Young Justice, Episode 2.20: “Endgame”

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.

Last episode felt like a mostly satisfying conclusion to everything that had gone on during Season Two. I rather wish the season had stopped there. The actual finale tries to do a lot of things, but doesn’t manage to pull them all off.

The one unresolved plot line was the trial of the Justice League on Rimbor. For all its potential significance, it was easy to forget that it was supposed to be going on in the background of everything unfolding on Earth. From a big picture perspective one can understand why this plot line existed. The Light needed these foundational heroes — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc — out of the way for their schemes on Earth. Young Justice needed them out of the way so that the Team could be the stars of the show. The details of the trial were never quite clear. The League was charged with some vague crimes of cause havoc on Rimbor, an almost lawless planet run by openly corrupt officials. Bribes are standard operating procedure there. Was anybody expecting a fair trial? Did it matter that the League had expert-on-galactic law Icon as their attorney? What was the punishment if they were found guilty anyway? When Superboy and Miss Martian show up with evidence proving it all a Reach plot, nobody really cares and neither do we. Their fast talk with the Rimbor authorities about the commercial value of appearing to make a just ruling was cute, but a sputtering ending to this contrived, if necessary story thread.

As part of mopping up back on Earth, the showdown between the three Beetles nicely recapped the relationships that defined what Blue and Black were. Jaime and his scarab have been partners all along, and Black never needed his for him to be a weapon of oppression and violence. My unanswered question is why the Reach consistently referred to humans as “meat.” I suspected sometimes that their ultimate purpose for us was as a food source. Or is it that Reach biology was plant-based rather than animal? Trivial, but I wondered about it all season.

The show now has about 15 minutes for a big save-the-planet extravaganza. In the older days of superhero comics, when there’d be a special, epic crossover story with a large number of characters, it was common for them to divide up into pairs or other small squads to take on the aspects of a huge threat. So we see that at play here — and also see the heroes very effectively carry out their plan (though the early statement that each of the Reach drones had the power of a Beetle warrior gets quickly forgotten, as they actually go down easily). There are some nice, concluding character beats as well, particularly Lagoon Boy pride at Aqualad’s trust. That seemed to heal his self-esteem from being dumped by Miss Martian quite quickly. Artemis and Wally are sweet together — and if only they had left it there…

We know of course that the good guys are going to save the Earth. That isn’t really a source of suspense But when a DC comic reader sees a Flash start to do something dangerous, a different expectation arises. You see the thing that Flash does (any Flash, as there have been a lot of them) besides running very fast is… die heroically saving the world. That started with Barry Allen dying in Crisis on Infinite Earths in comics in the 1986, happens in other ways to other Flashes in subsequent stories, and even gets used in the TV adaptation of Crisis last year. When our three Flashes start running in a vortex to contain the doomsday device it was a direct evocation of Crisis. Who was going die this time? Maybe the one who was the reluctant hero dragged into battle? The one with a loving, emotional relationship we connected with? The one who was passing on his mantle to a successor? He was the cop on the last day of duty before a peaceful retirement. Killing Wally off was a clumsy cliché that we could see coming from miles away. I think the show could have done better, particularly since Young Justice has its own continuity to play with, unfettered by connections with comics or other shows.

And then there is the third thing that Flashes do. They come back from the dead. I have little doubt we’ll see Wally again.

Wally’s death was of course meant to represent a “price” the heroes had to pay. Yet what they had is far from a complete victory. Lex Luthor has spun the situation nicely, getting himself positioned to become Secretary General of the United Nations. And then there is the long, long, long awaited revelation that the Light is working with Darkseid, or at least Savage is, and maybe has been for millennia. In typical style for the show Darkseid is not named, though the show gives a typically understated location title card for “Apokolips.” Jack Kirby’s masterpiece villain has been handled and mishandled by many writers over the years. His appearances in Superman: The Animated Series and the following Justice League cartoon are classic. What, I wonder, will Young Justice do with him, and the mythos that surrounds him?

I’ll have one more post on Season Two, summing up my experience watch it.

Young Justice, Episode 2.19: “Summit”

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…