Sunday, August 16, 2020

The Element Man

The Top TV Comic Star who never was

This ironically monochrome ad appeared in DC Comics publications in 1966, promoting the many full-colour entertaining superhero action stories that you could see on TV and stage at the time. The Superman TV show, if you were confused, is the one from the fifties - made on colour film but broadcast in black and white, and now appearing on Americans' new colour TV sets for the first time.

At the bottom of the page, it hypes up the upcoming cartoons that they were planning to make to supplement the success of the new Superman/Superboy cartoon show, but sadly most of these never happened - only Aquaman got himself animated, and the others were dropped in favour of a Batman cartoon to allow CBS to cash in on the huge popularity of ABC's live-action Batman show. It's a great shame, especially for Metamorpho, the least well-known of the characters listed there - maybe if he'd become a cartoon TV star, he'd be appearing in his own superhero movies now, instead of being just a footnote to DC Comics history!

Well, this blog is dedicated to the first 15 years of Metamorpho in comics - the Bob Haney years. And discussing the history of Metamorpho (who drifted around and found his stories appearing in five different comics over the years, with a wide range of page-counts, prices and publishing gimmicks) illustrates the fascinating history of the era when DC was unexpectedly suddenly struggling to keep up with the popularity of the new, different Marvel superheroes! The point that they are making with this ad is that DC was still dominating the airwaves, at least, with their classic heroes Superman and Batman!

Let's trace the history of American superhero comics, through the filter of Metamorpho, from 1964 to 1979!

The Silver Age of Superhero Comics
The Golden Age of superhero comics started in 1938, when Superman first appeared. For the next few years, superheroes were immensely popular with American readers, and sold by the million, making a fortune for DC Comics (who owned Superman, Batman, and all the characters people really loved). DC were the market leaders by a long way, and the many publishers who also produced superhero comics could never really come close. Marvel Comics was one of those other publishers, and not even a particularly significant one.

The bubble burst soon enough, and people moved on to other things. After the end of the war, superheroes died out almost completely. The 1950s were a very barren time for the long-underwear brigade. DC continued to publish titles featuring Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, and also Adventure Comics (an anthology with Superboy as the lead story and backup strips for Aquaman and Green Arrow), but all the other hundreds of heroes had disappeared.

There were occasional attempts to bring superheroes back, over the next few years. DC introduced J'onn J'onzz, the Manhunter from Mars, who was at least a sort of superhero, in 1955 as a backup strip to Batman. In 1956, the new Flash - named after a Golden Age hero, but with a new modern look - debuted in "Showcase", the comic for trying out new ideas. He made a couple more appearances over the next two years, and in 1958 was judged popular enough to get his own bi-monthly series. In 1959, a new Green Lantern got the same treatment. And then DC brought all their superheroes together in the Justice League of America, just like they'd done with the Justice Society in 1940. They sold pretty well, and it seemed like superheroes were going to get another brief burst of success.

And that leads us to the famous story - in 1961, Stan Lee of Marvel Comics was ordered to copy what DC were doing and try to cash in on the new superhero vogue. Instead, he gave the concept his own twist, and wrote comics with much more human heroes, with their own personal issues instead of being idealised grown-ups. Spider-Man in particular was so enormously popular that DC's monopoly had suddenly turned into The Big Two comic publishers - a situation that's still going on today! The Silver Age had started, and all of a sudden, DC were on the defensive. They tried to reassert themselves as the traditional home of all the best heroes, but they also tried to copy what Marvel were doing - and that's where Metamorpho comes in. He was probably the first deliberate DC attempt at a Marvel-style superhero, a definite oddity in the early-1960s comics world.

The price of comics, part 1
Back in the 1930s, when the modern style of American comics first appeared, they cost ten cents, which in those days would make a significant dent in the pocket money of the average American kid. And that price soon became entrenched in the public consciousness as the price of a comic, which started to cause problems a couple of decades down the line when a dime really didn't go as far as it used to. The publishers were able to get around it by reducing the size - originally 64 interior pages (so 68 if you count the covers), they were cut down to 56 and then 48 by wartime paper rationing, and continued to shrink even after that excuse didn't exist any more. By 1960, comics had 32 pages and really couldn't reduce any further (they had to be in multiples of 8 because of the way comics were made, so taking another 8 pages out would reduce the size by 25%!), so something was going to have to change.

DC Comics resisted for as long as they could - all through 1961, their comics boasted "STILL ONLY 10¢!" on the cover and in big interior ads. But then, with the comics that went on sale in October '61, the prices jumped up to 12¢, without warning. It was very unpopular with readers! Metamorpho came into being at a time when putting the prices up any further might have caused riots, despite the steadily rising cost of living. They stayed steady until the end of the sixties...

The Brave and the Bold
Metamorpho first appeared in The Brave and the Bold, a comic that had gone through some changes as the Silver Age came into being. It had started out in 1955 as an anthology of stories set in days of old, as the title would suggest - the Silent Knight, the Viking Prince, the Golden Gladiator and Robin Hood carried it through the first four years. Then, with issue № 25, the title suddenly changed into a try-out comic for new ideas, the same as Showcase. The Justice League made their debut there, as did the new Hawkman. And then the format changed again another four years later, and with № 50 it became a comic where two heroes from different comics would team up and have an adventure together. This was new, exciting and different! So it was a bit of a surprise when with № 57, the Brave and the Bold went back to the try-out format, and gave us the debut of Metamorpho...

The Brave and the Bold № 57, Jan 1965
[writer Bob Haney, pencils Ramona Fradon, inks Charles Paris]
The date on the cover of all these comics is the off-sale date - this one was actually published in late October 1964. The Brave and the Bold, like a lot of comics, was bi-monthly. The cover of this one is interesting - the scenes it depicts, of half-naked Java attacking Metamorpho with metal(?) stakes from a fence, don't happen in this (or any other) issue.

As was normal for comic stories of the time (a holdover from the days of anthology comics), all Metamorpho's full-length adventures are divided into three chapters of eight pages each, with a full-page splash on the first page. After this first issue, the splash page settles into a regular format, showing all the regular cast and the bad-guy-of-the-month, but this 'pilot episode' just goes with a standard scene-setter.

We're introduced to our ensemble cast. Rex Mason is a dashing soldier-of-fortune, who travels around the world on missions for zillionaire Simon Stagg, who is quite unapologetically evil. Rex generally shrugs this off, because he likes adventure, and loves Stagg's daughter, Sapphire. Sapphire is basically a spoilt brat, but loves Rex too. Simon lives in an enormous mansion, equipped with an army of black-hooded minions, and his loyal sidekick Java, a prehistoric man who Rex dug up in Indonesia in an earlier adventure, who was brought back to life and given higher intelligence by Simon's technology. Java is also in love with Sapphire, and despises Rex.

Simon, not wanting Rex to marry Sapphire, offers him a million dollars to go on another mission - to retrieve the legendary Orb of Ra from a lost pyramid. Java goes along with him, under secret orders to maroon Mason in the desert and return with the Orb alone.

They find the lost pyramid without any trouble, but it glows with heat and nearly causes their plane to crash. Inside, they retrieve the Orb and see hieroglyphics describing how it's a fragment of a meteor that fell from the sky in ancient times. Java beats Rex up, takes the Orb and departs. Rex falls onto a platform that is conveyed along an ancient Egyptian conveyor belt to the giant meteor, deep within the pyramid.

The meteor glows red-hot, and Rex, in desperation, drinks a chemical hidden in his ring, which Simon Stagg gave him, years ago, saying to use it if he ever felt death was catching up with him. He falls unconscious as the rock glows hotter and hotter.

This issue gives huge emphasis to that chemical, but then it's never mentioned ever again. All subsequent tellings of Metamorpho's origin solely credit the meteor with giving him his powers. Maybe it did, and the chemical just didn't do anything.

Anyway, when Rex wakes up, he finds that he has changed. He now has a body divided into four different-coloured sections (plus modesty-concealing trunks) and a hideous white head. Finding himself sealed in the pyramid, he realises he can change into gas, and escape through a crack in the wall. After a little experimentation, he finds that he can will himself into different chemical forms!

Metamorpho's powers are very specifically and consistently defined in the stories of the sixties and seventies. He can change all or part of his body into any shape, made of any of the chemical elements that were in his body at the time he was transformed, whether they were central building blocks or just existed as a minute trace. However, he has to consciously know what element or combination of elements he's changing into - he can become a block of marble, because he knows it's calcium carbonate, but he can't change back to flesh and blood, because that's too complicated a thing for him to know.

He can detach part of himself and reattach it later without any trouble (so he doesn't have the classic limitation of shape-changers, and can form a separate axle to give himself wheels), but if he gets chopped to pieces against his will it takes technology to put him back together again. He's generally immune to harm, in any case. He always announces what he's turning into; it becomes the trademark Metamorpho speech. In the course of this story, he turns into hydrogen, magnesium, sodium, calcium, cobalt and 'flourine' - consistently spelt that way in this and several subsequent issues. It looks like Bob Haney genuinely thought that was how you spell it, and those occasions when it's correct are when it was caught and fixed by an editor or letterer.

In later stories, it eventually turns out that his default appearance is identical to Algon, who was given the same powers by the meteor in ancient times. Why Algon looked like that is never revealed, but presumably he was going for a classical four-elements kind of look. Before that, Element Girl's origin will prove that people can design their own appearance when they're exposed to the meteor - I guess Rex missed his chance because he was unconscious (hey, maybe that's what the chemical did!)

Rex makes his way back to the mansion and confronts Stagg. He's able to beat up Java easily, but Simon discovers that the Orb of Ra weakens Rex. They come to an uneasy truce, and agree that Simon will try to cure Rex and make him human again, and that in the meantime Rex can use his powers for good. Simon, of course, has no intention of really curing Rex, and every intention of using him for his own ends in future. Sapphire vows that she still loves him, but Rex just wants to be free of his hideous curse. Java, infuriated, tries to burn down the mansion, but Rex stops him without difficulty.

And because DC haven't started putting letters pages in every issue yet (they were a regular feature of Superman comics, but not the rest of DC's range), there's a text page of fascinating information about metamorphosis in butterflies and frogs. American comics had to have a page of plain text, because of postal regulations.

And so that sets up the status quo for the ongoing adventures of Metamorpho. This pilot episode plays it a lot more straight than subsequent stories. Going forwards, Simon Stagg and Java are more comical figures - Simon's evil ways are just something to laugh at, and all Java ever does is lament to himself that Sapphire is only pretending to love the hideous Metamorpho and will one day be Java's instead. But even so, the set-up of the hero who works for a villain and loves his daughter is unique and imaginative - you certainly can't say that this series is echoing the old DC tales of the Golden Age, and yet it's not entirely aping Stan Lee at Marvel either. A class of its own!

Bob Haney
Writers and artists were not traditionally credited in comics, unless they were superstars or had made sure to get it written into their contracts. Crediting the people who made every issue was another Marvel innovation, which DC hadn't yet adopted. The uncredited creators of Metamorpho were writer Bob Haney and artist Ramona Fradon. To me, Bob Haney (1926-2004) will always be the writer of some great Thundercats cartoons in the 1980s, but he'd been around a long time by then - he started writing comics in the late forties, and came to DC in 1955, mainly as a writer of war comics. As a sideline to Our Fighting Forces, Our Army At War and many others of that type, he scripted some of the early Brave and the Bold adventure yarns too, which is probably how he ended up drifting into superheroes. When B&B entered into its superhero team-up era, Haney was established as the regular writer.

One of the most famous things DC introduced at around that time was the concept of Earth-1 and Earth-2 - different parallel worlds where the Silver Age and Golden Age superheroes respectively lived. It was the kind of thing that got nerdy fans (like me) very excited. Bob Haney famously didn't really get the memo about that whole arrangement, and his team-up stories liked to pick random characters from either Earth and throw them together. Fans liked to speculate that the Brave and the Bold was set in another world entirely. And then there was the confusion he caused with Wonder Girl, but that's a whole different story!

His style of writing for Metamorpho, B&B and the other superheroes he wrote in the sixties (notably Aquaman and the Teen Titans) was in the up-to-date, trendy style pioneered by Stan Lee at Marvel. That was more the window-dressing of Marvel's success than the substance behind it, but it was clearly thought at DC that it would be important to start talking that way too if they wanted kids to buy their comics. Bob Haney cheerfully embraces modern trends like the Beatles, and makes his comics a really entertaining time capsule for readers today! He kept writing for DC until 1982, then went into the animated cartoon business.

Ramona Fradon
Ramona Fradon (born 1926) came to DC Comics in 1951, and after a couple of months filling in on whatever comic needed artwork doing quickly, became the regular artist of Aquaman for the next twelve years. After that, she created Metamorpho and drew (pencils only; inked by Charles Paris) his first six adventures, after which she left the comics business to have a baby.

Eventually returning in the seventies, she drew Super Friends for a while, then spent fifteen years as the artist of the newspaper strip "Brenda Starr" before retiring in 1995. As of this writing, she's 93 and still drawing, but sadly doesn't seem to be planning to make a comeback to the superhero comic world. Her ex-husband and occasional artistic collaborator, Dana Fradon, died last October at 97, so let's hope Ramona's aiming to outdo him and will still return with more Metamorpho to celebrate her 100th!

Her art on Metamorpho is really quite wonderful - decidedly indebted to Jack Kirby, who was setting the house style for Marvel at the time, it's also full of creative insanity in Metamorpho's transformations and a range of mad facial expressions from Simon Stagg and Java. The dynamic scenes on these covers are perfect examples of what makes Metamorpho so great!

Charles Paris
Charles Paris (1911-1994) was a regular fixture at DC Comics from 1940 onwards, inking the pencilled artwork of many of the great creators, notably the Batman newspaper strip, the backup strips in Detective Comics and eventually the lead Batman stories in that illustrious title. His move away from Batman into Metamorpho in 1964 was a real change of scene, but he stuck with the Element Man for most of the sixties, keeping him and his supporting cast looking consistent despite changes of artist. Paris was already in his fifties when he took on Metamorpho, and it was his last work in comics.

George Kashdan
In 1941, the Superman Super-Contest appeared in Action Comics. For three consecutive monthly issues, four action pictures of Superman were published, and to enter the competition, the boys and girls of America had to write a caption for each one. The best entries won massive prizes! Third prize went to 13-year-old George Kashdan (1928-2006), a member of the Supermen of America fan club, who was rewarded with $100.

DC never published the winning captions, but they clearly genuinely liked what they saw from young George - in 1946, he got a regular job as a DC writer, writing among others the Action Comics backup strips Zatara the Magician and Congo Bill. In 1961 he 'officially' became an editor (having, by his own account, been a sort of editor for fifteen years), and gave the nod of approval to Haney and Fradon's new hero. He edited Metamorpho's 1960s appearances in the Brave and the Bold and his own comic, right up until 1968 when DC went through a major reshuffle and Kashdan was one of many who lost their jobs.

He continued to write stories for DC's less well-known comics into the 1980s, then retired.

The Brave and the Bold № 58, Mar 1965
[writer Bob Haney, pencils Ramona Fradon, inks Charles Paris]
We start our second adventure at a gala movie premiere, attended by celebrities Rex Mason and Sapphire Stagg. Rex is wearing a rubber mask in the shape of his original features, but it doesn't last long before someone accidentally pulls it off, revealing his hideous real face ("Who did you expect, honey? Ringo Starr?" he quips). Java, who nobody pays attention to at all, gets them away in the limo. Later on, Rex tries to resume his career as a racing driver, but has to use his elemental powers to save another driver's life after a crash. His 'secret identity' is now splashed over all the newspapers.

Sapphire cheers him up by designing him a special "Element Man costume", and officially giving him the name "Metamorpho", which wasn't used at all in the first story. The costume is... hideous. I can't decide if it's supposed to be that bad, and Rex is supposed to be just humouring Sapphire (if that's the joke, it's done with much more subtlety than is normal in this comic), or if the creators thought it was actually a nice design.

It consists of a bald, flesh-coloured rubber mask, black eye-mask on top of it, a weirdly shaped orange coat, white gloves, and green drainpipe trousers. But even aside from the question of looks, there's the question of utility - when is he going to wear it? Everyone already knows that Rex Mason is the Element Man, he has the rubber Rex mask any time he wants to be 'himself' (as long as nobody looks too closely) and he actually has to take this costume off if he wants to use his powers!

But that's the least of his troubles, because that night one of Simon's hooded henchmen, Karko, steals the Orb of Ra from its hiding place in a shell at the bottom of a shark tank and uses it to subdue and kidnap Rex! It was Java who told Karko where to find the Orb, hoping to dispose of Rex and get Sapphire to himself, but he keeps quiet about it, and Simon, Java and Sapphire set out in one of Simon's spare planes to track Karko and Rex down.

Karko and Rex end up in a secret cave behind a waterfall in the heart of Africa, the secret lair of Maxwell Tremaine - not, as Rex puts it, "a refugee from a shirt ad" (that took a bit of googling - Hathaway shirts!) but a mad scientist, former Nazi-aiding traitor, and owner of a vast pile of non-working war machines which he intends to use Rex's powers to fix up. He'd promised Karko a vast payment for kidnapping Rex, but actually just kills him on the spot to save the money.

Rex refuses to work for Tremaine, who sets the machines he's already got working on him. There are some epic fight scenes, interrupted by having to save Simon, Java and Sapphire when their plane arrives and is disintegrated. Tremaine, as it turns out, was a rival for the affections of Sapphire's late mother, and so kidnaps and tries to seduce the next best thing, Sapphire herself. Luckily, Rex is able to subdue him, Simon retrieves the Orb and they can all go home. There's also an informative text page about the chemical reactions to be found in the human body.

Reading these stories, I can't help thinking they're such an absolute highlight of Silver Age comics, it's a mystery why they didn't catch on more than they did. Just the wrong place at the wrong time, I suppose, but these two issues of the Brave and the Bold were enough to get Metamorpho his very own comic - although it didn't appear on the shelves until five months later...

Now in his own magazine!
It wasn't all that common for a superhero to get his own solo comic, back in 1965. The only DC heroes to get that honour to date were Superman, Superboy, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Hawkman and Atom. A pretty exclusive list! Marvel Comics, who were limited by their distributor in the number of comics they could put out a month, had to be even more stingy with solo titles, forcing Iron Man and Captain America to share one comic, and Hulk and Giant Man another. Their only soloists were Spider-Man, Thor and Daredevil.

The new Metamorpho title was bi-monthly, and although the cover said "Aug", it came out at the end of May 1965, with a new issue every two months thereafter.

Metamorpho № 1, Aug 1965
[writer Bob Haney, pencils Ramona Fradon, inks Charles Paris]
Our first story of the Element Man's own comic opens with him (in the orange and green Metamorpho costume) and Sapphire enjoying themselves at a posh charity ball. On the way home, Rex rescues a bus full of kids, showing off his range of powers and also impressing Sapphire with how good he is with children. In the course of clowning around on telephone wires, he notices one with a very high voltage connected to a bank, and goes to investigate, just in time to thwart a robbery that would have used a force field transmitted down the phone lines. A system had been set up to rob many other places too, but Metamorpho shuts it all down before the whole series of heists can start.

This really annoys Kurt Vornak, mad scientist who had been working on this plan for the last two years. He's a former colleague of Simon Stagg, and like all people who've worked with Simon, now hates and wants to kill him. He follows Rex and Sapphire home and spies on them to see what's going on. When he hears Simon say that the machine he's working on will turn Rex human again, Kurt breaks into the house and investigates.

He's interrupted by Java, who first tries to throw Kurt out, but is then persuaded to keep watch while Kurt destroys the machine - seeing as if the machine is destroyed, Rex will never be human again, and Sapphire will never marry him and potentially marry Java instead. Of course, Kurt doesn't actually want to destroy the machine, and he sets about getting it working so as to get rid of Metamorpho's powers. But of course, Simon wasn't working on a machine to cure Rex at all, since he doesn't want to lose the enormous powers in his service. It was a different machine entirely, and it transforms Kurt Vornak into a flying energy-being with the power to reduce things to lower chemical states. He sets out to destroy Simon's properties and buildings, and Metamorpho and the team have to stop him.

There follows a wild and crazy battle scene, which ends with Java being turned back into a fossil, and Simon concluding that Vornak can only be stopped with a nuclear explosion, in which Rex will be the fissionable material! It works, and Simon sucks up what's left of Rex in a vacuum cleaner, before heading home to try to put him back together.

At the end of the comic there's a letters page, printing a lot of enthusiastic letters in support of Metamorpho getting his own comic, explaining that the creative team are Bob Haney, Ramona Fradon and Charles Paris, and that the comic will be bi-monthly. They urge readers to write in and say what they think about "Metamorpho's costume, his adventures, the characters who play a part in his life, etc." We can probably assume that the green and orange costume, which is never seen again, wasn't a big hit with the fans, but the lineup of Rex, Sapph, Simon and Java was.

Metamorpho № 2, Oct 1965
[writer Bob Haney, pencils Ramona Fradon, inks Charles Paris]
Terror from the Telstar this bi-month! Could it get any more 1960s than this? While Simon gets to work restoring Java and Rex after last issue's excitement, a series of disasters are brought about by satellite signals from Telstar, which has come under the control of a crime syndicate who tampered with it before it was sent into orbit. The only way to fix things is to send someone up there to sort it out - and since it's 1965, and sending people into space is a difficult feat, it will have to be Metamorpho!

They put him on a rocket and launch it, and Java stows away inside, not wanting Rex to get all the glory. But they're watched by Nicholas Balkan, head of the crime syndicate, and his oldest son Gunther, who has seen a picture of Sapphire and decided he's going to marry her. There are three Balkan sons, and they all have bright red Beatles hairdos.

Balkan takes control of Telstar and sends it plummetting down to his private island, with Rex and Java on board. There, after a brief battle, Metamorpho is blasted with liquid oxygen and frozen stiff, his brain molecules too cold to function.

And to make matters worse, Simon and Sapphire arrive on the island in Simon's plane, and are quickly captured too. The Balkans prepare for the wedding of Gunther and Sapphire - Nicholas cheerfully explains that on his island he's free to marry anyone to anyone, even if they scream and object. He gives Gunther his atomic sub-turtle vehicle to take his new 'bride' (who's fainted) on a honeymoon, and the rest of the family depart, leaving Java and Simon tied up and Rex still frozen.

But Java breaks them free, and Simon puts Rex's frozen form in a handy compressor, squeezing him so small that it generates heat and wakes him up again! So then all that remains is for Metamorpho to burst into action, turning into copper springs, a magnesium torpedo powered by sodium, a diving bell filled with oxygen to save Sapphire (she must actually be breathing Rex's own atoms inside it), a calcium heat shield, and a 'manganese masher' to finish off the bad guys.

Then in a final climax, he has to tunnel underground to find and deactivate Balkan's doomsday clock when he tries to blow up the whole island rather than face arrest! But of course, our hero saves the day in the end. And the comic finishes with a text page about the elements in your body, and a subscription form - you can get 10 issues of Metamorpho for the bargain price of $1, or 20 issues for $2! Of course, buying subscriptions was always a bit of a lottery - some comics didn't last as long as twenty issues. Metamorpho didn't...

Metamorpho № 3, Dec 1965
[writer Bob Haney, pencils Ramona Fradon, inks Charles Paris]
Metamorpho's stories have established a clear pattern by now. Exotic location, evil genius, lots of element-transforming action and a little bit of romance. This issue, Rex and Sapphire are lounging around on the tennis court when Simon announces that he's in love, and engaged to be married to Zelda Trumbull, daughter of the famous promoter T. T. Trumbull. Sapphire is appalled, since Zelda's young enough to be Simon's daughter, and Java is hugely annoyed to see Simon swooning over a girl, and Sapphire kissing Rex as if she doesn't even care he's wearing a rubber Rex Mason mask. She's just trying to make Java jealous, he logically concludes.

But despite all the protests, Simon flies the gang to the Grand Canyon, where T.T.T. has set up his latest big promotion, Science Station Alpha! It's a gigantic futuristic city, with a staff of scientists and a surly native American called Ominoreg (not one of Haney's best...) who grumbles that the canyon rightly belongs to his tribe and naturally turns on them at the end of the comic. T.T.T. shows them around, with Zelda hanging off Simon's arm, and presents his newly-discovered element, which he names Staggium. When Metamorpho comes close to the staggium, he finds that it weakens him!

That was all T.T.T. needed to see - while Zelda keeps Simon distracted, he unveils his Thunderbird Robot, with wings made of staggium, and sics it on Rex, announcing the start of Operation Colossal!

Actually, in a strange typo, the first time it's mentioned, it's "Operation Col--ssal". But anyway, naturally it's a plan to take over the USA - T.T.T. phones the President (unseen, but he says "you-all" a lot, which I guess was meant to make everyone think "yes, Lyndon Johnson does talk like that! Ha ha!") and threatens to destroy the country's entire defense system unless they surrender to him.

Luckily, when Simon realises Zelda doesn't love him at all, he manages to get a message out on his belt-buckle radio, and then it's just down to Metamorpho to do some more fancy chemical changes to avoid the thunderbird and eventually draw a big target for the arriving army to shoot at and save the day. Simon gets to punch T.T.T. in the face, and goes home heartbroken over his lost love. "The love she stirred in my heart is now only cold ashes," he laments, at great length, while the others groan.

We also get a text page about the history of radium, but don't worry - DC is starting to adopt regular letters pages, just like Marvel!

Metamorpho № 4, Feb 1966
[writer Bob Haney, pencils Ramona Fradon, inks Charles Paris]
This issue, the last one drawn by Ramona Fradon, we're going south of the border! Sapphire is understandably fed up with Rex refusing to marry her while he's still a chemical freak - however much she protests that she loves him just as much, if not more, now. While Rex goes to demand Simon work harder on finding the cure (he unconvincingly protests that he really is trying), Sapphire decides the only thing to do is to make Rex jealous. She goes out and starts dating a succession of playboys and pretending to ignore our heroes.

Meanwhile, we get to savour for the last time some wonderful facial expressions on Simon Stagg - there really isn't very much difference between Fradon and the artists who succeeded her on Metamorpho's own title, but Simon is the one who never looks quite the same after this issue...

In any case, Operation Jealous Lover goes into overdrive when Sapphire hooks up with Cha-Cha Chavez. He submerges the Stagg mansion in flowers dropped from a fleet of planes and carves Sapphire's face into Mount Rushmore, before inviting the whole gang for a cruise on his yacht.

It all gets a bit more sinister as they approach Cha-Cha's home country, and a submarine fires a torpedo at them, forcing Metamorpho to go into elemental transforming action. Cha-Cha's henchmen steal a secret blueprint hidden in a favourite antique toy of Sapphire's, and it soon becomes clear that there's open warfare in the country, with rebels trying to overthrow evil dictator (and Cha-Cha's good friend) El Lupo, and it all ends up with Rex in a bullfight, against a bull with a bomb made from that blueprint on the tip of its horn.

Naturally, Rex overcomes it in the end, with a whole lot of shape-changing and elements, and he and Sapphire are happily reunited, while Java gets stabbed in the bum by the non-booby-trapped horn of the bull.

And then, to top it off, the subscription form is narrated by Metamorpho, using artwork from the previous issue, and even better, there's now a regular letters page!

And not just any letters page - those were still pretty new to DC, but not exceptionally so - but this one is answered, in character, by Metamorpho himself! That's definitely something cool and different. The letters page takes a decidedly light-hearted tone, but the letters it prints are (nearly) all enthusiastically in favour of the new hero, and full of praise for Haney (namechecked three times) and the artists (anonymous).

It's now been more than a year since his first appearance, and Metamorpho is now well established enough to start mingling with the rest of the DC superhero universe!

The Justice League of America
In 1940, DC had brought all their most popular superheroes (except the only really popular ones, Superman and Batman, who didn't need the extra exposure) together in the Justice Society of America. It was the first ever group of superheroes. The JSA outlasted most of the golden age superheroes, surviving to the end of 1950 before being cancelled. So once DC had returned to superhero action, it was only natural to revive the slightly-renamed Justice League.

They made their debut in Brave and the Bold № 28, published bang on New Year 1960, heralding a new decade that would be very good for superheroes. They consisted of Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Flash and Green Lantern, plus Superman and Batman, who were full members this time, but often too busy to get involved in JLA adventures, and never depicted on the covers of the earliest comics even when they were involved in them. After three issues of Brave and the Bold, they moved into their own comic.

By 1966, it had become traditional for new heroes to join the Justice League every now and then. In Justice League of America № 4, Green Arrow was elected to membership, in № 14 it was the Atom, and in № 31 Hawkman. And so guess who was next to be proposed as a member? But for whatever reason, although Metamorpho merited an issue of JLA devoted to him, he didn't become a permanent member of the super-team...

The Justice League of America comics are the only appearances of Metamorpho in the sixties and seventies that weren't written by Bob Haney - the two from the 1960s were written by Gardner F. Fox, and the three from the 1970s were the work of Len Wein. Two celebrated top-notch writers of superhero comics, but they don't quite capture the wonder of Haney's Metamorpho.

Gardner Fox
Although only a footnote in a history of Metamorpho, Gardner F. Fox (1911-1986) is one of the most important names in the history of superhero comics as a whole. His career with DC goes all the way back to 1937, before there was such a thing as a superhero, and although he wasn't involved in the creation of Superman, he did lend a hand as one of the earliest writers to chip in to the development of Batman, and created a whole lot of the other heroes who suddenly flooded comics during the golden age.

His most significant achievement was being the original writer of the Justice Society of America, the first ever superhero team, and so it was only natural that he'd get the job of writing the Justice League when the concept was revived in the silver age. He wrote all the JLA's adventures until 1968, when he was another casualty of that year's major shake-up at DC. Not quite being ready for retirement yet, Fox continued to write comics for other companies here and there for the rest of his life, as well as keeping up correspondence with his many devoted fans.

Mike Sekowsky
Like most of the 'silver age greats', Mike Sekowsky (1923-1989) had been drawing comics since the early 1940s, but in this case he'd worked for Marvel during the golden age - mostly on backup strips behind Captain America. In the early 1950s he moved over to the more prestigious DC, drawing romance comics and then moving onto science fiction. He and Gardner Fox were the first artist and writer of Adam Strange, a sort of cross between space adventure and superhero who made his debut in 1958, and this creative partnership continued into the Justice League adventures.

Sekowsky also filled in as artist of other comics whenever they needed it - among these works were the two issues of the Brave and the Bold in 1966 which featured Metamorpho. He continued to draw the Justice League until 1968, then moved on to various other heroes, including Wonder Woman and Supergirl. His last comics work was a return to the Justice League in 1984; after that he worked in the animated cartoon industry.

Justice League of America № 42, Feb 1966
[writer Gardner Fox, pencils Mike Sekowsky, inks Bernard Sachs]
The first appearance of Metamorpho not drawn by Ramona Fradon naturally looks a little different - on the splash page his distinctive face doesn't look too far removed from the Fradon original, but it drifts rather away from the recognisable look in the course of the comic. Likewise, not being written by Bob Haney, our hero doesn't sound quite like he should either, and his supporting cast are entirely absent.

The comic opens with "As Metamorpho, the Element Man, leaves his house to call upon his girl friend, Sapphire Stagg..." - which right away feels a little different. Of course, it makes sense that Rex has a home of his own, but we've never actually seen it before; he always seems to be hanging out at Simon Stagg's mansion as a permanent resident. Anyway, on his way through the city, Metamorpho finds his arms moving under someone else's control, and shooting a cloud of gas out of his fingers, which forms words in the sky inviting him to attend a meeting of the Justice League.

We're never told exactly who did that and how, but presumably it's the work of the Green Lantern, whose magic ring at this point in comic history can basically do absolutely anything. Unless, of course, the plot requires it not to be able to do something, in which case the characters mumble something about how the ring's one weakness is the colour yellow. Why the JLA can't just send Rex an invitation in the post like normal people also goes unexplained.

The message, as it turns out, has been sent by the Justice League's "drafting committee on new members", which must be a new innovation - it consists of Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Flash and Atom. On the previous occasions when new members were admitted, the entire team got together to discuss it; in № 4 they considered Adam Strange and Hawkman before electing Green Arrow, in № 14 they all unanimously vote for the Atom, and in № 31 we don't see the discussion but they at least have the decency to apologise to Hawkgirl for ignoring her. This time round, we see the "drafting committee" suggesting Elongated Man and (again) Adam Strange before they settle on Metamorpho. And even though Metamorpho declines the offer of membership, they still don't invite poor old Adam to join the team!

(To be fair, Adam Strange would have been, pardon the pun, a strange choice for a member - his adventures all take place on the planet Rann; on Earth he's just a normal man who spends all his time trying to find his way back to Rann again for more adventures...)

In any case, Metamorpho doesn't want to join the Justice League; he just wants to be cured of his freakish appearance and powers! The JLA accept his refusal amicably enough, but the whole process is interrupted when Rex is attacked by inanimate objects and weird alien beings, which turn out to be under the control of The Unimaginable - an alien being of inconceivable power and a physical form that human eyes are unable to perceive. It has been watching the JLA's adventures, and decided it would like to join the team; seeing them choose Metamorpho, it decided to show how much more powerful it was, in order to audition for membership.

Understandably a little irritated at being attacked like that, the Justice League tell the Unimaginable that they don't want it as a member, thank you very much. It replies by setting more deadly alien beings on them, intending to FORCE them to make it a member of the team! Presumably it thinks that once that's out of the way it will be able to just come along to meetings and be friends with everyone...

Our heroes repel the aliens, and Metamorpho cleverly changes himself into the shape of one of them when the Unimaginable takes them all back to its home planet. Along the way, Metamorpho leaves a trail of his atoms for the others to follow.

The JLA follow the trail through space (everyone except Superman riding in a bubble created by Green Lantern) and find that the Unimaginable draws its power from a supernova. Green Lantern turns everyone into 'negative radiant energy', and they, including Metamorpho, battle the Unimaginable from inside its body, until it gives up and disappears.

Then GL, 'fashioning a space vacuum cleaner,' sucks up Metamorpho's spare atoms and restores them to his body. Rex asks if GL can turn him human again, and he tries, but mumble mumble plot device mumble "there must have been some yellow radiation in the meteor which changed you", so it doesn't work. Metamorpho agrees that, while he's still a reluctant superhero, the JLA can make him a stand-by member, and give him a call in an emergency.

Here come the Go-Go Checks!

It doesn't get more 1960s than this! The big boss of DC Comics, Irwin Donenfeld, traditionally gets the blame for this idea. All of DC's comics, he decreed, would now have a checkerboard pattern at the top of the cover. That way, fans could instantly recognise all the DC titles, and sales would increase!

I honestly don't think it was such a terrible idea as everybody says it was. It's true that it would have been a more viable strategy if DC comics were the cool new thing, like Marvel comics were, and yes, I'm sure that even in 1966 it looked like a doddering old man trying to sound hip and trendy, but it did give them a recognisable brand, and might well have won a few Batman fans over to the rest of DC's line.
Possibly Carmine Infantino was exaggerating a little when he said "It was the stupidest idea we ever heard, because the books were bad in those days, and it just showed people right off what not to buy!" 

The checks lasted for a year and a half, which is longer than Marvel's similar strategy of the previous year had run. They'd renamed themselves "Marvel Pop Art Productions" for a mere four months at the end of 1965 before realising it was stupid. Groovy, man.

Joe Orlando
Having started out in comics with EC's horror titles and Mad Magazine in the early 1950s, Joe Orlando (1927-1998) was by 1966 freelancing for any publisher who needed him. A couple of issues filling in as the artist of Metamorpho were his first work for DC. At the same time, he created parody superheroes the Inferior Five, and the "adventures of Paul McCartney" teen comic Swing With Scooter. In 1968 he became an editor at DC, and eventually rose to be Vice President of the company. His only Metamorpho contribution was those first two comics, though...

Metamorpho № 5, Apr 1966
[writer Bob Haney, pencils Joe Orlando, inks Charles Paris]

The change of artist for Metamorpho isn't especially noticeable unless you're looking for it. There's still plenty of over-the-top craziness, and Charles Paris is presumably responsible for making sure the finer details of faces remain recognisable. But for all that, there's still a sense of something a bit different now.

Bob Haney's writing, though, is as wonderful as ever - we've got my favourite of his villain names this issue, in Edifice K. Bulwark, and his dialogue is a treat too! He speaks in a theatrical kind of way that contrasts brilliantly with Metamorpho's speech, which is fun when he starts physically impersonating him.

Bulwark is a famous architect, and he's designed a new tower, to be powered by Metamorpho, which can transform into any shape he chooses! Simon Stagg, who's a friend of Bulwark or at least likes the colour of his money, is all in favour of the idea, but Rex, pointing out a newspaper article saying that the Chemo-Scraper is dangerously unsafe, refuses to have anything to do with it. He has a serious falling-out with Simon, and takes Sapphire away to celebrate Christmas on a tropical island.

Simon goes to Plan B - using the Orb of Ra, he believes he can create another Element Man! Bulwark eagerly volunteers for the experiment, and surprisingly enough, it's a success! He's transformed into an exact duplicate of Metamorpho, with all the same powers, and gets straight to work building the tower.

Rex comes back to find he's been well and truly replaced, but it soon turns out when the tower 'accidentally' goes out of control and starts destroying other buildings that Bulwark's real plan all along was to get rid of his architectural rivals' works. It leads to a big and creative fight between the two Element Men - Rex finally comes out on top, and Edifice K. Bulwark reverts to human form; it seems Simon's experiment wasn't a complete success after all.

Justice League of America № 44, May 1966
writer Gardner Fox, pencils Mike Sekowsky, inks Frank Giacoia

The Justice League had an unrelated exploit in № 43 (fighting the Royal Flush Gang), but then the adventure with the Unimaginable unexpectedly caught up with them. Batman, Flash and Green Lantern found themselves suddenly growing to double-size, and the Atom (whose whole shtick is size-changing) got stuck at twice his favourite six-inch height. They find an alien doctor who explains that they were infected with something nasty when they were inside the Unimaginable's body, and that not only will they soon die, so will everyone they've touched! 

Yes, it's a favourite picture to circulate on the internet - Jean Loring! Iris West! Carol Ferris! Robin!

Anyway, Superman's immune because of his general invulnerability, and when someone at the JLA eventually contacts Metamorpho, he shows up for precisely two panels to be told that he's fine, don't worry. He then immediately departs, seemingly not interested in sticking around to find out what happens to the giant doomed heroes.

If you're more worried about them than Rex was, don't be. The alien doctor is just the Unimaginable again, with another plan to threaten to kill the Justice League unless they make it a member. It still seems to confidently expect a handshake and "Welcome to the team, Unimaginable!", but sadly it doesn't get one, and never reappears after this story. Probably joined another superhero team, in another galaxy.

Crediting the creators
Also of note - the writer and artists are credited on the title page of this story, for the first time in the Justice League comics. The letters page prints a letter decrying Mike Sekowsky's artwork, and says that readers might notice something different this issue now he's being inked by Frank Giacoia. The JLA were favourites of the kind of obsessive fan who cared about who was writing and drawing the comics! Metamorpho's title, though, continues not to mention creators beyond an occasional namecheck on the letters page.

Metamorpho № 6, Jun 1966
[writer Bob Haney, pencils Joe Orlando, inks Charles Paris]
In Paris, Metamorpho suddenly turns into nitric acid and dissolves the Eiffel Tower, funneling it into waiting tanker trucks which carry it away!

Talking directly to the readers, Rex explains what happened - Simon took the gang to the French Riviera, where he confidently announced that his vast wealth and incomparable genius would enable him to break the bank at the casinos. Simon wears a wonderful nautical captain's outfit on their yacht, and Java has a sailor-suit.

Simon meets casino owner Achille le Heele, who hustles him without any trouble and soon wins not only all his money but also Metamorpho! Kidnapping Simon to make sure Rex honours the arrangement, Achille orders Rex to go out and steal the Eiffel Tower - it turns out that he believes some incriminating evidence that could send him to prison is hidden in a 'modern wonder of the world', and wants to find and destroy it. A pretty flimsy justification for the opening set-piece, but it did look nice!

Rex, with a bit of help or hindrance from Java, is next sent to steal the Taj Mahal, but eventually draws the line at the Empire State Building, and tries to think of another way out of his situation. He finds and rescues Simon, and it eventually turns out that the whole 'wonders of the world' thing was just a coded message from an Interpol agent, saying what he'd really done with the evidence. Of all places, it's been imprinted onto Simon Stagg's bum, by means of an ink-impregnated cushion.

Achille le Heele kidnaps Simon (stripped to his underwear) again, and Sapphire for good measure, and Rex has to go into action again to finally rescue them and capture the bad guy. Turning back to the readers at the end of the story, he cheerfully tells them he's not going to explain how he managed to put the Eiffel Tower and Taj Mahal back.

The Brave and the Bold № 66, Jul 1966
[writer Bob Haney, pencils Mike Sekowsky, inks Mike Esposito]
The Brave and the Bold had returned to team-ups of two DC heroes after Metamorpho's two-issue debut. And since Bob Haney was still writing the comic, it was only natural that he'd want to bring Metamorpho back into its pages!

Metamorpho is of course exempt from the usual problem of these team-ups - characters behaving unrecognisably when written by someone other than their regular writer - but the Metal Men weren't quite so fortunate. They were a team of robots, each made of and possessing the powers of a specific metallic element (and they date back to 1962, comfortably before Metamorpho came along and did the whole 'element' thing), written by Robert Kanigher and drawn by Ross Andru. This issue of the Brave and the Bold makes no mention of Nameless, the built-from-a-kit girlfriend of Metal Man Tin, who had been hanging out with the team for the past year of their own comic. Since she and Tin spent all their time entwined with each other, whispering sweet nothings, the omission must have been pretty glaring for Metal Men fans who read this comic.

But we're Metamorpho fans here, so we don't really care about that. We maybe care a little more about Mike Sekowsky's art, because although he tries to copy Fradon's character designs, Simon and Java look really strikingly unlike themselves, and Metamorpho himself is decidedly different-looking too.

We open with Rex and Simon having one of their usual arguments, with Java and Sapphire hanging around too. Simon, in annoyance, finally announces that he'll never cure Rex of being the Element Man, since his powers are so useful! And he knows Rex will continue to do what Simon says anyway, because otherwise he'll lose Sapphire! Rex walks out, deciding to find a cure somewhere else.

He goes round to the Metal Men's house, not unreasonably assuming that their creator, Doc Magnus, would be able to make him a human being again. Magnus agrees that it doesn't sound too difficult, although he'll need "certain special chemicals", and sends the Metal Men out to retrieve them.

However, Kurt Borian, an understandably mad scientist, has recently been found after fifteen years marooned on a desert island. He proudly announced the scientific breakthrough he'd spent all that time creating - a team of amazing metal men - only to be jeered at for creating the exact same thing that Will Magnus had done years before, only not as good. Borian vows revenge on Magnus, and takes control of Magnus's Metal Men, vowing to use them to take over the world! Starting by invading Simon Stagg's mansion to acquire his vast wealth!

Meanwhile, Doc Magnus has in fact successfully changed Rex back into a human. He doubts he'd ever be able to replicate the process because mumble mumble plot device mumble, but Rex is first delighted, and then horrified when he sees Sapphire is in danger! He has to ask Magnus to change him back into a chemical freak immediately, in order to have a climactic fight with the Metal Men and save the day. The comic ends with Magnus promising to keep working on a way to cure Rex again, but apparently he never does.

Sal Trapani
Salvatore Trapani (1927-1999), to give his full name, became the regular artist of Metamorpho with № 7 and stays with it until the penultimate issue of the series. Or at least he probably does - the Grand Comics Database, which is updated by people who generally know about these things, reckons his art was ghosted by Chic Stone at least occasionally. But whenever an artist is credited in a Metamorpho comic, it says "Sal Trapani", and there is very little other Trapani artwork to compare it with (he worked in comics from around 1956 until the late 1980s, but almost always as an inker, embellishing some other artist's pencils). Personally, I don't see that there's enough evidence to say we can't take the entire run of Metamorpho as the work of Sal.

It's not especially great work, it has to be said - it's far from bad art, it's entirely competent, but it just looks a lot more stiff and lacks the flourishes and wildness of the Fradon and Orlando issues.

Metamorpho № 7, Aug 1966
[writer Bob Haney, pencils Sal Trapani, inks Charles Paris]
The Man from U.N.C.L.E., referenced on the splash page, was at the height of its popularity in the USA when this comic came out. Like the references to the Beatles, it shows how Metamorpho went for the low-hanging fruit when it came to cultural references!

Simon Stagg, who among his other qualifications is one of the top thirteen volcanologists in the world, goes to the island of Tarboli to see a volcano, leaving Rex, Sapphire and Java to their own devices back at the mansion. But our heroes are shocked when Simon's head henchman, Zorb, brings them news that Simon and the other scientists have been kidnapped!

Metamorpho and friends are summoned to the CIA, who tell them that Otto von Stuttgart, another top volcanologist, didn't go to the meeting. The heroes are flown to Tarboli, where the international police have failed to find any trace of the scientists, but Rex almost immediately discovers a hidden passage in the mountain, which they investigate.

Brilliantly, the wall of the cave has "Cave Carson was here 1963" graffitied on it - Cave, an adventurer who investigated caves, had starred in four issues of the Brave and the Bold and three of Showcase in the early 1960s, some of them written by Bob Haney, but had never been popular enough to get his own series.

After a lot of volcano-themed escapedes, it turns out that Otto von Stuttgart has kidnapped all his rival scientists so he'll be the only one able to save the world from his own doomsday device, the neutron dissolver. When Metamorpho uncovers the plan and tries to stop it, von Stuttgart decides to unleash the dissolver anyway, and destroy the entire planet Earth, just to teach him a lesson.

Rex has to drill down to the centre of the Earth, guided by the rescued Simon, to save the day - and his mission is further complicated by coming across a glowing chunk of the same kind of meteorite that gave him his powers, which weakens him. But he still manages to save the day (smashing the bomb to pieces with an iron sledgehammer) and return triumphantly to the surface for a kiss with Sapphire.

Metamorpho № 8, Oct 1966
[writer Bob Haney, pencils Sal Trapani, inks Charles Paris]
The Element Man confronts a costumed supervillain! But before we get to him, the story starts with Rex and Sapphire, chauffeured as always by Java who thinks to himself that one day he'll destroy Rex and claim Sapph for himself, going to "the newest hottest discotheque in town" and finding that the cool people there like to dance "the element man". It comes with a song, too, and Rex shows off some element-transforming dance moves while the disco crowd exclaim things like "endsville!" and "the most!"

Luckily, that only lasts two pages before Java brings them a message from Simon demanding Rex return at once to the mansion. There he finds the governor and police commissioner, who explain that the evil Doc Dread is waging war on society with his scientific genius and they want Metamorpho to go undercover to infiltrate his gang. Simon has already promised Rex will cooperate fully with the plan, since Doc Dread has already robbed Stagg Enterprises. Our hero grudgingly agrees to help out, since it's in a good cause and Sapphire urges him to do it.

Metamorpho uses his powers to sneak into Doc Dread's hideout, and puts on a green costume and mask before introducing himself as Dyna-Man, armed with a gun secretly actually powered with his element-transforming abilities, and demands to take over the criminal gang. "Flourine" makes an appearance again, as do many more elements and compounds as he has a one-on-one battle with the Doc for supremacy. Dyna-Man wins, and takes over the gang, appointing Doc Dread as second in command. They perform a successful daring robbery of gold bullion, and back at the mansion everyone except Java celebrates how well the plan is working.

Java would maybe feel happier if he read the letters page that comes in between chapters 2 and 3 at this point - one reader asks them to print more pictures of Java, "because I think he is cute." When the story resumes, Java sneaks into Doc Dread's HQ and tells him that Dyna-Man is really Metamorpho. Doc then sneaks into Simon's mansion and steals the Orb of Ra, before the gang set off on their next robbery. Unexpectedly, Doc Dread throws the Orb at Rex, exposing his true identity and paralysing him, but Sapphire saves the day by swinging down from a helicopter and throwing the Orb away. Rex beats the bad guys, has them arrested, and goes back to the disco with Sapph, while Simon and Java have to search the crime scene to find where the Orb landed.

The Brave and the Bold № 68, Nov 1966
[writer Bob Haney, pencils Mike Sekowsky, inks Joe Giella]
The Brave and the Bold was now transitioning from "two DC characters team up" to "Batman teams up with another DC character". From № 74 onwards, it was always "Batman and...". This was 1966, the Batman TV show was hugely popular, and he needed to be in as many comics as possible to maximise the sales. The inside front cover of this issue has an advert for the Batman motion picture. Of course, as mentioned at the start of this marathon essay, it was Batman's fault that the Metamorpho cartoon didn't get made, so here's his chance to get revenge!

After the splash page, we don't see Metamorpho until page 12 of this 24-page story. It starts with Batman encountering the Riddler, Penguin and Joker, who transform him into the Bat-Hulk, a big fat "chemical monstrosity" who talks like a cheap punk and destroys everything he sees. 

Marvel Comics' Hulk, incidentally, had been around since 1962 and was now a well-known character. This issue is basically making fun of him.

When he eventually turns back into Batman, he goes to Simon Stagg's mansion to ask for help. Sapphire tells him that she watches him on TV every week. Simon analyses Batman and finds that he could turn back into the Bat-Hulk at any time, and can't be cured. Sure enough, he transforms again and has a fight with Metamorpho, before going off on a rampage and attacking the three villains who changed him. Metamorpho comes along for a rematch and there's another fight. It ends rather anticlimactically with the Bat-Hulk happening to be struck by lightning, which cures him of his condition.

The story ends with a text page about strange transformations in historical fiction. The back page has an advert for model batmobiles and batplanes. It's not a very compelling comic, all in all.

Aquaman № 30, Dec 1966
How's this for a brief cameo appearance? Nick Cardy draws Metamorpho on the cover of this issue of Aquaman (in which the hero dies and has a fancy funeral, but it turns out it wasn't actually him, it was some kind of duplicate), but when the same scene happens in the comic... well, I suppose Rex is one of the pall-bearers we only see as silhouetted legs behind Batman and Flash. We don't actually see Metamorpho, or for that matter Wonder Woman, in the comic at all.

But it raises the question - why does Metamorpho come to Aquaman's funeral, anyway? Apart from the fact that Bob Haney was also the writer of Aquaman, obviously. The two of them have never been seen to meet in a comic. Aquaman was there during Metamorpho's brief visit to the JLA in № 44 - was he the one who actually thought to phone Rex about the life-threatening condition he'd been exposed to? Maybe they struck up a close friendship, off-panel? Who knows?

Showcase № 65, Dec 1966
And this one doesn't really count, but DC's comedy superheroes the Inferior Five met a parody of Marvel's X-Men this same month - Metamorpho doesn't appear, but he is one of the superheroes who makes his excuses. (Super-Hip is a character from "The Adventures of Bob Hope", if you were wondering).

Metamorpho № 9, Dec 1966
[writer Bob Haney, pencils Sal Trapani, inks Charles Paris]
Simon's private satellite has discovered a lost valley in South America full of mysterious machines. He calls the gang into action (interrupting Java sticking pins into a Metamorpho voodoo doll, and Rex and Sapphire obliviously sharing a tender moment) and they set off in one of Simon's private planes to go and investigate. Rex has to repair the plane's wing in mid-flight when a great big boulder is thrown at it, and when they land, they're attacked by cavemen wielding wooden clubs!

Metamorpho deals with them easily enough, and although Java is appalled by the idea of associating with such ugly, unkempt fellows, he ends up being romanced by a cavewoman, keeping him out of the main story for the rest of the issue. He's too gallant to reject her, but his heart will always belong to Sapphire.

While Simon investigates the fascinating hi-tech but non-functioning machines and Rex saves Sapphire from a boa constrictor in the water, El Matanzas, the recently deposed dictator of a neighbouring country, has fled across the border and finds himself in the canyon. Simon is pleased to see someone else with some scientific knowledge, and explains his solution to the mystery of the machines - they were build by the cavepeople's ancestors, centuries ago, and something then happened to devolve their advanced minds into the ignorant clods they are now.

Brilliantly, this theory - which Simon probably got from reading any number of old science-fiction stories - turns out to be entirely incorrect by the end of the issue. But he and El Matanzas work on the machines and get them moving again, whereupon Matanzas reveals his identity, holds Sapphire at gunpoint and announces that he's going to use the machines to recapture his country. He does so, without any trouble, only for the machines to reveal that they are alive, and intend to give the orders from now on!

They explain that they are aliens who came from outer space - originally flesh and blood, they were struck by disease and had to transfer their minds into the machines. Unfortunately, due to a miscalculation of their alien lubricant's reaction to Earth's atmosphere, they were left frozen immobile until Simon and Matanzas fixed them. The cavemen just happened to live nearby, and had nothing to do with the aliens. Now, of course, they're going to conquer Earth and it takes a lot of elemental transformation from Metamorpho to stop them!

The repeated Metamorpho story formula is starting to get a bit stale by this point, and his appearances in other comics have come to an end now he's not so new and exciting any more. We need something to spice the comic up a bit, and it's coming next issue!

Metamorpho № 10, Feb 1967
[writer Bob Haney, pencils Sal Trapani, inks Charles Paris]
Especially on the cover, the bad guy of the month, Stingaree, looks really strikingly like the Scorpion (enemy of Spider-Man), who made his first appearance in a comic published almost at exactly the same time as Metamorpho's first appearance. Maybe it was deliberate. He actually wears a cape, but since it's coloured solid black it's not really noticeable on the cover.

But this issue isn't really about the debut of Stingaree, but the debut of Element Girl, the Chemical Doll! She's constantly referred to as a 'doll' in these stories, which rather undermines her status as a secret agent turned superhero. Anyway, the story starts - surprisingly enough - with the wedding of Rex Mason and Sapphire Stagg! Simon has spared no expense and ordered his black-hooded goons to serve the champagne and play a string quartet. Java thinks Sapphire's going a little too far with her trying to make him jealous this time, and has to be gagged by Simon when the Judge asks if anyone knows any cause why the two might not be joined in matrimony.

But someone else does interrupt - it's Urania Blackwell, alias Element Girl! She says the ceremony has to stop, because she has need of Metamorpho's services! They need to defeat Cyclops, the world crime syndicate, and its evil leader Stingaree! One more mission before Rex gets married doesn't seem an unreasonable request, she suggests, and Rex agrees. Sapphire definitely doesn't agree, but Rex goes with Urania anyway.

Element Girl has deliberately exposed herself to the same meteor that gave Rex his powers, and shaped herself into a female version of Metamorpho - more slender physique, modesty-concealing black bra, more human-looking face and long green prehensile hair apparently made of bromine.

The two elemental heroes fly to Europe, and a country for some reason not identified by name but which has a lot of dikes and windmills. They both wear rubber masks, and Urania sports a stylish white turban to hide her hair. Only when they're about to infiltrate Stingaree's base does she explain that it's not entirely a disinterested secret-agent kind of mission - she and Stingaree used to be engaged, but he jilted her. Still, it's too late for Rex to complain now, so the two of them sneak into the hidden headquarters together.

Element Man and Girl confront Stingaree and his army with a wide range of elemental transformations (this issue features not only 'flourine' but 'aluminun' too - this was, after all, the era before automated spell-checkers), until Stingaree reveals his ultimate weapon, a sting in his tail that can inject them with a fatal chemical poison. Rex manages to survive by falling into salt water and neutralising it, but Urania isn't so lucky. Simon, Sapphire and Java arriving in time to help stop Stingaree's last-ditch attempt to flood the country, and then Rex begs Simon to find a way to bring Element Girl back to life. An editorial caption makes it clear that whether or not he does so will depend on whether the readers want to see her again!

The letters page, meanwhile, starts a couple of running jokes - Metamorpho insists he's never even heard of Superman, and a reader questions whether the prolific letter-writer Irene Vartanoff is a real person. She was, in fact, real, and here is her website to prove it.

Metamorpho № 11, Apr 1967
[writer Bob Haney, pencils Sal Trapani, inks Charles Paris]
The opening scenes of this story pick up directly from the end of the previous one. Our heroes pick up Element Girl's body and take her back to Stagg Manor - Sapphire is keen to resume the wedding, but Rex says they need to see if they can help Urania before they can think about that. Sapph storms out in a rage. Meanwhile, Simon says he's not sure if he can save Element Girl's life, and another caption reiterates that the readers will decide whether she lives or dies.

Then we get into the actual story of this issue. UFOs have been sighted, and the President calls in Simon and Metamorpho to investigate. Soon enough, they and Java discover Vrag-Kol and his crew, who claim to be from another planet.

Interestingly, this whole story is written as if humans have never made contact with aliens before. The Marvel Universe, although still in its infancy at this time, was really making a point of being consistent about things like this across all its superhero adventures - if aliens feature publicly in one story, all the other Marvel superheroes will know about them if the subject comes up in conversation. DC, though, were still much more in the mood to let all the different heroes (and editors) do their own thing, so if Metamorpho wants to be set in a world where aliens are an unknown concept, that's fine.

The letters page, in which Metamorpho twice reiterates that he's never heard of Superman (but IS familiar with the name of Lex Luthor) is in on the whole thing, too. It doesn't matter that Rex has met Superman and the Unimaginable in the JLA comic, and it's universally known in Superman's world that he's from the planet Krypton. Or that Rex has almost certainly met J'onn J'onzz (from Mars) and Hawkman (from the planet Thanagar) on his other flying visit to the JLA. You just have to take this story on its own merits.

Anyway, the so-called aliens soon turn out to be really obviously just humans pulling a scam. However, they do have a lot of fancy technology, and manage to freeze Rex with liquid hydrogen. Then they force Simon to cooperate with them by simply threatening to kill him, and he convinces the US government to hand over the location of their super-secret weapons bunker to the "aliens". Simon is a little worried about having betrayed his country like that, but luckily Rex eventually manages to thaw out and save the day with the usual elemental excitement. And we end with another teaser of the possibility of Element Girl's inert body in Simon's lab one day being revived...

Metamorpho № 12, Jun 1967
[writer Bob Haney, pencils Sal Trapani, inks Charles Paris]
Simon Stagg has advertised to the scientific world a million-dollar prize for a successful cure for Metamorpho. Sapphire, who seems to have forgiven Rex for jilting her, is delighted at the idea of removing his last remaining objection to marriage, although Rex himself is still thinking about Element Girl...

Naturally, Simon still has no intention of ever curing Rex, and he rejects every plausible applicant for the prize, only accepting Professor Franz Zorb - whose idea is nonsensical gibberish. Keen to show Rex he's trying his hardest to cure him, Simon allows Zorb access to his lab and lets him get to work. Zorb (an interestingly-shaped man, about five foot tall by five foot across, with a rectangular slab for a head) is actually slightly less insane than he seems, and was just using the contest for his own purposes.

There's a scene of Zorb in the lab that's presumably supposed to show Element Girl still in her inert form, but instead she's drawn, or at least coloured, to look like Sapphire. That's a bit disturbing - does Simon have a side project of cloning his daughter? Or his late wife, who looked a lot like her?

Anyway, what Zorb is actually working on is a team of robots based on elements that Metamorpho doesn't have access to, with powers based (sometimes rather loosely) on their chemical qualities - Hafnium, Osmium, Selenium, Strontium, Tantalum and Thallium. He's just copying the Metal Men, obviously, and it would have been nice if Bob Haney had acknowledged the plagiarism with a joke, but he doesn't. Zorb's creations beat Metamorpho and Java and wreck the mansion, before heading off to State Tech, Simon's alma mater. They're after the nucleonic moleculizer projector, a super-weapon which has been hidden by its inventor in a football in the college's trophy cabinet to keep it safe from thieves. Unfortunately, this football (memento of a legendary victory which Simon Stagg participated in as a young man) is being used in a game today! And Zorb, who possibly is more insane than he seemed, after all, decides to get it by dressing his robots up in American football kit and having them join the game. Metamorpho has to join in on the other side and try to get the ball back from them!

And the issue ends with the action still in progress, and the readers being encouraged to read the next issue to see what happens! Continuing stories were a very new innovation in comics in those days - until now, superhero readers had expected a beginning, middle and end in every issue, even when stories were as short as six pages. But times are changing, and longer adventures are becoming the norm.

Also new in this issue - a contest! Readers are asked to send in suggestions for wacky things Metamorpho could change into, and it's interesting to note that the suggestions don't really follow his 'elemental' pattern that he sticks to in the comic itself. The winner will receive a page of original art from a Metamorpho comic! A good way for DC to give away a prize that doesn't cost them anything, but did it really excite the readers? Collecting original comics art is more of a thing now than it was in 1967, so I hope some of the winners (because this contest kept on going until the comic was cancelled) held on to their prizes!

Metamorpho № 13, Aug 1967
writer Bob Haney, pencils Sal Trapani, inks Charles Paris
Credits! Sal Trapani's signature on the cover picture, and a caption on the splash page crediting the creators too! I'm not sure why the splash page has a silhouetted "mystery guest star", when Element Girl's on the cover, and the story is titled "The Return From Limbo", but maybe some people still didn't expect it when she makes a surprise return half-way through this story.

But first, the football game continues, and eventually the robots get the better of Metamorpho thanks to Tantalum's 'catalyst' powers turning him uncontrollably into all different elements (flourine included). Zorb and the gang get away with the moleculizer. Rex and the gang return to Simon's lab, and are shocked to find that Element Girl has disappeared from her capsule!

Between chapters 1 and 2, there's another full-page advertisement for the contest, which adds another prize! Now the winner will not only receive a page of artwork, but also exactly $24.98 of Simon Stagg's personal fortune!

Back to the story, and it looks like Element Girl left the lab by a secret trapdoor that only Simon knew about. It leads to a secret escape tunnel, which Rex and Simon follow, hoping to see whether she left by herself or was kidnapped by Zorb. Sapphire is left cursing Rex for abandoning her in favour of that elemental hussy, and retreats to the arms of a delighted Java who thinks his time has come at last. The tunnel leads to Simon's seaplane on the river, and Element Girl is boarding it, alive again and alone! She flies off, and despite Rex's attempt to stop her in a big public battle, she gets away.

Meanwhile, Zorb has sneaked into the Stagg Building in the city and up to Simon's penthouse office. Impersonating Simon's voice (which is easy to do - you just have to end every sentence with "by gadfrey!"), he orders the building evacuated. But then Element Girl comes to him, says she hates Metamorpho for spurning her love, and wants to join forces with Zorb!

The letters page comes between chapters 2 and 3, and prints a lot of letters both for and against bringing Element Girl back. It ends by promising that next issue will answer the most important burning question - whether or not Irene Vartanoff really exists.

Anyway, in chapter 3, while Simon is enthusiastically restrained by his own black-hooded troops (who have chosen to believe that the voice on the tannoy is their real boss and this intruder is an impostor who they're free to beat up), it turns out that Urania is still on Rex's side after all, and was just pretending to join up with Zorb - the two of them work together to defeat the robots and retrieve the moleculizer, and end the issue celebrating their new heroic partnership - as well as promising that Sapphire won't be too happy to hear about it!

Metamorpho № 14, Oct 1967
[writer Bob Haney, pencils Sal Trapani, inks Charles Paris]
The price of comics in America is holding steady at 12¢, but (judging by my copies, at least, which have British price-stamps on them), over here they went up from 10d to 1/- with this issue. That's pretty steep, actually - okay, it's 5p in modern money, but a shilling went a lot further in those days, I'm told!

Anyway, we're into a new adventure for our hero, which starts with him relaxing at the mansion while his two rival lovers both try to win his heart. Urania seems to have moved in permanently now, just like Rex, and tries to convince him that the two of them are a perfect match. Sapphire, who's got back into her wedding dress in order to give Rex a subtle hint, threatens to scratch Urania's eyes out, and Rex has to separate them. All in all, he's quite relieved when Java comes along with a message from Simon - the world is facing armageddon!

This whole story, in fact, is very heavily inspired by the classic Galactus story in Marvel's Fantastic Four comic the previous year. It starts with the arrival of Neutrog, who claims to have the powers of all the elements that Metamorpho doesn't, and after beating Rex in a fight at the Simon Stagg School of Science, announces that he's paved the way for the arrival of The Thunderer!

Once more, there's a full page promoting the ongoing contest in between chapters 1 and 2 - this time, it reminds the readers to do their chemistry homework and remember Metamorpho can only change into the elements found in the human body. But it also announces that the contest is extended indefinitely, and that there will be honourable mentions who each receive a page of original artwork, and a big winner who will get not just that, but the $24.98! Next issue, it seems, we'll finally get to know the winners!

Back with the story, Simon tries to revive Rex, but finds that he can't. And since he's contaminated with a deadly aura, his body will have to be shot into space while the Earth faces armageddon without him! Simon encourages the rulers of the world to beware, and after a lot of build-up, a little candy-striped flying saucer lands on Earth and reveals The Thunderer! He's a little creature with a single eye on a stalk and a really big mouth. But he really does have awesome powers, firing beams that destroy everything they touch, so it's lucky that Metamorpho is still alive after all - his death was a hoax to lure the Thunderer out, and now he and Element Girl (who was in the coffin that was launched into space, in the form of invisible gas, waiting to revive Rex at the appropriate time) are ready to do battle!

Unfortunately, between the Thunderer and Neutrog, they still have a lot of trouble, and the issue ends with Rex apparently being blasted out of existence! Another cliffhanger in another two-parter! Metamorpho stories are becoming more modern by the bi-month!

Metamorpho № 15, Dec 1967
writer Bob Haney, pencils Sal Trapani, inks Charles Paris
The credits for this one actually say "Chales Paris", but I suppose that's still better than no credits at all. Picking up where we left off, Element Girl leaps into action to avenge the death of Metamorpho, and is seemingly obliterated too. However, she finds herself floating in a strange, surreal environment, split into three identical copies of herself, all sharing the same mind. Three Rexes are in there too, and he tells her he figures they've been sent to a sub-atomic world. How he figures that out, I'm not sure, but he's right - the two (or six) of them are currently floating around the city in a speck of dust.

They're sucked up by thirteen-year-old genius Billy Barton, who's performing scientific experiments while his horrified parents watch the news reports of the Thunderer taking over the world and get ready to flee the city. Billy talks like Bob Haney apparently thinks thirteen-year-olds talk in 1967, and declares that the dust specks are cool and ginchy. "Dig this wild spectrum this goo is giving off?" he says to himself, and exposes it to a reagent, to see what will happen.

Down in the subatomic world, Rex and Urania transform wildly into other elements, and are eventually able to return to full size and emerge from Billy's beaker!

Then in the break between chapters, the first winners of the contest are announced - a leaky copper faucet to get on Simon's nerves is the big winner of the $24.98, which seems a little anticlimactic after all that build-up, but the contest is going to continue, with another set of winners in every new issue!

Meanwhile, Billy Barton now has two superheroes in his room, along with his lab equipment, electric guitars, Beatles pin-ups and comic mags. They thank him for his help, calm down the panicking neighbours, and set out to stop the Thunderer, who's busy announcing his plans for the world. Simon Stagg is making it clear that he for one welcomes the new overlord, and is a bit upset to be told that "useless, over-age subjects will be employed as body-slaves to young worker types!" Our heroes launch into the final battle, and with a bit of help from Billy, who brings them a laser-firing guitar he happens to own, they at least manage to fight the Thunderer to a standstill before he's taken away by more aliens, who explain he's a mutant renegade who likes to bully weaker worlds, and will now be safely locked up again.

Metamorpho № 16, Feb 1968
writer Bob Haney, art Sal Trapani
There's no inker credited here - Sal Trapani is just 'art'. This is also the only Metamorpho comic not to give him the subtitle "The Element Man" on the cover. But it does promise - and deliver - a "fab pin-up", double-sized over the centrespread!

And the story inside the comic is definitely different from what we've seen before. For one thing, it starts with Sapphire's wedding - she's married millionaire playboy Wally Bannister, and tells the watching reporters that she's overjoyed. But she still has a tear in her eye, thinking of Rex, and locks herself in her cabin on her honeymoon cruise ship while her new husband knocks on the door. Which means she doesn't see the message Metamorpho has left her, written in bromine on the harbour - "I'll always love you, Sapph baby - Rex!"

Urania is hopeful that the two element heroes can have a happy life together now, but Rex is mired in self-pity and wants to be left alone for a while. At this point, he's contacted by Mr Shadow, a mysterious man in a big black hat and cloak, who wants the services not of Metamorpho but of soldier-of-fortune Rex Mason, on a mission just like the kind of things he used to do; discovering the lost city of Ma-Phoor!

Rex agrees to do it, and tells Simon he's leaving. Simon has Java and his goons restrain Rex, and threatens him with the Orb of Ra, but Element Girl intervenes and lets Rex get away to find the lost city, or find himself, or whatever he wants to do, promising she'll be waiting when he gets back. Rex departs with Mr Shadow on the adventure.

There's another page of prize-winners, and it's interesting that these always focus on the original core of characters - Rex, Sapph, Simon and Java - with never a mention of Element Girl.

The adventurers find the lost city easily enough - in fact, a mountain opens up to reveal it to them. Shadow is, in fact, a servant of the queen of Ma-Phoor, she who never dies, the immortal Jezeba! Who happens to look exactly like Sapphire Stagg. And believes Rex to be Algon, her lover of 2000 years ago. She shows him some ancient wall-paintings which reveal that Algon did indeed look exactly like Metamorpho, and have the same powers. Jezeba refuses to believe that Rex is not Algon, despite all his protests, and announces that they will be married. This upsets the giant guardian of the city, who loves Jezeba and challenges Rex to a fight - which Rex wins without much difficulty, but fulfilling the element-transforming action quota of this issue nicely.

Rex goes along with the marriage, figuring that it probably won't be legal back home in America, and it turns out that Jezeba intends for their people to wage war on the outside world - they have been watching the world from hiding, and have no end of rockets, bombs and nuclear missiles at their disposal. Immediately after the wedding, the army moves out, with Rex and Jezeba at its head. But when they get to a natural stone bridge over a deep chasm, Rex leaps into action, and starts to destroy the bridge! But Jezeba whips out her own Orb of Ra, and commands him to stop!

And then, with one page of the story remaining, Jezeba abruptly ages two thousand years for no adequately explored reason, the bridge collapses and the entire army is destroyed, and Rex sees Mr Shadow standing above him, with the Orb, saying "Now you will do as I command - or die!"

Well, that was a strange ending. And there's stranger stuff to come. It's 1968, and things are changing...

Deceitful Cancellation
The Day is Coming closer, says a cryptic ad in Metamorpho № 16. What does it mean? Well, for people who are only interested in the Element Man, it means his days are numbered. As mentioned elsewhere in this essay, in 1968 DC Comics went through a thorough shake-up, getting rid of everything and everyone who seemed to be not in line with the current trends. And Metamorpho, despite all his determined efforts to be cool and modern, was out of favour with the new management. № 17 was his final issue, although it doesn't seem to have been written as such. In fact, it continues and expands on the gradual change in tone that had been happening in the last few bi-monthly adventures, giving us something significantly darker and less comical, and promising a big change in direction going forwards. The future of the comic must have still been in the balance when it was written and drawn, but all the changes didn't manage to save poor Rex Mason.

Jack Sparling
Among the changes in Metamorpho № 17 is a new artist. Jack Sparling (1916-1997) had started out drawing newspaper comics in 1939 (back when newspaper comics were the big thing and the comic books were a new, lesser spinoff), and eventually ended up at DC 25 years later, drawing "Strange Adventures" and similar comics, plus anything else that needed an artist at short notice. His work on this one issue of Metamorpho is distinctly different from anything we've seen before, with heavier shadows, unusual panel layouts and an overall darker tone. It would have been interesting to see the series continue with this new look, but sadly this was Sparling's one and only contribution to the Element Man's adventures.

Metamorpho № 17, Apr 1968
[writer Bob Haney, art Jack Sparling]
No standard-format splash page for this last adventure! Nor does it carry on from the ending of the last issue, instead seeing Metamorpho preparing to be executed. Watched by a tearful Sapphire in a widow's veil, an exultant Java and grim Simon, Rex marches to a deep freezer which will freeze him to absolute zero; the only certain way to end his life.

Now we recap what happened at the end of last issue, and remind the readers of the story Jezeba told about Algon. It seems that immediately after Mr Shadow's announcement, the international police arrived - accompanied by Simon, Java and Sapphire - to arrest Rex for the murder of Wally Bannister! Shadow then disappears, never to be seen again - whatever storyline he was going to be involved in has been permanently derailed. It turns out that Metamorpho was seen by many witnesses pushing poor Wally overboard, and he's found guilty of murder. Simon was his defence attorney, and Java a witness for the prosecution. Given the overwhelming evidence, Rex can only assume he really was guilty, and somehow doesn't remember it...

Again, in between chapters 1 and 2 there are more winners of the contest. It continues to urge readers to write in with their suggestions, and gives no hint that the comic has been cancelled.

In part two, the execution is carried out, and Rex's frozen coffin is dumped into the ocean. But Element Girl isn't going to give up on him, and she swims down to the ocean bottom to release her man. But she's interrupted by The Prosecutor - a strange figure with a hands-over-the-eyes helmet, riding what seems to be a giant two-headed seahorse. He explains that he arranged for Metamorpho to be framed for murder - apparently this is his career; anyone can bring a 'charge' against an enemy, and the Prosecutor will ensure that person is convicted. He won't identify the mysterious client who has brought the charge of murder against Rex. He also has great powers, and fights Urania with them, but is ultimately defeated and driven off by the revived Metamorpho. Urania convinces Rex that he isn't guilty of Wally's murder, and they track the Prosecutor to a volcano, where he summons none other than Algon, the ancient Element Man!

In between chapters 2 and 3 comes the letters page - it's dedicated almost entirely to debating the existence of Irene Vartanoff and makes no mention of this being the final issue of Metamorpho.

While Rex and Urania watch in secret, the Prosecutor tells Algon, who's bathing in the volcano, that Metamorpho has escaped and will seek revenge - but not to worry, because he's going to report to his client, and then will make sure Rex is punished for all eternity. The Prosecutor departs, and the element duo go down into the volcano to confront Algon.

It turns out that Algon was originally a Roman soldier who discovered the same pyramid where Rex was transformed, and became the first Element Man. When he spurned Jezeba's love, 2000 years ago, she robbed him of his powers with her Orb of Ra and sent him into some unspecified exile. The Prosecutor revived him enough to push Wally off the boat, then took him to the volcano to restore his powers. He wants to be the one and only Element Man again, and tries to kill Metamorpho, but then he finds that the lava isn't renewing him at all, it's killing him. Telling Jezeba that he's coming to join her, Algon dies.

Metamorpho and Element Girl reflect on what's happened to them. Rex vows to forget Sapphire, who did nothing to defend him against the charge of murder, and never to go back to Simon Stagg. He and Urania salute Algon, Roman-style, and vow to work together for the good of the world from now on, even though Rex will be hunted by the law! First, they'll find the Prosecutor and his mysterious "client"!

But the Prosecutor, meanwhile, is approaching "a strange stone gate at the end of a desolate defile". He goes in to meet his client - a strange white possibly cocoon-like shape that I have no idea what it's intended to look like, if anything - and reports that Metamorpho has survived. The client sets killer insects on him, much to his horror! "Never the end", says the caption.

And that's it. The cliffhanger ending is never resolved, the Prosecutor's client is never identified or mentioned again, Mr Shadow has disappeared forever, and we'll never know what happened next. Element Girl? She's gone too! When Metamorpho eventually comes back, he'll suffer the usual fate of cancelled characters, and be reset to his default status quo.

That was the last we saw of Metamorpho for four years, with one exception. A reprint of his first story found its way into one of DC's 'giant' comics, which reprinted old material for a high price. Giants had started all the way back in 1960, with the Superman and Batman 'annuals' - a strange thing to call them, since they came out twice a year. These were later joined by annuals for other series, too. They had 80 pages, contained old stories that had been published before, with an occasional new pin-up drawing here and there, and cost 25¢. In 1964, the annuals were renamed "80-Page Giant Magazine", and started to be numbered (so № 1 was Superman, № 2 was Jimmy Olsen, and so on).

Then it really starts to get complicated - the 80-Page Giants stopped being a separate series, and were absorbed into the regular numbering system of each individual comic. That way, regular readers of a title would be more likely to buy them, despite the higher price and lack of new content. So for example Justice League of America № 39 was also 80-Page Giant № G-16 - both titles and both numbers appeared on the cover. Justice League of America № 40 was back to normal size again, and G-17 was Batman № 176.

In 1969, the giants were reduced to 64 pages, but the price remained unchanged, and the G-numbers continued. DC also produced a new series, DC Special, which was in the same format but had its own numbering system. And they also produced two giants that were also numbered F-1 and F-2. And they also launched yet another series, appearing on the shelves simultaneously with the others, called Super DC Giant, which started with № S-13, in July 1970. Nobody has ever been able to satisfactorily explain why the numbering started with 13.

But anyway, the theme of number S-16 was "The Best of the Brave and the Bold!"

Super DC Giant № S-16, Oct 1970
The two reprinted stories in this comic - a Batman/Flash team-up from the Go-Go-Checks era and the first appearance of Metamorpho - are bookended by an all-new framing sequence (no writer is credited; it might well have been Bob Haney, but it could have been anyone - the artist is Dick Dillin). It's a comical story in which Batman is ordered by the editor to go through the DC Comics archives and select two old comics to represent the best of the Brave and the Bold. Flash and Metamorpho sneak behind his back and make sure he notices the right old issues.

There's also a pin-up in which the head and shoulders of a very badly-drawn Metamorpho can be seen standing behind various other superheroes. That, and one very badly-drawn panel in the framing sequence are our only glimpse of new Metamorpho artwork in the gap between his series ending and his reappearance.

 But there's also a text page in which Bob Haney recaps the Element Man's creative history for the benefit of anyone who missed it, makes the notable point that "when Ramona stopped doing Metamorpho, something of the original pazzazz went out of the character", seems to confirm that a cartoon adaptation of the first story was made (it's sadly never surfaced), and does his best to persuade readers to demand our hero's return!

The price of comics, part 2
At the end of April 1969, DC had increased their prices to 15¢. Once again, it was a shocking increase for a country that still hadn't got used to paying a whole twelve cents for their comics, despite the polite and apologetic letter from the editors that appeared in them. It's true that the price of hot dogs had gone up, but of course also the sales of comics had gone down since the glory days, and even a 15¢ cover price wasn't enough to keep DC's profit margins healthy.

So in June 1971, they took a bold step - the various Giants were cancelled (replaced by 100-Page Super Spectaculars, which cost 50¢ and started with № 4), and ALL other comics would now have 48 pages (52 if you count the covers) instead of 32, and be priced at 25¢!

They promoted the '52 page' part heavily, avoiding wherever possible any mention of the fact that the new content in each comic was no bigger than before -  the extra 16 pages were filled by reprints. And to be fair, that did give DC a distinctive feature in the marketplace, and the reprints were generally old enough that current readers hadn't seen them before, and good enough that those readers might enjoy them! And was a quarter too much to expect readers to pay? Well, as it turned out, yes. But that was how things stood when Metamorpho made his triumphant return, back in his original home of the Brave and the Bold!

Jim Aparo
Part of the infusion of new blood to DC in 1968, Jim Aparo (1932-2005) was brought in by new editor Dick Giordano to take over as the artist of Aquaman (at the same time, Bob Haney was replaced as Aquaman's writer by Steve Skeates). He'd only been drawing comics for a year or so at that point, for Charlton Comics' less popular heroes, but became a regular fixture at DC for the rest of his life. He took on DC's Phantom Stranger soon after Aquaman, then became the new artist of the Brave and the Bold with a Batman/Phantom Stranger crossover, just in time for Metamorpho's return. That led him into becoming one of the regular artists of Batman's adventures - he drew the infamous 1988 story in which readers got to vote on whether Robin would live or die.

The Brave and the Bold № 101, May 1972
writer Bob Haney, art Jim Aparo
It's a bit over four years since we last saw Metamorpho, so what has he been doing in all that time? Well, this story accounts for some of it, at least...

We open with Batman - he's the full-time star of the Brave and the Bold now - and Commissioner Gordon at the scene of a wealthy man's fatal fall from a skyscraper. This whole story is very dark and police-procedural; the camp, colourful Batman of the TV show is a distant memory by 1972. We've definitely left the silver age behind, and moved into the Bronze Age. Batman does some detective work and finds the killer has apparently used a typewriter in the victim's office to type up a list of six wealthy people. Number six is Bruce Wayne, and number four is Sapphire Stagg.

Batman is concerned, because The Bounty Hunter is back in town. He's a hired killer with one arm, who Batman talks about in this story like he's an arch-enemy. He's never been seen or mentioned before or since this story, so he can't be all that! Nevertheless, the police naturally contact the names on the list, and that's where Metamorpho comes in.

It seems he's been spending the time since his comic was cancelled in a vat of chemicals, as part of a very long-term experiment by Simon Stagg to restore him to humanity! He's been in there for more than three years, and is shocked to be woken up ahead of schedule, on September 23, 1971!

That's a very specific date to appear in a comic published on February 3, 1972! I can only assume this story was expected to appear in № 98 or № 99, published in August and October 1971, but was held back until the powers that be had scheduled the new Metamorpho series in Action Comics. № 98 was Jim Aparo's first story in B&B - this one might have been the second time he ever drew Batman.

Well, because Metamorpho was brought out of the tank a year early, he's still exactly the same as ever before (well, the art makes him look grimmer and uglier than he used to, but so does everyone in Jim Aparo's more modern art style). At first furious with Simon and Java, he soon cools down when he learns that Sapphire's life is threatened, goes to her room and they share a reunion kiss. There's a brief recap of Rex's origin story, but no mention at all of Element Girl.

Sapphire doesn't appreciate being told to stay in her room, and sneaks out for a night on the town, while the Bounty Hunter runs rings round Batman and kills another one of the list. Soon enough, he confronts Sapph, and Metamorpho saves her from being blown up.

It eventually turns out that the six millionaires on the list are the bidders to buy a mansion, being sold by two brothers - one of whom doesn't want to sell, and hired the Bounty Hunter to get rid of any potential buyers. Rex gets to do a bit of his trademarked chemical changing, and his speech patterns are still what they used to be, but he's rather drowned out by the very different tone of the story.

The most important part comes right at the end - a caption announces that "The magnificent Metamorpho returns in a feature of his own -- starting in June's Action Comics, #413"

That's not quite the end of the comic - the 'extra pages' at the back of this 52-page issue contain a reprint of a Viking Prince story from the Brave and the Bold № 17, in 1958. He goes to Valhalla and has to deal with both Valkyries and Moon Vikings. But never mind him - Metamorpho has a new permanent home!

Action Comics
The most significant comic in history - or at any rate, the one that objectively sells for the highest value second-hand today - is the first issue of Action Comics, from 1938. That was the comic that gave us the first appearance of Superman, and launched the whole superhero tradition. Published monthly ever since then, the comic had always been an anthology of different stories - a Superman tale would be the main feature, but when it started, there were five other regular series to be found within its pages. Superman had his own comic, launched in 1939, for people who only wanted to read about him, but Action retained the traditional anthology format long after it had gone out of fashion.

As page counts reduced, the number of supporting features shrank, and soon the backup strips became Superman-related series, like Supergirl or the Legion of Super-Heroes. Eventually, by the time the '52 big pages' era came along, Action Comics had a regular lineup of one long Superman story (15-16 pages) and one short one (7 pages or so) every issue. A reprint of one or two stories from the archives filled up the required page count. But with № 413, Metamorpho became the regular backup feature, with an 8-page adventure at the back of every issue. For six months, at least, after which it changed again...

John Calnan
The new regular artist of Metamorpho's adventures in the 1970s was John Calnan (1932-2016). At a time when younger writers and artists were starting to take over the comics from the old pros who'd been at it since the forties, he drew a few DC stories starting in 1966, but was just settling into a regular role with them when he took on Metamorpho.

The first two stories in Action Comics (inked by Murphy Anderson) are clearly trying to copy the style of the earlier series, but after that, with Calnan providing full art, they become strikingly different, with a more realistic look and altogether more lines - especially in Simon Stagg's face. Simon becomes thinner, more wrinkled and frail-looking, and it's fascinating to speculate whether this was a request from Bob Haney, because the stories seem to treat him as more of an old man and less of a comic figure from this point on. I'm a great admirer of Calnan's work on Metamorpho, and it never does get the credit and appreciation it deserves!

Action Comics № 413, Jun 1972
writer Bob Haney, pencils John Calnan, inks Murphy Anderson
With only eight pages to play with, and only a tiny mention on the front cover too, these stories have to be a little more compact than the days when Metamorpho had his own comic. It's spread over two issues this time, and the splash page naturally has to recap Rex's origin and status quo. I suppose it's understandable there was no room for Element Girl...

Late one night at Stagg Mansion, there's a visitor - it's Ulysses Bronson, Simon's old college roommate. Simon is delighted to see him, and even more so when Ulysses, full of grovelling flattery, goes on at length about how Simon was always the best at everything and is such a wonderful person. He's after a million dollars to complete his great project - Morality Mountain, a vast exhibit showcasing the seven deadly sins - and Simon cheerfully provides the money.

When Ulysses takes the gang there for a private tour the day before it opens, though, Simon is a little alarmed to see that all the statues of sinners have his face. Ulysses, like all Simon's old acquaintances, secretly hates him and intends to kill him after making him feel fully sorry for all the evil he's done!

Rex, Sapphire and Java are dropped into a pool of chemicals, and Rex starts to dissolve as he holds the other two safely away from it! Metamorpho himself actually makes very little contribution to this story, which focuses almost entirely on Simon, so it's a strange way to start the new series. Still, it's good to see him back in action! And it'll be continued next month!

The reprinted story that fills out this issue is an Eclipso tale from 1964, written by Bob Haney. Eclipso is another of those obscure DC characters from this era who deserves to be better-known than he is.
The price of comics, part 3
The 25¢ comics didn't last long. After just a year of "52 big pages - don't take less!" on the cover of every DC comic, the prices dropped to 20¢, and the page count went back down to 32. They still did their best to make it sound like a good thing, and this time the letter was "signed" by the whole editorial team - a real who's who of great names in comic history!

And even though it was twice the price and half the size of the 'classic' superhero comic, twenty cents seems to me like a fair price for a 15-page Superman story and eight or nine pages of Metamorpho!

Action Comics № 414, Jul 1972
[writer Bob Haney, pencils John Calnan, inks Murphy Anderson]
As Rex dissolves in a pool of acid, unable to transform his way out while keeping Sapph and Java alive, Ulysses Bronson continues to demonstrate to Simon how he exemplifies the seven deadly sins. Simon doesn't think sloth is a reasonable thing to accuse him of, and certainly disagrees with lust - but it turns out that that's Ulysses's whole problem. He accuses Simon of stealing the woman he loved in college, discarding her and causing her to die of a broken heart. Simon, who barely remembers the woman, isn't impressed, but then Ulysses unveils his final plan, to calcify Simon into a statue, frozen in position begging for forgiveness for all eternity.

Simon asks if he can see his daughter one last time, and Ulysses agrees, showing him the doomed trio in the pit of acid. Simon, at gunpoint, tells Sapphire he loves her, ignores Java completely, and apologises to Rex repeatedly for the base and caustic lie at the heart of their relationship.

Rex finally gets the message, remembers how to turn into lye (sodium hydroxide) and neutralises the chemical mix. Then all that remains is to overcome Ulysses, and Simon to gloat that once his face has been removed from the sin statues, his investment in Morality Mountain will make him a pile of money!

Once again, it's been more of a Simon Stagg story than a Metamorpho one! That's really a theme of the Metamorpho stories of the seventies - in line with the 'grim and gritty' bronze age comic ethos, everyone loves an evil villain, and this series comes with one as a central character! Why did it not catch on with the DC bosses or the readers more than it did?

Len Wein
It says something about the silver age at DC that this is the first of these pen-portraits to feature a creator who wasn't even born when most of the others were starting their comic careers in the late thirties and early forties. But Len Wein (1948-2017) was part of the younger generation of fans-turned-writers who finally got their foot in the door of the comic publishers and started writing stories more aimed at comic fans than at what the increasingly elderly veteran writers thought children would want to read. He started writing for DC in 1968, and by this point in history was churning out regular stories for them - most notably creating the Swamp Thing in 1971. But it was another significant step up the ladder when he became the new regular writer of the Justice League with their 100th issue - and naturally, being a fan-turned-writer, he created an anniversary story paying loving tribute to every character who'd ever appeared in it! This was his only brush with Metamorpho, but he soon went on to create the all-new X-Men, over at Marvel.

Dick Dillin
We've already seen a glimpse of Dick Dillin (1928-1980) drawing Metamorpho in that Giant framing sequence, and we get another quick glimpse here in the Justice League. He got into comics in 1953 as the regular artist of Blackhawk, the comic about an international team of aviators that was Quality Comics' biggest hit. When Quality went out of business in 1956, DC bought Blackhawk and Dillin with it, and he carried on drawing the comic until in the big shake-up of 1968 it went down to bi-monthly and Dillin was assigned to Hawkman (presumably because if you can draw one hawk-themed comic you can draw any) as well. That seemed to lead to him drawing the Justice League too, of which Hawkman was a member, and he remained the regular JLA artist from then until his unexpected death from a heart attack in 1980. He also drew World's Finest from 1970, which brought him into contact with Metamorpho once more.

Justice League of America № 100/101/102, Aug/Sep/Oct 1972
writer Len Wein, pencils Dick Dillin, inks Joe Giella
Taking three comics together here, which appeared over three months while Metamorpho was appearing in Action Comics, the Justice League of America celebrated 100 issues with a big three-part adventure featuring absolutely everybody who'd ever been associated with the team. Our hero didn't get much to do beyond standing in the background, but that's what happens when you're appearing in a story proudly boasting 33 heroes!

The Justice League have a party to celebrate their 100th meeting, and invite all their friends, including Metamorpho. He and an almost entirely unrecognisable Simon Stagg have one panel showing Rex responding to the invitation. Adam Strange was invited too, by the way, but couldn't make it because he was on Rann.

Dick Dillin is widely praised as a great artist from this era of the Justice League, but he really didn't get Metamorpho at all. I suppose he had a lot of superheroes to learn and not much time to do it...

Metamorpho has one other line in this issue; a joke about his cast-iron stomach when they cut the cake. But then all the assembled superheroes are pulled into another dimension and end up on Earth-2, where the assembled superheroes of the Justice Society of America need their help. From a Metamorpho point of view, it doesn't really matter what the problem is, except that it requires the heroes to split up into seven teams of three, each travelling to a different point in time and space to find one of another super-team, the Seven Soldiers of Victory. Rex ends up on a team with Superman and Sandman. He's not seen to say or contribute anything to the preparations for the mission.

Each trio gets its own little chapter over the course of these three issues; our hero's team get six pages in № 101 to rescue the Shining Knight from Genghis Khan and his hordes. Metamorpho does a bit of switching into helium to go scouting, makes himself a steel sword, and to top it all gets a bit of chemistry advice from the Sandman to make himself into sleep-gas, fired from himself in the form of a cobalt cannon. It's a creative use of his powers, and the same kind of thing you'd see in the Bob Haney stories, so full credit to Len Wein for the cameo!

In № 102, all the heroes get back together and deal with the bad guy. This basically involves building an "amazing nebula-rod" and the Red Tornado (the robot, not to be confused with Ma Hunkel) sacrificing his life to blow it up. Metamorpho says and does nothing throughout this whole sequence, not even joining in the series of contrived and unconvincing reasons why the various indestructible superheroes among the crowd can't be the ones to deliver the bomb. All he does is stand at the back of one panel. But the whole experience gives him a good story to tell when he gets back home to Sapphire, I suppose.
(If you were worried about him, the Red Tornado came back to life something like three issues later.)

Action Comics № 415, Aug 1972
writer Bob Haney, art John Calnan
There's a definite theme in this issue of Action Comics. In the main story, Superman tangles with a Frankenstein's Monster kind of creature, while in the backup strip Metamorpho deals with something similar.

We start with our hero working his way into a sealed mine, finding the skeletons of people who've died in there in the past, and cursing Simon Stagg. Yes, it's his mine, and he's not been over concerned about safety measures. We flash back a couple of weeks to see what's going on - Simon decided to close and seal up the mine so he could write it off as a tax loss. This upset the foreman Harvey Weeks, whose son needs an operation and who can't afford to be made jobless, but Simon is entirely uncaring.

Harvey sneaked into the mine before it was sealed, and (thanks to the closed circuit TV cameras Simon installed to make sure the miners were working) announces to the world that he's going to try to escape before his food and oxygen supply runs out - and one way or another, he or his widow will make money from all the publicity.

Simon, for the excited media, vows that no expense will be spared in rescuing Harvey, and sends Rex down to save him. It's a little more difficult than you'd think, because a strange gas has caused Harvey to turn into another Frankenstein, and Rex has to subdue him and bring him out, where fresh air restores him to normal.

But the whole exercise turned out not to bring in as much money as Harvey had thought, what with taxes and criminal charges for the stunt, and a large bill for rescue costs from Simon Stagg (when he said no expense spared, he didn't mean his own expense, naturally!)

Simon still doesn't care, but that night he's attacked in his bed by monstrous Harvey again, and terrified for his life, hands over the millions of dollars he keeps hidden in his mattress. The monster was actually just Rex in disguise, teaching the skinflint a lesson. Simon doesn't mind too much, getting plenty of publicity from his generosity. See, all you modern writers with your Lex Luthors - this is the kind of thing you can do with an evil zillionaire without making him unlikeable!

Action Comics № 416, Sep 1972
writer Bob Haney, art John Calnan
After all the Simon Stagg-centric stories so far in the Action Comics run, this one comes as a bit of a surprise - neither Simon nor Java appear at all, and Sapphire doesn't have more than a brief cameo. Metamorpho's really defined by his ever-present supporting cast, and this one's really the only exception in his solo stories.

Rex is fed up, and decides to ask Sapphire to marry him, but she's busy having her horoscope for the next year drawn up, and isn't interested. So Rex decides to run away and join the circus belonging to an old friend, Colonel Martingale. The circus is struggling, and despite Rex's efforts to make the freakshow more exciting, it has to close down.

Snapping out of his self-pity when he sees that the rest of the circus folk are still cheerful about everything, Rex resolves to help them, and since the President of the USA is passing by in a limo with the grumpy Premier of an Asiatic country, he lures them in to see the circus with a hastily-made detour sign.

They put on a great show, the Premier is delighted and agrees to have a summit with the President after all, Metamorpho thwarts an assassin, and all the publicity saves the circus as well as possibly preventing a third world war. Our hero goes back to the mansion to find Sapphire in a more cheerful mood (the horoscope was favourable) and suggesting that they go to the circus to celebrate. Rex, to his credit, refrains from saying that he's had enough circuses for one day, and just rolls his eyes at the readers.

Action Comics № 417, Oct 1972
writer Bob Haney, art John Calnan
It's Christmas Eve in the Stagg mansion, which is a little bit peculiar. Four months later, a letter was printed in Action Comics asking what a Christmas story was doing in the "October" issue, published in August. The answer - so we could print this letter in the "February" issue, published the week after Christmas, naturally!

And the gang are joined by Simon's young orphaned nephew, Randall, who's come to live with them. Simon is genuinely tearful about the death of his younger brother Beowulf, who has died in poverty, and welcomes young Randall to the family.

Wait a minute... Randall Stagg? Stephen King was 24 years old at the time this comic came out, and doubtless not above reading a Superman comic here and there while he worked on his first novels. Randall Flagg made his first appearance six years later, in The Stand.

Over the following weeks, Randall settles in, and a happy family atmosphere develops around the mansion. But then Randall gets a phone call and starts acting strangely - spying on the secret government project Simon's working on, and zapping Rex with a laser when he interrupts! He runs out to hand over his photos to the crooks who brainwashed and hypnotised him, but they're thwarted when Rex breaks the hypnotic spell and allows Randall to save the day! A happy ending all round for the extended Stagg family!

So why do we never see Randall again? What happened to him after this story? Inquiring minds need to know!

Action Comics № 418, Nov 1972
writer Bob Haney, art John Calnan
Simon Stagg is dead, and the whole gang (where's Randall?) gather around his deathbed. After the surprisingly low-key funeral he requested, Simon's will reveals that his fortune is to be held in trust and only $50,000 a year paid to Sapphire, while Java gets "my entire library of scientific books, in hopes it will improve his neanderthal mind and rescue him from boobydom," and Rex is left a million dollars... on condition that he go on one last mission.

His job is to go to Greenland and find cryolite-60, a super-rare mineral that according to legend only exists in inaccessible Kraken Hole. So he sets out on a perilous expedition, along the way finding the wreck of an old whaling ship, where he makes an interesting discovery. Heading into the volcanic region, he finds the cave, and the actual kraken that guards it! Cue a whole lot of element-transforming action!

But the Element Man triumphs in the end, and returns home with the cryolite. It all should be a happy ending, but Rex is suspicious when he finds the book Simon had been reading, about the last voyage of that whaler...

Sure enough, he soon discovers that Simon wasn't dead at all - he'd faked the whole thing in order to send Rex on that mission and recover the cryolite - which, according to the captain of that ship, is an elixir of youth that made him thirty years younger! But Rex, having been on the ship and seen the captain's log, knows that the "captain" who wrote that book was the much younger first mate, who'd killed the captain, made up the whole story, and taken the captain's place in society.

Simon looks really pitiful, saying that all he wanted was to be young and strong again, and the ending - in which everyone laughs at him because he's old and will die soon - comes across as rather more creepy than it really needed to.

And what's that in the caption at the end? Metamorpho will return in a future issue of "Jimmy Olsen, Superman's Pal"?

Whither Metamorpho, part 1
The letters page of Action Comics № 418 clarifies that Action Comics is introducing a new backup strip with the next issue (it was The Human Target), and says "Watch for Metamorpho's guest shot in a near-future issue of JIMMY OLSEN. By then, we hope to have more plans made for the Element Man." Metamorpho never did appear in Jimmy Olsen's long-running comic (it had been going since 1954, but was soon to be absorbed into "Superman Family"), and it's strange to think of Metamorpho making a guest appearance there, because that would have been something very different from the usual kind of thing in that comic.

The letters page of Action Comics № 419 reveals a change of plans for Rex. It says "And, although the Element Man is now absent from these pages, you can look for his return in an early issue of World's Finest."

The letters page of Action Comics № 420 goes a little further, saying "As for Metamorpho, he's relinquished his Action post to The Human Target (and, next issue, The Green Arrow), but he'll be guesting in the near future in World's Finest, in a story starring Superman and Batman's future sons. After that - who knows? - E.N.B." E. Nelson Bridwell was maybe getting a little mixed-up about Bob Haney's plans - he was currently writing "the Super-Sons" to appear in World's Finest, but surely he didn't have plans to put Metamorpho in one of their stories? Or did he?

The letters page of Action Comics № 421 doesn't offer any further detail about Metamorpho's future, it just prints that letter querying the out-of-season Christmas story. And that's the last editorial mention of the Element Man in Action.

But the letters page of Jimmy Olsen № 158, for the benefit of a reader who's apparently been patiently waiting to see Metamorpho in that comic, says "For Philadelphia's Walter Jahnke's information: Metamorpho is now starring with Supey and Batman in "World's Finest." The title: "Heroes with Dirty Hands," and after that he'll spin off in his own back-up series in that mag in a story scripted by Bob Haney and drawn by John Calnan."

And sure enough, that's where Metamorpho ends up next!

World's Finest Comics
Back in 1941, when there still weren't very many superhero comics at all, DC launched a special, deluxe kind of comic - 96 pages, issued quarterly, priced at 15¢, whose selling point was that it contained both Superman and Batman! That is, a Superman story, a Batman story (each about 13 pages in length) and a lot of other filler material. It was popular enough to become bi-monthly, and gradually shrank down to 64 pages, before transforming in 1954 to a normal, ten-cent, 32-page comic whose main draw was a story in which Superman and Batman work together as a team!

This was exciting and new, and it certainly captured the readers' imagination (even if it still didn't sell quite as well as the individual Superman and Batman comics, it was still way more popular than comics that didn't have Superman or Batman in them!), but by 1973 when Metamorpho found his way into World's Finest, the editors (it fell under the jurisdiction of the Superman office, rather than Batman's) were casting around for a way to make it distinctive again, in a world where superhero team-ups were commonplace. After a period of Superman-teams-up-with-someone-else, Bob Haney took over as writer with № 215, and naturally it wasn't long before Metamorpho joined the fun!

World's Finest Comics № 217, May 1973
writer Bob Haney, pencils Dick Dillin, inks Murphy Anderson
Java is the catalyst for this unusual adventure - filling in a "How do you stack up to Superman and Batman" questionnaire in Ape Magazine while wearing a half-and-half costume, he gives himself top marks in everything, and thinks happily to himself that "even in all modesty, my rating is very, very high!" In Simon's lab, he inputs the results into the computer to calculate just how great he is and impress Sapphire, but then hears Simon approaching and quickly throws the costume into a vat of glop and hides, fearing ridicule.

It turns out that the glop contains Rex, making another attempt at that four-year cure, but Java's input causes it to go crazy and disgorge Rex, wearing the Superman-Batman costume and possessing all of their powers and skills, on top of his own Element Man powers! Possibly it affects his mind, too, because he's absolutely delighted with his new Super-Freak form, even though Sapphire reminds him he's always hated being a freak.

At that point, the gang hear on the radio that Superman has been unable to find a lost atomic bomb buried on the ocean bottom, which will explode in hours. Rex flies off to lend a hand, and using Superman's powers, Batman's intelligence and Metamorpho's transformations, he retrieves the bomb. Superman is ungrateful and annoyed at being shown up, and they have a heated argument about it.

The characterisation of Superman and Batman in this one drew complaints on the letters page, and rightly so - they behave like spoilt brats, and are portrayed as hopelessly incompetent at basic superhero exploits. The editorial reply tried to justify it as new and different character development rather than just repeating the old stories, but really, it's just not very good writing, I'm afraid. Super-Freak goes to Gotham City and resolves a kidnapping that Batman has been unable to do anything about, and the Caped Crusader is equally crabby about being replaced. The two heroes go to the Fortress of Solitude and grumble about Rex, then hatch a plan...

Two days later, the TV announces that Superman and Batman have defected to America's enemy nation, Slavia. Rex is sent by the President to bring the traitors back, dead or alive, before they can hand over all America's secrets. Naturally, it turns into a super-fight, which Metamorpho wins, causing the Premier of Slavia to bring out his new evil super-weapon, the fear-inducing Trepidus. It paralyses Rex, but then Supes and Bats reveal they were pretending all along, in order to discover the location of this machine, and they smash it and take the Premier to the United Nations for punishment.

The heroes are all friends again (and they do clarify that their behaviour at the start of the story was genuine brattiness, before they were asked to go on the Slavia mission), and Rex finds that his super-powers have worn off. He's back to being just plain Metamorpho again. This one really isn't all that good - bring back the solo Metamorpho stories, DC! There's not actually anything in this comic to say it, but he's back as a backup strip in the next issue.

World's Finest Comics № 218, Aug 1973
writer Bob Haney, art John Calnan
After another splash page recapping Metamorpho's origin and powers for the benefit of new readers, the gang spend the remaining six and a half pages at Simon Stagg's summer vacation home, perched atop a cliff on the rugged Maine coast. The house was built by his slave-smuggling ancestor, Black Absalom Stagg, and when Simon's in bed at night, he's visited by Absalom's ghost!

The ghost is dripping water, wrapped in chains, and determined to take Simon back to a watery grave with him, denouncing Simon's terrible sins all the way. Rex intervenes to help, and has a fight with the entirely solid ghost, which releases Simon but gets away.

The next night, although Rex is guarding Simon, the ghost tricks him by coming for Sapphire instead, and while Rex is chasing after them, the ghost doubles back, overcomes Java and kidnaps Simon too. They both end up chained in the caves below the house, to be drowned at high tide and the 'ghost' reveals itself to be Adam, a robot Simon created long ago, judged to be imperfect, sealed in concrete and buried in the ocean. He's not happy about it.

Rex comes to the rescue and there's an epic battle between Simon Stagg's two creations (as he himself puts it). Rex eventually triumphs, and Adam is destroyed.

World's Finest Comics № 219, Oct 1973
[writer Bob Haney, art John Calnan]
Now this is a fun one. Simon calls Rex in a panic - he's had an anonymous phone call saying someone has planted a bomb in Stagg Terminal, a giant train and bus terminal, which will explode at noon! The bomb squad have been unable to find it, but Rex gets there just in time to retrieve and dispose of it.

But then there's another call about another bomb, in Stagg Park, and once again Rex finds it (encased in the giant statue of Simon) in the nick of time!

When they get back to the mansion, Simon discovers from phone tracing who the mad bomber was - it was Rex himself! His last session in the glop tank has given him a split personality - one part of him that hates Simon and wants to teach him a lesson, and another that knows nothing about the other half's activities. He has to be dipped back into the glop to fix his mind.

When he comes out, he remembers he planted a third bomb in the Stagg Building, where Sapphire's sunbathing and watching TV on the roof, and once again he has to rescue her just in time.

Later, when a different bomber calls Simon, Rex refuses to have anything to do with it...

World's Finest Comics № 220, Dec 1973
writer Bob Haney, art John Calnan
Sapphire has been kidnapped, and the ransom note demands five million dollars, which Simon is reluctant to pay. Rex persuades him to cough up the dough for his daughter's sake, and Simon eventually agrees, delivering five million that he happens to have lying around the house to the designated spot.

But the kidnappers don't release Sapph, and Rex has to go out to investigate. He traces them from the point where the money was left to a nearby cement works, where he's shot at and has to tangle with the gang of kidnappers.

Once he's overcome them, he finds that they were about to leave, and have already killed Sapphire with a fatal injection, leaving her lying on a bed of money - Simon, unwilling to part with real cash, had used counterfeits instead, and the gang discovered it.

Rex, distraught, cries over Sapph's body, and his miraculous chemical tears bring her back to life! He's so happy, he can't even get mad at Simon for causing this whole situation!

There's a real theme developing in these stories of the four central characters forming a happy family unit despite all the outright evil and mutual loathing! It could be developed into a great ongoing series today, if someone could only write it with the appropriate light-hearted touch!
Whither Metamorpho, part 2
The letters page of World's Finest № 220 fails to inform the readers that Metamorpho won't be appearing in the next issue, but it does find space (most of the page is taken up with insisting that the Super-Sons are not 'imaginary' but entirely 'real' in the same way that normal Superman and Batman stories are 'real') to discuss the developing future of the comic - it says "What's going to happen to WF? As noted in the previous issue, we've tried to break out of the old, familiar mold; we've tried to introduce a new format; we've tried to make WF different; we hope to develop WF into a surprise package so that you readers can look forward with anticipation to the next issue's comics contents. We didn't want a retread or to pursue familiar patterns or imitate Brave & Bold's formula of pairing Batman with one of DC's dynamic heroes. Thus, the sons of Superman and Batman; thus, the re-introduction of Metamorpho, who, by the way, has become the focal point of a series of discussions which may lead to his participation in a mag of his own."

Whoa - in all that text, did they just say there might be a new Metamorpho comic? 

The letters page of World's Finest № 221 is in very self-congratulatory mood about the popularity of the Super-Sons, but also prints a selection of praise for Metamorpho, and says "Okay, so now we know the score. This issue's "Cry Not for My Forsaken Son" was so important, what with the re-introduction of our super-sons, that it merited a full book's-length. But standing by is the completed work of another yarn about The-Man-With-The-Million-Molecules. "Stranger from the Stars" is its moniker, and it'll be coming up soon. -Ed."

When we eventually see that story, we'll learn that there was a slight typo there - it was a STRANGLER from the stars!

The letters page of World's Finest № 222 prints a letter enthusiastically in favour of the idea of Metamorpho getting his own comic, and says a lot of other readers felt the same, but notes that "at the same time, there were a lot of Nay votes among them." It goes on to say "The above are just a few who bothered to cast their ballots, which toted up to be evenly divided, pro and con Metamorpho. So what's an editor to do, especially since Ramona Fradon, who created the original art concept for the Man-With-a-Million-Molecules, is back in DC's fold?  To warm up her drawing arm, Ramona did a few art chores for Joe Orlando's mystery-suspense mags and whipped out a whale of a weirdo for "Unexpected," which we also edit after dark. We'll have to cop-out on making a decision, pending further sales reports, which are the critical criteria in the last analysis. -Ed."

Hmm, it's starting to look like the people who want Metamorpho back in comics are in a minority, or at least not enough of a majority to justify it financially. Which leads nicely into...

The price of comics, part 4

The 100-page Super Spectaculars had carried on, dropping the individual numbering in 1973, and moving into an increasing number of regular DC titles. If not a majority, then a large number of DC comics had suddenly become 100 pagers (that is, 96 interior pages plus the covers), costing a massive 60¢!

World's Finest № 223 is fairly typical of them - twenty pages of the hundred are devoted to a new story, and all the rest of the content is reprinted material. The editor's note makes this sound like a very good thing, but I find it hard to believe the readers were over the moon about it.

In 1975, the Super Spectaculars disappeared, replaced partly by standard-size 32-page comics costing 25¢ and partly by 64-page Giants for 50¢ each.

Before long, with 1970s inflation getting fierce, they were 48-page Giants for 50¢, and then 48-page Giants for 60¢. Normal-size comics kept getting more expensive too, but by that time we're in the late seventies, and Metamorpho has nearly but not quite disappeared...

World's Finest Comics № 224, Aug 1974
The new content of this issue is a 20-page Super-Sons story, but among the backup strip reprints is the story from Metamorpho № 6 - the one where he melts the Eiffel Tower. Credits are added, which say the inking was done by Mike Esposito, but that was quite possibly a mistake.

The letters page doesn't give us any further hints about Metamorpho's future...

World's Finest Comics № 226, Dec 1974
writer Bob Haney, pencils Dick Dillin, inks Tex Blaisdell
If the previous story involving Superman, Batman, Metamorpho and a foreign dictator wasn't very good, this one makes up for it!

Dr Vronsky, the world's greatest bio-physicist, smuggles a message out to the USA, saying he wants to defect. Having previously fled his own country, he's now living in the country of Mariposa, which has also now been taken over by a tyrannical dictator, El Jefe. The US government asks Superman and Batman to go Mariposa, check that it's not a hoax or a trick, and rescue Dr Vronsky.

Meanwhile, Metamorpho is also going to Mariposa, at the insistence of Simon Stagg. Simon is a good friend of the evil El Jefe, and has lucrative mining business interests in Mariposa that he wants Rex to go and check up on. Simon persuades Rex to go by showing him he's set up a Swiss bank account in Rex's name, containing a million dollars. He doesn't mention that the one and only person allowed to withdraw money from the account is Simon himself.

So while Rex goes as an honoured guest, Superman and Batman furtively enter the country under cover of a meteorite Superman's nudged into the right direction. The entirely infallible heroes of the silver age would have resolved this whole situation in a couple of minutes, but it's the seventies now, and under Bob Haney the two world's greatest heroes are borderline incompetent and spend a lot of time bickering among themselves. They spot Dr Vronsky in the heavily-guarded lab identified by CIA intelligence, and sneak into the building to rescue him. Safely out in the woods, while Superman's scouting around, Batman is hit over the head from behind, and when he recovers, Vronsky has been kidnapped.

Superman and Batman then see Rex Mason touring the country in a limo with his host El Jefe. When Rex is alone, the two heroes collar him and tell him what's going on, asking him to help by spying on the dictator and finding out where Vronsky's being held. He discovers a paper in El Jefe's room, saying Vronsky has been taken back to the same place he was held before, on the grounds that the superheroes will never think to look for him there. He passes the information onto Batman, but El Jefe has tricked them all - the Vronsky in the lab is an impostor, fanatically loyal to El Jefe, who has been infected with a lethal contagious disease. When he's rescued by Superman and Batman, he'll doubtless be presented to all the important people in America, and infect them all!

But Superman has been delayed by helping some Mariposan peasants whose crops have been burnt on the orders of El Jefe, and misses the rendezvous with Batman. He figures it won't make any difference if Vronsky is rescued a day later than planned, so they agree to wait. This is a problem for El Jefe, who quickly orders the impostor to be killed before he becomes contagious and infects everyone else! Rex is still in the palace as a guest, and overhears. He sneakily changes the orders being sent to the lab, and commands the impostor to come to El Jefe in person. He does, and they both die of the disease!

El Jefe's brother takes over as the new evil dictator, and invites Rex to stay a little longer, since he's only heard good things about him. Rex agrees, and goes out to find the real Dr Vronsky, who's been hidden in the Stagg mines. They leave the country with Vronsky disguised as Rex (using his handy rubber mask), and Rex disguised as his suitcase, and triumphantly return to America. Batman and Superman, who'd believed their mission was a failure, are staggered to see that Metamorpho has succeeded in saving the day! Okay, it's still being disrespectful to Supes and Bats, but it's a great story for the Element Man!

The letters page of this one prints a lengthy epistle urging DC to give Meta-morpho his own series again. It sums up what makes him so great and recaps the history of the first series, saying he "didn't sell well", which gets a reply that "Oh, yes he did, but his career was shortlived for reasons too lengthy to be offered here. -Ed."

There's no concrete data on Metamorpho's sales in the sixties. But the 'editor' goes on to reply that "In the meantime, while we're all probing our noggins re the feasibility of putting the Man-with-a-Million-Molecules between his own private covers, we unfurl herein what we hope will be regarded as a capsule classic, "The Freak Who Never Fails." So enjoy... -Ed."

DC Comics Stars on the Screen!
World's Finest № 227 is entirely free of Metamorpho content, even in the summary of all the movie and TV shows to feature DC characters to date. Why couldn't they have dug up that 1966 cartoon and had the Element Man join this select gang?

World's Finest Comics № 228, Mar 1975
The main story in this one is the Super-Sons again, but among the reprinted stories behind it is Metamorpho's second appearance, from the Brave and the Bold № 58. The newly-added credits for this one credit Ramona Fradon solely with the art - does someone at World's Finest just not like Charles Paris? The other reprints include an Aquaman story from 1963 and an Eclipso from 1964, both also written by Bob Haney, plus an older Vigilante story that wasn't.

But the letters page, after printing a lot of enthusiastic letters about Metamorpho, has a big announcement! Yes, Metamorpho is definitely, positively returning in his own comic! They don't know exactly when it will be, yet, but it will be by Haney and Fradon, it'll be monumental, historic, bound-to-be-epic, and coming soon! Cry it from the rooftops!

World's Finest Comics № 229, Apr 1975
writer Bob Haney, art John Calnan
World's Finest has suddenly stopped being a 100-page Super Spectacular, gone back to the standard 32 pages, and been upgraded to eight issues a year instead of six! And the letters page apologetically acknowledges that this change has caught the editors by surprise - they haven't got any new material to put in this issue! So the main story is a reprint of a 12-page Superman/Batman story from 1958 (which had already been reprinted in 1961 and 1968, but this time it was redrawn so that Batman has the yellow oval behind the bat-symbol on his chest, which was added to his costume in 1964!), and as a backup strip, luckily they still had that extra Metamorpho story lying around the office!

Simon is delighted, because he's successfully synthesized a new element, which naturally he names Staggium. Triumphantly, he goes to the science congress to be presented with a prize of $100,000 for his achievement, but the ceremony is interrupted by another scientist, Rene Lafarge, who insists he created the element earlier, and wants it to be called Lafargium.

The two samples are taken away for testing, to see which one came first, and Simon's turns out to be the earlier. But the night before it's to be exhibited to the public, the old watchman is brutally strangled - and funnily enough, he looked a bit like Simon Stagg. Later, before the ceremony, the stand-in for Simon who was used to set up the lighting is also brutally strangled, and Rex starts to see a connection.

He hides himself in the science hall after dark, and sure enough, Lafarge comes in - but he goes after the case with his own sample, which then turns into an alien monster and tries to strangle him. Metamorpho intervenes and shoots the creature into space, and Lafarge admits he accidentally created it when trying to falsify the results of the test - it was just coincidence that it strangled two people who resembled Simon.

The caption at the end of the story promises that Metamorpho is coming up soon in his very own magazine! The letters page prints a whole lot of enthusiastic letters about Metamorpho, and reiterates that he'll be getting his own comic, by Bob Haney and Ramona Fradon, and that they still don't know exactly when it'll be on sale.
Whither Metamorpho, part 3
The promises keep coming - in World's Finest № 230, there's another pro-Metamorpho letter, and a reply that "As for Metamorpho's own mag, it's in the works; Ramona Fradon is putting the finishing touches on Bob Haney's way-out opus, which, we hope, will kick off a string of sequels. So hang in there, Eldon, and watch for the date of the premiere issue. -Ed."

Note the words "sequels" and "premiere". I'd say by now that we've definitely, explicitly been promised a return of the ongoing Metamorpho comic! Also on the shelves at this time, released a couple of weeks earlier, was the first issue of "1st Issue Special", but that's nothing to do with the return of the Element Man, right? By the time World's Finest № 231 came out (with a letters page asking why Metamorpho can't make himself look like Rex Mason, and whether Metamorpho could be added to the cast of the Super Friends cartoon, but no other information), the third issue of "1st Issue Special" had come out, with a surprise for its readers...

1st Issue Special
In the old days of comics, first issues were, if anything, a bad thing when it came to sales. A comic that had been going for a while was more likely to sell well than a brand new one that nobody had heard of. Indeed, new series sometimes took over the numbering of cancelled comics, so they'd start with a more respectable issue number like 25, and buyers wouldn't dismiss it without looking at it. But times change, and by 1975 it had been noticed that the first issue of a brand new comic would cause excitement and generate high sales. So, someone reasoned, if we had a series where every issue was the first issue, it was sure to be a success! Hence, "1st Issue Special", with those words in a banner at the top of every issue.

Apart from that, it was a "tryout" comic, along the lines of Showcase, except that each new idea only had one issue to capture the imagination of the readers. Which is a nigh-on impossible thing to do, and it's been suggested by some people that there was never any intention to use this comic as a gauge of public opinion about the characters who appeared in it (although those people don't tend to have a good answer to 'so what possible other reason could there have been for the comic's existence?') The first issue of 1st Issue was "Atlas", a new creation of Jack Kirby. The second was "the Green Team - Boy Millionaires", by Joe Simon (who with Kirby had created a lot of boy teams in the past and seemed to still think they might still be popular in the 1970s). But the third, instead of something new, was that Metamorpho story we'd been promised for so long in the letters pages of World's Finest. He's not getting his own series just yet, just a one-shot appearance before the title moves on to its next debut ("Lady Cop", who - get this - was both female and a police officer). "1st Issue Special" lasted for thirteen monthly first issues before being cancelled. Two of them eventually became ongoing series.

1st Issue Special № 3, Jun 1975
writer Bob Haney, art Ramona Fradon
And so this one turns out to be not the start of a new Metamorpho series, but the final solo Metamorpho comic by Bob Haney or Ramona Fradon, and the last appearance in the classic era of Rex with his supporting cast. His first full-length story for seven years is only 18 pages in length, plus a text page at the end summarising his career so far.

It starts with Rex and Sapphire visiting the Lincoln memorial in Washington DC. Straight away it's noticeable that the characters really don't look anything like they used to. Ramona Fradon makes everyone look quite cartoony, and not at all similar to the way they originally appeared in 1964. Our heroes are interrupted by a ghost with a French accent and a sword-cane that can melt a gun with a touch. He utters a vague threat, and disappears.

Rex and Sapph report back to Simon and Java, and then have to save a group of protesters (wielding generic 'down with this sort of thing' signs) when the ghost opens up a hole in the ground below them. And then the Washington Monument starts to topple, and Rex has to spring into action to save it!

With barely a pause for breath, the Capitol Dome is the next target, and Rex goes head-to-head with the ghost. He introduces himself as Dr Achille Destinee, but Rex refers to him for the rest of the story as "Doc Destiny". He zaps Rex with electricity and escapes again. Watching a TV report, which turns out to be better informed than Metamorpho and the gang, they learn that the Phantom of Washington has appeared to Presidents many times over the years. Rex goes with Sapphire to the library to research some more, while Simon (hoping to get the ghost's great powers into his own service) sends Java to follow them and see what they learn.

It turns out that the ghost was an engineer under Napoleon, who discovered an amazing chemical weapon and offered it to President James Madison in 1814. Madison politely declined, and asked an aide to get rid of the crackpot, Doc Destiny died, and ever since then has been trying to persuade Presidents to use his weapon, only to be ignored or rejected every time.

Rex discovers that the weapon is hidden in the Capitol, but so does Simon. He sends a hoax message to Rex, saying the ghost is elsewhere, and gets the weapon first, taking it to Fort Knox to see if he can use it to acquire the gold there. Unfortunately, it melts all the gold into a huge pool, and when Metamorpho and Doc Destiny both arrive for their final battle, Destiny and the machine are both destroyed in the cooled and solidified gold.

And the story ends with a panel of Rex saying he'll return, if the readers want him to. It's an underwhelming final adventure, without the spirit of fun that defined Metamorpho in the sixties. Now there's just a couple more guest appearances to chronicle, once again in the pages of the Brave and the Bold.

The Brave and the Bold № 123, Dec 1975
writer Bob Haney, art Jim Aparo
A letter in the Brave and the Bold № 122 complained that readers were promised in № 95, four and a half years earlier, that Plastic Man would be reappearing in future issues. It asks "What do you mean by 'future' - 2021 A.D.?" I love seeing old writings talking about the present day as some impossibly distant future time. But in fact, the letters page confirms, Plas would be back in the next issue, accompanied by Metamorpho.

To be honest, it's hard to see why Metamorpho is in this story at all - it's basically just a Batman and Plastic Man adventure. Bob Haney must have wanted to keep him in the public eye. We open with Batman thwarting some bank robbers and being surprisingly bulletproof, before being given instructions from Commissioner Gordon to arrest Bruce Wayne for fraud and murder! Even more surprisingly, Batman does so, finding Bruce in the process of buying a sacred totem of an African tribe, stolen some time ago, in order to restore it to its rightful owners. When Batman arrests him, Bruce reminds him that Batman is actually Plastic Man, who has been filling in for him in Gotham City for a little while. But Plastic Man seems to have lost all memory of that, and believes himself to be the real Batman. Bruce is locked up in jail.

Luckily, he's got at least one friend left - Metamorpho disguises himself as a lawyer, and breaks Bruce out. Rex is aware that Bruce is Batman, which is a little strange - he's never been seen to learn that in a previous comic.

Anyway, the villain behind it is Batman's and Plastic Man's old enemy Ruby Ryder, who has Plas under her control. She also wanted the sacred totem, if it matters, hence framing the other bidder Bruce. In the course of thwarting her plans, Rex transforms himself into the totem and also into a tape recorder. That's another new thing, despite the editorial footnote that "tape recording is based on iron particles, of which Metamorpho has plenty" - it's way more complicated than anything he's been seen to change into before now! He must have been practicing!

Plastic Man snaps out of it in the end, after a battle with Metamorpho, and everything works out happily. And it turns out to be the last anyone sees of Rex for a good long while...

In limbo
That's about it for Metamorpho in the Bob Haney era. The letters page of the Brave and the Bold № 126 that printed responses to this latest appearance focused almost entirely on letters celebrating Plastic Man's return. There'd be no more teasers of upcoming appearances for the Element Man - presumably Bob Haney had finally given up on trying to get him back into publication. The "DC Explosion" of new exciting titles and subsequent "DC Implosion" of cancellations and sackings passed Rex Mason by completely. Nearly four years later, he showed up again for his final Haney-scripted story, one more time in the comic where it all began...

The Brave and the Bold № 154, Sep 1979
writer Bob Haney, art Jim Aparo
It's more of a "Batman searches for Metamorpho" story, this one. It starts with Batman on patrol in Gotham, attacked by thugs. Surprisingly enough, they turn out to have been paid by Sapphire Stagg, who wanted to check that Batman's still got what it takes. She offers him a million dollars for the charity of his choice, if he can track down Rex.

She explains that Rex walked out on the Staggs, fed up of them both, and wanted to go and do his own thing. Batman points out that he's free to do that if he wants, but he agrees to find out where he is, just in case there's anything wrong. He's followed by an inept private detective who's been hired by Simon to keep tabs on Sapphire, and also by an international assassin who's trying to kill him. All in a day's work for Batman, really.

Checking into Rex's old haunts, Batman soon finds that he's been motor racing in Europe under a fake name, but then seems to have got involved with some shady characters in Turkey. In Istanbul, he learns that Rex has gone on an assignment to the distant mountains, and heads out there to find him.

Rex saves Batman when his helicopter is shot down by the assassin, and finally makes his appearance on page 13 of this 17-page story. Then it doesn't take the two heroes long to sort out the crooked plan to steal and smuggle gold across the border.

Rex, who says he's much happier on his own, isn't seen to go back to Simon, Sapphire and Java - indeed, he seems delighted to be rid of them. The final Bob Haney story ends with him wondering what to do with himself in the future.

That's all, folks
The Brave and the Bold № 159 printed two letters about Metamorpho. The first cheered for the return of Metamorpho but wasn't happy with the lack of actual teaming up with Batman and the absence of Simon Stagg. The writer urged "the guys at the front offices of DC" to put out more Metamorpho comics by Haney and Fradon. The reply? "As for Metamorpho's future appearances, we rather doubt that the guys (and gal - or have you forgotten our Publisher, Jenette Kahn?) have big plans in store for Metamorpho. He's one of those characters that has simply never found his place in the sun, and seems doomed to guest-star / back-feature status eternally." Ouch. The second letter, from a reader who'd never previously seen Metamorpho, wondered why he appeared so little in the comic, and wanted to know what his powers actually are. The reply said "Frankly, Todd, we shared some of your disappointments with the Metamorpho team-up, and apologize for spoiling your first exposure to a truly delightful character." I think it's fair to say that Metamorpho and/or Bob Haney weren't really popular with the powers that be at DC in 1979.

It wasn't too long before Metamorpho came back. In late 1981 he had a team-up with Superman in "DC Comics Presents" - but it was written by Gerry Conway, and it simply wasn't the same as the Bob Haney days. Java was the villain of the story. After that, Rex fell into the hands of Mike W. Barr, writer of "Batman and the Outsiders", and was doomed to be part of a superhero team (the wacky shape-changing one of the team, at that) for ever after. Well, nearly - he finally got his long-promised new series in 1993, albeit just for four issues! It's... not really like the silver age adventures, though. Nor was the 2007 six-issue series or the 2016 re-invention of his origin story in the "Legends of Tomorrow" anthology the tribute to the Bob Haney classics that it should have been. Only in 2009 did anyone come close to that - in the brilliant "Wednesday Comics", a weekly series of one-page Sunday-comic style adventures for 15 different heroes, Neil Gaiman wrote a silly and loving tribute to the classic era of Metamorpho! He'll get that ongoing series one day, I'm certain!