The Fresh Face Of Heroism: “Young Justice”

Copyright © 2011 by Warner Bros. Animation.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always been a fan of the DC Animated Universe, whether it’s Batman: The Animated SeriesJustice League, or Justice League Unlimited (and yes, I’m essentially a sucker for anything created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm).  I never really got into the spin-off series Teen Titans, which was just as popular as the other shows, and so when I heard they were making a new show called Young Justice, I was initially skeptical.

Having now watched the first twenty-one episodes, I can honestly say I have no further doubts: this is a truly amazing show.

The Story: The Young Work Better In The Shadows Than Their Elders

In this story, the Justice League is often busy dealing with major threats like alien invasions and rampaging monsters, often leaving little for the younger generation of heroes to do.  To that end, Batman puts together a team of young heroes as a kind of “Junior Justice League,” giving them covert assignments to handle while the League handles the more obvious challenges.

The initial “team” consists of Robin, Kid Flash, and Aqualad, who disobey League orders and break into Cadmus Labs, where they encounter Superboy, a teenage clone of Superman.  This sets off a chain of events, bringing Superboy into the superhero community (much to Superman’s discontent) and bringing these younger heroes to the attention of a villainous conspiracy known as “The Light.”  With the addition of Miss Martian and Artemis, the Young Justice team gets more settled into its work, although the teens still have to deal with issues like going to school in their civilian identities.

The Cast: Don’t Call Them Sidekicks

Copyright © 2011 by Warner Bros. Animation.

Each member of “The Team” is essentially a young superhero with the same powers or abilities as their mentors, but each is different temperamentally.  Aqualad is the leader of the team, honorable to a fault and serious.  Robin is the second-in-command, a wisecracking hacker and stealth expert.  Kid Flash is a scientifically-minded speedster who proves a lot of comic relief and team morale, in contrast to Superboy’s naivety about the world and his turmoil over being an unwanted clone of the great Superman.  Miss Martian is surprisingly bubbly and tries to keep the team friendly, especially when her telepathy lets them communicate on a deeper level.  This is also in contrast to Artemis, the most recent member, noted for her tough girl style and her need to keep secrets.

In fact, a lot of the characters in this story have secrets, which makes their interaction and the plot’s development all the more subtle and interesting.  The same goes as well for the Light, whose faces we do eventually get to see but whose ultimate goal remains uncertain.

There’s also side characters like Red Arrow and Zatanna who pop up every once in a while, providing new skills and powers to help the Team.  Red Arrow is an interesting case since he left the group of sidekicks before they properly became a “Team” and Zatanna at times seems like she’s being prepped to become a proper member of the Team.

The Style: Same Old Designs, But New Modern Thinking

A lot of the animation is reminiscent of the superhero depictions already shown in the DC Animated Universe, going all the way back to the Batman and Superman shows.  However, there are a few minor tweaks here and there, often to update the look of a few characters.  The Joker, for example, looks a lot more like Heath Ledger’s portrayal than the tuxedo-wearing clown from Batman: The Animated Series.

There’s also an interesting continuity to the show, evidenced by the little date-and-time readouts that appear at the beginning and end of each episode.  This gives the audience a way to see how strong the impact has been from previous episodes, not to mention providing for some suspense as the dates and times shift toward some auspicious climax for the first season.

Final Verdict: So Far, So Freaking Sweet!

I love this show for so many reasons.  It took something like a series about sidekicks to famous superheroes and strove to show why they’re heroes in their own right.  It actually takes their covert operations approach seriously.  And it really gets intense when we consider how much is going on with both the heroes and their villains, at least in terms of devastating secrets.  At the end of the day, it makes me remember why I watched the DCAU in the first place and became a DC fan as a result.

Bibliography: Young Justice (TV series).  Produced by Sam Register, Greg Weisman, and Brandon Vietti.  Warner Bros. Animation, DC Animation.  Cartoon Network.  January 7, 2011 – present.

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