‘Young Justice’ Episode Guide: Season 1, Episodes 7 – 8: ‘Denial’ / ‘Downtime’
How do you do, fellow teens? Because you demanded it, Young Justice is returning for a third season in 2017, and that means that there's no better time to get caught up on the first two seasons. Elle Collins, who has seen the entire show and likes it a lot, and Chris Sims, who hated the pilot and never went back, are sitting down to watch the entire series before it makes its triumphant return.
This week, the kids take a field trip to the Tower of Fate, and Aqualad heads back to Atlantis for whatever the underwater version of Spring Break is. "Denial" was written by Thomas Pugsley, directed by Michael Chang, and originally aired on February 18, 2011. "Downtime" was written by Kevin Hopps, directed by Jay Oliva, and originally aired on March 4, 2011.
Chris: This week on Young Justice, our still-unnamed team collides with a magical (and pseudo-magical) corner of the DC Universe in "Denial." When Dr. Fate goes missing, the kids get sent to his tower to investigate, only to find that Kent Nelson has been kidnapped by Klarion the Witch Boy and Abra Kadabra, who are pretty much torturing him so that he'll give up the Helmet of Fate and allow them to tap into the boundless power of the Lords or Order.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that Kid Flash is a hardcore skeptic who denies even the existence of magic, despite the fact that this is a world where his mentor is literally on a team with Zatara and Captain Marvel, both of whom are themselves some pretty incontrovertible evidence that at least some kind of supernatural powers exist in the universe.
As the rest of the team gets trapped in Fate's Tower and a series of D&D puzzles, Wally winds up having to take a leap of faith in order to keep Fate alive, putting on the Helmet and allowing "Doctor Fate" to take over his body to fight off the villains. Which, for some reason, is a fight that ends with Kadabra being stripped down to his underpants.
Elle Collins: This feels to me like the episode in which Young Justice really steps out into a bigger DC Universe. We already had a big Justice League, but now we've got the Justice Society, the Lords of Chaos and Order, and of course Doctor Fate himself. It's just a shame what they did to Madame Xanadu.
Chris: It's really, really weird that they wanted to introduce a charlatan and decided to use Madame Xanadu in the role. The only reason I can think for that is that they wanted to fake people out in the cold open by making it a surprise that we're seeing someone who actually isn't a psychic, but that in turn raises the question of who the audience is for that gag? I really doubt that Young Justice was primarily geared at an audience that would have a deep knowledge about and regard for Madame Xanadu, at least in theory.
Elle: There's something fundamental about this series that they can't resist reaching into the DC archives for practically every character, whether it's a good idea or not. It's their go-to move. On the other hand, I do like seeing Kent Nelson. And having Ed Asner do his voice while Kevin Michael Richardson does Doctor Fate is a great choice.
Chris: Asner is quite literally never the wrong choice, but I think we can both agree that this doesn't come anywhere close to topping his best DC Universe role, Granny Goodness. But on the subject of voice acting, I think I figured out one of the reasons I'm having such a hard time getting into this show.
Elle: Is it that so many characters have annoying voices?
Chris: Well, yes, but it's actually the reason behind that: Andrea Romano. Or rather, the lack of Andrea Romano — despite being the go-to casting director for pretty much every other DC animated project I can think of (and plenty of other stuff, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), she didn't work on Young Justice. And, you know, not to be too mean to the person who did, because they cast Danny Trejo as Bane and that's amazing, but I think it really shows.
Elle: Oh, that's a really good point. Romano's casting is always impeccable. And while this show has some great guest stars like Asner and Trejo, it also has plenty of questionable choices, like whatever is going on with Klarion the Witch Boy.
Chris: Klarion was literally the reason I went to go look, because Thom Adcox-Hernandez's voice was so different from Stephen Wolfe Smith, who played him on Batman and Justice League.
Elle: It's not that Klarion's voice is annoying here that bothers me, because Klarion should be annoying. It's that he never sounds like a real character who we should take seriously, which is a problem since he's a Lord of Chaos.
Chris: Right! Getting back to your original point, I do have to say that it's both impressive and kind of shocking that seven episodes in, Young Justice decided to go all in on the whole Lords of Order/Lords of Chaos thing. That's DC Universe deep cut mythology that even I don't truck with.
Elle: I like how seriously they take it too. The Doctor Fate on this show is an interesting one --- and yes, as Chekhov's Helmet on Wally's shelf implies, he comes back --- because he's really not a hero. He's a Lord of Order. So if it's the best way to keep order, he will 100% steal a teenager's body and refuse to give it back until he gets a better offer.
Chris: I did really like that this show went all-out with establishing Dr. Fate as a super-powerful force who essentially "wears" a human being as his avatar in the material world. It's pretty weird that he seems to forget that the body he ends up inhabiting has super-speed, though.
Elle: I wonder if it's sort of like Wally's attitude in reverse? Science-based powers aren't even on Dr. Fate's radar. They're beneath his notice. But yeah, it's weird.
Chris: The practical result is that the climactic battle of this episode ends up being one of the most boring fights of the series so far, even with Klarion literally busting out finger-guns. Which sucks, because there's so much genuinely good stuff in the rest of the episode, even if some of the old Season 1 problems are carrying over.
Elle: Wally's attitude is the worst, by the way. It's bad enough that he's dismissive of magic in a world where it clearly exists (he's on a team led by a sorcery school dropout, but we'll get to that), but then he pretends to believe in it just to cozy up to Miss Martian. Wally is both the Richard Dawkins and the Richard Dawson of this show.
Chris: I always roll my eyes at anyone in a superhero universe who dismisses magic, the supernatural, and even religion — regardless of how you feel in the real world, it's hard for a character to be completely atheist when they know the Spectre and Deadman exist without looking like a real dope — but Wally here continues to be The Worst.
Elle: I think there's a way to do it, and Wally comes close to it a few times in this episode, where you accept that magic is happening but posit super-science explanations for it. And I could imagine Barry Allen doing that, even when hanging out with Zatara. But the key to pulling that off is not being a jerk. And Wally just can't help being a jerk.
Chris: The idea of Wally reacting this way to magic because he knows that Abra Kadabra specifically is using 64th century technology is a good start, but it's undermined quite a bit when he's on a team with a dude who went to merman wizard school in the literal underwater city of Atlantis. But yeah, the whole lying-to-impress Miss Martian stuff is the nail in the coffin for Wally as a character.
Elle: The only thing Wally has going for him is a shelf full of supervillain paraphernalia and Lord-of-Order helmets in his room at Mount Justice, just sitting there waiting for future stories to make them relevant again.
Chris: Like I said, though, there is some stuff to like. Unsurprisingly, I'm a sucker for stories where characters have to make their way through a tower full of mystical deathtraps, and the pit of lava that the team gets dropped into when Wally lies about why they're at the Tower is a pretty fantastic example. I mean, "The Belief Trap!!" is one of those descriptions that somehow manages to be at the center of the Al Hartley/Jack Kirby venn diagram, and that's pretty hard not to love.
Elle: For sure! I'm a fan of Doctor Fate's tower in general (possibly more than I am of Fate himself), and this episode definitely gets that aspect right and has fun with it.
Chris: My one nitpick with the premise is that if you're going to do a story about Dr. Fate in a series about cool teens, it shouldn't be Kent Nelson. it should obviously be Jared Stevens… The Man Called Fate!
Elle: You're a man of distinctive tastes, Chris.
Elle: The next episode, "Downtime," starts with the team getting their butts handed to them by Clayface, in what turns out to be a VR training simulation. Batman helpfully explains that it's all Aqualad's fault and he needs to get his head in the game. Aqualad admits he's been thinking about Atlantis a lot lately, so he decides to go back for a visit, and consider whether he wants to stay on the surface world at all.
After a dinner invitation from Aquaman, Aqualad visits the Conservatory of Sorcery, where he used to go to school. Some exposition from a creepy octopus boy named Topo explains that Kaldur'ahm and another student named Garth helped Aquaman defeat the Ocean Master, and Aquaman offered to make them his proteges. But Garth chose to stay in school, while Kaldur became Aqualad (all of which is a bit meta since Garth is the original Aqualad from the comics). It soon becomes clear that Kaldur is in love with a student named Tula, but she's now dating Garth, which Kaldur didn't know.
But there's little time to focus on personal drama, because Black Manta attacks Atlantis immediately after Aquaman's been called away by the league. Manta blows up a bunch of buildings and tries to steal a giant frozen starfish, and Aqualad has to team up with Garth to stop him. Once Manta's defeated (although he blows up the starfish and escapes), Aqualad decides he belongs on the surface world, and says a friendly goodbye to Tula and Garth.
Chris: Elle, I am going to be 100% real with you: I watched this episode yesterday and I have literally no memory of what happens in it. And while that might sound like I'm neglecting my sworn duty as a member of the CA Post-Show Recap Action Squad, I am choosing to blame you for not warning me that we would be going this deep (ha ha!) into Aquaman territory.
Elle: I am an Aquaman fan, and I don't consider this a memorable episode either. The main takeaway here is that Aqualad lets go of his romantic feelings toward someone in Atlantis, and the show makes Aquaman's old octopus sidekick Topo into a weird little Cthulhu guy for no reason.
Chris: All I'm saying is that if we're getting an episode about Arthur-friggin'-Junior, then Jared Stevens isn't as far out of the question as he might seem.
Elle: You're not wrong. Let me explain something from fan culture that undergirds this episode in a way that makes me dislike it. I've always heard, and I don't know if it's true, that the creators of this show wanted Aqualad to be gay, but weren't allowed to do that on a pre-Steven Universe Cartoon Network. So I can't watch this episode without thinking that this should have been an episode in which we find out that Aqualad is in love with Garth, who's now moved on and started dating Tula. And the reversed, heteronormative version is a lot less interesting.
Chris: Huh. It really is, which is a shame. The one thing I appreciate about this episode is that it was an attempt to give Aqualad a little bit of a personality, which is something he's been severely lacking. Like, Wally might be a horrible little wannabe lothario, and Superboy might be a moody grump, but at least I can describe them without talking about their powers.
Elle: That's totally valid. Season Two is when Aqualad really comes into his own, I think, but we see the first hints of that here. I also like that Mera teaches sorcery. Not only does it give her something to do besides be married to Aquaman, it also explains why Aqualad has her classic powerset of making water do stuff.
Chris: This is another episode where we get a handful of cameos, too. Mera's sorcery class definitely has Lagoon Boy, and a mermaid who looks an awful lot like Lori Lemaris is hanging out down there, too. And as an added touch, Aquaman and Aqualad are speaking Greek to each other when he first arrives.
Elle: But yes, the cameos are great, from Lagoon Boy to maybe-Lori to actual Starro the Conquerer.
Chris: That one bugged me, though, because — much like the team fighting Clayface in the cold open — Young Justice vs. Starro is a story I'd much rather see than Aqualad's Disappointingly Heteronomative Spring Break Adventure.
Elle: I see your point. Also given what's going on in Detective Comics these days, I almost think Clayface could conceivably join the team in the upcoming revival, but that's a whole other tangent.
Chris: Speaking of heteronormativity, while Aqualad's embroiled in romance and mer-terrorism, the rest of the team is fulfilling the episode title's promise of downtime. Robin's training, Wally's grabbing dinner with Jay and Joan Garrick (which was a really nice surprise, actually), and Megan and Superboy are actually having a pretty cute romcom scene in Happy Harbor, if you adjust your idea of romcoms to fit telekinetic Martians and cloned Kryptonians.
Elle: Yeah, after Kent Nelson in the last episode, I loved seeing the whole Flash family in this one. And Bruce training Dick by shooting hoops with him is some great Bat-dad stuff.
Chris: This is the second DC cartoon where Batman shows a distinct interest in basketball! In the opening episode of The Batman — the only one I've watched — you find out that Bruce Wayne is friends with a cop on the GCPD because they played on their high school or college basketball team together, and the very idea that Bruce Wayne would be on a school basketball team blew my mind! Is there some precedent for Batman being super into hoops that I've missed somewhere, aside from 70-odd years of metaphorically dunking on the Riddler?
Elle: I feel like I can easily imagine 1970s Bruce Wayne shooting some hoops with Dick or some orphans from the Wayne foundation, but I can't say for sure that it ever actually happened.
Chris: The Batman of Earth-B would absolutely do that.
Elle: Oh, indeed.
Chris: The other big "downtime" segment tells us a little more about Artemis — specifically that she doesn't want to go to Gotham Academy, which I can't believe appeared on this show so long before it was a comic.
Elle: It's weird, right? It's also a perfect excuse to put at least a brief appearance by Maps, Olive, and the gang in the revival, which I'm definitely rooting for.
Chris: We also find out that her full name is "Artemis Crock," which sounds so familiar that I'm frustrated with not being able to place — oh, dang it. She's Sportsmaster's kid, isn't she?
Elle: There are other related twists still to be revealed, but yes, she is Sportsmaster's daughter. Artemis Crock is an actual JSA/Infinity Inc. villain from the pre-2011 DCU, who got put into something like Arrowette's role in this show, which is a very "this show" choice to make.
Chris: And here I was about to say that they did Spoiler, but with a villain who's somehow even more obscure than the Cluemaster. Serves me right for assuming! On the topic of villains, though, I know you're a Black Manta fan. Any thoughts on him here?
Elle: It's hard for me to judge him specifically in this episode, because he gets way more interesting later on in the series. But in general I am entirely on board with this version of the character.
Chris: Does "on board" count as a boat pun?
Elle: It absolutely does.