Young Justice, Episode 2.16: “Complications”

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.

With the Season Two ending in sight, enough is going on that we get another A/B plot episode.

The episode is framed by the consequences of what happened last time. Blue Beetle is covering up his betrayal by playing the innocent, claiming Mongol escaped, taking the other heroes with him. There’s even evidence to backup up his story that Mongol used an emergency Boom Tube. Nobody seems to make to much of a deal about the use of Boom Tubes so I can only guess the Earth heroes think of it as just another teleport technology — and are ignorant of the connotations that Darkseid and Apokolips are somehow in the background.

Beetle “blames” himself for what happen. The full-activated Scarab seems to have a lot of insight into both Jaime and Dick’s personalities, doing a perfect job imitating the insecure young hero and anticipating how the protective Nightwing would react.

Even with all that going, the main plot is what’s going on aboard Black Manta’s sub. I’m not even going to try and untangle all the factions involved here, how many different groups are sneaking around, who all is pretending to be someone else, pretending to be someone pretending to be yet someone else, or the multi-layered family/friend/rival/enemy relationships are at play. It’s Shakespearean in the complexity of secrets, disguises, and sudden reveals. It’s a lot of fun, my only narrative criticism being how much everything neatly returns to the status quo that existed before this whole story arc began. At least Miss Martian finally knows the truth of Aqualad and Artemis’s undercover mission (though Cheshire and Sportsmaster know as well now…).

The focus then returns to Nightwing on the captured WarWorld. Like his mentor Batman, Dick is a detective. His investigation of the Mongol fight turns up evidence that all is not as Blue Beetle described it. Even worse Jaime, himself is now appearing on TV as the Reach’s advocate and pet superhero, a role he’d never would have been comfortable with before.

Young Justice, Episode 2.15: “War”

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.

This episode rapidly builds up to a whirlwind of action. It is the nature of this season that each chapter isn’t just “an episode” but an progression of the story where things happen and the situation in an irrevocable way.

We start check in on Rimbor, where the Justice League is on trial. Things are not going well, especially since the locals don’t understand why some convenient bribes haven’t ending it already. The choice of the planet Rimbor (traditionally a “wretched hive of scum and villainy” in the DC Universe) seemed quite the well-calculated choice as a trap for the League, since anything like a fair trial is unlikely here.

But even this far across the galaxy, there is news that the Reach is occupying Earth. There is then uncharacteristic datadump of exposition. Young Justice usually presents a minimal amount of backstory for all its many characters and situations. The show either lets information accumulate over time, or just assumes viewers know the comic book lore already. Maybe the producers thought with so many plot elements and bizarre characters active across multiple planets, there just wasn’t enough time to be subtle. 

Characters explain the details of the treaty that restrains the Reach, and about the newly introduced threat of  Mongol and his WarWorld.  Mongol was created by Len Wein and Jim Starlin in 1980, as a space-based enemy strong enough for a punch-out against Superman.  Starlin also created Thanos for Marvel Comics, and his distinctive style explains Mongol’s physical resemblance to him. He was a minor character in DC until his famous appearance in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s 1985 “For the Man who has Everything,” one of the most critically regarded Superman stories of that era. Still, Mongol is a largely a blank slate alien space Hitler who is easily re-interpreted by comic and animation writers as needed. 

Here in Young Justice, after learning what is going on Earth (with some goading by Vandal Savage, who is also lurking around at the League’s trial) Mongol decides to put Earth out of its misery from Reach domination. He brings WarWorld into the Solar System and triggers an all out defend the Earth battle. Even the Reach joins in, revealing that they had a secret spaceship armada. The League and the Team show off their power, teamwork, and tactical skill. Letting heavy hitters such as Dr. Fate, Captain Marvel and Captain Atom hold off the main attack while the covert Team puts into action multiple simultaneous plans to take out WarWorld from within. That sort of well-thought out, logical approach to a goal is  something you rarely see in the genre. Of course it all falls apart due to Blue Beetle now being a double agent for the Reach. Additionally Nighthawk continues to send Arsenal on missions for some reason…

After Blue Beetle betrays the Team we are left with a mystery of what actually happens to them. We can assume they were all Boom Tubed into Reach imprisonment. It’s all a win-win-win for the Reach, since Mongol is defeated, they’ve captured bunch of heroes, and they’ve gained the control of WarWorld. And Earth thinks all the better of them for helping hold off the attack. Mongol repeatedly said the Earth would be better off destroyed by him than in the control of the Reach. And given how often the Reach refers to earthlings as “meat” their ultimate goal seems pretty ominous. 

Young Justice, Episodes 2.13 And 2.14

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.

The Fix

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.

Aqualad

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.

Runaways

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.


Longshadow

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.


El Dorado

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.


Samurai

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.


Black Lightning

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.


Neutron

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.

Young Justice, Episode 2.12: “True Colors”

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 this episode.

Fantastic Voyage

Blue Beetle returns to the center of this storyline, beginning with a Fantastic Voyage homage as Atom and Bumblebee try to free Jaime from the Scarab from within. Like most characters on Young Justice, Karen has never had an “origin” story that explains her powers. This situation suggests she uses similar shrinking technology that Ray Palmer uses to become Atom.

Beetle has wisely decided not to keep the secret of the apocalyptic future that Impulse comes from. This show has established clearly the dangers of hidden information. I wonder if there was a specific reason Nightwing didn’t include M’gann in the circle of Team members who knew about Aqualad’s undercover mission? I also question Nightwing’s wisdom of including Arsenal on their stealth mission investigating what Lex Luther and the Reach are up to at the enhanced farming facility. Maybe Dick is forgetting that Arsenal is not the Roy Harper he knew and trusted? Clones are a pain.

The appearance of “Green Beetle” was a bit of a Deus Ex Machina, to get the overwhelmed heroes out of the mess they got themselves into. I believe he is a new character created for the show, so I wonder where they’ll go with him. In usual comic continuity Martian Manhunter is the only surviving Green Martian, but in this continuity Martian civilization seems to be thriving. I wonder if there is also a Martian Green Lantern?

A lot is actually going on within the Light, mostly from the consequences of Aqualad’s mission. Sportsmaster explosively tenders his resignation (and is replaced by Deathstroke) and becomes, for the time being, a third faction in the goings on. He’s targeting Black Manta to pay for Artemis’s death — though more more his reputation than fatherly affection.

We see the mental battle with Miss Martian has indeed left Aqualad in a vegetative state. Psimon is being brought in to rebuild his mind — but that of course will reveal the secret of his undercover mission. While we have seen that M’gann has been shaken and traumatized herself, we don’t know if she’s fully grasped the situation and revealed to Nightwing what has happened. Should we be hoping that Dick is already a formulating a plan to deal with the situation as it spirals out of control?

The Light

Plot continues to be the main focus of these episodes, but we do see that the events have personal consequences to the characters — which then feed back into the situation. Nobody, not even the “scheme within a scheme” masters of the Light know everything that is going on, and can perfectly plan in advance. We’re seeing more of the Light’s internal politics with each episode. Hopefully the heroes can also come to really learn who their enemies are and start winning on that battlefield. Otherwise it’ll be G. Gordon Godfrey getting the last laugh, and last sneer, in the end.

Young Justice, Episode 2.11: “Cornered”

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 this episode.

Back at the height of my reading superhero stories, comics were still very much periodical magazines. There were twelve issues a year that needed to get printed and sent out to drugstores, newsstands, and (eventually, as the market changed), comic book stores. That necessitated the occasion use of a “fill-in”: an issue of the comic that would be produced by a different writer and artist team, and usually involved a story that stood alone, unconnected with an ongoing plot. Editors might have a few of these on file to publish when needed, if the main creative team was behind schedule. “Cornered” comes off pretty much as a fill-in episode for Young Justice.

Despero

While it is fun to see a classic villain such as Despero get reinterpreted for this continuity (mixed in with newer creations such as the robot L-Ron) nothing much lasting really happens from their confrontation. The Team comes off looking pretty badly here; maybe they’re shaken by recent events. Captain Marvel is treated the worst really, since if written competently he should have been able to take down Despero. The Wisdom of Solomon, which Marvel possesses, should have made up for the missing leadership and tactics of Nightwing. What surprised me most was that this ended up being the first time Mal Duncan takes on the role of Guardian. I had assumed he’d become Guardian during the five years between seasons, adopting the identify after Jim Harper discovers that he too is a Project Cadmus clone. Guardian is an example of the deep Jack Kirby roots beneath Young Justice. Guardian was originally a character created by Kirby an Joe Simon in 1942. Kirby brought him back (as a clone) in his Fourth World stories in the early 70’s, along with what be came Project Cadmus, Dubbliex, and other elements that are important backstory to Young Justice. But since Mal Duncan is only now acting as Guardian, I am left wondering why he has been around with the Team until now. Is their practice to just boyfriends of Team members (Bumblebee in this case) hang out with the gang?

Besides the Despero fight, this episode does advance the plot a little, particularly with the Reach revealing two important secrets: that the Team exists at all, as a covert ops branch of the Justice League, and that the League has a secret satellite HQ in orbit. Public relations is not the League’s strength. Maybe they have been assuming that saving the world multiple times would be enough to hold onto the public’s respect?

Young Justice, Episode 2.10: “Before the Dawn”

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.

Many diverse parts of this season continue to get tied together, advanced, and clarified over what ends up as the second of a two-part story, as the episode titles suggest, being two halves of the same phrase.

Blue Beetles

A flashback depicts how Jaime first found the Beetle Scarab in the debris from an explosion at Kord Industries. This might be the first time we see a hero’s origin on Young Justice. Apparently everyone just assumed that the Scarab was an invention of Ted Kord and not, as is revealed in this episode, an alien artifact. The Light’s partners (after having ditched the Kroleteans) are The Reach, an extraterrestrial civilization that appears mostly humanoid, but still likes to refer to Earthlings as “meat.” The Scarab is their tech, and we see one of their number in a battle armor identical to Blue Beetle’s.

A Reach scientist explains to Aqualad that the meta-gene is what allows some humans to survive catastrophic events by developing new abilities, that is, getting superpowers. The Reach wants to understand and weaponize this potential. This idea of the meta-gene and extraterrestrial interest in it, comes from the 1988 Invasion! mini-series I’ve mentioned before. Involving the Reach, an alien menace introduced into comics much later, is typical of how Young Justice remixes and reinterprets comics lore for their own continuity.

Something that is distinctive about these characters as a team is how they carry out carefully planned stealth missions, full of deception, misdirection, and coordinated attacks. They don’t just smash into the villains’ headquarters and start hitting people. They are so sneaky it can even confuse us viewers on occasion. When Robin and Batgirl appeared out of costume I didn’t even recognize them at first.

Black Beetle & Aqualad

The problem with a carefully laid plan is when it smashes into something unexpected. The Team’s multi-faceted operation to rescue Lagoon Boy and the other captives starts to go awry when several unexpected events happen in quick succession. They did not expected to encounter another “Beetle” or how powerful a fully unleashed Scarab could be, Jaime having kept secret how much he was restraining his. Even worse was not considering what would happen, as it does, if Miss Martian encountered Aqualad during the operation. M’gann being one of the Team who was never told about his undercover deception. Miss Martian, having grown both more ruthless and powerful since last season, instantly mentally attacks, causing as yet unrevealed psychic trauma to him — as well as absorbing the truth about everything that has gone, including Artemis’s fake death. That knowledge stuns her as well.

Another thing Nightwing couldn’t have planned for was that Impulse has his own agenda. More than anything else, he is in this time to rescue and warn Blue Beetle. The apocalyptic future he came from is one where the Reach have succeeded in conquering the Earth — something they achieve through the Scarab realizing its true purpose as a superweapon. So another plot thread, Impulse’s future timeline, has been folded into the main story. It’s really a relief to see so much of the complicated plot of this season be brought together. It also makes it all the more disturbing when, to help the Team survive and escape, Jaime has to unleash the full power of the Scarab, the very thing Impulse was warning about.

GG H

The Team manages to get away, though with plenty of consequences to deal with — only to discover that the Reach has made friendly contact with Earth’s governments. They are diplomatic and respectful enough that even G. Gordon Godfrey welcomes then. But… then Godfrey is an evil god from Apokalips that no one suspects yet, so that can’t be good.

Young Justice, Episode 2.9: “Darkness”

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.

Young Justice goes all in on plot for the next two episodes, which is a wise choice, given how many mysteries and plot threads the show has been juggling.

Tigress & Tigress

Aqualad is holding up against the stress of pretending to be on the baddies’ side while still progressing his secret mission, and working towards freeing the captured Lagoon Boy. As viewers we understand the double meaning in his “I will do whatever it takes to enter the Light.” In his mission he is assisted by the magically disguised Artemis, who has taken the new identity of “Tigress.” Fortunately the villains are not DC Comics nerds, so they don’t recognize that as a name once used by Artemis’s mother in her criminal career (after, for complex reasons, she could no longer go by the name “Huntress”).

We are told definitively that the as yet unseen aliens are studying humans that possess a “meta-gene.” Individuals with superpowers gained by magic, such as Lagoon Boy, or alien genetics, such as Suberboy don’t interest them. They care even less about nonpowered individuals such as Nightwing. Yet when Aqualad leads a raid on Mt. Justice, their main target is Blue Beetle, whose powers come from technology. I wonder why that could be, hmm…

To most people I imagine a superhero is a superhero. Maybe Superman is from Krypton, Spider-Man was bitten by a radioactive spider, Batman is a combat expert with lots of gadgets. What difference does it make? Well, to a comic nerd, these power sources are important. Knowing the lore of each hero is important. As I’ve mentioned before, knowing what a hero can or cannot do is important. These all contribute to the verisimilitude of the fictional world. Comics are utterly fantastic, but having rules, accepted limits, and shared expectations all make that fantasy a coherent whole. And on the subject of superpower limits, it is fun to see Impulse use his Flash-level super speed with such enthusiasm. Kid Flash, as quick as he was, would frequently trip on mud, or stumble over some obstacle a villain would put in his way. Bart blithely runs up walls, vibrates through solid objects, and in general defies most of Newton’s Laws of Motion . And we, as comic fans, accept this because, while Wally couldn’t do such feats, we have long read comics full of Barry Allen’s Flash doing them. Those are the established rules.

We see more of Jaime struggling with the Beetle Scarab AI voice in his head. It is sinking in how violent and utterly ruthless this voice is, always advising deadly force, unconcerned about collateral damage. And it appears capable of taking control of the Beetle armor, whether Jaime wants it to or not.

Aqualad & Black Manta

Though only a few members of the Team know it, the raid is a ruse planned by Aqualad and Nightwing to set up infiltration of the base where Lagoon Boy and other captives are being held. In order to maintain authenticity, Aqualad has to blow the Mt. Justice base to smithereens — which works almost too well, injuring Nightwing and other Team members. Wally is furious that the deception has gone to such extremes, putting people’s lives at risk. He even wonders if Aqualad is playing is role too well, and might have turned triple agent, working for his father and the Light for real. Whatever is going on, Aqualad has proven his worth to the conspiracy of villains that is the Light, and is ready to meet their extraterrestrial partner.