This Young Justice: Phantoms review contains spoilers.
Young Justice Season 4 Episode 10
The more I sit with “Ydaer Teg,” this week’s episode of Young Justice: Phantoms, the less I like it. It’s not the same unhappiness that I’ve had with the rest of this season, though that’s definitely there: I still hate the motion comic, and I’m still pretty mad that the show chose to tell the story of Starro the Conqueror’s invasion of ancient Babylon and murder of Nabu in still frames they nudge across the camera to simulate movement. And I’m getting increasingly frustrated with the Beast Boy pop ins, which this week seemed like an excuse to berate him for his grief.
But his week, my biggest problem was with a defensible storytelling choice and not a budget or storytelling restriction: Sgt. Marvel has an addiction problem.
They don’t really say it in so many words, but this week’s episode essentially treats Mary as though she has substance use disorder, and the substance she’s got a problem with is her full power set.
We again get two parallel stories this week (along with the tasteless Beast Boy pop in). The motion comic continues to tell Savage’s life story, this time focusing on his time as Marduk, the Babylonian demigod who fathered Nabu and Ishtar. Nabu narrates this week’s motion comic and uses it as a long origin story for the Helm of Fate – how he came to be a Lord of Order, what his role in the universe is, and how Zatanna’s gang came to ask him for help.
Meanwhile, Zatanna’s gang does ask him for help, and Dr. Fate yells at the kids for trying to get involved with a battle between Lords of Chaos, and then sends each on a journey of introspection to test if they’re ready. Traci 13 has to face off with puppet versions of her boyfriend (Blue Beetle), her mentor (Zatanna) and her idol (Beast Boy), along with the voices of her own self doubt and imposter syndrome, before she yells at them and says she deals with this crap every day and Fate should try harder to knock her off her game.
Khalid’s journey is pretty solid. It has him slowly drowning, between the demands of being a superhero in training, being a medical doctor in training, being a magic user, and being a faithful Muslim. He reconciles all his different identities through that faith, hugs his parents, and gets back in the fight.
Mary does battle with her self doubt in the form of her fully powered form, and gets her ass handed to her – Mary can only use one power at a time, while Sergeant Marvel (ugh) has access to the full suite. But Mary’s peace comes from Billy telling Sgt. Marvel that Mary was losing herself to the powers, so she had to limit herself to only one. Which…
I know superhero stories are supposed to be metaphors for real world problems, but those metaphors fall apart once they become straightforward enough to be similes. The mutant metaphor in X-Men works because you can see so many different disempowered identities in the X-Men’s struggle. Legacy heroes work because everyone can see themselves struggling to live up to an ideal. Same for the League as a whole.
Go back to that paragraph about Mary’s internal battle, and swap in every use of “power/s” with “pill/s”. It’s too close to a real world problem that too many of us have had to deal with (either in ourselves or loved ones) for the resolution to be this tasteless. You’re not going to fix an addiction problem by only using a little bit of cocaine at a time. And it’s pretty gross of this show to suggest it, even by accident.
- The Vandal Savage stuff in Babylon is a mild retcon of a bunch of old YJ stuff. The Light was born in ancient Babylon, but it was presented as Babylonian demigod fighting alongside his son Nabu and daughter Ishtar to defend the realm from Starro. This episode tells us that Savage was in on it.
- I don’t think Khalid’s mom being Inza Nelson’s niece has ever been established anywhere else. I’m of two minds about this: it totally works with what the show is trying to do with magic users in this universe to make Khalid have a magical pedigree. Khalid’s mom mentions that she gave up magic to convert to Islam and marry his dad, which firmly establishes both of them as Homo magi, the magical race descended from Savage. That said, I kind of like it when super heroes, especially legacy ones, aren’t nepotism hires.
- Reminder from season one: Zatara took over as Dr. Fate to save Zatana. The hosts we see at the end of the episode are the chain of hosts the kids fed to the helm – Kent Nelson first, who passed away; then Wally West, Kaldur, Zatana, and finally Zatara.
- The Justice Society has only been mentioned once before, way back in season 1 during a Red Tornado episode (remember him? Can’t believe we don’t have more sad robot content in a world where The Vision is so popular he’s a base ingredient for a bunch of memes).
- RIP in peace Teekl. The episode ends with Flaw snapping Teekl’s neck, and Klarion discorporating back to his chaos
emeraldruby form. Maybe if Klarion had spent more time buttering you, you wouldn’t have been so easy to grab.