Thursday, March 29, 2012

Book Review: Showcase Presents Metamorpho

Like a lot of folks, the first volume I purchased in DC Comics' trade paperback reprint series Showcase Presents was the first Superman book, since I saw it at the bookstore (back when we had one in this county) for only $9.99.  That was a pretty good book, so I went looking on for others, and the next one I snagged featured nearly all the sixties' appearances of one of my favorite super-heroes: Metamorpho the Element Man.

Metamorpho was part of a metaphorical second wave of creative endeavors that flourished in the Silver Age of comics over at DC Comics. The first wave had such luminaries as the Flash, Green Lantern, the Atom, Hawkman, and the Challengers of the Unknown joining the DC universe. I've always thought Metamorpho heralded second wave of heroes, along with the likes of the Metal Men and the Doom Patrol.

For those unfamiliar with the character, Rex Mason was a soldier-of-fortune who delighted in taking the money of entrepreneur Simon Stagg and then showing him up, all the while romancing Stagg's beautiful daughter Sapphire. Stagg and his musclebound henchman Java (a formerly petrified caveman) got their revenge by trapping Mason in an Egyptian pyramid. Inside, Rex was exposed to the radiation of a strange meteor, which changed him into the freakish-looking Element Man. Because of his love for Sapphire, he could wreak vengeance on Stagg, but continued to work for him while the man supposedly tried to find a cure for Rex's condition.

The series was created by Bob Haney and Ramona Fradon and Metamorpho's first two adventures were really the only stories to interrupt the long-run of team-ups in the pages of The Brave and the Bold (the team-up format ran from issues #50 to #200). This book reprints those two stories, along with his next two appearances in the title, with the Metal Men and Batman. The rest of the book is devoted to Metamorpho's seventeen-issue comic book, along with his pivotal appearance in Justice League of America #42, in which he became the first hero to turn down membership in that elite organization.

The artwork is primarily done by Ramona Fradon, a rare and talented female comic creator of the era. She had a very comical, almost cartoony style that fit in well with the camp-edged environment of sixties' comic books. Joe Orlando and Sal Trapani also take turns at the artistic helm, as does comic legend Mike Sekowsky in the team-up with Batman and the JLA story.

The stories are typical sixties' DC fare. You can really feel for Rex's predicament in the early stories, but can see him gradually get accustomed to his new abilities. The tales have just the right amount of angst-to-action. The last few tales have Rex being joined by Element Girl, his female counterpart. Element Girl went on to a much more glorious fate at the hands of Neil Gaiman's Death in the pages of the award-winning Sandman in the late eighties.

Metamorpho hasn't yet appeared in the "New 52" continuity of modern DC Comics, at least to my knowledge. Hopefully they won't completely revamp Rex Mason beyond the point of recognition when he does make that first fateful appearance.  Showcase Presents Metamorpho is a good reprint volume and a fun read for any comic fan of the Silver Age who enjoys good, reliable story telling with just a hint of comedy.


by Rich Meyer

The third volume of The Trivia Quiz Book series proves I have way too much time on my hands!

This e-book features another 301 questions and answers about a variety of topics: Sports, books, music, commercials, geography, history, advertising and many more.

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