TV Review: Young Justice: Outsiders (DC Universe)

‘Young Justice’ is a critically acclaimed cartoon developed by Brandon Vietti and Greg Weisman for the Cartoon Network, with Phil Bourassa as lead character designer. Premiering in 2010, the adventures […]

‘Young Justice’ is a critically acclaimed cartoon developed by Brandon Vietti and Greg Weisman for the Cartoon Network, with Phil Bourassa as lead character designer. Premiering in 2010, the adventures of the Young Justice team take place on Earth 16, with recognizable characters that are still distinctly different from their incarnations in various other media.

Running two seasons, it was canceled ignominiously in 2013, with rumors flying as to why Cartoon Network pulled the plug. Weisman revealed in 2016 that the cancellation was the result of the sponsor, Mattel, ending the toy line based on the series due to poor sales, and dropping the show, altogether. After being broadcast on Netflix, the show’s popularity surged, and a push was made for a third season. The executives agreed. Warner Brothers announced that they were picking it up as an exclusive for their DC streaming service.

The show’s characters and plotlines are drawn from disparate sources ranging from the 60’s original Teen Titans title, the Super-Friends cartoon, Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, and many other comics through to the aughts and modern day, however, they have been given a very fresh take. The first season establishes the teen partners of several main players of the Justice League; Robin, a new version of Aqualad named Kaldur, with hydrokinetic abilities, Green Arrow’s protégé, Speedy, and Kid Flash. Growing dissatisfied with being kept in the dark by their mentors, they strike out on their own and stumble into a conspiracy promulgated by an organization called the Light, made up of some of the DC universe’s more sinister and serious villains. Putting out a fire at the Cadmus Research Facility, the young heroes discover a cloning operation. Worse, they find that one of the principal subjects is an unfinished clone of Superman, whom they swiftly set free. After a few minor misunderstandings, the adolescent Kryptonian copy comes along with the group and the League is forced to take notice of them.

They are set up in the League’s old headquarters in a hollowed out mountain, given a rotating cast of trainers/ babysitters drawn from their elder’s ranks and largely assigned covert missions that members of the senior team would be unfit for, due to the League’s higher profile. They are joined by M’gann M’orzz, Miss Martian, and Arrowette, yet another of Green Arrow’s protégés, as they seek to unravel the Light’s tangled scheme before it’s too late.

The second season, ‘Invasion’, focuses on the culmination of those machinations, and the consequences thereof. The galaxy has taken notice of the League and by extension, the Earth, raising the stakes considerably. Kicking off after a five-year interlude, our titans, (with the exception of the Superboy, because he was decanted before his cloning process was complete.) are no longer teens. However, more young adventurers have flocked to their banner, filling their ranks considerably. They are joined by Bumblebee, the Tim Drake Robin, the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle, Beast Boy, Wonder Girl, Impulse and Batgirl. Together, they must deal with the direct actions of several alien races who wish to control Earth’s surging meta-human population, and exploit the neophyte supers to their own end, as well as the adapting, evolving countermoves of the Light.

As part of the meta-human trafficking subplot, a very sly nod is made to the 1978 ‘Challenge of the Super-Friends’ TV show. Homages of Apache Chief, Samurai, Black Vulcan, and El Dorado are introduced near the end of the season. Black Vulcan, who was a pastiche of Black Lightning himself, is represented here by Virgil Hawkins, Milestone Media/ DC Comic’s own Static, who had his own show, ‘Static Shock’, that ran from 2000-2004.

Season three is called ‘Outsiders’. Created by Mike W. Barr with art by Jim Aparo and later Alan Davis, the Outsiders began as a group formed by Batman who had a falling-out with the Justice League. They first appeared in the Brave and the Bold #200 (1983) before getting their own title.

As the third season gets underway, the UN is hobbling the League’s activity. Wishing to be far more pro-active and effective, Batman and Green Arrow resign in protest and lead a walk-out of several members of the League as well as the Young Justice team, leaving the League plausible deniability if something went wrong. Concurrently, the meta-human trafficking depicted in the previous season has grown at an explosive rate, as every player in the game has become aware of the incredible intrinsic power of having their own meta-human agents to capitalize on. Hundreds of thousands of youths are missing.

That awesome demand has forced those with the desire to come up with rather ingenious ways of coaxing the meta-gene to manifest in the unwilling subjects. In the fictional European nation, Markovia, the mysterious villain, Bedlam is exposing kidnapped teens and children to an oil-like substance called ‘Tar’ that can activate a meta-gene, but with dire results for those who cannot display one, and worse fates waiting for those that do.

‘Young Justice’ is a very good show. Season three feels like more of the same. As the characters have aged, the show has grown with them, featuring far more mature themes in the second seasons and now this new burgeoning third. Right off the bat, real-world issues of terrorism, racism, exploitation, fake news, human trafficking, slavery, and the never-foreseen blowback caused by well-meaning misadventures are at the fore, but the cleanly established continuity of the earlier seasons has slowly and naturally lead up to this denouement (that also serves as our jumping-off point) so it doesn’t feel forced or ham-handed. There is quite a bit of violence, as to be expected, but also a rather graphic assassination scene. Like the previous seasons, the art-style is more realistic than a great deal of DC’s recent work, with tightly drawn figures in the seams-and –pads suit-styles that were popularized in the New 52 era. The first two seasons of ‘Young Justice’ left a very high bar for this new season to clear, but it looks like they caught lightning in a bottle again. (You have to be careful with that, or, you know, super-speed.)

Season 3 will premiere January 4th on the DC streaming service.

About Dan Kleiner

Dan Kleiner is a strange visitor from another planet who resides in Brooklyn, New York with two cats and his amazing girlfriend. When not plotting world domination, he spends a great deal of his time watching movies and anime of all sorts, reading comic-books and book-books, studying politics and history and striving for the day when he graduates as a Class A-Weirdo.