Panels from Brian Fies' The Last Mechanical Monster.(img: Brian Fies)Panels from Brian Fies' The Last Mechanical Monster.(img: Brian Fies)

The purpose of the public domain is to hold the intellectual property that belongs to the public.  From gods and myths to the forgotten and the intentionally created, the public domain serves as a vital fount, a gateway from the past to the future, and without it, some works would not exist.  We have the public domain to thank for countless Disney films.  We have the public domain to thank for all the recent Sherlock Holmes adaptations.  We have the public to thank for certain versions of characters (Popeye, for example), even as other versions o the character remains in ownership of its creator.

It goes without saying that it's responsible for webcomic creator Brian Fies' outstanding Eisner-nominated work The Last Mechanical Monster, a work so acclaimed that it has grown from its original release on Blogspot to an expanded edition published by Andrews McMeel Universal.

Let's set the stage, first.  From Wikipedia:

The Mechanical Monsters is the second of the seventeen animated Technicolor short films based upon the DC Comics character Superman.  Produced by Fleischer Studios, the story features Superman battling a mad scientist with a small army of robots at his command. It was originally released by Paramount Pictures on November 28, 1941.

It was this concept that inspired Feis to pick up where the story left off.  It's now 2005, and the nameless Inventor is now released into a world apparently without Superman (or without "the superhero", if you read the GoComics' version).  Now at the age of 99, the Inventor burns with a rage that will take him on the adventure of a lifetime and beyond.  

It goes without saying that Feis' couldn't go with Superman for copyright reasons; as mentioned above, the superhero equivalent doesn't even get a name in the expanded version. But that's really not the point, because our hero doesn't matter in the story.  It's actually the tale of Our Villain, the Inventor, and his seething desire for rage at the world, that counts.  It's what drives him towards recreating one last mechanical monster, with the intent on leaving his name, in memoriam, forevermore.

He eventually succeeds at doing that.  And how he does, is what makes up this outstanding work.

A panel from the color version of The Last Mechanical Monster.(img: Brian Fies)A panel from the color version of The Last Mechanical Monster.(img: Brian Fies)

it's, quite frankly, amazing how much Feis' was able to get out of an old ten-minute cartoon.  The work rings with both the modern era (2005) and the art deco of the past (something that I absolutely love).  He was able to age the Inventor up while still keeping enough of him from the past to be identifiable (the zoot suit also helps.)  He's made Sparky (a nickname for the Inventor used in the comic) both a man driven by both his ego and his rage, and yet humanizes him enough to show that Sparky could, in the end, be someone's misguided grandpa.

And how the story ends?  I won't spoil it for you, but it comes to a very satisfying end.  

As for the art, the lines are crisp and well done, and coloration has only made the work leagues better.  Filled with echoes of the original work as well as a surprise or two, Feis' artistry really adds a deft touch to the scenes. You can almost see this as an approved comic adaptation that both DC and Fleischer (yes, it's still around) would have signed off on if they'd had the authority to do so (well, the latter at any rate; I doubt DC would ever do so.)

Still, this is a work that I strongly recommend you take a look at - it is, without a doubt, a must-read.  And I think that somewhere, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster and Max & Dave Fleischer are reading with approval.