Showcase Presents: Metamorpho

Written by Bob Haney, with Gardner Fox
Penciled by Ramona Fradon, Joe Orlando, Sal Tripani, Jack Sparling, and Mike Sekowsky
Inked by Charles Paris, Jack Sparling, Mike Esposito, and Bernard Sachs
560 pages, black and white
Published by DC Comics

One of the great things about the Showcase Presents line is that it brings back into print comics that many of us almost certainly would have never encountered. For me, that would have definitely been the case with Showcase Presents: Metamorpho, collecting all 17 issues of the titular character’s comic from the mid-60s, as well as a handful of other appearances. And reading the book, it’s easy to see both why he was chosen to be plucked out of obscurity years later, and also perhaps why the book was cancelled in the first place.

Rex Mason was an adventurer who would do just about anything if you paid him. He was ready to retire, when his fiancée Sapphire Stagg’s father Simon asked Rex to go on one final mission—recover the Orb of Ra. Unfortunately, that mission turned Rex into the freakish looking Metamorpho, with the ability to change his body into any element that he could imagine. Just another day in the life of Rex Mason, adventurer, right?

The early chapters of Showcase Presents: Metamorpho are surprisingly creative and fun; Bob Haney’s creativity in these scripts reminds me a lot of classic Plastic Man comics, with Metamorpho coming up with new and elaborate shapes and compositions in order to save the day. It’s a strange combination of pulp adventure and superheroics, but it absolutely works; giving Metamorpho the ability to change his body means that Haney can go crazy with his stories, unleashing a whole catalog of larger-than-life villains, robots, monsters, and so forth.

The problem is, after a while, it all starts to blend together. With each new issue reprinted in Showcase Presents: Metamorpho, I found myself getting a little more and more disillusioned because of the sameness of each issue. If one was to create a drinking game around this comic, you’d get alcohol poisoning from taking a sip every time Haney uses the words cobalt, magnesium, or manganese. What was once inventive suddenly becomes flat. Even the late introduction of Element Girl (these days remembered primarily due to her appearance in Sandman: Dream Country) to serve as a romantic rival against Sapphire Stagg isn’t enough, unfortunately, and when the book was finally cancelled it’s not with a bang but with a saddened whimper.

Haney wisely kept Metamorpho away from the rest of the "DC Universe" while in his own title—wondering where the other heroes are when alien invasions hit takes a lot of the fun out of the comic, and it’s also harder to play up Metamorpho’s feeling that he’s a freak when characters like Martian Manhunter are around—but he originally debuted in The Brave and the Bold, and at the end of the volume we get two additional appearances from that series. Honestly, they feel really strange, even though they’re written by Haney as well. Metamorpho working with the Metal Men at least is a little understandable, since robots certainly showed up a great deal in the rest of Showcase Presents: Metamorpho, but Batman? Really? Likewise, the final chapter reprints Justice League of America #42 where Gardner Fox has the JLA try to recruit Metamorpho, and which comes off as surprisingly dull. (If DC wanted to convince me to not buy the Showcase Presents: Justice League of America collections, this was a great way to do so.)

The first third of the book is drawn by Ramona Fradon, who has been retired when they lured her back with this comic. I can see why Fradon was attracted to those initial, entertaining scripts, and her clean crisp art is a real joy. Later art by Joe Orlando and Sal Trapani is good, although not up to Fradon’s initial levels. (The less said about Jack Sparling’s fill-in art for the final issue of Metamorpho, though, the better. Perhaps it looked better in color? It certainly doesn’t fit with the rest of the book, though.) My only regret is that the black and white format doesn’t show off the eye-popping color scheme of Metamorpho, but at least they picked a cover image that has both him and Element Girl on the front, as to best see just what they looked like in those original color comics.

A color edition would have certainly cost a lot more than this $16.99 book, and it’s probably just as well DC Comics went this route. For this price, I don’t mind that I ultimately burnt out on the book before it came to its conclusion. I may not have liked all 560 pages, but there was enough to entertain me early on that I got my money’s worth. If you’re reading Showcase Presents: Metamorpho, though, and also find yourself getting bored—trust me, just stop while you’re ahead. Pushing through to the end will just end in disappointment.

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1 comment to Showcase Presents: Metamorpho

  • Paul R Wilson

    Issues 16-17 had a plotline that was cut short by the cancellation -and was, to my knowledge, never resolved. Also in the ~4 years bet cancellation and the return of Metamorpho in ACTION, he had not appeared at all. When he returned, the events of 16-17 were NOT alluded to. App. DC had disowned these 2 issues and decided NOT to resolve the messy story in them.