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By Thomas Wheeler

The Walmart exclusive Wave 14 of Mattel's excellent line of DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS action figures has someone in it that may well be of interest to collectors that are going to be slightly irked that it's a Walmart exclusive, especially since the individual in question is a member of a very distinctive team within the DC Universe, that has already had one member from its group produced as a general-release figure, and has a second one forthcoming in Wave 16.

The character in question goes by the name of "Gold". He's one of the Metal Men. We saw "Iron" a few waves back, and "Mercury" is forthcoming in Wave 16. That leaves Lead, Platinum, and Tin -- and arguably Copper, a less prominent and more recent member of the group, unless Mattel at some point goes all the way and turns out Doc Magnus in his robotic Veridium form, but the validity of that particular bit of continuity is somewhat questionable.

Given how scarce Gold proved to be, I'd have to say there's no shortage of collectors making a specific effort to track him down, even if they're not necessarily interested in the rest of the assortment -- which would be a real shame if they weren't, since there's some very cool characters in it.

Let's consider the history of the Metal Men. They are a team of robotic superheroes, created by writer Robert Kanigher, and first illustrated by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. They first appeared in Showcase #37-40, in 1962, as part of a four-issue story created as a last-minute filler feature. They proved unexpectedly popular and the characters were revived for more stories under their own title. Reviving them is relatively easy given their robotic nature, and it's not uncommon for them to be destroyed and then reconstructed, often in the same story.

The Metal Men were presented as advanced artificially intelligent robots, created by scientist Dr. Will Magnus, or "Doc Magnus", as he is affectionately known. Magnus states that their intelligence and personalities are generated by devices called "responsometers". They mirror characteristics commonly associated with their namesake metals, both in personality and substance. According to some accounts the Metal Men are actually composed of various metals, while in others, they are made of a chemical substance that can duplicate the properties of a specific metal as determined by the programming of their individual responsometer.

The team consists of their field leader Gold, strong man Iron, slow-witted Lead, insecure Tin, hot-headed Mercury - notably for being the only metal that is liquid at room temperature, and Platinum, the female member of the team, sometimes nicknamed Tina.

While all of the Metal Men are basically shapeshifters, each of them has additional abilities that reflected the traits of their namesake. Gold is able to stretch his body almost infinitely. Iron is super-strong. Lead can block harmful radiation. Mercury can readily melt and reform himself through small spaces, or over vast distances. Platinum can stretch and flatten herself, usually into coils of thin strands. Tin usually acts as a small container, or "can".

On several occasions, Magnus constructed new robots of different metals such as Uranium, Silver, Cobalt, Chromium, and others, but these always ended up on the scrap heap for one reason or another.

The Metal Men had a rather broken run of sixty issues of their own comic book title. The first 41 issues began in 1963 and ended in 1970. As part of DC's company-wide effort to include more "hip" and "relevant" plots, issue #33 changed the focus of the Metal Men saga. Doc Magnus fell into a coma after being injured, and the Metal Men found themselves being hunted by the authorities after faulty responsometers were installed. When these changes resulted in a massive sales drop for the title, a second-retooling was implemented which saw each Metal Man assume a human identity, and they were given the task of apprehending Doc Magnus, who had become a fugitive after being kidnapped, awakened from his coma, and brainwashed by a mad dictator, turning him into a scientist dedicated to global conquest. Sales took an even more severe dive, and the series was canceled after issue #41.

I've said it countless times -- there are aspects of the pop culture world, both in comics and toys, that really need to learn the axiom, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it..."

The Metal Men reappeared in 1973, with art by Walt Simonson, and stories by various writers. Doc Magnus' sanity is restored and he once again joined his robot creations. The comic's publication run ended with #56 in 1978 when, despite acceptable sales, the book fell victim to the notorious "DC Implosion", which saw a great many titles canceled abruptly.

The Metal Men would guest-star in various titles in the ensuing years, notably "Brave and the Bold" alongside Batman, and occasionally in "DC Comics Presents" with Superman.

A four-book mini-series was printed in 1993, that presented a rather different origin for the characters. Here, it was explained that the Metal Men carried the intellects and personalities of various real-life friends and family of Doc Magnus, who had been transferred into blank robots in a laboratory mishap, rather than being artificially generated by responsometers. In the course of the mini-series, Gold was destroyed, and Doc Magnus mortally wounded. He transferred his personality into a blank robot known as Veridium, made of a green alien metal, and became the new robotic leader of the Metal Men. Despite several appearances in other titles, this episode was later removed from continuity as a delusion suffered by Magnus. Shame in one sense -- I sort of liked Veridium.

During the course of the Infinite Crisis, it was shown that Superboy-Prime had the ability to affect reality itself. Pounding on the walls of the strange dimension in which he, Superman and Lois Lane of Earth-2, and Alex Luthor of Earth-3, had fled to at the end of the Crisis on Infinite Earths, it was noticed that Superboy was causing the fabric of reality itself on Earth to shift. This was used as a means of explaining various continuity glitches that had taken place in the ensuing years since the first Crisis.

One of these reality shifts affected the Metal Men, restoring Gold, returning Magnus to human form, and re-establishing the original storyline that the Metal Men are robots with responsometers, with the "human personalities" aspect dismissed as the aforementioned delusion.

The responsometers are now described as containing an "artificial soul" invented by Doc Magnus, inspired by criminal scientist T.O. Morrow, who is revealed to have taught him at college and to have been the only one not to laugh at Magnus' theories.

Several adventures later, the entire Metal Man team appears in a three-part story in the Superman/Batman title. This story introduces a new member to the team, a female robot named Copper, possessed of a rather sarcastic personality. The Metal Men are hired by Lucius Fox as security for WayneTech, but come under the influence of Brainiac.

They have since starred in an eight-issue mini-series, published in 2007, a story in the Wednesday Comics mini-series, taking place before their existence became public knowledge, and in a backup feature in the Doom Patrol title, which was written by Keith Giffen and rather unfortunately played for the sort of laughs that Giffen specializes in (and which in my opinion grow old rather quickly).

Most recently, the Metal Men appeared in the series "Justice League: Generation Lost", where they have been captured by Maxwell Lord, and brainwashed to attack the members of the new Justice League International. They are subsequently defeated. I'm sure we haven't seen the last of them, as they remain a popular part of the DC Universe. And if nothing else, Platinum was seen as still existing in the 853rd century during the "DC One Million" storyline. The Metal Men have also turned up in the animated "Brave and the Bold" series.

So, how's the figure? Well -- he's pretty shiny. The DC Universe Classics line doesn't go in for chrome plating, which is probably just as well, as that might be a bit over the top. Sometimes it works. It looks good on Destro from G.I. Joe. I can readily see a chrome-plated Silver Surfer from the Marvel Universe line. But somehow, in the DC Universe Classics line, metallic paint, when appropriate, seems to suffice.

To a significant degree, Gold uses the same body molds as many of the male heroes within the DC Universe Classics line. This is a practice I have long approved of, as it creates a consistency for the line that I sincerely appreciate. This also explains why Gold and Iron were the first two Metal Men out of the gate, and why I'm a little concerned about the completion of the team. Most of the others are a little on the odd side. We're getting Mercury in Wave 16, and not surprisingly, that string-bean is an all-new figure. Platinum could probably be made using existing body molds. Arguably, so could Copper, if they choose to do her.

Lead and Tin are a different matter. Tin is a scrawny runt, and Lead is a wide load, very bulky fellow. Both of these figures would require entirely new molds. We'll see if they get them.

Gold is -- well -- gold, from head to toe. He has a very smooth, painted finish, unlike Iron, who was given a somewhat rougher look, due in large part to a tunic that was assembled over the figure's torso, but which was still well in keeping with the character's look. Gold has no such tunic. He does have a triangular flap that runs from his shoulders to his lower torso, and has the symbol for gold painted on it This symbol also appears on Gold's forehead. Unluckily for gold, the symbol that represents the metal that he's made out of looks very much like a target. Not good.

There isn't a lot of painted detail on Gold, or should I say not a lot of obvious painted detail. Technically speaking, the entire figure has been painted head to toe in a very bright gold metallic finish. But the remaining painted details are relatively minimal. They include the two symbols, as well as the eyes, which have a slight robotic look to them, but are designed to be more or less human, with orange-gold irises. The detail here is really very impressive.

Gold's face is very human in appearance, metallic finish notwithstanding, and he has a rather neutral, if reasonably heroic expression. Gold does not have hair. Rather, he has a skullcap which has been riveted into place. These rivets also appear on the V-shaped chestplate, as well as around his gloves and boots, which are distinctive pieces to the figure. I initially thought that Gold probably used the same lower arms and lower legs as Iron, but this is not the case. Not only is the rivet pattern somewhat different, but Gold's arms and legs lack the rough texture given to Iron's (something that I sort of wish they'd avoided on him.)

Gold's hands are made of metal. I'm not sure what sort of metal. Whatever it is, it's not magnetic. But Mattel has made it known that the hands of their Metal Man figures, which currently includes Iron and Gold, and presumably includes Mercury, are made of metal. I'm not sorry that they didn't make the entire figures out of metal. That probably would have been very expensive, might well have created articulation problems, and given the size of the figures, they probably would've been heavy enough so that if you dropped one on your bare feet, you could expect a broken toe or two -- or at least a sore foot. Still, with metal hands, it's a coll little feature, if not a particularly obvious one.

The paintwork on Gold is excellent. It has been my experience that gold is a very difficult color to duplicate well in either plastic or paint. I don't know why this is, but it is. I have seen quite a range of shades of attempted metallic gold in both plastic and paint. Some work better than others. I have seen very dark, almost grim shades of metallic gold. That wouldn't have worked well for this figure. I have seen molding problems with gold plastic where the layers of molding are all too evident. I have also heard it said that some types of gold-colored plastic are very fragile relative to other colors of the same type of plastic. Certainly that wouldn't be a desirable outcome for Gold or anyone else.

I have seen gold shades of paint across a surprising spectrum, everything from the same grim, dark shade, to overly bright shades that are too pale, too yellow, or even too orange. And this sometimes from the same company, or within the same toy line. Heck, I've seen several shades of gold within DC Universe Classics, for that matter. Compare the borders of Captain Marvel's cape with Gold here sometime. They're quite different.

I would expect that the fine folks at Mattel went to some considerable effort to find a really good shade of gold, for Gold. And they succeeded in this. The figure is a good, bright shade of straightforward gold. He looks -- GOLD. He's not too yellow, he's not orange, he's not some dark, almost tarnished color of gold. He's gold. I'd like to think that if you could get into the gold reserves at Fort Knox, you could stand Gold next to the supply, and he'd reasonably blend.

The paint job is very thorough, literally head to toe, and I'm assuming it was done before the figure was actually assembled. It looks fantastic, truly, and I wish I could say it's problem free, but -- well, it's not. I'm picky. But given how hard it is to match gold-colored paint, I didn't want to have to buy a fixer-upper, either.

The Gold figure that I picked up has a truly superb paint job. No complaints about its appearance whatsoever. But here we come to a secondary problem, that I suspect may plague quite a few Gold figures -- the articulation.

Now, Gold is designed to have the same excellent range of motion as most DC Universe Classics figures. He is designed to be fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles.

But, here's the problem, and I'm convinced that this can be mostly attributed to the paint job. A lot of his parts are either stuck, or move with great difficulty. I am exceptionally reluctant to force them, as when I've tried that in the past, the end result is usually a broken figure. I have him in a nice stance and he's likely to stay that way. One of these days I suppose I should try the technique that others have recommended of literally boiling a figure briefly to loosen stuck parts and adjust stances and the like. However, the success rate of that on some DCUC figures has not been impressive, and speaking personally, I'm not that great in the kitchen with food, let alone action figures...

Thank goodness this Gold figure doesn't have the thoroughly pointless double-jointed elbows and knees that are going to be implemented starting with Wave 16 (including Mercury). This is enough of a problem as it is. So's the double-jointing, which I remain hopeful will be a short-lived aberration in the line.

Gold comes with a couple of accessories, reflective (no pun intended) of his shapeshifting abilities, common to all Metal Men. This includes a huge pickax that fits over one hand, and a rotating sawblade that fits over the other. Iron was similarly equipped with a small wrecking ball on an actual chain, and a working adjustable wrench, although I wouldn't recommend either it or Gold's circular sawblade for actual home repairs.

So, what's my final word? I'm impressed. I'm delighted to have another member of the Metal Men among my DC Universe Classics collection, even though I did find it a little surprising that he should be included with a store exclusive wave. I get the impression that his scarcity is due to this fact. As such, I'm also rather relieved to have him. He looks fantastic, a very gleaming gold in color that is nicely reflective without being like a gold mirror, which wouldn't really be appropriate. The paint job is fantastic, even if it may have proven detrimental to the articulation to some degree. Curiously, the easiest-moving part on the figure is his waist. Not sure why. However, for whatever minor problems Gold may have, he's still an excellent figure, an excellent representation of the character, and a superb addition to the DC Universe Classics collection.

The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of GOLD of the METAL MEN definitely has my highest recommendation!