Billy and the Kids

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Young Justice Season 1, Episode 13

“Alpha Male”

Margaret: I already dislike the name of this episode and what it implies

SUMMARY: After finding out that Aqualad withheld information about a potential traitor on the team, the rest of the team distrusts him.  Aqualad must reassert his leadership to pull the team together and thwart The Brain’s animal experimentation. 


Syd: The episode starts with Mayor Hamilton Hill hunting tigers in Northern India.  Suddenly, their hunting party is attacked.

Margaret: Oh oh! It’s a gorilla with a machine gun! Is that Gorilla Grod?

Syd: The main villain for this episode is Brain.  I checked his wikipedia page and they still haven’t given him a real name – he’s just Brain.  He is a brain in a jar who supposedly was a scientist before he lost his body and he did experiments on animals – giving them human-like intelligence and things like that.  That gorilla is Mssr. Mallah, one of his experiments.  They are from the series Doom Patrol.  I was going to try to explain what Doom Patrol is, but instead I decided to Google Doom Patrol panels.  This one sums up the series nicely:

doom6Anyway, after the cold opening, we cut to the Justice League fixing up Mt. Justice after it got blown up by robots last episode.

Margaret: So, The Team have had this strange robot alien creature for awhile and no one is questioning it or trying to figure out anything else about it other than it is seemingly Superboy’s pet. I can expect this of the Team, but even the Justice League members seem to be completely fine with this. J’onn pets BB-8 at some point without any seeming concern over a seemingly sentient creature that they found with a psychic in the middle of the desert. I feel like someone in the Justice League should at least think, “Hey, that’s weird. Maybe we should find out more about this thing.”

Syd: Or maybe BB-8s are a completely normal thing on Mars?  I got nothing.

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Margaret: Maybe! But, you can’t tell me Batman doesn’t take one look at BB-8 and says, “I don’t trust it.”

Syd: Then Superman says, “Batman doesn’t trust anything!” They all laugh, and they freeze-frame for a few minutes.  When they snap back to life, they forgot what they were talking about.

Margaret: Cut to: Young Justice created by Aaron Spelling. Instead, the Team discusses their dismay at the betrayal of Red Tornado with Green Arrow while Kaldur and Batman talk quietly in the corner.

Syd: Superboy overhears Kaldur talking to Batman about the mole, which enrages him to the point of attacking Kaldur.  Of course, that’s a bit of an overreaction from Conner, but seriously, Kaldur has been working with someone with super hearing for three months and Batman has for years.  You think they would be more careful about what they say out loud.

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Margaret: I get why Superboy attacks Kaldur, since he thinks that he withheld information that almost got Megan killed. However, he went from zero to eleven in no time flat. I understand that they want to show Conner as being protective of Megan, but it’s kind of up to Megan to be upset about the fact that she almost died in the previous episode, not him.

Syd: I’m fine with this, because, of course Superboy doesn’t want to express that he’s afraid for himself and his team, but he can say that he needs to protect Megan – especially since that’s where his mind would naturally go.  The fact is, everyone is upset with Kaldur for keeping secrets and Conner is perfectly within his rights to be concerned for his first girlfriend – even though she can take care of herself.

Margaret: No, that makes sense. I tend to have a knee-jerk reaction to overprotective boyfriend tropes.

Syd: And I don’t blame you, but at least that’s something they address in this episode.

Margaret: They do! And I’m so glad they do. But, in the meantime, Conner is being an overprotective boyfriend threatening Kaldur. The tension is broken when Batman explains that since Red Tornado is MIA (and possibly a traitor) they will have rotating chaperones. The first of which is a very excited Captain Marvel.

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Syd: Billy Batson doesn’t work for me as a character. Billy – the first of many heroes to go by the name “Captain Marvel” – was never intended to be part of the DC Universe. Back in the 40s, he had his own separate series published by Fawcett Comics. DC acquired Fawcett’s characters and there’s a long story about how that happened that involves them suing Fawcett over Captain Marvel’s similarity to Superman, but I won’t get into that.  The important thing is that DC has tried to integrate Captain Marvel and some of his supporting characters into their shared comics universe, and I don’t think it has ever worked.  Superman can be done as hard science fiction (he shouldn’t, but he can) and the only thing separating Batman from the traditional pulp detective is the way he dresses, but transposing Billy Batson into any reality with any sort of grit destroys what’s likeable about him.  The fact is that Billy is a children’s cartoon character, and his personality doesn’t make sense if it is constantly clashing with the world around him.  He needs a reality to play off of where you can have a talking tiger who wears plaid blazers…

tawny2b6… or an anthropomorphic rabbit superhero…

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… or an evil genius cartoon worm…

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… and they don’t have to be translated into genetically engineered monsters.  That world is not what the D.C. Universe is now.  What makes Billy more dissonant is the way writers try to differentiate him from Superman by focusing on how his alter-ego is a child.  Originally, Billy would turn into an adult when he transformed into a superhero, meaning he had the mind and body of an adult, but starting in the 80’s writers started making him act like a child as a superhero.  This kind of ignores that one of his stated superpowers is wisdom, meaning he would have to be an extraordinarily wise child, and more importantly, if he’s going to be a full member of the Justice League, he shouldn’t behave in a way that would make other superheroes suspect he’s developmentally disabled or something.

That being said, the version of Captain Marvel on this show is probably the best modern interpretation I have seen.  He’s earnest and exuberant in a child-like way, but the writers made a good effort to portray him as actually being as wise and brave as Solomon and Achilles respectively.  He’s still off, though.  He doesn’t fit in this world and it’s really jarring to me.  Also, they kind of made Tawky Tawny a genetically engineered monster.

Margaret: My first introduction to Captain Marvel was in Kingdom Come, so he was a magically and emotionally manipulated human under Lex’s control. Seeing him as an exuberant hero is kind of a refreshing thing in my mind. He is definitely a weird fit for the Justice League. Though, honestly, hearing that Robin was a nine year old sidekick, him being a part of the Justice League Batman is a part of isn’t the most surprising thing I’ve ever heard. But, I feel like it should be something the superheros talk about around the water cooler. “Hey, Captain Marvel is a little off, right? He’s way too excited about everything. He’s kinda immature, isn’t he?”

Syd: Robin thinks that investigating the mayor’s disappearance is busywork, but Batman asserts that he never jokes about the mission.  Batman is disturbingly authoritarian. And away they go! But first, they have to squabble a bit.

Margaret: This episode just seems so tiring already because they’re attempting to reconnect everyone to show just how they’re good as a team. It’s a bit exhausting and we’ve already seen them come together. We don’t need an entire other episode devoted to it and Kaldur’s ‘dubious’ leadership. He’s been a fine leader so far. I guess they’re trying to show how the Team is still insecure and immature, but it’s just exhausting to try and go through this again in the middle of the season.

Syd: I don’t think it’s just about Kaldur.  I think when you have a team of teenagers, there is an obligation to show the interpersonal conflicts that come from everyone being immature, though it is really tiresome.

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Margaret: I like that Megan sticks up for herself when Conner tries to pull the overprotective boyfriend routine. Instead of going with Conner, she insists on going with Artemis. While they may be dating, Conner has a tendency to put his emotions before the mission. It’s also insulting for him to think that Megan needs him there to protect her. Then again, she does get knocked out a lot.

Syd: I feel bad for Kaldur.  He had good reasons not to tell the rest of the team what he was told, but he is being punished for it. There’s kind of a sweet scene here where Captain Marvel talks to Kaldur about the challenges of being a lea– MONSTER ELEPHANT ATTACK!

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Margaret: It does seem like it was starting out to be a good pep talk. Monster elephants ruin everything.

Syd: Meanwhile, Dick and Wally are fighting mutated vultures, or as Dick puts it, “proactive scavengers.”  I fucking love that Wally’s fighting style seems to be based off of Sonic the Hedgehog.  Margaret might fight me on this, but as of this episode, Wally is no longer the worst.  Billy is the worst.

Margaret: I won’t fight you, but Wally is always the worst. Just because Billy is also the worst doesn’t make it any less true.

Strangely, Kaldur finds out that the large, red glowing collars and the necks of the elephants may not be natural and pulls them off. In doing so, the elephants stand down and return to being docile animals. It’s weird that no one else thought that those might be a factor in the animal’s behavior.

Syd: Now that we have some downtime, Captain Marvel gives Kaldur some advice on leadership, and I guess it’s fine?

Margaret: Actually, I don’t really think it’s fine. I absolutely hate the supposed lesson to leadership this episode seems to proclaim. Leadership isn’t about telling everyone else to shut up and listen to you, it’s about gaining and keeping respect in order to govern properly. The only reason this argument may work is because we – as the audience – trust Kaldur to be a good person. If we thought Kaldur to be a villain, however, we would yell at the screen, “Why do you trust him just because he demands that you should?!” A good leader should be decisive, but shouldn’t expect people to follow him simply because – as the term alpha male implies – he’s authoritative.

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Syd: At this point, Captain Marvel gets distracted and flies after a tiger.  What happened to the wisdom of Solomon?  Was that really the most prudent course of action at that moment?  This is why Captain Marvel doesn’t work with the mind of a child – that’s incompatible with his established persona.

Margaret: Captain Marvel is basically Dug from UP.

Syd: Well, if he actually was as wise as Solomon, we wouldn’t be able to split up the party to allow Captain Marvel to be captured by Monsieur Mallah.  We have to put up with  lot of annoying bullshit in this episode, but just seeing that the gorilla is now wearing a beret – which he presumably took from the hunter he killed at the beginning of the episode – makes up for a chunk of it.

Margaret: Yes, the Gorilla costume evolution is really the best part of this episode.

Syd: Oh, but now that the fight scene is over – Oh boy! There’s more squabbling!  Look we have a lot to complain about this episode.  Superboy has a great line, where he’s fighting a superpowered wolf and when the others try to pull him into their fight, he just says, “Busy.  Call back later.”  I love that line and it would be so nice if it weren’t surrounded by teenagers bitching at each other.

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Margaret: It is a great line and it was a much needed humor break in all the teenage angst. Meanwhile, The Brain wants Captain Marvel’s brain to study. Monsieur Mallah’s outfit upgrades continue, as we see him in OR Scrubs ready to take out Marvel’s brain.

Syd: Here is something we should probably discuss, because we have our first homosexual couple on the show.  Yes, the brain in a jar and his gorilla assistant are a couple.  I would offer more explanation, but Doom Patrol:

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This show has a weird thing about same-sex relationships.  Or, rather, Warner Brothers does.  The first time watching through this series, I noticed that the only LGBTQ characters were kind of peripheral or their relationships were not made explicit.  I was kind of used to this being the case and didn’t even think that there was anything remarkable about it until I started reading some of the behind the scenes information because of this blog and I came across this post, which makes it clear that Greg Weisman was not allowed to make same-sex relationships explicit.  He was diplomatic and didn’t mention who handed down that edict, but (and this is my own speculation) it would logically have to be someone higher up at either DC or Cartoon Network – both of whom are owned by Warner Brothers.  Also, I should note that the question Weisman asked that got a “no” answer was probably not strictly academic (I say that based on his answer to this question – which bums me out because it means he is probably not planning to use Tim Hunter), but was probably in reference to a specific same-sex couple he planned on portraying – we’ll talk more about who we think that is later.  That being said, Christopher Jones seemed to call attention to LGBTQ characters being slipped in under the radar.  I think this is the first example we see of a canon gay couple.  Brain and Mallah are an established gay couple in Doom Patrol and the show goes out of its way to show them together.

Margaret: I get this logic. Weisman was under strict rules from his parent company to not include any LGBTQ characters. I think this is also why I had no idea that I was supposed to read Mallah and Brain as a couple and didn’t until you brought it up. There was little implication in the episode that they were lovers and not lab partners. Also, it’s a little weird to me that the first gay couple on this show would be between a disembodied brain and a large talking gorilla and not, say, Roy and Kaldur.

Syd: Fair enough.

Margaret: That’s not to say that there needs to be anything explicit in defining gay characters. However, it’s been clear since about day one that Megan and Conner have a thing for each other or were meant as a shipping couple. Mallah and Brain have no such scenes. And while I do like that Weisman is attempting to slip inclusion in under the radar, I find it hard to applaud the couple involved when it is nearly impossible to deduce they were a couple unless I had read the – as you have said – incredibly bizarre Doom Patrol series. These comics are not canon in this series, but I’m supposed to know they are a gay couple because of them? The whole thing becomes a weird double edged sword.  It’s a bit easier to swallow as Weisman is including characters that were already established to be gay. Certainly, it’s better than JK Rowling telling her audience after the series that Dumbledore was gay without any sort of context because she wanted to be retroactively inclusive, but it’s hard to think of this as  diversity when I needed to read a comic series to get the subtext.

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Syd: At this point, Monsieur Mallah accosts Miss Martian and Wally tells the damn dirty ape to get his stinking paws off her – you know like in Planet of the Apes – because he is jealous of all the attention I am giving Billy Batson and he really wants to be the worst again.

Margaret: Yes! You’re back on team Wally is the Worst, which is where we all belong.

Syd: During his fight with Mallah, Superboy reminds us that he hates monkeys.  Apparently, he isn’t fond of gorillas, either.

When confronted by a full team of superheroes, the Brain says, “This will not be our Waterloo,” and then retreats, in case you hadn’t yet figured out he’s French.

Margaret: In a feat of TV magic, Mallah and Brain disappear without a sound after shutting off the lights, despite being surrounded. It’s very convenient.

Syd: Then Wally takes Mallah’s beret as a souvenir. And Artemis reminds him of the possibility of lice.  They are cute playing off of each other.  Wally is so not the worst.

Margaret: Yes he is.

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Syd: The extent of what has been done to these animals is unclear, but Captain Marvel charges Mr. Tawny – the tiger – with looking after the rest of them in such a way that implies that Mr. Tawny understands English.  I guess that’s good enough for me.

Margaret: At the end of the episode, Megan reminds Conner that while they are boyfriend and girlfriend, that doesn’t mean he can try to be her protector on missions. She’s a part of the Team first and his girlfriend second while on the job. It’s a great moment of her sticking up for herself and reminding Conner that she has an identity other than His Girlfriend. I liked that part quite a bit.

Syd: Conner decides that he’s going to keep the wolf he was fighting earlier.

Margaret: As a lover of adorable animated animals, I can’t say I’m against this. However, at this rate they’re going to need a zoo to hold all of Conner’s menagerie.

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Syd: Ok, so something that they tried to slip past us without fully explaining – Wally suggests “Krypto” as a name for Superboy’s pet wolf and Megan says the name is taken.  That means that Krypto exists in this continuity.  Superman has a pet superdog and we never get to see it?  What is this bullshit?

Margaret: Yeah, I’m annoyed we may never see Krypto, but the name is reserved. It’s like those girls who have a perfect name for a child that they’re probably never going to have and get really annoyed if anyone else uses that name for a child they are actually about to have.
In the development that is important but less interesting than the absent Krypto, Aqualad reveals that the reason he did not tell the Team about the traitor is that he feared it would tear them apart. Which it did. This, again, cements him as the proper leader. Something we knew was the case ten episodes ago. Why are we having this conversation again?

Syd: Anything that will get them to stop whining.

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So Billy returns home to his Uncle Dudley in Fawcett City, where he reverts to his true identity of little kid Billy Batson.  This is treated as something of a twist ending, but I can’t put myself into the frame of mind required for this to be surprising.

GRADING THE EPISODE

Syd: B.  I liked the fighting mutant animals and the mad science by the brain-in-a-jar, but the bickering was annoying and Billy sucks so much.  Am I being too generous?

Margaret: I think you may be being too generous. I’m going to give the episode a C. Fighting animals is fun, as is the Brain, but I just don’t really like that they had to have another episode proving Kaldur is the proper leader. I also didn’t really like how they went about proving it.

Syd: You’re right.  That was too generous.  C.

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