Part Two of a short series of thoughts about the Young Justice animated series. I’m only looking at the show’s first season here, but Spoilers for those episodes.
Young Justice is a surprisingly political show, not that it presents any specific ideology or position on issues, but that it takes place in a world where political situations and governments matter. They are not just settings and backdrops. Many people who don’t read comics are probably aware of fictional comic book cities such as Metropolis and Gotham City, but the DC Universe also has its own imaginary countries: Qurac, Bialya, and Marovia, for example (not to mention Atlantis or Wonder Woman’s home of Themyscira). Some of these are obviously modeled on “real” nations. When an episode features tense unification negotiations between the authoritarian Northern and the democratic Southern Rhelasia, we know who they are referencing. That occasionally one of this nations is ruled by someone who would be called a super villain, if the they weren’t a head-of-state, such as Queen Bee of Bialya, is just part of the international situation.
In the middle of this mix of real and fantastic nations, we also have the Justice League. Significantly there is no “of America” attached to that title. For a long time in comics, nobody thought twice about there being a “Justice League of America,” even when its membership included an Atlantean king, an Amazon princess, and three or more extraterrestrials. At various times comics have used the title “Justice League of America” or just “Justice League”, or even dabbled in a “Justice League International” with spinoffs such as “Justice League Europe.” So far, in Season One of Young Justice, the political ramifications of the Justice League’s existence have yet to be explored. To the public, they are an established, well respected, internationally active organization. These heroes are not “fighting crime” but a global rapid response force. In comics, and earlier animated series, some groups, including the U.S. government, had issues with this organization of god-like beings existing independently of any supervision. Given the amount of comic book lore the show encompasses, we can assume that the League had saved the entire planet on numerous occasions and so earned some international sanction to deal with extraordinary incidents, especially those involving metahuman or extraterrestrial elements.
That could be all there is, a conceit of the genre, if the show itself did not immediately question the public premise of the League. For instance, the first episode begins with a ceremony to induct our group of former sidekicks into full membership in the League. This is held in front of cheering crowds at their headquarters, the Hall of Justice, in Washington, DC. This building though is just a façade. The League’s true base is a orbital space station, the Watchtower, which is reached via a network of secret teleportation tubes that exist across the globe. Does the United States or any other government even know about this? These transport devices are known as “Zeta-Tubes”, which to a long time comic reader is a reference to the Zeta-Beam from the sci-fi adventure comic Adam Strange, and is first of several suggestions that the League has connections and arrangements that extend beyond the Earth into interstellar civilizations across the galaxy. Who, if anybody, on this planet do they share that knowledge — and technology — with?
The young heroes, after expressing their refusal to except a secondary status to the main League, to remain sidekicks to all intent and purpose, are allowed to form their own team, though under the supervision and training of their elders. That again would be nothing out of the ordinary except that, while nobody states it openly, this team is put to work as a black-ops squad. A super villain or army of space aliens threatens the world? The Justice League handles it. Something strange is observed by a spy satellite in a sovereign nation? The Young Justice squad drops in from a stealth aircraft to check it out and no diplomats or oversight committees need to be consulted. It is hard not to think that for the League they are a deniable asset: “These costumed people snuck into your country and destroyed some valuable military research? Hey, they are a bunch of kids! We can’t control them.”
Next: Hero with a Thousand Plots