YOUNG JUSTICE stands as one of DC’s biggest successes over the last decade. The animated show about the young heroes of the DCU aired for only two seasons but became a hit with fans and critics. After eight years, DC is returning to the series with the latest season: “Outsiders.”

I won’t be watching it.

Yes, I’m one of the few that doesn’t have a soft spot for the show. I don’t actively hate it, but I do think it’s overrated, and I believe it has serious problems. Fans of the show can enjoy it; I’m not trying to ruin the show, just show that it did have flaws. I do think there are good things in the series. Yet, you can’t fairly judge something without acknowledging its problems. So let’s look into YOUNG JUSTICE and see if there might be more for fans to consider.

It Doesn’t Honor Its Namesake

YOUNG JUSTICE takes its name from the 1990’s comic book. Many characters became part of the TV show (Robin, Superboy, Impulse, Wonder Girl). Yet, the series wasn’t an adaptation of the comics, but more of a serious take on teen superheroes. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, and elements like the Super-Cycle still made it in (as well as an episode featuring Secret, a founding member of the comics team), but it’s misleading to fans. To be fair, animated adaptations aren’t expected to be completely faithful to their source material (the 2000’s TEEN TITANS cartoon mixed TEEN TITANS stories with a spirit more in tune with the YOUNG JUSTICE books). Yet, fans of the original comics (like me) feel as if they’ve been lied to when the creators only seem to care about the name.

YOUNG JUSTICE was the first comic I became attached to. The book could be serious at times, but it had light-hearted humor. The team fought Klarion the Witch Boy, Rip Roar, and Mr. Mxyzptlk but they also showed Slobo how to date. It was a perfect read for a younger audience, so it was awkward seeing the more grim direction the show went in. Again, there’s nothing wrong with a more serious tone, but there is something wrong with false advertising. It promises fans one type of story, and then abandons the original humor and even changes some characters to fit a more sober tone (i.e. Superboy went from being a relatively normal teen to a dark, angry loner). The show lost what made its source material work, and I became more interested in the TEEN TITANS cartoon because of this.

READ: Speaking of the Teen Titans, want to know how they and X-Men diversify comics in the 80’s? Find out here!

The Artwork is ‘Cool’… and that’s it.

Both the comics and the TV show contained strong artwork and a memorable style. Todd Nauck and Larry Stucker gave the book a unique look that echoed the series’ mixture of humor, heroics, and light drama. The show, however… wasn’t as dynamic. The art is impressive and it does echo the tone of the show. Yet, it lacks any major punch as a result. To compare, this is the cover to YOUNG JUSTICE #6 (reused for their first collected edition).

YOUNG JUSTICE
Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Now, here’s a promo pic from the show.

YOUNG JUSTICE
Courtesy of DC Comics

The show’s art is solid, but it lacks the ‘pop’ that the comics had. The character models feel generic, and there were few, if any, artistic surprises throughout two seasons. The rigid character models resulted in awkward movement, which limited the fight sequences. Also, YOUNG JUSTICE’s style never evolved as the show went on, à la Bruce Timm’s work on the DCAU. It might look cool for TV, but there was little room for anything else.

The Show Portrays the Justice League Horribly

Teen superheroes need mentors, and the DCU offers no better than the Justice League. YOUNG JUSTICE the show, however, portrayed its mentors less than admirably. The Justice League alternated between being condescending know-it-alls to complete idiots throughout the show’s run. The first episodes show the young heroes ‘graduating’ to where they get access to Justice League property. Said property happens to be the library of the Hall of Justice… which in this world is a tourist attraction for civilians. Speedy chews the League out for placating them with a meaningless ‘promotion,’ and it’s hard to disagree with him.

The League hid their true HQ (the WatchTower) from their pupils, and only let them work together when the teens discovered the true nature of Cadmus. The group was then only allowed to go on League-approved missions. The adult vs. teen dynamic made sense, but it was odd to see beloved DC heroes acting this way (including Superman refusing to acknowledge Superboy until the end of the first season).

The second season left this theme behind, but then the League’s incompetence bit them yet again. They were victims of mind control during the finale of Season 1 and several members were missing in space for sixteen hours. Season 2 picked up five years later, and the League still had no idea what they’d done. Eventually, the League learned they had attacked an alien planet. This made them look like morons because they had multiple Green Lanterns on the team, who apparently never asked any other Lanterns or even the Guardians about the incident. The greatest superheroes on Earth failed to use their most basic investigative tools. Somehow a team of space cops, super-geniuses, sorcerers, and the world’s greatest detective didn’t learn anything about what happened in five years time?

READ: Is a third season of YOUNG JUSTICE really necessary? Find out here!

The Team’s Mission Makes No Sense

In the show, YOUNG JUSTICE formed to do the missions the Justice League was unable to do because of the League’s renown. This seems like a good idea, but there is a mess of problems. The League tells the team members they’re not ready for the Justice League. Yet, apparently they’re totally ready to do the superhero equivalent of black ops work?

YOUNG JUSTICE
They dress in black in almost every episode.

The League looked like they were either giving the sidekicks work to keep them busy or simply handing off jobs they don’t want to do. I also question if giving teenagers covert missions was really safer than bringing them on for JLA missions. Fighting space monsters would obviously be extremely dangerous, but at least their mentors would be able to keep an eye on their pupils. Yet somehow being left alone in a hostile foreign country or fighting a cabal of the world’s vilest villains by themselves is totally fine. The team works fine as a ‘junior’ Justice League (though they should never be called that, ever), dealing with smaller problems à la the Defenders. Connecting them to the Justice League like this ruins their independence.

READ: Speaking of THE DEFENDERS, their first season shows how to do a smaller team right!

The Second Season Destroyed YOUNG JUSTICE’s Small-Team Dynamic

One thing I liked about the show was its team building. The characters came across as unique, and seeing them work together was great for defining their dynamics. I’m also a fan of smaller teams (TEEN TITANS comes to mind) because it allows the characters to stand out and develop more. The group did add a few more members as Season 1 went on (Zatanna, and then Rocket), but the additions seemed natural and added to the overall dynamic.

Then Season 2 happened.

In fairness, this was not the show’s fault. Cartoon Network ended the show after its contractually obligated episodes aired because they didn’t sell enough toys. It’s a terrible reason to end any show, and I sympathize with the creators. Unfortunately, it led to a second season where they attempted to cram in everything they had intended for the show. The story jumped ahead five years, which replaced character development with exposition, to deal with the new characters. The team building disappeared under a host of new characters. Familiar faces suddenly changed; the show was now about learning what happened to them, instead of actually watching them grow.

That was when I gave up on the show. The latest season promises a smaller team, but returning to that format will be hard, if not impossible, with so many characters already in the show. In addition, I found that the 2000’s TEEN TITANS cartoon, as mentioned previously, delivered more of the YOUNG JUSTICE spirit than its own show did, so why go back to a show that just honored a name?

Final Thoughts

My point in writing this was not to ruin the show for fans. There are good things in YOUNG JUSTICE, and if you enjoy it then good for you. Yet, you should always accept flaws as well as strengths. YOUNG JUSTICE deserves to be judged objectively. Fans clearly loved the show enough to bring it back after nearly a decade. They should also love it enough to make it do better this time.

4 Comments

  1. synthoid zeta

    September 24, 2017 at 2:31 pm

    I think the article was well written. I got similar (bad) feelings looking at so many characters in season 2 as I did when I first looked at Justice League: Unlimited after the first couple of seasons. I also agree about the League characters seeming a little condescending, but if the intention was to allow the audience to relate to the young superheroes while they tried to win the approval of their seniors and elders, then I suppose it was somewhat necessary.

    Dark and serious tones are considered “cool,” and the degree in YJ is much better than that of the new-52 DCUA Original movies where the characters are much more corrupted than what I’ve been used to, especially the female characters.

    Reply

  2. Eric Nierstedt

    September 20, 2017 at 9:45 am

    Jack, I’m very sorry you felt so strongly about this piece. My purpose in writing it was not to disparage the new season (since as you’ve stated, I haven’t seen it yet), but to explain how the approach of previous seasons caused me to lose interest in the series as a whole. Everyone is entitled to their opinon, and I have no qualms with fans of the show (as I mentioned, there are good things in it). My purpose was to allow people to see the negative aspects and come away with a more objective opinion concerning Young Justice. I am sorry if that did not across in my writing.

    Reply

    • Lee Sharp

      July 29, 2018 at 1:50 pm

      Yo Eric, nicely written dude 😉 Got to admit, I’m not a big fan of YJ cartoon, main reason for me is I could have loved this show as long as Wally west wasn’t friggin’ 15?!? What’s the point? I think Wally’s great as The Flash but he hasn’t been Kid-Flash since the Titans… how hard would it of been to put Impulse in there instead? Nobody would of cared that didn’t read the Young Justice run so it was a win-win! Heck, could of thrown in Wonder Girl too later on? Aqualad and Miss Martian wtf?!? Anyways, a few changes of the characters this would of been awesome, all it is is some kinda Elseworlds throw away series… may watch the first ep of season 3 of YJ but probably no more… more interested in Swamp Thing, Titans and this Star Girl show as long as WB don’t frick them up too lol.

      Reply

  3. Jack

    September 20, 2017 at 2:19 am

    Don’t you think it’s a little irresponsible to weigh in before you’ve even seen the series? For example, if someone offered a criticism of one of your articles by reading only the headline, is that a fair way to judgYou your work?
    I’m more surprised/disappointed Comicsverse would run any article where the reviewer hasn’t even watched or read the material? Isn’t that unethical, I mean, if it isn’t, it’s certainly a bad business model.
    Also, and this is just a pet peeve, but comic book art isn’t animation. It’s never been animation, they’re separate mediums. It’s a ridiculous argument to say this Disney cartoon doesn’t look like these 12 Rembrandt paintings. Is it a bummer? Sure, Is it a fair criticism? Well, can I hold you accountable because I don’t like the font your article was written in?
    I won’t be reading anymore Eric Nierstedt articles. I don’t have a soft spot for them and I think they’re overrated. Also poorly written.

    Reply

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