Metamorpho, the Element Man!
Debuting in the pages of the DC anthology series before it became a Batman team-up feature, The Brave and the Bold, Metamorpho exploded onto the comics scene. Created by Bob Haney and Ramona Fradon, the character became a cult sensation and appeared in numerous comic books throughout the 1960′s. Adventurer-for-hire Rex Mason was hired by the incredibly wealthy Simon Stagg to retrieve treasure from an Egyptian pyramid riddled with booby-traps. Assisted by the ape-like man servant Java, Mason was betrayed and left to die in a death trap compartment containing the ‘Orb of Ra.’ Rather than perish, however, his entire body was recreated as an amorphous collection of chemicals that could reassemble at his mental command. Stagg’s daughter Sapphire was very much in love with the roguish Mason, which upset the millionaire so much that it remained a point of contention even after it was revealed that Mason survived the ‘accident.’ Sapphire, one of the sexiest drawn females in comics history, stuck by her man in the face of all the odds against their love, even though Mason himself could never look in a mirror for fear of seeing his misshapen features.
A quirky super hero as much poking fun at the character-type as living the exciting lifestyle of a super powered being, Metamorpho’s solo series was short-lived but well remembered. This is in large part due to the incredible artwork by Fradon who had already made a name for herself for her work on Aquaman and was called out of maternity leave to work with Haney on the strip. Fradon’s line-work is so lively and full of vivid buoyant humor that Metamorpho became known as her signature creation. Of the other artists who have drawn the character, only Jim Aparo and Mike Allred have even come close to capturing her unique style.
Writer Bob Haney is today most renowned for his writing on Brave and the Bold when it became the Batman team-up series. His writing is so fresh and mad with ideas that even the most season reader of comics cannot guess what is coming next in his comics. So greatly diverse and bizarre was his take on certain heroes that his comics were said to take place on a different realm of reality entirely.
In the mid 1970′s, Power Records released audio adventures of several characters as diverse as Star Trek, Marvel Comics, DC Comics and Planet of the Apes. Each album consisted of an adventure story in addition to a theme song. In Metamorpho’s case, the tune was worthy of radio play and has been stuck in my head from the first time I have heard it, like some mad hypnotic spell.
Metamorpho Power Records theme
One of the only heroes to reject membership into the Justice League of America, Metamorpho viewed himself as an outcast from society, unable as he was to regain his human form. Batman later recruited Metamorpho into his misfit team of heroes called The Outsiders when he quit the JLA for the refusal to infiltrate the borders of another country to exact justice. Since then, Metamorpho has shown a fierce devotion to the Outsiders team in its various forms.
As the character’s history has progressed, it has been revealed that Metamorpho is an eternal champion in ancient Egypt during Geoff John’s JSA series. It seems that there is little that can harm or destroy Rex Mason in his morphic state. He has returned from the dead several times and even spawn an entirely separate offspring with its own identity called Shift.
In the animated world, Metamorpho starred in Bruce Timm’s Justice League cartoon series. So well-loved was he that Metamorpho was the focus of a two-part adventure. In the episode, Metamorpho’s origin was slightly altered in that Stagg intentionally arranged it so that Mason would be exposed to the radioactive material as a test subject for a super soldier program for the military. Metamorpho proved so powerful that he could single-handedly hold off the entire League!
Apparently, Filmation was hard at work on a Metamorpho cartoon in 1966, but had to drop the series when the New Adventures of Batman and Robin was rushed onto the air by CBS. Looking at the Metamorpho comic book and the brilliant simplicity of the hero’s adventures, I can only dream of how much fun a Metamorpho animated program would have been. Perhaps the raw material will resurface some day as an extra on a DVD release.
Even though he has returned from the dead several times, Metamorpho, to my knowledge, has not been turned into a Black Lantern in the Blackest Night event.