Jun 14, 2012

[TV] Young Justice: Season 1

When Young Justice had first come out, I had to admit that I was a tad skeptical. There was that instinctive (yet always incorrect) urge to compare the story with comic book canon (and with DC that can me a heck of a lot of versions) and resolve their differences somehow. It's never a good idea since they are in fact two separate entities in the same way that movie adaptations are often terribly different from their comic book versions.

But this does not make them bad per se - and thus they should be judged on their merits alone. Such was the case with the old Batman cartoons that gave us the "non-canonical" character Harley Quinn, who has since then moved on to become an official character in the DC universe complete with back story, multiple versions of her origin tale and of course multiple incarnations across comic books, TV appearances and even video games.

And quite frankly, it's not like we have a lot of other options for animated entertainment of this caliber. And once you get past some of the initial awkwardness, the story does turn out to be a rather impressive one.

Synopsis: Young Justice is an animated TV series created by Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti for Cartoon Network. You may remember Weisman for another animated series that he helped bring to the small screen - Gargoyles. The TV series is not related to the comic book series of the same name.

Potential spoilers for the two-part pilot episode follow, but come on, what else can I summarize?

The series begins by featuring various superheroes and their sidekicks - in this case Robin (Jesse McCartney), Aqualad (Khary Payton), Kid Flash (Jason Spisak) and Speedy (Crispin Freeman). Starting to feel the pain of forever being in the shadow of their respective mentors, they eventually decide to demand the chance to prove themselves but are rejected. Thus Speedy goes off on his own and starts to call himself Red Arrow with the others decide to handle a mission on their own without the aid of the Justice League.

The mission leads them to the Cadmus facility where they eventually find a clone of Superman who is initially referred to as Superboy (Nolan North) along with various bio weapons. They eventually escape with Superboy and manage to convince Batman (Bruce Greenwood) to allow them to become an alternate team, one that can operate in secret outside the celebrity and status of the Justice League. Here they get set up in a secret base hidden in a cave and are eventually joined by Miss Martian (Danica McKellar) and Artemis (Stephanie Lemelin). And thus begin their adventures.

Now at first I had a lot of issues with the choices in terms of the characters they opted to use for the team such as which version of Kid Flash or even how Superboy gets into the picture. But at the same time, I remember my experience with the Justice League cartoon as well so I learned to get past it. And once I did, the show started to grow on me.

Aqualad as he appears in Young Justice.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Now initially I didn't quite get their characterization for Robin. Now as much as it's his name, they didn't need to make him such a dick with a weird maniacal laugh, especially in contrast to how he was depicted as the responsible leader in Teen Titans. But of course that was in place to further justify the decision to have the show's unique version of Aqualad become the leader of the team eventually - or at least that's my read on things. To be fair, Robin tones down over time and starts to act a lot more sensible.

I also didn't quite get the decision to include a character like Artemis as part of the team. Sure, it was probably a nice move on the side of including more female characters to attract a wider audience base and of course to better represent both sides of the coin, as it were, but she's still a relatively unknown character plus given her role in the story for the first season, she felt a lot more like a plot device.

Now what started out as weird one-shot missions and the occasional "this episode has a lesson" kind of adventures given the mentor roles performed by various Justice League characters, it slowly evolved into a much larger tapestry that started creating connections all the way to the first few episodes. It's a pretty impressive feat once the pieces start to come together, although it does mean that you're in for a bit of a slow burn with respect to the meta plot.

But I am more impressed that there is a meta plot at all. It's far too easy to just go the episodic route when it comes to cartoons like this - just look at the much kid-friendlier Batman the Brave and the Bold as an initial example. That should give you an idea of what the alternative could have been had they gone that route.

The show, for the most part, is a pretty fun deal on the whole. Beyond the inevitable cameos of members of the Justice League, we're eventually treated to a decent escalation of villains. You start with relatively less infamous ones like Sportsmaster (Nick Chinlund) and eventually including heavy hitters like Ra's al Ghul (Oded Fehr) and Lex Luthor (Mark Rolston). But you'll have to watch the show to see how things progress fully.

Young Justice is another good example of a cartoon that seeks to find a balance between new viewers who have not experienced the DC Universe in this manner and with older viewers who are looking for new ways to celebrate their fandoms It's not quite perfect, but over the course of this first season the characters do mature in terms of the writing and thus making for a better storytelling vehicle on the whole. For now the season gets a respectable 4 fun adventures involving a much younger Zatanna (Lacey Chabert) out of a possible 5.
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  1. I'm a big fan of Young Justice. I like the "penciler" of this series -- gives more mature look to the characters. I love the storyline as well. It has several twists. It's not your ordinary Teen Titans that's for sure. I always love Robin among all young heroes :)

  2. Wow, I think this is your longest comment, yet! Thanks for sharing!