Young Justice, Episode 2.8: “Satisfaction”

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.

Arsenal

The series continues its technique of advancing some plot elements surprisingly quickly. Discovered a few episodes back, the original Roy Harper has been rescued and is now recovering in hospital. We see Red Arrow’s sharp edged personality is true to his younger “self.” I don’t think this idea of their being two Roy’s appears in comics (as common as superhero clones are) but I could be wrong. I’m avoiding doing research beyond my own comic reading to avoid spoilers. The hero name “Arsenal” that he adopts is the more commonly used one by the adult Roy as he moves beyond being Green Arrow’s sidekick.

The consequences of Artemis’s fake death continue to cast a shadow across the show. The Justice League has a secret memorial to fallen heroes, secret to conceal the mortality of superheroes. It contrasts with the situation in comics where heroes die and come back to life so often even the characters themselves comment on it.  Besides Artemis, there are statues of the Ted Kord Blue Beetle, Tula, the Aquagirl who was active during the five year break, and… the Jason Todd Robin, who I was wondering about since it’s Tim Drake who is wearing the Robin costume now. Jason was the Robin famously killed by the Joker as part of (probably fake) poll given to readers who wanted to vote on his fate. Jason, in comics, of course eventually comes back to life becoming the antihero Red Hood (all four characters who have been “Robin” have died and been reborn at one time or another). As always we don’t know where the show is going to take things in its own, distinct continuity.

There’s plenty of tensions in the Green Arrow “Family,” between Ollie, the two Roys, and Artemis. Green Arrow has gotten a lot of attention as a character from his long-running live action show, but he’s often mostly a joke in other media. He is usually most successfully portrayed as clownish second-banana to his wife, Black Canary.

Luthor

This episode is ultimately stolen by the imperturbable Lex Luthor. Lex is a character who has grown rich, layer by layer, from all the different interpretations he’s had over the years. It was the Richard Donner Superman movie in 1978 and the 1986 reboot of the Man of Steel comic by John Byrne that transformed Luther from mad scientist to scheming business man. The 1996 Superman: The Animated Series further established Lex as the impeccably tailored mastermind he mostly commonly appears today. That series also introduced his chauffer and bodyguard Mercy Graves, who became popular enough to transfer into main DC Comic continuity (much as Harley Quinn did). Young Justice adds a new feature to Mercy by making her a cyborg living weapon. This episode also show Lex’s head of security is named “Otis,” bringing the homage circle back to the Donner Superman.

An amusing side story this episode was the unfortunate Captain Cold having the bad luck to attempt a robbery across the street from a superheroine bridal shower. It raises the eternal question of why villains ever think they can get away with crimes in broad daylight in cities overflowing with metahuman vigilantes. The Captain Cold of Young Justice continuity is an old school, snickering baddy, not the conflicted, multi-layered that Leonard Snart has become in various Flash stories in recent years.

Young Justice, Episode 2.7: “Depths”

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.

Serious warning about Spoilers this time, as the plot of this season takes some major twists here.

This episode is focused on one sequence of events, unlike the previous few. There are some side scenes, but one main storyline – which is good given how complicated things are now. For instance when Miss Martian and Superboy were masquerading as Martian Manhunter and Superman, to hide from public knowledge that their elders were off-planet being tried in space-court, I thought “Oh yeah, there’s all that going on, isn’t there…” Nightwing attempts to frame the central, big picture issue as the need to discover The Light’s unknown, extraterrestrial partner. But even that gets murky when you review what has gone on so far. The Light seemed to be working with the Kroloteans, but then betrayed them to a “Competitor.” We’ve seen the evidence of Apokolips at work on Earth, so is Darkseid this Competitor? Other evidence points to the aliens behind Blue Beetle’s Scarab, but nobody in the show seems to know yet that the Scarab even has extraterrestrial origins…

M’gann and Conner

There are still the usual parallel stories of the heroes’ external goals – stopping an attack on a rocket launch – and their internal issues. Here that is the simmering conflict of the Conner, M’gann, and La’gaan triangle. Lagoon Boy is showing his immaturity and inexperience by acting against orders for personal reasons, as the original members tended to do in early episodes, before learning to act together as a team. That suggests a reason why the show decided to introduce a set of new characters this season. The veterans are a little too competent (likewise the show has established reasons why powerhouses and masterminds such as Superman and Batman aren’t around to handle everything). The more senior Team members do still have their troubles. We learn that what broke up Conner and M’gann was not just that she was starting to use her mental powers more ruthlessly, but that she also tried to use them to make Conner less upset about it. That’s a pretty serious violation of their trust. But it doesn’t get in the way of them doing their job, as they continue to work together efficiently with minimal distractions, unlike La’gann who gets careless and is taken captive.

Carrol Ferris

Two elements of DC Comics lore stood out this time. That rocket launch is being carried out by Ferris Aircraft, one of DC Comics go-to benevolent businesses. Carol Ferris was originally the token girlfriend of Green Lantern in the 60’s and 70’s, but in more recent times is portrayed as the CEO of her family’s company. In her Young Justice appearance she’s wearing a purple jacket and lipstick, which is an homage to her history of becoming the supervillain Star Sapphire. We don’t know yet if that’s her destiny in Young Justice’s continuity yet.

Glorious Godfrey

Also pundit G. Gordon Godfrey make one of this usual rabble rousing appearance, railing against the threat of aliens to Earth. This continues to be extra ominous to comic fans, knowing that not only is “Glorious Godfrey” a scheming badguy, he is to all intent and purposes a God of Deception and Persuasion from Apokolips

The game-changing reveal in this episode was of the deep undercover operation that the elder members of the Team have been engaged in. I am not sure how I feel about it. It is very clever and I didn’t see it coming. It fits with the Team as a Black Ops squad more than a strike force. Yet I liked the potential for emotional conflict that having Kaldur turn badguy had suggested. The series is recognizing that this trick is not without consequences. The staged “death” of Artemis has real emotional consequences on those who are not part of the plan and I expect the deception to have long lasting reverberations.

Quick Thought: Ultra Q, Episodes 4-7

Seven episodes in and Ultra Q has established itself as a show where just about anything can happen. When you start an episode there’s no telling what kind of story might be coming, other that it will probably involve a giant monster of some sort. Here are a few comments and observations. Assume some Spoilers for each episode.

Ultra Q

Mammoth Flower

The original title of the series was “Unbalance” and this episode is an expression of that theme. Humanity has unbalanced nature and events such as a giant blood-drinking flower blossoming in downtown Tokyo are just going to happen. “It’s a time when you don’t know what will fall from the sky,” a character says.

Some different special effects techniques were used in this episode. Eiji Tsuburaya, whose company produced Ultra Q is known for miniatures, pyrotechnics, and monster suits, but this episode experimented with stop motion, photographic backdrops, and compositing. It’ll be interesting to see if the show continues to try new approaches to depicting this out of balance world.

Peguila is Here!

This is the first episode so far that really doesn’t make much sense. There’s a mishmash of ideas that don’t fit together or are ever adequately explained. In some scenes it’s just unclear what is actually happening or even where characters are and what they are seeing. Some of the blame might go to poor translation, but this could be a script that never had a clear idea of where it was going from the start.

Tarō

Grow Up! Little Turtle

Occasionally Ultra Q will remind you that it is a show from the 60’s. Trippy is how you’d describe this mixture of reality, child’s fantasy, slapstick comedy, and fairytale. Our usual crew of Jun, Yuriko and Ippei make a cameo appearance, suggesting that at least some of what is happening is “real” but since the main character of the episode is named after a well-known figure from Japanese folklore, things get “meta” quickly.

S.O.S. Mount Fuji

This episode seems written around two distinct ideas, but the half-hour format doesn’t have enough room to fully explore either. There’s a monster awoken by volcanic activity at Mt. Fuji and a regional “Tarzan” who has been living in the woods on his own since infancy. It’s mostly plot convenience that two ever cross paths. But I’ll give this episode points for something I thought only occurred in 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars, that is, a human being taking out a kaiju in direct hand-to-hand combat. The episode also features a bungling but well intentioned rural policeman, who I suspect is a stock comedic character that Japanese viewers would be familiar with.

Young Justice, Episode 2.6: “Bloodlines”

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.

Invasion Cover

Recovered intel from previous missions provides our heroes a clue about what has been going on: the aliens they’ve encountered recently are interested in something called a “meta-gene” found in some humans. That was a forehead slapping moment for me. This season of Young Justice is subtitled “Invasion” but I hadn’t made the connection the 1989 comic mini-series/event by that name. In the “Invasion” storyline, various extraterrestrial species were cooperating to deal with Earth and its troublesome inhabitants because of the genetics that can trigger the development of superpowers. If that’s what’s going on in the show too, it reveals a lot of potential missing pieces in the puzzle of current events, and of last season as well.

The main plot doesn’t directly follow up on this. This is a Flash centered episode, with four generations of Flashes together at one point, with the introduction of Impulse, Barry Allen’s grandson from the future. The passing down of the mantle of Flash is one of DC Comics’ strongest hero legacies. Impulse plays the part of an excited time-tourist, but he clearly has an agenda. Just how accidental are his occasional “spoilers” about the future? A reoccurring element in stories about the Barry Allen Flash, in whatever medium, is that he is self-sacrificing. As a character, he was actually dead for quite a few years after giving his life to save the Universe in the original Crisis on Infinite Earths mini-series. Impulse sure seems to besubtly influencing things to save Flash from what might have been his historical demise in this timeline.

Flash in Crisis

Barry Allen’s Flash is portrayed very much as a classic superhero from the Silver Age with an old-fashioned Boy Scout attitude and silly quips, intentionally out of place with the tone of the rest of the show. We are also shown another example of the series maintaining differences in power-level between characters. For a lot of Wally West’s carrier as Kid Flash (until he discovered the Speed Force) he struggled with not being as fast as Barry, and had difficulty with some of the physics defying feats the elder Flash performed routinely. Bart seems to have those full abilities, and he and Barry might be as much faster than Wally than Wally is from a non-powered person. I still wonder if Wally retired because he found his speed inadequate or unreliable.

The immediate threat in this episode, Neutron, is a minor villain who pops up here and there in comics. His Young Justice design seems very anime-influnced, resembling Asuka’s Eva Unit 02 from Neon Genesis Evangelion. His spheres of destruction also have a look made classic by Katushio Otomo’s Akira. When he has a chance, Bart reveals at least one of his secret missions in this time: giving Neutron a cure for his destructive powers. This was supposed to also help cure the apocalyptic future 40 years from now, that we are shown Bart came from. While it does help Neutron in that future, it doesn’t fix everything. Changing time, “crashing the mode” as they call it, appears harder than they expected. We viewers are also given a little more information: scenes of unknown figures who have created Neutron, perhaps as an experiment in controlling the meta-genes. They speak in chittering alien voices and could be the Dominators who were central to the Invasion storyline in comics.

Lone Wolf

In the “meanwhile” department of this episode, Red Arrow and Cheshire’s quest to find the original Roy reaches a remote monastery and leads to a lot of ninja action. Cheshire continues to carry their daughter around in a sling under her costume. That might be just a “Lone Wolf and Cub” reference, but she also seems to play on Arrow’s sense of fatherly duty when necessary. I still don’t trust her. They do find the first Roy, as we were shown him last season, in suspended animation, missing his right arm. With this and the Impulse storyline we are in areas where I haven’t read the comics they might be adapting or taking inspiration from, so rather than the comic nerd recognizing classic references or Easter eggs, I’m becoming a viewer experiencing events for the first time.

Young Justice, Episode 2.5: “Beneath”

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.

New Characters

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.

Apache Chief

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…

Young Justice, Episode 2.4: “Salvage”

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.

This season is leaning heavily on the mysteries of the five years that passed between it and last season. That can be an effective storytelling technique, but also can become tiresome, if used too much for just for shock value about things the characters know that we as viewers don’t.

This episode is divided into distinct A-plot and B-plots, with one being focused on superhero action, and the other more about character and those five years. The title of the episode has resonance with both plots: one deals with an attempt by villains to use the remnants of an alien invasion to their own purposes; the other suggests the efforts to rebuild or recover a life from the wreckage of bad fortune and bad decisions.

Intergang

We follow Superboy and Blue Beetle out on a mission. They are investigating the criminal organization Intergang, which has been getting its hands on Apokolips technology. This is a typical MO for Intergang. Along with most everything Darkseid/Apokolips related, they are a creation of Jack Kirby during his time at DC Comics. So far it’s unclear how much if anything the world at large knows about Apokolips.

Some interesting backstory about Blue Beetle comes up here. As in the comics, our current Blue Beetle, Jaime Reyes, has only recently taken on that name, inheriting it from Ted Kord. Ted was a gadget hero, without metahuman powers (he’s the model for Owlman in Watchmen). He is credited as having developed the advanced battle suit our new Blue Beetle uses and was murdered by the Light. The series is making its usual mixture of past and updated comic lore. Traditionally Kord was murdered by a conspiracy he has investigating, but the “Scarab,” the heart of the battle suit, was an alien device that only activated when Jaime found it. Will that be true is the Young Justice world? Was Kord lying about creating it, or is everyone else mistaken? Its extraterrestrial origins are supported by the Scarab knowing something about Apokolips technology, referring to it as “incompatible” with its own systems. We also see that the Light is still involved in most everything nefarious going on. Two shadowy observers are around. One is revealed as Sportsmaster, but the other is unknown.

Speedy

Meanwhile, several other heroes are tracking down Red Arrow, who has gone rogue. He’s fighting crime, but pocketing some of the spoils. When we first see this rough, unshaved Roy I wondered if the show would actually take a plot from a classic 70’s comic where he becomes a heroin addict. It turns out he’s on a lone hunt for the original Speedy, whom he was cloned from. The other heroes have given up after years of searching. A few more bits of backstory are served up, such as that Wally West (who we haven’t seen so far this season) has retired from superheroing (which made me wonder if he’d lost his powers, since his speed is the comics is often unstable). Roy refuses to give up and rejoin the others. He doesn’t consider himself a “real” person, even after Nightwing points out that the Team has only known him during their whole friendship.

A pair of domestic scenes fill in a little more. Wally we see is now living with Artemis. Their relationship was just starting to take off last season. He eating habits remain unchanged, so it suggests he still has his speed. Why he gave up being Kid Flash we don’t know.

An interesting parallel scene shows Roy encountering Cheshire (who is Artemis’s sister remember), with whom he was not only once married, but also fathered a daughter. She is willing to help him find Speedy, believing that he is still captive of the Light. We know that this is true from last season. But should we trust the sincerity of Cheshire’s intensions…? (I don’t think so).

Quick Thought: Ultra Q, Episodes 1-3

The recent Blu-ray release of Ultra Q is my first chance to watch this legendary 1966-67 Japanese sci-fi series. Created by Eiji Tsuburaya, the special effects master behind the original run of Godzilla movies, Ultra Q is often described as cross between Outer Limits and X-Files. It is the adventures of a team of reporters, pilots, and scientists who investigate and deal with weird events, usually involving giant monsters.

Ultra Q team

Which leads us to the 500,000 lbs. kaiju in the room. While in its time this was a very expensive TV show to produce, today the special effects in Ultra Q, with its floppy monsters suits and miniature sets, can look cheap and ridiculous – though I’m not sure if the rubbery CGI common today is really that much better. If your reaction is that this all looks worthy of only a Mystery Science Theater treatment, Ultra Q isn’t a show for you. If you sincerely like Godzilla movies, and can appreciate the craft, ingenuity, and imagination that went into such a show, it’s a lot of fun. In those ways, Ultra Q is rather like the older seasons of Dr. Who, which was airing in England at the same time.

The right way to approach Ultra Q is that it, again like Dr. Who, is fundamentally a children’s program, one with entertainment value for older viewers as well. Besides the monsters smashing buildings, over the first three episodes more and more thoughtful ideas are introduced. Episode one “Defeat Gomess” is the troupe of a nerdy kid who could solve the monster problem if only adults would listen to him. “Goro and Goro,” like most stories with a giant monkey, has King Kong inspired themes, that fear and aggression make monsters out of nature and that for some problems: ”You don’t need weapons, you just need a heart.” By episode three, “Gift from Space,” we are considering whether humans reaching out into space might be breaking cosmic laws and customs we are too ignorant to understand, and that space aliens aren’t contacting us because we are still too violent and destructive for extraterrestrial civilization.

Martian Slug

The third episode also has already taken our monsters from a reused Godzilla suit to a slimy giant slug from Mars. A lot of the fun of this show is from seeing what kind of crazy creature will star in each episode. I’m also wondering where the world view of the show, the portrait of a technological society on the brink of discovering a much greater universe will go. More thoughts to come as I watch further episodes.