A Tribute to the of

It has been a supreme pleasure and honor over the past several years to not only interview many of our Gold, Silver and Bronze Age heroes, but in some cases to establish a relationship along the way. By and large, especially the Golden and Silver Age creators, are, to a man, gentlemen and the ladies are a delight. Unfortunately, along with that relationship comes the risk that it will come to an end, earlier than you’d like. We’ve already bid a fond farewell to so many, like Al Plastino, Jerry Robinson, Mike Esposito, Murphy Anderson, Carmine Infantino, Jim Mooney, Gaspar Saladino, Joe Kubert and Jack Adler, to name just a few. While I didn’t get quite as close to him as some others, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know John Calnan and I’m sorry to report that he passed away shortly after Christmas. He had a February birthday and I always made it a point to send a card and his wife, Barbara, gave me a call after getting it this year to share the sad news. I broke it over at the Scoop website, where I also wrote up remembrances of Lew Sayre Schwartz and Mike Esposito. I probably should have done one for Gaspar, too. It’s not a fun chore, though. Still, these creators deserve their due for all they’ve done for this medium we love so much and I’d like now to celebrate John Calnan.

John wasn’t as well-known as some and yet he did a significant amount of work in the Bronze Age. To my knowledge, I’m the only one who sought him out for an interview, which you can find in the archives and I even had the privilege of spotlighting him for a piece in BACK ISSUE #64, specifically his run on the Metmorpho backup feature in Action Comics. It wasn’t one from that series, but John very generously gifted me with an original Metmorpho page from World’s Finest #220 from November/December of 1973. As you can see, this is no throwaway page, either and one of the panels was later featured in a lettercol. I was completely floored by the gift and of course it is even dearer to me now. Let’s go ahead and take a look at “Tears of an Element Man!” Metamorpho co-creator Bob Haney scripted the story and the art was, of course, by “J.C.” or our friend John Calnan with editing courtesy of Murray Boltinoff with an assist from E. Nelson Bridwell. The cover, by the way, was by the great Nick Cardy and shame on whoever screwed up the coloring on Batman’s right boot. Green? Really?

As I was sitting here I decided to dig out the WF issue with the Metmorpho panel I described above and it was in World’s Finest #223 from May/June of 1974 right around the time they went to the 100-page format. Interestingly, someone also noted the green boot and the editorial response was: “Jack Adler, the color czar in our Production Dept. advises that the correction was made from green to blue in a later press run, so hang on to your copy, Scott. Someday it may be a collector’s item.” [Couldn't find a copy from that later press run but did find a 1976 German printing with the correct color.]

This is going to be a short review, because the story itself is only 7 pages and it appears that Bob Haney must have phoned it in. Essentially it amounts to the usual tropes in a Metamorpho story: The irritable Rex Mason, reluctantly working with “Mr. Millions,” Simon Stagg, the father of Sapphire, Metamorpho’s love interest and a lovesick Java nearby for some comedy relief.

This time the blonde has managed to get herself kidnapped for ransom. The trio discovers her abandoned convertible with the cut and pasted ransom demand inside. They want a mere $5 million to return Ms. Stagg. Simon hesitates, but Metamorpho nearly clobbers him, demanding he pay up and pronto. Stagg just happens to have the funds on hand and takes them to the drop, but after 24 hours she still isn’t back, so Rex goes to check things out, beginning with sifting the soil near the drop point. He discovers traces of cement and heads for the nearest plant where someone takes a potshot at him. You can’t kill an element man with a rifle round, though, so he alters his shape into a cement bucket and rides the conveyor line up to where the sniper is concealed.

As soon as Metamorpho is inside, he shape shifts back to his regular form to clobber the bad guy and then goes in search of his fellow gang members. First, though, a slight delay when he tumbles into a vat of quick drying cement. No problem for the element man, though, as he converts his body into expanding carbon dioxide to break free.

Next up is that page (+ published page) of mine where he takes out two other gunmen (I just love the way John Calnan depicted the one flying through the page gutter) and finding out that Sapphire is dead. They’ve poisoned her because the cash Stagg left for them turned out to be counterfeit. Bursting through to the other room, Metmorpho is overcome with emotion and weeps. The caption describes them as, “Tears unlike those from any human eyes—tears containing who-knows-what miraculous combination of elements!

They do the trick and Sapphire revives. Rex then takes her into a kissing embrace. Soon the foursome are all reunited at the Simon Stagg compound, wrapping up this short tale.

Does this basic premise sound familiar? If you’ve been reading the Sage for a long, long time, it might ring a bell. Way-y-y-y-y back in Sage #19, I reviewed Metal Men #30 from February/March of 1968. “Terrors of the Forbidden Dimension!” was written by Otto Binder and had a similar gimmick when Platinum or Tina was able to rouse Doc Magnus from his coma-like slumber with some fiery tears that reacted with some perfume just after she kissed her creator. Granted, there was a lot more to that story than this one, but still, a Sleeping Beauty sort of resolution with tears? Kinda interesting, I’d say.

John Calnan worked on other DC properties, like Batman and Superman, but for obvious reasons, I’ll always have a soft spot for his work on Metamorpho, the Element Man.

Godspeed, to my friend and thanks for everything, Mr. Calnan.

Hopefully next time I won’t be in the position to do a tribute. As always, the webmaster and I thank you for your time and hope you’ll continue to enjoy your visits here at the Silver Lantern. Do give us a shout with any thoughts you may have, along with questions or feedback. E-mail me at: professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you the first of April, no foolin’ and…

Long live the Silver Age!

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