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After suffering a weak episode last week, Young Justice: Invasion sets itself right again with “Runaways.” The runaways rescued from the Reach finally get to show off what they are now capable of. Blue Beetle takes center stage again, redeeming the Green Beetle plotline. And a villain from the first season makes an exciting reappearance.
Super Friends was one of DC Comics’ earliest cartoons, produced by Hanna-Barbera back in the ‘70s and well into the ‘80s. A few years in, it was decided the show was just too white, so some new characters were created for the show to create some diversity. These characters were what you’d expect from “attempts at diversity” back then. Token stereotypes abound. But this was where we got the likes of Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, El Dorado and Samurai. And these four are the basis for the four runaway characters starring in this episode.
The only exception is Virgil Hawkins, who is a comic book character called Static and star of his own animated series in the ‘90s. But he was inspired by Black Lightning, who was also the basis of Black Vulcan. So it all works out in a slightly more convoluted way.
Young Justice: Invasion, ironically unlike DC Comics, doesn’t have much problem when it comes to diversity. It is also overcrowded when it comes to characters. But still, having these analogues to the Super Friends running around is undeniably fun. It also feels overdue for someone to come along and give them more respectful and thoughtful portrayals. The show even goes the extra mile, giving Tye Longshadow a cool looking giant astral form rather than simply growing in size.
I wouldn’t have been surprised if Virgil ended up getting most of the spotlight while the other three stuck to mostly following in the background. Instead, we get a good balance that manages to show off the personalities of all four of them. Tye has his friendship with Blue Beetle to play off of. Eduardo Dorado’s father is involved as one of the S.T.A.R. Labs researchers. Asami Koizumi... mostly gets stuck with a running gag about how she only speaks Japanese and no one else really does. However, it stays amusing throughout the episode and does show her off as a good sport. It’s a nice touch that she’s female as well, so this didn’t end up to be another boys club.
Probably the trickiest thing this episode pulls off is making the kids’ situation sympathetic. It would have been very easy to see them as just annoying brats not knowing what’s good for them. Now, that may still be partially true, but it’s also true that these kids have been dumped into a pretty unfair situation. The Reach wants them and has activated their metagenes in ways they don’t totally understand. They have to be put somewhere for their protection whether they like it or not, and S.T.A.R. Labs isn’t turning out to be a warm and happy place for them. It’s easy to understand their desire to leave and how Lex Luthor might be able to get his hooks into them.
This is also another Blue Beetle episode, though. But in a nice change of pace, his role in the episode is as the most experienced superhero around rather than being the rookie. Since the four runaways are only just coming into their powers, it’s up to Blue Beetle to be the voice of reason and experience. This very different role for Blue Beetle does a good job of disguising for a while that there is something off with him. This becomes quite obvious in the later half of the episode, but there are signs early on that would be easy to miss and chalked up to him having to play top dog for once.
And this twist, thankfully, salvages Green Beetle. Last week’s episode was pretty disappointing when it came to this character, portraying things as far too straightforward and convenient with him. I figured there had to be something else going on, because this show doesn’t often misfire with a character so badly. And as it turns out, they didn’t. There is more to Green Beetle than everyone was led to believe. B’arzz O’omm may turn out to be a far more interesting character in this show after all.
“Runaways” succeeds at lifting the series back up after last episode turned out to be an overall disappointment. The long-awaited homage to the Challenge of the Super Friends finally gets the spotlight, and a major Beetle-related twist does a lot to ramp up the tension and suspense. For now, I’m just trying to ignore the news that Cartoon Network isn't bringing the show back for a third season. This has easily been best developed animated series from DC Comics, and that’s no low bar to surpass. Episodes like “Runaways” turning those old Hanna-Barbera stereotypes into such interesting characters helps make that case.