This essay originally ran in the Comics Journal.
Metamorpho Year One
Dan Jurgens, Mike Norton, Jesse Delperdang
One of the first comics I read was The Brave and the Bold #154, featuring Batman and Metamorpho. Metamorpho had hardly any face time, as it turned out, but his brief appearance made a decided impression. Bob Haney’s plot had the element man wearing jodhpurs and consorting with Turkish drug dealers while spouting supposedly hip but actually dadaesque lines like, “Wowee! Kaman kiddo wasn’t kidding!” Meanwhile, Jim Aparo drew that malleable body from all sorts of bizarre angles — an almost unreadable shot upward through telescoped metal legs; a vertiginous shot from above with Metamorpho’s mouth gaping open as a baddy shoots a flamethrower down his gullet. Both artist and writer were clearly having a blast, and their enthusiasm for the character was infectious. I wanted to read more about him.
I never did though. Oh, I read a fair number of comics featuring Metamorpho, but none of them had anything like the charge of that first meeting. Still, even with my expectations suitably lowered, Metamorpho: Year One is quite, quite bad. Jurgens and Norton switch off on the drawing chores, but neither of them takes any advantage of Metamorpho’s visual potential. Everything looks CGI, with limbs turning into smooth blades or smooth drills — it’s like Metamorpho’s a bottom basement Terminator. Nobody here can even draw mildly successful cheesecake. Sapphire Stagg, the Metamorpho mythos’ gratuitous sex bomb, has the requisite blond hair, big bazoongas, and lack-of-attire, but through the miracle of stiff poses, shaky anatomy, incompetent stylization, and godawful computer coloring, she still ends up looking as sensual as a hunk of plastic.
Dan Jurgens’ story is, if anything, even worse than the art. Rex Mason (the guy who turns into Metamorpho) has all the personality and gumption of a wilted houseplant. The evil Simon Stagg tries to kill him? He gets so mad that he…whines a little. The beautiful Sapphire Stagg doesn’t want him anymore because he’s all, like, ugly now? He gets so mad that he…whines a little. And when the Justice League tricks him into thinking he’s fighting a deadly super-villain and then brags about how clever they were, Metamorpho…tells them how super-heroic they are. Oh, yeah, and then he whines a little. Peter Parker had angst; Metamorpho has querulousness.
Still, I’m not in any position to whine myself, I suppose. To read a comic based on your affection for a character you first encountered 30 years ago is pretty much begging for disappointment. I guess I momentarily forgot that the whole point of super-hero comics these days is to sully the childhood memories of paunchy middle-aged fanboys. At that mission, at least, Metamorpho: Year One succeeds admirably.
Update: I confused Star Sapphire and Sapphire Stagg in the original post. I bet they get that all the time.