Red Dawn

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Young Justice Season 1, Episode 15

“Humanity”

SUMMARY: The Team and their new friend Zatanna uncover Dr. Morrow’s plot to use  element-themed robots for world domination.


Syd: The main villain of this episode is Thomas Oscar Morrow, whose name can be shortened to “T. O. Morrow” or “Tom Morrow,” depending on if you want the pun to work when written or spoken. I kind of love this name. It’s up there for me with the Riddler’s name being Mr. E. Nigma.

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I know we touched on this the first time we talked about Morrow, but I am annoyed by the push in modern comics to downplay characters’ joke names. Some writers seem to think that silly names are unrealistic and distracting when plenty of people in real life have pretty funny names. For instance, the guy who drew that panel I just posted was named Dick Sprang. I like that Blink’s real name is Clarice Ferguson, even though that’s a reference to a show that kids today have never heard of. I will even give a little bit of credit to Mr. Freeze being named Victor Fries, even though that’s confusing and doesn’t quite work. What I can’t stand, though, are characters whose names are ALMOST jokes. The worst offender there is Harley Quinn, whose real name is Harleen Quinzel. What kind of bullshit is that? First of all, “Harley Quinn” is perfectly plausible as a person’s real name. Maybe Mr. and Mrs. Quinn didn’t even notice that the first name “Harley” would make their daughter’s full name sound like a character from Commedia Dell’arte, but having that be her real name would in itself explain why the Joker would fixate on her. Failing that, she could have a name that has nothing to do with clowns – “Maria Shapiro” or “Susan Epstein” or something. Harleen Quinzel is nothing. Either commit to the joke or don’t make one – don’t give a character a name that sounds KIND OF like a pun. I love that Young Justice – unlike Supergirl – has the courage to use the name T. O. Morrow on air.

Margaret: Punny names are part of the game in comics, I think. It’s also why the Batman movies before Batman Begins kind of leaned into that sort of humor. They went overboard with Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze, but I feel like when you’re dealing with movies and shows that involve people dressing up in costumes and fighting crime you have to prescribe to the Willy Wonka theory: “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.” There’s nothing wrong with taking the puns with both seriousness and a bit of levity. It’s when you either ignore the fact that some of this is silly or decide that ‘because it’s comics no laws or logic apply’ that things tend to go off the rails.

Syd: We start with Morrow working on Red Tornado in pieces on an operating table. Morrow is talking and waits for a response before he remembers that Tornado’s voice isn’t operational, though his senses and mind are hooked up and working. So, Tornado can hear and process what’s happening, but can’t react. With this horror movie setup, the cartoon lets even first-time viewers know in the creepiest way possible that Morrow is bad news.

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Margaret: You can tell this guy is evil before he even speaks because he has the evilest mustache I have ever seen. It’s only compounded by the fact that every sentence he utters is creepier and creepier. Poor Red Tornado! He’s disassembled on a table and Morrow is taunting him gleefully about the fact that he is the one that did this to him. That is remarkably terrifying.

Syd: Back in Mount Justice, Wally is recovering from his injuries from last episode and Captain Marvel is waiting on him hand and foot. Wally is taking advantage of Billy’s coddling because he’s the worst.

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Margaret: I think the fact that Wally and Captain Marvel are immediately besties just proves that they are both the worst. It’s a case of like attracting like here.

Syd: Zatanna shows up and she is announced by her full name. I am convinced that Zatanna was created by someone who didn’t realize that Zatara was Giovanni Zatara’s surname. If that was caught in time, they wouldn’t establish that her real first name is “Zatanna.” They could have said that her name was Anna Zatara and that “Zatanna” was a nickname. As it is, I refuse to believe that there is a woman who could say the name “Zatanna Zatara” out loud and then inflict it upon her own daughter.

Margaret: I can get some of that. Though, honestly, the more I hear the name ‘Zatanna Zatara’ the more it grows on me. It’s the alliteration thing with all the As, I think.

Syd: Robin jumps in and introduces the team and asks if she is going to join. It’s so cute. Little Robin has his first crush!

Margaret: It’s pretty adorable how instantly Robin attached onto Zatanna. It was like a little bird imprinting!

Syd: A little robin?

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Margaret: Exactly! And it’s easy to see why Robin is smitten. The writers immediately give Zatanna the classic ‘you should like this character’ things. She is intuitive enough to call out the group for talking telepathically and then ingratiates herself to the animal companion. It shows her to be someone who doesn’t take crap, but is loveable enough that the guard dog thinks she’s fine.

Syd: I didn’t even pick up on the “You must like her” signals – which may be why I fell for it and did immediately like her.

Margaret: I liked her, too! I’m not saying they are saying ‘you must like her’. It’s more of a set up to make you feel charitable toward her. For instance, they did the exact opposite when introducing Artemis. She is abrasive and makes fun of Wally. She is secretive and comments on how cute Superboy is – horning in on the established Megan/Conner build up. In her first appearance, she has a conversation with antagonist about how her past is something that should be kept hidden. From the get-go, Artemis is not a character the viewer is supposed to trust.

Zatanna, however, is intuitive and sweet. Everyone likes Zatanna on first meeting. The creators – through the characters – are trying to get us to trust her from minute one.

Syd: But you can’t give Zatanna too much credit for noticing that everyone was excluding her from the conversation when Conner was gesticulating wildly while completely silent. I find Conner so charming, but it’s completely the opposite, because on the surface, he’s so rude and volatile.

Margaret: Yes, Conner is actually one of the characters that didn’t seem to have a creator influenced filter over their introduction. He is an obviously flawed character that ultimately has a good heart. The fact that his rescue from CADMUS is the catalyst of the first episode lets us as viewers learn about him as the characters do along with learning about those ‘established’ characters.

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Syd: The Team decides to search for Red Tornado and when Robin says that she’s trustworthy, she offers to be “kidnapped” so she won’t tell on them. That’s a little kinky, isn’t it?

Margaret: That’s definitely the cry of a kid whose parent is too overprotective. It makes sense, as Giovanni is a member of the Justice League and knows just how much bad stuff is out there, but it’s clear that he has sheltered Zatanna a ton.

Syd: Also, I love that when Black Canary notices that they’ve taken off in the bioship, she covers for them. She’s the permissive parent – the “cool mom.”

Margaret: And even then, she gives the expression close up to camera that, while she is reassuring Giovanni that they are ‘trustworthy kids’ she definitely thinks they are up to something. Total Cool Mom move.

Syd: On the ship, Robin deduces that Batman already checked everywhere logical, so they need an illogical idea. Everyone looks at Wally.

Margaret: Not just an illogical idea. The worst idea. That’s what he’s best at.

Syd: Now would be the time we settle in and grab a drink, because the next scene has a dense exposition dump. You may have to rewind and rewatch a few times to get all the information. And then you’ll cry because this is how you’re spending your Saturday night.

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So Morrow tells the story of how he created robots to infiltrate and destroy the Justice Society. The first, he says, was Red Torpedo, a robot who thought he was a man, but his programming didn’t exactly duplicate humanity and Torpedo never quite fit in. Here we get to where I think the genesis of this story lies. You see, Red Torpedo was a name from Quality Comics – a company that was acquired by DC. Red Torpedo was the name of a submarine from in the 1940s. In this series, “Red Torpedo” is a robot who is filling the role of the submarine’s captain, Jim Lockhart. My theory is that Greg Weisman, when looking through an alphabetical listing of properties that DC owned for more information on Red Tornado found that DC owned the rights to Red TORPEDO and came up with this convoluted story to justify how these unrelated characters created by different people at different times for different companies – not even in the same genre of stories – with similar names were related.

Margaret: I think my general thought when watching was that this was just DC meshing together a bunch of robot histories together to make some sort of sense. I had never heard of Red Torpedo before, so I just assumed he was always an android!

Syd: Well, Red Torpedo is fairly obscure, but fortunately I have a wikipedic knowledge of DC comics properties.

Margaret: Morrow continues to explain that though Red Torpedo failed, he kept going, this time with a fire robot! He created Red Inferno, who could control fire, but her main flaw was that she was too heroic. She sacrificed herself and was ‘killed’, putting her out of the running to overthrow the Justice Society.

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Syd: That means that in this continuity, the superhero Firebrand was secretly a robot. As you know, according to my irrefutable headcanon, the only difference in this continuity is that Kaldur’ahm became Aqualad instead of Garth. So, which is more likely – that Firebrand was really a robot in every other continuity but nobody knew or that everyone knew but they were too polite to mention it?

Margaret: It was a very polite time period. I mean, there’s an old timey photograph to prove it!

Syd: Morrow’s first big success was Red Tornado, who could join the Justice Society – and later the League – because apparently they just let robots onto their team without knowing their origins.

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Margaret: But Red Tornado is the Data of the Justice League. How could you not want him there?

Syd: I won’t argue with you about what is the Measure of a Man, so I will just say that the identities of the robots were set up in the Young Justice tie-in comic, which I read after watching the whole series, so it had no impact. Like, they had a whole scene with Lockhart and Morrow exhuming Firebrand’s body (which was buried in costume like Bela Lugosi) before revealing that they were all robots, and it had no impact, because I already knew. I admire that they tried to tell a story over multiple media, but it doesn’t work when you can’t control in what order the audience will consume them. So, from now on, we’ll agree that things from the comic aren’t canon. Deal?

Margaret: As I have never read a Young Justice comic, that’s a deal!

Syd: Morrow unveils his final creation, which he has hanging on a suspended table under a sheet like in Frankenstein. I love that Morrow’s whole aesthetic is taken from old-timey scifi movies.

Margaret: Yes! His creepy mustache, the black and white flashbacks are very 50s scifi. It’s a great harkening back to that era of literature, comics and movies. Plus, the fact that the the voice actor is generally the Announcer Guy for most animated shows really helps that. He’s, specifically, The Announcer for Legend of Korra. It just fits really well with the aesthetic.

Syd: His finally creation finishes off the element motif. It’s Red Volcano, the Earth robot, created to not even pretend to be heroic – to have no regard for human life – which it demonstrates by immediately murdering Morrow.

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Margaret: This also fits into the perfect 50s motif: the creature you create to be your most perfect idea also is your downfall. This is perfectly demonstrated by the fact that Red Volcano immediately RIPS OFF MORROWS ARMS HOLY SHIT. And, then, beyond that, HOLY SHIT HAS MORROW BEEN AN ANDROID THIS WHOLE TIME?!?! That was an insane reveal. Forgive my caps.

Syd: So, Wally’s worst idea was to interrogate Morrow’s rival in the evil robot game, Ivo. They called in a favor from Hugo Strange, but does that mean Strange knows about the Team? Aren’t they a secret?

Margaret: It’s a weird juxtaposition, as he has already fought with half of them before. He’s already met Robin, Wally, and Superboy. So, maybe he thinks this is just some sort of super college hazing? In any event, Wally’s idea is not exactly the worst. It makes sense as to why Ivo would keep tabs on Morrow. But it’s also still the worst idea because it still puts them squarely into the eyes of Strange.

Syd: Megan tries to pry the information from Ivo telepathically, which Ivo is prepared for. What he isn’t prepared for is Zatanna’s magic, which works much more effectively.

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Margaret: This is clearly the writers trying to show why Zatanna is an asset to the Team. I like that it gives Zatanna a chance to shine, but I also get wary when you undercut another character’s abilities to show that someone else is ‘clearly better’ at something. Even if it is due to different disciplines, it feels a little like throwing Megan under the bus to show why Zatanna is useful. I get the reasoning behind it, but it makes me a little uncomfortable.

Syd: I agree. It does kind of needlessly draw arbitrary distinctions of what is and isn’t possible with these characters abilities.

The next scene tries to rectify that by having a specific conversation about the limits of her powers that Robin tries to make “nonchalant,” and Zatanna responds by saying, “Be as chalant as you like.” At this point I don’t even care about the mechanics of magic in this world, Robin and Zatanna are a match made in heaven.

Margaret: It’s a cute scene, but there’s also that fridge horror implication that Zatanna can only do spells she’s ‘practiced until she knows them cold’ and that means one of the spells that she can do without thinking is take over someone else’s mind to make them say things they wouldn’t otherwise say. That’s pretty messed up.

Syd: You know what else is messed up? How pissed off Conner is about Red Tornado’s betrayal. He hardly knows anything about what is going on and he is so emotional about it

Margaret: I get where Conner is coming from to a certain extent. Conner’s main concern is the fact that the Red siblings almost killed Megan in their home. It makes him feel as if no place is safe any more. However, he is taking that out on the team and acting out in ways that are unproductive to actually solving the problem.

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This is where Kaldur’s leadership actually shines for me. He calms down Conner by speaking in his language. When they first met Conner, he tried to kill them all and they did not hold that against him moving forward. As such, The Team does not know what all is going on with Red Tornado, so before they decide to go in guns blazing, they need to assess the situation. This is so much better than his, “It’s my way or the highway” iteration in Alpha Male. It’s him drawing off of both his own and Conner’s experiences and showing him what he believes to be the most successful course of action.

Syd: In the next scene, we get the evil master plan. Red Volcano is to envelop the world in ash, killing most humans so that the robots can take over, amid puns about a “red army” and a “red planet.” When the Team is assaulted by Red Tornado, Megan asks “Why?” and Conner says “Who cares why?” This, for me, underscores a fundamental problem in a lot of entertainment – particularly with superheroes – where the villains are presented just as obstacles for the heroes to overcome. We the audience know that the robots need to be stopped, but the Team doesn’t know what their plans are. They don’t know why they’re fighting. It’s frightening in a way that they can’t even be sure they’re on the right side, regardless of what the audience knows. I care why, Conner. Why is all that matters.

Margaret: I agree! It’s why a lot of Marvel movies tend to fall a little flat in villain motivation and why I have heard the phrase, “Marvel’s best at heroes, DC is best a villains” so many times. It seems a lot of movies I have seen recently tend to just ignore the villain or just assume that because the character is ‘against the protagonist’ that is enough to make the viewer believe them to be the villain.

Most of the time, the reasoning tends to be: they want a planet, they want to rule, they want domination. Those are fine motivations, but they don’t actually show why those villains want them. And generally people are okay with that because of the ‘codified’ bad guy, but it tends to lead to leaving a movie or a TV show with that niggling feeling of, “Wait, but, why did this all happen?”

To me, Conner saying ‘I don’t care why!” is just the general view of a lot of executives that just think, “No one will care! Just fight things!”

Syd: But that is so sad. I want to give the show credit for at least letting the audience in on what’s at stake, but I care about the heroes at this point and I want them to care, too. I want to believe that if the villains turned out to be on the right side, that the heroes would help them. If Aunt General Astra wanted to save Earth, then Supergirl should be all about that.

Margaret: I agree! It was a very disappointing answer from Conner. It felt to me a little too lampshadey about the episode, especially one that was so heavy on the exposition for the villains.

Syd: So, Red Volcano figured out that Red Tornado was trying to go easy on the Team and not kill them, so he decides to take matters into his own hands against the “humans.” Megan and Conner rightly correct him, “We’re not humans,” so he instead calls them “meatbags,” and it’s hard to stay angry at a villain who quotes Futurama.

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Margaret: Once in the fight proper, Red Volcano is able to anticipate the Team’s moves. However, as Zatanna wasn’t a part of the Red Tornado’s memory files, she can still surprise him. In fact, she tells him, “You can’t anticipate my moves.” To which Robin retorts, “And I bet you have some good ones!” Immediately he regrets it. “I’m sorry, that may have come off a little too Wally.” It’s so appropriate that inappropriately hitting on a girl in the middle of a fight is being ‘Wally’. Because, as I might have said before, Wally is the worst.

Syd: While Red Volcano is busy trying to murder teenagers, Red Torpedo appeals not to Red Torpedo and Red Inferno’s humanity, but to their heroism. It’s kind of sweet that they can decide to do good despite their creator’s wishes, but it also should be noted that they were programmed to be superheroes, so maybe this was just a flaw of their programming, rather than a life-affirming moment.

Margaret: That is so pessimistic! It was said by Morrow that their basic programming was to take over and destroy the Justice Society. However, their own thoughts and ideals overrode that base protocol. That’s a Data Success story!

Syd: Also, a success story of defining one’s terms. As there is no longer a Justice Society, the robots are free to do good.

Margaret: BOOOOO. Though, as someone who knows code, that is depressingly accurate for what a program would do without the proper term. Actually, though, that makes me want to double down. Because without the basic programing to fall back on, they decided to be heroes.

While Red Tornado is fighting with his siblings, the Team is still trying to incapacitate Red Volcano. And, as seems to be par for the course in all of these episodes, Megan is knocked out and held hostage by Red Volcano. I’m really getting tired of her being knocked out and needing to be saved.

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Syd: As the Nick Mason of the Weekly Planet phrases it, she got Professor Xed. The most powerful character needs to be taken out of the story so that she doesn’t fix all of the problems on her own. That creates a situation where Wally’s knowledge of seismology allows him to figure out a way to counter a volcanic eruption through archery.

Margaret: For once, Wally is not the worst, but very useful with his scientific knowledge.

Syd: To be fair, that’s generally the way that he is useful. He is still the second worst (I haven’t forgotten about Billy).

Margaret: To me, he remains top worst. But! The other Reds return to help stop the cataclysmic event, proving their heroism. Red Tornado is willing to sacrifice himself to the cause, but Superboy leaps in and saves him.

Syd: Anyway, the day is saved, and the team is left to process what happened. Red Tornado does not accept that the world was saved, merely humanity, because robots are literal-minded in the most disconcerting ways. Wally speculates that Red Tornado wanted to watch over the Team to learn from the most human superheroes what it means to be human.

Margaret: Artemis tells everyone, “That’s not something you’re going to learn from the Justice League!” And Robin’s immediate response is: “You’re not going to learn emotion from Batman.” How the hell is Dick not horribly emotionally stunted? That is such a sad immediate assessment about your father figure and mentor.

Syd: I think we’ll get into Dick’s emotional issues next season. For now, Red Tornado decides to look after his creator, despite his villainy because “It’s the human thing to do.” Young Justice is a better set of role models than Bruce and Alfred any day.

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Margaret: I think it is a very interesting way for this show to go. Red Tornado is going in a very Data from Next Generation‘s way of handling things. Despite the literal horror show that he survived at the beginning of the episode perpetrated by a machine meant to look like his creator, he decides that the human thing to do is forgive. I think that’s a very powerful statement.

GRADING THE EPISODE

Margaret: I think I’m at a B- for this episode. It’s either that or a C+. I loved the introduction of Zatanna as well as the fact that the team didn’t just straight up kill Red Tornado despite his ‘betrayal’. If this was Supergirl, that poor guy would have been scrap metal. But, how we got there felt kind of muddled.

Syd: Then I’ll break your tie and call it a B- from both of us. I was tempted to join you in C territory, but everything up to Morrow’s arm rip off was perfect.

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