Monday, September 12, 2011

Unusual Heroes: Morphos The Shapechanger (Dark Horse, 1996)

Every once in a while I stumble upon a comic that simply blows my mind. Count Morphos The Shapechanger as one of them. Morphos is co-written and drawn by Burne Hogarth, an artist that I consider among the highest of echelons in the world of art. Known for his beautifully detailed Tarzan strips in the 30's and 40's, Hogarth went on to become a teacher in illustration, and his Dynamic series of textbooks were highly regarded as some of the best instructional art books a student could hope to get their hands on.

And in 1996 at 84 years old Hogarth was still drawing exceptional art. Together with long-time writing friend Harry Hurwitz, the two had planned to release a four-issue series featuring a complex story involving two scientist's quest for the evolution of man, with the help of the ghost of Merlin the sorcerer. But unfortunately Hogarth suffered a heart attack after completing the first issue and the series was never completed.

Dark Horse released the first issue later that year, including the rest of the story script and extra Hogarth illustrations that would have been used in the forthcoming series. What remains is a very interesting story with amazingly detailed, captivating artwork that will have you wishing for more.

The story begins with the tale of Merlin, the great wizard and advisor of King Arthur. Merlin gets trapped inside a Tower of Crystal after succumbing to devious treachery by the Lady of the Lake. Doomed to die entombed within the tower, Merlin's spirit has plenty of time to think about the evils of mankind and decides a change is in order.

Meanwhile, two scientists are traveling along the coast of Wales when they are involved in a car wreck. Dr. Kyra Reynolds falls down into a crystal cavern where she meets with the spirit of Merlin, whom entrusts her with a special crystal. As time goes by the two scientists learn that a hair within the crystal might lead to acceleration of the natural selection process...leading to a new species ten-times the brilliance of man.

They begin several tests and are able to create new and advanced species. But controversy surrounds the project, as owners of Dyna-Gene discover what the scientists are hiding from them and wish to steal their work. Dr. Kyra threatens to destroy the notes containing their findings which buys them some time. But the Dyna-Gene owners grow impatient and break into the lab, discovering the scientist's selection of mutant oddities.

After an altercation involving Dyna-Gene and two advanced monkeys named Arnold and Phil, Dr. Kyra realizes the only way to save the project is to inject herself with the genetic syrum, causing a vison of Merlin to appear and announce the coming of Morphos, the forerunner of a new human species as herald of a new day. But Merlin departs with a warning...although Morphos will become a shapechanger, he is still human and thus subject to the same evils as man.

And that is the first and final issue of Morphos. I enjoyed the premise and found it very interesting, and while reading the rest of the story there was something definitely missing within the absence of Hogarth's artwork. The few early illustrations added to the remaining story are nice, and it is a glimpse of what could have been if the series had been completed. Still, this is Burne Hogarth's final work, and so it shall forever remain a testament to just how important his artwork was within the storytelling realm.


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