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Metallo (Monsterbus p.568)

This story is a good example of Kirby's prophetic power, and how it's undermined by Lee.  A prophet, you will recall, is someone who speaks eternal truths. Those truths typically feature enemies and the future, and typically tell us to hold our nerve and do the right thing even when faced with terrifying threats. See for example the Old Testament prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, etc.).

Here Kirby is telling us that, if we cannot reach a threat, don't worry: if it is evil then the evil will destroy itself from within eventually. This is because what we call "good" is simply what works in the long run. Our ancestors called theft and violence and aggressive isolation evil because they weaken the tribe. So anybody who relies on theft and violence and aggressive isolation will inevitably be weaker. In this example, a man who cuts himself off from society finds he needs healthcare. And to emphasise the point, his disease is almost certainly caused by his evil acts: staying for too long inside a machine that is riddled with radiation.

A masterpiece

As usual with Lee's editing, if we just look at the art we see the whole story, and it's much stronger than the story with the dialog. The arms reaching out for help, the theme of freedom and yet being trapped by his own actions, the slow pacing that fits the weight of the suit, the poignant ending, walking past the outstretched hands into the wilderness, it's beautiful, powerful stuff.

It also has great science: the three contexts of radiation: military, medical, and unintended contamination. Or possibly four: it is also possible that Kirby intended the suit to be nuclear powered, which would explain its tremendous strength and the radiation, why a user was not supposed to stay inside for long.

How Lee weakened the start and end

We can't say for surer exactly how Kirby wanted it worded, but there appear to be discrepancies between the art and text in the start and end of Metallo's career. First, the end.

When the villain finds he is ill, his vague description is enough for the doctors to know that he needs radiation treatment. How could they possibly know that without proper testing? The obvious answer is that the man who spent too log inside a radiation-riddled suit has developed cancer: radiation therapy is then the go-to solution. So why not just say "cancer"? Until we realise it is cancer the story is less believable.

Cancer also explains a problem at the start: why was it so hard to find volunteers to use the suit? The suit failing to protect them from the blast is one thing, but you can clearly see the thing is tough. But more likely, the suit might have tiny gaps (e.g. the joints or air filters) allowing radioactive dust in, leading to a long and painful death from cancer. That's much worse. Cancer makes the volunteer shortage much more believable.

So it is almost certain that cancer was implied. Why did Lee choose not to say so? Most of his choices were made to simplify stories for younger readers,a nd this fits that pattern. He may have felt that naming the illness caused possible stress, or added to complexity (they might not now what the word means), or may have caused confusion with mentioning radiation in three different contexts (bomb, cancer and medical) instead of just two (bomb and medical). But Lee's need to simplify the story weakens both the start and the end.

The final panel, where Lee makes the problem as explicit as possible, also weakens the story for older readers: it has more impact if the ideas are formed first in our own mind, with only enough dialog to start the process. But it may help younger readers, who may simply see the villain wander off and feel that's a weak ending.

Metallo and Iron Man

In comics, "Metallo" is a generic name for what we now call "Iron Man". This is the third Metallo. Here is the first, from DC, in 1942:

Here is the second, from 1959 (mixed with some Iron Man: can you tell the difference?)

Iron Man will be the fourth Metallo. But the name had become generic, used by both Marvel and DC. So when Martin Goodman agreed to a new continuing character then it needed a new name.