Comic Cards Project: Day 40 • Element Girl

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Urania Blackwell was a US secret agent who purposefully exposed herself to the same radioactive meteorite that turned Rex Mason into Metamorpho. Like him, she gained the ability to totally control the elements in her body, and likewise turned into a monstrous-looking freak in the process.

No one in her right mind would “volunteer to change herself into a walking chemistry set” (as Rex put it), and like her namesake element, Urania was a little unstable. When she decided she and Metamorpho were destined to be lovers, it caused more than a little friction between Mason and his fiancé, Sapphire Stagg.

So who won in the catfight for the love of Metamorpho? His comic was cancelled after issue #17 without resolving the matter, so your guess is as good as mine.

Illustrating one playing card a day using characters found between 1957-1967 in DC Comics. Next: It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s SUPERMAN!

Comic Cards Project: Day 39 • Metamorpho

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Rex Mason was a handsome and famous soldier of fortune (only in comic books, right?), employed by super wealthy scientific genius Simon Stagg. Not a fan of Stagg’s power-hungry ways, Mason agreed to one last job for (wait for it) ONE MILLION DOLLARS so he could quit and marry Stagg’s beautiful daughter Sapphire.

While on his mission to retrieve a rare Egyptian artifact, he was exposed to a radioactive meteorite that transformed him into a repulsive freak—but it also enabled him to control the elements in his body. He could now become a fluorine gas, reshape himself into an iron tank, or turn his fist into cobalt at will. However, he couldn’t change back into his former good-looking self.

Despite Stagg’s brilliance and vast fortune, he couldn’t rectify Mason’s freakish condition but promised to keep trying. In spite of his ugliness, Sapphire still loved and stood by him. She came up with the name Metamorpho for her fiancé and convinced him to use his great powers for good.

The unusual hero who didn’t want his superpowers was produced by an unusual artist. Ramona Fradon, just about the only woman drawing superhero comics at the time, designed Metamorpho and drew his first four stories. She also enjoyed a long run drawing Aquaman and co-created his sidekick Aqualad. She confessed later that she hated drawing superheroes but didn’t mind drawing goofy characters like Plastic Man—and Metamorpho.

Illustrating one playing card a day using characters found between 1957-1967 in DC Comics. Tomorrow: Metamorpho’s female counterpart: Element Girl!

Comic Cards Project: Day 38 • Tin

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Like all the Metal Men robots created by Doc Magnus, timid and stuttering Tin had a unique personality. Unsure of his abilities, Tin suffered from an inferiority complex, thinking he didn’t measure up to the rest of the team.

But brave Tin was harder than Lead and always did his best to prove himself worthy, even when he thought it was hopeless. He never hesitated to sacrifice himself to help someone in danger, although Doc always found a way to piece his demolished robots back together.

Egotistical Mercury didn’t have much use for Tin but the other members of the team—and the readers—had a soft spot for the small, weak robot as you might for a stray puppy.

Illustrating one playing card a day using characters found between 1957-1967 in DC Comics. Tomorrow: Metamorpho, the Element Man!

Comic Cards Project: Day 37 • Bat-Girl

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If you’re familiar with Batgirl at all, you probably know the red-haired Barbara Gordon—daughter of Police Commissioner Gordon. But there was another Bat-Girl before her, and for some reason there was a hyphen in her name.

Long story short, Batwoman was introduced in 1956 to quell any uncertainty about Batman’s sexuality, and 5 years later Bat-Girl showed up as a love interest for Robin. And if you think Batman was uncomfortable with the romantic advances of Batwoman, you should see the way Bat-Girl made Robin squirm.

Heiress Kathy Kane and her niece Betty helped (and often accidentally hindered) the Dynamic Duo as Batwoman and Bat-Girl until 1964, when a new editor threw out all the goofiest trappings of 1950s Batman stories. So long to Batwoman, Bat-Girl, Ace (Batman’s Bat-Hound), and Bat-Mite!

Just three years later, at the request of the Batman TV show’s producers, a new Batgirl (sans hyphen) was launched and she proved much more popular than the Batwoman/Bat-Girl team. It’s kind of surprising how quickly poor Kathy and Betty were forgotten.

Illustrating one playing card a day using characters found between 1957-1967 in DC Comics. Tomorrow: Tin—the next to last of the Metal Men!

Comic Cards Project: Day 36 • Aquaman

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I’m not really sure why, but Aquaman has always been my favorite superhero. Maybe it’s because I was always predisposed to underdogs and stuff out of the mainstream, or it could be—as a blonde kid—I identified with the blonde character. It’s also possible that I was attracted to him because at the time I was discovering superhero comics, I loved swimming and the beach. Who knows?

But enough about me. Aquaman debuted in More Fun Comics #73 in 1941 (the same issue that featured the first Green Arrow story). He had an uninterrupted run as a backup feature in comics for nearly two decades until the superhero revival of the late 50s brought about increased notoriety.

Around that time, Aquaman adopted a sidekick (Aqualad), became a founding member of the Justice League, got married (see Mera), had a baby, and became king of the underwater city of Atlantis—all while wearing the same unusual yet oddly appealing outfit he’d sported since the beginning. (There’s virtually no other superhero I can think of with orange in their costume.)

In 1962 he got his own magazine, followed by his own Saturday morning cartoon in 1967, and he appeared as one of the four original cartoon Super-Friends in the 70s. His height of popularity may have been over 40 years ago, but it’s only a matter of time until some handsome Hollywood actor portrays him in a big summer blockbuster and brings him all the recognition he deserves. Well, I can dream can’t I?

Illustrating one playing card a day using characters found between 1957-1967 in DC Comics. Next: the original Bat-Girl!

Comic Cards Project: Day 35 • Alanna

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Alanna lived on the planet Rann, 25 trillion miles from earth, the home planet of her boyfriend Adam Strange. The distress of their long distance relationship was lessened by her father’s invention of a “zeta beam” which instantly transported Adam to Alanna every six weeks until the effect wore off and he was returned back to earth.

Each time Adam would arrive on Rann he was immediately met by some crisis that required heroism on his part in order to save Alanna, the city of Ranagar, or the entire planet. That’s a lot to ask of an ordinary guy, don’t you think?

Alanna wasn’t your ordinary damsel in distress though. With her jet pack and ray gun, she would usually fight alongside Adam, and appeared in virtually every one of his monthly Mystery in Space adventures from 1958-1965. Compared to other female characters of the era, she was obviously the product of a more advanced civilization.

Illustrating one playing card a day using characters found between 1957-1967 in DC Comics. Monday: At last! Aquaman!

Comic Cards Project: Day 34 • Mento

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Steve Dayton was the world’s fifth richest man and also an adventurer, financier, and professor of psychology. Possessing a huge ego and used to getting what he wanted, he set out to wed Elasti-Girl of the Doom Patrol.

Dayton created a helmet to harness his brain’s telekinetic powers, which allowed him to move objects with his mind. He designed a costume and called himself Mento, hoping to impress Elast-Girl with super-heroics. Surprisingly, his scheme worked and the two were married.

After a lenthy legal battle, the couple adopted the Doom Patrol’s sidekick, Beast Boy. Mento never became a full member of the Doom Patrol but he hung around and helped out from time to time, adding more tension to an already fractious team.

Illustrating one playing card a day using characters found between 1957-1967 in DC Comics. Next: Adam Strange’s girlfriend, Alanna!

Comic Cards Project: Day 33 • Lead

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Doc Magnus invented the Metal Men, a team of robots that possessed the unique strengths and weaknesses of their namesake element. The eccentric scientist also inadvertently bestowed individual personalities on the six mechanical heroes, and as a result they were sometimes too human.

The heaviest member of the group, Lead was stammering and slow-witted but always willing to take on the job at hand. As a non-conducting metal, Lead could act as a shield to protect the others from radiation and other hazards.

Lead is also highly poisonous, but no one involved with the Metal Men seemed the least bit concerned about continued exposure to the dim yet agreeable robot.

Illustrating one playing card a day using characters found between 1957-1967 in DC Comics. Next: Mento!

Comic Cards Project: Day 32 • Supergirl

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When Superman’s home planet Krypton exploded, a big chunk containing Argo City and its inhabitants remained intact and drifted through space. Eventually that chunk of the planet turned into Kryptonite, deadly to the last of Krypton’s survivors. The life of teenaged Supergirl was spared by her father, who built a rocket and sent her to earth.

After seeing her rocket land, Superman investigated and discovered the super powered teen. The two quickly figured out they were both from Krypton and their fathers were brothers—making them cousins. Superman gave her a brunette wig with pigtails to hide her blonde hair and placed her in an orphanage. (Thanks Cuz!) Superman kept Supergirl’s existence a secret for almost three years before introducing her to the public.

Supergirl was eventually adopted and graduated from high school in 1965, making her a bit too old to be a part of the Teen Titans—the group put together by Robin and some other sidekicks that same year. Despite her lack of contemporaries, Supergirl enjoyed her share of wacky adventures and silly supporting characters including Streaky her super cat, Comet her super horse, and Jerro her merboy boyfriend. Sure beats dying on a Kryptonite rock hurtling through space.

Illustrating one playing card a day using characters found between 1957-1967 in DC Comics. Next: it’s heavy metal Wednesday with Lead!

Comic Cards Project: Day 31 • Martian Manhunter and Zook

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The awkwardly named hero Martian Manhunter was accidentally brought to earth by an elderly scientist testing a new invention. The shock of materializing a man from Mars was too much for the scientist’s weak heart and he died, leaving the alien J’onn J’onzz (pronounced John Jones) stranded, unable to return to his home world.

J’onzz got a job as a police detective and used his many Martian powers to fight crime. His ability to change his shape allowed him to take on the appearance of an ordinary earthling and mask his conspicuous green skin. He could also fly, turn invisible, and walk through solid objects. But that’s not all! He also had super strength and x-ray vision. Nearly invulnerable, his only weakness was fire.

J’onn J’onz had his own feature from 1955-1969—first in the back of Detective Comics and then in House of Mystery. About halfway through his run he acquired an alien pet from another dimension named Zook who talked in a kind of broken english/baby talk. Zook had the power to radiate extreme hot or cold, change his size, and use his antennae like a bloodhound to track down anyone he’d encountered. With more powers than even Superman, it’s hard to imagine why the writers thought the Manhunter needed some help—especially from such a goofy character.

Illustrating one playing card a day using characters found between 1957-1967 in DC Comics. Next: Supergirl!