Missile Men at the same time?!"
"No no, I'm just getting examples. I don't know what qualifies as an emergency."
Will collapsed into his high-backed executive's chair and let out a soft groan. "Oh, Tin, what do you want?" More silence.
"Uh. Out of life or right now?"
"I just want to borrow the company credit card so I can get Beautiful an anniversary present."
Magnus massaged his temples. "Tin, it can't be your anniversary. You only bought her five months ago!"
"I know. Friday's our 127th day together. I want to do something special for the occasion. Get her a ring, then maybe take her out to this nightclub called the Steelworks."
"Tin. You've got another 20 years before you're old enough to get into a nightclub. More importantly, people have anniversaries once a year."
"So humans only celebrate their love based on your planet's orbital position?"
"And that makes sense to you?"
"Goodbye, Tin. Do NOT call me unless there's an emergency." Magnus smiled timidly at Caspar. "See what I'm talking about? They flirt with me, they date each other These robots have far too many failings to be considered a success."
"Magnus, over the last five years, the Pentagon has spent one and a quarter billion dollars on the Metal Men. That's a lot, even for defense spending. As the official Pentagon liaison, I'm required to remind you that we have too much taxpayer money in this project to delay for fine-tuning." Caspar stepped closer to Will and softened his tone. "But off the record, as your friend I have to say you're worrying too much. The Metal Men have saved this planet and its citizens a dozen times over, and that's more bang for our buck than we've gotten from any bomber. So why don't you stop worrying about the Metal Men's quirks and enjoy your success? We'd be happy to purchase four Metal Men teams this fiscal year, and Senator Eden has introduced a bill to station a Lead robot at every nuclear "
"Magnus here. I'm in a meeting. What?!"
BZZZZwanna ask youZZZZZZZZZT!
"Lead, you need to take your finger off the button when you want to speak."
BZZZZZcan hear youZZZZhear me?ZZZZT!
"Lead! Take your finger "
BZZZZZdunno why he doesn't hear meZZZZZZZZT!
"Lead? Hello, Lead?" Magnus heard a click and gave up. "General, this is definitely the guy I want safeguarding our nuclear plants!"
"Can't you program him to be smarter?"
"You don't understand! I didn't program any of them! Their personalities have developed as a result of their self-image and stimuli, just like humans'. Do you honestly think I'd intentionally make Tin a weakling or Lead an idiot or Mercury a pretentious "
Magnus winced at the noise of his intercom.
"Aren't you going to get that, Will?"
"This has not been a good day, General. Will you excuse me?" Magnus very softly depressed the red switch. "Eeeeee-yessssss?"
"Dr. Magnus, I can understand your ignoring this idiot, but I won't stand for you treating me like this! I'm not some dense metal! I'm liquid, even at room temp "
"What do you WANT Mercury?"
"Lead and I are going out shopping for Tin and Nameless' anniversary present."
"Fine. FINE. Just don't buy anything too expensive."
"We're getting them tickets to Simon and Garfunkle."
"Don't be ridiculous! They aren't together anymore."
Lead cut in. "But they seemed so in love! I just saw them! Why? Why?"
"No, not Tin and Nameless. Simon and Garfunkle. They split up ages before you were bor I mean, created! Get them something else."
Mercury broke back in. "Well, we've been thinking that this team could use a nice car. I mean with rocket engines, ejection seats and everything, just like a certain man in Gotham City has."
"Mercury! You are NOT buying any cars! The team has a perfectly good hovercraft. How many superteams do you know who travel in an antigravity saucer?"
"What, you've never heard of the Fantastic F--" Mercury's voice was cut off as Magnus ripped his intercom out of the wall.
"Follow me, General. This baby's got a date with a vat of sulfuric acid.
"Well, General Caspar, I really did enjoy the demonstration, but I just don't think the Metal Men are ready for production. I'm toying with the idea of removing the responsometer's emotional capabilities. It's possible that they could function just as well without them. Until I get the design fixed, you won't see any more Leads and Mercuries."
The General popped another piece of gum into his mouth and leaned against the main entry door. "I understand. Please keep my office informed as to all major developments. We do need to keep the project what's that?" In the distance, faint sobs echoed off the cold metal hallway walls. "Goodness, Magnus. She's still at it. Maybe you should go apologize. You did come down rather hard on her."
"What 'her'? There is no 'her.' Platinum may be shaped like a beach bunny, but she's not a dainty, fragile girl. She's a solid, dense metal robot! If I'd made her a big cylinder with a glass-domed head and clawlike arms, you wouldn't be so sympathetic! And I am sick and tired of putting up with her ITS tantrums!" Magnus realized he was hollering at the General. "Sorry, Sir. I'm not having a good day."
The General turned, the gigantic main doors of the facility slowly grinding shut behind him. "Yes you said that." The doors clanged, their hydraulic hiss echoing throughout the large facility. Then Magnus industries was silent, save for the distant automated production lines and the faint sound of Platinum crying.
In the Metal Men's rec room, Nameless was sitting on the sofa, comforting Tina. "Don't cry. Please don't cry. You're so smart and pretty. I don't know why Doc can't see that, but maybe he just needs more time."
Gold and Iron entered from the lab area. Gold saw Tina's distress and immediately extended his arm across the room to caress her shoulder. "I bet I can guess what this is about. Did Doctor Magnus reject you again?"
Tina snuffled. "Uh-huh. He he said I'm just a screwy, malfunctioning piece of junk! Why can't he treat me like his other girlfriends?"
Mercury and Lead sauntered in. The liquid metal robot made a quick assessment of the scene and confided in a hushed voice to his slower companion: "Chick stuff. Why don't we just skip this ugly scene?"
"Fine by me. Lead the way," Lead replied, turning in the doorframe and almost stepping on the diminutive seventh member of the team. "Whoah, Tin, sorry about that. We're just heading out to buy your pres-uh. President. We're buying a president."
"No. None of you are going anywhere." Seven heads snapped up to see Magnus enter the room. He did not appear his normal, easygoing self. "Tina. Follow me to the lab. The rest of you wait here."
"Oh, Will. What does this mean? Why do you toy with me like this?"
"Tina, I'm done wasting my time with you. I'm fixing that faulty responsometer right now. I've asked you Metal Men to reign in your emotions and all you EVER do is disobey me! Well, it ends here. I'm going to take care of your mixed-up programming once and for all. Tina, come here."
Tina began to shrink away from Will and further into Gold's protective embrace. "Will, you can't be serious!? You can't just deactivate me like I don't matter. You can't turn off my emotions just because you don't like them. You CAN'T! I'll behave! I'll be good. If you want me to, I'll leave you alone. I'm sorry! I-I don't want to lose who I am! You can't DO this! Oh, please! Please, Will, don't. Don't!"
"Tina, stop blubbering. You're not a woman. Come here. Now." Tina didn't move. "You will come with me willingly or I will have the Metal Men drag you in here!"
Gold stepped forward. "Now just a minute, Doctor Magnus. We've been programmed to obey our creator, but we were also commanded to protect our teammates. There's no way we're hauling her into the lab against her will!"
"Gold, I've had enough! If even one of you says one more defiant word, I'm deactivating the lot of you! Platinum come HERE!"
Tina raised her hands to her teammates. "It's okay. Don't get yourselves turned off, too! Will's right. I've just been a foolish, lovesick robot and all it's made me is miserable. Maybe I am just malfunctioning. All I know is, I " Tina glanced at Will and felt more tears swelling near her optic sensors. " I don't want to go on feeling like this all the time." Tina followed Will to the lab door. She glanced over her shoulder at her teammates one last time as the doors slid shut and sealed with a hiss.
Five hours later, Mercury was pacing a rut in the rec room floor. "Maybe you're all fine with this, but I'm not. He's never given me the proper respect. I'm next! And if he's not happy with the only metal that's liquid at room temperature, he's certainly not going to tolerate a weak tin can or an empty-headed lead blob or a gold robot who's always undermining his authority "
Gold rose from the chair he'd occupied in silence for the afternoon. "Merc, that's enough. This isn't about looking out for ourselves. This is about Tina's rights. She may make some bad decisions when it comes to boyfriends, but that's her choice. She is a living, thinking creature, no different from you or me and we just stood by and watched as her freedoms were overriden by Doctor Magnus. Her personality will be totally gone, replaced by this unemotional matrix. Her very life may be ended by this procedure. And we just let it happen."
Iron stood up, too. "I don't care what happens to me. Let Magnus turn me off. But we've gotta speak out against this."
Gold nodded, and the others stood up. "Are we all agreed? We stop this procedure and talk to Magnus, even if it means our lives?" Everyone agreed.
The team approached the robotics lab door. Magnus had sealed it from the inside. Gold made the final decision. "Maneuver 87, everyone." The Metal Men shapeshifted and took position, interlocking to become a battering ram on treads. They built up steam over the length of the 100 foot hallway and collapsed the large doors with a single burst. They separated and resumed their humanoid forms.
Gold took the lead. "Magnus!" he barked, "don't proceed any further. We want to talk to you about this."
"You're too late," Magnus replied, walking from the far end of the lab, "I finished the procedure ten minutes ago. Platinum?" Platinum rose from the lab table and joined Magnus. There was something strange about her. Her walk was devoid of any feminine gait. Her wire hair didn't bounce. She stood perfectly erect beside Magnus. She did not put her weight on one foot. Her face didn't show the slightest tilt.
"As you can see, Platinum won't be bothering me any more. Which is obviously more than I can say for you. I believe I'll apply this procedure to the entire team." Magnus pointed to the Metal Men. "Platinum, retrieve their responsometers."
Several of the Metal Men gasped as Platinum strode forward. The light finally caught her face. There was no emotion. Her eyes, once brilliantly sparkling, now glinted only by the reflections on the cold metal.
To be continued
What happens next? Find out in Part 2!
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