Even my trivia-minded brain couldn’t list the numerous adaptations of the DC super heroes without help. When we first started seeing ads for _Young Justice_ on Cartoon Network in Fall 2010, my wife said, “Can’t they come up with something new?”
In many ways, _Young Justice_ *was* something new. First, like _Batman: the Brave and the Bold_, it attempted to put the “big names” in supporting roles and focus on some of the less-overexposed DC characters. Familiarity with the big names of the Justice League and their rivals provided a fictional backdrop in which to focus on character development and story development.
So we had a limited team out of which only Dick Grayson/Robin was a major character. The other Young Justice team members–Wally West/Kid Flash, Aqualad, Artemis (a very obscure character), Miss Martian, Speedy/Red Arrow, and Superboy (the more recent concept that is a clone of Superman and Lex Luthor, not Clark Kent as a teen)–were relatively obscure or relatively recent characters. Superman and Wonder Woman hardly showed up at all in the first season, except in big group scenes. Batman was the only major character with a regular speaking part, and the team’s “adult” “chaperones” were usually Black Canary, Captain Marvel or Red Tornado (and Captain Marvel is a fantastic treatment of the character, retaining the personality of a 10 year old boy while in his magically adult form).
As the season progressed, the team expanded slightly. The latter part of “Season 1” (which technically ran from Thanksgiving 2010 until last week–Cartoon Network has a weird concept of “seasons”; I think all three “seasons” of _Transformers Animated_ aired within the same kind of time frame as season 1 of this show) introduced Zatanna to the team’s ranks, and another female character I never heard of, whose name I don’t recall, was added at the very end.
This small roster, again, led to great character development. Meanwhile, there were several excellent ongoing story arcs. In particular was a conspiracy called the Injustice Society, which in turn was overseen by a group of mega-villains called The Light (including Ra’s al Ghul, Vandal Savage, Lex Luthor, and a few others I hadn’t heard of before this show). They carefully weaved plot threads and elements throughout the season. The show developed an _X-Files_ or _Law & Order_ technique of time cards, but unlike even many fictional live-action series (let’s start with _Star Trek_’s stardates, and then look to how L&O episodes play out over months, technically overlapping each other when the characters’ lives move from episode to episode), the producers intentionally use this technique to show where the episodes all fit together. It starts in the pilot, when four “cold theme” villains (e.g., Mr. Freeze, Capt. Cold) attack different cities at exactly the same time.
Season 1 was just tremendous.
Season 2, called _Young Justice: Invasion_, premiered this weekend, and I’m scratching my head. First, the story has skipped 5 years. This throws a wrench in both the sequential action and all the carefully built story threads. All of a sudden, it’s five years later, and everything’s different (for example, the romance of aliens Superboy & Miss Martian has apparently ended, and she’s now dating some amphibian dude). Correspondingly, the “teens” from season 1 are all grown up, and are now both the junior members of Justice League and the overseers of Young Justice. Dick Grayson is now Nightwing, and Tim Drake is Robin (no word of Jason Todd).
A few of the regulars from last season were missing in this weekend’s premiere, with no word of what happened to them. The team’s roster is expanded. The plot’s scope has broadened to an impending alien invasion (hence the title), which is somehow related to the supervillain conspiracy from season 1.
It took years for them to progress from _Batman The Animated Series_ to _Justice League Unlimited_. _The Batman_ introduced Justice League in Season 4 or 5. _Smallville_ became essentially a Justice League-without-the-costumes series by somewhere in the middle of its rather long run. Even _Batman the Brave and the Bold_ (IIRC, the original comic of that title was really what got the post-1960s concept of “Justice League” going), which had started as an attempt to scale back down to Batman & 1 other guy per episode, ended up as essentially another Justice League show by its last season.
I’m hoping this season will be really good, but I’m bummed they’ve jumped right back into “big team with tons of obscure characters,” because the character development was part of what made season 1 so great. I’m also bummed that in a show with such a finely crafted narrative (though largely drawn by the original _Young Justice_ comic book miniseries), they took such a big jump in time. I wish they’d at least gone one more season before doing this.