When it comes to superhero live action movies, Marvel clearly has an edge. But when it comes to animation, DC is the boss. And of all his many entries, Young Justice is arguably the best DC animated series. I bet you can̵
You may be mistaken at first glance Young Justice for someone else Teen Titans, but that would be a mistake. Unlike the Teen Titans show from 2003 (and its quasi-spin-off Teen Titans Go), Young Justice takes itself very seriously. While you’ll find humor and laughter, the show focuses heavily on plot twists and drama. Teen Titans is at its most severe Young Justice at least seriously.
One thing you should know when you go in is that Young Justice is not set in the regular DC universe. That gives it the freedom to discover new stories and introduce new characters that we have not seen before. In the beginning, the show focuses on a pair of superhero sidekicks, Robin (voiced by Jessie McCartney), Aqualad (voiced by Khary Payton), Kid Flash (voiced by Jason Spisak), and Superboy (voiced by Nolan North). Soon after, Miss Martian (Danica McKellar) and Artemis (Stephanie Lemelin) join them.
In this universe, the Justice League has been fully established and accepted by society. Batman is not a myth; everyone knows he is real, just like Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow and others. They are not new to their careers; they are experienced, mature and train others to follow in their footsteps.
That’s one of the nicest parts of it Young Justice: You already know the origin story of Batman and Superman. You don’t have to suffer by looking and still tell about that famous story. In fact, for the most part, the Justice League won’t be there. After all, it’s called Young Justice.
A secret team to break the rules
Since the Justice League is a fully established and public-facing organization, it has to do with publicity, laws and regulations. Superheroes can’t just storm into companies or other countries without facing the consequences, no matter how good it feels. They need permission; they need public acceptance.
That’s where “The Team” comes in, which comes close to a name as the group gets sidekicks. They carry out secret secret missions, to places that famous superheroes cannot. Often times they are on the verge of the outlaws themselves, and the wrong move can cause a national incident or even start a war. If the Justice League is the military, the team is the CIA.
When the series begins, Batman, Green Arrow, Flash and Aquaman take their respective sidekicks (Robin, Speedy, Kid Flash and Aqualad) through the Justice Hall for the first time. It is a public event designed to enhance their standing in the eyes of the citizens. But the hall they’re being taken to is fake, and Speedy knows it.
The real Justice League headquarters is a secret base in space that the world knows nothing about (so much about those rules). The Justice Hall is a PR front, and by taking the sidekicks there and not telling them the truth, the superheroes have shown that they don’t trust their protégés. Speedy (voiced by Crispin Freeman) walks off to hit the road alone.
Shortly after, the three remaining sidekicks discover and free Superboy, a Superman clone meant to take his place. Superboy has anger issues, a lot of them. And surprisingly only half of Superman’s powers. Inspired by what they have achieved on their own, the group of sidekicks decide to continue. The Justice League agrees, especially to keep an eye on the young heroes and have some control. And the bonus of a covert team that can go places where someone wearing a shiny red cape can’t.
Their own worst enemy
It’s not a superhero story without a villain, right? And a single villain wouldn’t be too much trouble for a team of superheroes to defeat, even a team of sidekick teens. So of course, Young Justice introduces a whole host of bad guys. In this series, the biggest threat comes from a shadowy group known as The Light (see what I did there?). The Light prefers to hide behind the scenes and manipulate events for an unknown purpose.
At first, The Team is completely oblivious to The Light, and in some cases it accidentally advances its agenda. This is not just a super villain society; it is an intelligent group that is willing to put aside ego to win the greater war, even if it means losing a single battle. In many ways, The Light is more dangerous than any supervillain group seen in similar shows because The Light doesn’t suffer from infighting and uncontrolled egos.
But the team’s other worst enemy is itself. This is a group of teenagers, some with super powers, full of self-doubt, ego, and a lack of patience and maturity. Superboy struggles with the realization that he is a clone, not accepted by Superman, and lacks some of the powers he should have. His uncontrollable anger almost alone decimates The Team.
Raised by Batman, Robin is too confident and too young to realize that he is not mature and wise enough to lead. Kid Flash’s mouth is the only thing faster than his legs, and it gets him in trouble. An interesting invention of the show, Aqualad grapples with the burden of leadership, mainly due to his age. And Miss Martian and Artemis? They give new meaning to the term ‘secret identity’.
Almost every team member withholds some truth about who they are. And those decisions lead to disaster more than once. Combine that with the machinations of The Light, and it goes very badly for The Team. And that’s before they find out there might be a mole on the team that works for The Light.
Cliff hangers that will make you say ‘just one more’
My wife doesn’t like shows with too much drama, too much seriousness. She can’t take it and will eventually want to switch to something lighthearted and fun. She didn’t last five minutes with The mentalist, but she will binge Psych and The Librarians. So that tells me that Young Justice has the perfect balance between humor and seriousness, between cliffhanger and determination.
She’s still asking for one more episode. I’ve already seen all three seasons, but we’re looking through it together for the first time. And we found ourselves staying up later and later trying to fit in another one before bed. The show laughs, but that’s not the point. It’s about watching young people grow up, not just physically but also mentally.
It dares to hurt Robin so much that he keeps admitting, “I don’t want to be Batman when I grow up.” And it will smartly turn the story with Batman around. And reveal that the reason he trained Robin in the first place was precisely to not grow up to be Batman. But it also knows when it’s time to let a full grown Shazam pretend to be the little kid he really is in.
It does the same with cliffhangers. You don’t have to ask questions forever without answers, although every new answer brings a new question. And you will be rewarded if you pay attention. If you thought in the first episode, “Wait, is it a coincidence that three different ice cream super villains attacked different places on the same day?” you will be rewarded if the show brings it up later.
Young Justice manages all of that with the nimble and quick adaptation of a superhero. And I bet you can’t watch just one. If you’re interested, you can watch all three seasons on HBO Max and buy the series from Amazon.