The concept of a cartoon featuring Superboy, Martian Manhunter’s niece and Aqua Lad is something that would normally make me want to take all my lovely comics and burn them in my garden in a hope that the gods of nerd would somehow see my sacrifice as enough to smite the unholy that came up with this abomination. But then I sat down and watched Young Justice, a cartoon that is currently showing its second series in America and made me realise something; with the right writers and story, that showcases the universe and the characters, this may just work.
Comics and I have had a turbulant relationship over the years, I have gone through many phases of jumping between besotted like a crazy girlfriend to indifferent but checking in every now and then, again like a crazy girlfriend. DC has had many cracks at the cartoon whip with varying results, lots of people look back fondly on the Batman: The Animated series of the 90’s, and rightly so, the voice casting of Mark Hamil alone makes this a series to watch, but this was a very insular series, it was about Batman and Gotham alone.
In recent years we’ve had Batman: Brave and the Bold, a series which does a brilliant job of bringing in the “outside” characters from the universe like Green Arrow and Blue Beetle, but this series had one flaw, it was a kids show, and whilst there is something to be said that all comics and cartoons are at their base level meant for kids these days the audience is so wide and varied that the creators need to acknowledge this with their content.
With Justice League: Unlimited DC and Cartoon Network hit gold, the series did mainly centre around the Justice League and their rag-tag holier than thou antics but also dedicated episodes and series long story arcs around the lesser characters from the DC roster. Episodes that really stick in mind include a great episode on Booster Gold and his unnoticed heroics; Booster Gold after this one episode became one of my favourite characters in DC, his arc in the highly adventurous 52 series of books did nothing but firm this. The Question, a faceless paranoid conspiracy nut also becomes a lynch pin of a number of episodes when his insane ramblings and theories on the world actually strike true in the discovery of a Superman, in another dimension, killing the president. All in all Justice League: Unlimited was a series that often got it right, but then it came to an end after 5 series.
Since then we’ve had little to nothing of note, that is until Young Justice broke out in late 2010. The series is based around “The sidekicks”: Aqua Lad (sidekick of Aquaman), Robin (Batman), Kid Flash (The Flash), Red Arrow (Green Arrow), Superboy (Superman) and Miss Martian (Martian Manhunter). The series starts with the sidekicks being put on the sideline yet again and not being able to join The Justice League. After deciding enough is enough they go out to seek their own mission and stumble upon a grand conspiracy that ends with them finding Superboy, a clone of Superman created by a secret organisation. When the Justice League discover this they are furious but accept that the sidekicks are growing up. Rather than let them join the league they form Young Justice, a clandestine, black-ops, super hero group. When the Justice League can’t be seen to interfere they send in the kids to infiltrate and sabotage evil operations.
The reason this series is so great is the writing, this is a kids show first and foremost. There is a definite angle towards the “what toys can we make for Christmas” especially when things like the hovering trike that Superboy gets around on. But if you look past this there are some amazing story lines that are brutally close to the DC comics. DC comics since the 80’s have been getting progressively darker in their tone, and runs about things like Red Arrow’s drug addiction and spiral into hell are shown in Young Justice, obviously you don’t see him heating up skag on a teaspoon with a lighter but the insinuations and the characterisation all lead to this conclusion.
Characters die and alliances are broken, this is not a simple kids procedural cartoon. There are flaws with the series, one or two episodes are dangerously close to after school specials and force a moral down the audiences throats, add to this Nolan North voices a character and you’ll see why it isn’t perfect. But that aside, characters like Robin who is dealing with issues like being a cynical corrupted adult in a 12 year olds body and Red Arrow dealing with rejection from the league and his mentor all create scenarios that produce a cartoon that should be enjoyed by anyone who has ever read or wanted to get into comics. Everything is handed to the audience who haven’t read a comic before, the series sets out characters back stories and all the information they need to enjoy the ride. With the second series the scope of the show has sky rocketed and minor characters and stories from the first series are coming back with gusto leading up to some inevitably amazing conclusions to the series. This is the return of the kids superhero cartoons being watched by adults and Cartoon Network is all the better for it.