While previous episodes of Beware the Batman delighted in giving us revamped or updated versions of Batman’s lesser-known villains, episode 6 instead gives us a new look at one of his lesser-known allies. In Toxic, the halfway point of the first season, we’re introduced to Rex Mason, better known to many as Metamorpho. The inclusion of Metamorpho allows for Toxic to be received as one of the more enjoyable episodes in the series thus far.
The gist of the plot of Toxic is that Rex Mason is a security guard at Stagg Industries who is secretly dating the boss’s daughter, Sapphire Stagg. If you remember, her father Simon Stagg was introduced in episode 1 as one of the greedy capitalists who participated in a corrupt land deal that destroyed an entire ecosystem, an atrocity that Professor Pyg and Mr. Toad sought to avenge. Bruce Wayne was another one of those greedy capitalists who participated in the deal, although unwittingly, but maybe we should kind of ignore that little fact the way Batman does here in episode 6.
Mason is at work when a masked thug breaks into the laboratories of a secret project that Stagg Industries is working on, Project: Metamorpho. Mason follows the crook into the lab only to be trapped in what appears to be the same big glass tank that Norman Osborn used to gas himself with in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man film. Purple, green and yellow gas shoot up from the floor in what is decidedly NOT a late Mardi Gras celebration, and Mason goes down for the count. Luckily Batman is in the area and pops in to save him.
Mason seems fine moments later when he wakes up in a hospital bed, until he goes to wash his hands and they take on the properties of the water he had just held them under. The transformation into Metamorpho begins. Suddenly his head becomes white, bald and noseless, and the exterior of his body looks like it’s made up of purple goo and desert rock.
I really, really enjoyed the way Metamorpho was visually adapted for the CGI world of the series. The textures of his “skin” were very vivid and colorful, and the design of his face and his eyes in particular were instrumental in creating a character that was equally savage and sympathetic.
To add to the enjoyment, Mason/Metamorpho is voiced here by Adam Baldwin, who I know best as the character Jayne Cobb in the short-lived Joss Whedon sci-fi series Firefly. Baldwin does an admirable job voicing a character who is clearly confused and not in complete control of his faculties, as he is very noticeably melting into an ice cream-y sludge multiple times throughout the episode. Unfortunately, the dialogue they’ve given him wasn’t really as satisfying as the performance was in my opinion, but then again, I don’t think the show was necessarily written for 30-year-olds in the first place. (I’m aging myself here. I won’t be 30 for another 10 months.)
The other thing that seemed a bit off for me with this portrayal of Metamorpho was how brutish he was. In this version he is played very close to the Hulk or the Thing, in that he’s a dude that was the unfortunate victim of a laboratory mishap who is now a monster and must express his frustrations with this new development by smashing things to bits. He’s much larger than I remember him being in the comics, much more physically imposing. He also can’t speak a whole lot, resorting to the kind of basic, monosyllabic sentences that the Hulk would use. And of course, his character’s sole motivation is reuniting with his love, the daughter of the bad guy, who can’t accept his new appearance. It’s all very Monster Comics 101, and while I never really followed Metamorpho too closely in the comics, I do remember him being a bit more playful and cocky. But maybe I’m wrong.
Anyway, so Batman is looking into this break-in that lead to Mason’s transformation. The Stagg Industries building has state-of-the-art security, the Dark Knight Detective notes. How could anyone get in or out? Well, for starters, the same way Batman did, and continued to do several times throughout the episode, without any sign of effort or inconvenience, but let’s overlook that for now as well. How did this other guy do that? Well, because the other guy was put in place by Simon Stagg, who was trying to set Mason up for seeing his daughter.
Turns out, Project: Metapmorpho is a “game-changer” for the armed forces in that it is essentially the same sort of super soldier program that Marvel has been pinning all of its major super-transformations on since the inception of the Ultimate Universe. Perhaps it is a sign of the times that superheroes are now created from lab accidents pertaining to experiments that are meant to change the way warfare is carried out in the 21st century, similar to the way that superheroes in the ‘60s, primarily at Marvel, were created from lab accidents pertaining to atomic science. Or maybe it’s just lazy writing.
At any rate, Batman drafts Stagg into his ingenious plan to restore Mason’s humanity. The plan appears to be gassing Mason again with the same stuff that turned him into Metamorpho the first time around, although I’d like to hope that it’s a bit more complicated than that. This of course doesn’t work, and after being rejected again by Sapphire Stagg, Mason flees into the ventilation system and eventually makes his way into the Gotham sewer system. Later, Bruce meets with Bethanie Ravencroft, the psychiatrist that Magpie was working for a few episodes back, who almost certainly has something sinister planned for later episodes.
All in all not a bad episode. The story was all stuff I’d seen before and I complained a bit about Metamorpho’s dialogue, but it was a heck of a lot of fun visually and I’m still finding a lot of enjoyment in Anthony Ruivivar’s portrayal of Batman, off-putting and creepy as he might be in the series.
I’m eager to see where the show goes next. Now that we’re halfway through the season, I expect that these subplots involving Katana and Ravencroft should be coming to a head soon.