Metamorpho #17, "Last Mile for an Element Man!"

METAMORPHO #17; Mar.-Apr. 1968; DC Comics; George Kashdan, editor; featuring the Element Man in a tale written by regular Meta-scribe Bob Haney, drawn by new artist Jack Sparling, and given the unintentionally-- or was it?-- prophetic title, "Last Mile for an Element Man!" On the cover by Sparling, Metamorpho is on trial. He is surrounded by an angry crowd pointing accusing fingers at him, and a figure with a robe and gavel-- who wears a helmet with "see no evil" fingers covering his eyes-- shouts, "Justice is not blind, FREAK! Anyone can see you are...." Metamorpho himself finishes the sentence; "Guilty! Yeah... I'm guilty...GUILTY!" Review by Bill Henley On the splash page a prison guard with keys walks towards a cell as a clock ticks. It is ticking down the moments till a scheduled execution, and the condemned prisoner is none other than Metamorpho. ""All right, it's time...are you ready?" "Ready as I'll ever be, chum! Let's get it over with!" "What amazing turn in the fabulous life of the Element Man has brought him to this...the last mile? Walk with him toward death's bony embrace-- if you dare-- and all shall be utterly revealed!" As our hero walks toward his scheduled doom, he passes the witnesses to the execution, who include his former closest associates-- grim-faced tycoon Simon Stagg, a black-veiled Sapphire Stagg, and an eager grinning Java the caveman. Asked if he has any last words, Metamorpho says, "I'm glad it's over! I'm glad to be going! My real life ended a long time ago!" A tearful Sapphire suddenly breaks down, crying, "NO, REX, MY DARLING! IT CAN'T END THIS WAY! I LOVE YOU...I'LL ALWAYS LOVE ONLY YOU" But her father Simon Stagg holds her back, sternly warning her not to "besmirch the Stagg name" and reminding her that she herself "helped put Metamorpho here!" The means of execution is a "cryonic deep-freezer which alone can stop his unique life". As Metamorpho steps into it, he thinks, "So long, Sapph baby", as she continues to sob, Simon tries to comfort her by reminding her that she remains heiress to the Stagg "power and glory", and Java exults that Sapphire will now be his (yeah, right); "Has not Java waited a million years for this?" But how did Metamorpho get into this meta-mess? To find out, we go to a flashback to the end of the previous issue, in which the Element Man's foe Queen Jezeba suddenly aged thousands of years and died and her lost city of Ma-Phoor collapsed around her. Then a dark-cloaked figure called Mr. Shadow appears announcing, "Destiny has played its hand! Now you will do as I say!" But before our hero can hear Mr. Shadow's demands, someone else wants to give him orders. Two "international police agents" appear on the scene, accompanied by Simon, Sapphire and Java, and accuse Metamorpho of "murdering one Wally Bannister, husband of Sapphire Stagg!" "Yes, you beast, Rex, you killed my husband before the honeymoon even started! I HATE YOU, YOU INHUMAN MONSTER!" The police agents candidly admit they do not have the power to arrest the chemical-powered Element Man if he doesn't want to submit, but "appeal to (his) belief in law and order!" Metamorpho agrees, "I dig the law and order bit-- and I'm going to show you all this is just a crazy mistake!" He hopes not only to save his life but to "turn off that hate-light in Sapphire;s eyes!" But as the trial proceeds, a string of supposed eyewitnesses swear to seeing Metamorpho push Wally Bannister over the rail of a ship; Java gleefully testifies how Metamorpho was supposedly insanely jealous of any rival for Sapphire's love; and Simon Stagg as defense attorney (where did he get his law degree?) makes only a lame effort to defend his client by tacitly admitting guilt but urging the court to remember his client's past heroics and "judge him as a super-hero gone astray!" Our hero has no proof of his claim of having been far away in a now-destroyed lost city, and even Rex Mason himself begins to question his own innocence, wondering if he really killed Bannister in a "chemical blackout" and concluding despairingly, "Sapph...the whole world...they hate me now! No use going on living!" The story goes on, however, but not till after house ads for the new series HAWK & DOVE ("Steve Ditko, Like Lightning, Strikes Again!" and an ACTION COMICS/SUPERGIRL 80 Page Giant, and a page of "Contest Winners" suggesting creative ways for Metamorpho to use his chemical transformation powers, such as forming a clear glass safe for Stagg's money, a "beauty chair" for Sapphire, or starch for caveman Java's shorts. Following this frivolity, back to the grim business at hand, as Metamorpho freezes solid with a last thought of Sapphire and the "execution box" is given a burial at sea. He is remembered with mixed emotions, some people still hailing him as a hero and others rejoicing at his death. But one remaining admirer has the ability to do more than mourn, as Urania Blackwell, the former secret agent who in a previous issue gained Metamorpho-like powers as Element Girl, goes underwater to find and revive the man she too loves. But as she finds Metamorpho's sunken grave and turns her hand into an acetylene torch to free him, she is confronted by a new figure-- the guy from the cover who wears the "see no evil" helmet (along with skin-diving equipment) and declares that he is "The Prosecutor!" His "mission is this world" is to make sure anyone accused of a crime is found guilty-- regardless of whether or not they actually are guilty. The Prosecutor, working for a mysterious, unnamed "client", saw to Metamorpho's execution, and now his task is to make sure our hero stays dead. An angry Element Girl uses all her abilities against the Prosecutor, but he has powers of his own which threaten to overwhelm Element Girl in the underwater battle. But as they fight, seawater enters the crevice Element Girl made in Metamorpho's deep-freeze box and jams the cold-producing mechanism. Just as The Prosecutor is on the verge of defeating Element Girl with a force field, a pair of "magnetic armatures" appears to create a counter-force and stymie the agent of injustice, sending him fleeing on his "automated sea sled". Metamorpho has revived and acted to rescue his would-be rescuer. But he's not sure he's grateful; "Why didn't you just leave me in the 'Big Cool'? I'm a murderer... a stupid freak who commits crimes and doesn't even remember them!" But Element Girl reveals what The Prosecutor told her about his role in framing Metamorpho, and our revitalized hero vows that he will make The Prosecutor "clear the old Metamorpho name.... or I'll make buzzard bait of him!" Element Man and Girl follow Prosecutor's sled, hoping to trail him to his mysterious "client". His destination proves to be a barren volcanic island; "That joker's client couldn't hang out here...there's nothing on this burnt hunk of real estate!" But The Prosecutor summons a strange figure who arises out of smoke and flame from a volcano and is addressed as "Algon". Watching invisibly in the form of a cloud of hydrogen gas, Metamorpho remembers where he heard the name Algon before... Algon was the first Element Man, who had chemical powers ages before in the city of Ma-Phoor. Now he exists in a bath of lava which he hopes will fully restore his former powers, and he wants to be the only Element Man left standing. It was he who was recruited by The Prosecutor to pose as Rex Mason and murder Wally Bannister so that Metamorpho could be framed. Algon retreats into the lava bath, but Metamorpho does not fear to pursue him there, and the younger, stronger Element Man defeats his predecessor in battle. Then Algon starts to disintegrate, for the lava bath he thought would fully restore him to life is instead destroying him. In his last moments, Algon reveals how he was an ancient Roman soldier who entered a pyramid and gained element powers (just as Rex Mason did centuries later) until the treacherous Queen Jezeba of Ma-Phoor destroyed his powers with the Orb of Ra. The repentant, dying Algon urges Metamorpho, "Now you are the only Man of Elements! Do not abuse your sacred powers....use them for good!" As he dies, Algon sees the ghostly face of Jezeba, whom he still owes though she betrayed him. Metamorpho resolves to keep his vow by using his powers solely for the good of humanity and never again as "Stagg's errand boy! I'm gonna play it way...all the way!" Not alone, Element Girl reminds him, for she will be at his side. Our hero agrees, deciding he has been a "sap" about Sapphire, who failed to defend him when he was accused of murder. But the two of them will have "every cop in the world on our necks" unless Rex Mason can prove his innocence-- with his only defense witness, Algon, now dead. His only hope is to track down the Prosecutor again and learn the identity of his true "client". Meanwhile, the Prosecutor himself is entering a "hidden fortress" and confronting his "client", who can be seen only as a figure inside some sort of strange cocoon and surrounded by giant insects. Prosecutor confesses that he has failed to destroy Metamorpho for good, but vows to finish the job with some additional help from his "client". Nothing doing, says the "client", who has no tolerance for failure and is concerned that the Prosecutor may lead his enemies to him before he is ready to strike in person. The "client" summons a swarm of giant bees to penetrate Prosecutor's protective force field and sting him to death. And at this point, Metamorpho appears as closing narrator; "HOLY BLUE HANNAH, METAMANIACS! We gotta stop right now until next issue! Looks like my pal, the Prosecutor, is in large trouble! And like, who in blazes is this weirdo 'client' of his? I gotta find out to survive! Stick with the old Element Guy, kiddos, 'cause I'm gonna need all the help I can get in the next adventure of the world's most fabulous freak-- ME, METAMORPHO!" But if anybody waited eagerly for that next issue to learn more about the Prosecutor and his insectoid "client", they waited in vain. That next issue never showed up on the stands, and Metamorpho's subsequent adventures-- Batman team-ups in BRAVE & BOLD and a series of backup stories in ACTION COMICS and WORLD'S FINEST-- never picked up on the Prosecutor plotline. Nor did Metamorpho keep his resolve to operate strictly as a fighter for justice and renounce his love for Sapphire and his servitude to Simon Stagg. Element Girl vanished from sight after this issue, and later Metamorpho stories went back to the status quo of Rex Mason loving the flighty Sapphire and working, on and off, for Stagg. In my recent review of DOOM PATROL #121 I noted that that last issue of that series broke with an earlier tradition, in which cancelled comic-book titles would vanish abruptly without any warning and with no closure of any ongoing storylines. Obviously, this last issue of METAMORPHO follows that earlier tradition. The plug was pulled suddenly on the title and nobody in the editorial office cared enough to make an announcement in the last issue (the lettercol also makes no mention of the title ending) or rewrite the story to tie off the dangling plotlines. Conceivably, the "Last Mile' story title and opening scene of Metamorpho's "execution" reflected inside knowledge by writer and editor that the title was about to end, but more likely it was just standard fake jeopardy. (Some time later, METAMORPHO was mentioned in a Mark Hanerfeld "Wonderful World of DC" fan column in other DC books, among other vanished/cancelled titles whose fans had asked "Whatever happened to....?")