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Sunday, November 28, 2010

DAMN Good Television -- YOUNG JUSTICE: "Independence Day"


Although it's been just under five years since the Teen Titans animated series ended, DC Comics' sidekick heroes have found a new home in the Cartoon Network series Young Justice, based loosely on the comic book series of the same name by Peter David and Todd Nauck and the current Teen Titans comic series.  And as those of you who follow the various DC animated projects might expect, this new series also plays fast and loose with standard DC Universe continuity, mixing the original Robin and Kid Flash, Dick Grayson and Wally West, together with the current Superboy and Aqualad.  Anyone attempting to reconcile this animated series with the Justice League Unlimited series is bound to wind up with a severe headache as well, so you're better off treating this as a completely stand-alone universe.

In the pilot episode written by Greg Weisman, "Independence Day," Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad and Speedy (Roy Harper) are brought to the Hall of Justice by their Justice League mentors after defeating various ice-themed villains Mr. Freeze, Captain Cold, Killer Frost and the Icicle.  The idea is to give the young sidekick heroes some additional privileges and access to Justice League headquarters, but nothing too vital, such as the orbiting headquarters The Watchtower.  This limited access doesn't sit too well with Speedy, who throws down his yellow archer's cap and storms off in an adolescent huff.

Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad are soon left to twiddle their thumbs as the Justice League goes off to do League stuff, but Robin, now graced with Tim Drake's computer hacking skills, uncovers some information that leads the team deep into Cadmus Labs.  There, a series of events introduces them to DC characters Guardian, Dubbilex, Blockbuster and most importantly, their new teammate Superboy.  Ultimately, the young heroes show the Justice League that they have something to contribute and the league agrees, setting them up with their own headquarters in Mount Justice, an additional member in Miss Martian, a "guardian" in League member Red Tornado, and promises of combat training by Black Canary and covert missions assigned by Batman.  Yes, that's right, Young Justice is now the black ops division of the Justice League.  If you've ever thought about the notion that Childrens Services should have a serious problem with the idea of adult superheroes intentionally endangering their young sidekicks, I really can't see covert operations helping matters much.

Since this was essentially the series setup episode, "Independence Day" handled the basics pretty well, introducing you to the main characters and laying out the series premise.  The previous Teen Titans series featured an Americanized anime style, but thankfully, the animation style in Young Justice is comparable to current direct-to-home-video DC animated projects.  The colors are sharp and vivid for Blu-Ray HD viewing and the linework is fluid enough that it doesn't feel cheaply made.

Weisman's script also keeps things moving nicely, with character banter that younger viewers will find entertaining even if it's not overly realistic.  Each team member has very distinct personality characteristics -- Robin is the adventurous go-getter/tech geek, Kid Flash is the impulsive comic relief (For some ungodly reason, it seems Flashes have to be comic relief), Aqualad is the driven and serious leader type (Sorry about that, Grayson), and Superboy is the innocent powerhouse trying to learn about himself and the world around him.   If there's any real problem with this first story, it's that the female team members are seriously downplayed.  Miss Martian doesn't show up until the very end in little more than a glorified "Hey, guys!  Here's Miss Martian!" cameo while future team member Artemis isn't even hinted at.  As for Wonder Girl...Well, I guess we'll see.

Overall, Young Justice has considerable potential and looks to be a very promising addition to DC Comics' long line of fondly-remembered animated projects.  The disappointing thing is, we have to wait until January 2011 for the next episode, but with promises of at least 135 characters from the DC Universe by episode sixteen and an announcement that Peter David is writing a couple of episodes, it sounds like it should be worth the wait.

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