Youth in Revolt: How 'Young Justice' is the New 52 We Deserve
Even though it only had a couple short seasons to shine, Young Justice raised the bar for comics-to-cartoon adaptations for some time to come. Now, I won’t argue that it means more to the genre than, say, Batman: The Animated Series or The Spectacular Spider-Man, but it definitely earned its stripes and the type of cult following that will last for decades to come.
I could write several articles about the show’s unfair treatment by the network. The shifting time slots, the sudden hiatus (times five), and the total lack of proper promotion were only a handful of the nails in this premium show’s coffin.
But it’s back. More or less. The first season of the show has been on Netflix for a few months now and it’s very much worth your time and shameless promotion to anyone who will listen.
Read on for a few reasons this show is worth a binge viewing if you’re new to the concept or want a reason to return to it.
1. It’s the Teen Titans for the 21st Century
The Teen Titans have been around for a long time but they haven’t always been a relevant or commercially viable property. Between their first appearance in The Brave and the Bold #54 (July 1964) and their revival as the vaguely X-Men-esque New Teen Titans they weren’t even on the newsstands in any appreciable way.
The idea of a team of young sidekicks joining forces to take on major threats wasn’t a bad one but it wasn’t DCs main priority. And once the New Teen Titans sun started to set heading into the 1990s it wouldn’t be on the docket again until one Geoff Johns fired up that old Nostalgia Machine and got the ball rolling again.
John’s run is a classic by some standards and a great follow up to the Young Justice comic that preceded it, where the unofficial third generation of teen heroes were able to shine. Tim Drake's Robin, the modern day Superboy, and Impulse, the "Kid Flash with 'tude" had a long run of adventures where they were in not one tier of heroes' shadows, but two. I loved it. But it wasn’t the story of the first teen hero team of the DCU.
That’s where Young Justice (the show) came in.
Robin, Kid Flash, and Aqualad get their mentors' blessings to fight as a team.
In this universe the adult heroes of the DCU (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, etc.) are big-ticket heroes. The world fawns over them. They are the go-to force for good on the planet and everyone knows it. Which is big problem.
Enter: Young Justice.
This team of hormonal second fiddles is low profile enough to get the job done without any of the paparazzi butting in or a gallery of rogues sitting around plotting their doom (at first...). Furthermore, they have the luxury of heroic growing pains that would otherwise shake the public’s faith in its heroes.
This take on the team took me a bit of time to get used to but I ultimately came to appreciate it. It was a great set up since it made the young heroes junior members of the JLA (which they have never really been in the comics) and it put them in positions where they had to routinely step up to save the day. Also, the show's version of Superboy as a rage-filled, test tube baby in a Superman t-shirt was a great contrast to the turn the character was taking in the comics at the time.
2. Its Teenage Heroes are Actual Teenagers
Maybe it’s the fact that Season One Robin is thirteen years old or that Speedy, the oldest of the junior heroes, is newly minted eighteen years old at the open of the first season, but the gang of Young Justice are delightfully immature, ill-prepared, and immensely emotional.
It’s refreshing in light of the New 52 reboot of the series, where the Titans are essentially underage versions of the Wildstorm heroes from the 1990s. Seriously, I try not to disparage the books too much but there is an awful lot of blood, violence, and angst in those panels.
Maybe it’s the new setting, maybe it’s the new century, but the Teen Titans of the new DCU don’t seem like kids trying to save the world so much as walking hormones looking to blow off steam.
While the latter description refers to just about everyone’s stereotypical notion of a teenager that’s never really applied to the Teen Titans in my mind.
These are the young men and women who proved themselves worthy of taking on the legacies of the DC Universe’s greatest heroes. Dick Grayson was chosen at a very young age to be Batman’s most trusted ally. Kid Flash was chosen by the Speed Force itself to carry Barry Allen’s torch. Aqualad showed his love and loyalty for his king and illustrated the might of Atlantis’ youth.
I just don’t see that in the new stuff where Tim Drake was never officially Robin and a lasso-wielding Wonder Girl seems to have zero connection to Princess Diana of the Amazons.
Young Justice’s representations of Robin, Kid Flash, and Aqualad are more in line with these tried and true interpretations and really home in on the fact that they are kids to boot.
Robin is struggling with living up to Batman’s expectations and the extra stress of not being able to open up to his new team/family without jeopardizing all that he and Bruce Wayne have built. On top of that, he’s too young and somehow too set in his ways to really lead the team effectively.
Kid Flash is the most typical teenager ever. He likes girls (a lot), he likes one or two subjects in school (Science, in particular), and he gets a huge kick out of being a human lightning bolt. His interactions with his best friend Robin are amazingly spot-on when you look at them as a 15-year-old and 13-year-old hanging out and caught up in amazing situations.
Finally, Aqualad. He’s Aquaman’s squire, a fledgling magician from Atlantis, and the reluctant leader of the team. He’s torn between his duty to Aquaman and Atlantis and his new team. He’s also a little bummed about having to step up and lead the team while Robin gains the experience and maturity that’ll make him the go-to hero to call the shots later down the road.
This type of character development smacks of authenticity and really expands on the core concepts and conceits of the series. Young heroes are still young. There should be a lot for them to learn and this show doesn't shy away from them being unprepared to step out of their mentors' shadows.
3. It’s a Story about the DC Universe
Yes, the main characters are the junior heroes of the DC Universe but that doesn’t stop the show from throwing all kinds of cameos our way. This show is all about showing the heroes, villains, and supporting characters we’ve come to love over the years in a more modern take on the DCU.
In just the first season alone we’ve got Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Black Lightning, Captain Marvel (SHAZAM! for legal reasons...), Red Tornado, the Flash, Lex Luthor, Blockbuster I, the Guardian, Project Cadmus, Klarion the Witch Boy, Martian Manhunter, Sportsmaster, Captain Atom, Dubbilex, Zatana, Rocket (of Milestone’s Icon and Rocket fame)…
The list goes on and on and really gets going by the time the second season rolls around and the universe (and the team's roster) have expanded faster than Bouncing Boy's waistline.
4. It’s the Real New 52
I’m on record as being ambivalent, at best, and murderous, at worst, over the changes to DC Comics’ characters and settings in the New 52 relaunch. I have railed against the compressed timeline, the cherry picking of what worked from the pre-boot, the oh so Image character redesigns, and the complete overhaul of personalities, origins, and motives. It has been a very trying time for us "old school" fans.
It was entirely possible to relaunch the DCU without taking all of the bizarre twists and turns that DiDio, Lee, and co. did. For example, trying to convince us that everything cool that ever happened to Batman not only happened but also happened in the span of five years.
That said, I'm thoroughly convinced that the Young Justice Earth (Earth-16, for those of you keeping score) is the New 52 we deserve.
It’s a new take on the DCU. The heroes aren’t exactly like their old school representations. Their costumes are updated too. But there’s no weird piping or extra pouches or weird geometric shapes either. Wonder Woman looks like Wonder Woman. Superman looks like Superman. It’s beautiful really.
Their personalities are recognizable and contemporary. Superman is the best example. He's still a powerful, moral, and inspiring hero. But he also has the drama of suddenly being a "dad." Unlike the pre-52 DCU where Connor Kent took on the role of Superman's cousin, the Young Justice Superboy looks at Superman as a father figure. He wants to be like him, he wants to live up to the legacy, and he wants Superman's acceptance. Superman isn't ready to handle that. Instead, he's standoffish and a bit weird, reminding us that while super he's still just a man.
In addition, Young Justice even has a five-year time skip like the New 52. But that will have to wait for Season Two. Let’s just say that they establish the universe and we get to enjoy it and its inhabitants, and then they jump us ahead in the timeline. It’s organic and satisfying and well worth looking out for when Netflix offers Season Two for our viewing pleasure. Now, those were just a few reasons to make your way over to Young Justice. If you want even more I’ll be happy to provide a short list:
Robin’s creepy laugh and tendency to “pull a Batman” on his own team during missions
The portrayal of a capable, well-rounded hero of color in Aqualad
Kid Flash’s ceaseless flirting with Miss Martian
The pretty sweet action scenes
The scarily well thought out take on Superboy and his place in Superman’s life
The emotionless Red Tornado being in charge of babysitting the world’s most powerful and petulant young heroes
TONS of Easter eggs
I hope this article was at least a bit convincing. I've been singing the praises of this show since nearly the beginning and I don't see myself stopping anytime soon. There's something for everyone here, from the likable characters to the refreshing take on the DC Comics universe. I've already begun re-watching the series and I fully expect to buy it on Blu-Ray when I'm done planning a wedding and have disposable income again. Happy viewing.