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Young Justice: Phantoms Showrunners Talk The Aftermath Of The Big Death And Moving On With Artemis

young justice phantoms artemis sad
(Image credit: HBO Max)

Warning: spoilers ahead for the first five episodes of Young Justice Season 4. 

Young Justice made a surprise return for Season 4 back in October by dropping the first two episodes on its new platform before even announcing a premiere date. Titled Young Justice: Phantoms, the new season is broken up into arcs of multiple episodes, and it didn’t take long for the show to deliver the biggest tragedy since the loss of Wally West: the death of Conner, a.k.a. Superboy, on Mars. Now, the show has shifted the focus to Artemis, but the aftermath of Conner’s death continues, and showrunners Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti opened up about what comes next. 

Superhero shows don’t always kill off characters – particularly major characters – and keep them dead, but all signs point toward the reality that Conner really did die shortly before he was supposed to marry M’gann. When the showrunners spoke with CinemaBlend about Season 4, they addressed Conner’s death" in a pretty definitive way, and Greg Weisman shared the importance of Young Justice delivering real tragedy that hits close to home for the heroes sometimes:

I definitely think that the repercussions of even little things, but certainly something as big as Conner's death have to play out across the rest of the season. I just think that's real life, that's essential. We're not the kind of show that sort of does something and then forgets about it a minute later, even if it's something relatively small. Back in Season 1, there was a training exercise that went badly. And we spent the whole next episode just dealing with the ramifications of a training exercise where no one was actually physically hurt. So obviously, something like this is going to be playing out all season long, and potentially, assuming we get another season, forever.

Greg Weisman referred back to the Season 1 episode that was really a turning point for some of the young heroes, as they faced what seemed like the very real deaths of their teammates and what was more or less a suicide mission by the end. It was fortunately just an exercise, but certainly not one that the original team just shook off, and even left Robin with the realization that he didn’t want to become the Batman. And Conner’s death is obviously a much bigger deal. Based on comments from the co-showrunner, Young Justice will respect Conner’s legacy by dealing with the effects of his death on his loved ones for as long as the show runs, even if not constantly.

With Young Justice: Phantoms split up into arcs, however, the grief of Conner's loved ones won’t be explored all at once. The arc that directly follows the Mars story that focused on Conner, M’gann, and Garfield centers on Artemis. Artemis had finally found some peace post-Wally with a job she liked, a man in her life, and what seemed to be a happy home life with Will and Lian… up until she got the news of Conner’s death. The showrunners weighed in on why Artemis was the right character whose arc would follow Conner’s death, with Greg Weisman saying: 

I think Mars was so big and science fictiony, our sort of Mars noir arc, that it was good to come back and ground the show for the second arc, in the spy stuff and the real life that Artemis' arc provides us. I think the contrast is helpful and I think it makes the grief that everyone's experiencing feel more real too because we're in an environment that's more real.

As one of the non-superpowered superheroes of Young Justice, Artemis’ stories generally are among the most grounded in the series. Fans truly may be able to relate more to Artemis dealing with her grief while trying to go about her normal life than M’gann’s mourning on Mars. Brandon Vietti elaborated:

I think also Artemis was the right character because we've seen her journey through grief and through loss. Those are certainly something that we're picking up on with fans, having done a similar story between her and Wally, but now with Conner and [M’gann]. But now seeing, of all the people on our core team of characters, to have to go through this again. Not only for herself, but because she knows what an impact Conner has been for [M'gann] and everybody else on the team. And they're more than just a team, they're a family. And so to kind of experience this new loss through her eyes, knowing her backstory, I think there's just a lot of resonance there, a lot of threads to pick up on. I think the audience will feel that and find those new threads interesting.

As tragic as it has been to watch Artemis go through the process of mourning Wally, she has developed in some interesting ways, and now can understand what her friend is going through in a way unlike anybody else. It was clear in the first episode of Artemis’ arc that the loss of Wally still hurts, but she’s dealing with it better than before. Greg Weisman summed up why Artemis' was the right story to tell after Conner’s death:

I think one of the major themes of the season is empathy, and no one's gonna be able to empathize with M'gann more than Artemis can.

The latest episode also proved that Artemis isn’t wholly overwhelmed by her grief, even though it did intrude into the content life she’d built for herself. Once she was needed in the situation with Onyx and Cassandra Savage, she was all but unstoppable. And the episode wasn’t all misery and tragedy from start to finish. Will’s despair at the loss of his favorite clipboard – followed by him holding his own against assassins with a pen and lamenting another SUV being destroyed – delivered some levity, which co-showrunner Brandon Vietti says is essential to Young Justice

Well, you need the humor. I mean, if everything's down then nothing is down, right? You have to have ups and downs. It's a roller coaster ride, and we plan for that, as we're breaking each story. It's satisfying, I think, to have that emotional journey, but to have especially the downside of that, to suffer grief, suffer pain. But you have to contrast that with levity, you have to lighten things up. And that's life, there are ups and downs in life. And we're always trying to reflect the reality of the world around us. That's an integral part of the show. But also we just know that's just part of entertainment as well, that you have to have those ups and downs because both of those can grow characters and sort of expand on the material. The levity can expand on the more dramatic elements. The dramatic elements can expand on the levity. It's sort of a dance between those things that hopefully our audiences enjoy. At least sometimes. We know there's parts of that journey that are not enjoyable, [laughs] but hopefully in the best possible way.

Considering there are still Young Justice fans holding out hope for Wally West to come back alive, well, and whole, there are definitely tragic parts of the series that need those ups to guarantee that the show is still fun to watch. And Young Justice will undoubtedly never be a show with episodes that are 25 minutes of straight laughs (although Dick stuck on a Bowhunter Security mission with the Harpers in Season 3 was probably the closest), so the roller coaster has to be a good thing. 

See what happens next with Artemis’ arc in Young Justice: Phantoms with new episodes releasing on Thursdays on HBO Max. The full first three seasons are available streaming as well, whether you want to start again from the beginning, rewatch some old favorites, or just refresh your memory on how the characters all got to this point. For some more options now and in the coming weeks, swing by our 2021 fall TV premiere schedule!

Laura Hurley

Resident of One Chicago, Bachelor Nation, and Cleveland. Has opinions about crossovers, Star Wars, and superheroes. Will not time travel.