Comic Art Friday: Imperius Rex!

I’m always tickled when a new addition to my Common Elements theme lands on my doorstep. The arrival of today’s featured artwork, however, represented a genuine coup for my signature gallery.

Hourman and Metamorpho, pencils by comics artist Ramona Fradon

Ramona Fradon, who created the above piece, was one of the first female artists — and one of the relative few, even to this day — to make her mark in the superhero comics genre. She broke into the business in the early 1950s, when the very idea of women working in mainstream comics was practically unheard of. Becoming the regular artist on Aquaman, Ms. Fradon garnered acclaim for her distinctive graceful style.

In the 1960s, after an extended maternity leave, Ms. Fradon returned to comics as the co-creator (with writer Bob Haney) of Metamorpho, the Element Man. (That’s him on the right in today’s drawing.) During the following decade, she worked extensively for DC Comics (on such series as Plastic Man, Freedom Fighters, and the comic for which many know her best today, Super Friends), and on rare occasion for Marvel (most notably, Fantastic Four #133). Then, in 1980, she transitioned into newspaper comics, taking over the art chores on the long-running strip Brenda Starr when creator Dale Messick retired. Ms. Fradon drew the intrepid reporter’s adventures for the next 15 years.

I had the honor of meeting Ms. Fradon four years ago at WonderCon, as she was about to be inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame. Here, she’s being interviewed by cartoonist Scott Shaw! (and yes, he spells it with an exclamation point).

Ramona Fradon and Scott Shaw!, WonderCon 2006

Ramona Fradon is mostly retired these days, but she’s still drawing for her fans, as the commission above attests. And as one can clearly see, her skills remain as sharp as ever, even though the artist is now well into her 80s.

As for the subjects of today’s featured item: Given the chance to commission Ms. Fradon, I wanted her to revisit the character she helped create. Metamorpho, like The Thing of the Fantastic Four, is a hero whose superpowers come at the price of a normal human appearance. Due to exposure to a radioactive meteorite, adventurer Rex Mason’s body gains the ability to transmute into any chemical element. This unique talent enables Rex to change into almost anything he can imagine — think Plastic Man on steroids. Sadly, the one change he can’t effect is making himself fully human. (I’ve never quite understood why, but that’s comics for you.)

Accompanying Metamorpho is another hero named Rex — specifically, Rex “Tick-Tock” Tyler, the original Hourman. As was the case with many superheroes of comics’ Golden Age, Tyler acquired his power from ingesting chemicals; in his case, the vitamin compound Miraclo. A dose of Miraclo gave Tyler superhuman strength and endurance, but only for the 60 minutes the effect lasted — hence the name Hourman. (Frankly, I always thought advertising one’s weakness to the world would be the most foolish move a superhero could make — sort of like Superman calling himself Captain Allergic-to-Kryptonite. If I were a supervillain, I’d figure out a way to keep Hourman confined or occupied for 61 minutes, then I’d beat the stuffing out of him.) Interestingly, as the years progressed, Tyler actually became addicted to Miraclo — one of the first examples of comics dealing with such a powerful health and social issue.

Speaking of time, I’m out of it for now.

So that, friend reader, is your Comic Art Friday.

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2 Comments on “Comic Art Friday: Imperius Rex!”

  1. Damon Says:

    Whew, there are artists half her age that don’t draw as well. Props to Ms. Fradon and to Uncle Swan for his wisdom in commissioning her.

  2. Tom Galloway Says:

    Picked up a nice Metamorpho sketch (solo, but with his legs having changed into a unicycle wheel) by Ms. Fradon at San Diego this year.

    Btw, originally Metamorpho was limited in his transmutations to the 20 elements that occur in the human body. Over time, this was increasingly ignored and writers would have him change into anything short of transuranium elements (and someone probably had him turn into plutonium or other at some point).

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