Showcase Presents Metamorpho, the Element Man


By Bob Haney, Ramona Fradon, Joe Orlando, Sal Trapani, Charles Paris & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0762-5

By the time Metamorpho, the Element Man was introduced to the costumed hero-obsessed world the first vestiges of a certifiable boom were just becoming apparent. As such the light-hearted, almost absurdist take struck a right-time, right-place chord, blending far out adventure with tongue-in-cheek comedy.

The character debuted in Brave and the Bold #57 (December 1964-January 1965) and after a follow-up try-out in the next issue catapulted into his own title for an eclectic and oddly engaging 17-issue run. This canny monochrome compendium collects all those eccentric adventures plus team-up tales from Brave and the Bold #66 and 68 and Justice League of America #42

Unlike most of these splendid Showcase editions the team-up stories here are not re-presented in original publication order but closeted together at the back, so if stringent continuity is important to you the always informative credit-pages will enable to navigate the wonderment in the correct sequence…

‘The Origin of Metamorpho’ written by Bob Haney (who created the character and wrote everything except the JLA story) with art from Ramona Fradon & Charles Paris, introduced glamorous he-man Soldier of Fortune Rex Mason, who worked as a globe-trotting artefact procurer and agent for ruthlessly acquisitive scientific genius/business tycoon Simon Stagg. Mason was obnoxious and insolent but his biggest fault as far as his boss was concerned was that the mercenary loved and was loved by the millionaire’s only daughter Sapphire…

Determined to rid himself of Mason, Stagg dispatched him to retrieve a fantastic artefact dubbed the Orb of Ra from the lost pyramid of Ahk-Ton in Egypt, accompanied only by Java, a previously fossilised Neanderthal corpse Rex had discovered in a swamp and which (whom?) Stagg had restored to full life. Mason planned to take his final fabulous fee and whisk Sapphire away from her controlling father forever…

Utterly faithful to the scientific wizard, Java sabotaged the mission and left Mason to die in the tomb, victim of an ancient, glowing meteor. The man-brute rushed back to his master, carrying the Orb and fully expecting Stagg to honour his promise and give him Sapphire in marriage.

Trapped, knowing his time had come; Mason swallowed a suicide pill as the scorching rays of the star-stone burned through him…

Rex did not die but mutated into a ghastly chemical freak capable of shape-shifting and transforming into any of the elements or compounds that comprised the human body: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, calcium, iron, cobalt and so many others…

Hungry for vengeance, Mason followed and confronted his betrayers but was overcome by the alien energies of the Orb of Ra. An uneasy détente was declared as Mason accepted Stagg’s desperate offer to cure him …if possible.

The rich man was further horrified when Rex revealed his condition to Sapphire and found she still loved him. Totally unaware of Stagg’s true depths of duplicity, Mason began working for the tycoon as a metahuman problem-solver: Metamorpho, the Element Man.

Brave and the Bold #58 (February-March 1965) revealed more of Stagg’s closeted skeletons when old partner Maxwell Tremayne kidnapped the Element Man and later abducted Sapphire in ‘The Junkyard of Doom!’ The deranged armaments manufacturer was once intimately acquainted with the girl’s mother and never quite got over it…

The tryout comics were an unqualified success and Metamorpho promptly debuted in his own title, cover-dated July-August 1965 just as the wildly tongue-in-cheek “High Camp” craze was catching on in all areas of popular culture; blending ironic vaudevillian kitsch with classic movie premises as theatrical mad scientists and scurrilous spies began to appear everywhere.

‘Attack of the Atomic Avenger’ saw nuclear nut-job Kurt Vornak try to crush Stagg Industries only to be turned into a deadly, planet-busting radioactive super-atom, whilst ‘Terror from the Telstar’ pitted the charismatic cast against Nicholas Balkan, a ruthless criminal boss determined to sabotage America’s Space program.

Mad multi-millionaire T.T. Trumbull used his own daughter Zelda to get to Simon Stagg through his heart (accidentally proving to everyone who knew him that the old goat actually had one) as part of his attempt to seize control of America in ‘Who Stole the U.S.A.?’ but the ambitious would-be despot backed up the scheme with an incredible robot specifically designed to destroy Metamorpho. Happily Rex Mason’s guts and ingenuity proved more effective than the Element Man’s astonishing powers…

America saved, the dysfunctional family headed South of the Border becoming embroiled in ‘The Awesome Escapades of the Abominable Playboy’ as Stagg tried to marry Sapphire off to Latino Lothario Cha Cha Chavez. The wilful girl thought she was just making Mason jealous and had no idea of her dad’s true plans and Stagg senior had no conception of Chavez’s real intentions or connections to the local tin-pot dictator…

With this issue the gloriously stylish Ramona Fradon left the series to be replaced by two artists who strove to emulate her unique manner of drawing with varying degrees of success. Luckily veteran inker Charles Paris stayed on to smooth out the rough edges…

First up was E.C. veteran Joe Orlando whose two issue tenure began with the outrageous doppelganger drama ‘Will the Real Metamorpho Please Stand Up?’ wherein eccentric architect Edifice K. Bulwark tried to convince Rex Mason to lend his abilities to his chemical skyscraper project. When Metamorpho declined Bulwark and Stagg decided to create their own Element Man… with predictably disastrous consequences.

‘Never Bet Against an Element Man!’ (#6 May-June 1966) took the team to the French Riviera as gambling grandee Achille Le Heele snookered Simon Stagg and won “ownership” of Metamorpho. The Creepy Conchon’s ultimate goal necessitated stealing the world’s seven greatest wonders (such as the Taj Mahal and Eiffel Tower) and only the Element Man could make that happen…

Sal Trapani took over the pencilling with #7’s ‘Terror from Fahrenheit 5,000!’ as the acronymic super-spy fad hit hard and Metamorpho was enlisted by the C.I.A. to stop suicidal maniac Otto Von Stuttgart from destroying the entire planet by dropping a nuke into the Earth’s core, whilst costumed villain Doc Dread could only be countered by an undercover Metamorpho becoming ‘Element Man, Public Enemy!’ in a diabolical caper of doom and double-cross…

Metamorpho #9 moved into the realm of classic fantasy when suave and sinister despot El Mantanzas marooned the cast in ‘The Valley That Time Forgot!’ to battle cavemen and antediluvian alien automatons before a new catalysing element was added in ‘The Sinister Snares of Stingaree!’ with the introduction of Urania Blackwell – a secret agent who had somehow been transformed into an Element Girl with all Metamorpho’s incredible abilities. Not only was she dedicated to eradicating evil such as the criminal cabal Cyclops, but Urania was also the perfect paramour for Rex Mason… he even cancelled his wedding to Sapphire to go gang-busting with her…

With a new frisson of sexual chemistry sizzling beneath the surface, ‘They Came From Beyond?’ found the conflicted Element Man battling an apparent alien invasion whilst ‘The Trap of the Test-Tube Terrors!’ saw another attempt to cure Rex Mason of his unwanted powers allow mad scientist Franz Zorb access to Stagg Industry labs long enough to build an army of chemical horrors.

The plot thickened with Zorb’s theft of a Nucleonic Moleculizer, prompting a continuation in #14 wherein Urania was abducted only to triumphantly experience ‘The Return From Limbo’

Events and stories grew increasingly outlandish and outrageous as the TV superhero craze intensified and ‘Enter the Thunderer!’ (#14, September-October 1967) saw Rex pulled between Sapphire and Urania as the extraterrestrial Neutrog terrorised the planet in preparation for the awesome arrival of his mighty mutant master. The next instalment heralded an ‘Hour of Armageddon!’ as the uniquely menacing Thunderer assumed control of Earth until boy genius Billy Barton assisted the Elemental defenders in defeating the mutant horror.

Trapani inked himself for Metamorpho #16; an homage to H. Rider Haggard’s “She” wherein ‘Jezeba, Queen of Fury!’ changed the Element Man’s life forever. When Sapphire Stagg married playboy Wally Bannister, the heartbroken Element Man undertook a mission to find the lost city of Ma-Phoor. Here he encountered an undying beauty who wanted to conquer the world and just happened to be Sapphire’s exact double.

Moreover the immortal empress of a lost civilisation had once loved an Element Man of her own: a Roman named Algon who had been transformed into a chemical warrior two millennia previously. Believing herself reunited with her lost love Jezeba finally launched her long-delayed attack on the outside world with disastrous, tragic consequences…

The strangely appetising series came to a shuddering and unsatisfactory halt with the next issue as the superhero bubble burst and costumed comic characters suffered their second recession in fifteen years. Metamorpho was one of the first casualties, cancelled just as (or perhaps because) the series was emerging from its quirky comedic shell with the March-April 1968 issue.

‘Last Mile for an Element Man!’, illustrated by Jack Sparling, saw Mason tried and executed for the murder of Wally Bannister, resurrected by Urania Blackwell and set on the trail of true killer Algon. Along the way Mason and Element Girl uncovered a vast, incredible conspiracy and rededicated themselves to defending humanity at all costs. The tale ended on a never-resolved cliffhanger: when Metamorpho was revived a few years later no mention was ever made of these last game-changing issues…

The elemental entertainment doesn’t end here though as this tome somewhat expiates the frustrating denouement with three terrific team-up tales beginning with Brave and the Bold #66 (June-July 1966) ‘Wreck the Renegade Robots’ as a mad scientist usurped control of the Metal Men just as their creator Will Magnus was preoccupied turning Metamorpho back into an ordinary mortal.

Two issues later (B& B #68October-November 1966) the still Chemically Active Crime-buster was battling the Penguin, Joker and Riddler as well as a fearsomely mutated Caped Crusader in the thoroughly bizarre ‘Alias the Bat-Hulk!’ – both tales courtesy of Haney, Mike Sekowsky & Mike Esposito.

Sekowsky also drew the last story in this volume. Justice League of America #42 (February 1966) had the hero join the World’s Greatest Superheroes to defeat a cosmic menace deemed “the Unimaginable”. The grateful champions instantly offered him membership but were surprised when and why ‘Metamorpho Says… No!’ in a classic adventure written by Gardner Fox and inked by Bernard Sachs.

The wonderment finally subsides after a lovely pin-up of the Element Man and his core cast by Fradon and Paris.

Individually enticing, always exciting but oddly frustrating in total this book will delight readers who aren’t too wedded to cloying continuity but simply seek a few moments of casual, fantastic escapism.
© 1965-1967, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.