This Young Justice: Phantoms article contains spoilers for the newest episodes – “Nautical Twilight,” “Ebb Tide,” and “Emergency Dive”
Young Justice: Phantoms is back from break, with a batch of episodes focusing on Atlantis. While we got a taste of Atlantean history in the last arc (where we dove into Dr. Fate’s backstory and saw the birth of magic on Earth, as Zatanna and her team battled the new Lord of Chaos, Child and the Flaw), these episodes give us a heavy dose of Atlantis’ present. Along with Posiedonis, Xebel, Crastinus, Xeris, Lemuria, Neptunos, Nanauve and Shayeris. Get ready for some geography! And some deep dives into some very obscure Aquaman family characters.
The first episode, “Nautical Twilight,” introduces us to Atlantis’ annual peace conference, where representatives from the 8 undersea city-states gather to peacefully hash out difficult issues. Those city-states are:
- Crastinus, a city in the Arctic Ocean, represented by Lord Ronal.
- Lemuria, a city in the north Pacific, represented by Prime Minister Topo.
- Neptunos, a city in the south Pacific, represented by Emissary Coral.
- Nanauve, a city in the Southern Ocean, represented by King Shark (I refuse to write it “King Sha’ark.” Sorry not sorry).
- Tritonis, a city in the Indian Ocean, represented by General Lori Lemaris.
- Shayeris, a city I’m guessing is just off the Pacific coast of the United States, represented by Calvin Durham.
- And Xebel, a city of exiles and represented (eventually) by Bishop Beluga.
In the comics, Ronal was created in the late 1980s for a Superman story by John Byrne. He fell in love with Lori Lemaris (slyly alluded to here by his response to Lori shutting him down at the discussion table), but eventually went insane and used his shape changing powers to shapeshift a bunch of merfolk into actual merfolk, complete with fish tails and everything. Here he’s just a pompous jerk, who is also clearly in love with Lori. Crastinus started as an offhand reference in the early ‘90s Aquaman series (the one with the amazing Kevin Maguire covers), and has hung around as an Atlantean location since, but never as a full city-state.
Lori is maybe the oldest character in the bunch, created to be Superman’s magical mermaid ex-girlfriend in the late 1950s. She hails from Tritonis, a city of finny merfolk traditionally set in opposition to Poseidonis, which we can assume is the city that Arthur Curry represents in the episode and is home to Commander Ondine and Vulko, the Ministers of Security and Science, respectively, introduced by Arthur to the group. You probably remember Vulko as Aquaman and Mera’s top advisor from the movie – he’s an old character, dating back to the ’60s. Ondine is newer, introduced in 2017 as Vulko’s bodyguard and a former member of Mera’s Widowhood, the group of war widows tasked with training and advising Atlantean Queens.
Topo is Aquaman’s octopus sidekick in the comics and in the old ‘60s Aquaman cartoon. Here he’s been reimagined as…there’s no easy way to put this…he’s a Deviant. Lemuria didn’t exist in the DC Universe prior to this episode. But it does exist in one comic book universe: Lemuria is home to the race of foes to the Eternals, the Deviants, in the Marvel Universe. The fast mutating monster race has spawned several Marvel beasts that bear a passing resemblance to the eldrich horror we see in this episode, and I promise that’s where the reference came from.
We all know King Shark, the loveable scamp who bites people in half in James Gunn’s masterpiece The Suicide Squad. Here he’s less scampy (GET IT?) and more belligerent politician, getting into a bar fight with Kaldur and friends, and shouting down the table over surface dweller-caused climate change and what he perceives as their coddling at the hands of his colleagues at the table. This King Shark is much more sophisticated than his counterparts in comics or the movies usually are.
Emissary Coral is the first of a bunch of characters in this episode who were first developed in the Young Justice tie-in comics which are now a full decade old. She is pregnant with either Wyynde (Kaldur’s best friend and royal guard) or Lagoon Boy’s child (they’re a throuple), and first appeared as a member of the Conservatory of Magic in the background of an episode in the first season, then was more fleshed out in Young Justice #14.
Wyynde and Beluga Boy (who eventually grows into the joke sent by Xebel to disrespect the council) are the others. Xebel, by the by, is Mera’s home, full of grumpy renegades founded by Atlantean outcasts who are generally quite proficient with magic. It’s the newest of these city-states not created for this episode, originally appearing in Brightest Day, the Blackest Night follow up in 2010.
The final member of the council is Kaldur’s father, Calvin Durham. He’s not Kaldur’s biological father, but rather an adoptive one: he was a former henchman of Black Manta’s who raised Kaldur as his own after Kaldur’s mother, Sha’lain’a, leaves the villain. This Calvin is interesting: he is apparently a human who was genetically altered to have gills so he could infiltrate Atlantis and take down Aquaman.
The Calvin Durham of the comics has a very different origin: it’s basically the same as the origin of the Atlanteans, drowned by Vandal Savage and Klarion to force them to evolve gills and develop magic, only Calvin was a resident of early 2000s San Diego when it fell into the sea and caused a small percentage of residents to spout gills. Shayeris is a new Atlantean city-state, but it’s probably very intentional that it sounds so much like Hawkgirl’s name, given the history the Hawkpeople and the Atlanteans share with Vandal Savage.
And speaking of Savage, while he only has a few lines during the credits of the middle episode, his grubby mitts are all over this story. After the last arc focused so much on Savage’s work to maintain balance between chaos and order throughout history, creating the undersea kingdom of Atlantis to spur evolution, we now see Arion, the wizard credited in Atlantean history with the founding of the nation, returning out of nowhere to fend off attacks from a clone of Ocean Master.
The revelation of Arion’s identity causes a great deal of political upheaval, with many Atlanteans believing he’s the fulfillment of a prophecy, and riots starting in Xebel in particular. Arthur isn’t quite sold, especially after discovering that the best confirmation they can get of Arion’s identity is his DNA link to Savage and the clone of Orm sitting in a prison cell, but the third episode ends before we can learn more about what Savage might be planning. It’s certainly a more interesting and consistent set of episodes than the ones pre-break, so I’m looking forward to what’s next.