METAMORPHO THE ELEMENT MANMedium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1964
Creators: Bob Haney (writer) and Ramona Fradon (artist)
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using the standard style hero that had been in vogue 20 years earlier — The Flash, Green Lantern and the like. But by the middle of the decade its rival, Marvel, was making a serious dent in DC's audience with a new, quirky style of offbeat hero like The Fantastic Four or Spider-Man.
DC responded with a few offbeat heroes of its own. Metamorpho the Element Man may not have been as offbeat as Ultra the Multi-Alien, who debuted a few months later, or the conversion of The Blackhawks into superheroes, which came along about a year after that, but he still wasn't any slouch in the "offbeat" department.
Metamorpho's story began in the 57th issue (Dec-Jan, 1964-65) of The Brave & the Bold (a title DC had formerly used for trying out new concepts before committing itself to a full-scale launch, but more recently had been devoted to crossovers of characters from different series). The origin story in that issue was written by Bob Haney (who co-created The Doom Patrol and Eclipso) and drawn by Ramona Fradon (who also did Aquaman and The Super Friends for DC, and later took over Brenda Starr's newspaper strip).
Metamorpho was originally Rex Mason, a handsome young adventurer working for Simon Stagg, an eccentric and unscrupulous zillionaire with a penchant for weirdness. Mason wasn't any too fond of Stagg, but was quite fond indeed of Stagg's drop-dead gorgeous daughter, Sapphire. Complicating the situation was the fact that Java, a member of a near-human species of hominid left over from an adventure that had occurred before the series started, was also in love with Sapphire.
Mason got to be a goofy but reasonably successful superhero by means of prolonged exposure to The Orb of Ra, an incredibly valuable magical artifact he'd attempted to retrieve for Stagg from an an ancient pyramid. Stagg, for reasons of his own, had decided to trap him in the pyramid, and Java was only too glad to carry the order out. But Rex managed to extricate himself because radiation from the Orb gave him an entire suite of super powers. Thereafter he was Metamorpho, the Element Man, able to alter both the chemical composition and the shape of his body — it was as if Plastic Man could make himself actually be the things he was mimicking the shapes of. Metamorpho could even turn his body into liquid or gas, and reconstitute himself when the need passed.
The drawback was that he'd become a repulsive freak. Sapphire wasn't too put off by the fact, especially when he wore his super-realistic Rex Mason mask, but it still caused him a certain amount of discomfort. Also, tho Stagg had tried to kill him, Metamorpho was bound to Stagg as his only hope (through ability to fund research) of returning to normal. Java, of course, was consumed with unrequited love. The whole family knew Rex was Metamorpho, of course, but the rest of the world didn't.
If being a superhero while in the direct employ of a guy who would qualify as a villain by most standards doesn't make Metamorpho offbeat, the fact that he was offered membership in The Justice League of America, but turned it down, certainly should.
The series quickly caught on with readers, and Metamorpho had his own comic as of July-August, 1965. All went well until the fourth issue, after which Fradon left the series. Joe Orlando (Inferior Five, EC Comics) took over for a few issues, followed by Sal Trapani (who had extensive credits at Gold Key, ACG and elsewhere). Fradon's inker, Charles Paris (highly regarded for many years of inking Batman over Dick Sprang's pencils), stayed on, minimizing the impact on the comic's visuals — but apparently, buyers could see the difference, because sales dropped.
It was the first time a change in creative personnel had ever had an immediate and noticeable impact on a comic book's circulation. Tho she never benefited from it herself, Fradon was a harbinger of creator-driven promotion, as opposed to trying to sell the comic on the strength of the characters or the cover, without which the comic book landscape would be very different today.
The introduction of Element Girl in #10, a possible sidekick (and potential rival for Sapphire), was probably an attempt to resuscitate the series. But that character never went anywhere, and was killed off a few years ago after having been forgotten for decades. Pretty soon, the Metamorpho title was so far gone, even Fradon's emergency return couldn't save it. It sputtered out with its 17th issue (Mar-Apr, 1968). Years later, DC attempted to revive the series by putting Metamorpho, by Fradon, in the June, 1975 First Issue Special (a series that functioned much like Showcase had in earlier years, except only one of the concepts it tried out, The Warlord, ever went anywhere).
Metamorpho's longest run of regular appearances began in July, 1983, with the introduction of Batman & The Outsiders. There, he was placed in a group setting, alongside Black Lightning (another guy who'd once had a series) and a bunch of newbies, with Batman as their leader to sell the comic. In 1986 the group was deemed strong enough to sell on its own, so Batman withdrew. As The Outsiders, it continued until February, 1988. More recently, Metamorpho got involved with the Justice League after all, but it was an offshoot — along with Power Girl, The Flash and a few others, he had several adventures with Justice League Europe.
Since then, he's had a guest appearance or a back-up series here and there. He's appeared in animated form now and then, but has never been a star. He's not much of a licensing icon, either, apart from an occasional action figure. Just one of those DC Universe guys who used to have a series and may have one again someday; but in the meantime are kicking around on the fringes.