Home > C-minus, Justice League > Justice League 1×22-23: “Metamorphosis”

Justice League 1×22-23: “Metamorphosis”

November 17, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments


Written by: Len Uhley
Teleplay by: Dwayne McDuffie (Part 2)
Directed by: Dan Riba
Original Airdate: October 4, 2002
DVD: Justice League, Season One

Summary: An old military buddy of Green Lantern’s is caught in an industrial accident arranged by his fiancee’s corrupt father that turns him into a freakish-looking master of matter.

Arc Details: This is one of the last true ‘standalone’ episodes for some time (there’s a stretch starting with “Eclipsed” in Season Two that isn’t really tied into anything else). Well, it does have a small tie to a futuristic hero we’ve already seen….

Featured Characters: Green Lantern

Debuting Characters: Metamorpho, Sapphire Stagg, Simon Stagg, Java

Other team members: Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl, J’onn J’onzz


The explosion of third-rate independent comic companies in the 1990s always seemed to include a cookie-cutter super-team, comprised of repeated gimmicks. The weapon-wielding bad boy, the chick, the strong guy… and the shapeshifter. While it’s hard to accuse it of being cookie-cutter, the Justice League has had a few that fit that general category over the years, one of whom is the focus of this episode, Metamorpho.

Although Metamorpho is a bit more unusual than the typical DC superhero found in the League, looking at his creation history it shouldn’t be too surprising. Metamorpho was created by Bob Haney, most famous for some very, very trippy Teen Titans stories in the Silver Age. Metamorpho was something of a parody character of the scores of increasingly bizarre superheroes who emerged in the late 60s, complete with the impossibly beautiful girlfriend and her evil father trying to get in the way of their relationship.

Metamorpho was something of a unique character in the DC Universe in that he wasn’t the most selfless man in the world – or, at least, he viewed his powers as a curse rather than a means of helping others, due to being more cut from the mold of the “freak of science” character than anything else. The character is partially a shapeshifter, but also a bit of a science hero, hence the nickname The Element Man. Although never that prominent, he’s been a DC team regular, first with the Outsiders (an appropriate team, as he refused to join the JLA at a time when that was a really big deal), then as a member of Justice League Europe (… yes, Europe…), then finally the final version of the JLA prior to the Morrison era starting. In fact, Metamorpho “died” the first issue of the Morrison series, but as is shown in this episode, he’s not an easy character to kill. Owing to his satirical roots, he’s become something of a comedy character – the bane of all shapeshifters in team books, it seems – but has never really managed to carry his own series for a long run.

… yeah, I know, not much on this one. I probably should’ve talked more about the Outsiders.

Thoughts on the Episode:

Unfortunately, occasionally the constraints of an action show get in the way telling a good story, and this one certainly falls victim to that problem. This story revolves around an interesting character quirk for John Stewart, namely contemplating “the road not taken”, the fact that he’s given away what likely would have been a promising civilian life (the comic John is a successful architect). But… aside from one line from Hawkgirl, that’s all the consideration this gets before the final scene of the episode. I understand the need for a lot of action, especially in the two-part format of this show, but in this case you’d assume that a quieter episode (at least one half) would be merited. But between the introduction of a new hero and a final fight that’s impressively staged if unimpressively dramatic, there just isn’t enough room for a subplot that could have saved the episode. Given this same story in a comic format, the path not taken aspect could have been given a proper followup the next time around, but here it’s dropped because the season finale is looming. Of course, John does explore one of those paths the next time around, although it’s not as glamorous as the one he sees Mason taking.

The strength of the episode is in its handling of Rex Mason’s transformation into Metamorpho. Due to the nature of Metamorpho, Mason was never really developed as a character, but here he comes across as a character straight out of an 80s prime time soap like Dallas – the company executive who’s stealing the bosses’ daughter out from under his nose. While it’s admittedly neat to have a character as blatantly sexy as Sapphire in an animated show (well-voiced by Danica McKellar of The Wonder Years, whose most prominent costars we’ll meet later in the series), Sapphire’s role ihere is actually pretty realistic; she doesn’t try to save the day and in fact probably does more harm than good, but seems fairly accepting of the whole insane circumstance she finds herself in until her father transforms into a literal monster. Actially, rather than Dallas, the whole thing smacks of the Hulk’s origin, even down to the scene in the hospital with Bett… er, Sapphire fainting at the sight of her lover’s monstrous new form. It’s probably the fullest superhero origin in the series, and although it’s pretty different from the sorcery-influenced comic origin, it’s a classic enough storyline that it works.

Part of the problem with this episode is that if a viewer knows that Metamorpho is going to wind up being a hero, having him as the antagonist for the first three-quarters of the show doesn’t really make much of a dramatic impact. Them, when Stagg transform, there just isn’t enough time for the League to set up a battle scene against the monster, aside from the obvious King Kong homages. While the ending is set up very much like a Morrisonian JLA story, with Batman working from a lab and controlling the team in the field, the rest of the League almost feels incidental to the storyline, as they basically bounce off the monster until the finish. Metamorpho does have a decent enough action scene in finishing off the monster, but it’s too little, too late.

When I first saw this episode in 2002, I thought the animation was pretty horrid. Time has dulled that revulsion somewhat, but it does seem to suffer from end-of-season disease (namely, that money is shifted to finales as opposed to the episodes immediately preceding it; take a look at Doctor Who’s end of season episodes like Midnight for a great example of quality episodes done on the cheap). In this case, the episode feels as though it needed some more time getting the action on-screen to flow and have a lot more punch. The biggest problem is that Metamorpho is a character that’s a lot easier to draw than he is to animate, even in stripped-down form, and he doesn’t quite look right at any point in this one. The look would be revised for his brief JLU cameos, but that was too little, too late.

Grade: C-. Maybe I’m being harsh on it, but between Metamorpho’s look just not working in animated form and the episode not really having anything to say about the circumstances or characters, I really can’t stand this one. Things would get better very quickly, however….

Random Thoughts:

  • The monster is sort of a version of Chemo, a frequent Doom Patrol bad guy, albeit with less of a visual impact.
  • ummm…. just move along. There’s little to point out here.

Next Justice League: Another three part episode to close the first season, The Savage Time

Next Time: Continuing with the main arc, and introducing Supergirl, in “Little Girl Lost”

Categories: C-minus, Justice League
  1. Red Hedgehog
    November 17, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    I’m with you. This and War World are the stinkers of the first season.

    Also, the first and second to last paragraphs of “Thoughts on this episode” got cut off.

  2. OctoPrime
    November 17, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    At least it had Chemo in it.

    I don’t think any other Doom Patrol villains showed up in the DCAU, so that’s something.

    It’s very, very little, but it’s something.

  3. November 17, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    Yeah, unless you’re going to do backflips to pretend Teen Titans is a DCAU show, I’m pretty sure that’s it.

  4. JFink
    November 17, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    While I don’t think this episode is as bad as you say (It still is a GL focused one, and we know what I think about those), I agree that the handling of Rex’s story wasn’t handled the best. Seriously, why would you believe Simon Stagg about anything after the “accident” that turned you into a freak AND after the train crash that you know he caused. Ugh, Idiot ball firmly in hand.

    Also, I don’t think I ever realized that was Winnie Cooper!

  5. April 15, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    Your comment on season finales reminded me of the Star Trek TNG episode The Drumhead, which was put together as a cheap episode, but turned out to be one of the best in the series. Of course, it helps if you’ve got a guy like Patrick Stewart around to carry the show without the special effects. In animation, any cuts in budget are probably going to show.

  6. Citizen Scribbler
    May 19, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    I always thought Chemo was traditionally a Metal Men foe (“he” first appeared in their adventures). In fact, taking a look, it doesn’t appear as though he’s ever fought the Doom Patrol, actually.

    -Citizen Scribbler

    • May 19, 2010 at 1:10 pm

      My bad – I think I was going by the name of his debut story, which had “Doom” prominently featured.

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