Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Classics - The Brave and Bold #57

I wish I could remember what I thought when I saw this issue at the newsstand late in 1964, but I must have been amazed. The first appearance of Metamorpho had to be the most un-DC-like comic that company had ever created.

Here was a hero who wasn't handsome or particularly clean-cut. In fact, he was downright gruesome and managed to be both tragic and comic at the same time.

Even the art and writing was an unusual mix. The story by Bob Haney (uncredited here) is mostly serious and straightforward (with some comic banter by the hero), but the art by the incredible Ramona Fradon is fantastic and often comical.

Her character designs are stunning, including the bizarre Element Man, the beautiful Sapphire, the brutish Java and the cartoonish Simon Stagg.

The story is straightforward: adventurer Rex Mason works for Stagg, a wealthy scientist. Mason's also in love with Stagg's daughter, Sapphire. Mason searches a pyramid for the Orb of Ra and finds himself in an ancient trap, entombed with a meteor that radiates power.

He somehow survives but is transformed into a strange new form. He finds he's able to change his body into other elements - magnesium, cobalt or hydrogen gas, to name a few. It's a terrific visual gimmick, and Fradon makes the most of it, bending his body into numerous strange shapes.

Even his name is out of the ordinary - I sure had no idea what a "Metamorpho" was. And he actually doesn't receive that name until the next issue!

So there were lots of reasons why this comic shouldn't have worked - and yet, by some magic (alchemy?), the disparate elements came together and formed an entertaining and energetic comic.

The mixture of dark and comic story elements were irresistible, and this comic (and his soon-to-follow solo title) became immediate favorites.

Unfortunately, the creative teams that followed couldn't maintain the balance between serious and comic adventures, and the comic veered too far into the comic realm - but when it was good, Metamorpho was one of the best.

Grade: A



Anonymous said...

Re-reading titles like this and DOOM PATROL remind us how different
DC books were from each other in
1963-1965, a noticable range of editorial directions that promised
a variety of entertainment.
Then the BATMAN tv show became a
phenomenon, and the camp style of
overblown excess infected most of
the DC titles. Batman flourished
and ultimately survived, but camp
did not suit the more tragic flawed
heroes like Metamorpho and the DP.
They stumbled and fell, hard.

Sam Kujava

Chuck said...

Sam, you make an excellent point - it never occurred to me that the blame for the change in tone in those books at DC should belong to the Batman TV show. You're right, the comics tried to ape the show's tone and failed miserably, leaving the comics with an edge in bad shape indeed.

Interesting that, as a kid, I loved the Batman TV show, but I didn't like the campy comics. Go figure.