Monday, May 5, 2014

"Young Justice" - Season One (2010)

Starring Nolan North, Jesse McCartney and Khary Payton
Created by Brandon Vietti and Greg Weisman
Based on the DC Comics characters

Teenage sidekicks Dick 'Robin' Grayson (Jesse McCartney), Wally 'Kid Flash' West (Jason Spisak), Kaldur-ahm 'Aqualad' (Khary Payton), and Roy 'Speedy' Harper (Crispin Freeman) think they're the next generation of the Justice League. But on the big day when they're supposed to be inducted, the adult heroes of the League tell them to wait in the lobby. Furious, Speedy strikes out on his own, determined to become a hero in his own right, out from under the shadow of Green Arrow/Ollie Queen (Alan Tudyk).

When they hear of a fire at a scientific facility called Cadmus, Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad decide to investigate, against the orders of Batman (Bruce Greenwood). Discovering a massive underground facility full of strange creatures, they dig deeper and discover something called "Project Kr" - a clone of Superman (Nolan North). After liberating 'Superboy' from Cadmus and freeing the other genetic slaves there, the young heroes are rewarded by the Justice League as Batman orders the formation of a new team to be sent on clandestine recon missions for the older heroes.

They're joined at Mount Justice by M'gann M'orzz 'Miss Martian' (Danica McKellar), supposedly the niece of Martian Manhunter (Kevin Michael Richardson), and Artemis Crock (Stephanie Lemelin), supposedly the niece of Green Arrow. Supervised by the android hero Red Tornado (Jeff Bennett), sent on missions by Batman, the team must first overcome their own inability to work together before they can mature into the heroes their mentors hope they'll one day become.

To do that, they have to trust each other. But how can they trust each other when there might be a mole on the team?

I'm glad "Young Justice" popped up, because I was feeling some serious pangs for the DC Animated Universe. This show doesn't exist in that continuity, but that's fine because it certainly carries the torch well enough.

First off, the cast is massive. Featuring a team of young heroes that continues to expand across the first season, eventually including Red Arrow, Zatanna (Lacey Chabert) and Rocket (Kali Troy), it also features many members of the Justice League proper. It also features a recurring roster of villains, including fan favorites like Mr. Freeze (Keith Szarabajka), Bane (Danny Trejo), and Professor Ivo (Peter MacNicol). The series also expands upon some lesser known villains such as Sportsmaster (Nick Chinlund) and Cheshire (Kelly Hu).

Or, how about a fantastic appearance by the Injustice League, featuring Joker (Brent Spiner!), Poison Ivy (Alyssa Milano) and Ultra Humanite (Dee Bradley Baker)?

Even better than its expansive cast, the show's storylines are surprisingly mature for a series focused on teenage heroes. While it has all the tropes of a teen series, including young romances, alienation, fear of rejection, etc, it balances them with ongoing storylines about trust and heroism for a very balanced superhero show.

There are some excellent revelations for the characters across the season as the various secrets they keep from each other are laid bare. I would venture to say a scene in which Robin opens up to Black Canary (Vanessa Marshall) about whether or not he wants to become Batman later in his life is one of the best scenes with that character I've ever seen, in this version or in other shows or in the comics.

Though each episode basically features a standalone mission for the team, other aspects carry on episode to episode as we slowly unravel a plan by the mysterious villains calling themselves 'The Light' and dealing with the emotional growth of the teen heroes.

Some episodes, of course, are better than others. Overall, though, the season is a winner. The season finale, in particular, although feeling slightly rushed, is also rather satisfying. It's a solid conclusion to the season, though it leaves just enough potential for more for the second season.

And, y'know, it features a fight between Batman and Robin - and who hasn't wondered how such a fight would play out?

In terms of design and animation, things work out well. There's an angular, somewhat anime style to the characters that is attractive. The show's many fight sequences are lovingly made and full of great comic book imagery. To bring up the finale again, the simultaneous fight between Superboy and Superman and Batman and Robin is pretty damn impressive, rivaling a lot of the DC animated movies of the past few years.

Having thoroughly enjoyed the first season of "Young Justice," I'm eager to check out season two.

Season One of "Young Justice" streams on Netflix.