Tom Recommends: Young Justice (Animated Series)

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Animator Greg Wiseman has had a long string of animated series that have pleased fans but have always seemed to be cut short due to other factors.  He was forced off Disney’s Gargoyles and saw his Spectacular Spider-Man cut short due to the Spider-rights going to Disney.

Then there was Young Justice, an animated series set in the DC universe about a team of superhero sidekicks going on covert missions for the Justice League.

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Young Justice was loosely based on a comic book of the same name.  That series was about a team of young superheroes, namely Robin, Superboy, Impulse, Wonder Girl, Arrowette, and Secret to start, taking up residence in the original Justice League headquarters, a secret cave outside Happy Harbor, Rhode Island, with the Red Tornado as their more or less official guardian.  Other young heroes came and went, but that was the basic premise.

The TV version of Young Justice kept a few of those things in common.  The series starts as Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad, and Speedy are taken to the Hall of Justice to begin the process of joining the Justice League like their mentors Batman, Flash, Aquaman, and Green Arrow, respectively.  Speedy, however, isn’t impressed and calls the adults in the room on not being taken to the real League headquarters, an orbiting satellite.  Speedy quits in disgust, leaving the other three behind when the adults are called away to deal with a crisis.

The three don’t stay long as a fire breaks out in nearby Project Cadmus headquarters.  While the fire doesn’t look too dangerous, Robin discovers Cadmus was on Batman’s list of places to observe, so the three go to check the place out, find out it is much deeper than they supposed, find a Superman clone (Superboy) in a sub-sub-sub basement, and in the end gain some approval from the League to be a special team, but also the notice of a mysterious group called “The Light”.

From there, with Superboy, they gain new member Miss Martian (they are told it is J’onn J’onnz’s niece) and take up residence in the original headquarters in a secret cave near Happy Harbor, Rhode Island.  Red Tornado is set up as their “den mother”, but they get a bit more than the comic series version of the group, as Black Canary becomes their trainer and Batman sends them on their missions.  The missions are meant to be covert, but those Light bozos sure seem to be aware of the group…

Wiseman and company did a fantastic job with this series.  They really, really went into the mythology of the DC universe here.  An early episode had Aqualad (a new character) go for a visit to Atlantis.  Not only did the episode feature cameos from many of Aquaman’s various supporting characters (yes, he has some), but the comics version of Aqualad was there, taking the name adult Aqualad would eventually use (“Tempest”), and even had the same purple eyes as his comic book counterpart.  Further, the producers actually went so far as to create an Atlantean language for Aquaman and Aqualad to speak to each other.

How deep was the series’ bench?  While the comic book had Arrowette, the cartoon had another blonde female archer named Artemis.  Artemis was a mostly forgotten Silver Age character at that time, and with some minor tweaks became a member of the team with mostly the same family she always had.

It also helped that the comic book’s writer, Peter David, penned a few episodes, particularly ones featuring characters from the original comic series but not the TV show, namely Secret and Impulse.

There’s some really tight continuity here, too.  Episodes feature a place, date, and time, and there is a steady progression as the series goes on.

Characterization was also top notch.  Batman was actually a caring and considerate father to young Dick Grayson, and actually came across as a better parent than Superman, who at first mostly wanted nothing to do with the clone made from him without his consultation.

Season one ends with the team, since adding new members Zatanna and Rocket, saving the day when the Justice League can’t, and then season two jumps ahead a few years, makes Robin into Nightwing, adds a new Robin in the form of Tim Drake, and further adds Beast Boy, Lagoon Boy, Batgirl, Wonder Girl, Bumblebee, and Blue Beetle to the team (which is always referred to as just “the team”).  If season two had a flaw, it was how the show seemed to become the Blue Beetle And Friends show.

Sadly, season two was the last one, and it ended on a cliffhanger with the Light making a deal with a very prominent DC villain who hadn’t appeared prior to that episode, and one member of the original team seeming to die.  I say seeming because seeing which member it was and how he died, I can easily see a way to bring the character back.  Cartoon Network really screwed around a lot with this show.  The series disappeared without explanation one week (seriously, even the guide from my cable company said it should have been on except for that How To Train Your Dragon thing that was there instead), and cartoon writer Paul Dini has hinted the show may have been canceled because there were more young girl viewers than boys.

Why bring this up at all?  Well, season two recently came to Netflix.  Netflix had season one for a while, but only just added the second.  And, both Wiseman and Aqualad voice actor Khary Payton have both stated that should viewership be good enough, Netflix might actually produce a season three.  The company has done that before with Arrested Development and Longmire, so that might very well be the case.  And even if Netflix ultimately declines, at the very least we can see what may very well be a much better way to build a DC universe for a different medium than whatever Batsoup is trying to do.

tomk74

Defender of the faith, contributing writer, debonair man-about-town.

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