Starting on Cartoon Network in 2010 before being cancelled, Young Justice was revived as part of a slate of original programming for the DCUniverse streaming service in 2019 to great fan acclaim. After the show’s prior departure there was a Firefly-esque fan campaign to bring the show back that lasted for years.
Unlike with Firefly though, this one worked.
The show’s third season was met with great praise. It showed that everyone involved still knew and loved these characters and the story they were telling. Now the series has moved again and finds its home on HBOMax. Thank High Father! They can finally do this show without having to censor themselves or pull punches, and you can tell that the writers are taking full advantage of that so far.
Young Justice has always been a complex and deeply emotional series. There have been kidnappings, deaths, betrayals, brainwashings, alien invasions, deals with evils gods and so much more. Amazingly all of the characters still feel fleshed out, layered, and developed into real people. We’re allowed to see them deal with insane comic book circumstances in a mature way. The latest episode, S4E06 “Artemis Through the Looking Glass” takes the hallmarks of this show and puts them on display. Moments of goofiness are juxtaposed with somber reality. Intensity with levity. Meanwhile everything is also moving a greater plot forward. It’s interesting and engaging while also still managing to be a little silly.
Admittedly, this is not the series’ best episode. There are more than a few clunky sequences, and some parts feel a bit odd or out of place. The flashbacks feel a bit shoehorned in to make this episode feel more like the last. This episode also uses a classic novel to frame itself. It’s still effective, but it isn’t used quite as well as the previous episode. The story picks up immediately following the events of the previous episode, so if you want to catch up you can check out my recap/review. (spoiler warning)
The Story (Again, for real-real, ALL THE SPOILER WARNINGS)
We open in a flashback where we can see young Artemis (Stephanie Lemelin) has a black eye and a broken wrist. Crusher’s handiwork. She sits in bed reading Alice Through the Looking Glass silently to herself. The bed across the room from her is empty and undisturbed. A poster for Alice in Wonderland hangs over the empty bed. Suddenly Jade (Kelly Hu) appears in the room’s open window. Artemis asks what she’s doing back, and before we can get the answer we’re thrown into the present where the two estranged sisters find themselves together in their mother’s kitchen. Jade has just asked the same question. Artemis explains she needs Jade’s help with Onyx (Logan Browning) and Cassandra (Zehra Fazal).
Dun, DUN, DUUUUUUUUUUN
Next we cut to the Outsiders headquarters. Inside we see Cassie Sandsmark/Wonder Girl (Mae Whitman) trying to rouse Beast Boy (Greg Cipes) for a mission. He claims to still be jetlagged from his trip back from Mars and decides not to go. As he closes his door behind him Cassie and another heroine talk about how he has been sleeping a lot lately. This short scene is a great example of how depression looks and feels. Sometimes it’s not obvious to the people around us that, that’s even what’s going on.
When we return to Artemis, she has donned her uniform and gone back to the holding site for Onyx and Cassandra. Orphan silently monitors them both while another heroine, Looker (Grey Griffin), attempts to psychically interrogate the defectors with little success. The League of Assassins are trained to fight psychic techniques. Artemis thinks of her sister and how she could help. Suddenly we return to the flashback, immediately where it left off, and we learn that Jade has run out of money and food. Crusher/Sportsmaster (Nick Chinlund) enters refusing to give Jade any of either, and Jade leaves as she entered. She utters a cryptic message for her sister referencing Through the Looking Glass as she takes her leave.
The battered face of young Artemis fades back to that of her present self as she sits waiting on a park bench at night. It’s here that we’re formally introduced to Jason Bard (Jeff Bennett). He’s an optimistic man who seems to be aware of Artemis’ life as Tigress. Jade suddenly appears behind the couple, and he is introduced to her as Artemis’ boyfriend which makes him very excited. He exclaims that she has never called him that before and gets very giddy. The whole thing was actually kinda cute and endearing in a way.
Jason leaves and the sisters have a quiet talk. They reference Artemis’ late husband Wally and how she hasn’t been with anyone since he died. Artemis uses this as a way to show her sister that people can change and grow. It seems to work its magic. Setting this scene in an empty city park at night was a stroke of brilliance. It’s open both in the literal sense of being outside but also in how these characters are all coming to show themselves to each other. It’s also intimate at the same time. The empty park at night gives a sense of privacy to the whole affair. We see our couple still in the earliest stages of their young relationship followed immediately by a heartfelt conversation about a lost husband.
We then cut suddenly to a helicopter with some nefarious passengers. The villainous Black Spider (Josh Keaton) is on the phone with Lady Shiva (Gwendoline Yeo). He’s told that he is to bring Cassandra back to Santa Prisca alive. He and his mysterious partner are all to happy to oblige. Black Spider has been a recurring henchman/thug throughout the series, and I’ve grown to enjoy his character. He’s essentially DC’s baddie version of Spider-Man, and what’s not to like about that?
Jarringly we then cut into another of Artemis’ flashbacks. Young Artemis looks into a neighbor’s apartment building to see a scene of fatherly abuse unfolding. It is all-too-similar to the reality she sees at home. Shots of her black eye and broken wrist hang onscreen. We see she has a large grocery bag of food with her as Jade arrives. The sisters are happy to see each other, and Jade uncharacteristically gives Artemis the gift of a new book. Jade claims she’ll be back before Crusher with cash so that Artemis can replace the food she gave her sister. As the memory fades, we’re brought back to the present as we enter the holding facility. Tigress arrives to relieve Spoiler and Orphan from watch duty, but Orphan refuses to leave. Tigress even threatens to call Batman, but Orphan isn’t going anywhere. Cheshire arrives and Orphan is not pleased. She begrudgingly sheathes her weapon allowing Cheshire to get to work.
Back in Hollywood, Beast Boy is still struggling. He turns on the news to find that his former friend turned dictator, Brion Markov (Troy Baker), has issued a statement about his home country of Markovia. Any meta-human (person with powers) can come to Markovia for peaceful asylum from the outside world. The non-meta people have since begun fleeing the country. Beast Boy can’t finish the report before returning to his bed. Nothing seems to be bringing him out of his depression.
I would hug you if I could, Garfield.
Back with Tigress and Cheshire, interrogations have begun. Onyx marvels at Cheshire. “The one who got away.” Onyx explains how she came to the League of Assassins and we learn that her grandfather was the hero known as “the Amazing Man.” She was recruited into the Shadows by Sensei. The Sensei. She was devout for a time, but her faith wavered. Cassandra explains she defected not just because of the change in the League of Assassins but also because she was becoming afraid of her father, Vandal Savage. We bounce back and forth between interrogations with the two women as Artemis and Orphan watch. Cheshire isn’t buying any of what Onyx is selling, but Cassandra seems to have some truth to her. Cheshire still isn’t completely sure, so they decide to keep them at the facility for now. Little do they know Black Spider has already infiltrated the facility!
When we move back to Beast Boy in bed at the Outsiders headquarters, we see that he has something somber playing on his phone. The music stops and he immediately picks his phone back up. We see that he’s listening to a fan-made tribute to Superboy as he taps the replay button. He lays back down and stares at the ceiling as the music resumes.
We jump back to the holding facility where Black Spider and his partner Rictus (Gwendoline Yeo) have sprung into action! The evil cyborg Rictus goes after Cassandra while Black Spider keeps the others busy. Spider shows just how capable he is by taking on everyone at once, and he does it while making jokes about his balls. His hot, sticky, web balls. Rictus nearly kills Cassandra before Tigress and Onyx manage to help. In the confusion another villain known as the Shade arrives, bringing Lady Shiva with him. Shiva almost immediately incapacitates Orphan and holds her at knife-point. She offers to give back Orphan if the heroes and Cheshire bring Cassandra back to Santa Prisca. No Team, no Outsiders, no Bats… or Orphan dies. Shade absconds with the villains and their hostage leaving the heroes to deliberate. Cassandra and Onyx both still seem equally trustworthy and untrustworthy. When Tigress agrees to take them both to Santa Prisca Cheshire reveals a hefty secret. Orphan is Lady Shiva’s daughter!
What a twist!
Cheshire explains that killing Orphan is a bluff from Shiva, but Tigress can’t take that chance. She, Cassandra, and Onyx will have to go to Santa Prisca. Cheshire, on the other hand, refuses immediately and leaves the holding facility. As Tigress stares blankly at her sister we slowly fade into another flashback. Artemis waits on the rooftop, reading the book Jade had given her, while she waits for her sister to return. Unfortunately it isn’t Jade who arrives. Crusher appears and berates Artemis for giving Jade their food. Jade abandoned her to face their father’s wrath alone… again.
We jump back to the present as the three women board a transport and hastily make their way to the small island of Santa Prisca. Determination in their eyes as the choppy waters beneath their vessel splash and spray up at them.
The credits sequence here is similar to that of “A Tale of Two Sisters.” Artemis reads a quote from Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. While she reads we see one of the Dubbilex aliens from Cadmus looking at a photo of Superboy playing chess with their leader. The quote runs short as we hear the somber music from Beast Boy’s fan tribute to the fallen hero finish playing as the episode ends.
8/10: We delve further into the idea of family from all the angles
Overall, “Artemis Through the Looking Glass” was a solid episode dealing with Artemis and her relationship to her her sister Jade. It was able to go into more detail than the previous episode and show us a lot of things that shaped their dynamic. Onyx and Cassandra are starting to get a little more interesting, and I’m excited to see what the writers have in store for them. Seeing Beast Boy and how he is handling his depression was a short but sweet and mature look at his character. He is usually the butt of jokes or excessive comic relief, so seeing his feelings taken seriously is a real treat.
Young Justice has always been good at making its villains seem not only competent but genuinely threatening, and this episode is no exception. The League of Assassins is not to be trifled with. Between them in the Shadows and Vandal Savage in the Light, our heroes are in more danger now than ever. We got some solid action sequences with the Black Spider and Rictus fight as well. Black Spider was agile and dexterous in contrast to Rictus being a blunt instrument and it made for a really dynamic fight. I genuinely can’t wait til next Thursday so I can see how Tigress, Onyx, and Cassandra are gonna tackle this Santa Prisca situation.
The flashbacks in this episode were a little on the nose, but they’re effective for the story being told. Jade is slowly coming back from the darkness. A darkness she’s been enveloped in for a very long time. Can she be redeemed? Does she want to be? What would that even look like? Join me next week when we recap the next episode together to find out! New episodes of Young Justice: Phantoms arrive on HBOMax every Thursday!
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I’ve worked my whole life to become a comic book illustrator, writer, and stand-up comedian. Batman and Captain Benjamin Sisko helped put a good head on my shoulders. I spent most of my childhood saving Hyrule and the Mushroom Kingdom and seeing the Justice League save all of creation time and time again. I live in Johnson City, TN with my wife Kary and daughter Laila enjoying the beautiful mountain scenery and occasional show. Three puppies round out the family and take up the rest of the time that isn’t spent debating which Wes Anderson or Studio Ghibli movie to watch. I spend an inordinate amount of time binge watching SVU, Futurama, and Letterkenny, and when I’m not watching I’m listening to “My Brother, My Brother, and Me” or playing the occasional game of D&D. If there’s a nerdy endeavor out there, I’ve probably at least tried it.