A Tribute to the of

There have been a few notable happenings in the comic book world since my last installment, to include the one that took off like wildfire that an arrangement of some sort had been reached to begin giving some long overdue credit to Bill Finger for his part in the Batman mythos. Hurrah!

On the sad part of the ledger, I learned that we lost yet another of my interviewees earlier in September when the gifted Jay Scott Pike left us just a week after his 91st birthday. These things are always bittersweet in that I’m very glad I got the chance to speak to them and get a little bit acquainted, and of course I’m glad I managed it before they left this world, but dear me that makes #24 on my list that has passed since I began to do my interviews and it’s kind of sobering.

I'd also like to note the recent passing of Jack Larson best known for his role as Jimmy Olsen in the 1950s Adventures of Superman TV series. Here are some remembrances of him.

Fortunately many are still alive and kicking and one of the real highlights for me in visiting San Diego this year [as told in Sage #366] was getting to meet the wonderful Ramona Fradon. You may recall that I picked up a pencil sketch from her of the primary characters from Metamorpho. Well, it recently came to my attention that this year marks the 50th anniversary of his debut, so it seems only right to review a Ramona Fradon penciled story of the Element Man.

I’ve selected Ramona’s final installment in the series before others picked up the pencil. It’s issue #4 from January/February of 1966. [Metamorpho was busy that February of 1966 also guesting in Justice League of America #42.] Cover art is by Ramona with Charles Paris on inks. The same team is on interiors with Stan Starkman on letters and George Kashdan editing. Bob Haney is the scripter for “The Awesome Escapades of the Abominable Playboy!

As you can deduce from the cover, this story involves many south of the border *ahem* elements. The splash page further reinforces the notion with the typical lineup in these stories describing Rex Mason as “El Metamorpho Magnifico,” Simon Stagg as “El Genius Fantastico,” Sapphire Stagg as “La Chick Terrifico,” Java as El Bonehead Stupendo,” and Cha-Cha Chavez as “El Villain Fabuloso.”

So, it’s back at home station, aka the home of Simon Stagg where his beautiful daughter Sapphire is again imploring the Element Man to marry, but Metamorpho is resisting, based on the fact that he’s a freak and “…a walking chemistry set.” The jealous Java listens in, encouraged by the lover’s spat and Rex marches off to confront Simon Stagg about his promise to restore him to normal. Stagg, as usual, claims he’s doing all he can, but ultimately we all know that Mr. Millions is more interested in keeping things status quo.

Elsehwere, Sapphire is playing with an old toy, the likes of which many of us have seen before. Two mechanical figures are interacting. It’s scant distraction, though, as she laments her situation and abruptly decides to take things in hand by launching “Operation Jealous Lover.”

Soon, Rex Mason, aka Metamorpho, has returned to offer some flowers to Sapphire as an apology, but another suitor arrives and they drive off, leaving Mason to stew in his elemental juices. Later it gets worse.

The next rival for Sapphire’s affections arrives in a huge custom sedan complete with a full bull’s head on the hood and a set of horns playing a familiar tune with a refrain that goes, “Ai-yi-yi-yi.” Further, embossed on the side is “Cha-Cha Chavez.”

Dressed like a gaucho and with a sombrero hanging from his neck, Chavez drops the bombshell to all assembled that he and Sapphire are engaged. As a token of his affection, he has a squadron of airplanes drop flowers to the point they’re nearly buried, but Rex leaps into action and transforms himself into a magnesium ladder so they can head for higher ground.

The next trick up Chavez’s sleeve is a private helicopter ride to Mount Rushmore, where he’s had a little additional work done. Just below the famous heads of the president’s is now a likeness of Sapphire. At this point the Fabulous Freak can take no more and transforms himself into an iron drill that proceeds to wipe his lady love’s face off the mountain. Not content with just that, he engraves a custom message into the granite: “Metamorpho Si! Cha-Cha No!”

Next the party, including Chavez, Java, Simon, Sapphire and Rex are delivered to Cha-Cha’s yacht where they relax and Sapphire is content that her jealousy ploy is working well, ending Part I.

Part II has Mason about at his wit’s end when he spies a torpedo headed for the vessel. Acting quickly, he converts his body into a Manganese Paravane to block the torpedo. He succeeds, but it blows his body into several chunks, which Simon reassembles thanks to a handy portable lab Chavez has set up below decks. Everyone seems pretty fine with events and Simon is off to finish his siesta when Metamorpho decides to gather some intelligence as a cloud of nitrogen gas. This allows him to explore the ship where he discovers both arms and ammunition and a lackey searching Sapphire’s room, where he begins to remove a piece of paper hidden in her mechanical toy. Before Rex can find out what’s going on he hears gunfire, so he heads topside in time to change into an iron shield to save Sapphire from a strafing aircraft’s machine gun.

Soon the ship is docking at Chavez’s opulent coastal mansion and inside there is a large group of dicey looking characters to celebrate the engagement. Before the festivities can get very far, however, gunplay begins when rebels arrive to put a stop to the merriment. Chavez says it is because he is friends with the leader of the government, El Lupo.

Things settle down quickly as they depart, but it seems they’ve taken a couple of hostages: Stagg and Java. Rex jumps aboard a horse to find them while a worried Sapphire thinks to herself that her operation is backfiring.

Next up is an enactment of the cover, with Simon and Java facing a firing squad and Rex riding up to save the day. As the Element Man confronts the rebels he finds that there is more going on than meets the eye. They explain that El Lupo is a dictator and Chavez is a gun runner for him. Now that they have the facts, the band heads back for Cha-Cha’s place, but when they arrive, the helicopter is aloft with Sapphire aboard, closing our Part II.

As part III opens, a cloud of hydrogen is chasing the chopper, but Cha-Cha knows a little about the elements, too and drops a lighter into the cloud, creating a rather spectacular Element Man explosion. Fortunately Mason is able to regroup, but not before the helicopter leaves the vicinity.

A little later, Metamorpho, disguised as a local in sombrero and serape, is approaching the capital city with the rebels and Stagg when they spot a notice that informs the rebellion that El Lupo and Chavez will use the Glockenspiel’s revenge against them. Stagg explains to Rex that Heinrich Von Glockenspiel was an ancient chemist and clock-maker who had devised a super powerful explosive and left the secret formula somewhere.

Putting two and two together, Rex tells Simon that the formula must have been the piece of paper that was being removed from Sapphire’s toy and a thunderstruck Stagg confirms that it had been made by Glockenspiel. Obviously the arena they find themselves in has been booby-trapped.

Inside the arena, El Lupo, Chavez and Sapphire are on display like local royalty and the bull fight is about to begin. That’s when Metamorpho notices that one of El Toro’s horns has a detonator button on the tip. Time to go into action as Rex Mason, the Element Man becomes the Element Matador, trying to ensure that horn doesn’t strike anything and blow the place to smithereens. Chavez tries to escort Sapphire out, but when she sees her love in the arena, she refuses.

Twisting and transforming his body, Rex keeps the bull at bay, but Chavez uses a mirror to blind our hero, who compensates by changing to fluorine gas. Soon he’s got El Toro beaten and removes the booby-trapped horn.

Cha-Cha isn’t finished yet, however, and begins firing a pistol while trying to make his escape with Sapphire slung over his shoulder. Java tries to help and ends up on the receiving end of a bull’s horns, while the Element Matador gums up the escape with some gelatin glue.

The final scene has Rex and Sapphire in an embrace as she apologizes for her Operation Jealous Lover routine and the locals cry, “Viva Metamorpho!

It’s pretty easy to see why Ramona Fradon got the nod to do Plastic Man later. These Metamorpho tales definitely had a Jack Cole flavor. While this story would never see the light of day in our contemporary, politically correct environ, it’s kind of fun to look back on this innocent, goofy fun. It’s just a shame that Ramona was finished so soon on the series and in my superior opinion, while Joe Orlando was a formidable draftsman, something was missing upon her departure. I’ll give this one a 6 on the rating scale. Happy 50th, Metamorpho and Company!

Thanks for your patronage, dear readers and as usual the floor is yours if you’ve got questions, comments or suggestions for future reviews. I’m always just a few keystrokes away at: professor_the@hotmail.com.

Meanwhile, keep the faith and…

Long live the Silver Age!

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