Young Justice: “Independence Day, Parts 1 and 2”
Written By: Greg Weisman
Directed By: Jay Olvia (Part 1), Sam Liu (Part 2)
Originally Aired: November 25, 2010
DVD: Full episodes are available to U.S. viewers on the Cartoon Network website.
Summary: After a disappointing first day in the Hall of Justice, Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad investigate a situation at Cadmus Labs that rapidly spirals out of control.
Notes: I know the blog’s been dormant for most of the year, but I couldn’t resist this, could I? Turns out that my new practice doesn’t leave me as much time for writing that I can’t bill a client for… but with the holidays coming, let’s see how things work out. Expect this to be the most timely entry for this show, however – I at least want to finish off season two of Justice League first, which will give Young Justice some time to find its sea legs.
Arc Notes: This is why I don’t like covering up-to-the-minute stuff – there’s plenty of plot points that I’m sure will be touched upon in later episodes, but are vague for the moment. The most significant was the establishment of the behind-the-scenes antagonists called “The Light.” Also, Speedy walked away from the team in this initial episode, but publicity photos reveal that he’s going to be on the team eventually.
Debuting Characters: It’s my understanding that Aqualad was created for this show, but apparently he’s also spinning out of Brightest Day in some form, albeit with a different origin (I’m not reading the series). Virtually every other character has appeared in animated form at some point.
A couple of characters who were background elements at best in the traditional DCAU had more significant roles here: the Jack Kirby-created Guardian (wearing an outfit more reminiscent of Grant Morrison’s Manhattan Guardian take on the character in Seven Soldiers – high recommendations on that one, by the way) and Dr. Desmond, who was the first Blockbuster. His close resemblance to The Hulk was always pointed out, and he appeared in a few scenes in JLU.
(He should be distinguished from his brother, the second Blockbuster, who was the main antagonist in Chuck Dixon’s run on Nightwing in the 90s.)
Dubbilex is another Kirby creation, but this time from his return to DC in the 1970s. Superboy, Dubbilex, Cadmus and the Guardian were all tied together by the 1990s Superman writing crew around the time of The Death of Superman, which this pilot takes many of its cues from.
Background: Since just about all the characters are familiar, a few words about the name this series has taken up.
Through no real intent on their part, DC wound up creating a “second generation” of sidekicks in the early 1990s. As noted above, the Death of Superman storyline gave the world a new Superboy. A new Robin, Tim Drake, had revived the character in the early 1990s and was the lead of one of DC’s bigger books at the time. And Mark Waid introduced… well, kind of an ‘anti-sidekick’ for Wally West in the form of Impulse, a kid speedster with an attention span that was measured in milliseconds. And in the midst of a mostly forgettable Wonder Woman run, John Byrne gave the world a new Wonder Girl. And in the pages of Impulse’s own title, he ran afoul of another female teen hero named Arrowette, a heroine without a connection to Green Arrow and company but rather a girl struggling under the influence of the DCU version of a crazy stage mom.
The building of new characters to a critical mass did not go unnoticed by DC editorial. Although Young Justice is commonly thought of as a Peter David book, he wasn’t the team’s first writer. Former Spider-Man writer Todd Dezago was called into a JLA meeting by editor Eddie Breganza and presented with a typical Grant Morrison (then in the midst of his legendary JLA run) story concept: that the JLA would be taken out of action and it would be left to the young heroes to save the world. The idea eventually manifested itself as the graphic novel JLA: World Without Grown-Ups. The story, by Dezago with art from Mike McKone and Humberto Ramos, was successful enough to lead to another one-shot, Young Justice: The Secret. When that worked, DC greenlit a regular Young Justice series.
But when it hit newsstands, it wasn’t Dezago writing – he had been replaced by Peter David as a result of an internal conflict. We’ll cover the tumultuous history of Young Justice itself in the next review.
Thoughts on the Episodes:
I always admire when a television show starts off in media res – I don’t believe that a viewer needs to be spoon-fed every detail. DC animated series haven’t really settled on any one approach for their pilots; Baatman TAS and Teen Titans both tossed the viewer into the action without much in the way of background material. On the other hand, Superman, Static Shock and Batman Beyond made their debuts with traditional multi-part origin storylines. Young Justice makes the choice to put the viewer in into the episode headfirst and let them catch up to the story. While it doesn’t really work for the first ten minutes, the fact that the remaining 30 minutes are essentially devoted to an excellent action sequence that, in combination with the high production values, makes this the best pilot in the history of DC Animation.
The first ten minutes bear discussion, because they are an awkward sequence that doesn’t paint the show in the best light. After opening with a series of attacks by various cold-based villains (a plot point that is noted, but not followed up on) to establish the major players, the action transfers to the Hall of Justice. The action inside the hall isn’t very good, though, as it devolves into a clichéd “we’re ready / no you’re not” conversation. It doesn’t really make sense, and it’s made even more painful that most of the points are delivered by a petulant Speedy. His argument at least feeds the viewer some interesting information (the Hall is a front for teleporters to the Watchtower, as in Brad Meltzer’s JLA), but the main point is to take Speedy out of the story. The entire scene is something of a muddle to get through, and even watching it the second time around while writing this review it still wasn’t engrossing. I do give the producers credit for not pulling out the trick of Speedy returning to the team to bail them out at the end; the longer he stays away, the longer tension will build for his eventual return.
Once that scene is out of the way, the meat of the story begins while the remaining sidekicks break into Cadmus. The episode does a good job of holding off on the reveal of what’s going on in Cadmus for a couple of minutes, (although frankly Cadmus has been used as scientific villains for so long in animated form that it’s fairly easy to know what’s coming). The first half builds up to the big reveal of the brainwashed Superboy, whose turn against Cadmus takes up most of the running time of the rest of the story. Superboy is written as much more brutal than normal for someone with the “S”-shield on their chest, with a fighting style so aggressive that the other heroes are forced to call him off at one point. With Superman somewhat unfairly having a reputation as a more passive character, turning his clone into someone with the personality of JL’s Hawkgirl has the potential for interesting storytelling. Superboy’s obviously going to be the “new to the world” character in this version, as well – that seems like a requirement for any teen team story (cf. Starfire from Teen Titans). There’s also obvious something brewing with Superman having difficulty accepting a clone of himself, which will make for some interesting plotlines.
The characters all settle into their roles quite neatly – while, in theory, Aqualad is team leader, Robin drives more of the action. The nature of the villains means that he doesn’t do a lot of direct fighting – even before Blockbuster, most of the creatures are out of his league – but the script finds plenty of opportunities for him to do tech work. Although this is Dick, it’s very much reminiscent of Tim’s role in Young Justice. Kid Flash is, well, Wally West all the way through – humourous, slightly cocky, and as the last scene shows, a skirt-chaser. It’s pretty easy to see him as the predecessor of his Justice League counterpart, which is a nice touch. Aqualad is going to be the ultimate blank slate, a character with no preconceptions, and I suspect that how the show treats him is going to determine how the show does from a characterization standpoint since he’s going to be the one where the writers are ahead of every viewer.
Beyond the high quality of animation, the production design of the Cadmus creatures is excellent – they’re all suitably creepy, while sharing a global design similarity that you’d expect from a legion of clones. What’s really noticeable in comparison to the old DCAU days is just how much better the productions are getting at co-ordinating the action scenes; there’s a kinetic level in this show that’s similar to that of Crisis on Two Earths, with each of the characters having distinctive styles. Kid Flash’s, in particular, turns him into someone who’s rebounding off every surface to make attacks, which is a joy to watch at times.
The voice acting is generally solid, although both Aquaman and Superboy sound a little too old for their ages.
Going forward, I have concern about Batman using a group of teen heroes as the JLA’s black ops unit, but that’s balanced out by another Young Justice tribute of using the JLA’s original cave HQ as their staging areas. And by getting the heroes out of costume right away, it’s obvious that this isn’t going to be another Teen Titans situation where there’s no secret identities in play – a definite improvement.
While I’ve seen better pilots, in terms of superhero animation this was about as good as it gets. Here’s hoping that the solid creative team behind this show (showrunner Greg Weisman working for DC Animation is the equivalent of Brad Bird moving to Pixar) means that it’ll keep getting better; if it does, this will be the DCAU successor we’ve been waiting for since Justice League took its final bow.
Grade: B+. I want to leave a little bit of room in the hopes that this will get even better with time, but this was a great start for the series.
- Your Justice League roster as of episode one, complete with code numbers:
- Superman (01)
- Batman (02)
- Aquaman (06)
- Flash (04)
- Green Arroow (08)
- Wonder Woman (who obviously had minimal design put into her look)
- Black Canary
- Hal Jordan
- Jon Stewart (huh. Thought he’d been completely eliminated from the animated side of things after his removal from CO2E)
- Captain Marvel
- J’onn J’onzz (07)
- Captain Atom
- Hawkman (wearing what looks like a cross between the traditional outfit and the Hawkworld one, which I liked a lot)
- Red Tornado (16)
- On the subject of the code numbers – which were a cute touch – my guess is Wonder Woman’s 03 and Hal is 05.
- Speaking of Hal, it looks like the League has the awkward “double GL” structure from Dwayne McDuffie’s JLA run.
- Hopefully they keep up with the location cards – saves me a lot of work in figuring out which city the action is taking place in.
- Since Zatara’s never really been featured as anything more than a plot device in the comics, my assumption is that he’s going to be knocked off at some point, clearing the way for Zatanna to come into the series. The full team doesn’t really have a magic-based character (Green Lantern sort of serves that role most of the time, at least in terms of visual impact), although another YJ member would breach the usual seven-member limit.
- One goof that I noticed: project Kr started on the 52nd sublevel, but had moved up to higher in the building by the time the team escaped.
- My guess on the true identities of “The Light”? I’ll go off the beaten path (that it’s Luthor and his cronies) and say that the name isn’t a swerve… after all, what’s a teen team that doesn’t fight Doctor Light?
Line of the Episode: “No, Speedy’s Green Arrow’s sidekick!” “Well, that makes no sense.”
(Kid) Flash Line of the Episode: (nice to see that Wally’s going to be the comedic heart of yet another team) “He doesn’t like to be called an it.”
Next Justice League: I swear, I’m going to get drunk enough to be able to sit through “Secret Society” one of these days.
Next Young Justice: Cartoon Network indicates that the series will start airing regularly in January.