“Earthlings” brings some of the team, none of whom are ironically fully human, to the distant planet of Ranagar to investigate the apparent source of the alien invasion happening back on Earth. But despite that story purpose, this episode is far more about the characters than the ongoing plot of the season.
The episode begins with a trick the series has used a few times before. Superboy, Beast Boy, Miss Martian and Alanna, resident of Ranagar, are in the middle of some action as armored mechs pursue them through an alien jungle. Then just as the action heats up, the title card rolls and we are taken back to hours ago to show how this situation has come about. It usually works pretty well as an opening, but this is probably one of the least effective times the show has done it. It really shows us nothing besides that the group will be getting into some trouble later, which you kind of generally assume to be the case in any episode. They probably could have chosen or set up a more tense and suspenseful moment to flash forward to than Superboy getting blasted a lot.
The real focus of this episode is to explore the interesting, family-like dynamic that has developed over the past five years between the members of Young Justice’s Zeta Team -- Superboy, Miss Martian and Beast Boy. Their mission to Ranagar has an underlying element to it of divorced parents taking their kid on a trip.
Early on, Beast Boy is transparent in his desire for Superboy and Miss Martian to get back together. His connection to Miss Martian dates back to an episode late in the first series, where a blood transfusion from Miss Martian saved his life. Presumably, it also resulted in his powers as Beast Boy. This connection seems to have put her in the role of his big sister, though her relationship to him in this episode comes off as more motherly than sisterly. It’s revealed that some tragic events in Beast Boy’s life have led him to being cared for by Miss Martian and the rest of the team. This is a good adaptation of the character’s comic origins, having him be effectively adopted by this team rather than the Doom Patrol. Honestly, this is probably the most appealing that I have every found this character.
This new responsibility also explains why Miss Martian seems to have matured so much from how she was in the first season. She is no longer overly eager to please and chipper. Thankfully, there seem to be no more declarations of “Hello, Megan!” Instead, she has actually assumed a role of authority, making decisions and handing out orders. This new self-confidence even takes a disturbing turn in this episode, making it all the more interesting. The fact that Superboy not only notices it but acts like it is not something new from her leaves me very curious about what has gone on in her life these past five years.
From Superboy, we learn some of why he and Miss Martian are no longer together in the show. At least, we learn who broke up with who and why. It’s a good start, but hopefully, this story will be fleshed out more. The reason Superboy gives for why it happened don’t really make any sense. I’m betting the show writers are aware of this, because they have Alanna, who Superboy explains this all to, say as much in the episode.
This episode also serves as the origin story for Adam Strange, a character from DC’s stable of space-faring heroes. He appeared in this season’s premiere too, but this is where he really completes his transformation into the Adam Strange more familiar to fans. They do an excellent job with him here, injecting him with more personality than I’ve honestly ever seen him have in the comics. There’s a lot of charm and humor in the awkward way he interacts with the Rannian people, and it’s a lot of fun. The design of his look is also a huge improvement on his comic counterpart.
Also, props to the show for giving Alanna a strong role in this episode rather than just leaving her as the love interest in the background.
It’s a good thing the character stuff is so good, because the plot here is rather weak. There’s just so little to it. The team finds the bad aliens, fights the bad aliens and survives the encounter with both sides being fairly unaffected by the whole encounter. The action is entertaining enough, but considering it consists mostly of the team being shot at by huge mechs, it’s not as cool and well choreographed as the action usually is for this show. The mystery of the Justice League’s missing 16 hours does get an answer, but we aren’t privy to it yet. Presumably, that’s reserved for next week’s episode.
So the plot may not have much to it, but that doesn’t prevent this from being a pretty strong episode. After how overwhelming the season premiere was, it’s really smart of the writers to give us this tighter, character-focused episode to start to absorb all the changes from the five year gap. It’s to this show’s credit that it takes Adam Strange and Beast Boy, two characters I’ve never cared much for in comics, and manages to give them such interesting roles here. I hope the show gives us more episodes like this, though with the exception of having somewhat stronger plots.