The team consisted of their field leader Gold, strong man Iron, slow-witted and loyal Lead, self-doubting and insecure Tin, hot-headed Mercury (the only metal liquid at room temperature), and Platinum, or Tina (now called Platina), who thought she was a real woman rather than a robot and was, in a Pygmalion twist, in love with creator Doc Magnus. Tin later kit-built himself a girlfriend whom he called "Beautiful" but was "Nameless" to the others. She shared some adventures with them.
While all of the Metal Men were basically shapeshifters, each of them had abilities that reflected the traits of their namesake metal; Gold could stretch his body almost infinitely, Iron was super strong, Lead could block harmful radiation and the like and usually morphed into thick shields, Mercury could melt and reform himself through small spaces, or over vast distances, and Platinum could stretch and flatten herself, usually into coils of thin strands. while Tin seemed to prefer acting as a "can" or container, his other efforts usually failing due to his weak strength.
The Metal Men's main foes included Chemo (a mobile plastic giant filled with various lethal chemicals), the robotic alien Missile Men, the Gas Gang, and other mechanical menaces such as a robotic T-Rex, a robo-centaur, Chang Tzu, the Sizzler and nefarious amusement park rides. On several occasions Doc constructed new robots of different metals such as Uranium, Silver, Cobalt, Chromium and others, including counterpart "boyfriend and girlfriend" robots. The new robots always went to the scrap heap. The Metal Men also had many adventures on other planets, usually meeting robot menaces.
The Metal Men had a broken run of sixty issues in their own comic book title. Their Silver Age run, from issues #1 to #41, began in 1963 and ended in 1970. Several issues included the "Metal Facts & Fancies" feature which featured factoids about various metals.
As part 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, a second re-tooling was implemented which saw each Metal Man assume a human identity. The "New Metal Men" were then assigned the task of apprehending Doc Magnus who had become a fugitive after being kidnapped, re-awakened, and brainwashed by a mad dictator, turning him into a scientist dedicated to global conquest. Sales took an even more severe nosedive, and the series was cancelled after issue #41.
The Metal Men reappeared in 1973 in issues (#42, 43 and 44), all reprints of earlier published material. New stories continued with issue #45 (April-May 1976) by artist Walt Simonson (who later worked on Thor) and various writers, including Steve Gerber, who wrote the acclaimed issue #45, "Evil Is in the Eye of the Beholder", which Grant Morrison has cited as an all-time favorite comic book story. Doc Magnus's sanity was restored and he once again joined his robot creations. Simsonson was succeeded as artist by Joe Staton. The comic's publication run ended with issue #56 in 1978 when, despite acceptable sales, the book fell victim to the DC Implosion.
The Metal Men have appeared as guests in several other comic book titles including The Brave and the Bold (#55, #66, #74, #103, #113, #121, #135-136, and #187) where they teamed-up with Metamorpho, the Atom, and several times with Batman. Most memorable of all was #187, which explored the mysterious disappearance of Nameless, Tin's homemade girlfriend.
A four book mini-series was printed in 1993. In a retcon of their origin story, it was revealed that the Metal Men carried the intellects and personalities of Doc's brother (Gold), his fiancee (Platinum), two lab workers (Mercury and Iron), a janitor (Tin), and a pizza-delivery man (Lead), which were accidentally transferred to blank robots in a lab mishap rather than being artificially generated by "responsometers" as the story was first told. In a fast and furious climax, Gold was permanently killed and Doc Magnus mortally wounded. Doc 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. This episode was itself retconned away as a delusion suffered by Doc Magnus.
The series also affects the very reality of the characters. When Superboy-Prime pounded on the walls of reality, he caused the very fabric of reality to shift, changing and merging histories. The "blank robots with responsometers" origin of the Metal Men was returned to continuity and the "human personalities and Doc as Veridium" origin was dismissed as a delusion suffered by Doc Magnus after his first mental breakdown.
The responsometers are now described as containing an "artificial soul" invented by Doc Magnus inspired by 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. After the unexplained dismantling of the Metal Men, Doc Magnus is unable to recreate this soul and restore their personalities. He now takes Prozac for the bipolar disorder which caused his nervous break down and the depression which led to the creation of the Plutonium Man. It is implied that, although the medication is keeping Magnus from doing anything irrational, it is also deadening his imagination and creativity and that this is the reason he can not recreate the Metal Men.
Magnus is approached by government agents hoping to use the Metal Men as soulless smart weapons, offers Magnus always rejects. Through all of this, Magnus has been visiting Morrow in his cell in Haven. Morrow has warned Magnus that there have been numerous abductions of "mad" scientists, including Doctor Sivana, whose lair Magnus investigates.
Eventually Morrow himself disappears, leaving a note for his former student with a string in machine code. Using the code, Magnus is able to revive Mercury, albeit his robotic friend and creation is apparently destroyed again trying to save him from a conspiracy trying to kidnap all the mad scientists in the DCU. Mindless replicas of the Metal Men force Magnus to escape from his burned house before being captured by what is revealed to be a separate group "Chang Tzu's Science Squad".
This group is based on Oolong Island (said to be part of the territory of China) and has been responsible for the disappearances of the scientists (including Professor Morrow). The group is being financed by Intergang with the collusion, it is implied, of the Chinese government. The assembled scientists have been given unlimited budgets to invent various super weapons including, in particular, various types of robots.
Magnus is assigned to design and construct a new Plutonium Man robot, but deliberately makes little progress saying to Morrow that the original Plutonium Man was an expression of his pain and rage brought on by his mental illness and that the reason he takes his medication is to prevent him from doing something like that again. Morrow reveals this to the Island's leaders and his medication is confiscated.
Magnus then proceeds to work on Plutonium Man saying this time he'll "do it right." However, Magnus, while unstable due to his lack of medication, is not fully co-operating with Chang Tzu. Magnus goes about scavenging materials from various items (gold from a gold watch, lead from lead shielding, mercury from thermometers, and tin from cans of Baked Beans which Magnus adopts as his sole diet - presumably in order also to ensure the other scientists would not want to spend too much time with him) to allow him to reconstruct his Metal Men, albeit only a few inches high. These new Metal Men are shown to help Magnus remain sane despite being off his pills, such as when they persuade him to deactivate the now completed Plutonium Man after he turns it on during a period of depression.
When Oolong Island is attacked by the JSA seeking to rescue Black Adam and Chang Tzu orders the Plutonium Man activated. Magnus refuses and the Metal Men attack Chang Tzu allowing Magnus to escape and switch off the Island's defences. While he is doing this Morrow confronts Magnus and destroys Mercury. Magnus explains to Morrow that it's pointless stopping him deactivating the shields as the JSA will get in eventually and instead offers him the chance to teleport out saying that Morrow was "the best teacher I ever knew" and that he tries "to over look the psychopathic super villain thing". Morrow accepts the offer.
Magnus is then confronted by Chang Tzu who he apparently kills with the aid of Lead and a 'particle wave ray gun' screaming "You shouldn't have taken away my meds. I told you I do crazy things without my meds!". Magnus then surrenders to the JSA.
The entire team of Metal Men (all with new, modified appearances) appear in a three part Superman/Batman story in issues 34-36. The rebuilt Platinum calls herself Platina, and Gold is a disembodied head, due to the expense of building a new gold body. The team also includes new female member, the sarcastic Copper. The Metal Men are hired by Lucius Fox as security for WayneTech, but come under the influence of Brainiac.
In 2007, DC began publishing a new 8-issue Metal Men miniseries, featuring the new team, written and illustrated by Duncan Rouleau. The team find themselves up against Will's brother David, who wants to erase the act of their creation because an ancient being known as the Nameless plans to use them to take over the world. They also meet revised versions of their pre-Crisis foes, including Chemo, The Balloonatic (Balloon Man), and the Mech-Cannibal (B.O.L.T.S), as well as a robotic supremacy group called Robot Renegades. Along the way, the Metal Men are transformed into radioactive metals, which overrides their responsometers, turning them into the temporarily evil Death Metal Men. In the climax of the series, Magnus is able to stop the Nameless' plans, and David is accidentally transformed into a new version of Viridium, and vows revenge on his brother.
A possible future version of the Metal Men in a combined form called Alloy appears in artist Alex Ross and Mark Waid's Kingdom Come as part of Magog's "Justice Battalion". Alloy appeared in modern continuity in Superman: Man of Steel 1000000 (part of the "DC One Million" event). The Metal Men, driven insane by the Hourman Virus, attack Superman, at one point combining into Alloy.
The Metal Men were also featured in other DC One Million titles. Platinum played a special role, giving the citizens of the 853rd century an oral history of the Superman lineage.
In the 31st Century, the Metal Men were misremembered as JSA-like superheroes: Mercury like the mythical god, Gold as a knight, Iron in a hard hat, Lead as a masked wrestler, and Tin as a dog.
Another appearance of note is the Metal Men entry in the Bizarro Comics story "The Tinocchio Syndrome" by Bob Fingerman and Pat McEown in which the team disguise themselves as humans and spend an evening in a dance bar, with mixed results.
An alternate version of the team called the Missile Men appeared in JLA Secret Files and Origins 2004 and also in a cameo in JLA #114, in which anti-matter versions of the Metal Men (called the "Metal Marauders") are listed amongst the opponents of the Crime Syndicate of Amerika.
In the Tangent Comics print, the Metal Men are a covert ops group, composed of their commander, Marcus Moore, his second-in-command, Sam Schwartz, John Holliday (codename: Hawkman), Francis Powell (Black Lightning), Carl Walters (Gravedigger), and Rey Quinones (Lobo). Moore is murdered by the group's contact, Raven after trying to use a war weapon on a civilian population, and Schwartz later became President of the United States, with Holliday his chief of staff. Moore is later revealed to have survived, and controls the secret agency Nightwing, with Walters and Powell assisting him. Moore has had the shot part of his face replaced with metal, and has gained the nickname Deadman for his survival.