May 26, 2024

Gabbing Geek

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Heroes Case File #161: Metamorpho

A really weird Silver Age hero hasn't been seen in a while, but he's coming back, so...

Did DC Comics create a weirder character during the height of the Silver Age than Metamorpho the Element Man?

Yeah, a couple.  But Metamorpho hasn’t been seen much since the New 52 started, and he’s just reappeared as a character in a new series, so let’s review the guy’s history…

Sorry, that is you.

Metamorpho the Element Man was the creation of writer Bob Haney and artist Ramona Fradon.  He first appeared in the January 1965 issue of The Brave and the Bold and soon got his own solo series.  What was his deal?  His real name was Rex Mason.  Mason was a handsome adventurer and soldier-of-fortune type deeply in love with Sapphire Stagg, the only child of superrich genius Simon Stagg.  Simon Stagg had a revived caveman assistant named Java, and one day Java, jealous of Mason having the looks and the girl, knocked out Mason in an Egyptian pyramid and left the guy for dead near a radioactive meteor.

Good news!  The meteor didn’t kill him!

Bad news!  It turned him into an ugly freak.

But as an ugly freak, Mason, now known as Metamorpho the Element Man, could shape and contort his body into any element or compound on the periodic table…or found in the human body.  It depended on the writer.

I actually want to take a minute to say Haney’s scripts, combined with Fradon’s artwork, made for some genuinely trippy adventures.  Haney had one of the wilder imaginations among the DC writers of that era, and he used it with Metamorpho, often creating fun and campy stories as Mason, Sapphire, Stagg, and Java traveled the world having adventures.  Sapphire still loved Rex, but Rex didn’t want to saddle himself to Sapphire as long as he was a “freak”.  Java and Stagg were not the best of allies, and in some stories that came out (especially later) were as likely to be enemies as anything else.  This book may be the closest the old DC books came to capturing the way younger people in that era spoke (and that isn’t saying much since it was mostly weird and loose).  And as if Rex’s looks weren’t weird enough, he had a genuine love triangle on his hands with a government agent named Urania Blackwell deliberately gave herself the same powers and became Element Girl, another potential love interest as she also loved Mason and Rex had to decide whether he would be with be with a normal human woman he loved or another woman who was a freak just like himself that loved him.

He eventually chose Sapphire.  Heck, the two would have a baby boy after a period, a lad named Joey initially with powers of his own to transform other things into different elements.   But that came later.

Mason’s solo series ran for 17 issues and actually ended on a cliffhanger when Rex was wrongfully convicted of murder.  He got out, but…well, he had other issues because he’s actually immortal.

That didn’t stop him from dying a few times.

He always came back because his body isn’t exactly flesh and blood.

In more recent years, Rex has been a joiner, signing up for the Outsiders with Batman, and then later the European branch of the Justice League.  The latter is interesting because Rex may be the only hero in the history of the League to actually turn down membership in the Silver Age…and that came after Green Lantern tried to use his power ring to cure Mason, only to discover he couldn’t because Mason had been changed by “invisible yellow radiation”.

I’ll let that one sink in for a minute.

What’s odd is that you’d think a character that was fairly prominent would have stuck around.  Heck, there was even a clone (or sorts) of him on another Outsiders team called Shift.

So, why did he disappear after the New 52, given only the occasional cameo here and there?

I don’t know, but it appears he’ll be back very soon as part of “the Terrifics,” a foursome led by Mr. Terrific and including another somewhat missing-but-prominent hero Plastic Man.  So, just consider he’s the freak with the power to control his shape and his elemental make-up.

Guys like that don’t stay dead.