The original Young Justice comic was the perfect source material for an animated series. It sadly never came to happen, but the Teen Titans cartoon was a good substitute. It still would have been nice to see Tim Drake’s Robin teamed up with Impulse and Superboy in an ongoing animated series.
A couple years ago an announcement was made for a Young Justice cartoon, featuring an Aqualad of color and a lack of overall humor. The latter was a deal breaker for YJ purists with the former being a deal breaker for DC purists. I was of course interested in the series, and it did not disappoint.
The series is a retelling of the DC Universe, even predating the the New 52 launch. It starts a few years after all of the heroes formed the Justice League. Of course, the heroes have their sidekicks. Robin was the first on the scene, and despite that he is the youngest sidekick around. Other sidekicks started showing up – notably Speedy, Aqualad, Kid Flash, and Miss Martian. The idea of their possibly graduating and becoming members of the Justice League themselves led to the formation of their own team, which is still unnamed but referred to as Young Justice due to the title of the series.
(This was a joke that was unfortunately lost in adaptation. The debut issue of Young Justice showed Robin, Superboy, and Kid Flash defeating a female villain called The Mighty Endowed (via their inaction when she simply tipped over) and being interviewed by journalists afterward. When looking for a team name, a journalist misheard when they referred to themselves as being young and their being without their mentors – “just us.”)
For a show that has recently been moved from Friday nights to Saturday mornings, the plot is incredibly involved and dark. The series tackles issues of identity, trust, family, and loss in a fairly mature manner. A character has not so much died but no longer exists, leaving his daughter to continually mourn for him. Superman denies his paternal link to Superboy, not even making eye contact with him when he is around. Of course, Superboy’s being a composite clone of Superman and a mystery human benefactor makes the situation all the more awkward. He wasn’t the result of a one night stand, but he might as well have been.
The amazing thing about the series is that there is very little fluff of which to speak. Each episode has a purpose, either in the overt overarching plot or in character development that does later play into the plot. By the end of the series no one questions why there was an episode returning to Cadmus labs, where Superboy was created, and showing that there was more cloning going on than originally thought. No one needs to question the episode introducing Doctor Fate and the recovery of his helmet as a souvenir for Kid Flash. No one needs to question the importance of Miss Martian’s meeting the woman whose childhood form she has decided to adopt and why she chose to keep her own White Martian form a secret.
One-off episodes, like “Secrets”, have their own strengths. Of course, I mention this because it was written byX-Factor’s Peter David. It clearly displayed his trademark depth-mixed-with-oddity.
And the series takes huge risks in trusting that the audience will accept sudden shifts. Robin, the most well-known character whose printed history includes leadership roles on all teams, is relegated to back-up leader due to his impulsive nature. The characters do not really know each other and do not spend much time together outside of checking in and going out on missions. Superboy takes advice and (basically) steroids from a super villain. Miss Martian’s true form is one of the scariest looking creatures found in American animation. Arrowette is the daughter of a villain that repeatedly beats the crap out of the team. Captain Marvel is a 12 year-old boy, and how he acts does not change much when he using the magic of Shazam. Then there’s the final seen of the season! (I’m normally fine with spoiling items for the nature of, quote, critical commentary, unquote; but I want everyone to watch this show.)
Young Justice is an example of some of the best science fiction storytelling on television. It doesn’t hold back, and it trusts the audience. One can only hope for the success of the series. That would influence the Cartoon Network to help produce more shows like it and show the current generation of children that there’s more to television than shows consisting primarily of non sequiturs.