Young Justice: Outsiders Is Raising Fascinating Questions About Super Ethics

Bumblebee contemplating a difficult decision. (Image: DC Universe)

While Young Justice: Outsiders’ larger, overarching story has followed multiple groups of public-facing and covert Justice League teams fighting to stop the Light and its involvement in Granny Goodness’ metahuman trafficking operation, some of the series’ smaller, more personal stories have explored what the new age of active meta-genes means for “normal” people.

Unlike the more senior members of the Justice League — who have all become entangled in a variety of diplomatic complications, which makes it difficult for them to operate publicly against the Light without violating certain international agreements — the Outsiders have instead focused on using their status as young, high-profile metas to drum up support for the metahuman cause.

The Outsiders still technically engage in League business in varying capacities, but the team’s focused more on being at the right place at the right time to perform acts of heroism that quickly go viral, inspiring people to see them as heroes fighting for the underdog.

Especially with its newer cast of characters like Cyborg, Halo, Geo-Force and Terra, Outsiders has spent a lot of time focusing on the difficulties that becoming a metahuman can pose for a person. But as the series has progressed, the Outsiders’ work liberating young metas and helping them find places in the world where they can thrive has also established the idea that, for all the challenges being a meta can bring, it can also transform a person’s life in amazing (and positive) ways.

In this week’s newest episode “Unknown Factors,” Kaldur, the new Aquaman, and his newly-introduced romantic partner, Wynnde, help relocate an aquatic metahuman who chooses the name Dolphin for herself as she adjusts to her new home under the sea.

Elsewhere, Beast Boy and Cyborg bond over Vic’s being recently freed of the influence of the Fatherbox infecting his technorganic body, and realising he can finally take advantage of the full range of his superpowers. In both these examples, people have gotten to a place where their being metahumans (or in Vic’s case, someone with meta-adjacent powers for the sake of the story) is no longer an overwhelming burden and they can enjoy the advantageous gifts they’ve manifested.

Though they get to them in a somewhat roundabout way, these are the things Karen Beecher — the hero known as Bumblebee — and her husband Mal (Guardian) have been contemplating, since Karen is very pregnant with their first child. In this telling, Bumblebee’s shrinking powers are technologically-based and not from a meta-gene, but her research in genetics and connection to the world of superheroes makes the possibility of her child being gifted something she and Mal have wondered about.

When neither Karen nor Mal test positive for the gene, they share an understandable mix of disappointed and relief, all things considered. There’s no telling what kinds of powers their baby might have developed and what that would have entailed for them.

But the couple barely has any time to consider all of that when Karen suddenly goes into labour and they rush off to nearby hospital in the middle of a snowstorm. Karen gives birth, and the new parents are elated to meet their baby girl, but quickly devastated to learn she’s been born with a small hole in her heart. The abnormality’s operable, but because of the inclimate weather, there isn’t a surgeon who can readily travel to the hospital, inspiring Karen to take matters into her own hands.

Much to Mal’s dismay, Karen shrinks down in order to fit into the tip of a needle with a plan to patch her baby’s heart while being guided remotely by the regular-sized obstetrician who just delivered the baby. Strange as it is, Karen’s mission is a success, and she’s able to mend the hole while she’s literally surrounded by the gentle thunder of her baby’s heartbeat. The entire sequence is beautiful and moving, but it becomes that much more intriguing as Karen, thinking about the conversations she’s had with Mal, pulls a Scott Lang and begins to shrink down to an even more minuscule, molecular size.

Despite her initial insistence that she was perfectly fine with the idea of her baby being born an average human, there’s part of Karen that understands the advantages that have always come along with being super, let alone in a world that’s quickly filling with more and more kids with amazing powers. And so, she begins to carefully manipulate her baby’s DNA by hand, coaxing the molecules into a new form in order to unlock... something that otherwise would have stayed dormant.

The important thing to know is that whatever Karen’s doing, it’s obviously dangerous, and she still has some level of uncertainty about it, which would explain why she explicitly doesn’t mention to Mal that she’s decided to do it.

When Karen emerges from the baby’s bloodstream, a relieved Mal comments that she’d remained microscopic far longer than they’d agreed on, and he has no idea what she was doing in the baby for so long.

Karen doesn’t explain, but she insists that whatever she did, it was the right thing, which is loaded with meaning and open to all sorts of interpretation. In the context of a superhero narrative, Karen’s decision isn’t all that different than that of any other scientist (like Silas Stone) who willingly decides to play a hand in their child’s transformation into a super-powered person.

But where many cape dramas frame these decisions as parts of larger accidents that force people’s hands, what’s happened here is somewhat different because Karen’s proactively choosing to change her baby on a genetic level out of a desire to “improve” her. Here in the real world, we’ve been having conversations about “designer babies” with genetic makeup meticulously chosen by their parents as a concept for ages, but it wasn’t until recently that a pair of twins with CRISPR-altered genes were actually born, prompting a swift torrent of concerns from the scientific community about the massive ethical implications.

He Jianku, the Chinese geneticist responsible for modifying the babies’ genes in an attempt to grant them HIV immunity, drew ire from his peers due to the belief that he acted not understanding how his experiments could inadvertently result in causing the babies a slew of other medical issues.

It’s unlikely that Young Justice: Outsiders is going to end up going for a ripped-from-the-headlines arc involving Bumblebee facing consequences for altering her child’s DNA after the rest of the world’s superheroes find out. But the real-world parallels to what she’s done, and how devastating that kind of experimentation can actually end up being, might just end up providing for some very, very interesting plot development down the line.

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