Sep 19

Cartoon Review – Young Justice

In 2010 a new DC animated series started that brought a fresh view of the comic book universe and focused on the next generation of heroes. Created by Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti with designs by Phil Bourassa, the show was critically acclaimed but fan reaction was mixed and while having a big fanbase elements of the show had a polarising effect on the fans. It seemed everyone had their different opinions on which were the overused or underused characters and what stories were good and what was badly done. Here’s my take on the first series.

At the beginning the four sidekicks, Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad, and Speedy, are meeting up with the Justice League thinking it was going to be the day they were joined the League. Instead they find the League treating them like kids, sidekicks even, and Speedy storms off deciding to go solo. With the League off on a world saving mission the three remaining sidekicks try to solve on of their cases for them, to prove themselves not just sidekicks, and get embroiled in a much larger mystery. They find a teenage clone of Superman named Superboy and in the end the League decides to make them a covert operations arm of the League. Doing things the League can’t be seen doing, going on recognisance to countries the League isn’t allowed to, that sort of thing. The three sidekicks are joined by Superboy, Miss Martian, and later Artemis.

The series was built around individual stories with a larger story arc that tied everything together. The main arc involved the supervillains getting more organised against the formation of the Justice League’s hero collaboration. They call themselves The Light and almost every episode has something to do with their grand scheme. Because of that one of the fan complaints about them is that it feels like every episode ends with the bad guys saying “just as planned” and the heroes always failing, then there’s the other fans that say they can’t take The Light seriously since they keep loosing every episode. I don’t think either applies as The Team does win most of the time and The Light ends up failing in their main objective, but gains something they can use or has an alternate plan in place that they will have to do. So neither of those complaints has merit when you look at the show and how the storyline plays out.

The series is about The Team and them dealing with personal conflicts between them and the things some of them are hiding. Secrets and lies is a core theme for the series and it comes up consistently. The characters are one of the stronger parts of the show and it’s the cast and their problems that make the series worth watching continuously with the larger story arc that creates intrigue over what’s being planned. It is one of the better parts of the show since it was very well planned out with details that would never appear in the show from the JSA war efforts in the 40s to the far future season set up. Though at times there can be so much going on some of that extra detail doesn’t make it on screen, which can be a detriment.

For the main cast we start with Robin, thirteen year old partner of Batman, and the most experienced of all the teen heroes. He’s cocky in his abilities and at the beginning the most overconfident, which changes when he learns to work with a team rather than as Batman’s sidekick. He has a very jovial attitude and likes to laugh whenever he vanishes in combat, which makes him a fun character to watch. He likes his wordplay and playing around with things like (over/under)“whelmed” and (dis)“turbed” which leads to some of the cast using them since as a group of friends they have their own vernacular that develops over time. Jesse McCartney provides a good voice for the young Dick Grayson.

In this series a new Aqualad was created and made the leader of the Team as he was the most level headed of them that could temper experience with that level headedness. He tends to keep a lot of his interpersonal problems and leadership inadequacies internalised which is why some fans complain he is a bit bland. One big thing is that his longing for Atlantis is mostly confined to the tie-in comics and not in the show till it’s relevant in one episode. So the build-up to it is missing which makes it feel like some character stuff was left out. Khary Payton does the voice for Kaldur’ahm.

Kid Flash embodies both the brains and the idiocy of the Team. He is the most scientifically minded but will also say and do the dumbest of things as his mouth moves faster than his brain, which makes him pretty loveable to fans. He is the most regular of the teens, given he has the most normal family life out of all of them, and it shows. He jokes on, puts his foot in his mouth, and is generally fun to watch. His friendship with Robin is great as it’s not spelled out to the audience but with their interactions over the course of the season you can see these two are best friends. Wally West’s overly excitable voice was provided by Jason Spisak.

The angriest, and probably one of the most developed, member is Superboy. Teenage clone of Superman he holds a lot of hate and resentment over Superman being understandably perturbed by him. The anger cools down once he becomes more human, as it were. He also isn’t an unthinking brute as he displays cunning and quick thinking rather well in fights as the show went on. Nolan North brought his vocal timbre to him and his ‘father’ Superman.

Miss Martian is the most inexperienced of the Team. She had no prior training when she decided to move from Mars to be with her uncle the Martian Manhunter. She’s very impressionable and eager to please, covering up some insecurities from her old home life. There is a lot more to her than there first appears to be and everything is laid out for the audience to figure it out before the reveals happen. She does have a catchphrase that some have said is overused or annoying, but “Hello Megan” has a lot of subtlety and weight when what it’s referring to comes to light. It’s also fun seeing members of the Team using a variant of it as the show goes on. Danica McKellar does an excellent job of making M’gann M’orzz/Megan Morse into an interesting layered character from what could’ve been rather irritating character at first.

Artemis is the last of the main Team from the beginning of the show. She’s an archer being mentored by Green Arrow and hides a lot of her past from everyone. She’s brash, snarky, and won’t take any of Wally’s guff, which quickly made her into my favourite main Team member. She plays nicely off the other characters in a confrontational way but not in anyway antagonistic. It’s always good to have a character like that in an ensemble cast since not everyone should agree with one another in a group and snark is good for that. Stephanie Lemelin brings a lot to Artemis with her confidence and layers of self-doubt.

The supporting characters are also well developed, from Zatanna (Lacey Chabert) matching Robin’s wordplay and having the most heart-wrenching scene in the series, Red Tornado’s (Jeff Bennett) quest to understand humanity better, to Captain Marvel (Rob Lowe/Chad Lowe/Robert Ochoa) just spending time with kids more his age for once, and Red Arrow’s (Crispin Freeman) obsessive need to prove himself while learning more about his own nature than he’d ever thought about. The large cast is both a blessing and a curse as it gives us more characters to flesh out the world and the main cast’s relationship to them. But it also makes us want to see more of them in a show where only so much time can be devoted to certain characters. We don’t always get what we want, but we get what we need for the story.

It seems every fan had their favourites and least favourites, as well as ones they thought got less development and time devoted to them as other. It was not an even spread but I don’t think anyone really got the short end of the stick as some characters needed more development than others. Some were also more important to the overall plot than others were so priorities were made. It’s natural to want to see more of a favourite character but there is only so much time in an ensemble show and it all worked out well.

The villains of the series were just as well developed and interesting as the heroes. The Light and their agendas were compelling to watch to see how it would unfold. Seeing their set backs and how they would eventually overcome them as well as their victories and what it was building towards. Not to mention exactly who these sinister puppet masters were behind the curtain. There was also some redesigning of more obscure, and some rather silly, Silver Age characters that were a delight to see. Sportsmaster was made into a threatening and interesting character. That is still rather surprising.

What helped with that was the designs and animation, which were both gorgeous. It looked around the level of the DC direct to DVD animated films at times. The character designs had a lot of thought put into them and were made to be realistic but still grounded in a superhero setting. Characters like Batman and Robin had more armour since they’re just human, Superboy had just a t-shirt since it fit his character and didn’t need any protection, Kid Flash had some padding, especially his shoulders, since he didn’t have as much control over his speed like the Flash does so he cannonballs into things at times. There was a lot of thought put into who would have what level of costume protection and how that effects the designs, which is a lot better than some of the ‘we need to be more realistic so stick everyone in armour’ design theory for some comics.

The animation itself can look great at times does have some problems. A thing that bugged me was how sometimes characters necks would get overly muscular at times. What was excellent was the body language we got to see as characters move and react in a very real way to situations. It’s especially good when telepathic conversations happen and instead of using it as an excuse to save money and not animate mouths or movement the animators treat it like they would if the characters were speaking. They react and move as if they were having a spoken conversation.

The season final was a very good wrap up to the overarching season plot and we got some good resolution to it. It was hampered by some time constraints but instead of needing an extra episode I feel like it only needed an added ten minutes to make the pacing and resolution better. Which wasn’t possible so they did what they could to make it work. The plot solution is a bit too neat and quick, but everything needed to make it work was setup throughout the season so I can see what they were going for. It also gave us some of the best supervillain motivation in animation as we find out the true nature of the Light.

The series is one of the best interpretations of the DC universe and it gives us a fresh take on a lot of characters both new and old as well as obscure ones. We see the Team at their ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ dealing with the sweetest of victories and defeats that linger on for years to come. Actions have consequences no matter what and no one gets out unscarred. There are things that might bother some people, some characters seem to have a polarising effect on fans and each have their own favourites who they wish could have more screen time than ones they don’t like. I enjoyed them all in their own ways and can’t recommend this series enough for people to check out and see for themselves.