Gold’s words were oddly prophetic, since Batman, Lead, and Iron had also encountered a group of the odd metallic raiders on the ridge called Slater Slope. The isolated area was outside the city limits and retained some of its original rustic charm. However, a failed redevelopment project had left the area with a few jarring reminders of the urban sprawl that lay a few miles below. Amidst a graveyard of metal, wood, and wiring appeared the robotic thieves.
Batman had prepared for such a meeting, and he hurled pellets at two of the silver-white beings as they loaded raw ore on a platform. A blinding flash illuminated the area as each pellet reacted with the body structure of one of the iron beings and created a type of instant oxidation. Rusting them will slow them down, but not stop them, mused Batman.
Lead had shaped himself into a flattened roller with curved edges, while Iron had elongated his arms and linked with the gray robot to create a rough bulldozer. “We’ll bowl… uh… them over!” said Lead eagerly.
Iron nodded grimly as the loyal Metal Men pondered once more why it was a form of his metal that was being used against them. He felt a bit guilty for some reason. He lowered his head and charged into his opponents using lead as a battering ram. He’d show his loyalty to his friends by fighting harder than ever before. The impact was jarring as the metallic beings crashed together.
Batman nodded in approval as he saw three of the iron beings tumble down the slippery slope. Good! I don’t want them to overplay their parts. It has to look good, he thought.
He ducked under a robot’s outstretched arms and used its momentum to send it reeling into one of its allies. Then he flipped over its back with one hand to support his acrobatic body. The Caped Crusader kicked the remaining robot, but it held its ground, and he rolled to safety seconds before it slammed its fists down where he had been.
Batman suddenly slipped as Iron and Lead rushed to shield him from the attackers. Lead blocked their path as he swelled up to form a protective armor around the Darknight Detective. Iron shaped his hands into hammers and battered away at the attackers before falling to their superior numbers.
The robots departed into the night with their burden of iron ore and left the heroes defeated on the slope.
Moments passed, and then Batman smiled slightly. “It worked,” he said. “They’ve departed, and I managed to plant a tracking device on one of them. Apparently, our staged defeat was convincing enough to fool them.”
Lead shook his head as he retracted his body from around Batman’s. “Uh, you fooled them, but why didn’t you have Gold and his team fake a defeat, too? You told them to win, if at all possible.”
“I wanted the mystery foe to assume we were trying our best,” said Batman. “He clearly has Magnus and thus has a rather accurate assessment of your skills. I didn’t want him to get the impression that we were all setting him up to lead us to his lair.”
Above them, a whirling sound attracted their notice as a crude helicopter made of Tin, Gold, Platinum, and Mercury came into view.
Platinum called down to them and said, “Did it work?”
Batman nodded and said, “Come on, we’re about to find Doc Magnus and the brains behind his abduction and our iron-based foes.”
Much later, Batman and the Metal Men found themselves standing over a well-concealed opening in the ground. Their robotic foes had descended down into the darkness via a series of metal steps built into the walls of the hole.
“That opens up into a much larger chamber,” said Batman. “I can see that the robots or their master have done some excavation work.”
“It is logical, given their predilection for iron,” said Gold.
Iron nodded and said, “The most common metal located at the Earth’s core is molten iron.”
Platinum gasped as she said, “Surely that tunnel doesn’t go that far down, does it?”
Mercury sneered in disgust. “He’s just being figurative. A crazy, mixed-up doll like you wouldn’t know subtlety if it bit her own shiny–”
“Enough!” snapped Gold. “We’d better get down there.”
Instantly, the Metal Men sprang into action with their customary speed and skill. Gold extended himself into a narrow chute as they slid down his smooth-surfaced body and landed on a springy safety net formed out of Platinum’s altered body.
Batman had adjusted his cowl so that the infrared feature slid into place and gave him enhanced vision within the darkened tunnel. He led the others forward into a widening passage that opened up to reveal a shocking sight.
Dozens of the iron-based robots lined a huge but crudely excavated chamber, and machines filled one area to the side where new ones were being created.
Tin stammered in dismay as he pointed one hand toward a man who stood in the middle of the room. “D-D-Doc!” he said. “It’s Doc!”
Indeed, Dr. Will Magnus stood before them and stared at them with a cool gaze that revealed little beyond a weariness that was equally evident from his posture. “You’ve come,” he said. “I suppose it is just as well that we end this here and now.”
Platinum rushed forward and wrapped her arms around the genius, then rested her head against his chest and said, “Oh, Doc, darling! We’ve been so very worried!”
“Doc, it is OK,” said Gold. “We’ll help you.”
Magnus pried Tina away from his body and said, “You think I’m insane! You think this is some illness that you can remedy? How utterly lacking you all are in any understanding of humanity. I want no help from you. You rejected me and turned your back on me at the U.N. I made you and you defied me! Now, my new creations will destroy you all!”
“He’s flipped!” said Mercury.
Iron, ever loyal, said, “Maybe not.” He gestured to where Batman’s gaze had already traveled.
A humanoid being of white metal stood in the shadows, towering over the others. He was metallic, and yet he moved with a silent grace and possessed a marked intellect that separated him from the iron robots around the room.
“I believe we’ve found our mastermind,” said Batman. “Dr. Magnus is just a helpless victim of mind-control.”
The large metal being nodded and said, “You are correct. You’re used to being correct. Your mind is one of the strongest I’ve ever touched with my telepathy.”
Tina said, “He forced Doc to make those iron robots and sent them to gather more iron in order to make some army!”
Will Magnus’ eyes widened, and his hands trembled as if he was trying to resist the mental enslavement that had forced him to both build the robots and speak as he had moments before.
“Easy, Doc,” said Gold. “We’re going to free you!”
Tina thought, And yet I looked into his eyes. He meant some of what he said. He was hurt by the way we left him. He does care about us!
“You’re no robot,” said Batman. “You’re an alien.”
The large metal man said, “I am Katmos. My race walked this world eight million years ago. We were formed of iron atoms, not carbon. All of my brethren died when certain meteors hit the planet. I alone survived beneath the surface in suspended animation. I awoke a short time ago, as I measure time. A costumed being known as the Flash thwarted my attempts to claim your world for my own. (*) He returned me to suspended animation, but I awoke once more and realized one alone can do little. Thus I scanned the minds of your citizens and learned of William Magnus. I decided to force him to create facsimiles of my lost iron race. With the help of these allies, I will take over your human civilization!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Conqueror from 8 Million B.C.,” The Flash #105 (February-March, 1959).]
“You abducted Magnus and made him build your army,” said Batman. “That was logical, except for one thing. You didn’t understand that his friends would come looking for him.”
Katmos shrugged and said, “I expected him to lack friends who could challenge me. I little expected the robots he loves so much to show loyalty in turn to a mere human. I forced him to insult you when you arrived, but you still express devotion to one who is not of your kind. Fascinating.”
Tina squealed with pleasure as she heard that Magnus loved them. She elongated her legs and confronted Katmos. “You leave Doc alone, you horrible creature! We won’t let you use him!”
“Clearly, you Metal Men care for the fleshling,” said Katmos. “I am puzzled, but I will adjust my plans and merely kill you all here and now!”
The iron robots moved forward to close in on the heroes. Lead charged into the nearest robots as Iron shaped his arms into pliers and clamped down on another robot. Gold hurled himself at Katmos, only to be shattered in half by the creature’s superhuman strength.
Batman began to toss his own chemical pellets at the menacing army of iron. Katmos had Magnus make these things without giving them unique personalities or intellects, he thought. He wants mindless followers, not true equals. He dodged an iron fist and vaulted toward Katmos.
Tina had raced over to protect Magnus as he continued to shake and now perspire as he fought the mental hold Katmos had on him. Mercury and Tin were falling beneath the onslaught of the robots, and Batman felt his own hands slip from his rope before he could anchor himself.
He’s attacking my mind! Batman thought as the powerful telepath touched his brain. Can’t let him take control of me! he thought as he fought back.
“Uh, Batman… uh…” began Lead. “He’s got control of Batman now!”
Iron crashed as the army hurled him across the room. “We’re the only ones he can’t control!” he said.
“Doc! Oh, Doc, help us!” cried Tina. “The iron army is winning! I just know you can beat them somehow. Let me help you. I believe in you! I love you so!” Dr. Will Magnus shuddered from his efforts to fight.
Then Batman managed to shake off Katmos’ control. I’m free, but I’m not going to act just yet, he thought. I think Magnus needs to be the one to save the day.
Magnus cried out as he fought to free his fragile-yet-brilliant mind. He knew the stakes were high, but the loyalty of his creations and Tina’s impassioned plea gave him added strength. He slammed his fists down on a control panel, and suddenly the iron men began to melt into puddles of metal.
“You defied me!” said Katmos with surprise. “Somehow you built a self-destruct mechanism into my army. How did you hide that treachery from my mental probes?”
Dr. Magnus fell into Tina’s arms and said, “I was unable to disobey your commands to build, but I still had enough will to add my own failsafe feature.”
Tina kissed him and said, “Doc, you’re wonderful!”
Iron and Lead hurried forward and joined their creator. “Good going, Doc!” said Iron. “You melted down the whole lot of them.”
Magnus nodded and said, “I’ll rebuild Gold, Tin, and Mercury when we get out of here.”
“And now for Katmos himself,” said Batman, diving forward to grab a strange gun from a nearby table. He fired it at Katmos, and the alien being stiffened.
“Katmos touched my mind, but I was also able to pick out a few thoughts of his own,” explained Batman. “I learned that weapon was a stasis ray. I figured it might be the best way to subdue him. He kept it on hand in case any of his own lost race might truly be alive and rise to oppose him. The poor devil couldn’t even trust his own race. For all his talk about wanting to restore them, he truly just wanted to rule them.”
Back at Dr. Will Magnus’ laboratory, Batman watched as Magnus spoke to the restored Metal Men. They had by this time secured Katmos and destroyed his army.
“Thank you all for coming to find me,” said Magnus. “I was captured with ease, and I’m not proud of it. I was in my lab when I heard metallic footsteps. I opened the door, and he took over my mind after winning a brief struggle.”
Tina said, “You opened the door because you assumed it was us. You missed us!”
Magnus sputtered a hesitant reply, then said, “I did. I was proud of the way you all worked to gain U.N. citizenship and freedom. I really was delighted with your resourcefulness, and yet I was a bit hurt that you’d left, too. I was too proud to admit it.”
“Doc, you don’t know how glad we are to hear that,” said Iron. “We felt pretty low when we thought you didn’t want anything more to do with us.”
“That was never true,” said Will Magnus. “I want you to be independent, but I also want you to know you have a place with me, too, if you want it.”
“The U.N. action was really more about freedom than rebellion,” said Gold.
Lead began, “Legal… uh… status… uh… doesn’t matter…”
“Spit it out!” snapped Mercury. “Some of us have things to do!”
“I think he’s trying to say that legal ownership was never really what tied your group together with Dr. Magnus,” said Batman.
Tina smiled broadly and said, “That’s right! We belong to one another because of something a lot stronger than laws or intellectual property policies.”
Tin beamed as he said, “F-f-family ties!”
Dr. Will Magnus smiled in silence as he bit down on his pipe and enjoyed the company of the creations that had truly become his family.