A Tribute to the of

Hi, Gang and thanks for coming back by for another edition of The Silver Age Sage where we wax poetic about these classic comics from yesteryear.

Now I've mentioned time and again that the catalyst for the Silver Age was the reintroduction and makeover of a stable of Golden Age heroes from the DC vaults. These included The Flash, Green Lantern, The Atom, Spectre and Hawkman among others. Another very important facet of this era, though, is the fact that a number of brand new characters were introduced, many through Showcase and others through the Brave and the Bold title. I'm not certain what the selection criteria was for which magazine, but it's been obvious to me during this labor of love that if someone were able to get a comprehensive collection of both Brave and the Bold and Showcase for the time period encompassing the Silver Age, they would have a very nearly complete sampling of the best efforts of the era. They would also have dropped some serious coin in the process unless a lot of them were acquired via reprints, which is one of the things that has saved me (and my generous benefactor, the webmaster) from bankruptcy.

With that little bit of prologue, we'll examine the introduction of a brand new character in the halls of DC. He made his debut in the Brave and the Bold, made short runs of appearances in Action Comics, World's Finest and was even in his own magazine for a tragically brief 17 issues--July-Aug, 1965 to March-Apr, 1968. Heck, he even told the Justice League of America to go pound sand when approached about membership--#42 February, 1966. When he did team up he was seen in the company of Batman and the Metal Men, among others. Who is this busy guy who gets around and who has a strong independent streak? It's Rex Mason, better known as Metamorpho, The Element Man who arrived on the scene in Brave and the Bold #57 from December 1964/January 1965 (on sale October 29th). "The Origin of Metamorpho!" was written by Bob Haney (perhaps inspired by a Bill Finger story appearing in Detective Comics #294 + splash page dated August, 1961), cover and interior art provided by Ramona Fradon (pencils) & Charles Paris (inks) all under the supervision of Editor George Kashdan. Let's see what Metamorpho is all about.

The splash page takes us to an undiscovered pyramid in the upper canyons of the Nile River in Egypt. A man is on a stone slab that is being moved toward a glowing object with the "heat of a hundred suns." Right before blacking out he speaks a single word: "Sapphire!" An arrow in the lower right hand corner beckons with: "Can your nerves stand it? Can you stand the shock? Then turn the page, to see how it all began..."

The story opens at "a great city airport" where you'd swear it must be The Beatles landing what with all the hoopla. A boisterous crowd is in attendance along with local dignitaries to include the Mayor as they anxiously await Rex Mason's plane. Rex, it seems is an adventurer, a soldier of fortune, freshly back from a South American excursion bearing the secrets of Indian witch doctors to shrink the human body. Before we learn more about Rex, though, the writers take us back a few minutes earlier to a big ol' tuna boat of a red convertible, piloted by the most stereotypical of babes. One Sapphire Stagg. She's blonde. She's blue-eyed. She's got the hourglass figure and a super rich daddy. You guessed it. She's Rex's squeeze and she's on her way to meet him at the airport when she gets a call on her vehicle's special communications hookup. (Pretty snazzy for 1965, eh?) It's Rex Mason, who can't be bothered to wait for his plane to land. He's going to skydive out of it and land next to Sapphire in the red rocket. He naturally manages his landing with panache and they begin to make out. Meanwhile, at the airport, a miniature version of Mason appears to exit the plane. It turns out to be a gag as it's only a windup doll in his likeness. Rex, it seems, has a well developed sense of humor along with his independent ways and he uses it to tweak the noses of the local politicians and particularly the man who bankrolls his forays, Simon Stagg, aka Mr. Millions and devious father of Sapphire. Stagg is described as a brilliant scientist and tycoon who loves only power. The cast of characters is in place, save one more. On a previous jaunt to Indonesia, Rex had brought back a perfectly preserved specimen of prehistoric man. Stagg used his scientific acumen to revive "Java" and to equip him with a higher intelligence. Java now serves as Stagg's lackey. He bears distinctly simian features and is insanely jealous of Sapphire's affections toward Mason.

Well, as you might guess, Daddy Stagg has a surveillance device on his little girl's car and sends some of his other hired stooges to bring them back to the mansion. For some reason, said stooges are decked out in black, form-fitting costumes with hoods that obscure their features. When Rex tells them he's a bit busy, they use the mechanical arms on the truck to lift them and the convertible into it's bed. Soon, they are back in Simon's lair. We learn that Rex's expedition was specifically assigned to him by Stagg. When asked to report, Mason tosses the vial containing the shrinking potion toward his employer, intentionally shattering it on the floor and reducing his collared leopard to kitten size. Java offers to mess Rex up but Stagg acknowledges that while Mason promised to bring the potion back, he did not promise to give it to him. Without missing a beat, Mr. Millions offers Rex another job for a cool million dollar payoff. Sapphire protests as they have plans to get married but Rex can't resist the opportunity for a major windfall that would allow them the independence from her father that they crave. He soon learns that he's to bring back the mysterious Orb of Ra and that Java is to accompany him to Egypt. As the plane taxis toward takeoff, we are privy to three distinct sets of thoughts. First, Stagg smugly reveals that Java has a special assignment to ditch Rex. Next, Rex thinks that he must be nuts to go on this hunt, but covets the fortune that awaits him. Finally, Java ponders his mission and harbors the hope that Stagg will reward him with a makeover that will help him to win over the affections of Sapphire. A few panels later, the plane approaches a strange looking pyramid, concealed in a canyon. It's a rose color and is emanating great heat. Part one ends.

Part two opens with Rex wrestling the plane against the terrific updrafts created by the super-heated pyramid. He successfully lands, but breaks a strut in the process. The duo then proceeds to the pyramid, which has abruptly cooled down and then begin their search for an entrance. Java detects the loose stone and uses his brute strength to remove it. They enter and discover hieroglyphics that a 5-year old could decipher, telling the tale of the appearance of a meteor. The Egyptian priest Ahk-Ton took a piece of it to form the orb and place it on the end of a scepter for the Pharaoh. The orb apparently has some fantastic powers that Simon Stagg covets. As Java rapidly searches the pyramid he enters a chamber with a throne and there sits the scepter, big as life, glowing with the orb on it's end. The chunk of meteorite is encased in crystal quartz. The next thing you know, a disagreement of custody breaks out between Rex and Java and of course the brute easily knocks Mason out, leaving him marooned in the pyramid. As luck would have it, Rex has landed upon a section of flooring that has been booby-trapped. A system of pulleys and counter-weights start to move his comatose form into the depths of the structure toward a huge rock that begins to glow. Rex comes to and realizes it must be the meteorite and that it was the source of heat they experienced when flying over the pyramid. The heat and light intensify and seconds before Mason is overcome, he tries a last ditch maneuver, consuming a chemical formula given to him by Stagg concealed in his ring. He then blacks out, figuring that he's tempted fate one too many times. Later, to his great surprise, he comes to, still among the living. He staggers out and happens to come across a handy Egyptian full length mirror and sees in full, living color what has happened to his body.

The handsome adventurer is now a freak. He's somehow adorned in dark blue trunks and his body looks like it's been pieced together from spare parts. His newly bald head is now pure white. His torso has two distinct sides, one orange and one purplish with lined and scaly surfaces, respectively. One leg looks like marble while the other resembles a wood grain. Needless to say, this is a bit bothersome to our hero. He starts to search for the exit and discovers to his dismay that the stone has been replaced and he doesn't have the tools or the brawn to remove it. In the next surprising moment, almost by instinct, his body begins to transform into a gas, allowing him to escape through the gaps in the stones. Once outside, he reforms into his prior state and realizes that he seems to have the ability to will himself into difference chemical forms. To test his theory, he heads for the disabled plane and forms part of his arm into magnesium to repair the broken strut. He then hops into the plane to go back to Stagg's headquarters and hopefully a cure.

Java, meanwhile, is riding shotgun in a backup plane that Simon sent, gleefully bearing the Orb of Ra. Once back at the mansion, Stagg is overjoyed at his new toy while Sapphire demands to know what has become of her man. As Mr. Millions contemplates how he'll use the orb and Java begs for him to alter his features, a familiar voice is heard outside, announcing his arrival.

Right before part three begins, a nifty little two-column page explains the mystery of metamorphosis to the reader, giving specific examples in nature and proving that comics do have some educational value at that.

Okay, back to the action. Rex, of course, is pissed. Simon is spooked. He calls the goon squad to keep them apart. Since Stagg doesn't know about the changes in Rex, the henchmen don't either and they fail to realize that the strange figure approaching is their quarry. Rex uses his new abilities to change into sodium and to cause choking white clouds to form from the water in the moat. Next it's a gig as hydrogen gas, allowing him access via the air intake and duct system. He reassembles himself in Simon's lair and when Sapphire comes in and sees him, she faints at his sight. Recognizing his voice, Java springs into action, but gets a handful of fluorine gas before busting his knuckles against a quickly formed profile of marble or more precisely calcium carbonate. (Rex has rapidly become an expert in the elements at his disposal.) Mason strikes back by forming his right arm into cobalt, putting Java down for the count. Simon, wielding a revolver, tries to put Rex's lights out for good, but the bullets have no effect on this new body. Fortunately for him, the orb does keep Rex at bay. Stagg quickly tells Mason that this was never his intent and he offers to use his scientific knowledge to restore him. Being a forgiving sort, especially after being shot at, Rex agrees and then it's off to the lab for a battery of tests.

Stagg soon discovers the extent of the changes to Rex's body. He has been transmuted on a cellular level, into pure forms of the elements found in the human body, including carbon, oxygen, calcium, fluorine and cobalt. He now has the power to will himself into any of these elements and his new body is impervious to electricity, acid and of course bullets. After many hours it becomes apparent that nothing can be done to reverse the changes. Simon envies his abilities while Mason only wants to be himself again, marry Sapphire and live happily ever after. Before they can figure out what to do next, though, Java has decided to set the joint on fire. Fortunately, the newly minted Element Man is able to convert himself into a combination of carbon, sodium and water, thus creating a very effective smothering agent for the fire. He works his way over to the tower room where his lady love is trapped and forms an escape chute of calcium. Incidentally, no matter what form he takes, you can always see his head protruding from the form. Once safe, the two ponder the events that have unfolded. Sapphire still loves her man, even though he thinks of himself now as a walking chemistry set. She convinces him that he now has an opportunity to do good with his new powers until a cure can be found. He agrees to make the best of things. Unknown to them, Stagg is making plans of his own and is carefully stashing the orb, his ability to control the Element Man.

The final panel sums things up with "So now there faces the world, born of the very elements of the universe, possessed of the most fantastic power any mortal ever had, a new being, a new super-hero...Metamorpho, the Element Man!" Thus ends the full length origin tale of a (at the time) new character in the DC universe.

I enjoyed this issue a heck of a lot. It held my interest and imagination as any good story should and I learned some things in the process. In fact, I re-read it shortly after I got it, so intriguing was the tale. This one earns a rating of 9 and while I don't know what all happened with Metamorpho during his run in the 60's I can't help but wonder why he didn't endure. It would appear that he would have a pretty broad potential for some interesting adventures leading to longevity. I guess you never can tell.

I leave you now with my standard invitation to write to me at professor_the@hotmail.com with comments or questions and hope you'll continue to follow this column as it returns again in a couple of weeks. Don't forget to catch up on my past reviews in the archive feature. I also invite you to join my mailing list.

Long live the Silver Age!

2000-01 by B.D.S.

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