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.
We have known that the Reach and the Light have been conspiring together, but this is the first time we get to see the two factions interacting. It’s no surprise that they don’t get along well. If it hasn’t been clear before, there’s no doubt that Vandal Savage is the leader of the Light, or at least the mastermind behind their activities. He’s the one with the slowly progressing, multi-layered plan that has been in operation since the show started. For all that, Young Justice has given us almost no information about who Vandal Savage is. That’s true for a lot of the characters in the show, good guys and bad. Savage is mysterious even for the members of the Light. Most everybody knows something about Lex Luthor, from all the Superman media out there. Ra’s al Ghul was in the first Christopher Nolan Batman movie. More obscure characters such as Queen Bee, Klarion, or Black Manta have had a lot of screen time in Young Justice itself for us to know them. Even the Brain had a featured episode.
In comics, Savage first appeared as Green Lantern villain in the 1940’s — and thus, until Crisis on Infinite Earths, was a supervillain from Earth II. His deal was that he was a caveman from 50,000 BC given immortality by a mysterious meteorite. As often happens with minor characters, over the decades he has been reinterpreted again and again by writers trying to make him threatening or interesting. He has claimed to be all the great conquers of history, such as Genghis Khan. Sometimes he’s been Jack the Ripper, or even the Biblical Cain, with a marked face. The scars in Young Justice might be an allusion to that, though they might also just be from an encounter with a bear a dozen millennia ago. There was a memorable episode from the Justice League animated series where Superman was thrust into the distant future and found that the only survivor of a ruined Earth was Savage (being immortal after all). But after centuries without enemies to fight, this Savage had become something of a nice guy.
In any case, in Young Justice he is at his most developed as a secret manipulator and a master, patient, strategist. He’s made mention of his enormous lifespan, but that’s about all the show has presented directly so far, leaving it to the viewers to already know from extensive comic book reading, his appearances in other shows such as Legends of Tomorrow, or to be surprised by, as revelations are dolled out.
For all the many victories and successful maneuvering, and out-maneuvering, Savage has achieved with the Light, it all falls apart very quickly due to Aqualad’s undercover mission. The summit has been completely compromised by the Team and they use the opportunity to unleash their ultimate weapon: the truth. The Light has been manipulating the Reach along with everyone else. And we the viewers are given the closest thing yet to an explanation of the Light’s goal (or at least Savage’s; he does refer to it all as “my plans.”) They wanted to thrust Earth into the greater galactic community — and not as an equal member, but as a conquering force, destined to rule. I would imagine that their initial scheme, which took up Season One, was to mentally enslave Earth’s heroes and build a super-army. Season Two was a backup plan, with the primary goal of getting their hands on WarWorld.
In a way, Vandal’s plan finally touches back on themes from the 1988-89 Invasion! comic of miniseries, which this season takes its name from: that an alliance of extraterrestrials was going to rid the galaxy of the Earth because its ever growing population of meta-humans might someday become such a conquering army.
All gets exposed and much superhero action ensues. How this infiltration of the summit was achieved is not detailed, even with significant events such as an assumed take down of Deathstroke. That is all fine with me. The series has frequently used off-stage events to advance plot points that can easily be left to out imagination. It was last episode’s ending, with a prolonged exposition of the scheme to free Blue Beetle, that felt out of place with the storytelling style of this series.
The Team has the baddies outnumbered and outgunned and so, while Vandal and Klarion escape, the fight is one-sided. The victory is tinged by depending on a son betraying his father. The details of Black Manta’s goals in working with the Light never got explored much. He seems to be fighting for his own harsh vision of honor and freedom, and his pain at having to battle Aqualad, and his brutal defeat, cast a shadow over the otherwise major victory by the heroes.
That Vandal remains in command of the WarWorld also makes in a bit less of a total win…