A Tribute to the of

The next time I talk to Carmine Infantino, maybe I should ask him why the majority of new character try-outs during the Silver Age were done in the pages of Showcase, but some were also done in the Brave and the Bold. The JLA, for example, came to us in B&B, as did Hawkman and Metamorpho, the Element Man. Like the JLA and Hawkman, Metamorpho went on to have his own book, but it took three B&B appearances for the JLA and six non-sequential ones for Hawkman. Metamorpho only needed two and in Metamorpho #1 (July/August of 1965) it looks like a direct follow-on to his prior tale in B&B 58 as he's still sort of "disguised" with his dashing cape and flesh colored mask and what looks for all the world like a domino mask over his eyes.

Before I get too carried away, the cover and interior art are courtesy of Ramona Fradon and Charles Paris with editing by George Kashdan and scripting by Bob Haney. It's time now to explore, "Attack of the Atomic Avenger!"

The story begins as we join Rex Mason and Sapphire Stagg at a charity ball and dinner. A mishap by the waiter sends a plate of flaming sauce tumbling toward Sapphire, but Rex, acting quickly and availing himself of his Element Man gifts, turns his hand into a copper dish to catch the heated liquid. For an encore he converts his hands into solidified carbon dioxide or dry ice to chill the champagne. Later, as the lovebirds hit the dance floor, Metamorpho changes his feet to hydrogen gas to help sweep his lady love off her feet.

If I may interject here, this page appears to me to be a classic example of establishing your characters. Ever since Jim Shooter and I first talked about it and as he's continued to hammer the point home on his blog, I've been more conscious of the idea that a comic should, theoretically, be written with the idea in mind that it could be someone's first book. When you're dealing with issue #1, despite the pair of previous efforts in B&B, the odds are even higher, so right off the bat you learn a quick who's who and just what Rex is capable of doing. Pretty nifty, and something I've long taken for granted.

Soon after the festivities are over, Rex and Sapphire are on their way home when they discover trouble in the form of a damaged highway support from a crashing truck. Rex converts his body into a magnesium auto lift to safely transport a busload of children back to safe terra firma.

Afterward, the alert Metamorpho detects something sinister in the nearby bank after noting some high voltage in the power line outdoors. He pulls a transmission wire from a teller's telephone and hexagonal energy pieces emerge, creating a barrier/force field. Immediately bank robbers enter to finish off the heist, but they didn't plan on the presence of the element man, who converts his arms into a copper grid to absorb the energy field.

He then converts himself into fluorine gas to follow the power line and discovers more lines branching off it to set up other heists. Rex follows the power to its source and goes for the kill shot with a hand that is a cobalt hammer, hopefully ending the hijinks. Too early for that, though as we're only to page 8.

Meanwhile, back at the Stagg mansion, we encounter Simon's former associate, Kurt Vornak, who has plans for the element man and a succession of scientific crimes. Using a high tech stethoscope he eavesdrops on the conversation where Rex is again demanding that Stagg get busy on the cure to his element man form. Simon assures him he's about there and the information is just what Vornak wanted to hear. Part I closes…

Part II reveals that Java, Stagg's evolved cave man has discovered Vornak and is about to make short work of him when the scientist recalls Java's infatuation with Sapphire and promises to help him win her love. Java takes the bait and Vornak quickly gets to work on the machine to try and ensure it will restore Mason and neutralize his ability to interfere with Vornak's wicked plans.

Later, there is a terrific explosion in the laboratory and soon a new menace is discovered. It's a chemical force, looking a lot like an atomic depiction ala the symbol of the atom when it fires a strange ring toward Simon Stagg. Java scoops his master out of the way, but the ring strikes a bush and they see the terrible results when it is reduced to its lower chemical forms of chlorophyll and sunlight.

Java says that Vornak's plan must have gone awry and the element man decides to take matters head on, approaching the form with a solid marble hand in the form of a massive sledgehammer. The atomic monstrosity counters it, however, by converting the marble into the base elements of calcium and carbon dioxide, ruining Rex's weapon. Mason switches to a magnesium hammer, but the former Vornak strikes again, igniting it and Rex is forced to return it to normal to extinguish the flame. Our flummoxed hero returns to the Stagg mansion to regroup and uses a rug and basket to create a makeshift balloon, filling it with his body in the form of hydrogen gas.

As the malevolent force heads for the city it fires another ring at the rug, reducing it to yarn and spilling its passengers out into the wild blue yonder, ending Part II.

Part III opens with Rex, now a manganese missile, hurtling downward to save Sapphire, Simon and Java. Executing a successful rescue, he now ponders how to deal with the threat, which continues to wreak havoc, this time with an attack on one of Stagg's skyscrapers, reducing it layer by layer into the base elements until it's merely a pile of iron ore.

Rex continues to pursue and counter the carnage, but it isn't easy as a cable bridge is targeted and a pile of commuters are endangered.

Finally, Stagg comes up with a desperate solution. The only way to neutralize the threat is with an atomic bomb and the only handy fissionable material is Rex Mason. The element man agrees to the mission over Sapphire's protests and launches himself with a triggering device wrapped around him. As he launches himself from Stagg's helicopter, forming his body into a cobalt projectile, he engages the target and wipes it out completely, but what of Rex Mason?

At the site of the conflagration, Simon Stagg is vacuuming up material for a restoration and in the final panel, a hopeful Sapphire begs her scientist father to restore Rex to her. A cliffhanger ending to Metamorpho #1.

It's safe to say Simon Stagg was successful as the Metamorpho title ran for another sixteen issues, with some appearances in other titles along the way, nearly all of which were written by Bob Haney.

I recently discovered that Bob Haney held a master's degree. I don't know why, but that kind of floored me. After all, Gardner Fox was a trained attorney. Maybe it's because a lot of Haney's work during the Silver Age kinda left me cold. Clem Robins and I have discussed Bob more than once and he brings up some excellent points about the man:

"Yeah, Haney had a tin ear for dialogue, which only got worse and worse the older he got. But that's not the whole story.

He knew how to move a story. Boy, did he know. A sense of pace that you don't often find.

His action sequences were set pieces, usually designed around a simple, visually appealing gimmick. For example, one of the stories was about the UN building being surrounded by an impenetrable cascade of water. Haney managed to use this gimmick several times, to marvelous effect. Aquaman slams into the cascade and it propels him upward and across midtown Manhattan, to land in the Hudson River.

I hear people talk about how wonderful Bill Finger was, and frankly, I've never understood the hooplah. All I recall about him was huge, pointless things like giant typewriters. It was cute, but forced. Haney did the same kind of thing, but made it somewhat believable. And very entertaining.

Even when I was ten, I found the dialogue idiotic. But I could live with it. I don't know any writer who was better at catalyzing fantasies in my mind, of what it would be like to be a super hero."

When I interviewed Ramona Fradon she really enjoyed working from Bob's scripts, saying something to the effect that it was like they were able to get into each other's heads.

Also discussed in that interview was the mystery of the cancelation of Metamorpho's TV debut in a Saturday morning animated series. Well, thanks to Wikipedeia the mystery has been solved:

"The Batman/Superman Hour went into production close to the start of the 1968 TV season, requiring Filmation to pull as many additional animators from other projects as they could spare to ramp up production. According to Filmation co-founder Norm Prescott, six episodes of another series already sold to CBS, starring another DC Comics character, "Metamorpho, the Element Man" had been completed and were ready to air, but the entire series had been shelved when CBS chose to rush The Batman/Superman Hour on its schedule."

Arnold Drake referred to him as a fine writer, too. Maybe my maligning him has been overly harsh. I do know that I love these old Metamorpho stories and I'm sure that the appeal owes a debt to Bob Haney. I'll rate this story with a 7 for some good, goofy and original Silver Age fun.

One last thing before I wrap this one up: My collection of original art is modest, but I am pleased to be in possession of a little head shot pencil sketch of Metamorpho by the great Ramona Fradon, courtesy of the webmaster.

If you're interested in a commission by Ramona, (quite reasonably priced, by the way), swing by Scott Kress' Catskill Comics: http://www.catskillcomics.com/Fradon.htm

Those of you who have been anxiously awaiting my print debut in Back Issue #52 may have discovered a publishing delay, but I'm told that it will be available on November 2nd for purchase.

We appreciate your patronage, readers and hope you've enjoyed your time here. New things are always being added here at the Silver Lantern, your best online source for that wondrous Silver Age goodness from DC comics.

Write me with questions or comments of all kinds at: professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you in about two weeks with another installment and…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2011 by B.D.S.

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