The End of Young Justice by Jerry Whitworth
On January 28, 2013, multiple sources have confirmed the end of the animated series Young Justice on Cartoon Network (as well as Green Lantern: The Animated Series). The show, which featured a group of young superheroes working under the Justice League of America, is the latest series from Greg Weisman to be canceled after only two seasons (his last series Spectacular Spider-Man suffering a similar fate) with some comparing the creator to Joss Whedon (The Avengers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as both generate critically acclaimed television series that do well with ratings and acquire a cult following with fervent fans but end up canceled nonetheless. Young Justice is also the latest in a series of television programs broadcast by Cartoon Network canceled when enough episodes were produced to run the show in syndication. The non-announcement of the cancellation came as CN dropped a press release of its Fall 2013 lineup which saw the series absent with rampant speculation of the series’ demise later confirmed by unnamed insiders at Warner Bros. To say the loss of the show is a disappointment is an understatement as the series not only appealed to comic book/superhero media fans but the complex stories and characters broke into the market of youth interested in anime. Lets take a look at Young Justice and why it became so beloved by its fans.
Young Justice started out as an ongoing series (after the one-shot Young Justice: The Secret and mini-series JLA: World Without Grown-Ups, both from Todd Dezago) in 1998 from Peter David (Hulk, X-Factor) and Todd Nauck (Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, Wildguard) featuring the modern day teenage sidekicks of the Justice League of America forming its own group in the tradition of the Teen Titans (who by this point had grown into adulthood). The series focused largely on a club-like atmosphere with humor and comedic antics but often shifted to concentrate on the drama associated with being young (and the hormones it entails) and the responsibility of being heroes. The comic would come to an end in 2003 to make way for the new Teen Titans series from rising star Geoff Johns of the Flash and JSA fame. Greg Weisman, an editor and writer for DC Comics in the 1980s, would create the popular television series Disney’s Gargoyles which premiered in 1994 and ran for two seasons before being canceled and resurrected as the much despised Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles without Weisman which was canceled after thirteen episodes. Working on various television series over the years, Weisman would helm a new Spider-Man animated series with Victor Cook (Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated) in 2008 in Spectacular Spider-Man that thoughtfully blended elements of the comic, Ultimate comic, and film series along with original concepts from Weisman and his team. Despite being a success with fans and critics alike, the show was canceled after two seasons when Disney bought Marvel Comics and wanted an in-house animated Spider-Man series that wasn’t produced by rival Sony Pictures. Taking the success of Spectacular into account, Weisman was quickly snatched up by Warner Bros to work on its animated adaptation of Young Justice with Brandon Vietti (The Batman, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Batman: Under the Red Hood).
Upon being tasked with creating the new Young Justice series, showrunners Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti had access to virtually every teenage character in the DC Universe (save Wonder Woman’s cast who was tied up in a separate adaptation, though this would later change) and sorted through dozens of characters before resting on their “Team” in Superboy, Robin, Kid Flash, Miss Martian, Artemis, and their own original character Aqualad. DC Comics, excited about the series and wanting to tie it in with their comics, adapted the new Aqualad in the pages of their hit limited series Brightest Day by fan favorite Geoff Johns and took their new multiverse’s Earth-16 and evicted the Super-Sons in favor of making it the Earth the television series (and accompanying comic book series) take place upon. In 2010, the series premiered on Cartoon Network (a mostly animation based station owned by Warner Bros that would be home to animated television series based on DC Comics since 2008) as a preview of the series for its 2011 release. Young Justice was almost immediately well received critically drawing comparisons to the wildly-popular Justice League animated series that came prior and would win an Emmy award in Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation.
What set Young Justice apart from many other cartoons is its complex characters and plots. Despite having a cast larger than almost any other show on television, each character had a unique voice with a background that reflects their behavior. Even the so-called boyscout Superman is given a degree of humanity in coming to terms with suddenly having a younger brother of sorts in Superboy as he spanned a journey of denial and avoidance to eventual acceptance and trust. The show tackled many issues from the obvious like the raging hormones and frustration facing teenagers to what could be rather taboo for Saturday morning with racism in dealing with the three different colored races of Mars (Miss Martian, a White Martian, is embarrassed and in denial of her appearance due in part to the position of her people in her society choosing to pretend to be a Green Martian). Another example of racism crops up with Atlantis and the racial tension between the human-like Atlanteans versus those that have more fish-like features. Along this line, the world of Young Justice is extremely well thought out, constructing entirely unique societies for the series such as in Mars and Atlantis. What likely sets the series furthest apart from any other animated series is its use of supervillains.
Gone is the traditional stories of bad guys just smashing into heroes during robberies, kidnappings, or assassinations (generally speaking) to a more Machiavellian approach in the Light. Some cross between the Secret Society of Super-Villains, Kingdom Come‘s Mankind Liberation Front, and Marvel’s the Cabal, the Light represent a threat so grand to the heroes of Young Justice that you legitimately believe the struggle made by the Team may in fact be futile (so far as even if the Team wins a conflict, we learn they did little to harm the over reaching plans of the Light). In fact, with the current storyline based in part on the Legends event with Apokolips’ Glorious Godfrey turning the people of Earth against its heroes (with some subtle nods to current news media from outlets like Fox News and MSNBC), it makes the protagonists’ struggle that much more impossible. In this manner, a show like Young Justice works so well because you care about the characters in it and become invested in watching each week to see if your favorite character even managed to survive to see the following week. In other words, it’s what television should be: smart, entertaining, and engaging.
There are a number of petitions floating around to try and save the series as well as calls to contact Cartoon Network to voice opposition to Young Justice‘s cancellation. Likely the best bet to try and save the show is to demonstrate to Warner Bros there is still profit to be made from continuing the series, be it on Cartoon Network or another station (like the Hub who runs several cartoons based on DC Comics’ properties in syndication). So, buy the DVDs and comics below, download the episodes legally on iTunes or Amazon, and try to get the word out that time is running out to save one of the best animated series in recent memory.