Metamorpbo

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The Brave and the Bold #58 © 1965 DC Comics. (Cover art by Ramona Fradon.)

Metamorpbo

(pop culture)

Throughout the 1960s, DC Comics used its Showcase and The Brave and the Bold titles to introduce new characters, and as the decade progressed these heroes became stranger and stranger. Metamorpho the Element Man first appeared in The Brave and the Bold #57, in 1965, from editor Murray Boltinoff and writer Bob Haney, with art by DC’s sole female artist at that time, Ramona Fradon. Metamorpho was originally dashing, reckless soldier of fortune (and occasional Grand Prix racer) Rex Mason, who was besotted with wealthy, blond heiress Sapphire Stagg. Sadly, Stagg’s father, Simon Stagg, disapproved of their romance and sent Mason on a deadly quest to an Egyptian pyramid to bring back the famed Orb of Ra. This being a comic book, the Orb somehow rearranged Mason’s chemical makeup so that he could control the elements in his body, and he found that he could do the most extraordinary things. He now had the strength of marble and a knockout punch with the power of cobalt. He could transform himself into a slide made of calcium, change into gas or fire, and assume just about any size or shape you could imagine.

The downside to all this was that Mason was now incredibly ugly, his whole body being a mass of hideously pasty and textured skin, in a variety of orange and purple hues. As a result of this, Mason more or less moved in with the Staggs, as the disgruntled Simon Stagg vainly tried to reverse the Orb’s effects. Curiously for comics, the smitten Sapphire was still as much in love with Mason as ever. Unfortunately, another resident of the Stagg mansion, the brutish bodyguard Java (in fact a caveman somehow revived by Stagg père on one of his many expeditions), was also in love with Sapphire, resulting in all manner of plots to dispose of the afflicted Mason.

Following two successful issues of The Brave and the Bold, Mason—now calling himself Meta-morpho—graduated to his own comic, which went on for seventeen issues. A typical Metamorpho story involved Mason, the Staggs, and Java traveling around the world, from one luxury villa to another, and somehow blundering into an inevitable tangle with bizarre wrongdoers. Among this motley band of villains were the likes of Stingaree, the Balkan Brothers, Dr. Destiny, Achille le Heel, and Mason’s female counterpart, Urania, the Element Girl. As their names suggest, this was a superhero strip with its tongue firmly lodged in its cheek, and despite his macabre appearance, Metamorpho was usually one of DC’s more light-hearted heroes. In fact, with its settings on the French Riviera, in Africa, and in America’s high society, the strip was reminiscent of that staple of swinging 1960s cinema, the caper movie.

Much of the feature’s appeal derived not just from Haney’s entertaining writing but from Fradon’s charmingly inventive artwork, and when she left comics to raise a family, the comic suffered a slow decline, finally going under in 1968. Metamorpho’s savior was to be editor Murray Boltinoff, who had a tendency to stick the character into whichever comic he happened to be working on at the time. This meant that Metamorpho guest starred in numerous adventures with Batman and Superman, as well as enjoying short runs as a backup feature in Action Comics and World’s Finest. In the 1980s, he became something of a superteam specialist, joining first the Outsiders and then the Justice League. In one mid-1980s issue of The Outsiders, Metamorpho and Sapphire finally married, a satisfying resolution to one of DC’s more enduring (and endearing) courtships. In Justice League Europe he was stationed in France and was very much the star of the team, enjoying a series of suitably quirky adventures and fraught tussles with the locals. This exposure led to a short-lived series in the 1990s that, misguidedly, adopted a darker approach and failed to engage fans.

Author Neil Gaiman (Sandman) and artist Mike Allred (Madman) collaborated on an unusual Metamorpho serial in DC’s Wednesday Comics (2009). Metamorpho has appeared in animation on the television series Justice League and Batman: The Brave and the Bold. —DAR