A Tribute to the of
Hats off once again to the writers of the Justice League animated series. They recently served up an unexpected treat and did it with flair. Thirty-eight years after his debut in Brave and the Bold, Metamorpho the Element Man made his animated debut. (Here's an interesting bit of animation trivia: Had a development deal entered into by DC and Filmation Studios been fulfilled, Metamorpho, Wonder Woman and Plastic Man would have appeared in a Saturday morning show(s) beginning in the Fall of 1966. A house ad was published in Summer '66 issues to alert readers of this, as it turned out, non-event.) While they took a few liberties with his origin and abilities (I'm not sure how they would explain his being able to transform one arm into Green Kryptonite, for example,) overall they did a great job of being true to the character and also the core group surrounding Rex Mason, to include Sapphire Stagg, Simon Stagg and even Java. I enjoyed the two-part "Metamorphosis" very much and it has inspired me to spotlight the second appearance of the Element Man for this edition of the Silver Age Sage. It's contained in Brave and the Bold #58, the February-March 1965 issue, edited by George Kashdan. Cover and interior art rendered by Ramona Fradon (Pencils) and Charles Paris (Inks). The story by Metamorpho creator Bob Haney is entitled "The Junk Yard of Doom!"
The usual suspects are in place, along with a stereotypical European adventurer/villain by the name of Maxwell Tremaine. More on him soon. Right now let's join Rex and his lady love Sapphire as they exit a limousine for a movie premiere. The couple is soon mobbed by the crowd when, to the shock and consternation of those gathered, an exuberant female removes the disguise Rex was wearing, revealing Metamorpho. She shrieks in surprise and the Element Man merely comments, "Who did you expect, honey—Ringo Starr?" The couple retreats back into the limo and Java spirits them away. Rex comments that his Element Man identity is still a secret, but for how long?
A couple of days later, the restless Rex is found at the local speedway, about to compete in the "Sapphire Special" racecar. He thinks to himself that he can still drive and win, that he's not just a washed-up freak. Obviously he is still dealing with what fate has done to him. Abruptly the lead car goes into a spin and cracks up, leaving an oil slick on the track. Reacting quickly, Mason shimmies up a light pole and smashes it, allowing the current to run through his body while simultaneously reacting with a carbon and silicon compound creating carborandum, a handy traction device for the other drivers. Unfortunately his gesture has tipped his hand and now the press and subsequently the world recognize his new talents. Angrily he points out the headlines to Simon Stagg, who suggests he enjoy his status as a hero. Mason demands that Stagg keep working on a reversal to his condition. Simon thinks to himself that he'd better not reveal that he cannot cure him and that he's destined to be the Element Man on a permanent basis.
Shortly afterward, Sapphire reveals a surprise to her boyfriend. She's designed a costume for him, complete with a full-head mask sporting a smaller Robin-style mask on it. The outfit features green trousers and an orange cape-like tunic. "I've even got the perfect name for you—Metamorpho! It's from the Greek word for 'change'!'" Thus our hero (or "freak" as he often disgustedly refers to himself) receives his moniker. (Interestingly enough, the uniform isn't used again in this story and for all I know is never worn in the future. The covers and appearances I've seen just show him in his trunks.)
Later that evening, as Rex tries to catch forty winks, an eerily garbed figure appears at the foot of his bed with the Orb of Ra, which, as you may recall, has the same effect on him as Green Kryptonite does on Superman. Rex is shown in the next panel being carried to an airplane at Simon Stagg's private airfield. The disappearance of Mason, the Orb, one of Stagg's goons, Karko, and the plane are discovered the next morning by Java. Soon Stagg, Sapphire and Java are airborne, tracking the missing plane by a locator system. We learn from Java's thoughts that he is behind the abduction and that his ultimate goal is to win Sapphire for himself. The story then fades to the mountainous heart of Africa where two figures are parachuting downward to be greeted by a strange welcoming committee consisting of local natives and a large steel praying mantis. Soon the unconscious form of Metamorpho is being carried by the Mantis toward a waterfall while Karko follows with the Orb and the natives pull up the rear. Part I closes on this odd procession.
Part II opens in the lair of Maxwell Tremaine. Rex comes to as the Orb is withdrawn and upon seeing the man, resplendent in riding breeches, gray mustache, crew cut and an eye patch, utters "Where in blazes am I? And who are you, buster? A refugee from a shirt ad?" (If anyone recognizes this particular topical reference, I wish they'd let me in on the joke.) Tremaine introduces himself and tells Rex he's in Africa. He also reveals that he's a brilliant scientist who turned traitor during World War II and aided the Nazis. He further explains that he plans to use Rex's powers and the resources of this secret laboratory to settle his score with the world. Before going into any further detail, Tremaine issues a telepathic command to the Mantis, who makes short work of Karko. An outraged Element Man is then escorted by Tremaine and the Mantis to a hidden valley that looks for all the world like a large-scale junkyard. Tremaine explains that it's been a dumping ground by various countries for their failed weapons and that he has used his scientific expertise to make some of them work, including the Mantis. Tremaine then plays his trump card. He has brought Rex here to exploit his powers, fixing all the weapons to form his own army. Mason suggests that Tremaine can go pound sand and he beats a hasty retreat from the Mantis by leaping from the cliff, quickly forming his hands into a magnesium parachute. The battle then begins with Tremaine activating some of his mechanical monsters to try and subdue Metamorpho. The Element Man is able to overcome the first terror, a metal beast resembling a Daddy Long-Legs spider, by first slipping away from a heavy foot in the form of Bromine liquid, then converting his body into pure oxygen, enveloping the machine until he causes it to rust solid. Tremaine quickly deploys the next menace, the Flail Tank, a stainless steel wonder with a spike-endowed mechanical arm. This time Mason tries another gaseous form, willing himself into a mixture of sulphur, potassium, carbon and nitrogen. When the arm swings into him, the volatile combination of elements blows sky high, rendering the tank useless. But what of the Element Man? After a few tense minutes he is able to successfully re-form his body from the calculated risk of becoming gunpowder. The next threat out of the chute is the Dragon-Fly Death, a guided missile with fly-like wings and most insidious of all, a payload consisting of a de-moleculizer, which would spell doom for even Metamorpho. Bobbing and weaving, our hero tries to slip the missile at one point by forming his body into a large copper screen with a hole large enough to accommodate the menace.
Meanwhile, in the skies above, Simon Stagg's airplane is closing in on the valley. Unfortunately for them, Tremaine spots them and dispatches the Dragon-Fly Death toward them, instantly vaporizing the plane and leaving the hapless trio to fall to their deaths below.
Between this, the end of part II and the opening of part III, the editors again list a page of text titled "The Human Chemical Plant," which explains in some measure the premise behind Metamorpho and his fantastic abilities. I'll reprint a couple of the paragraphs so you can get an idea for yourself:
To varying degrees, everyone has such basic chemicals as calcium, nitrogen, potassium and many others within him, as well as minute traces of elements like barium, magnesium, sodium and cobalt. Some of these elements, if eaten or absorbed in great quantities, would be poisonous—but in tiny quantities, they are beneficial. The ones mentioned here are only but a few that the body contains—and scientists believe there are many more yet to be found.
Coming back to METAMORPHO, however, are you now able to picture the basis of his transformation powers? In a sense, he is stretching an ability that's present in every human body.
See? More learning opportunities in the old pulp wonders. Back to our story.
Rex has noted the plight of his lady love and swiftly reacts by forming a magnesium ladder, catching Sapphire in his arms while Java and Simon grab the rungs to stop their fall. Once safely on the ground, the hearty band retreats into the nearby woods where Rex fills them in on Tremaine's treachery. Simon Stagg then deduces that Tremaine, his former rival for the affections of his late wife, is using Metamorpho to seek revenge on him. In the next terrifying moment, they hear the advance of the Mantis, ravaging the forest as it works it's way toward them. Tremaine appears on a jet-powered saucer and announces that his Manti! s is unbeatable. Undaunted, Rex forms himself into a cobalt battering ram to engage the monster, but he succeeds only to knock himself unconscious. Tremaine seizes upon the opportunity and spirits Sapphire away in the saucer. When Rex comes to and Simon fills him in, he tries a new method to defeat the Mantis. He wills his body into a spinning carbon drill, which is soon grasped by the Mantis. We soon learn that this is part of Mason's plan as the heat and friction generated changes the carbon into diamond, which proves to be a very effective drill, disabling the Mantis for good. He follows up his victory by sinking his diamond drill body into a nearby mountain, which is a dormant volcano, releasing lava to flood the valley and inundate the remaining weapons.
Segue now to Tremaine's fortress, where the villain makes his intentions to Sapphire clear. Gazing upon a portrait of her mother, Mara, over the mantle, he professes his love. As the revolted Sapphire struggles, Rex and Simon burst in. Tremaine makes a grab for the Orb of Ra, but Metamorpho sprays the old man with silicon, blinding him long enough to land a Sunday punch. Simon surreptitiously retrieves the scepter containing the Orb and one of his planes soon rescues the foursome, ending the tale on a happy note.
Rex Mason is an extremely reluctant hero. By all appearances he was more than satisfied with his life before the incident that transformed him into Metamorpho, the Element Man and his fondest desire is to go back to that life of adventure, love and fierce independence. That independent streak and hope for getting back to normal might be the reason he so vehemently rejected membership in the Justice League, even though he probably would have made an excellent addition to the roster. The teaming he did with them in the animated series certainly raised some intriguing possibilities. It might even have led to more staying power than his individual magazines enjoyed. In more recent continuity he did at last join a group of heroes called The Outsiders, so apparently Rex did have the capability of being a joiner under the right circumstances. "Outsiders," of course would still indicate at least some feeling of no longer being part of humanity at large.
This second appearance of the Element Man garners a solid 8 on my rating scale. The continued evolution of Metamorpho, as he deals with his status and learns to harness his abilities while being thrust into situations he wouldn't have chosen for himself created a fascinating tension. While I don't usually care for a lot of angst in my heroes, it seems to work in this context and I look forward to reading future appearances of Rex Mason as this feature continues it's run.
Questions, comments or praise can be sent to me at my handy e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember to join me again in about two weeks for the latest trip down memory lane in this, the greatest era of comic books.
Long live the Silver Age!
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