Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Young Justice

"Season One of Young Justice is one of the best written, plotted and developed pieces of animation I've ever seen on American television." 

I'm a Teen Titans fan.

What I loved about the Teen Titans, beyond the fact that they were led by my favorite DC hero, the Dick Grayson Robin, was that they were not the Justice League.

At first glance, the original team looks like a miniature version of their better-known, older counterparts: Batman, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Flash. In the 1960's that's all they were meant to be, but in 1980, Marv Wolfman and George Perez changed all that.

What made the Wolfman/Perez "New Teen Titans" series different and, in my humble opinion, better than the Justice League were their interpersonal relationships. JLA stories were about fighting alien invasions and ultra-powerful supervillains. If you wanted to read about Clark Kent's personal life, you had to read the Superman comics. Since none of the Titans had their own series, Wolfman and Perez could explore the lives of our favorite sidekicks in relationship to one another. The team became more of a family than the JLA could every be, because the JLA had their own lives, their own villains and their own problems outside of the team.

When I heard the DC animated studios were doing a Teen Titans series back in 2003, I couldn't have been more excited. The show was very popular both in and out of its target age group and I have many friends who loved the show. Unfortunately, it was not the Teen Titans I was looking for. The writers offered no explanation for how or why these pre-teens were living on their own in Titans Tower or what their personal lives were like outside of fighting villains. It was difficult for me to suspend my disbelief. The animation style drew heavily from Korean and Japanese anime, which I enjoy, but fell back on sillier emotional expressions that made the storytelling feel heavy-handed.

In early 2010 I stumbled on an off-hand post about a new Titans-like series called Young Justice airing on Cartoon Network later that year. There wasn't much press about it and since I don't have cable, I rarely catch commercials. I'd forgotten about it until November 2010 when the first two episodes aired as a one-hour pilot.

I loved it.

I watched the first four episodes excited that DC Animated had finally aired a Titans-like show with excellent animation and a firm grasp of what made Titans a great comic. That's really all I wanted. It was the fifth episode that made me realized the writers were aiming for something truly special.

The Characters

Most of the core Titans characters made the transition to the series: the Dick Grayson Robin, Wally West Kid Flash and Roy Harper Speedy. The Garth Aqualad had been replaced by an entirely new character and the Donna Troy Wonder Girl wasn't in the show at all. Still, the heart of the characters were accurate and by the end of the first two episodes they had added the Conner Kent Superboy to the mix, along with a character from recent comics known as Miss Martian (the niece of Martian Manhunter). A sixth core character, Artemis, joins in Episode Six.

[A young Zatanna and the Milestone hero, Rocket, also join the team by the end of Season One but are not tied to Season One's story arc.]


The Dick Grayson Robin and Wally West Kid Flash are two of the oldest, most developed sidekicks in DC history and it shows. Robin is the same wise-cracking, charismatic tactician I always loved. The writers took artistic license by merging him with the Tim Drake Robin, making Dick a master hacker as well as a professional acrobat and skilled martial artist.

A twist that threw me was that Robin does not become the leader of the team. Though he's the most experienced member, Robin is use to working side-by-side with a mentor he rarely has to communicate with. Batman and Robin anticipate each other's tactics in any situation. During Season One, Robin hasn't learned the communication skills necessary to lead a team; he expects everyone to know what he's thinking and act accordingly. As such, team leadership falls to the more mature Aqualad.

Kid Flash

What makes the Wally West Kid Flash unique in comics is that he loves being who he is. Unlike many heroes, Wally doesn't have a tragic past--his parents weren't murdered, he hasn't lost a love, he isn't a clone, he isn't an alien trapped on another world.

As a kid, Wally was the Flash's biggest fan and as a pre-teen he discovers that his uncle, Barry Allen, is actually his favorite hero. Wally gained Flash's powers through a freak accident and is now living the dream. Unlike Robin, who is dealing with the loss of his family and a difficult relationship with an emotionally distant adoptive father, Wally is happy. His only problems are an overactive metabolism, an inappropriate sense of humor and overconfidence.

Wally was the obvious choice for comedy relief on the team, but that doesn't make his character any less developed or emotionally significant. The only tweak the writers made to his original character is that he's the tech expert on the team. Wally and Dick often work together to solve problems, MacGyver-style. Wally's love for science is a natural evolution from his uncle's forensic science background and balances well against some of the more mystically oriented characters like Aqualad and Zatanna.


The Roy Harper Speedy never officially joins the team. Being older than both Robin and Kid Flash, Roy expects to join the Justice League and not the sidekick team the others are forming. He leaves both Green Arrow and his friends behind to become his own hero, Red Arrow. Though never an official member of the team, Roy and his journey are integral to the Season One arc. Roy's is the story of throwing off the expectations of your elders and becoming your own person. I love Speedy for sentimental reasons and I'm a sucker for the super-archers no matter what company writes them, so I didn't know how to feel when Roy didn't join. What I can say is that Roy's relationship with the team takes a fascinating turn that I can't go into without spoilers.

Roy earns his role in this series.


The new Kaldur'ahm Aqualad concerned me. The original Garth Aqualad was undeniably the weakest of the original team--both in power and personality--but I wasn't sure if the creators had changed him to make his character stronger or simply to add the understandably lacking minority element to the show. I'm happy to say that they managed both.

Along with the speed, strength, endurance, durability, and the ability to breath both air and water of the original Aqualad, the Kaldur'ahm Aqualad possesses the ability to manipulate water (similar to the powers of Aquaman's wife, Queen Mera). He also bares magical tattoos that allow him to channel electricity like an eel; water-manipulation and electricity make a powerful combination and the fight choreographers take full advantage of that throughout the series.

Aside from these powers, this new Aqualad has what all great leaders need--tactical skills, an understanding of his team's strengths and weakness, and the ability to inspire loyalty (though it is tested time and again). Aqualad's powers, charisma and personality made him one of my favorite characters in the show. Even the fanboy in me was sated by the episode "Downtime" when the original Garth Aqualad was introduced and their divergent paths were explained.


In Episode One, Aqualad, Robin and Kid Flash respond to what is supposed to be a minor building fire while the Justice League deals with a planet-wide threat. The building turns out to be a Cadmus cloning facility and the three old friends discover a clone of Superman stored deep in the research facilities lower levels. The clone had been designed to take Superman's place should he ever die, or kill him if he ever went rogue.

Like the Superboy in the comics, this Superboy has a fraction of Superman's powers--he can't fly, he has relatively limited enhanced senses and no heat vision. He does have a significant percentage of Superman's invulnerability, speed, strength and the ability to leap extreme distances. Though educated through psychic downloading, the clone is immature and has a difficult time controlling his anger. This could have been used as an excuse for heavy-handed teenage angst. Instead, the writers play up Superboy's loneliness and abandonment issues. He knows that he had been created as a weapon, yet must also live up to the expectations of filling Superman's cape should he die, all while being ignored by the Man of Steel himself. The clone knows nothing about Superman's private life; even his adopted secret identity of Conner Kent comes from suggestions by Martian Manhunter and Miss Martian.

In a brilliantly awkward scene, Conner reaches out to Superman
for recognition, only to have Supes fly off to an emergency. 
By the begining of season two, Conner grows out of his angsty teenage self, but the writers don't leave the character development just to the teens. In Episode Five, "Schooled", Bruce Wayne confronts Clark Kent about his behavior toward the newly discovered Superboy clone. Clark is understandibly disturbed at finding out that he has a full-grown teenage son and has no clue what his role in Conner's should be. The scene is an incredible piece of character development for Clark, Bruce and Conner.

Miss Martian

The most annoying character of the first several episodes is the Megan Morse Miss Martian. I wasn't familiar with her character from the comics and her ditzy, overly cheerful personality reminded me of the Teen Titans Animated version of Starfire--a strong female character that they turned into a high-pitched, naive alien pre-teen.

On my first viewing of the series, I believed that the writers had heard complaints by fans and found a way to explain her annoying personality traits through several emotionally poignent episodes toward the end of Season One. On my second viewing I caught hints of Miss Martian's character arc in nearly every episode, telling me that the writers hadn't retconned her personality, they had known exactly what they were doing all along. As with Superboy, Miss Martian becomes a confident, skilled member of the team. The arc of her character growth is one of my favorites in the series.

The Team

After a lone mission that ends in the discovery and rescue of Superboy from a Cadmus cloning facility, the Justice League reluctantly agrees to sponsor the younger members as a covert operations team secondary to the League. Being a covert ops team is a perfect vehicle for the show, allowing the characters to train together under experienced, adult supervision while still performing key missions.

One nice touch is that the show never referes to the new group as the Teen Titans or even Young Justice. They are only referred to as "The Team." Another is that we get to see the characters in their non-superhero lives. We are treated to glimpses of Wally, Dick, Megan and Conner at home or at school, and get to see how they integrate their teenage lives into their superhero responsibilities. Aqualad doesn't have a secret identity on the surface world, but the writers give him the staring role in an episode where he visits Atlantis. Even Artemis, a down-and-out kid with a disabled mother, receives a scholarship to Gotham Academy from the Wayne Foundation and we get to see her adapt to life off the street.

Final Verdict

Season One of Young Justice is one of the best written, plotted and developed pieces of animation I've ever scene on American television. Every character is important, their challenges are faced and by the end of Season One they have honed themselves into both a team and a family. The Easter Eggs scattered throughout the season make multiple watchings a must and the season finale brings an impressive web of subplots to a chilling and satisfying conclusion. While you are left with a sense of completion, the final line of Episode 26 will leave you begging to know what's in store for Season Two.

Post Script

As of the posting of this blog, Season Two has aired seven episodes and has laid the groundwork to meet or surpass Season One on plot, character development and surprises. The rest of Season Two is set to air September 29th.


  1. I'll have to out this in my Blockbuster movie queue. I'm currently watching Season Two of Justice League. Just finished Disc #2. I'm finding the 2nd season better than the first in terms of stories and character development. I finished Season 1 a few weeks ago as I was never able to watch the series on TV.

    1. You are in for a treat with Season 3 (ie: Justice League Unlimited Season 1). Until Young Justice and Korra this last year, that season of JLU was my favorite animated season in history. Let me know what you think.

  2. Did they stop airing Season 2? My DVR stopped recording in June.

    1. Season 2 started the week after Season 1 ended and they ran 7 episodes. The rest of Season 2 is airing sometime this month.

    2. And sorry for the delay. I responded right after you posted but it was from my phone and apparently didn't go through.

  3. Can't wait to find Season One and watch it all in one night. Nice review good sir!

    1. Thanks! Let me know what you think.

    2. Did you get the chance to catch up? The second half of season 2 is airing now.

  4. I just looked up this series today, though I have heard about it in the past at some point. Great review, I'll definitely watch it when I get a chance, ASAP.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Aaron.

      Season 2 is turning out excellent as well. Even my wife, who's enjoyed the recent surge of excellent comic-based movies but is in no way a comics aficionado, loves YJ. She prefers to watch it when I'm around so I can point out the easter eggs, though.

      Let me know what you think.

  5. CN has put YJ on hiatus yet again, and this time after only 3 episodes. Check it out:

  6. And now they've canceled both YJ and Green Lantern, in exchange for Teen Titans Go! ::shakes head::