The White Martian’s Burden

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Young Justice Season 1 Episode 21

“Image”

SUMMARY: While the vaguely Middle Eastern nation of Qurac is being overtaken by Bialya, possibly under sinister circumstances, Miss Martian is confronted with the secret she had been keeping from her teammates and would go to any lengths to protect.


Syd: So, there is a lot to dissect in this episode. It starts with Batman showing Ollie and Dinah a video of Black Canary training with Superboy. The video takes an unexpected twist when the two start making out. Black Canary then shapeshifts to reveal she was Miss Martian the whole time. Ollie thinks this is hilarious – Dinah much less so.

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Margaret: There are a lot of things to say about this scene. It’s hard to come down on one side or another on this. I get Megan’s side where she is training Conner in the visage that he generally trains with and then kisses her boyfriend. At the same time, Dinah is incredibly disturbed by the fact that it is her visage making out with Conner. This is completely understandable on both points of view.

Syd: So, this is totally normal for Conner and Megan who are comfortable with each other’s bodies – as malleable as Megan is – but why did Batman feel the need to present this to Ollie and Dinah – a couple whose relationship might be tested by their reaction to this footage – without any context? What the hell is wrong with Batman?

Margaret: Batman is always an odd man out in a lot of ways. Even if he knows that this is the way that Megan and Conner interact there is no reason to bring it up with Oliver and Dinah unless he is attempting to do some weird personal investigation into their relationship.

Syd: Oh, God, this is Batman’s fetish, isn’t it?

Margaret: Yes, he has a detective fetish.

Syd: Right, but at least Batman realizes that he is out of his league dealing with anything emotional and interpersonal and asks Dinah to talk with Megan – though, seriously, why did he have to bring Oliver into this? Anyway, J’onn tries to brush the incident off, because on Mars, where everyone is a shapeshifter, lovers try on different bodies all the time – and it’s not like anybody doesn’t know who their partner is – they’re all psychic. It’s a weird thing, because rationally, J’onn is right and Megan and Conner’s play is harmless, except that he clearly has a shame about his native culture that Megan doesn’t share.

Margaret: Yes. The problem really remains in Batman’s sharing of this intel. I can certainly see why Dinah would be upset with a movie of her making out with Conner for multiple reasons – some of which are legal. However, I do get the idea that for Megan this is a very natural thing. They were training and she took the visage of a woman that Conner is used to training with, after which she returned to the form she identifies with.

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Syd: I’m not sure that her green form is the one she identifies with, because in the very next scene, we see her watching television with a caucasian human body – the same one as the character she is watching, but we’ll get back to that – and it’s only when Dinah knocks on her door that she changes into her green skin. I know the two forms are the same except for the skin color, but the green color is to mark her as an outsider. This isn’t something we know at this point in the episode, but Martians’ natural bodies don’t look the way Megan and J’onn present them. The green human form was something that J’onn codified and Megan adopted. That is a layer of affectation that Megan takes on to deal with the Justice League, but on her own, we see that the body she is most comfortable with is an entirely human one.

That is kind of speculation on my part – there are multiple reasons why Megan might have wanted to cosplay the show she was watching – but what was clear by her embarrassment when Dinah knocked on her door is how ashamed she is of wearing a human body in private and how she doesn’t want any authority figure to see her doing it.

Margaret: However, the way Martians are ‘naturally’ shown on this world is in the way that J’onn has already presented himself. She has been introduced as his niece and if she were to always show herself to be the caucasian woman from the show, they might immediately cotton on to the fact that she is copying her form from a TV. Not only that, the green color doesn’t mark her as an outsider, it marks her as a Green Martian, which to her means she would be accepted here. J’onn has already shown that he is accepted as a Justice League member; looking like a Green Martian, to her, means she is accepted in the same way.

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Syd: That is an important distinction that I failed to make – her green skin is safe for her. People read that as how she is “supposed” to look – on Earth, at least – but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Margaret: Dinah attempts to be comforting and telling Megan that, though she is a shapeshifter, she doesn’t have to be other people, she can ‘be herself’. Megan lashes out, pushing Dinah away and saying, “This is myself!” It can be taken many ways. Her shapeshifting is who she is, as is the form she has taken.

Syd: What is heartbreaking to me is how quickly and reflexively she snaps, “This is myself!” I get the impression that this wasn’t the first time she was told to “be herself.”

Margaret: The scene is immediately interrupted by Batman calling the team to a mission briefing, where he explains – in broad strokes – the political atmosphere of fictional Qurac and Bialya. It’s, actually, a really interesting and expressive portrait of a seemingly fraught region for the five or so minutes spent in its backstory.

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Syd: The footage they show of the Quraci protesters looked like it could be from real news footage. It’s not a big deal, but it is interesting what details the cartoon shows to make the conflict seem real to the audience.

Margaret: Agreed. Another interesting little tidbit is that we learn from this is that Wally knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman. He asides to Robin, “Any friend of Bruce Wayne…” while a newsclip of Bruce Wayne is meeting the Quraci President is shown.

Syd: Well, this settles why in earlier episodes Robin didn’t seem as concerned with Wally finding out his identity (when they went to his school, for instance), despite him ostensibly keeping his identity from his teammates. What’s more interesting about their relationship is that when Batman assigns Robin to be field leader to find out why the Quraci President is seemingly ceding power to the Bialyan Queen Bee, Wally goes for a high five that Robin rightly leaves hanging.

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Margaret: They are sent to the border of Bialya and Qurac only to see tanks cross a fence into the Logan Animal Sanctuary, which causes a stampede of Wildebeests. The name of the sanctuary immediately rings a bell with Megan and she insists that they help the mother and son tending to a sick animal in the path of the stampede. As she has only been on Earth for six months, this has to be personal and not because she’s seen The Lion King too many times.

The Team deploy and stop the tanks as well as the Stampede, with Conner slamming a wildebeest into the ground so hard it makes a crater. That animal really should be dead, but due to the ‘Never Say Die’ trope, both the sick oryx and the injured wildebeest are totally fine.

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Syd: When they are safe (temporarily, as Marie Logan worries that by offering resistance, they have made themselves a target), the Team reveals themselves to the Logans. Megan is shy and embarrassed to meet Marie, whose work she admires (more than she’s immediately letting on). Garfield is visibly excited to meet superheroes in real life. Marie is surprisingly unfazed by seeing an alien who is clearly wearing her face.

Margaret: Oh! Garfield Logan! That’s actually a name I know! He’s Changeling! He changes into things. That’s all I know. Is this a name drop?

Syd: Or an amazing coincidence. Anyway, next Superboy meets Garfield’s pet monkey, Monkey. This gives him an opportunity to deliver his catchphrase – something about disliking monkeys – and for Wally to make a poop-throwing joke. This is the worst scene in the episode.

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Margaret: Inside, after Wally’s tasteless joke, Garfield talks about how Miss Martian has to be a fan of his mother as she looks exactly like Marie Logan when she was in Hello Megan. No one seems to know what this is, so Garfield explains it only aired for one season and isn’t even on the internet.

Syd: Meanwhile, Megan is outside, helping Marie mend a fence while bombarding her with questions about the show. I was kind of cringing doubly – both because of Marie having to deal with an annoying fan and because Megan was finding out that the show that meant so much to her wasn’t even that big a deal to the woman who starred in it. That’s a very relatable feeling, when you meet your heroes and they aren’t exactly who you thought they were.

Margaret: Just as we are about to see the pilot to Hello Megan, Superboy hears planes and interrupts the watching party. They tell Garfield to stay inside while they take care of it, but being a kid he doesn’t listen to any actual advice that anyone gives him.

Syd: Garfield – who maybe wants to be a superhero himself (just throwing that out there) – goes to save the animals, but gets shot by the drones who were attacking the barn.

Margaret: Marie, holding the injured body of her son, yells at Dick that she told him there would be consequences to their actions. Dick gives a very sobering reply of, “Always.” Despite the fact that he doesn’t want to be Batman any more, that is a very Batman response to the situation.

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Syd: Well, he’s been trained so thoroughly, it might be natural for him in times of stress to Action Hero instead of offering real solace.

Megan and Conner take down the drones while Marie bandages Garfield. She says he needs a blood transfusion and checks with Robin if anyone on the Team has his blood type. Nobody does, but Megan’s shapeshifting is on a cellular level, so she may be able to imitate his blood type.

Margaret: Marie sends everyone out of the room so that Megan can concentrate on the shapeshifting. Downstairs, Robin is distraught, saying that on top of the personal tragedy, Harjavti steps down the next day. Wanting to find a newsfeed, Wally turns on the TV to the already prepared VHS tape of the Hello Megan pilot.

Syd: So, at least this time Wally screwed up in a way that advances the plot.

Margaret: He still screws up, so he is still the worst. Man, I’m so hard on Wally. I know I am, but he oftentimes deserves it.

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Syd: This leads to the opening credits to Hello Megan. This sequence, while totally plausible as the opening to an 80s sitcom, also is geeky as hell, full of references to DC Comics’ long history of screen actors including two of the stars of Silverblade, a prominent Doom Patroller, and the male lead (and singer of the theme song), Paul Sloane, who had half of his face burned off while working on a biopic about Harvey Dent. It’s all very cutesy, but also a little disturbing, because it was clearly where Miss Martian had lifted her entire persona as a human. Also, the titular Megan’s boyfriend on the show is named Conner, which you may recognize as the name that Miss Martian suggested for Superboy’s human identity. The scene is a weird mix of cute and creepy.

Margaret: I can see it as creepy, but to me it was a very pointed origin story for Megan. She clearly and immediately identified with Megan, deciding that she loved human culture and this was the part of human culture that really spoke to her. Naming Conner after the Conner in the show is a little weird, but at the same time I don’t see it as any weirder than parents naming their children Arya or Arwen because they love a certain character. It’s strange that she dubbed the man she was interested in the same name of the love interest of the show she adored, but it’s not as if she thought he would get that reference. In fact, I think she would be horrified if he did know.

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Syd: Perhaps I was too judgmental in that assessment, but Conner definitely had a negative reaction to seeing his namesake for the first time.

Margaret: He did! And I could definitely see why he would be weirded out by the fact he is technically named after a TV show character.

Syd: However, they don’t even have time to process what they just discovered before Megan comes into the room and Wally, acting quickly (as you would expect he customarily would), changes to a news broadcast of a speech that Harjavti was giving, in which the Team recognizes the psychic nogoodnik Psimon behind him.

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Margaret: The Team then infiltrates the Presidential Palace to rescue Harjavti, only to be surrounded by guards wielding Apokoliptic weapons – as Conner points out. Megan immediately recognizes Psimon’s presence and invisibly flies off to stop him by herself.

Syd: Hear we reach the climactic showdown between the two psychics. Psimon was ready for Megan and overtakes her mind, forcing her to change into her natural body, which we now see to be unlike any sort of creature from Earth, certainly unlike the green skinned humans that J’onn and Megan were passing themselves off as. It should be noted as well that she is a White Martian, who, as she mentioned back in episode 10, are an oppressed minority on Mars. This is the secret that she had been keeping from the rest of the Team, that she was so terrified of anyone finding out that she turns her mental powers against her teammates when they entered the room rather than have them see her as she was born.

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Margaret: Continuing with his creepfest, Psimon and Megan again engage in a mindscape battle. In their minds, Megan returns to the green humanoid that we have seen since the beginning. Taunting her, Psimon asks, “Must you even lie to yourself with your own mind?” The sentiment that she emphatically told Dinah is again repeated here, “This is who I am!”

It’s a really powerful statement that her seeing herself as Megan is not to fit in or to prove herself to the team…this is how she sees herself when she thinks. She is Megan. Should we go into the mindscape of J’onn, it’s entirely possible we would see a Green Martian as they appear on Mars, and not the green visage he wears on Earth. She goes to extreme lengths to conceal her birth form, but that is due to fear of judgement.

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Syd: She is afraid that she won’t be understood for who she is if the whole truth is known, but it isn’t out of dishonesty. Perhaps it’s insecurity or a lack of trust – perhaps even a well-founded one born of whatever traumatic experiences she had on Mars – that Psimon seizes on to torment her. Psimon shows her worst fears – of her being rejected, of people no longer trusting her when they know what she was, of her being denied a place on Earth, and worst of all, of Conner being disgusted by the sight of her.

Margaret: While I am not a trans person, the entire exchange made me think of how people transitioning or finding their identity might feel. There is quite a bit of stigma and fear that when someone comes out as trans, that other people will see and treat them differently. They might lose people they care about because those people felt lied to or uncomfortable, even if all that was is different is how the person portrays themself in the world as opposed to how they are societally seen. It’s an emotional scene and one I thought was very powerful.

Syd: Psimon, for his part, is a perfect villain – deliciously creepy and utterly sure that he is in complete control of the situation, a notion that he is violently disabused of when Megan psychically rends his mind apart. Megan reawakens her teammates in her green human form and the scene closes on Psimon’s vacant catatonic stare.

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Margaret: Later, Queen Bee is unable to pass by the Quraci army, as Harjavti tells her from his balcony that he was under her mental control and now refuses to bow to her whim. Upset, she leaves, only for her to show up again with the Team and transform back into Miss Martian, who took on the form of Queen Bee to show the world that Harjavti was under mental control and has now taken his country back.

Syd: The blood transfusion seems to have saved Garfield’s life – with no side effects, which was something Megan was worried about having never tried a Martian-to-human blood transfusion before.

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Margaret: But, were Garfield’s eyes always green? I thought they were blue at the beginning of the episode.

Syd: There have been coloring mistakes on the show before. I’m sure it means nothing.

Margaret: Downstairs, Wally continues his streak in being the absolute worst in harping on the Hello Megan tape, waving it in front of her face and asking in the most annoying voice, “Is there something you want to tell us?” I know Wally can’t have known what Megan just went through, but still. After that emotional episode with Psimon, this just felt like nails on chalkboard. The shapechanger wanted to look like a girl from an 80s sitcom, Wally. Just let it go. People don’t bring up your serial killer need to collect trophies from every mission.

Syd: Agreed, but it does give Megan a chance to give a heartfelt monologue about what Earth television meant to her and how it helped guide her and shaped who she was, making it obvious what form to choose when she needed to adopt a human identity. Robin still felt the need to push, though, asking what she really looks like, to which she turned her head bald and sloping, with no other change. It’s not shocking that she didn’t fully reveal her innate form, but that she didn’t even reveal that she’s white. That would have given her an easy out, as it is understandable as something she didn’t immediately reveal, while the differences between the Martian races wouldn’t even be significant to Earthlings. It would give the appearance of revealing something without having to reveal everything. Even without being told the entirety of her experience on Mars, it’s apparent that she has ingrained in her a shame of her race that is so deep that she can’t express it even to her closest friends, or even to people who don’t have the context to judge her for it.

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Margaret: She has, however, told Conner about the White Martians. So, it’s possible that she feels as if revealing herself as white would open up an entirely different conversation than just being a bald Green Martian. Either way, she clearly does not want her Team to know that she is a White Martian. And, honestly? That’s up to her to reveal when she wishes to do so. Her identity is her own. The pressure everyone puts on her to ‘reveal herself’ and to ‘show who she truly is’ just goes to show that they really might not understand her choices.

Syd: I absolutely agree. I mean, it was kind of insensitive for Dick and Wally to try to force her to reveal herself, but they didn’t know why she was hiding at all. At least they do try to be supportive. Conner says to her, “You don’t have to put on a mask for me,” to which Megan explains, “I do it for me.” That is what is hard for so many people to understand, that the way we present ourselves to the world is often not for the sake of the observer.

Margaret: Yes, definitely. After all this, Megan goes upstairs to check on Garfield to find Queen Bee there. She has apparently made Garfield her thrall and he will harm himself should anything happen to the Queen. In a very sinister monologue, she reveals that she also knows that Megan is a White Martian and unless she does everything Queen Bee wants, she will reveal that secret to everyone. Like every sore Internet loser, Queen Bee resorts to doxing.

GRADING THE EPISODE

Syd: A+. This was easily the best episode of the season.

Margaret: Definitely A+. I loved this episode. Megan is by far my favorite character and this was such an interesting episode to reveal more about her past.

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