A Tribute to the of

On November 25, 2004, writer Bob Haney left this mortal coil and since I’m typing this up on the 25th, that makes 15 years ago now that Bob’s been gone. I hasten to add, gone, but not forgotten.

I’ve poked a little good-natured fun at Haney’s writing here at the Silver Lantern. His dialogue could be stilted at times and the “hep-cat” stuff, especially on the Teen Titans, could grow thin in a hurry, but the man could produce and he did some pretty notable things during the Silver Age, working not only on the aforementioned Titans, but contributing to the Doom Patrol, Brave and the Bold (where he made a notable cameo appearance along with Jim Aparo in issue #124 aka Sage #320), Aquaman and of course his co-creation of Metamorpho. Long time readers of this feature may recall the fondness with which artist Ramona Fradon recalled [for Sage#176] when asked about collaborating with Bob Haney: “I enjoyed working with Bob enormously. His scripts influenced my drawing, and my drawing influenced him. We had such a rapport on that feature you might say we were walking around in each other's heads.”

I think it only appropriate to review a Haney/Fradon Metamorpho tale for this installment of the Silver Age Sage. It’s Metamorpho #3 from November/December of 1965 with cover and interior art by Ramona and inker Charles Paris with interior letters by Stan Starkman. Ira Schnapp lettered the cover and the on-sale date was September 30, 1965. Bob Haney wrote, “Who Stole the U.S.A.?” Editing was courtesy of George Kashdan.

These early stories all seemed to have that similar gimmick of alliterative descriptions with an introduction of the characters with head shots along the left edge of the splash page. This one is brought to you by the letter “M.” Rex Mason-- merely Metamorpho; Simon Stagg--merely moonstruck; Sapphire Stagg—merely Mmmmm; Java—merely musclebound; Zelda T.—merely malicious; T.T.T.—merely mad!

I won’t go through all the dialogue on that splash, but Bob was in his usual fine form with at least one example where he describes our hero: “He’s an acid, he’s a solid, he’s a gas—and this story’s a real gasser!

Things begin innocently enough. It seems Simon Stagg is in love and he shows off the photo of his fiancée, Zelda Trumbull to his daughter Sapphire, her beau Rex Mason, aka Metamorpho and Java. Sapphire objects, pointing out that Zelda is in the right age bracket to be her sister, not her step-mother, but apparently the heart wants what the heart wants and Simon sings his way about the estate as they plan a trip to visit Zelda and her father using Mr. Millions’ private plane.

Soon, the party arrives at the Trumbull complex, contained in the Grand Canyon. It’s dubbed Science Station Alpha and looks like a futuristic playland. After introductions are made, Rex queries T.T.T. about the complex. He replies, “It’s my greatest brainstorm—a complete scientific station and city, totally self-sufficient! If enemy attack should knock out everything else, our country could still function from this isolated spot! It’s all merely the most!” He proceeds to explain that the place is powered by a cube of plutonium the size of a hatbox (remember those?) “It’s only stupendous!

Just then, a lab-coated lackey tears out of the complex and alerts everyone that the pile is overreacting and is about to blow the whole place to bits. Acting quickly, Metamorpho discards his Rex Mason mask and outer clothing, borrowing the scientists lead-lined jacket (apparently to keep his contamination down and not expose Sapphire, although radiation doesn’t affect our Element Man) and goes into action, removing the plutonium with his bare hands and heaving it safely out of range while rescuing another unconscious scientist from the room. T.T.T. burns through the superlatives, declaring Rex to be “…amazing, fantastic, incredible, stupendous, spectacular and merely…terrific!

Sapphire then notices that her father and Zelda have slipped away. T.T.T. calls upon his tuxedoed man-servant, Ominoreg to go and find them. The figure looks like a classic Native American and of course Haney has named him Geronimo in reverse. T.T.T. explains to the Element Man that Ominoreg is “…a crazy Indian who lived down here before I built this station! Always muttering about how the canyon belongs to him…

Soon Simon and Zelda return and T.T.T. continues the tour into the Hall of Elements where he has a particular surprise for Stagg, a newly discovered element refined from fallen meteorites that he’s dubbed “Staggium.” Strangely, the material makes our hero feel dizzy and weakened. Quickly moving on, the party arrives at a large enclosure where T.T.T. is unveiling the biggest surprise of all. When Metamorpho opens the doors, it reveals the menacing Thunderbird Robot, whose wings contain enough Staggium to destroy the weakening Element Man. It’s an ambush devised by Trumbull to allow him to pursue something he calls Operation Colossal, closing out Part I.

Part II appears to have our hero in real trouble as the Thunderbird Robot goes in for the deadly hug, but Rex is cannier than that and converts himself into hydrogen gas to get out of the robot’s clutches. Unseen above the scene, the Element Man plots his next move. Stagg and Zelda have again retreated to another place where Mr. Millions is on bended knee proposing, but Zelda asks for time to consider his offer, thinking to herself that she needs to delay him long enough for her father to destroy the Element Man.

The lovesick Java, meanwhile, has an unconscious Sapphire in his arms and ponders what to do. If he lets Mason die, she will be his, he reasons and he is seriously considering allying with T.T.T. Rex has looked for his chance, though and notes that Java’s shuffling heels are kicking up tiny sparks on the metal catwalk, so he zooms his hydrogen form toward the sparks to create a combustible situation, igniting the hydrogen and blowing the joint wide open in order to allow the Element Man to escape and regroup.

Soon all the shams are falling away as Zelda directs Ominoreg to lead Stagg away at gunpoint and T.T.T. employs a special gold phone to make a call to the White House where another gold phone rests. The President is certain it’s another nation’s leader, using the hotline to communicate, but of course it’s Trumbull, who demands the surrender of the entire United States or he’ll destroy the country’s missile defense system. As a show of his resolve, T.T.T. remotely destroys one site to the horror of those gathered in the war room.

Back at Science Station Alpha, Metamorpho has his hands full dodging the Thunderbird. Seeking asylum inside a particular building, he is abruptly sliced into chunks by an array of lasers. Realizing the only way to reassemble himself is with plenty of electricity, the Element Man manages to direct a severed arm to grip a power cable that does the trick. He continues his evasive actions while Trumbull observes on a monitor. Hoping to aid the robot, T.T.T. activates a massive crucible to contain Rex and allow the Thunderbird to catch up to him.

Thinking quickly to his high school chemistry, The Element Man forms himself into one part hydrogen, one part nitrogen and three parts oxygen forming a nitric acid mixture that allows him to eat his way out of the crucible, but the robot is near. Quickly converting his body to fluorine gas, it’s up, up and away from those menacing wings.

Back in Washington, the Generals are calling for an attack on the Grand Canyon complex, but the President urges caution until they have a better feel for Trumbull’s abilities. If only they had an insider, but just then, a message is hand-delivered to the President explaining the situation and that Metamorpho is on the job. It seems Simon Stagg utilized his miniature belt buckle radio to send it and Part II closes.

Part III opens with troops and materiel on standby at the Grand Canyon while Metamorpho continues to try to outpace the Thunderbird. He tried tunnels and cables and is eventually outside the complex with the robot in close pursuit and the Staggium continuing to affect him. Trumbull notes that Metamorpho is heading for the cave and calls on Ominoreg to bring Stagg and company along as T.T.T. fashions a way to help his robot to destroy the Element Man.

As Rex scales the canyon wall, he notices the troops and alters his form to liquid bromine and paints a target around the Thunderbird along with a written message that the robot is after him. That’s all the assembly needs to know and a well-placed round from a tank finishes off the Thunderbird.

With the nuisance neutralized, Rex continues to follow the cable and finds himself in a massive control room that shows all the missile sites and is emblazoned with “Operation Super Colossal.” Just as the Element Man is about to destroy the equipment with a massive iron fist, Trumbull, who had just arrived via helicopter with his captives, alerts him that they stand on precarious ground, overlooking a cliff with Ominoreg continuing to hold the rifle on them.

Tension builds, but abruptly Ominoreg turns the weapon on Trumbull and Zelda, accusing them of profaning the sacred cave of his ancestors. Just then Zelda sends her raven against the Indian, but before Edgar can do any damage, a quickly formed iron cage contains it, courtesy of Metamorpho.

Sapphire goes on the offensive, attacking Zelda, while Simon Stagg employs his college boxing skills to knock T.T.T. into the abyss. Rex quickly sends a copper coiled hand down to catch the villain so he can be brought to justice and not end up a grease spot on the canyon floor.

Metamorpho thanks Ominoreg for his assistance, smashes the console and then reports to the President that everything is under control. The party then turns Science Station Alpha over to the Army and heads for home, leaving the Grand Canyon and this latest Element Man adventure in the rear-view mirror. As part of the wrap-up, Gerry Conway had some poignant memories of Bob Haney and graciously shared them with me when I had the opportunity to interview him [for Sage #233 ] a few years back:

Haney had tremendous ability. I have a really sad story about Bob Haney in that he was an extremely bitter guy and he was at one point the highest paid writer at DC and their most successful writer. He was their go-to guy. The fans always admired people like Gardner Fox and John Broome among the DC writers, but in terms of sales, Haney’s books always outsold them. He was considered the guy who really got it. That’s weird for us to think of. We don’t think of it that way, but you look at Murray Boltinoff and Murray was the only guy who lasted as an editor from the 50’s through the 60’s and well through the 70’s at DC. Why is that? That’s because his books sold better than everybody else’s books. Even Julie Schwartz’s.

I’m not saying they sold better in the sense that they had these fantastic numbers and everything, it’s just that consistently, month in, month out, he met the sales. And people like Bob Haney were the guys that helped him do it. Well, when I was breaking in and I finally became fairly well established, in I guess the late 60’s and early 70’s, as a newcomer, there was this effort in the early 70’s to create something called the Comic Book Writer’s Guild. This was something that we were supposedly all going to become members of this and put pressure on the publishers to treat us more fairly. (Laughter.) Like that was going to happen. We would have these meetings, and at these meetings you would have all these different generations of people. It was also at the Illustrator’s Club in Manhattan, which was like the grownups club. That was where the newspaper illustrators have their townhouse clubhouse. It was like where the grownups were. And they also had a bar.

So, we would go there and of course we’d get drunk. And I remember hanging there one time for this meeting and Bob Haney was there and Bob was definitely a bit smashed and he came over to me and we were chatting and I had very mixed feelings. He was a guy whose work I liked on things like Metamorpho, but I hated on things like Teen Titans, because he didn’t get me as a kid. But if you just looked at what he did on Metamorpho, I mean he was pretty good. When you put him in this other context, he’s not. So, he was standing there and we were talking and he points to me and he says, “You know, you’ve got a lot of potential.” I was like, “Oh, really?” And he said, “I used to have a lot of potential.” (Laughter.) How’s that for grim? And I’m standing there going, “Ah, um, okay.” And I thought about it recently and Bob was probably younger than I am now when he said that, and I thought, what a sad, sad way for someone to feel at that point in his life. I don’t really know what happened to Bob after that, but he was pretty much pushed out of the business by people like Denny. Denny took over writing Brave and the Bold and working with Batman and Haney’s ability to adapt just wasn’t there and I don’t think there was much willingness on the part of people like Carmine to push him toward that and I don’t think he wanted to, to be honest.

What happened to Bob? This article seems to sum things up in a nutshell, despite a couple of gaffes in the reporting.

Wherever you are now, Bob Haney, I hope you’re enjoying yourself as much as we continue to enjoy the yarns you spun so prolifically. The Silver Age wouldn’t have been the same without you and certainly not without the goofy fun provided in the pages of each adventure of Metamorpho the Element Man.

Well, readers, the final Sage of the year will be placed right here on the 15th of December as we prepare to bid 2019 a fond farewell. I hope you’ve had some enjoyment reading these. I know the webmaster and I continue to enjoy producing them and we’ll keep going strong for the foreseeable future.

Remember to avail yourself of the opportunity to make yourself heard. It’s a short keyboard journey to my e-mail at: professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you next time and…

Long live the Silver Age!

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