I am looking at Season Two of the Young Justice animated series, examining its origins in comic book lore and how the show develops its complex mixture of characters and plots. I’m writing as I watch each episode, so Spoilers for everything up to that far in the season.
Young Justice: Invasion continues using an A plot/B plot structure. Most of this episode is action oriented, with heroes once again essentially invading a sovereign nation, as they did often in last season. One assumes that Queen Bee doesn’t want the international attention that calling out the League on this would bring. There’s a lot mention of “Boom Tube activity” but the show remains unclear about how much the heroes know what this means. Superboy has encountered the New Gods but has he shared the little he knows? The show may be getting a little overwhelmed in the amount of DC Universe lore they are trying to juggle. I’d like a line or two about characters’ wondering: “We still don’t know where these boom tubes come from or who is supplying this advanced tech.” Or the opposite, someone acknowledging the existence of New Genesis, Apokolips, and whatever else about Jack Kirby’s Fourth world the show plans on adding to the already thick stew of comic ideas.
The popular hero team comics of the 80’s — Teen Titans, X-Men, Legion of Superheroes — transformed how superhero stories were told, with any given issue including many different, simultaneous plotlines. The best of these stories would be well-paced, balanced, and would ultimately tie everything together into a satisfying conclusion. They’d also occasionally be muddled messes that wandered, lost energy, or forgot events and left questions forever unresolved. For Young Justice, this risk increases as new characters are getting added with each episode.
The addition of these new characters emphasizes the way the show assumes knowledge from comics, or at least of comics. There isn’t anything like a “normal” character, a non-powered observer, such as a Jimmy Olsen, to ground things or give the reader someone to identify with. This is a world of super powered costumed heroes, we take that as a given and go. Connecting the viewer with all these heroes can be a challenge. Seeing them in action does show a little of the personalities of new characters such as Wonder Girl, Batgirl, and Bumble Bee, but not yet much of them as people and teammates.
In wrapping up the events of the action parts of the episode, the show indulges in an element frequently used last season, one which was already starting to bother me. The heroes have accomplished something, in this case freeing a plane load of abducted children. Immediately this victory is undercut by the bad guys saying “It doesn’t matter, we have another shipment of captives.” For me that undoes the feeling that the story is progressing, and that characters are having an effect on what is happening.
The B plot looks at even more characters, though the situation is more personal. Jamie, our new Blue Beetle, looking for his missing friend Tye, who may be on the run from his mother’s abusive boyfriend (though it turns out he is one of the abducted). It’s not immediately apparent, but the show is taking some already complicated DC Comics lore to a new level. Back in the late 1970’s the Saturday morning Superfriends cartoon added some new heroes to the Justice league in what passed, back then, for greater representation. Among them has a Native American hero “Apache Chief,” who could grow to giant size. In 2004, Justice League Unlimted presented a story about a team of heroes genetically engineered by Project Cadmus. These characters were very obviously based on those old Superfriends characters. Among them has a Native American who could grow huge, but used the much cooler name “Long Shadow.” So now that Young Justice has introduced a character named Tye Longshadow, we can kind of guess something of what is to come…