WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for "Early Warning," Episode 18 of Young Justice: Outsiders, streaming now on DC Universe.
Young Justice: Outsiders has kicked the franchise up a notch into more serious territory with its third season, moving past the threat of the Reach and the Light, and onto serious matters like metahuman trafficking. With Darkseid and Vandal Savage striking a secret deal, metas are being experimented upon in the Orphanage and seeded out across the galaxy as mind-controlled soldiers, sullying Earth's name in the process.
This shady scientific behavior is something we've seen time and time again in the series, from CADMUS' cloning of Superman to make Superboy to the Roy Harper genetic copies. In short, every teen is worth exploiting as long as Vandal and his allies can repurpose them for war. When it comes to the most demented, sickest experiment, though, the latest episode, "Early Warning" stands head and shoulders above the rest.
This episode deals with Project Rutabaga, which we heard Vandal and Lex Luthor speaking about earlier this season in "Evolution." That episode revealed that Klarion the Witch Boy was devoting all his time and energy to a secret initiative. Although Turabaga's name remains a mystery, the shroud of secrecy is lifted in this episode, as we see the new-look Outsiders coming to Cuba to take down Klarion, alongside Zatanna. She shouldn't be here as the Justice League doesn't have jurisdiction in Cuba, but like the Outsiders, she's willing to break the rules to bring her supernatural rival down.
Rutabaga entails Klarion activating the meta-gene in kids mystically, and by using magical brands seared into their skin, he takes control of them and assimilates them into a big blob. This leads to a giant Lovecraftian kaiju that looks like a monster from Stranger Things forming with several limbs and eyes thats made up of kids trapped inside and trying to come out. It's one of the show's most twisted sequences, especially with the ghastly image of seeing the teens' faces imprinted into the creature's rubbery skin as they try to escape.
What makes things worse is the monster feeds off of the children's powers, which makes it a handful when Zatanna and the Outsiders throw down. They can't even cut loose because they don't know if they'll hurt the kids in the process. This is way different from seeing teens in stasis tanks or hooked up to machines, and it's much more graphic than you'd come to expect. The team smartly banks on Zatanna's sorcery and together, they successfully stop the flesh monster.
Klarion ends up trapped in Doctor Fate's tower, and the kids are rescued as the creature melts away. They're relatively obscure characters, but as Beast Boy reiterates, they need a home. And so, those that don't have families join STAR Labs' Taos rehab center in New Mexico. Aqualad confirms with Beast Boy they'll do everything to protect the kids, but both parties know the scope of Rutabaga might be spread all across the cosmos.
Rutabaga could have been a pilot project or a testing ground to see how Klarion performed as a leader. Still, even though the sorcerer's trapped, Vandal and Darkseid are clever enough to have contingency measures in place. Since Klarion was left alone without an army of his own, it stands to reason the fall of Rutabaga might not make that big of a dent in Vandal's plans. Worse yet, it might actually be part of some long-term endgame the Outsiders are yet to pick up on.
New episodes of Young Justice: Outsiders premiere Tuesdays throughout the summer on DC Universe.