I was about 14 when YOUNG JUSTICE debuted, making me roughly the same age as its lead characters. Naturally, I identified with Robin, Kid Flash, and Aqualad’s struggle to become independent heroes outside of their mentors’ shadow. With the addition of Superboy, Miss Martian, and Artemis, they became a team whose personal conflicts proved just as enthralling as the central storyline. And BOY was YOUNG JUSTICE ambitious.

Even by the standards of JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED, YOUNG JUSTICE’ told a ridiculously dense narrative. Each episode revealed new details on what the Light- YJ’s evil shadow organization- had planned for our heroes and their global ambition. But as the seasons unfolded, these characters grew and adapted to the scenarios life (and supervillains) threw at them. Then in Season 2, the show time jumped five years into the future.

YOUNG JUSTICE
The Original Team, Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation

Like a lot of fans, this decision surprised me. Despite keeping the core characters, director Greg Weisman matured them off-screen and sent them on different paths. A whole new cast of heroes joined the story and they too had their own arcs. The sidekicks might have become leaders and grown adults, but the post-time jump conflict still tested them in ways that felt natural with this era of their lives.

Now, here we are five years after the show’s original cancelation with YOUNG JUSTICE: OUTSIDERS. No longer bound by Cartoon Network’s restrictions, this third season invokes a tone and storyline more mature than what fans previously conceived. In many respects, it’s a phenomenal example of a show truly growing up with its audience.

A League Divided

YOUNG JUSTICE: OUTSIDERS begins by conveniently picking up where the last finale left off. In the wake of Kid Flash’s death following the thwarted Reach invasion, Nightwing steps down as the team leader. He hands the position over to Aqualad and, confident the team is in good hands, exists the Watchtower.

Fast forward two years later, and it’s apparent the League is facing something of a moral crisis. In addition to the intergalactic conflict with Darkseid, a meta-human trafficking ring has expanded throughout Earth’s criminal underground. Humans of all ages are forcibly having their meta-gene activated, turning them into unwitting weapons for global and galactic causes. Frustratingly, however, the League cannot take further action due to U.N. Secretary-General Lex Luthor’s bureaucratic tactics.

YOUNG JUSTICE
Not the League’s Best Day, Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment

With the system against them Batman, Green Arrow and various League members resign in order to combat the problem vigilante-style. Meanwhile, a secondary investigation by Nightwing and Oracle tracks down a possible trafficking ring to the kingdom of Markovia. Thus, Nightwing seeks the aid of Superboy, Artemis and Jefferson Pierce (i.e. Black Lightning), who resigned from the League over his guilt for mistakenly killing a human meta.

The show wastes no time detailing how the stakes have changed for YOUNG JUSTICE’s characters, which feel more organic compared to Season 2. Things are bigger than the League can handle and, thanks to the Light’s intervention, they can no longer support the system as it stands. With a number of core heroes parting ways, it’s clear this ideological division will hinder the League’s effectiveness.

YOUNG JUSTICE — Reuniting the Team

Meanwhile, the core YJ members have moved on with their lives. Nightwing is operating with his partner Oracle, both in the field and in a relationship. Kaldur is now the new Aquaman and a co-leader of the Justice League. Artemis is raising her sister’s child with the assistance of Will Harper and going under the codename Tigress. And Superboy and M’Gann are engaged, with Connor particularly acting calmer than his early “angry” years.

YOUNG JUSTICE
Bowhunters Security on Patrol, Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation

My favorite update of the bunch involved Will, formally Red Arrow, who not only embraced his status as a father, but also runs a private security company. Will’s come a long way from the resentful days of Season 1 and the Season 2 moping period after learning his identity as a Roy Harper clone. Now, he seems at peace working with the original Roy (i.e. Arsenal) and his clone “sibling” Jim (Guardian).

Not every development is a happy one, however. Episode 4 tragically reveals that Zatanna’s father remains the physical host of Doctor Fate. Despite putting on the helmet in Season 1, Nabu- the Fate helmet spirit- keeps Zatarra under his control rather than let someone else become his vessel. They are granted a brief hour per year to reunite with one another, but its brevity is unnecessarily cruel to the viewer. After all, we witnessed the events that produced this conundrum when the show first aired.

There’s a subtle maturity to these new characterizations that highlight the team’s transition into adulthood. So subtle, in fact, that the show never relies on flashbacks to detail how they reached these points in their lives. Weisman simply trusts the viewer to infer these details for ourselves.

New Recruits

There’s a scene that will likely receive a chuckle from many YOUNG JUSTICE fans. After confronting new recruits Geo-Force, Halo, and Forager for disobeying his orders, Nightwing reprimands them with the line “You will not be doing this again.” Coincidentally, Batman said to him in the series’ pilot.

YOUNG JUSTICE
One Last Mission, Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation

This further establishes the old team as not just adults, but also mentors like the Justice League. They have a new team to train, consisting of members directly linked to the ongoing meta-human crisis. And one can’t help but notice traces of the team’s adolescent personas in these new characters.

Two of these heroes, Geo-Force and Halo, are both products of meta-gene experimentation, but hail from different backgrounds. One is Prince Brion Markov of Markovia, forced into exile by the trafficking operation that killed his parents and kidnapped his sister. Halo, by comparison, is a refugee killed by said operation and revived with the spirit of a Mother Box inhabiting her body.

The final recruit, Forager, is a bug from New Genesis who, like Halo/Violet and Brion, finds himself an exile. There’s an alien childlikeness to him that balances out the human’s personal angst and makes him incredibly likable. The fact that he’s voiced by Kid Flash actor Jason Spisak is also a nice way to retain Wally West’s spirit.

YOUNG JUSTICE
Meet the Outsiders, Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation

These character parallels contribute to OUTSIDERS’ thematic passing of the hero torch. Halo resembles Miss Martian’s former meek awkwardness while Brion’s constant anger reminds Superboy of his younger self. But more importantly, they’ve found companionship in one another due to their newfound “outsiders” status. Or, as Forager put it, they’re a new hive.

Adult Content

Like BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, YOUNG JUSTICE boldly tackled mature topics in its storylines. These included subjects like toxic family conditions, PTSD and personal sacrifice, all of which gave the story genuine stakes and consequences. With YOUNG JUSTICE: OUTSIDERS, however, the show notes that its previous audience has grown up, leading to an evolution of the mature content. This time it’s a lot darker and a LOT more adult.

YOUNG JUSTICE
Actual Blood in a Superhero Cartoon, Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation

Things HAPPEN here that could never fly past network television censors. The season premiere kills two characters and excessively displays their bloody bedsheets in full view of the audience. If not outright dead, characters receive bloody wounds, severed limbs or impaled by harpoons in battle. A lot of these incidents happen to Halo, namely so OUTSIDERS can showcase her healing aura powers. Even sex, not just kissing, but the implicit reference to sex in bed — is depicted as a part of the character’s adult lives.

The Narrative Of YOUNG JUSTICE: OUTSIDERS

But even as a narrative, YOUNG JUSTICE: OUTSIDERS pushes the limit in terms of dark content. Kids are kidnapped, forcibly transformed and sold without any concern for their well-being, usually resulting in death. Let me repeat that: kids DIE on this season frequently, something that you rarely see in Western animation programs. This creates a literal humanitarian crisis whose ramifications split the League on how to proceed as an organization.

YOUNG JUSTICE
Guess Who Leaves the Team, Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation

In other words, OUTSIDERS takes previous groups dynamics and expands upon them with more socio-political vigor. Lives are in danger and a grander plan is at work, all while personal divisions hinder the senior DC heroes’ work. Ironically, the YJ team’s personal connections allow them to sidestep the League’s squabbling and actively confront this global problem head-on.

YOUNG JUSTICE — Worth the Wait

Like many fans, I hated the cancelation of YOUNG JUSTICE in 2013, especially given Cartoon Network’s flimsy rationale behind that decision. So I’m glad to say that six years of waiting was worth it for OUTSIDERS’ content. But even more so, this show’s continuous maturity reflects the growth of its now-adult audience. I mean, I’m about the same age as these formally teen non-sidekicks.

YOUNG JUSTICE
A New Team of Heroes, Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation

YOUNG JUSTICE has always been about relationships and OUTSIDERS takes them in a logically adult direction. The sidekicks are heroes, the older heroes are divided, and a new generation of heroes are on the rise. Also, there’s an ensemble of side characters, multiple story threads that ask countless questions and the looming threat of Darkseid on the horizon. Glad some things never change YOUNG JUSTICE: OUTSIDERS. God, I missed this show.

3 Comments

  1. […] How YOUNG JUSTICE: OUTSIDERS Matured With Fans […]

    Reply

  2. Jarrod Peeples

    Jarrod Peeples

    January 29, 2019 at 1:52 am

    Devon Bertrand

    Reply

  3. Fabio Castelblanco

    Fabio Castelblanco

    January 28, 2019 at 11:01 pm

    Couldn’t agree more! I really hope they get picked up for a 4th season!
    Great article Ben!

    Reply

Show ComicsVerse some Love! Leave a Reply!