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…

Young Justice, Episode 2.18: “Intervention”

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.

While the heroes have escaped, Black and Green Beetle still have the enraged Mongol to deal with back on WarWorld — as well as the fact that this whole escapade was largely a distraction so that the Crystal Key could be stolen (by the Light, but the Reach doesn’t yet know they are being used by them).

As far as schemes go, the Reach continues to have success with their plan to make Blue Beetle Earth’s new hero, even to become a replacement for the missing Superman. We see more of Jaime as conscious but helpless as the Scarab control him. The Scarab itself is a tool of the Reach, under their control, with the Ambassador able to manipulate it directly. While Black Beetle seems to enjoy being a bad guy, the other scarabs are slaves to their programming, with no more agency than Jaime has — whether they “like” it or not. Though strictly following the wording of orders can be a rebellion of sorts…

The world that superhero comics typically create is one built of a little bit of everything. There is advanced sci-fi technology (often multiple different tech systems from multiple alien worlds). Powers from biological mutations (meta-genes in this case). There is time-travel. There are gods. And there is magic. Magic is typically just another “power source” in superhero cosmology. There are many magical heroes in Young Justice. It isn’t mentioned all the time, but Aqualad and Lagoon Boy are magic-users, though not spellcasters the way Zatanna is. Magic can easily become a cheat in any story, so it’s problematic in a narrative form such as Young Justice where, despite having all those elements listed above (and more), there is an intent to have rules, laws, and constraints on how any superpower works. Zatanna, and her father, have the limitation of needing to say their spells backwards. In comic history that can sometimes be the only constraint on what exactly they could or could not do. Young Justice has established in earlier episodes that Zatanna uses the backward talking as her focus of magic. She still has to know how to shape the magical forces she calls on, how to make them “work.” Only then can her backwards casting function. That is all to say it feels acceptable that she and Rocket can combine their powers to capture Blue Beetle (particularly if the Scarab is not trying quite as hard as it could to escape). The extent and capabilities of magic power is going to come up again in this episode.

Miss Martian and Lagoon Boy have an uncomfortable talk, something dreaded but inescapable. Comparing the maturity of the two characters is striking. Lagoon Boy emotionally is about where most of the Team were back in Season One, but, M’gann has grown from everything she’s experienced. It shows how even a couple years difference can lead to a big difference in a young person’s outlook and state of mind.

Strangely, the Team is taking the captive Beetle to Queen Bee’s underground base in Bialya, last seen in “Beneath,” Episode Five of Season Two. A lot of plot ago. At first they seem unprepared for the danger, but we are quickly reminded that these guys know their tactics. There then follows some almost literal deus ex-machina as Zatanna uses a ruined temple to summon the power of what appears to be an Eygptian (or Bialyian I guess) Goddess to free both Blue and Green Beetle from Reach control. Again magic does whatever the plot needs it to — but the show supports it. After all, it is an essential part of Blue Beetle as a superhero that, somehow, his Scarab had been freed from its original Reach programming thousands of years ago. Zatanna is recreating that event. Secret mystic lore is another part of the whole sorcerer deal.

The exposition that comes next is more of a problem for me. The amount of backstory filling about how Team came up with the plan, how they discovered the complex history of the Scarab, and of Ted Kord, is a lot more people explaining things than we are used to in this show. It’s all been hinted at, but with everything else that has gone on this season I come away feeling like these were story elements that were intended to be presented more in actual episodes, but which they just never quite had room for, as densely packed as the plot ultimately became. I have been watching this series from the point of view of a comic book reader just seeing the episodes themselves, without delving into its production history. I do know the show was cancelled for a time after this season, so maybe there was a sense of needing to rush through some plot lines that they had hoped would have been more developed.

They do succeed in a nice completion of the relationship between Jaime and the Scarab, as the two come to terms with each other, and we get confirmation that the Scarab prefers its freedom to be Jaime’s partner, with neither of them a slave to the Reach.

And speaking of plot, of course, this was all just another aspect of the Light’s plans, with Queen Bee allowing the Team to pull off the ritual to, if nothing else, rob the Reach of two Beetles. And what else? I don’t know. I continue to enjoy the show, but experience secret conspiracy fatigue from still not knowing what the Light has been up to after all this time….