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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Justice League: “Metamorphosis”

Illustration for article titled Justice League: “Metamorphosis”
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“Metamorphosis” (season 1, episodes 22-23; originally aired October 4, 2002, October 11, 2002)

Metamorpho, the Element Man, is the kind of goofy, overpowered hero that dominated superhero comics in the Silver Age, capable of transforming his body into any element on the periodic table while wearing a black Speedo. Justice League alters the character’s origin by removing the Orb of Ra business and turning Metamorpho into a science experiment gone wrong, which is a lot easier to sell than making him the avatar of the Egyptian sun god.

While Metamorpho’s origin may have changed, the essentials of Rex Mason’s character are still present, chiefly his suave personality and relationship with Sapphire Stagg. Story writer Len Uhley makes Rex an old military friend of John Stewart’s, and once again Green Lantern is in the spotlight, focusing on his unresolved issues with the past. This is the first time I’ve noticed that season one is largely John Stewart’s story. The pilots tells the story of how the Justice League began and introduces John, and then the second episode dives right into his past with the Green Lantern Corps. He’s given a constant companion in Shayera, and the writers are explicitly building up a romance between the two while Batman and Wonder Woman’s relationship is much less overt.

John has a clear character arc for the entire season, always trying to reconnect with the past until he finally does in the season finale by literally traveling back in time. By running into Rex, John begins to ponder the road not traveled. If he didn’t have the ring, maybe he could be wealthy and date the sassy blonde with the crazy dad. Jealousy is the theme of “Metamorphosis,” so naturally green is front and center, with Simon Stagg’s consciousness turning into a giant green blob-monster for the episode’s King Kong conclusion. What starts as a stereotypical superhero team-up (meet, misunderstand, fight, resolve, partner) ends as a blockbuster monster movie, and it’s all fueled by a father’s insane lust for his daughter.

The voice work is fantastic in “Metamorphosis”, and Andrea Romano gathers some impressive guest stars for the episode. Tom Sizemore’s Rex Mason is smooth and charming, but he’s most impressive after Rex’s transformation, capturing the intense self-pity that washes over Rex when he looks in the mirror. Danica McKellar, object of adolescent boy desire as Winnie on The Wonder Years, brings a coy flirtiness to Sapphire Stagg, and Earl Boen switches his voice from tender to temper with an ease that makes Simon Stagg seem even more insane.

When it comes to supervillains, it doesn’t get much creepier than Simon Stagg. He doesn’t just love his daughter, he’s in love with her, and he will use an untested mutagen on whoever gets in his way. When Rex confronts Simon about transforming him into a Day-Glo monster and mentions Sapphire, Simon screams, “You leave her out of this! I’ll never let you touch her! Never!” He’s way past playing the concerned father, now an enraged unrequited lover who can’t even compete with a man made of mud and glass. When Simon’s consciousness takes the form of a towering Flubber-Hulk, J’onn can still sense his mind, one that is “incomplete, irrational, and driven only by base desire.” “Driven only by base desire” is probably not the best quality for a dad to have, but it’s great for a cartoon villain!


Metamorpho has a powerset that is perfect for animation, and director Dan Riba takes advantage of the characters full capabilities in staging the fights in “Metamorphosis”. When Metamorpho takes on the entire league, there’s a great sequence where he takes on J’onn, and both characters utilize their shape-changing ability for dynamic visuals. J’onn turning into a dragon is awesome, and he should be that creative with his powers all that time.

Next week brings us to the season finale of Justice League’s first season, the war epic “The Savage Time.” Featuring Sgt. Rock and the Blackhawks, it’s going to be like a convention for recently canceled DC titles.


Stray observations:

  • Very smooth saxophone cue for Rex’s introduction, and it immediately establishes him as the suave playboy to John’s rigid space policeman.
  • How many disasters could be averted if people locked suitcases correctly?
  • Thug 1: “So I told my broker: industrial waste management. That’s a growth business! Am I wrong here?” Thug 2: “Like they say, ‘garbage in, garbage out.’” Signature Dwayne McDuffie dialogue right there.
  • “What I wouldn’t give for a couple of biplanes right about now.”

DC Relaunch Emergency Rundown:

I wasn’t expecting to do any more of these, but last week’s major New 52 “Second Wave” announcement necessitated the Rundown’s revival. First, the bad news: To make way for six new titles in May, six books will end in April with #8. These books are Blackhawks, Men Of War, Mr. Terrific, O.M.A.C., Hawk And Dove, and Static Shock. I’m saddened by the loss of O.M.A.C., which has become one of my favorite titles since its debut, and I was looking forward to a steady stream of Cafu-drawn Blackhawks in the future. Alas, it is not to be. These books are to be replaced by the following:

Batman Incorporated – Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham return to their pre-relaunch series, now adjusted to fit into New 52 continuity. Check out next week’s Comics Panel for a review of last month’s Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes! which has me very excited for this series to come back. Morrison has said that this final act of his Batman epic is only 12 issues long, so it’s not necessarily an ongoing per se, but it will sell more if DC publicizes it that way.


Earth 2 – The long-rumored Justice Society book by James Robinson and Nicola Scott, but not much information has been released beyond that. Robinson’s pre-relaunch DC work was lackluster, but his current The Shade miniseries has been spectacular (last week’s Darwyn Cooke-illustrated issue was flat-out brilliant), so this is another must-buy for me. Granted, Robinson is the guy who wrote The Golden Age and Starman, so this is a project perfectly suited for him. It’s always great to see more work from Nicola Scott, and hopefully this will be more challenging material for her than George Perez’s Superman.

Worlds’ Finest – The multiple Earth madness continues with Paul Levitz, Kevin Maguire, and George Perez’s team-up series following Huntress and Power Girl as they try to escape the New 52 Earth and get home to Earth 2. It might sound like a silly concept (this is Levitz we’re talking about here), but Maguire and Perez make an artistic dream team. Both artists haven’t had the best luck in the relaunch, so maybe this will be the book where they gain their footing. If Levitz’s recent Huntress miniseries is any indication, it should be a solid action series with strong female leads, which is always appreciated.


Dial H – Fantasy-horror novelist China Miéville revives DC’s “Dial H For Hero” property with a simplified title and a strong focus on the psychological. No artist has been announced (though some sources report it’s Mateus Santolouco), but there’s a creepy Brian Bolland cover and I’m a fan of the concept (Will Pfeifer’s H-E-R-O a few years back was a great take), so this is a book I’m looking forward to despite my unfamiliarity with Miéville’s work.

The Ravagers – Here’s some more evidence that Bob Harras is turning DC into ’90s Marvel: Howard Mackie’s back, and he’s writing teen superheroes. The once-ubiquitous writer has been largely absent since writing The Brotherhood under the pseudonym X (it didn’t really work out very well), but he’s teaming with Ian Churchill for a new series spinning out of Teen Titans and Superboy about a team of sure-to-be-extreme superteens on the run from an evil organization. Churchill’s Image series Marineman was so great, it disappoints me to see his talent wasted on this book. And yeah, I shouldn’t judge before I see it, but Mackie’s Marvel stuff was so bad.


G.I. Combat – And now for the most inexplicable title of the “Second Wave”: Men Of War. Oh wait, that got cancelled. It’s basically the same book but instead of telling a contemporary Sgt. Rock story, J.T. Krul (there he is!) is revamping The War That Time Forgot with Ariel Olivetti. Rotating back-up stories mean this book is most likely going to be $3.99, so I don’t see how it’s going to fare any better than its predecessor. But kudos to DC for trying to keep the war comic alive.

The most distressing news to come out of DC last week was the announcement that Rob Liefeld would be joining the creative team of not one but three books, because his work on Hawk And Dove was so good that it got canceled. Rob Liefeld will now be writing and drawing Deathstroke, replacing Kyle Higgins and Joe Bennett, and is plotting Grifter and The Savage Hawkman. Again, Rob Liefeld is being brought on to books to help with the plot. There have been some great decisions in the DC relaunch and some mind-boggling ones, and this is firmly in the latter category.


To everyone that has been supporting the DC relaunch, thanks for buying comics and I hope you’ve had a fulfilling experience. If you haven’t, thanks for skipping over this weird last part of the Justice League recaps with all the random comic book crap.