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At one time, Brave and the Bold #57 (Ja'65) was the oldest book in my nascent collection. I don't remember where I got it from and I was far too young to treat it gently. I'm pretty sure that I saw METAMORPHO before, probably in B&B #123 (D'75). But I loved his origin story. As I read it today, I consider it a Silver Age classic. There is a completeness to it with several twists that makes it seem like a storyboard for a movie or TV show. This Bob Haney/Ramona Fradon/Charlie Paris production hits every point and while its four principle characters are caricatures, they are believable.

The story begins with the famous soldier-of-fortune REX MASON returning from another expedition to find a shrinking formula from South America. But the awaiting crowd gasps in horror as a tiny Rex emerges from the plane! But it's a prank to allow Rex to rendezvous with the love of his life, the vivacious, extremely spoiled yet good-hearted SAPPHIRE STAGG. It also shows that Rex cares little for public adoration.

(The way it reads seems like we're in the middle of a Adventures of Rex Mason comic!)

As the lovebirds try to have a moment, they are taken by the masked "employees" of Sapphire's father and Rex's "patron", the brilliant, scheming, filthy rich SIMON STAGG who detests Rex for loving his daughter, his most prized possession, yet knows Rex's value as a man who gets things done. Along with Stagg is his faithful, dim-witted but strong servant, the revived caveman, JAVA who also loves Sapphire!

 Stagg berates Rex for failing to get the shrinking formula until Rex miniaturizes his pet leopard! Rex promised to find the formula but not to give it to Stagg as Rex feels Stagg cannot be trusted with it! Stagg decides that Rex has gone too far. He offers him one million dollars to fly to Egypt to recover the ORB OF RA from the pyramid of Ahk-Ton with Java to accompany him. If Rex succeeds, he'll have enough money to marry Sapphire and be free of Stagg. However, Stagg never intends for Rex to return and orders Java to kill him after he finds the Orb.

The pyramid emits a strange glow which causes their small plane to crash, damaging a strut. With Java's prehistoric strength, they enter the pyramid and learn how Ahk-Ton found and used a meteor to create the Orb which they soon find. Suddenly Java knocks out Rex and leaves him in the pyramid. As Rex crashes to the floor, he activates an ancient conveyor system which brings him to the meteor which glows with a deadly heat! Before he passes out, Rex drinks a weird chemical that Stagg had given in case of a deadly emergency. With his last thoughts only for Sapphire, Rex succumbs to oblivion!

Later as the meteor cools down, to his amazement, Rex is still alive! As he staggers to his feet, he makes for the exit. But when he passes a mirror, he is shocked to see that he has changed: his head bald and chalk white, his left side a bright orange, his right a scaly purple, his left leg a muddy brown and his right a fluorescent blue. He is horrified at both his new appearance and that he has been sealed in the pyramid by Java. Suddenly, driven by his desire to escape, Rex transforms into gas and seeps outside to freedom. Guessing that he can now become different forms of elements found in the body in any amount, he uses magnesium to repair the strut on his plane and go after Stagg!

Meanwhile Stagg's men have retrieved Java and return him to America where he tells Sapphire of Rex's "tragic demise". She begs her father to save him. Stagg sweetly replies that he'll try but fears it's too late. After his grief-stricken daughter leaves, he gloats about his victory over Rex and his possession of the Orb of Ra! But suddenly he hears Rex's voice, vowing to get him!

Stagg's men cannot handle his chemical warfare and confronts Stagg in his new form but Sapphire is there as well and faints. He makes quick work of Java and discovers that he is bulletproof! As he's about to get his hands on Stagg, he is weakened by the Orb of Ra! Thinking on his feet, Stagg pleads to let Rex study him and try to cure him. They learn that he possesses the power of the elements, can alter his form and is immune to electricity and acid. But Stagg can't find a way to reverse the process. But Rex is too valuable to him to ever want to cure him!

At that time, Java goes mad and sets fire to Stagg's mansion, endangering Sapphire whose trapped upstairs. Rex uses his powers to rescue her and extinguish the blaze. Sapphire comforts him and tells him that she still loves him. She also convinces to use his powers for good as METAMORPHO THE ELEMENT MAN!

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Metamorpho was DC's attempt of creating a Marvel-style "cursed" hero and they did pretty good. His sardonic wit hid the nobility of Rex Mason who was a hero before his change. In some ways, he was Reed Richards, Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm combined. Stagg was both ally and villain, a truly Machiavellian genius whose audacity knew no bounds. Java was both a wild card and comic relief.

But Sapphire was practically Betty and Veronica combined! She could be shallow, reckless and vain but also supportive, loving and kind.

Too bad, the technology didn't exist to transform Rex into the cinema world.

I loved the Fradon art, the concept, the characters. What I didn't like was the dialogue! Blue Blazes, it was Haney at his worst!

As the series went on, definitely. But Haney was dramatically subdued at the beginning!
 
Captain Comics said:

I loved the Fradon art, the concept, the characters. What I didn't like was the dialogue! Blue Blazes, it was Haney at his worst!

I'll buy that.

Does anyone know why Metamorpho debuted solo in a team-up book? I seem to remember something about him being bumped from Showcase when something fell through in B&B, but I may be conflating with some other property. Anyone know?

In an interview, Ramona Fradon had no idea why Metamorpho debuted in B&B.

Then again, why did they pair Doctor Fate and Hourman in Showcase?

Agreed. Under a different writer, Arnold Drake for instance, I could have handled much more Metamorpho. Instead I avoided the series after a couple issues.

Captain Comics said:

I loved the Fradon art, the concept, the characters. What I didn't like was the dialogue! Blue Blazes, it was Haney at his worst!

I was a fan of Metamorpho and bought all his issues off the spinner. I'm with Cap on the art, concept and characters, which were really different than most other superhero premises. The dialog was cringe-worthy, but I was getting used to that from DC. Fradon made Metamorpho it's own little world, which I liked.

I never thought about why he debuted in B&B. It had become a teamup book, but it had only been one for a year,  so maybe they didn't think it would be that apparent.

It may have been planned for Showcase and got shifted over when a series that was planned for that B&B spot didn't come through. G.I. Joe had just begun its run in Showcase, and maybe they had to slot that in unplanned to take advantage of the big Hasbro promotion for Christmas and bumped Metamorpho into B&B, figuring the hero team-ups could wait?

If so, I might have switched those if I'd had to, as G.I. Joe at least was teaming up with other military units. I don't know if one was selling significantly better than the other, as that could have had an effect, but I'd expect that would depend on the characters.

I've never heard it addressed, as I've seen about how X-Men came out along with Avengers when DD was planned. It may be lost to history  by now. 

-- MSA

It probably was a matter of scheduling -- and also that editor George Kashdan handled more issues of Brave & Bold than he did of Showcase (where, right after GI Joe, another teamup happened, that of Dr. Fate and Hourman, under editor Julius Schwartz. The war issues of both titles were edited by Robert Kahniger, of course.). 

If Kashdan was developing Metamorpho with Haney and Fradon, B&B might have been his first shot on the calendar to get it published. And as you say, with the format being team-up for only a year (7 issues), that's not much longer than its previous format, Strange Sports Stories (5 issues). Kashdan was probably just changing things up again to see what worked best -- the reason for both titles at the time. We think of it as a team-up book now from the perspective of history.

It's possible the titles weren't even really seen as functionally separate by DC editorial, but two versions of the same book. Cave Carson appeared in both!

The Brave and the Bold was DC’s second try-out title from #23 (the Viking Prince had already been appearing in the title, but in #23-#24 he appeared by himself and had a large cover-logo) to #49. These issues appeared between Showcase #19 and #46. During this period the titles were bimonthlies and appeared in alternating months.


The last The Brave and the Bold try-out before the team-ups started was “Strange Sports Stories”, which ran five issues.(1) Its start coincides with the start of the “Tommy Tomorrow” run in Showcase, which also ran for five issues but was interrupted by two one-offs (the Dr No issue and the Sgt Rock one).(2) I doubt that’s a coincidence. It could mean DC was looking to change what it was doing. The editors may have been finding it difficult to come up with new concepts at the required rate.


During that period the titles were edited on a round robin basis. I think when the team-ups started The Brave and the Bold at first continued to be: according to DC Indexes Murray Boltinoff did #50-#51, Robert Kanigher #52, Boltinoff #53-#54, George Kashdan #55-#60, and Julie Schwartz #61-#62. After that Kashdan regularly edited up to #77 after which Boltinoff took over, because Kashdan was fired.(3) That was also when Metamorpho was cancelled.


I’ve previously argued the Dr Fate/Hourman issues of Showcase (#55-#56) were also created for The Brave and the Bold. But it could be instead that Schwartz was assigned those issues of Showcase and, not wanting to come up with a new feature, did a team-up.(4) The Dr Fate/Hourman stories appeared before the Starman/Black Canary ones.


My recollection is it’s Commander Benson’s view that Metamorpho was bumped from Showcase by the G.I. Joe issues. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the details of his argument. Wikipedia tells me Hasbro’s G.I. Joe was launched in 1964. Perhaps DC did the Showcase issues to get the comics trademark on the title before someone else did. (Ziff-Davis had used it previously, apparently with success: it was its longest-running comic.)

An alternative possibility is the Dr Fate/Hourman stories were bumped from The Brave and the Bold #57-#58 so Metamorpho could debut earlier. I can believe those involved thought they had something with Metamorpho.


(1) It was edited by Julie Schwartz, who also edited the preceding run, the second Hawkman try-out. They add up to a run of eight issues.

(2) Since Showcase was a bimonthly due to the interruptions the Tommy Tomorrow try-out ran over a year.

(3) Dick Giordano talked about the reasons Kashdan was fired in this interview

(4) Commander Benson cites here (in the comments) Michael Uslan’s recollection of a letter from Schwartz saying a Spectre/Dr Mid-Nite team-up was planned for Showcase #60.

Ramona Fradon briefly talked about Metamorpho's creation in this interview.

Philip Portelli said:

Metamorpho was DC's attempt of creating a Marvel-style "cursed" hero and they did pretty good. His sardonic wit hid the nobility of Rex Mason who was a hero before his change.

I was on board for his debut and all of his following issues. I liked his character immediately. Ramona Fradon's art was jarring to me at first, being used to more realistic artists, but she won me over immediately.

I really like Metamorpho: it was something different and itself, with one of the best supporting casts. I see the dialogue as part of the Metamorpho experience.

Bob Haney talked about Metamorpho’s creation in this interview, and also about what went wrong commercially. Apparently a pilot cartoon was made. More on this here.

 

Metamorpho's shape-changing abilities recall those of Plastic Man's imitators and the Metal Men. When he debuted in The Brave and the Bold the Metal Men had a title and Elongated Man was regularly appearing in Detective Comics. Metamorpho #12 was surely a Metal Men parody.

The body of Ultra the Multi-Alien from Mystery in Space was divided in almost the same way. He debuted the month of Metamorpho #3. It surprises me that DC had them on the stands at the same time, but I guess Marvel had both the Thing and the Hulk.

Martin O’Hearn has a post here on swipes in Sal Trapani’s issues which notes #15 had swipes from Fantastic Four.


The GCD tells me the Showcase collection has his 60s appearances. In the 70s Haney wrote back-up stories featuring the character for Action Comics (while Murray Boltinoff was editing) and World’s Finest Comics, and used him more than once in both The Brave and the Bold and World’s Finest Comics. He also did a Metamorpho issue of 1st Issue Special with Fradon, #3.

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