Batman must try to save Rex Mason from transforming into Metamorpho. Directed by Curt Geda. Written by Erin Maher & Kathryn Reindl.
There won’t be any new episodes for a while, but if you haven’t caught Beware the Batman yet all 6 episodes will repeat starting with episode #1 next Saturday at 10AM Eastern on Cartoon Network.
I know this review is coming a little later than usual due to some technical difficulties around Batman News and my own pressing deadlines at work, but these past couple of days have also given me time to check out the Justice League: The Animated Series episode “Metamorphosis” in addition to Beware the Batman‘s “Toxic” so we can talk a little bit about both portrayals of the Outsider named Metamorpho.
Warning: This song will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day
The origin used in Beware the Batman cuts out all of the meteorite/Egyptian mythology stuff first used in the character’s creation back in 1965 (and that catchy song) and is actually much closer to what we saw in the Timm-verse’s Justice League episode. In that version Rex Mason is an up-and-coming executive working for Simon Stagg. Stagg recently created a process that he dreams of using to create employees impervious to harm and capable of morphing into various elements so that his company will never be set back by industrial accidents ever again, but he runs into a series of road blocks when it comes time to take the experiment to human trials. When Stagg learns that Mason is secretly dating his daughter, he and his gorilla-like man-servant Java lure Mason into a chamber that fires bolts of energy which transform Mason into Metamorpho. With Mason being an old friend of John Stewart from their days in the Marines it doesn’t take long for the Green Lantern to realize something is amiss. After a brief run-in with an out-of-control Metamorpho the entire Justice League is brought in to help smooth things over.
In Beware the Batman, Mason is a security guard working for Simon Stagg. Stagg is developing a serum that can create the ultimate super soldier, but he needs to find a human to experiment on first. When he learns that his daughter is dating the lowly security guard, he sets Mason up to stumble inside a chamber where he is sprayed with gasses and turned into Metamorpho. When Metamorpho is unable to control his powers he goes on a rampage that attracts the Batman who does everything he can to help Mason change back. See the similarities here? Beware the Batman gave a clearer reason for Stagg’s displeasure in his daughter’s choice in men (class divide), dropped Java the man-servant so that the blame falls on Stagg alone, went with a super soldier angle rather than a super-employee (a huge improvement that just makes a lot more sense all around. If you worked for an oil rig and your boss gave you super powers, would you still work on an oil rig? I don’t think so), and rather than get hit with a yellow lightning bolt Mason is hosed down in colorful sprays that share the same color scheme as the Metamorpho transformation.
As you can probably tell, I found the Beware the Batman version to be superior in pretty much every way. Not only is Metamorpho’s origin cleaner with these changes, but they cut a lot of the fat that Justice League had. This is a simple and very personal story that needs to stay focused on Mason, his girlfriend Sapphire, and Simon Stagg. With Justice League the story became bloated when it tried to squeeze in as many members of the Justice League as it could and then it needlessly stretched the tale out over 2 episodes. I liked that “Metamorphosis” showed some history between Mason and Stewart, but that bond between them meant little at all when the 2nd episode came around and so many other heroes popped up to share/steal the spotlight. Maybe if it would’ve been a Green Lantern story only “Metamorphosis” would’ve worked as well as “Toxic.” Keep it simple, I say. In “Toxic” the only extra player in Mason’s origin is Batman and by keeping it to that one protagonist the viewer becomes just as invested in the mystery and the fight to save Mason as Batman (Green Lantern could’ve been used in a similar fashion had that story not included so many other unnecessary capes).
While Justice League came closer to capturing the original design of Metamorpho, I think that the changes made by the Beware the Batman animators are a vast improvement and something that the comic should run with. He’s bigger and more monstrous looking, he’s no longer wearing undies and a belt, and the lack of symmetry makes his altered state appear much more organic. The hulking figure is probably the biggest improvement because prior to this it really wasn’t that horrific of a transformation. If he just put some clothes on he would look like a pale guy with a shaved head but now even if he threw on a trench coat like The Thing he would still draw attention because he’s absolutely gigantic.
Still these stories both portray Mason as a Ben Grim character who desperately wants a cure. But I really don’t get this part of the character and wonder if it’s maybe holding him back a little. I love the poetry behind a character who can change into anything but himself, but let’s face it, if he can morph into any element and alter the shape of his body (examples: turning his arms into blades, his hand into a mace, his body into steam) then why can’t he just make himself look normal again? A little oxygen here, a little carbon there, some calcium to make sure everything stays upright, etc. etc. Not being able to look normal is a romantic idea, but it doesn’t make that much sense given his skill set. And if this guy could shape-shift to look like any other human then Metamorpho would no doubt be an A-list superhero. Also, while Mason has always had a lot of similarities to Ben Grimm, this Beware the Batman version is also a lot like the Increidble Hulk in that the transformation made not only his body unstable but his mind as well. Metamorpho is always struggling to speak and make himself coherent to everyone around him but as soon as something happens that’ll make him angry he turns into a roaring monster.
Alright, now that we’ve talked about the differences in Metamorpho, let’s talk about the episode itself.
This. Was. Fantastic!
Not only was it a heartfelt story with amazing action, but it featured the best animation I’ve seen from the series so far AND it tied itself back to episodes #1, #2, and #4
I actually had to stop the show and rewind it like 2 minutes because I was so amazed that I was actually seeing cars driving down streets and people walking on sidewalks. That’s right, Gotham actually felt populated in this episode and it made a huge difference. It wasn’t just pedestrians either, there was an actual police presence where multiple cop cars chase Metamorpho down. But the real highlight in all of this is Metamorpho himself. This character is perfectly designed for a CG animated show. The artists were able to give him a lot of unique textures and his ability to turn into steam, heat up red-hot, blast electricity, and morph his limbs into weapons just looks awesome in this animation style. And there’s one moment where he turns into liquid and it happened so suddenly and the physics of it were so lifelike that I was honestly stunned. I wasn’t expecting anything quite like it. However, while the action scenes were really enthralling, my favorite moment of the episode would probably have to be a very quiet moment in which Batman is hiding in the server room of the Stagg complex. Everything is saturated in red lighting and the camerawork made great use of that environment and the tension of that situation as Stagg searched for Batman among the rows and rows of towering machines. I hope that they play with the lighting more in future installments because overall too many of these episodes share the same under-lit look. The only moment in which the animation felt off to me in this episode was when Metamorpho was batting street lights out of his way. These pieces simply didn’t seem grounded in anything and it felt as though they were stock objects the animators just dragged and dropped into the scene.
Of course, with all the talk about how much I liked Metamorpho I obviously can’t leave out Batman. Alfred hardly featured in this episode at all except for some nice banter during an opening scene and Tatsu is completely absent except for mention of how she is helping protect scientist Jason Burr. With these two characters out of the picture we’re able to focus more on the drama between Mason and the Staggs and Batman’s investigation. Not only do we see Batman pull off some cool moves in the fight scenes, but we get a few humorous lines, a glimpse at how he’s not so stone-hearted, and there’s even a moment where he’s looming over a microscrope, ya know, like a scientist. It was very refreshing to see Batman not out to defeat a bad guy, but to save him. This is the Beware the Batman equivalent to “Heart of Ice” basically. It’s not as good as “Heart of Ice” mind you, but it’s in that same vein where we have a sympathetic villain who Batman is trying to understand and over the course of the episode we learn our bad guy’s story as Batman struggles to both stop and help this curious new foe.
The voice acting in the episode was top-notch as always. Adam Baldwin (Firefly, Chuck, Transformers Prime) did a terrific job capturing the pain in Metamorpho’s voice as he struggled to express how much he loved Sapphire. Anthony Ruivivar continues to give us a great Bruce Wayne and Batman, and I still can’t believe that J.B. Blanc does the voice for Alfred and the Bat Computer.
What did you think of “Toxic”? What were your favorite parts? I’ve listed my own in the spoilers section below.