This Young Justice: Phantoms review contains spoilers.
Young Justice Season 4 Episode 21
I did not expect, in the dregs of this season of Young Justice, that I would at any point be standing up and cheering during an episode. But that’s exactly what happened when Tomar-Re sacrificed himself to save New Genesis from a big old pile of Kirby insanity, and then his ring chose Forager as his replacement.
That was awesome.
But that wasn’t the only standout moment. This whole arc was a gushing love letter to Jack Kirby, from the over-the-top episode titles to the date that the action took place – August 28, King Kirby’s birthday. This episode even has Lor-Zod recharging the phantom zone projector using Source energy from a boiling lake, and he inadvertently awakens a Promethean – the giant rock things that we saw in Kirby’s Fourth World comics chained to the Source Wall.
If it was just cool nods to Kirby comics, that would probably be enough for me to be happy with the arc. But where this episode is most effective is in how concise the character work is. Tomar-Re’s ongoing pain at the loss of Krypton informs his sacrifice to protect New Genesis from the erupting Promethean, and it’s communicated in the space of a couple of looks and a line of dialogue. Phil Morris’ voice work on Lor-Zod hits stellar a couple of times – his scream of agony as the Legion and bioship blew up the projector was palpable in a way voice acting doesn’t usually achieve.
Now, I’m about to commit some minor blasphemy. I’ve read most of Kirby’s Fourth World comics, and all of Walter Simonson’s magnificent Orion, but you know what? I think I enjoy this Orion the most out of all of them. Kirby’s Orion is your typical Kirby hero: a hulking, stilted weirdo who is the embodiment of conflicted heroism. Simpson’s Orion is more nuanced, but he’s still as much a force of nature as he is a character.
Young Justice pits Orion and Rocket against Ma’alefa’ak, a very clever choice: the white Martian immediately takes Orion and Rocket inside their own heads, with Rocket being coaxed into trapping Orion in a force bubble by an imaginary Lightray, telling her that Orion is a monster who must be stopped. Moving through their internal conflict – Orion sent feral by the mind meddling, with Rocket’s uncertainties being played up – helps mitigate that force of nature quality inherent in every Orion appearance. And showing us Orion through Rocket’s eyes makes everything that comes after all the more effective. Lord help me, I think I ship Rocket and Orion now.
The action of the episode ends with a bang – Lor-Zod catches the Legion and Bioship blowing up the projector, so he busts in and forces them to leave. But not before Saturn Girl wakes Phantom Girl up in the zone, with Conner pulling Zod back down and Zod realizing Conner wasn’t a prisoner. Zatanna performs a seance to try and retrieve him from the afterlife and then realizes he’s not dead, and heads off to Nightwing for help, and New Genesis agrees to the treaty with Earth’s heroes.
We’re set up for a pretty huge last arc of the show, with Zod, Apokalips, and Savage all pointed at our heroes. As a lead in to the climax, this Fourth World arc has been exceptional. As a stand alone piece of Young Justice history, it’s among the best this show has ever done.