TV Review: Young Justice: Phantoms (HBO Max)

“They’re off to M’arzz, and yes, that’s another thing I never thought I’d say.” Young Justice: Phantoms is the fourth season follow up to the wildly successful launch of Young […]

They’re off to M’arzz, and yes, that’s another thing I never thought I’d say.”

Young Justice: Phantoms is the fourth season follow up to the wildly successful launch of Young Justice: Outsiders in 2019, after overwhelming fan response to the first two seasons re-airing on Netflix. Created by Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti for Warner Brothers Animation, Young Justice is the story of several interrelated teams of masked adventurers and their efforts to defend the people of Earth-16, a planet very similar to the world of the mainstream DC universe, but with many significant differences.

The show is known for its sprawling cast and the unusual decision to allow the characters to age through the time-jumps that occur between seasons. Whereas there were longer gaps between the earlier seasons, only one year has passed since the end of season three. The spotlight is also much narrower now, with the focus (so far) on a very small group of protagonists.

One of the more interesting things about this show is the decision to allow the characters to age and mature, and in this season that decision bears tangible fruit. The long-running relationship between Connor Kent/Superboy (Nolan North) and M’gann M’orzz/ Miss Martian (Danica McKellar) has reached a climax. They are off to Mars/M’arzz in Bioship with Garfield Logan/Beast Boy (Greg Cipes) to seek M’gann’s parents’ blessings to wed. 

With a satellite link, M’arzz and Earth have begun to communicate regularly and a zeta beam terminal is being constructed that will allow for instantaneous travel between the red and blue planets. This integration is being pushed by the Monarch of M’arzz, S’aturnn J’axx, who is hoping that continued and more concerted contact with humans will help his own people, who are torn by racial strife. It is revealed that in addition to the green and white Martians, there are two more castes: a yellow religious caste and a ruling caste of red Martians. There is a great deal of friction between the castes, which doesn’t really make much sense in a society composed of shape-changing telepaths, a point several characters raise in the early goings. Upon arrival, the team is met by M’gann’s older sister, Em’ree J’onzz/ M’ree M’orzz (Hynden Walch), the director of the zeta-beam project, who has issues with her sister jetting off to Earth when they were younger.

The heroes are pleased with their reception as they travel through the city on their way to meet M’gann’s parents on account of the Martian Manhunter (Kevin Michael Richardson) transmitting records of Young Justice’s exploits home to M’arzz over the years. Their mood sours when they’re hit with a wave of telepathic rage over their presence by a group of Mars-Firsters who want to keep M’arzz for Martians. Confused by this display of antipathy, they ask about it when they arrive at the M’orzz home. They are told by M’gann’s father, M’att M’orzz (Carl Lumbly), a white martian, and her mother, J’ann (Kari Wahlgren), that their upcoming interspecies nuptials threaten to exacerbate the already-coarse inter-caste tension as someone has murdered the mighty Monarch of M’arzz.  S’aturnn Jaxx was the prime mover between the thawing of the Earth-M’arzz relationship as well as trying to bring together his fractured people under one rubric. He was hoping to get them to see each other, not as reds or greens or whites, but as Martians. Someone has murdered him. After several instances of sabotage follow, our heroes meet the crown prince, Jemm, son of S’aturnn (Phil Lamarr). They are tasked to determine if the events are related to the murder and to solve the homicide as well. Complicating things are three members of the Legion of Super-Heroes, Chameleon Boy (Dee Bradley Baker), Saturn Girl, and Phantom Girl (Wahlgren), who are lurking about on the periphery, waiting to make their move. Meanwhile, all M’gann and Connor want to do is to get married.

This is a great four-episode arc with a gut-punch of a cliffhanger. This reviewer was a big fan of the earlier seasons of Young Justice, and Phantoms does not disappoint in its opener. One of the great strengths of this show is how it’s able to reach into the darkest depths of DC’s catalog to pull out ill-served characters like Jemm, Son of Saturn, and drop them squarely in the plots. Moving Jemm from Saturn to M’arzz but making him the son of King S’aturnn is an elegant solution. The animation continues to be very crisp, the character designs clean and uncluttered. I very much enjoyed the mini Justice League/Justice League Unlimited reunion, with Phil Lamarr (Green Lantern) and Carl Lumbly (The Martian Manhunter) getting to work together again.  It is also interesting that it’s this trio of Legionnaires who are present, as sans the super-strength or invulnerability, their combined power-sets (telepathy, shapechanging, and intangibility) allow them to ape all of the natural powers of a Martian.

Like all great science fiction, there is a good deal of social commentary clothed in allegory. The Star Trek episode, Let That Be Your Last Battlefield, from the original series, dealt with the horrible consequences of systemic racism as well as the silly, arbitrary concept of racism, ie: “That guy looks different than I do, I should hate him.” These episodes take that binary and double down, with four castes competing at cross purposes.

Alfred Bester’s classic sci-fi novel, The Demolished Man, asks the question, “How do you get away with murder on a planet full of telepaths?”  Young Justice: Phantoms tries to answer that question, completely sticking the landing. This show is really top-notch. These episodes were like coming to the end of a great roller-coaster ride and then, just as you catch your breath, having the bottom drop. Wow. Good stuff.

Young Justice Phantoms is available to stream on HBO Max. New episodes air Thursdays.

About Dan Kleiner

Dan Kleiner is a strange visitor from another planet who resides in Brooklyn, New York with two cats and his amazing girlfriend. When not plotting world domination, he spends a great deal of his time watching movies and anime of all sorts, reading comic-books and book-books, studying politics and history and striving for the day when he graduates as a Class A-Weirdo.