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. Spoilers for everything up to these episodes.
Artemis, disguised as Tigress aboard Black Manta’s ship, wonders “How did it all go so wrong?” The answer to that seems pretty clear: when Nightwing decided not to trust his team with the plan for Aqualad to go deep undercover to infiltrate the Light. Sure, you can see keeping Lagoon Boy and other newbies out of the loop, but why Superboy, why Miss Martian? Maybe he’ll reveal some explanation, but for now that is looking like a big mistake. I’m impressed at how well Conner handles the revelation. He is clearly furious, but manages to keep himself under control. He’s come along way since the first season.
This episode is focused on the complications of getting Miss Martian to Aqualad, so that she can attempt repairing the damage she’s done to his mind. Having characters “enter” a disturbed psyche is a common troupe of the genre, and it’s handled well here. Artemis is another character who has matured a lot, and her own struggles with fractured identity and trust have given her strength. It’s a somber but believable element that even with making contact with Aqualad’s consciousness, recovery is still a long way off.
Besides that core plot development, the episode has an intriguing parallel structure. At the same time as Artemis is trying to maintain her façade as Tigress and keep Manta’s trust while she and M’gann secretly work against him, Green Beetle is trying to prove to the Team that he is trustworthy and is there to help them. Particularly he offers Jaime the possibility of mastery over his Scarab and its Reach programming. In both situations an outsider is offering something highly desired. How much is the promise of that desire going to outweigh caution? Both Black Manta and Blue Beetle make the same decision. More on the consequences of that next episode.
Young Justice frequently trusts its viewers to fill in events that take place between episodes. A group of teens rescued from the Light back in “Before the Dawn” have had their meta-gene detected and are ongoing training/testing at a S.T.A.R. Labs facility. They all have interesting, if convoluted, connections to comic book lore.
This group includes Jaime’s friend Tye. I mentioned in an earlier post Tye’s comic legacy going back to the token Native American “Apache Chief” in the Super Friends cartoon, who was reinterpreted as the genetically engineered “Longshadow” in Justice League Unlimited, and now is again reinterpreted as a Native young man with latent meta-gene powers. Just growing into a giant is a superpower that is not very imaginative and can look kind of silly in animation. Giving Tye a radiant “astral form” is a much more effective visual approach to his power.
Super Friends had an “El Dorado,” a Mexican hero with vaguely defined powers, including teleportation — which is the meta-ability the new Edwardo Dorado has. The story makes him an example of how the meta-gene adapts to the situations that trigger it: Edwardo’s father studies teleportation so his son has been exposed to Zeta rays all his life.
Super Friends “needed” an Asian hero, and so introduced “Samurai,” a Japanese character, again with an array of powers, which included controlling the wind. Justice League Unlimited revised him into “Wind Dragon.” Descriptions of Young Justice’s Asami Koizumi, who can manipulate chi energy for flight and attacks, refer to her as a female version of this character, but really the only thing they have in common is being Japanese.
Another Super Friends character was the electrified “Black Vulcan” (who, surprise, was black). His backstory is even more complicated, since DC Comics already had an African-American lightning based hero, Black Lightning, but rights issues prevented him from being included on Super Friends. Black Vulcan was presented as a replacement. Justice League Unlimited revised him as “Juice.” Now today, the original Black Lightning is well established, with his own live-action TV show, so Young Justice made the wise decision of, rather than creating yet another copy of the hero, using the opportunity to introduce into their distinct continuity, Virgil Hawkins, the popular character Static Shock, who conveniently is both African-American and electrical, though with his own unique version of that power set.
A fifth member of the experimental group is Neutron, who appeared in “Bloodlines,” and was a C-List supervillain in comics.
These characters are mostly fed up being poked and prodded as test subjects. With Blue Beetle’s help they manage to escape from the lab — though just as the Red Vulcan robot attacks (no explanation about how he came back from being melted several episodes ago). Working together they defeat Vulcan, though Beetle shows an unusual lack of concern for collateral damage. Similarly he exhibits a new interest for being in the superhero spotlight in front of news reporters. Turns out, oops, the Team shouldn’t have trusted Green Beetle anymore than Black Manta should be trusting Artemis. Somehow, despite mind probing from Miss Martian, Green Beetle’s story of being free from the Reach’s control was a lie and, rather than helping Jaime shut off influence from his Scarab, it is Jaime who is now cut off, fully under control.
It’s classic Light “scheme in a scheme” approach, their having sent Vulcan to initiate just this situation. The new meta-gene heroes, free from the Lab, but frightened of the personality changes in Blue Beetle, walk willingly into Lex Luthor’s embrace. Or, as is more likely, this is “scheme in a scheme in a scheme”. I rather doubt Lex and the Light are planning on just going along with the Reach’s plans for Earth. An inevitable betrayal between baddies is likely in store at some point.
Superheroes classically have to deal with being reactive. They don’t do much until the villains make the first move, with heroes responding and trying to stop them. In Young Justice, the heroes continue to be completely outclassed in the scheming department. The Light is always a couple steps ahead of them. I’m sure Batman must have made Dick Grayson read The Art of War at some point in his training. Nightwing really needs a refresher course in the subject.