In case you forgot, YOUNG JUSTICE was an animated series that first aired in 2010. It was created by Brandon Viettie and Greg Weisman for Cartoon Network and spans 2 seasons, with a 3rd currently in production. The show follows the lives of a team of teenage superheroes and sidekicks who are the counterpart to the adult Justice League. The original team consists of Robin, Aqualad, Superboy, Miss Martian, and Artemis. While the boys on the show provide much comic relief, it is the female characters I would like to focus on.

At the current time, when many cartoons’ female characters only fit into one specific stereotype box, YOUNG JUSTICE provides us with two female characters who are not only protagonists, but diverse and complex ones. When it comes to how the media portrays female characters, that almost sounds too good to be true.

Miss Martian 

Known as Megan Morse to humans, M’gann M’orzz  is the niece of the legendary Martian Manhunter. She has telepathy, mind-control, telekinesis, flight, limited shape-shifting, and the ability to become intangible. All these powers make her sound like an incredibly intimidating fighter, but she has more layers than just aggression and strength.

First and foremost, M’gann is just a teenage girl looking to fit in. Like most people at that age, she is very naive and often goes out of her way to please other people in order to get them to like her. It’s what makes her such a relatable character for the audience. Viewers of any age can relate to wanting to fit in, because everyone has experienced that at some point in their life, either with family, friends, or co-workers. It’s always nice to be part of a group.

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However, she does not give up the traits that make her who she is in order to take part in the team. Instead, she sticks to following her own morals. Sure, she is willing to bake cookies and cook meals for the gang, but that doesn’t mean she blindly goes along with all their harebrained schemes. In this way, she is able to gain the respect of her peers.

In Season 1’s “Failsafe,” M’gann accidentally uses her powers to warp the team’s subconscious into believing their training session is real. This spirals into chaos until Martian Manhunter gets them out. As fits with her nature, M’gann takes responsibility and blames herself. Rather than try to forget about what happened like the rest of the team, M’gann knows the healthy thing to do is accept it. She refuses to listen to the team and sticks to her own belief that she needs atone for her mistakes and train harder. In the following episode, “Disorder,” we learn that the rest of the team doesn’t blame her, but instead respect her for admitting her faults. They, themselves, are inspired to also train harder in order for them all to be a better team.

Another likable trait of M’gann’s is that she always tries to have a positive attitude. She believes in the missions the Justice League gives them, even though they are not as important or life-changing as the other young heroes wish them to be. Her faith that working together can solve anything is what allows her to be the mediator of the group. This is refreshing, since many cartoons often portray a female character as a point of contention between two male characters rather than a peacemaker. There are times where it seems she’d be part of a love-triangle, but that never comes into fruition fortunately.

READ: Check out Miss Martian on The CW’s SUPERGIRL!

It’s her level-headedness that keeps the team focused more often than not. During missions, it’s her telepathy that links all their minds together so that they can communicate easily. It seems to be symbolic of her leadership within the group itself. She’s definitely a leader in that aspect and someone viewers, whether they be male or female, can look up to.

Artemis

Artemis Crock, who assumes the identity of Artemis, and later Tigress, has a fundamentally different personality than M’gann. This has a lot to do with the differences in their childhoods. M’gann spent most of hers trying to learn how to be human, which mostly consisted of watching TV shows. Artemis’ childhood was, more often than not, a trial by fire.

Her parents were both criminals — her mother went by the moniker Huntress and her father is the League of Shadows assassin Sportsmaster. Unfortunately, their relationship was never stable; they balanced their criminal lives with raising their kids. When Artemis was a child, her mother was injured and became a paraplegic. During Huntress’ 7-year stint in prison, her husband refuses to give up his life of crime, so she takes Artemis and leaves. This has Artemis split between being the villain her father is grooming her to be and being the good daughter her mother hopes and wants. Add in the fact that her older sister Jade is a criminal-for-hire named Cheshire, and we can see how her loyalties are torn.

A master archer, Artemis is scouted by Batman and Green Arrow to become a member of the team. In return, she gets to attend Gotham Academy for free and have the cover of being Green Arrow’s niece. However, she doesn’t exactly try to endear herself to the group like M’gann does. After years of being trained by a notorious villain, Artemis doesn’t really understand the meaning of true friendship when she first starts. However, this doesn’t stop her from looking out for her team.

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This teaches the audience the valuable lesson of commitment. Artemis doesn’t understand that friends support each other. Instead, she’s suspicious of their intentions and every move, but that doesn’t mean she will let them get hurt. They’re her team, after all; she may not like them, but she is committed to their cause and their mission. She believes in helping people and that type of loyalty is one to strive for.

Her snark is another admirable quality. Where M’gann is primarily focused on “positive vibes” and happy-go-lucky attitude, Artemis is the realist. She’s clinical about how she handles their missions and doesn’t believe in sugarcoating her thoughts on situations and people. Her unapologetic way of saying what she means and meaning what she says is admirable. This brevity and bluntness takes a certain amount of bravery and confidence to be able to pull off.

You may think this makes her fit into the category of “broody tom boy,” but much like M’gann, Artemis transcends this stereotype. She’s also depicted as a regular girl who worries about what people think of her. The fact that she can be both incredibly confident about her skills and incredibly uncomfortable when it comes to her emotions makes her an endearing character. No matter how much she acts like an adult, she’s still just a teenager.

For example, in Season 1’s “Infiltrator,” Artemis gets the chance to prove herself to the team by apprehending the criminal Cheshire. However, we learn that Cheshire is actually Artemis’ sister Jade. Jade then blackmails Artemis into letting her go by threatening to reveal to the team that Artemis is actually the daughter of villains. While Artemis is confident in her skills as an archer and a hero, she still yearns for the approval and acceptance of her teammates. Like any teenager, she wants to fit in. She ultimately lets Jade go, her insecurities trumping her need for justice.

READ: With Season 3 in production, catch up with YOUNG JUSTICE on Netflix!

Team Relationships

As mentioned before, it’s often that we find female characters discussed mostly in context to their male counterparts — they are love interests that cause male rivalry, damsels in distress, or femme fatales that try to trick the hero. But YOUNG JUSTICE presents its leading ladies differently.

This isn’t to say that there are no romantic relationships for M’gann and Artemis. But each of these relationships are based on genuine friendships. Their relationships with their male teammates are never taken for granted. The writers never lessen the female characters just to drive the plot of the male protagonists’ storylines. Each female character also gets her own episode arc instead of having to play sidekick to the males.

  1. Robin/Dick Grayson

Dick has always respected both M’gann and Artemis as fellow team members with good ideas. As the unofficial leader of the team, he values their brains and skills. With M’gann, Dick looks up to her as a surrogate older sister. She always makes sure he’s well-fed and safe, even though he’s been a sidekick longer than she has. In return, he treats her as an equal, despite how naive other members of the team think she is.

However, he has always had a special relationship with Artemis, as they are both students at Gotham Academy and wards of Justice League veterans. He understands the secrets that Artemis keeps to protect herself, because he too has had to keep his real identity a secret. He’s also one of the few people who knows that Artemis is alive when she fakes her death. During her subsequent time undercover, he reveals how much he misses her presence by looking at a picture he snapped of them at school.

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His unwavering trust in them is both flattering and adorable as he straddles the line of being their boss and their psuedo-little brother.

  1. Kid Flash/ Wally West

Wally is absolutely smitten with M’gann at first, and spends most of Season 1 blatantly flirting with her. However, she’s completely oblivious, and the writers never made Wally push her or act frustrated towards her as a consequence. When she eventually pursues a relationship with Superboy, Wally is mad at him, rather than M’gann. I like that the writers never made it seem like his anger was her fault. Instead, the male character’s foolish actions are his own.

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Wally’s relationship with Artemis is completely different because they dislike each other at first. Wally, as fitting with his character, is irrationally angry with Artemis for replacing his friend Red Arrow on the team. His attitude is returned in full by Artemis, who refuses to waste time dealing with “a child.” From here, we fall into what becomes a love/hate relationship. It’s  cliché, but the writers keep the relationship interesting by the couple’s ever-changing power dynamic as they both further develop into adults. Wally becomes more serious about their work and Artemis learns how to open up to others and have fun. These are things they weren’t able to do without having the other support them.

I think this video does a good job at explaining their past, present, and future relationship.

  1. Aqualad/Kaldur’ahm

Like with Dick, Kaldur’s relationship with M’gann and Artemis is firmly based in his respect. However, unlike Dick, Kaldur is much more willing to talk about the emotional impacts of missions with them and be around when they need a listening ear. Where Dick and Superboy are concerned with actions, Kaldur is concerned with feelings.

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A master at reading people, the ladies can never hide how they truly feel from him and see him as a confidant. When she accidentally hurts him, M’gann puts herself in danger in order to stay and take care of him. She delves into his mind and helps him heal from the inside out. She also forgives him for keeping secrets and pretending to go rogue in the first place. And when it came to faking her death, there was no one Artemis trusted more than Kaldur to carry out the deed. Not only did he skillfully use his powers to avoid actually killing her, but also kept her safe during their subsequent undercover work with Black Manta.

  1. Superboy/Conner Kent

From the moment he became a member of the team, M’gann was interested in Superboy. Much like how Wally goes out of his way to spend time with her, she does whatever she can to spend time with Conner. Also like Wally, she respects his wishes when it comes to their relationship. He is often confused by how relationships work and needs space, which she always gives. When he breaks up with her, we don’t see the stereotype of her falling apart without him. Instead the writers give us a female character who grieves and then moves on with her life, eventually going out with Lagoon Boy, one of the newer team members. She accepts that Superboy doesn’t want to be in a relationship with someone who grows old, while he never ages. She’s sad, but decides to empathize with him rather than cause them more grief.

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Artemis and Conner, however, get along with each other for numerous reasons. And none of those reasons have to do with romance. They both dislike their fathers, try to avoid emotions and feelings, dislike useless talking, and enjoy the physical aspects of their missions. They are the stereotypical “bros,” which also breaks gender norms we see in a lot of cartoons today.

Their Friendship

All these qualities and team dynamics add to the greatness of M’gann and Artemis as complex female characters that break stereotypes and prove themselves as true heroes and role models. However, it is their relationship with each other that shows young girls and women what “girl power” is really about.

READ: YOUNG JUSTICE is more than just a cartoon for kids!

With personalities as different as yin and yang, one would think they’d hate each other, but that’s not the case. The two have their fights like any friends do, but you can also tell that they really admire each other for both their skills and personalities.

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For example, M’gann wishes she was as confident about her powers as Artemis is about her archery. Meanwhile, Artemis admires the way M’gann does not shy away from showing her feelings; instead she sees it as M’gann being brave. Another major aspect to point out is how they are never jealous of each other. Artemis could have been angry with how M’gann was the object of Wally’s affection for so long and M’gann could’ve been jealous with Artemis’ “bro” time with Conner, yet neither are. There is no cattiness between the two of them. Instead, both handle the situations maturely.

Their friendship is also put to the test with Artemis’ fake death and Aqualad’s undercover mission. M’gann could have ended her friendship with Artemis and no one would blame her. After all, she had to go through the emotional event of her best friend’s supposed murder, but instead of choosing to be angry, M’gann chooses to put that aside and be happy. She loves Artemis and she knows that everything had to happen the way it did for the mission to work. They’re two girls ecstatic to finally be back together.

In the end, that’s what it comes down to — the writers’ accurate presentations of two teenage female characters. Their differences allow for a larger audience to relate to the show because between the two of them, a viewer can find that they share at least one personality trait with the character they’re watching. Their diversity is liberating, not just in the comic book world, but in the real world as well. Female and male viewers alike can learn a lot about friendship and growing up from M’gann and Artemis. However, other TV and comic book writers can learn from this lesson as well. On YOUNG JUSTICE, these two women lead the way for more diverse, stereotype-breaking female characters. They show up as Season 1 progresses, take over in Season 2, and they all play vital roles in the plot. If more writers create characters as strong and unique as them, viewership can really increase. After seeing the hype for WONDER WOMAN and CAPTAIN MARVEL, the industry should take note. Strong female characters are a must.

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