They just don’t make ’em like this anymore. Rex Mason is a freelance adventurer who makes a living doing exotic things like discovering rare gems and finding rare shrinking potions. He’s got a streak of white in his hair and a whole lot of testosterone in his body. He’s also in love with a beautiful babe called Sapphire Steel, who’s a millionairess and drives fancy sports cars. She, in turn, is the daughter of Simon Stagg, who has a love-hate sort of relationship with Mason. And has a pet leopard and also an aide de camp who’s a caveman.
Is that convoluted enough? Give it another minute.
So in the premiere story, Mason goes on a mission from Simon Stagg, for which Stagg will pay him a million dollars. Somehow the magic rock Mason finds changes him from a man to a bizarre being, a being that can change the elements. An element man. And thus does Rex Mason, adventurer, become the misshapen Metamorpho, the Element Man.
This is one of DC’s odder concepts of the ’60s. In an era when their big characters were intensely formula-driven, comics like Metamorpho and Doom Patrol provided some unique characters and situations. This comic is a very odd cross between James Bond, romance comics and super-heroes. And it just gets odder from here!
Metamorpho isn’t cheesy fun, it’s just pure mid-’60s fun. Unlike modern comics, this one doesn’t take itself seriously at all. It’s pure wacky adventure. Take Metamorpho #12 as an example. This issue chronicles the bad things that happen when millionaire Simon Stagg offers a million dollars to the inventor who can cure Metamorpho of his, well, metamorphism. A series of idiot inventors come in, but that’s okay, because Stagg doesn’t really want a cure to be found. Metamorpho had been nagging Stagg to find a cure for his transformation, but Stagg doesn’t want him to change back to plain ol’ Rex Mason, alpha male. So he chooses an inventor at random, flat-headed Franz Zorb by name, expecting his abject failure. Instead, Zorb creates his own element creatures, Hafnium, Omsium, Selenium and others, and sets them to… well… a football game.
The leadoff caption of issue 12 reads, “The crackle of leaves, the thud of muscle against pigskin, the deep-throated roar of frantic fans – it’s football time! But there never was a game like the one kicking off now – when the rampaging robots of Dr. Franz Zorb take the field against the ‘golden boy’ of the gridiron, ‘swivel hips’ Metamorpho – with the fate of the world (what else!) riding on the outcome!”
Every issue is filled with gems like this, great bouncy bits of mid-Sixties hipsterism and hype, as we meet the Element Girl, see ol’ Rexy battle against some funky villains and even turn down membership in the JLA in the immortal “Metamorpho Says No.”
The only thing that detracts from this book is that the quality of the artwork goes downhill after Fradon leaves the book. Ramona Fradon brought an element of charm and animated style to the six issues she illustrates. Her successors are each good in their own way, but Jack Sparling, for instance, is a far cry from Fradon. And one of the stories illustrated by Mike Sekowsky is as bizarrely illustrated as any you might find in comics histoy.
I honestly never expected to see this comic reprinted, but this new Showcase series has brought us the return of the Element Man for a mere $16.99. You won’t find a more breezily wacky comic for that kind of money.