REVIEW: ‘Young Justice Phantoms,’ Episodes 14-16

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Young Justice Episodes 14-16 - But Why Tho

Young Justice: Phantoms Episodes 14-16 launches the season’s fourth story arc, which turns its focus on Kaldur’ahm, aka Aquaman (Khary Payton). The first three episodes of the story arc premiered today and are titled “Nautical Twilight”, “Ebb Tide”, and “Emergency Dive” respectively. When Kaldur attends a meeting of the city-states of Atlantis, chaos rises when Ocean Master (Roger Craig Smith) attacks. Further complicating matters is the arrival of a mysterious stranger with ties to Atlantis’ history and an ancient prophecy, prompting Kaldur to investigate alongside his boyfriend Wyynde (Robbie Daymond), Lagoon Boy (Yuri Lowenthal), and Delphis (Tiya Sircar).

Something I’ve loved about Phantoms is that it’s willing to tackle how being a superhero can affect one’s mental health. This extends to Kaldur, as his friends and family express that he’s taken on a mountain of responsibilities. From accepting the leadership of Young Justice to taking up the mantle of Aquaman and leading the Justice League, he hasn’t really taken the time to process the death of his friends Kid Flash (Jason Spisak) and Superboy (Nolan North), or even the passing of his first love Tula. This hit me hard: I’m the oldest of three kids and stepped up to take care of my siblings, while also juggling schoolwork – this continued when I entered college and had to work to pay tuition and rent. Payton’s performance as Kaldur shows an underlying vulnerability masked by stoicism; he feels he has to be strong for others, even if they want him to take a break. It’s a good way of spotlighting how society expects Black men to behave – we have to close off our emotions, which isn’t healthy in the slightest.

Speaking of emotions and mental health, Young Justice: Phantoms Episodes 14-16 also continue to explore how Beast Boy (Greg Cipes)  is dealing – or rather, refusing to deal with Superboy’s death in a healthy way. Miss Martian (Danica McKellar) finally decides to hold an intervention consisting of his fellow Outsiders and the last surviving member of the Doom Patrol, Robotman (Payton). The scene is emotionally tense, as Miss Martian breaks down crying and Robotman tears into Beast Boy for giving up. Showrunners Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti make sure that the mental health aspects of the story are given just as much weight as the fight sequences, thanks to input from therapist Dr. Janina Scarlet. Between this series and Moon Knight, I’m glad that more recent superhero shows are tackling themes of mental health and doing so with care.

Directors Vinton Heuck, Christina Sotta, and Christopher Berkeley deliver on the action front, once again shifting to a different environment – this time, the nation of Atlantis and its capital city Posiedonis. Characters move through the water with ease, leaving trails of water in their wake; and when characters like Lagoon Boy or the Legion of Superheroes’ Chameleon Boy change shape it actually feels like they’re growing or stretching. The work Studio Mir is putting into the series is phenomenal; in an era where adult animation is starting to take root in pop culture, it’s great to see that Mir can still produce work that’s up there with its previous projects Avatar: The Last Airbender and Voltron: Legendary Defender.

However, the politics of Atlantis feel a bit too similar to that of Phantoms‘ first story arc and the troubles on Mars. Like Mars, Atlantis faces division among its seven kingdoms as some believe Posiedonis’ show of wealth has left them unable to relate to others; while Mars was dealing with its caste system, viewers may come away thinking “Haven’t we seen this before?” There’s also an attempt to fold in the ongoing mystery with the Legion of Superheroes; I’m honestly more interested in the side plot with Superboy, who learns that in the world of superheroes death may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

Young Justice: Phantoms Episodes 14-16 starts setting up the second half of the series, as it celebrates the show’s original cast and also the toll superheroism can take. I’m looking forward to seeing how Aquaman’s arc wraps up, and what the showrunners have planned for Nightwing and Rocket.

New episodes of Young Justice: Phantoms are available to stream on HBO Max on Thursdays.


Young Justice: Phantoms, Episodes 14, 15, & 16
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TL;DR

Young Justice: Phantoms Episodes 14-16 starts setting up the second half of the series, as it celebrates the show’s original cast and also the toll superheroism can take. I’m looking forward to seeing how Aquaman’s arc wraps up, and what the showrunners have planned for Nightwing and Rocket.