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Young Justice Was On The Right Track

The final episode of Young Justice has aired. Why Cartoon Network cancelled it is hard to grasp, but the show ended powerfully and left you wanting more.

IsoRod, Published on Aug 31, 2013
In February, Black History Month, I wrote a post about Milestone Comics, and how DC and Marvel Comics had made little progress with female and person of color (PoC) characters. I have to say I was wrong about DC Comics when it comes to a little show called Young Justice, by their parent company Warner Brothers' Animation Studio. Young Justice was a combination of the Teen Titans and Young Justice comics, the team ran covert mission in the vain of "Impossible Mission Force of Mission: Impossible television series" as stated in the Wikipedia article about the show.

Team makeup through the series

The show started out with six members Aqualad, Artemis, Kid Flash, Miss Martian, Robin and Superboy their unit was called The Team. During the first season Zantanna, Red Arrow and Rocket (from Milestone's Icon) joined as new members. By the end of the first season Zantanna, Rocket and Red Arrow would move on to the Justice League.

Season Two took place five years later and had a huge bump up in the roster, with Aqualad, Artemis and Kid Flash leaving The Team. Batgirl, Beastboy, Bumblebee, Blue Beetle, Guardian(Mal Duncan, the clone Jim Harper was the first), Impulse, Lagoona Boy (Aquaman's new protegee), a new Robin (Tim Drake, third person to have the mantle, after Jason Todd's death), Wondergirl and Nightwing, as the leader/trainer of The Team, who was the original Robin. By the end of the show Static joins the The Team, Artemis returns as Tigress to try to deal with the death of Wally West the first Kid Flash, Impulse took on the mantle of Kid Flash in honor of Wally, Aqualad is reinstated as the leader and Nightwing is taking a leave of absence from The Team.

Varied Group of Mentors

From Black Canary to Zatara the was a interesting and varied group mentors/den-mothers (full fledged Justice League members who were assigned to watch over The Team) in the show. Usually the default lead female superhero for DC is Wonder Woman, she is part of "The Big Three", which include Batman and Superman and is one of the best known female superheroes. But using Black Canary was notably a better fit, it also added a new dimension to the character. Black Canary not only served as den-mother, but she was also a counselor for the members of The Team. I looked for a comic book reference where Black Canary had taken a similar role and only found a mention of her looking after Roy Harper while he quit using drugs. So it appears to be a purpose created for her in the series. It was a really cool way to add depth to a character usually known for her martial arts skills and metahuman ability the "Canary Cry".

Black Canary having sessions with all of the teens rescued from The Reach secret base.

Using Justice Leaguers as den-mothers allowed for characters like Captain Marvel(currently Shazam in the New 52), Red Tornado, and Zatara to get screen time. This was amazingly refreshing and introduces lesser known DC characters into the mainstream. These characters also had very engaging stories that had multiple episodes arcs. Of course Batman, Aquaman and more established characters would also have turns in the role of den-mother, but not as prominent or often as the characters mentioned above.

Large and Diverse Ensemble Cast

The most memorable thing about this show is the fact that so many female characters and characters of different ethnicities were included. This presented a perfect example of what comics and animated show can be, a fantastic way to reach a great number of people and without sacrificing story or being an all white male grouping of heroes. I love DC Comics' "Big Three" but being, a comic book fan and person of color, to see Aqualad, Black Lightning, Blue Beetle, Bumblebee, Icon, Green Lantern John Stewart, Mal Duncan/Guardian, Rocket and Static all in one show in as recurring characters was mind blowing.

To be honest I wasn't the biggest DC Comics fan outside of the Super Friends (Justice League cartoon out in the 70's and 80's) Batman, Batman Beyond and the Superman Animated series. I also read some amazing graphic novels (JLA:Tower of Babel, JLA:League of One and Kingdom Come) lent to me by my friend and site contributor, DC (crazy that those are his initials). When the Justice League of America Cartoon (2001-2004) came out I balked at Green Lantern being black. Where was Hal Jordan? Was this John Stewart just created for this new show? Only later to learn that Stewart was an established DC Comics character for nearly 30 years by the time the show aired. I have come to appreciate the attempt of diversity now that I have two young kids of my own. What this showed me was outside of "The Big Three" there are lot of characters most people have no clue about.

With the wealth of characters that DC Comics has, Young Justice was a show that put their characters on display and also provided much needed diversity many animated shows are lacking. The show started with two female lead characters Miss Martian and Artemis and ended up with at least five, Batgirl, Bumblebee and Wondergirl added to the two previously mentioned. Black Canary, Hawkwoman, Rocket, Wonder Woman and Zantanna were also recurring characters very reminiscent of Justice League Unlimited which also had a huge and diverse cast.

For PoCs the show also came through. I listed nine characters above in this post, but there were three I missed. These characters are teenagers that were experimented on by the alien group, The Reach to activate their latent Meta-Gene (the gene that grants humans superpowers). Static, Virgil Hawkins, was also one of these teens. First up is Tye Longshadow, a Native American male, developed the ability to project an "astral" version of himself which can grow several stories tall. Eduardo "Ed" Dorado Jr., a hispanic male, with the ability to teleport at will. Asami "Sam" Koizumi, a Japanese girl, that has the ability to focus her chi (which covers her in a glowing aura) which she can use project it outward to break through solid rock, to leap at a superhuman level, and to soften landings leaving a trail of concentric circles.

For those who watched the Super Friends Tye is a nod to Apache Chief one of if not the only Native American superhero on a Saturday morning cartoon show. Eduardo is a homage to El Dorado the Hispanic superhero which was also a member of the Super Friends. Asami represents Samurai, who was a Japanese male in the Super Friends cartoon. Looking back on it now the Super Friends had five minority heroes: Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, Cyborg, El Dorado, Rima the Jungle Girl and Samurai. They also had four female characters : Hawkgirl, Jayna of the Wonder Twins, Rima the Jungle Girl and Wonder Woman. Rima was both ethnic and a woman so she is included in both categories. Its pretty amazing that even occurred in the 70's and 80's cartoon show and that the creators, Hana-Barbera, were striving for diversity.

Ended as It was getting good

The final episode had so much happening. All of Earth's heroes Justice League, the Team and Lex Luthor are working to try save the Earth from the Reach's parting gifts. It was a grand finale you got to see the heroes and their protegees kick butt and save the world. Of course all of the story wasn't happy. Wally West took on the mantle of Kid Flash again to help Flash and Impulse destroy the final device that was threatening the world and gave his life in the process. Miss Martian and Superboy helped Icon clear the League members that were on trial for the assault of Rimbor. Finally we see who are all the members of The Light as they are received by Darkside on Apokolips with their newly acquired, weaponized moon-sized satellite, "War World".

And that is how it ends. In comics deaths aren't always honored, but with Kid Flash just fading out of existence, it seems more like he was transported to another world or dimension than was killed. I'm pretty sure Nightwing would be spending his time away from The Team proving just that, as a way of dealing with the grief of losing his friend. Also, Darkside and Vandal Savage that would have been a heck of a dynamic duo of evil to see these heroes cut their teeth against. That was some ending and it leaves you just wanting to see what happens next.

What we're left with

After the show was cancelled Cartoon Network announced Teen Titan's GO!. The show is very similar to the "Justice Friends" cartoon shorts from Dexter's Laboratory, which was more of a sitcom setting for the heroes instead of them fighting villains and going on adventures. I liked the old Teen Titan cartoons on Cartoon Network, which were a bit more campy than Young Justice, but Teen Titan's GO! was very disappointing from a story and art perspective. After nearly three years of Young Justice this felt like a huge step backwards. I wouldn't mind if the show was playing in conjunction with Young Justice but as a replacement it feels wrong.

DC Nation which also plays small episodic clips of DC heroes is also a show that was around during Young Justice's run, these mini clips are funny, experimental and varied artistically. They are presenting a lot of characters we don't usually see much in their own animation pieces like Wonder Woman, Lois Lane, a team consisting of Batgirl, Supergirl and Wondergirl, and even Black Lightning. Its nice to see DC trying things out, it would be even better if some of these ideas could make it to print or get small screen shows of their own.

In closing, I would have loved to see a third season of Young Justice. As bad as mainstream comics can be with handling diversity of characters when it comes to females and PoCs, it seems that the animation studios are doing a much better job. Young Justice was just the latest example of this. If only the animations studios could have more input and fully collaborate with their comic book counterparts maybe some of the great work we are seeing on the small screen could bubble up into the DC Comics mainstream.

TAGS: Comics , Writers , Opinions , Articles , TV , Animation , Series

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