I’ve been a fan of the various DC Comics animated features and series since Batman: the Animated Series. The seriousness of most of the stories, the clear love for the source material, and the new inventions that have become part of the comics (Harley Quinn, as well as Mr. Freeze’s tragic background, both originated in B:tAS) have all found a home in my heart.
I was a huge fan of the late 90s comic series Young Justice by veteran comic writer Peter David. The goofy, likable way he wrote the teenaged protagonists really made the story have a unique feel to it missing in a lot of other mainstream superhero comics.
So when I heard about a Young Justice animated series, I was extremely excited. The premiere was shown on Cartoon Network the day after Thanksgiving, and my TiVo was ready.
The Story in Spoilery Shortness
I can’t see how to review this without at least partly ruining the story, so I’m going to just get it out of the way. Here’s the story in short:
Robin, the teen sidekick to Batman, the Flash’s nephew and protégé Kid Flash, and Aqualad, a junior partner to Aquaman, get tired of the way the Justice League is keeping them on the sidelines. They decide to handle what seems like a routine fire at a genetics lab, which leads them to discover that the lab is full of living weapons, including a young clone of Superman. They free and befriend this “Superboy”, defeat the mad scientist behind the living weapon program, and earn the respect of their mentors. As the premiere ends, they’re given an old Justice League headquarters to use, joined by Miss Martian, the teenaged niece of J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, and they’re set up to receive training and their own covert missions by the Justice League.
What I Liked
Before the show began, DC announced that the new series was set on Earth-16. If you’re not familiar with the DC universe conceit of multiple earths, there are 52 parallel earths that are different from one another to various degrees. In some, the differences are small, and in others, they’re very large. By calling out a specific Earth for this story to take place on, they give a fan boy like me license to ignore old continuity and enjoy it as they introduce new characters and concepts, mess with old characters, and generally do as they will. This is strangely liberating to me, as I’m someone who likes to have a strong sense of continuity and internal consistency. I can feel like surprises are around the corners, and I look forward to them.
The characters are all well-presented, have their own voices, and are familiar without being uninteresting. Robin has been the leader of the old Teen Titans and Young Justice groups, and it’s refreshing here to see him step back as the group tactician instead and leave the leadership role to Aqualad.
Aqualad seems to be one of the really new concepts of the series. He seems to be African-American, with webbing between his fingers and toes, body tattoos that glow when he activates his powers, and the ability to create weapons and other constructs out of water. Like his mentor, Aquaman, he demonstrates combat prowess, great strength, a fair amount of invulnerability, and a certain level of telepathy. One reviewer jokingly suggested his main power might be super-diplomacy, as he’s the one who convinces Superboy to join them, as well as the Justice League to take them seriously. He’s a very fresh take on a character I’ve never found interesting, and I look forward to seeing what this new Aqualad is all about.
The other thing that’s going to have me constantly looking in on episodes is the important but background presence of the Justice League itself. They’re essentially celebrities, and they can’t hide from the press, so the teen team will be handling more covert ops that they want to keep quiet. The team they showed in the premiere looked pretty incredible, including mainstays Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, Flash, two different Green Lanterns, and the Hawkman/Hawkgirl duo. It also featured unexpected Leaguers, like Captain Atom, Red Tornado, Captain Marvel (you know…Shazam!) and Zatarra, seemingly the father of the better known Zatanna.
And finally, I love Miss Martian. She’s so delightfully perky, and do we already see a little crush on Superboy? I think we do.
What I Didn’t Like
All of the press for the series has indicated that sixth regular member to the group is Artemis, an archer character. I love archer-types, and DC has a long-standing tradition of them, so I’m all for having her on the team. I don’t understand, however, why they didn’t go with Arrowette, who was a member of the old Young Justice comic. I’m fine with new characters to fill in an existing gap, but it just seems like creating a new character for the sake of it. There also wasn’t even a hint of her in the premiere, so I have nothing to go on yet.
And, yes, I love Miss Martian, but it would’ve been cool to see her, you know, *do* something. She just appears at the end, admires Superboy’s t-shirt, and that’s pretty much it.
While I can understand why they left out Secret, another early YJ comic character, the lack of a Wonder Girl is kind of stunning. She was part of the original Teen Titans and part of the original Young Justice, and her lack of presence in the series didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I’ve recently learned there was a legal issue of some kind which is now resolved, so maybe we’ll see her soon. There are two more regular characters supposed to be debuting over the course of the first season, so I’ll hold out hope.
My other major upset with this show is the characterization of Superman. Anyone who talks superheroes with me knows that Superman is by far my favorite comic character of all time. While I can understand his shock over finding out he has a teenaged clone, it’s hard for me to see Superman being cold to anyone, especially someone who could essentially be his younger brother. The theme of Superman and family is big in the comics, and Superman and Superboy are very close in the comics, so I’m really hoping this will grow over time.
I see a lot of potential in this series. I enjoyed the premiere, thought it had great action sequences, a lot of heart, and some genuinely funny moments. While it seems to lack the goofiness of Peter David’s run on the actual comic, you can see some humor slipping in, and it comes across as smart and not too over-explaining. I don’t know anything about Aqualad, for example, but I don’t need to yet. I’m sure a lot of back-story will be filled in as the show progresses.
The actual series will be beginning in January, and my TiVo will be ready once more.