As a series Young Justice could of easily been another simple kids cartoon, intended to create a more child friendly version of the Justice League, build a younger fan base and of course sell more toys, but thankfully the show managed to not only provide a wholly unique interpretation of the DC Universe, that delivered a perfect balance of familiarity and originality, but it also gave audiences some real character driven stories with a more mature tone than you’d expect, and most importantly gives one of the most fully realised interpretations of the DC Universe we’ve ever had on screen.
As one of the many corners of DC’s Multiverse, one of Young Justice’s key features is the care, attention, and detail put into not just it’s core set of characters, but the universe as a whole. Young Justice’s Earth 16 is quite simply one of the most complex, and in depth explorations of a fully established superhero filled world we’ve ever seen on screen.
Only adding to the show’s appeal and individuality is how it blends what we know with a wholly new take on a number of dynamics, storylines and characters. Young Justice manages to set itself a part by including not just ‘The Team’ of young (mostly) former sidekicks, the Justice League itself, and a wide roster of famous (and slightly less famous) DC villains continuously throughout it’s run. This differs from previous series, such as 2003’s Teen Titan’s, which despite being a solid adaptation of the Teen Titans (another team of younger heroes) had a somewhat limited scope regarding the villains and other heroes of the DC Universe.
Another of the shows biggest strengths is the massive amount of character development involved. Almost every key character has a long thought out arc, that plays out over numerous episodes and even seasons, with various main heroes regularly absent from episodes allowing a bigger focus on those present. This may of been what eventually led to the shows initial cancellation, as a slower more character driven show wasn’t doing enough in terms of selling merchandise and keeping kids invested, but in terms of more mature storytelling it was (and still is) undeniably impressive.
In terms of maturity and character development the relationships between both the younger heroes and their mentors, as well as the heroes own dynamics are huge through lines for the show. With the storylines becoming increasingly involved and in depth, one of the more mature arcs follow Red Arrow (Green Arrow’s original sidekick) getting Cheshire (a former assassin for the League of Shadows) pregnant. Another sees Superboy breaking up with Miss Martian over the abuse of her powers, and the shoe regularly comes back to the difficulties many of the heroes face balancing their regular teenage lives with being superheroes. Even more simple arcs such as Dick Grayson’s Robin turned Nightwing starting as an experienced partner to the Batman, but someone who isn’t’ quite ready to lead the team, and his attempts to become that leader, manage to be some of the shows most compelling.
Perhaps the most interesting quality of Young Justice however is that it rarely pandered to being a kids cartoon, going hand in hand with the mature plot themes and massive amount of character development Young Justice takes its time with stories, and puts a lot of thought and heart into everything we see. The very first episode of the show showcases a number of ice powered villains attacking various cities, each of whom is thwarted by a hero and their sidekick. Batman goes on to point out that it can’t be a coincidence so many ice related attacks happening at once, but this thread doesn’t really go any where until numerous episodes into the season, where it eventually connects to the wider (season long) mystery of ‘the Light’ and their plans for the heroes of the DC Universe.
Continuing that trend Young Justice regularly featured longer and more in depth plots than your traditional cartoon (and in many cases regular TV Shows), and often focussed on relationship problems, political disputes, morality, and philosophical questions of purpose, and even what defines humanity over the course of a number of episodes (rather than simple one off ‘villain of the week’ style adventures). The show managed to simultaneously do all of this as well as provide regular status quo shifts, complex storylines, and interesting developments all totalling to a very clever and in depth narrative.
Whether the episode was focussed on a certain hero, villain, or relationship, as a show Young Justice proved that it could provide a mature and entertaining take on the entire DC Universe whilst putting character driven stories at the forefront of its focus. Young Justice continued DC’s streak of dominating the animated Superhero genre, and with 2019 bringing us a new season (after Cartoon Networked cancelled the show only two seasons in, back in 2012), the show may finally get the proper ending it deserves.