Young Justice: Phantoms and the Weight of Being a Superhero

Greg Weisman takes us inside the latest episode of Young Justice: Phantoms.

Young Justice: Phantoms
Photo: DC/HBO Max

This Young Justice: Phantoms article contains spoilers.

Young Justice Season 4 Episode 17

This week’s episode wraps up Aquaman’s arc, and while we get a pretty startling resolution to “Arion’s” story and the unrest in Atlantis, the episode also does a remarkable job of centering Kaldur’s journey over the four seasons (and decade-plus in real world time) of Young Justice’s life. “A big question for this arc is, ‘When is enough enough?’” Young Justice Executive Producer Greg Weisman tells us in an interview. For Kaldur, enough is at the end of months of struggle, on top of a decade of heartbreak and loss as a superhero. 

It’s easy not to notice it at first, but each episode in the Atlantis arc is set about a month after the last. This means as we return in “Leviathan Wakes,” Kaldur’s been hunting for Arion’s crown deep in Xebel, with Dolphin, Wyynde, and Garth for weeks, separated from his duties with the Justice League, from the unrest in Atlantis, from his normal heroing life. In the earlier episodes of this arc, it was interesting to see him carrying his authority back to Atlantis – Aquaman is always a big deal in the ocean, but an Aquaman who has been leading a team most of his friend group (as basically the second and third generation of superheroes themselves) have been a part of, Kaldur has a stature in Atlantis that feels very different from Orin. 

“The thing with Kaldur was that he was sort of ultra-mature from moment one,” says Wiseman. He led The Team from almost the launch of the show, wrangling egos and attitudes and having the spine to get in Batman’s face from time to time. “So by the time you get 10 years later, he’s already been co-chairman of the Justice League for nearly a year. He’s led the team through numerous crises, [and he] just gets more and more  pressure thrown on him. ‘Hey, you’re carrying these three rocks, can you carry one more? Great. What about a fifth rock? How about a sixth rock? Um, and you know, at what point does the weight become too much to bear?”

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Kaldur’s processing Connor’s loss just like everyone else from that generation of The Team. Or rather, he’s not, really – he processes it by throwing himself into his work and not thinking about it, helping his small crew duck magma vents and ride leviathans through caves as they track down the crown. 

It turns out the crown is essential in more ways than one: “Arion” isn’t who he says he is – he’s Ocean Master’s brain in a clone of Arion’s body, sent to Atlantis to take it over by falsely fulfilling the prophecy about saving the oceans from the red cloud. Miss Martian, brought in by King Orin to interrogate the fake Ocean Master being held captive, discovers the deception just as fake Arion is being named the new King while Kaldur and his crew are returning with the crown, and he puts it on to prove he’s the rightful title holder. 

He’s promptly incinerated, and all of the power from the crown gets beamed back to the constellation where the Lords of Order live. They also drop a quick middle finger to Savage, telling him if he wanted to rule Atlantis with the power of Order, he shouldn’t have colluded with a Lord of Chaos to create it. This pays off Savage’s story from the last two arcs quite well.

That leaves Atlantis with its new ruler, Mera, elected by popular acclaim after a speech from her husband. Kaldur, finally having a second to breathe, feels the full stress from this season finally fall on him, and he decides to take a leave of absence from the League and from heroing in general, and we see him actually getting down time with his friends and loved ones. But not before Orin returns to duty as the League’s Aquaman, making a delightful crack about how the League can put up with “four Green Lanterns and two Flashes,” that it can handle three Aquamen. He also promotes Lagoon Boy to an Aquaman.

This was easily the strongest arc of the season, the one that best balanced the history of the show with plot development. As for what we can expect from the next arcs? “I think we’ll refer you to the main title,” says Weisman. Phantom Girl? Superboy in the Phantom Zone? We’ll see.

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