When Titans Clank
The radio was finishing up Tom Mix's Ralston jingle, which was more than enough incentive for Paul Dennis to reach out one metal hand and crush it. Except that he didn't, as a grudging concession to Robbie, his dog. After all, Robbie was the one who had turned it on.
"Can you at least turn that down?"
"Shhhh, Robotman," hushed the metallic mutt. "I want to hear if the latest ish of Commando Comix is out."
"Oh. Great." Paul was trying to mix up a new batch of plastic in the sink. This was the pinkish stuff that would later be used as gloves, masks, leggings, and whatever else he needed to use as a fake for exposed flesh. Maintaining a secret identity when your body is made of metal is no easy thing.
In that, he was somewhat jealous of Robbie, who only had to slip into a hair suit.
Robbie cocked one ear expressively. "By the way, Robotman, when you go to town tomorrow, would you--"
"No! Absolutely not. I will not buy you that Ralston crap just so you can tear off the box tops. You can't eat it, so I won't buy it."
The dog got a pitiable look on his face. "Then how else am I going to get the next Tom Mix Commando Comics? They don't sell ‘em on the newsstands, you know."
"I don't know," said Robotman. "Find out where they print ‘em, grab one in your mouth, and run off with it, I guess."
"That won't work," said the copper-wired canine. "You yourself said crime doesn't pay. I'm a law-abiding dog."
"It probably pays as well as crime-fighting," muttered Robotman. "Especially when you're not a cop and only do it for the love of the game. And to be an upstanding robot member of society."
"Let's not leave out dogs."
"Don't tempt me."
"Robotman, I want that Ralston!"
"Will you shut up, Robbie? I can't eat the stuff. You can't eat the stuff. And we're on a budget."
The dog sat up on two legs, threw back his head, and put up the godawfulest howl anyone had heard this side of an air raid siren.
The neighbors would think Paul Dennis was beating his dog with a tire iron.
"All right. ALL RIGHT!" he yelled. "Pipe down! You want the humane society to pay us a visit? You want to spend some more time in the pound?"
"You could bust me out like the last time."
"No, I couldn't. They'd examine you this time. They'd find that shiny little steel body beneath that fake furry suit. Your secret identity would be junked, like mine."
"Then you'll get me the Ralston?" Robbie hopped on top of an easy chair, looking excited.
"I didn't say that," said Robotman, folding his arms and trying to look resolute.
Robbie resumed his howl.
"I'll get it! I'll get the damned Ralston! Shut it off!"
The dog cut it off, in the manner of an air-raid siren winding down. Then he grinned. "See? Knew I could get you to come around."
"How'd you like a bath in plastic, pal? Even better than a flea dip."
"See if you can get my jaws loose from your wrist if you do."
"You're being difficult, mutt."
"You made me, Robotman. Blame yourself."
The metallic marvel turned his back and sighed, going to the sink again. "Robot's Best Friend," he muttered. "Hah!"
The facts in the case of Robotman were these:
Back in 1941, a bunch of crooks had burst into a laboratory and shot one of two scientists working there. The scientist who didn't get shot managed to open the skull of his partner, take out the brain, and transplant it into a specially-created holder within the cranium of a robot body they had been working on. The newly-made Robotman had gone on to beat up the crooks who had killed his old body. Then he went out to fight crime, evil, and Nazis, not necessarily in that order, because it seemed like the thing to do in those days. He and his partner whipped up a plastic mask and gloves for him to serve as a secret identity. They didn't look completely human, but they looked a lot more that way than his metal face and hands did. People just got used to Paul's looks after awhile. But they did sometimes comment about him looking like a mannequin.
Robotman racked up a decent set of victories against crime. These were usually one-sided, because robot criminals hadn't yet been invented and the really powerful super-criminals gravitated to Metropolis or Gotham City or someplace like that to try their luck against first-line heroes who could handle them. That was fine by Robotman. He went on twisting girders around criminals and punching holes in the engines of their getaway cars.
After Pearl Harbor, he found himself a member of the All-Star Squadron. This put him in contact with a whole bunch of people with impressive names like the Red Bee, Dr. Fate, Green Lantern, and Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys. They had a lot of adventures during the Second World War, but he was never asked to join the Justice Society. It was just discrimination, he thought. They'd take ghosts and men from other planets, but they wouldn't touch a robot.
The War finished up and the All-Stars who weren't JSA members drifted apart. Robotman went back to tying crooks up in lampposts in his hometown. But it got kind of lonely after awhile.
So he went and built himself a dog.
Not just any old dog. This dog could talk and think, and didn't leave messes on the living room carpet, except for a little oil every once in awhile. He called the dog Robbie, and taught him the English language, starting with the one phrase "Here I am, Robotman!" Soon enough, he was having to teach Robbie to leave certain phrases out of his vocabulary.
"But Robotman," Robbie protested one day. "In the case of a normal dog, that phrase is merely descriptive of a true situation."
"Do you have a mother?"
"Well, no, but..."
"Then it's settled. Don't use that phrase. Or even, ‘son of a son of a,' or I'll whop you. And one more thing."
"Don't keep licking yourself in embarrasing places."
"But I see other dogs do it all the..."
"I know, I know! Trust me on this one, okay? Okay?"
"All right," said Robbie, like a grumpy seven-year-old.
Soon enough, with the help of a hairsuit made by Robotman...actually, several hairsuits, considering Robbie's wear and tear on them chasing mailmen through a nearby junkyard...the dog had a secret identity. Robotman had to lecture him often about the importance of this. For example, when he chased a cat up a tree, he was not to climb up the tree after the cat. And so on.
Lots of people in town had dogs, so only a few people suspected that maybe, just maybe, Paul Dennis and Puddles could be the awe-inspiring Robotman and Robbie, the Mechanized Mongrel. Some tried to test out their theories by sneaking magnets near them, but it always looked like they were attracted by the metallic studs on Robbie's collar. So their anonymity was kept, thus far.
The Automatic Avenger and the Dauntless Dog Defender continued their clanking crusade against crime.
But today looked like a routine day, until the escapades of Tom, Sheriff Mike, and Wash were interrupted by a news bulletin.
"Flash!" said the announcer, even though he was not in Keystone City. "We have just received a report that Mousey Maxie Maxinbloom has been sprung from jail by members of his own gang, disguised as flower saleswomen!"
"Disguised as what?" said Robotman, wheeling about on well-oiled camstuds.
"Mousey Maxie Maxiblub?" offered Robbie, cocking his head at the radio so that he looked like an RCA Victor ad. "Robotman, wasn't that the guy we sent up for bank robbery, arson, extortion, and Felony Littering 1?"
"Yes," said Robotman, grimly, remembering how the fiend had unbolted parts of Robbie and left them like so much scrap, leading the Sleuth of Steel into a deathtrap at a car compacter.
"It is speculated," continued the announcer, "that Mousey Maxie Maxinbloom will attempt revenge upon Robotman, the Lawman of Lead, for sending him to jail in their next encounter. More details when more details arrive. And now, back to the Mutual Broadcasting Cistern!"
"Looks like they're brandin' us for the Eternal Range," said Sheriff Mike, a moment later.
"Not while I've got this, pardners," offered Tom Mix, King of the Cowboys. "How about this, Chief Thunderjones?"
An Indian gasp was heard. "It-um am new issue, hot off the press, of Tom Mix Commando-Um Comics! Available for ten cents and two boxtops-um of Hot Ralston, the cereal young braves love for breakfast, lunch, and-um in-between!"
"How's that there funny book gonna save us, Tom?" asked Wash, plaintively.
"Like this!" The sounds of an Indian being struck severely and repeatedly with a rolled-up magazine were heard.
Amidst the groans, Robotman and Robbie looked grimly at each other.
"I suppose you realize what we've gotta do," said the Investigator of Iron.
"Right," said Robbie. "We've got to get to a store and get a few boxes of Ralston before they're out."
"Not that! I mean Mousey Maxie Maxinbloom."
"Him, too. But it'll take some time to find him, and we can get to the store first."
"Dog, will you get your priorities straight?"
Robbie hopped up on his two hind legs and resumed his howl.
"All right, already! Hot Ralston...jeez! I ought to use it as your lubricant."
In a lair deep in the darkest and deepest and crookiest part of the city, a master of crime consorted with his hardened, murderous associates.
"Will you get outta those dresses, awready? The buncha you got legs like stockings fulla rocks!"
"Hope I'm exempt from that description, Mousey baby," purred Sylvia Sylthic, the mirthless mobster's moll, as she wound herself around her shoulders.
"Nyarrgh," grunted Mousey. "How many times do I gotta tell you, Syl? To you, it's Maxie. To them, it's Mousey. Got it?"
"Got it, MMM."
"That's good," sulked Mousey. "Now, boys, we got a job to do, and I don't have to tell you the names of the tinfoil tinhorn and his perambulatin' pooch what we has got to do them to. Because of him, I developed the allergy to metal that makes my fingers turn green from holdin' a gat. Because of them, I can never enjoy flippin' a three-sided silver dollar in the air to decide a victim's fate, which gives ‘em 33% more chance than Two-Face ever did. Because of them, I been called a loser and a has-been. You know why?"
"Because you're a loser and a has-been, Boss?" offered one junior associate, helpfully.
Mousey Maxie Maxinbloom expressed his dissent with a sap in the associate's least vulnerable part, which threatened to level it with his shoulders.
"It's because Robotman and his little dog Toto sent me up the river to Liscence-Plate Land," said Mousey Maxie. "But that's all gonna change, when we pull our next job, and the Galvanized Galoots turn up, and run right inta...this!"
And Mousey Maxie whipped a large off-white bedsheet off whatever it had been on top of an instant earlier.
"Oooh," said some of the gang.
"Aaah," said the others.
Mousey Maxie turned to the hood he had sapped. "Whassamatter with you? Ain't you impressed?"
"Well, not exactly, Boss," said the hood. "I mean, we already knew what was under there. I helped steal it, remember?"
Mousey Maxie repeated his lesson, which left him perpendicular to his associate.
"Put him to bed," ordered Maxie. "You, Syl, take a letter to Robotman. Quote, Dear Sir, paragraph."
Syl obediently took the dictation, right down to the, "Sincerely, (with much respect and affection), yours truly, Mousey Maxie Maxinbloom."
"Can I add my initials at the end?" Syl said, hopefully.
"Sure, why not?" allowed Maxie.
Beaming, she did. "Just like a real secretary. Gosharootie!"
"Go mail it," said Maxie. "Boys, be ready to go by 8 a.m. tomorrow."
"But Boss," remonstrated one of them. "The mail won't get delivered before noon."
Maxie stood awhile, in thought.
"All right, all right," he decided. "1:30 at the latest. But no later! You know why, don'tcha?"
They nodded, glumly.
Maxie was so profligate at handing out demerits that it really depressed them.
The grocer was adamant. "We don't allow dogs in our store," he said.
"But Robbie's a special dog," protested Robotman. "He talks. He doesn't eat. He fights crime."
"If he doesn't eat, why'd you come here?" asked the grocer.
"To get some boxes of Hot Ralston, you mountebank," put in Robbie, at a height between the grocer's knee and ankle. "It's important."
The man in the white apron comprehended. "Oh, I get it. The dog wants the box tops."
Robotman said, "You knew that already, huh?"
"What else do kids buy cereal for?" The grocer looked at Robbie. "Even though he's not a kid."
Robbie contemplated the man's ankle, but decided it wasn't worth it.
"Then you'll let us in?" asked Robotman.
"I'll let you in, but I can't let him in," said the grocer. "You know how it is. If I let in a metal dog, then everyone with a dog dog will want the same treatment. First thing you know, fleas in the meat section, people getting tripped by the dumb mutts--"
"Watch it!" snarled Robbie. "Geez, do you always insult your customers this way?"
"Sorry," said the man. "But that's the rules."
"He might not know the right kind of Ralston to buy," complained Robbie.
Robotman looked down at him. "I'll do my best. Now, wait for me, Robbie. Then we absolutely have to get on the trail of Mousey Maxie."
Robbie looked up plaintively. "Is it okay if I chase a few cars while you're inside?"
"No! You know how much it costs to replace a tire you've bitten through? Behave yourself."
Robotman went inside. Robbie sat his head down on his paws and grumbled. "Fine thing. Him always treating me like the junior partner, never letting me have my own bank account. We just barely got past the leash law."
A boy and his mother, laden with bags, came out the door of the store. The boy looked at the robot dog. "Geez, Mom, look! D'you think we could get something that'd give Rex that shiny a coat?"
Robbie lifted his head. "I doubt it, Junior."
The woman grabbed her son's arm. "Go around, son. Slowly."
The First Natural Bank had been held up more than once in its existence. After all, the new century had produced a bumper crop of gangsters and super-heroes. Both of them commonly met in the arena of a heisted bank. There was something so poetically right about it that neither party really considered another venue. What, for instance, would justify the spectacle of Superman stopping a band of crooks at a feed store or a five-and-ten-cent place?
No. Such things were simply not done, and both crook and crime-fighter knew it.
So when Mousey Maxie Maxinbloom and his gang strode towards the bank, toting violin cases and pushing a strange contraption with a sheet over it on a big four-wheeled cart, the guards knew what to do. Get everybody the heck out of the way, call a superhero, and be prepared for action in case this was the first encounter with the bad guys. Everyone knew that the baddies usually won, the first time.
"Geez, boss, this is tough going," complained Lippy Lawrence, the lead man on the cart, as they pulled the sheeted whateveritwas up six stone steps.
"Is that the spirit that made guys like you take the beach at Normandy and Iwo Jima?" said Maxie, sternly. "It's only been five years since then, and you guys act like you forgot all you learned there. Whatever happened to the American spirit?"
"Well, boss," said Irish Hymie Schultz, who was pushing the thing from behind, "why don't you give us a hand with this mess, in that case?"
"Same reason Eisenhower wasn't on the front lines," explained Maxie. "Now button it, and keep going."
The gang entered the bank, shoving a few customers out of the way courteously. "This is a stick-up!" yelled Big Tony Smallchange, in time-honored fashion.
"Oh, dear me," said one grande dame of society at a teller's cage. "What in heaven's name do they want us to stick up?"
"Our hands, I'd imagine, ma'am," said the underpaid teller, who was already doing that.
Maxie held the floor, mainly by standing on it. "I'd like for you all to know that this isn't no run-of-the-mill stick-up. This is going to be a real fancy job, with a super-hero fight tacked onto the end of it. Therefore, those of you whom are into really good entertainment are advised to stick around. The rest of you, outside of the employees of this fine establishment who must needs hand us the money, can leave at a normal rate of speed through the front door. Kindly do not scream about what is going on inside. This will cause consternation and panic and is not good for the digestive system. Also, it might bring in more rubberneckers than this bank is prepared to handle. This is just a normal, everyday heist, except for the stuff at the end. Now. Are we all clear on that?"
"Yes, sir!" came a chorus of civilian voices.
"Good," said Maxie. "Now, I want you should call the radio station and tell them that Mousey Maxie Maxinbloom is relieving this fine establishment of some excess cash, and that Robotman and his copper-wired cur should come try and stop such action. Can you do that for me?"
A vice-president, one of many, stood up. "We're here to serve, sir."
"That's what I like to hear," said Maxie. "Now, Murray and Mark, I want you should push this little surprise into the men's john, from which I will shortly emerge to contribute my part of the entertainment."
"Boss," said Bill Pending, lugging a tommy gun, "can I go with you? I kinda got caught short."
Mousey looked at him and shook his head. "Wait till I get back, Bill. You really shoulda gone before we came."
The three of them wheeled the mysterious sheeted something into the men's rest room, while the remainder of the gang began pointing the noses of submachine guns into teller's cages and being rewarded with money. The vice-president got on the phone.
"Get me a radio station," he said to the operator.
"Are you employed by a bank which is in need of a super-hero?" came the response.
"That's us," he said, proudly.
"Just one moment, sir," said the operator.
Robotman emerged from the store with six boxes of Ralston in two brown bags. Robbie jumped to the height of the tops of the bags, in delight. "Didja get ‘em, Robotman? Didja get ‘em? Huh?"
"I got ‘em," said Robotman. "You'd better hope that one of those blamed comic books is in one of them, because that's the last ones I ever buy for you."
"Evidently, you've forgotten, the howl," said Robbie, still bouncing like the pogo sticks which were soon to come into fashion in the ensuing decade. "Now. What about, Mousey?"
As if in answer, the radio of a nearby convertible, which was carrying the remains of a swing band program (not yet displaced by nascent rock ‘n' roll), and in which vehicle a clean-cut youth (with band-aids on said cuts) was necking with a cheerleader from a rival school, gave forth the following bulletin.
"Quicksilver!" said the announcer. "The First National Bank is being held up by a gang which may be led by the infamous Mounty Maxie Moxinbloom!"
"That's Mousey Maxie Maxinbloom," said Robbie.
"Sorry," apologized the radio. "At any rate, a vice-president of the bank has informed us that said bank has requested the presence of Robotman to deal with the problem. The robbers are armed with Thompson submachine guns but are otherwise well-behaved. In fact, one even volunteered to help an old lady out of the bank."
"Skip all that," said Robotman. "First National, you said?"
"That's right," the announcer agreed. "The First National Bank on Fourth and Main, where you get courteous service, personnel who listen to your loan requests attentively, and bankers' hours that coordinate with your schedule."
"Let's go," Robotman advised. He and Robbie gave a mighty leap, clearing the car and its inhabitants by a good ten feet, then sped off down the street in the direction of the bank.
The cheerleader looked up and mumbled, "Can't you put the top on this thing? Seems like it's getting windy."
"Don't mention Wendy," said the clean-cut youth, defensively, and went to put up the top.
The Electronic Excellents pulled up before the First National Bank, outside which there stood a still functional Civil War cannon, which was still functional because that area of the state had never been touched by the Civil War. A great cheer went up from the surrounding crowd. "Ro-bot-man! Ro-bot-man! Rah-rah-rah!"
"Civilians," muttered Robotman. "I hate ‘em."
"Hey, what about me?" barked Robbie. "Don't I even get a cheer?"
Some of the onlookers looked at each other, and then broke into an answering chant: "Dog! Dog! Dog!"
Robbie looked disgusted, but decided it'd do for now.
"Clear a path, citizens," said Robotman in his stentorian voice. "This fight is between Mousey Maxie Maxinbloom and me!"
"And me!" reminded Robbie.
"You're right," said one guard. "It wouldn't do if I was shot down in the line of duty. Who'd support my old grey-haired mother?"
"I second that," said another. "I got two wives and four kids to take care of. Robots can do the job. I ain't prejudiced."
A third guard said, "Life is too good to throw away. It's only money. Go get ‘em, Robotman!"
As the peerless paragons of power clanked their way up the steps, a barbershop quartet broke into a rendition of "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling."
But as they ascended the final step, the doors of the great establishment (FDIC approved) flew open, and a strange apparition stood before them.
A figure in gleaming metal, armored all over like something from one of the science fiction films soon to blaze across drive-in movie screens, like Forbidden Planet or Tobor the Great, was there, flanked by three hoods.
Said figure raised its arms. "I am not the crook what you knew," it announced. "Formerly I was Mousey Maxie Maxinbloom. Now, and forevermore...I am Magnetic Mousey Maxinbloom! Take THIS!"
A wave of negative magnetic power streamed forth and sent the metallic man and mongrel tumbling down the steps like kids wagons out of control atop a tall hill.
The twosome picked themselves up to a sitting position at the bottom of the steps.
"Now, what do we do?" puzzled Robotman, putting a hand to his head.
"Well, I could always check to see if the comic books are in any of those boxes," offered Robbie.
Robotman gave him the nastiest look he had ever given anybody in his life.
Ten days after their encounter with the new improved Maxinbloom, Robotman and Robbie, as Paul Dennis and Puddles the pup, were within the walls of their subsuburban home, in different rooms. It seemed a decent enough place to be, since they hadn't had much luck on the outside lately.
Robbie, nosing through an old Star-Mangled Comics (literally--that's how he turned the pages) was listening to the radio.
"In their last three encounters with the menacing Magnetic Maxie Maxinbloom, the tried-and-trounced twosome, Robotman and his metallically mangy mutt, Robbie--", said the announcer.
"Which hunk of you would you miss the least?" rumbled the metal dog in the hair suit.
"Look, I've got to read what they wrote here," protested the announcer. "It's my job. As I was saying, the Tinfoil Twosome have been bested thrice, that means three times, one plus one plus one, by the Magnetic Mobster's pulsating power. Neither metal man nor clanking canine has been able to approach Magnetic Maxie Maxinbloom without being hurled head over heels--in Robbie's case, head over tail--"
"You're doomed," vowed Robbie. "I can store a million different scents in my memory bank. I'm coming down to pick up yours, mouthman."
"--as if he, or anyone else, had anything to fear from the Deflated Dog Detective," continued the radio voice. "The police have been equally stymied, as the Repelling Raider's magnasuit has been able to throw police cars through the air, wrap guns around the necks of cops, and even send hot dog carts chasing them through the streets. A conference of high-level law enforcement officers is soon to be held at Murray's Doughnut Shop. The local Mail Carrier's Union has declared that, once they learn Robbie's true identity, letter carriers will be able to make deliveries to his keeper's abode with impunity and no fear of reprisal."
"You dare," Robbie snarled. "You DARE???"
With that, he tore into the small Bakelite set, jaws open and dripping oil. A horrible thirty seconds later, wires and broken glass and plastic dangled from Robbie's trembling mouth. Horrific realization came to him, as he realized there was no way in Hades (or even his present neighborhood) that he could afford a new radio.
"Bleagh," opined the Dog of Dynamism, and spat the remains out on his rug.
Metal claws click-clicking on the wooden floor, Robbie nosed open the doggy door which would only respond to his nostrilprint. He headed down the hall, negotiated the staircase which had never been built with metallic dogs in mind, and looked about the living room for his maker.
"Robotman," he called. "I'm here."
Robbie's eyes shifted from side to side. No scents emanated from the kitchen. No telltale sounds of pages being turned or darts being thrown from the den. If Paul Dennis was still here, there was only one place he could be. Had he heard the voice of his Pet of Power, or was he...was he...
Actually, Robbie had to admit he didn't have any idea of what came after "was he".
There was only one other place Robotman could be.
Robbie padded down to the basement stairs.
Halfway down, he spotted a motionless figure sitting on a stool near his workplace. He wore normal human clothes, a normal human red plaid shirt unbuttoned at the collar with a normal human Hanes T-shirt beneath and a normal human brown pair of slacks, with a normal human pair of brown socks and a normal human pair of brogans. His hands were covered in normal human plastic.
But his head, still unmasked, was that of the Man of Metal.
"Robotman," said Robbie, plaintively. "You're just sittin' there, doing nothing."
"An understatement," said Robotman, without emotion.
The wired terrier bounded down the rest of the steps, scurried over to his old pal, and jumped into his lap. "C'mon, c'mon, Paul, this is no time to play wind-up soldier," he protested. "Look, it can't be that bad." He slurped Robotman with his extensible plastic-and-metal tongue. "So who cares if we can't bring in Moxie Magnet, anyway?"
"The city cares," Robotman replied, in a voice as dull as his eyes. "They're thinking of having the city council declare the town off-limits to robots."
"Yipe!" yelped Robbie. "That could mean--"
"Yes," said Robotman. "We'd have to be Paul Dennis and Puddles 24 hours a day, except when we went outside the city limits. We could only fight crime in neighboring towns. That's if we fought crime at all."
"Whattya mean, ‘if'?" Robbie placed his paws on Robotman's shoulders. "Talk to me, Paul. We ain't gonna roll over, stick our paws up in the air, and die because of this thing. Fightin' crime is fun. Being robot heroes is fun. Don't you remember?"
"It used to be," said Robotman, picking the dog up gently and placing him on the floor. "It used to be." He got up, showed Robbie his back, and began walking towards the stairs.
Motivated by concern for his friend, and for the fact that he might come upon the ruined radio in the upper room, Robbie latched onto Robotman's ankle and held on like the cop handcuffed to MacTeague. "R'btm'n, d'nt do this!" he said out of the side of his mouth.
Robotman walked forward, dragging the dog behind him. "There's nothing left to do," said Robotman. "I'm going to dedicate myself to being a human, full-time."
"‘N' you ‘spect f'r me t' ded'cate m'self to being a dog?" mumbled Robbie, as loudly as possible. "W'nt do it. Snap outta it, R'btm'n!"
"Forget it," said Robotman, reaching down to separate the dog's jaws from his worried sock. "It's all in our past. I'm just Paul Dennis now."
He reached out for the plastic mask of Paul Dennis, hanging on a styrofoam head.
Before his hand could touch it, a white-and-black furred demon leapt at it, snatched it in his mouth, and went at it with a vengeance.
"Hey, that's mine!" yelled Robotman. "Let go, you mangy stunted coyote!"
"Make me!" snarled Robbie, still ripping at the normal human plastic face.
Robotman descended to do battle with the dog. Ripping and tearing of clothes was heard. As the dust cleared, Robbie found himself held by two powerful metal hands, and Robotman found his new normal human wardrobe a thing of the past.
"Are you trying to make a point?" glared Robotman.
"You bet," said Robbie, spitting out a bit of plaid shirt. "You're letting this stupid thing get you down like you were some stunted, sputterin' vacuum tube. You say you've got a human brain, but even a dog brain can outthink you right now. You can't run away from who you are, Paul, unless you take the brain out of its housing, put it on the table, and program your body to sprint out the front door. Get me? We're Robotman and Robbie, Paul. We're the Electronic Enigmas, the Titanium Team, the Steel Jaws of Destiny, the..."
"Shut up, Robbie!" commanded Robotman. "So you're telling me that I should get back to work and find a way of stopping Magnetic Maxie Maxinbloom, is that it?"
"Worse'n that," said Robbie, and crossed his two back legs to cover the upcoming lie. "I heard on the upstairs radio that, if we don't capture Maxinbloom in a week, the city's going to call on Superman to do it for us!"
Robotman's optic receptors expanded to take in more light. "Superman," he said.
"You're certain of that?"
"Sure as the grease in my gears, Paul. Are we gonna take that lying down?"
"Absolutely not." Robotman stood up, as strong and as tall as the mightiest tin soldier in creation. "We're going to issue a challenge to Mister Magnetic Maxie Maxinbloom, and we will meet that challenge. And when the battle is over, he's going to know that the gears of justice grind slow...but every evil man winds up crushed between them, in time." He marched to the staircase. "I've got some parts to order, and a radio station to call."
Robbie's chest compartment swelled with pride. Then he thought of something. "Um, Robotman?"
The ramrod of righteousness turned to his small companion.
"Well, I gotta tell you. When the radio guy said that thing about Superman, I just, well, I kinda lost control and...my jaws got outta hand, and...I'm awful sorry about it. You know." He looked forlorn, as a dog who has watched his master eat the last bit of filet mignon.
Robotman considered, then spoke.
"You didn't do anything I wouldn't have done," he said. "Good dog."
Within the hour, the papers went to an extra Superhero Special edition,
which consisted of only one page with the headline: ROBOTMAN ISSUES CHALLENGE
TO MAXIE MAXINBLOOM! A small line of type below read: "Details in
tomorrow's daily edition." It cost folks 50 cents to learn that.
They bought it anyway.
The ever-present radio announced, "The once-hero known as Robotman has issued a public challenge to Magnetic Maxie Maxinbloom to a showdown at the local high school basketball stadium. Tickets are being sold in advance at fifty cents for all adults, twenty-five cents for children under 13. Attendees are urged to wear non-metallic clothing. Proceeds go to benefit the Jaycees Carnival. Pieces of Robotman will be sold for scrap after the event."
Maxie Maxinbloom issued a response, which indicated that, after the fight, neither man nor pooch would have cog lying upon cog. Maxie's girlfriend excoriated him for being antimachine, and the ACLU briefly thought about taking the mobster to court over it. But they decided it could wait till after the slaughter.
The stands were packed, Robotman's supporters supposedly on the Home side, crooks and fans of Magnetic Maxie on the Visitors. But much swapping occurred, and people wondered whom they should root for. Robotman was the good guy, of course, but lately he'd been such a loser... On the other hand, Maxie was probably going to win, but he was the bad guy. Crooks were similarly divided, wanting to yell for Maxie, but afraid of being suspected if they did. And the guy was going to start encroaching on territory before long. Heck, he'd probably make them pay tribute, or start lifting their getaway cars into the air and plunking them down at the police station!
Cheerleaders from both sides had been hastily assembled. The ones dragooned onto Robotman's side had tin cans which they struck with small clappers. The ones allotted for Maxie had dinner triangles which they hit with small horseshoe magnets. It was as good as anyone could do on short notice.
The mayor kept checking his gold fob watch. "6:55 and he's not here yet," he grumbled.
"The thing doesn't start until 7:00, your honor," said the mayor's aide.
"I know that!" snapped the mayor. "But I expected him at least to be fashionably early."
Then, from the northern side of the stadium, a hubbub and a flurry of muted cheers sprang forth. Word spread from one end of the place to the other quickly, and the 5,000 people in attendance craned their collective neck trying to get a look at the parties who would be arriving within seconds.
And, within seconds, arrive they did, in the form of a small metal dog who bounded in a step or two before his master, yipping at the top of his voice, landing on his back feet, and turning to bow in four directions at the crowd. There was laughter, there was applause, and there was a robot dog soaking it all in.
That was decent politics. When Robotman clanked in, two steps later, Robbie had gotten a bit more of the crowd on their side. A round of applause went up, especially when Robotman lifted the mechanical mongrel onto his shoulder and waved.
"Do you think it'd get a laugh if I'd..." Robbie began.
"You absolutely will not hump my leg," said Robotman, sotto voce.
As he stood just before the home-side basket, Robotman looked towards the other end of the stadium. Another hubbub was beginning, and a few cheers were going up. They were uncertain, but they were cheers.
Fireworks went off. They were illegal, but so was crookdom, and the crooks had bought them, so the fire marshals hauled off the most likely suspects. Two unsavory types unfolded a banner that dangled from the ceiling. It read:
Welcome MAGNETIC MOXIE MIXINBLOOM!
"Not big on spelling around here," pointed out Robbie.
"It's the thought that counts," said Robotman.
Through the opposite locker room door emerged no less than eight gunsels, a gangmoll, several urchins scattering rose petals from a looted flower shop, and, finally, a man in a metal suit, smoking a big cigar. The cigar was stuck in the mouth joint of his metal helmet.
"Ro-bot-man! Ro-bot-man!" began the cheerleaders for the home side, bravely.
"Magnetic Moxie Mixin..." began the opposing cheerleaders. They tried again: "Magnetic Mixie Moxin..." Another pause. "Mag..." Finally, they conferred among themselves, and then burst out with "MMM! MMM! MMM! MMM!"
The dinner gongs and tin cans were rung.
"RO-BOT-MAN!" "MMM!" "RO-BOT-MAN!" "MMM!"
"I don't hear a ‘Dog' in there..."
"Don't worry about it yet, chum."
In the press booth, an announcer hunched over his mike and began his shpiel. "Ladies and gentlemen, a first in broadcasting, brought to you by the kind folks over at Fergus Funeral Home and Mike's Auto Body Shop. Meeting tonight in a battle to the death or dismantlement, the feared favorite of the underworld, Magnetic Maxie Moxinbloom, and his opponents, the sterling steel stalwarts of...stalwartism, Robotman and Doggie."
"And Robbie!" yelped the dog, whose audio receptors were turned up loud and pointed at the booth.
"Well, whatever," said the announcer. "Now, the official is coming to center court. He's about to explain the rules to both contestants...Oh, goodness gracious me! I distinctly heard Maxie Mixitbloom holler, ‘What rules?', and shove the official on his back! It does not look good for Robotman and Robbie, and I hope I got the name right that time..."
"You did," called out Robbie.
"Thank you," said the announcer. "The two of them are just standing there, on six feet, while Maxie Montenbloom lifts his gloved hands and begins to utilize his power..."
A man handed him a note which read: Mac, we've got to get in ten spots no matter how long this thing lasts.
"Uh, yes. And we hope you'll remember that Farley's Funeral Parlor is just the place to take your stiffs when you need a lift..."
"Have yez got any last words, or barks?" sneered Maxie, his metal gloves glowing with power. The eight hoods grinned and didn't even bother pointing their guns towards the peerless pair.
"Only this," said Robotman. "Anchors on, Robbie!"
With that, both man and dog activated a relay newly placed within their bodies. From their feet, two large ones in Robotman's case and four smaller, clawed ones for Robbie, twin spikes projected, digging into the floor with an audible crunch of wood.
An OHHH went up from the audience.
"Good Lord," gasped the mayor. "The floor! It'll have to be replaced before the next tournament!"
Maxie, standing just under visitor's basket, finally activated his power. Robotman felt it, and said to Robbie, "Negative charge."
Another relay was triggered within their copper-plated corpuses. Electromagnetic generators, built and placed there by Robotman himself, sprang into life. The magnetic repulsion of Maxie Maxinbloom was countered by an opposite charge which caused Robotman and Robbie to be bent slightly towards Maxie.
The robot pair lifted one foot apiece and put it forward, crunching into the floor again.
"Oh, nooooo," wailed the mayor, envisioning budget requests.
Maxie swore, which the radio announcer apologized for quickly, and reversed the charge of his magnetic field.
"Positive," said Robotman, and he and Robbie switched the polarity of their internal magnets. They kept walking.
Maxie switched charges five more times. The robot duo switched just as many.
And Maxie remembered one thing: the closer you got to Robotman, the less he looked like the Tin Woodsman of Oz and the more he looked like Tobor the Great. That movie wouldn't be made for a few years yet, but Maxie had the general idea.
The eight open-mouthed hoods behind Maxie, and Maxie's moll, got the best idea of what course of action to take long before Maxie. One unnamed prophet uttered the most overused line in movies: "Let's get outta here!"
So they did, with Robbie loping after them in hot pursuit. He leaped and grabbed one hood by the seat of the pants, causing him to scream, understandably. Standing on his hind legs, the mutt marvel swung the squalling crook in an ever-widening gyre, until he finally let go of him and brought down two more of his fellows with him. They crumpled up underneath the scoreboard. A scorechanger dutifully made the total, ROBOTMAN 3, MAXIE 0.
Maxie finally got the notion of the precept that every good general knows the time to retreat. Unfortunately, he got it a little too late, by about 3 seconds. He turned his back only in time for Robotman to reach out, grab his power pack, and rip it from his armor.
"Oh," said Maxie, who thought he should say something, even if it was only one syllable.
Robotman turned him around, grasped his helmet in both hands, and tore it from his head. Underneath, Maxie looked like a man desperately in need of a comb. The metal macher proceeded to separate his frontplate from his backplate, then tore off Maxie's arm coverings and gauntlets.
"Hold your foot up," said Robotman.
"Left or right?" asked Maxie.
Maxie held up his left foot. Robotman grabbed his boot and pulled it off. The legging came with it. Then he had Maxie hold up his right foot, and the process was repeated.
It would have been poetic justice for Maxie to have been in his underwear. Instead, he was wearing a regular suit underneath the armor, and sweating like the devil.
Robotman regarded him. "Stripped of your armor, Maxie, both literally and metaphorically, we see you as nothing more than you always were. A cheap gangster in a cheap suit. And, like all men whose power is only artificial--"
"Whatta you mean?" groused Maxie. "Ain't you the guy whose whole body is artificial?"
"Well, that's different," said Robotman. "As I said, as all such men whose power is only rooted in things which can be taken away, they have been taken away. Now, you stand before us as no object of fear. Nothing more needs to be done, except to have the police come take you away."
"Oh, okay," said Maxie, relaxing a little. "I was afraid you was gonna hit me."
Robotman slapped him gently on top of the head. Maxie went down like a wounded balloon. The police, and the standby medics, came to gather him up.
"I said ‘Nothing more needs to be done,'" pointed out Robotman to his unconscious foe. "I didn't say, ‘Nothing more will be done.'"
The crowd began to crowd onto the floor. Sylvia Sylthic, the moll of the motionless mobster, was first to grab Robotman by the arm, a pleading expression on her face. "Mister Robotman, you gotta believe me," she wailed. "I had nothing to do with it. I was even scared of magnets as a kid!"
He looked her up and down. "Yes, I'd say there's nothing remotely attractive about your personality. Stand aside."
"Well, I never," she simpered.
Johnny Chambers and Tubby Watts were trying to poke a newsreel camera in his face. "Hi, mom!" smiled Robotman, then lifted both of them by their collars and plunked them out of the way. The mayor was there to shake Robotman's hand, and to whisper in his ear, "Listen, is there any chance you'll ante up some of the reward money to pay for this floor?"
"Float a bond issue, Mr. Mayor," said Robotman. "If you do that, I won't file for election next year."
They posed for some pics with one arm about the other's shoulders. "And I'm sure that this will put to flight the nasty and unfounded rumors I've heard about anti-robot laws in this community," smiled Robotman.
"Um, uh, anti-robot?" blustered the mayor. "Why, I never heard of such a thing. Next thing you know, they'll be outlawing parking meters!"
Robbie came bounding back to Robotman's side. "Robotman! The other five hoods got to their car before I could reach ‘em. They were out of range of my magnetism, even."
"Gosh-darn," said Robotman. "Well, I guess we can't expect to nab every crook in town this time out. We'll get our shot at ‘em later, Robbie."
"Shot?" said the Dog of Decision. "Hey, I've got a great idea! First National isn't that far off from here."
Robotman did a double-take, which looked more impressive, coming from a man with an iron outside. "First National? Oh, Robbie. Tell me you're not thinking what I think you're thinking."
"You got a better idea?"
"You really want to try it?"
The two broke the press of the crowd and stamped forth, making more holes in the gym floor. Any who stood before them were parted like the red sea. Two reporters made a valiant effort to interview them on the way out.
"Excuse me, sir," said the man in the blue suit. "We're from the--"
"Save it," said Robotman, without a glance, and shoved him aside. The reporter ended up half on the floor, half in the arms of his female associate.
"Well, the nerve of that guy!" she exclaimed.
He sighed. "You can't always get super-heroes to cooperate, Lois. Let's get back to the Planet."
A few minutes later, a small crowd following in their wake, Robotman and Robbie jogged quickly to the First National Bank. Their objective was not an after-hours withdrawal. They paused before the fully-functional Civil War cannon.
"Are you sure you want to do this? Really, really sure?" asked Robotman.
"As sure as Tom Mix was when he whupped up on Chief Thunderjones with a comic book," replied Robbie.
"Okay," said Robotman. Lifting his dog up, he gently pushed him, rear end first, into the cannon's mouth. He shoved Robbie in as far as he could. Then he peered in. "How's that?"
"Far enough," said Robbie, as if from a tomb. "Go ahead and borrow a match."
"I don't think I'll have to do that," said Robotman. "Probably, it just needs a good whack."
So he went to the back of the cannon, wound up a mighty right arm, and thwacked its ancient and pressure-sensitive percussion cap.
With a great and long-deferred BOOM!, the cannon expelled its only wartime offering.
Robbie soared into the air, the first dog in suborbital space, several good years before the Russians' offering. The angle was precise, and his arc took him just where they had intended to. His magnetic charge helped somewhat, as well.
Running a third red light, the crooks in their car heard the explosion. One of them looked out of the window in that direction. He saw something gleaming in the moonlight and neon.
"Incoming," he said.
"What incoming?" snapped the driver.
"Dog, I think," he offered.
A second later, Robbie crashed straight through the hard top of their borrowed Buick.
The car spun out of control and crunched into a tenement's stoop, causing the local troops to flee back up the stairs. Within a minute, five bodies flew out of the windows in different directions. Then a smaller, shinier body smashed the door out of its frame, snarled loudly, and herded the five ne'er-do-wells into a tight circle. The local beat cop walked up, gun drawn uncertainly.
"They're yours, officer," said Robbie. "Book ‘em."
"For what?" asked the policeman, wondering if he should really get involved.
"They're Commies," Robbie said.
The policeman holstered his gun, pulled out his billy club, and had to be restrained by robot jaws on his ankle before he could make them so bruised as to be unrecognizable.
The morning after:
Paul Dennis, new plastic mask on his face, sat in robe and slippers at his breakfast table, reading the paper. This time, it was more than one page long.
The description of the events of the night before was, with minor journalistic inaccuracies, similar to what we have set before you, so we will not waste valuable space reproducing them here. The paper, which never liked the mayor, cropped him out of the front page shot and left only Robotman.
"I persuaded the city council to give us a new radio," said Paul. "That, or I'd go on the radio and mention how unfortunate it was for us to have some councilmen with an unfortunate anti-robot bias. Just told them to send it to my friend Paul Dennis and he'd take care of it."
Robbie, trying to figure out how to do a crossword puzzle by holding a pencil in his mouth, put the pencil down. "That's great, Robotman. Y'know, I managed to get something in return, too."
"Yeah. I called on the grocer we visited a while back. Said it'd be good publicity for him if he delivered some free Hot Ralston to our place. I said Dennis and his dog would make sure it got into the right paws."
"We don't have to pay for it?"
"No more'n you have to ante up for the radio."
"Well," said Robotman, folding his paper. "It just goes to show, Robbie, that one must Never Give Up in the Face of Adversity, or in anyone's face, because it's impolite. Also, that when the chips are down, the last dog is hung--"
"Sorry. And the lost chord is about to be found, one must remember that Man's Brain is His Greatest Weapon. Even if that's the only natural thing he's got left. I mean, even if the rest of his body isn't exactly, well, Man."
"I get your meaning," sighed Robbie. "And Every Dog Must Have His Day."
The doorbell rang. Twice.
Paul Dennis answered it. Robbie, attired in hair suit, was beside him. "Arf," he said. "Really arf."
Two delivery men were there. One had a pallet loaded down with four dozen boxes of Hot Ralston. "Sign here," said the man. Paul Dennis did.
The other had a new upright Philco, on a dolly. "Sign here," said the other, and Paul did. They left both objects in the living room, then left.
Robbie sighed in contentment. "Just think. The newest Tom Mix Commando Comix will be turning up in the mail any day. It's a dog's life, all right."
Casually, Paul Dennis reached over and turned on the radio.
"Will Tom Mix be able to untie Tony from the tracks before the subway runs them both down? Will Black Bart be able to turn over to an unfriendly foreign power the secret of Electrical Atomic Energy? We'll be right back with our thrilling conclusion! But first...have you gotten the latest copy of Tom Mix Commando Comix yet?"
"It's on its way!" said Robbie, gleefully.
"No, I mean the real latest copy of Tom Mix Commando Comix! More
than two weeks in preparation, this is the biggest issue yet! And
to get it, all you have to do is send in ten boxtops--"
Robotman watched his dog make a horrifying leap at the stack of breakfast food and begin ripping tops off left and right.
"--from Ralston's brand-new cereal, RobotChex! These tiny, crisp little morsels, shaped exactly like a famous robot and his dog, ‘ll just lubricate your insides real fine once they slide down your throat!"
"Awwwww, no," groaned Robbie, amidst a pile of cardboard and sugared wheat. "Robotman...d'you think we could..."
"No! Absolutely not! We're more on a budget than ever! I won't hear of it! No, no, absolutely no to the nth power!"
A howl was heard for a radius of six full blocks.
Ten minutes later, a fully-dressed Paul Dennis went with his dog to the garage, revved up the car, and headed it in the general direction of their local grocer.
Robbie, through his hair suit, smiled at him.
"Knew I could get you to see it my way."