Metamorpho the Element Man is a DC Comics superhero. Metamorpho was created by writer Bob Haney (Metal Men, Doom Patrol) and artist Ramona Fradon, and debuted in The Brave and the Bold #57 in 1965 before getting his own ongoing series.
Rex Mason, Adventurer Archaeologist, became Metamorpho after being exposed to the Orb of Ra, an artifact made from a radioactive meteorite. He has the ability to shift his shape and to transform parts of his body into any element found in the human body. It came with several downsides, the most obvious of which is that in human form he is bald, lumpy, and his skin is divided into areas colored white, orange, brown, and purple. (Yes, he's one of those superheroes who regards their condition as more of a curse than a blessing.)
His supporting cast includes Simon Stagg, the amoral business tycoon who hired him to find the Orb, Sapphire Stagg, Stagg's daughter and Rex's love interest, and Java, Stagg's unfrozen-Neanderthal manservant. For a while he had a Distaff Counterpart, Element Girl, who is now mostly known for a memorable guest appearance in The Sandman.
Metamorpho was clearly inspired by what was happening down the street at Marvel Comics, with Haney giving the book an oddball hipness and his own version of teenage lingo, as well as engaging Stan Lee's famous trash-talking on his own terms. He gave the comic its Marvel-baiting tagline, and even parodied the Galactus Trilogy with the story of The Thunderer!, who was heralded by Neutrog the Forerunner!.
Metamorpho was one of the few characters to turn down an invitation to join the Justice League of America, and later became a founder member of the Outsiders, Batman's superhero team for superheroes who didn't belong in teams. Some time after that he became a member of Justice League Europe.
In Flashpoint and the New 52, Metamorpho doesn't exist, but has a Distaff Counterpart named Element Woman. Real name Emily Sung, she's a bubbly Cloud Cuckoolander, but an effective crimefighter. She helped the Justice League during the Throne of Atlantis story arc and was recruited into the League in issue 18.
In other media, Metamorpho has appeared as a guest character in the Justice League animated series, with the Outsiders in Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and a recurring character in Beware the Batman and Young Justice. Simon Stagg appears as an antagonist in Batman: Arkham Knight.
Metamorpho's adventures provide examples of:
- Adaptational Villainy: Simon Stagg's lack of scruples get played way up in adaptations, going from "merely" doing everything he can to break up Rex and his daughter to being guilty of horrific war crimes and human experimentation. Fortunately, these adaptations also make him far less likely to pull a Karma Houdini.
- Adventurer Archaeologist: Rex Mason. He was a soldier for hire, contracted to find the artifact called "Orb of Ra", and transformed into Metamorpho by the same artifact in an Egyptian tomb.
- Affectionate Parody: The main characters as originally conceived are an oblique Alternate Company Equivalent of the Fantastic Four, with changes and exaggerations for comic effect.
- Rex, the only empowered one of the four, can stretch, clobber, set himself on fire, and turn invisible by changing into gas, but shares Ben Grimm's angst over being a "freak" despite having a devil-may-care life and a wealthy girlfriend; ironically, it's hero work that makes the selfish, attention-hungry Sapph fall out of love with Rex more than anything.
- Simon, the brilliant scientist, is an exploitative and conniving bastard who uses the threat of destroying Rex (or the promise of curing him) to force his own daughter's boyfriend into servitude.
- Sapphire, the beautiful blonde, was much more fickle and overemotional than Sue's "Invisible Girl" 1960's characterization, to the point where it begs the question just what Rex saw in her in the first place.
- Java, the musclebound giant, is not only less competent than an average bodyguard with his size and strength would be, but usually completely useless against whatever threat they're facing, and has a serious attitude problem in the form of his own unrequited crush on Sapphire.
- Neutrog the Forerunner and the Thunderer are more explicit satires of the Silver Surfer and Galactus, with the twist being that the intergalactic destroyer is a mutant dwarf barely over a foot tall.
- All Cavemen Were Neanderthals: Java is a defrosted Neanderthal.
- Blessed with Suck: Metamorpho's powers come bundled with a freakish appearance (although actually it doesn't seem to have put Sapphire off as much as you might think).
- Metamorpho: "Blue Blazes!", "Holy Hannah!"
- Simon Stagg: "By Jasper!", "By Gadfrey!", "By the great Harry!"
- Chick Magnet: Hilariously enough despite his lack of internal organs, inhuman appearance, and Barbie Doll Anatomy, Rex has quite a way with women, having won the affections of beauties like Sapphire, Crimson Fox, and similarly empowered Element Girl.
- Clones Are People, Too: Metamorpho's clone Shift tries to live his own life as a member of the Outsiders, with the original Metamorpho's blessing. But when his android girlfriend gets corrupted by pre-existing evil programming, betrays the team, and dies, Shift says he can't bear to live any more and begs Metamorpho to reabsorb him, which he reluctantly does.
- Contemporary Caveman: Java, Stagg's unfrozen-Neanderthal manservant.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: Once clobbered Guy Gardner by turning himself into gold note . Rex later thinks to himself how much of a risk that was since gold is a very soft metal and Guy could've beaten him easily if Guy would've just stopped to think for a moment.
- Deadpan Snarker: Metamorpho is one of DC's better known quip-a-minute heroes.
- Death Is Cheap: Metamorpho has died and come back at least twice. On one occasion, Superman was the only person who bothered to attend his funeral, because everyone else just figured he'd be back sooner or later.
- Depending on the Writer:
- Whether a metamorphae is able to access (for simplicity's sake) all the elements of the periodical table, or only those found within the human body.note
- The origin of Metamorpho's powers. Were they mystical, as implied by being bestowed by the Orb of Ra and pretty firmly stated during Element Girl's death? Were they Magic from Technology, as the default was throughout the 70s and 90s? Were they genetic, as stated outright during Invasion!? Doomsday Clock states he was a deliberate government metahuman experiment.
- Elemental Shapeshifter: Metamorpho can transform into every chemical element in existence. Initially, he was limited to transforming into elements found within the human body, but this limit no longer applies.
- Fashionable Asymmetry: Metamorpho's default form.
- Green-Eyed Monster:
- Java — ever the heartsick, scheming fool — absolutely despises Rex for "stealing away" Sapphire, the girl of his affection, to the point where he believes Metamorpho to be a lesser romantic rival to himself and visibly cringes every time the two lovers kiss, thinking Sapph's trying to make him jealous. Even when he managed to marry Sapphire during a time when Rex was believed to be dead and became a friendly father figure to Sapphire and Rex's mutant son, Joey, Java still couldn't catch a break and died when he tried to kill a returned Rex for abducting Joey from Stagg Mansion.
- Element Girl and Metamorpho were an on-again, off-again coupling with smacks of Pairing the Spares due to being the only two living creatures of their nature. Rex finally choosing Sapphire pretty much triggered Element Girl's Despair Event Horizon.
- Happily Married: After finally getting fed up with Rex's constant indecision over proposing (his main concern was finding a cure, for her sake, before he popped the question), Sapph chewed him out for his self-pity and asked him herself. He immediately and joyfully said "yes", and the couple have since persevered through thick and thin.
- I Cannot Self-Terminate: Element Girl tried numerous times to commit suicide and found it impossible. She required divine intervention to finally die. Since Metamorpho has the same powers, he would presumably also have the same problem offing himself
- Like a Duck Takes to Water: Java, Depending on the Writer; in some depictions, he's adapted quite well to the present and adopted an articulate vocabulary.
- Magic Meteor: The source of Metamorpho's powers.
- Monster from Beyond the Veil: After one of Metamorpho's deaths, his son wishes to have him back (without specifying "alive"), and this is the result.
- Monster Modesty: As mentioned below, he wears nothing but underwear.
- Murder the Hypotenuse: He rarely attempts to directly kill Rex, but Java has proven himself a remorseless opportunist several times, slinking away quietly when Metamorpho is in trouble rather than helping him out; only when Sapph's in trouble can he manage to (briefly) put aside his rivalry for her sake.
- Nigh-Invulnerable: The nature of Rex's body provides him with natural body armor, and his lack of vital organs makes him difficult to harm. Forming himself into a capsule around other JLE members, going through re-entry from Earth orbit and crash-landing only knocks him unconscious, for example. Element Girl mentions that she cannot drown or asphyxiate, that her body just metabolizes toxins and poisons without her suffering harm from them, and that she's fairly sure that being at ground zero of a thermonuclear explosion would only make her radioactive, so presumably Metamorpho is similarly durable. Death of the Endless mentions one of the previous metamorphae who died in a volcano, however, so this nigh-invulnerability does have limits (though they may vary by individual or with age).
- Oops! I Forgot I Was Married: He had amnesia, and had forgot everything about his former life, even his name. And then, a precious girl shows up, saying that they were married. And also an over sized gorilla who is currently married with her, and wants to kill Metamorpho for being in the same room than her.
- Running Gag: In Justice League International, he loves watching The Three Stooges as much as John loves Oreos.
- Took a Level in Badass: Originally a Spoiled Brat whose self-centered, flighty, generally useless nature was played for laughs, Sapphire Stagg gradually got tougher and more resilient under later writers.
- Underwear of Power: In his default human appearance, Metamorpho is naked except for his underwear of power — which therefore are presumably part of his body. Element Woman also has a bandeau bikini top, with just as much explanation.
- Voluntary Shapeshifting: One of Metamorpho's powers. He can shape parts and portions of his body instead of the whole. He can form such complex shapes as a tank and a bicycle and such simple forms as a cloud or a spring.