Where Cartoon Network fails, iTunes succeeds... due to Cartoon Network’s failure of giving proper notice they were putting Young Justice: Invasion on hiatus until January, the episode still appeared for download here. So two failures have a funny way of making a right. (Some spoilers below)
“Before the Dawn” picks up about where “Darkest” left off. Blue Beetle and others are now prisoners of the Light and their alien ally, and the Team sets off on a major rescue mission. Co-creator Greg Weisman hyped this episode up days in advance as being the major game-changer of the season, and that turns out to be very true.
The episode begins with Jaime Reyes’ origin as the Blue Beetle via a memory replay. Interestingly, this may not only be Jaime Reyes’ origin. This scene is very likely also Ted Kord’s death, though we don’t actually see him. All we see is Jaime taken by surprise by a nearby explosion that drops the scarab near him. That explosion was most likely the Light’s assassination of Ted as mentioned in a previous episode.
The not-so-mysterious partner of the Light gets its big reveal, and to be fair, it is probably new information for strictly the television audience. But the comic readers have known it was the Reach since the beginning of the season. Still, the show has an excellent portrayal of the Reach. It’s nice having an evil alien race that doesn’t look obviously evil. And their invasion plans and agendas actually come off as rather intelligent. Then, there is the Black Beetle.
In comics, Black Beetle was a pretty awful character. He was one of those “Who am I?” characters overplayed to a ridiculous degree. Fortunately, the animated version is an improvement because it really narrows his role as just the muscle. It really does work so much better. Yet, it’s a far cry from perfect. If I had to point to the weakest thing about “Before the Dawn”, my finger would be trained right on Black Beetle. He’s not awful, but he is bland. He’s just a darker and beefier version of Blue Beetle. If there’s supposed to be an alien in there, why not make it look as such? It would be far more interesting than the generic strongman form. On top of that, he drags down the big action scene of the episode. I get it. He’s supposed to be tough. But come on. When you have him treating Superboy’s punches like taps, you’re overdoing it. This ruins the credibility of the whole action scene, and it’s a rare disappoint for this show, which is usually so awesome with the action.
So overall, Black Beetle is a relatively weak addition to the show. Don’t read too much into that, though. So much else about “Before the Dawn” is up to the usual brilliant quality the series has become known for. One of the character threads running through this season has been Miss Martian’s development as a far more aggressive and ruthless person than we knew her to be in the first season. She hasn’t simply matured. She’s changed in dangerous ways, and that reaches its boiling point now. What makes this moment so effective is that you know what is going to happen before it actually does. It drags things out just enough to allow you room to hope that maybe it won’t happen, even though you know it’s going down. This is probably the biggest game-changer of the episode. What does Miss Martian do now? What does Nightwing? Artemis? Wally? ...Superboy?
Superboy’s potential reaction to this is what has me the most interested. I was always a bit curious that he and Miss Martian were left out about knowing of Aqualad’s false betrayal. Given Miss Martian’s behavior, leaving her out was kind of understandable. But Superboy? What happens puts him in a central position in the whole mess. The lies and betrayals of his best friends have created this disaster, and he’s the only one of them who’s clean.
In a bittersweet treat, we get a nice Stephanie Brown cameo. It’s nothing major. Her role is simply that of the main face and voice of the new batch of civilians to be captured by the Reach, but that is pretty good for a cameo. For the non-comic fans, Stephanie Brown is a character with a unique status among the fandom. She has basically become the postergirl for the mistreatment of female characters in comics, especially DC Comics. Originally known as Spoiler, she became the first in-continuity female Robin, but this was solely for the purposes of humiliating her and killing her off. Think Carrie, but with more blood and less righteous vengeance. Eventually, Steph was brought back to life and promoted to the role of the new Batgirl, which turned out to be very popular with fans. But then, DC didn’t just fire her from being Batgirl. They removed her from continuity entirely so she no longer seems to exist. ...And this is why a cameo appearance from the character is so notable for some fans.
It’s also why it is kind of tragically hilarious that her cameo appearance is the episode that got hurriedly pulled off the air. Ending on a strong note, “Before the Dawn” does an excellent job of setting up the conflict for the second half of the season. Our heroes are pumped up, thinking their latest victory has the momentum on their side. But as viewers then see, the heroes still don’t have a clear picture of what they are up against, and their victory pales compared to what they will have to defeat next. If Cartoon Network really had to put Young Justice: Invasion on hiatus until January, they still should have at least aired this episode. The conclusion works so well to build anticipation for the show’s return in a way that doesn’t quite make you feel left hanging.