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Why I Couldn’t Fully Love Young Justice

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Why I Couldn’t Fully Love Young Justice

Why I Couldn’t Fully Love Young Justice

Young Justice was a popular animated series based on the same of the same name published by DC Comics. For all intents and purposes, they were conceived as a junior Justice League team, comprised mostly of sidekicks to some of DC Comics’ greatest heroes. Like with any adaptation, changes were made between the source material and the finished product. Some of the changes worked, others didn’t.

A Disclaimer

This article will get very nit-picky and messy. I am somewhat of a comics purist. However, I can deal with changes from source material if I feel the changes are necessary and add to the story and/or characterizations. All that being said, this article focuses on most of the negative changes I did not appreciate, so if you are a fan of this animated series and can’t stand criticism, this article may not be for you.

Also, I believe in transparency, so I will be honest in saying I never read the Young Justice comics but knew of them for years and know many of the characters who were featured in them from other series. Take with that what you will.

Also an update: I first wrote this article before the news of the series’ cancellation on HBO Max. I understand that a lot of you might be in pain over this development, and I would be lying if I said that, despite the tone, this article takes, I’m not too. I still found enjoyment in watching this show despite my many issues with it, and there was always the potential to improve.

The Roster

The roster in the comics. Clockwise: Superboy, Secret, Robin, Impulse, and Wonder Girl.

Young Justice in the comics involves a group of sidekicks at the time becoming friends and forming a team. These friends include Tim Drake aka Robin, Bart Allen aka Impulse, and Kon-El aka Connor Kent aka Superboy. They are soon joined by Wonder Woman’s second protegé Cassie Sandmark aka Wonder Girl. They also gain members like the spectral Greta Hayes aka Secret, the archer Cissie King aka Arrowette, and the temperamental and mystical Anita Fite aka Empress. Their roster grows even larger than that, but these are the core members to think about in the original comics.

Robin and Kid Flash

(left) Dick Grayson/Robin, (left) Wally West/Kid Flash (right)

The animated series, for no reason whatsoever, decided that in addition to original member Superboy, the versions of Robin and Kid Flash would instead be Dick Grayson and Wally West, respectively. Why? Don’t ask me. I couldn’t hazard a guess. It’s not like Dick Grayson is the Robin of choice and has had countless other media adaptations, or that the character works better as Nightwing anyway (complete with a reputation as the male sex symbol in all of comics). Tim has had shockingly little exposure in other media. Aside from some Lego games, which don’t make it all that obvious unless you look it up, the Tim we got in the DCAU was really Jason Todd with Tim Drake’s name. Bart Allen barely has any other appearances in other media. Important aspects of his character were absent in Smallville, including his being an actual time traveler (though the idea was brought up as a gag and nod to the comics). Not only was this their team and not their predecessors, but was a necessary means for the legacy characters to get more meaningful exposure.

While I love Wally West and feel he doesn’t get his just due, a part of that feeling is because his legacy as THE Flash is constantly being taken from him or shared with Barry Allen, who should have just stayed dead. Even Grant Gustin, who I adore as Barry, has many elements taken directly from Wally, such as some of Wally’s villains. And while both Tim and Bart would show up later, it’s still not the same and they don’t have the same weight to the plot the way the first two did.

Wonder Girl

The many looks of Cassie Sandsmark as Wonder Girl from oldest to most recent

This one hurts. I love Cassie Sandsmark more than I can possibly say. When I first got into comics in middle school, she was there. In addition to seeing grown-up and realistic versions of Starfire and Raven outside of the Teen Titans on the cover of the Teen Titans, that same cover also had Cassie doing that very same pose in the lower left corner of the image above (that image is, in fact, the very same from that cover, Teen Titans volume 3, issue 3). Cassie looked so cool and previously I only knew the girl with the flyaway haircut a la Chloe Sullivan from Smallville and the star-spangled red jeans (the same costume as the second image above, but shorter hair). While many fans feel that Cassie lost a lot of her cooler personality traits when she became a Teen Titan and Superboy’s girlfriend (more on that later), most agree she was epic in the Young Justice comics and a badass.

I might be in the minority of Teen Titans volume 3 fans, but I thought Cassie was fine. She looked cool, her costume was great and I totally related to her crush on Superboy (I was also a teen at the time and he was drawn to be swole AF). I loved them as a couple, but again, we’ll discuss it later. The show could not use Cassie initially due to legal restrictions and instead used Miss Martian as the team’s first female member and leading lady of the series. To that I say, fuck that. Also, Cassie deserves better. For some reason, when she arrives by season two, she’s just kind of there and treated like an afterthought. For an animated series obsessed with romance, we couldn’t even actually see her relationship with Tim develop or even take place. Megan literally explained it away to us. How amazing. What writing skill…

Secret and Arrowette

(left) Greta Hayes/Secret, (right) Cissie King-Jones/Arrowette

Not even gonna lie, I’m not as familiar with these characters as the others, for they mostly appeared in the Young Justice comics while the others mentioned all joined the Teen Titans roster I did read. But from what I understand about Secret in particular, she is quite fascinating. A ghost who had been murdered by her own brother who then became his nemesis and joined the Young Justice team, apparently Greta got to be resurrected and become a normal girl again, ending her superhero career, but giving her the life she was denied. Cissie, a fellow legacy to some of the other team members, was the daughter of a woman who was a would-be sidekick to Green Arrow. Cissie donned a version of her mother’s old costume and took on her old mantle. Cissie too would eventually retire super heroics and become a full-time student alongside Cassie and Greta in a private school, where at one point Cassie is forced to expose her secret identity in order to save her class from danger.

Their closest equivalents in the animated series are Miss Martian in terms of being strange like Secret, and Artemis because she is a blond archer like Arrowette. While I can’t stand Miss Martian in the show, which I’ll elaborate on soon, I did feel Artemis Crock was one of the few changes in the show I really liked. The mystery of her identity and her storylines were all very well handled for the most part. She was definitely the best of the girls on the show.

Empress

(top) Anita/Empress with her mask on, (below) Anita/Empress with her mask off

This is another omission/change that makes no sense and is aggravating. There is very little (if any) Haitian representation in popular superhero media outside of comics, and even what’s in comics is limited. Anita Fite, whose name is literally a play on the phrase “I need a fight”, might come across as the Angry Black Woman on the team at first glance, but I’d rather the angry one be her, a girl, rather than Connor in the show. Yes, Connor is the angriest little shit for no reason and it’s annoying as hell. I know Superboy and how he used to be: he was a sunglasses at all hours, boyish grin, too cool for school showboat who many of us which we could back up with actual superpowers. But more on him later.

I don’t know much about Anita, she too had the bulk of her appearances in the Young Justice comics, but I know she’s fascinating. She is a martial artist and athlete, is of Haitian descent, and knows some voodoo magic. She wields at least one stick-like weapon in combat and holds a piece of Darkseid’s anti-life equation which allows her to teleport. Not only is she Black and from the comics, her Haitian heritage would have been welcome representation, but she is also magical and would have tied perfectly in with he the Apokalips storyline for season 3, whether she would have been first introduced there or just played a significant role there after being introduced from the get-go. Instead, the show gave us Rocket, who I do like and love that Milestone Comics characters got some exposure, but why not her and Empress? As for magic, we got a disturbingly young Zatanna. While traditional, adult Zatanna is too a legacy character through her father Giovanni “John” Zatara, Zatanna being used, especially as a love interest for Dick Grayson was weird and gross. Zatanna is well known to have been a love interest to Batman in some continuities. Like Barbara Gordon (love interest, depending on the version, to Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, and Batman), comics and animated series like these need to stop treating their characters as interchangeable. Empress should have been included and Zatanna should have just been a Justice League member as an adult from the beginning.

The Worst Characters of Young Justice

Superboy

(left) The literal personification of White Male Rage, (right) someone most anyone would love to hang out with or make out with, or both

Superboy was my favorite character in Teen Titans volume 3. Admittedly, they toned down his cocky personality by that time and he mellowed out a lot, but he was still fascinating. When he did rage out, it was for a reason, not just y’know at the slightest annoyance or inconvenience. Like the show depicted, the Teen Titans run in volume revealed that Connor was cloned not just from Superman’s DNA, but also Lex Luthor’s, and it was Lex who activated Connor’s programming that turned him angry and violent. And while normal show Superboy doesn’t necessarily physically harm his friends, he flies into a rage so often that he might as well do so. Even as a half-Kryptonian, he could absolutely kill any one of them if he lost control, so it’s pretty scary to see and hear him rage out so often. He’s also mostly irritable and just annoying. Some fans note that Connor seems to have his cousin Supergirl’s personality from the comics, who is known for her quickness to anger and capacity for extreme rage as shown in the Pre-52 era up to at least the New 52 where she became a Red Lantern at one point.

A few nitpicks. I don’t understand why the show changed his powers. Connor in his earlier history also had limitations. Rather than the full scope of Kryptonian powers such as super strength, flight, invulnerability, heat vision, x-ray vision, freeze breath, etc., Connor instead started with a power called tactile telekinesis. This power allowed him to fly and simulate powers such as superhuman strength and invulnerability by subconsciously surrounding himself with an invisible layer of telekinetic force that would protect him from harm. Later during the Teen Titans volume 3 run, Connor would slowly develop his Kryptonian powers including heat vision, x-ray vision, freeze breath, and all the rest. But the show decided that Connor has all the powers except flight, heat vision, x-ray vision, and freeze breath. With shield patches Lex creates for him, he temporarily gains all Kryptonian powers (though he never demonstrates freeze breath). So… he’s less likable, an angry white male, and less powerful… Yay..?

Miss Martian

The many faces of Miss Martian on the series

This girl makes my ass itch. First of all, goodbye Megan! Second of all, why did she have to be caucasian in her civilian identity? Her “uncle” is a Black man when he’s in human form and she’s a shapeshifter, so she can look like literally anyone. Yes we know she’s not actually related to Martian Manhunter (they retconned this later, groan, but more on that later) because she’s a white martian, but still, she chose to look caucasian as a human. And why did she do this? Because she was a fan of an Earth broadcast of some annoying ass show called “Hello Megan!” which is also her insufferable catchphrase. More on that and other annoying uses of language and dialogue in the show later. Her relationship with Superboy (more on that soon) is utterly pointless and obnoxious in part because she’s so thirsty for him despite his being a complete asshole to her and seeming like he wanted to absolutely rip her head off more than once before they hooked up.

While normally I don’t mind women characters being overpowered, and frankly welcome it, I don’t like that the show gave her telekinesis and telepathy on the scale they did. Because those powers are so intense and she has such fine control over them, she gets to rely on them more than anything else. When I briefly rewatched some of the series to refresh my memory for this article I remembered that earlier on there was a very brief moment in an earlier episode where Megan, being overwhelmed by small creatures, grows extra arms and starts punching them away. That was the sort of this I remembered her doing in the comics when she appeared, for the first time ever, during Teen Titans volume 3’s One Year Later storyline. Megan would mostly fight using her strength and shapeshifting, often stretching her limbs and wrapping them around her foes and slamming them about. She also used her optic force blasts, which seem to be absent from the Martians as a whole in the series. Megan in the comics, at least before the show inevitably changed her in the comics, fought in a strange way, which was fitting because she’s an alien and very weird. So now she’s giving either green or pale-skinned Jean Grey and glamorous, popular people powers. The popular girl would totally have telekinesis and powers that don’t require her to get her hands dirty or transform into strange shapes and forms. I also didn’t like that her telepathy is quickly established as being stronger than her uncle’s because, again, she white and he Black. Also, her foray into psychic manipulation was just glossed over and she got everything she wanted in spite of it. No real consequences.

Supermartian

The most boring, unrealistic, hyped-up bullshit that ever was

I’m realizing in hindsight that I should’ve included this hellscape of a ship in my previous article about toxic ships. As said before, Connor is a temperamental bitch in this show, and Megan, either by sheer lack of intelligence or self-esteem, took that shit until he came around and agreed to make out with her. It was like the show cared so little about the character development of its women characters that they shoehorned them all into romances before properly developing them: we didn’t really understand Megan’s character until episode 17 Failsafe after she’s already been put into a relationship with Connor! Even Artemis, again who I liked, came in lusting after Connor before he got with Megan! Zatanna was immediately ship-teased with Robin, and Rocket with Aqualad. This is unlike the Teen Titans animated series, which also wasn’t perfect but at least let us get to know our girls there before shoehorning them into romances.

The age factor is also creepy for some. Superboy is a fresh clone not even a year old. Yes, he has the body and mind of a teen and was programmed with a full education so that he understood the English language and human customs, but simulated experience is not the same thing as life experience or actually spending time developing and changing/growing. If that’s not bad enough, it’s said, explicitly, that Megan is 16 in Martian years but about 38 in human years. And some fans point out that since she is not actually a human or raised as such, that her Martian age is the age that matters, but I still question why this information needed to be added to the show. Was it in the comics? I have no idea, but when I was reading them, Megan didn’t have any love interests, so it wouldn’t matter either way (unless at some point that changed). It was unnecessary and creepy either way, why was it needed?

In season two, Megan and Connor are broken after the time skip, we later learn it is because she had been abusing her telepathy and actually erased his memories of finding out because he was upset about it. In an otherwise well-written and acted scene where Connor explains his hurt at her betrayal because he started out being telepathically manipulated and programmed by Cadmus, and that her telepathy was something he cherished because she meant him no harm and would never take advantage of him like that, which now she has. It takes a season, but Connor basically forgives her because she feels bad about the situation and misses him and she never takes any real accountability for her actions or suffers any real consequences. The entire storyline was a massive waste of time because it was obvious that the show would just go back to status quo like nothing happened.

(left) Martian Manhunter in human form, (right) Martian Manhunter in superhero form

In speaking of which, season four does the same thing by introducing a retcon and plot hole that Megan not only is actually the biological niece of Martian Manhunter, but she is a… biracial white and green Martian, but visibly and naturally white… This was the season the show jumped the shark and made white and green Martians stand-ins for Black and white people… respectively. Instead of white Martians being inhumane and naturally savage (except for Megan for some reason in the show and the comics) like white people, even complete with being responsible for the genocide of green Martians, now green Martians are the majority and white Martians are the marginalized minority… I hate it here. But yeah, this section is long as hell, sorry, but Connor seemingly dies only to, just kidding, not be dead (they can keep poor Wally dead, but this asshole gets to survive to do absolutely nothing and contribute nothing), and then the two assholes get married… Yeah fuck this couple, I’m moving on.

The Damn Catchphrases

Please stop

I already mentioned Megan’s incessant “Hello Megan!” crap, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For some godforsaken reason, in addition to having Dick take Tim’s spot on this team, they decided that he would start annoyingly playing with language like using “whelmed” instead of ‘overwhelmed’ or ‘underwhelmed.’ Same thing with ‘aster’ instead of ‘disaster’. It’s annoying as hell. And while at first Wally, logically, thinks this is not cute or clever at all, it’s not long before literally everyone starts doing it too. I guess it’s meant to be quirky, but it’s just annoying. Worst of all, when Dick becomes Nightwing, instead of some maturity and character growth, he’s still doing that stuff despite not being a five-foot-nothing child anymore.

Girl, bye

The other characters at points also can be seen saying “Hello Megan!” when they have epiphanies… Which only serves to make them all seem like children when at this point they should literally all be grown-ass adults due to the time skip. They’re not serious issues, but they’re needless and annoying as fuck.

The Time Skip Doesn’t Work

The time skip was a vehicle to introduce extra drama (such as how and why Superboy and Miss Martian broke up… as if that matters) and introduce loads and loads of new characters without having to properly introduce them and justify their inclusion on the show and team. Nope, they’re just… there… And while the show took the time to explain some unexplained details, like the break-up no one should care about, that is a symptom of a larger problem: season two spends an obscene amount of time telling instead of showing what happened. I don’t know if it was to save money on the animation of flashbacks or to focus on meaningless action sequences.

As said before we got a truckload of new characters, with no time to properly develop them or the character we were attached to before. So new characters like Wonder Girl and Tim Drake are largely sidelined and mainstays like Dick and Megan are not as developed as they ought to have been. Future seasons would also show even more characters who know everybody because, surprise surprise, they were also members of the team during the time skip. We’re seeing them for the first time, but the characters act like they’ve been there, which makes the audience feel like they missed a season or two of content. The writers clearly rely on the audience having prior knowledge of such characters as Donna Troy or Mary Marvel to do the work for them of knowing who these people are instead of more organically introducing them into the show. It’s lazy as hell and easy fanservice: drop in an iconic character for viewers to gawk at without writing a clever way for them to meet and be a part of the main characters’ lives.

And most writers worth their salt understand that time skips work best when you interweave them with crucial flashbacks and details that justify the jump forward. If you don’t have those but resort to telling but not showing some of it, ignoring the rest (how and why did Dick become Nightwing?), and handwaving the rest after that, you get a convoluted mess.

The Dip in Animation Quality Starting in Season 3

I’ll make this brief because there isn’t much I can say. I don’t always notice cinematography or technical elements as much as writing, acting, and character details. I am just far more character-driven than some. The first thing I noticed about season 3 was that it was more adult, violent and brutal, and also sexual as it was no longer constrained by Cartoon Network, which was odd, but fine. But what I also noticed were these frequent transitions where there would be these still images that were meant to be montages, I guess.

The first few times or so I didn’t mind or notice that much, but then it kept happening again and again… It got worse in season 4. It didn’t dawn on me at the time, but it must’ve been due to a lack of budget. It kind of is what it is and it sucks that the budget isn’t really there, but honestly, it’s quite distracting every time one of those still montages comes up with either music or dialogue with them. Especially when many of the montages feature characters I would rather be following, like Cassie, while the show always makes sure the action and motion stay with characters I don’t, like Connor or Megan.

Halo… Just why..?

A brown, non-binary, Muslim to be given the main character treatment should have been a slam dunk. Unfortunately, the writers in season 3 showed how out of their depth they were when it came to this character on both fronts of faith and gender identity. Halo aka Violet Harper is an entity that was brought to life by a motherbox of Apokalips, or is the motherbox… (don’t look at me, I’m confused too) after a Muslim girl named Gabrielle Daou was violently murdered and her body was revived with his new consciousness. It is stressed that this entity, again Violet, is not actually truly Gabrielle. But why does Violet wear Gabrielle’s hijab? They have no connection whatsoever to the Muslim faith and is trying to find their own identity.

Also, Violet becomes a love interest to and for Brion Markov, because of course we can’t go through a goddamned moment of this show without a needless romantic subplot, and after explaining that they don’t feel like a girl or a boy, is ecstatic and literally flies in delight when Brion proclaims Violet as his ‘girlfriend’, with even Violet proclaiming “I’m his girlfriend!” Why the gender-neutral term ‘partner’ wasn’t used is beyond me, but at least the show corrected and addressed both topics far better in the following season. And while improvement is always welcome, I also always say you can only make a first impression once and it’s rather unfortunate that this is out first impression of this version of Halo.

What Worked

Kaldur’ahm as the second Aquaman

I know I sat here and ripped this show apart for what it got, and gets, wrong, but there’s still some good as well. Artemis remains the best girl character in the original cast, and Kaldur is one of the best characters overall as well. Yet with Kaldur, his importance to the show gradually decreased starting with the time skip, when Dick Grayson had to be the leader (even Kaldur himself says in season one that he’ll just lead until Dick is ready to take over). His being revealed to be queer like his comics counterpart was a welcome detail, but the show still clearly preferred their het ships far more than their queer ones.

Artemis Crock as Tigress

Artemis was fairly important throughout and most of her storylines were quite solid, and I even didn’t hate her relationship with Wally. Their pairing felt better constructed and came out of left field, a sort of rivals to lovers bit that was more welcome instead of one pining after the other despite them treating them badly. Everything with her sister, in particular, was strong. The only thing that was wack was her will they, won’t they storyline with her niece’s father, because it was unnecessary and nasty as hell. I don’t like relatives sleeping (or trying to) sleep with relatives’ exes or current partners. It’s bad enough when it’s friends (like, find someone else, it’s a big sea), but family is just extra weird and gross. Mercifully, the thing stopped before it really began.

Beyond Kaldur and Artemis, the show does a really good job with action (when it’s not a montage), showing powers, and even the worst characters can at times be interesting. Even Megan was interesting in the Failsafe episode and in moments beyond. Anything with her brother and storylines outside Connor was tolerable. The League was mostly handled well, though I question why Batman had to always be the voice of reason (clearly the writers were Batman fanboys). And even though it often got overwhelming, it was still a kick to see so many DC Comics characters, especially those I never saw before in other media.

Conclusion

The show was not a total failure, hence I eventually got on board and caught up a couple of times I dropped out. However, the show still got a lot wrong. Am I nitpicky as hell and a comics purist to a fault? Yes and sorta. I am nitpicky, I own that, but I realize, especially considering what I liked the most about the show, Kaldur and Artemis, are nowhere to be seen in the original comics. So no, everything doesn’t need to match the original comics all the time and those aforementioned characters are prime examples of changes that work. But a lot doesn’t work or would work better with other changes or closer consideration towards the source material.

My ship. Fight me if you disapprove

We didn’t need Zatanna. Empress should have been here. I can take or leave Secret, but if we were getting M’gann, she should have been Black (I’ll never get over how Supergirl made that happen, and she wasn’t even meant to be related to Martian Manhunter in any way). Cassie absolutely should have been there and been with Superboy (idk, wait until you could use her character, or fight harder to acquire her rights, they did eventually get them because she was there by season two, which meant it was indeed possible all along). Robin should have been Tim and Kid Flash should have been Bart. Connor should have had his comics’ cocky and fun-loving or more laid-back personality. Anita should have been the loose cannon, with her character development being to address and manage her anger in a healthy way. Finally, Artemis, Kaldur, and Rocket should all have still been there as well, because they all worked.

At the end of the day, I’m planning on collecting and binging the original series and fully deciding for myself which works best for me. From what I understand about the original, I’m sure I already know, but it’ll be fun nevertheless.

As for the series, it is sad that so many fans will miss out on something they loved, definitely far more than I did, but at least they have four seasons they can buy and own and watch and rewatch. Also, pick up the tie-in comics, supplemental materials, and merchandise. This show was saved from cancellation once before, who knows, lightning could possibly strike twice. But if not, welcome to the club, my friends, many of us have suffered the cancellations of some of our favorite things. Many of us were lucky to get a single season, or half of one, let alone four. It sucks for sure, but it just is what it is. Support the show even still and make your voices heard, who knows what can happen if you do?

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I identify as a womanist. I am also gay. I am a Black American-Descendant of American Chattel Slavery. My pronouns are he/him/his, and I am a comics, tv, movie, and video game stan. My expertise for comics and related media are DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Archie Comics, and a little bit of others here and there, but I'm hoping to branch out to other, Blacker and indie comics and related content. I'm a binge watcher and can talk about shows for days. You can find me on YouTube and various other social media platforms as thaboiinblue.

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