'Young Justice' Seasons 1 & 2 Spoiler-Free Review
In 2010, Cartoon Network premiered a new DC animated series to much fanfare. Young Justice was funny, exciting, sleekly animated, and well voice-acted, making it popular even among older superhero fans. Unfortunately, it was cancelled after only two seasons because it wasn’t selling enough toys. Mattel had been providing the funding for the show, so despite the show’s decent viewership and critical acclaim, it ultimately wasn’t turning a profit for its corporate overlords.
DC, however, heard fans’ cries and is finally bringing the show back for a third season on its online streaming platform, DC Universe. Young Justice: Outsiders has a trailer out that looks just as good as its previous two seasons, and the season's first episode is slated for a January 4, 2019 release, with new episodes available weekly thereafter.
New fans will be completely lost if they try to jump in without any knowledge of prior seasons, of course, so make sure to marathon the first 45 episodes soon! The show is solidly enjoyable, and while the character development suffers in season two, the well-timed plot twists and complex character motivations will keep viewers engaged.
A Puzzling Start
Season one introduces its core handful of characters quickly, but with some off-putting characterization in the very first episode. Robin, Speedy, Aqualad and Kid Flash are teenagers, and they sure act like it - Speedy even storms off in the middle of things after throwing a minor temper tantrum. The remaining three run off to try to handle a minor fire at a research facility while their superhero mentors aren’t looking, and their reckless decisions open a huge can of worms for the team.
If you can deal with the characters’ immaturity, though, keep watching - the writers have great things up their sleeves, and some of the characters’ words and actions have darn good explanations in the end. The next couple of episodes still have shallow teenage romances and other antics that detract from the show, but the action and overall character development are still good enough to justify watching. By the end of season one, the show’s great action and writing are in full swing, and viewers will likely forget about the missteps of the first several episodes.
Season Two's Timeskip
There’s a five-year gap between the excellent last episode of season one and the last episode of season two, and while this timeskip is worthwhile, it certainly throws viewers for a loop for the first few episodes. Instead of properly reorienting the viewers in the first episode, the writers decide to slowly reintroduce the characters over a few episodes - which leads to several moments of “okay, where the heck is so-and-so?” for viewers. While an infodump in the first episode would have been equally annoying, the writers could have tried harder to find some balance.
Still, the timeskip sets up an intergalactic geopolitical problem for the Justice League, and the resulting high stakes set the tone for all of season two. The teenage superhero team can no longer leave things to their mentors when things get hard; they have to be prepared to do a lot more on their own. Things get even messier when double agents, betrayals, and “villains” with complex motivations play games to try to win each others’ trust. It’s a satisfyingly messy situation that is hard to navigate if you watch the episodes weekly, but is manageable if you marathon the whole season.
A Massive Cast of Characters
While season one kept the cast relatively small and manageable, season two threw in entirely too many characters in the span of twenty episodes. In addition to new villains, we get a bunch more super-powered youngsters who supplement the main team - and sometimes run away from it. Some of these are familiar faces; most viewers can figure out who Batgirl is, and Teen Titans fans will be happy to see Beast Boy. Others require a lot more explanation, and sometimes, that explanation never really occurs. The show resorts to giving older side characters thirty seconds of meaningful screentime every few episodes, while giving other brand-new characters entire episodes to shine.
As a result, the character development is horribly uneven. Blue Beetle is a fantastic character, but the show focused entirely too much on him at times, and he and Aqualad end up being the only ones with good, believable development in season two. The new Robin gets basically ignored, and Batgirl and Power Girl usually disappear as soon as the main battle is over. The old Robin’s transition into Nightwing gets glossed over, which is a huge missed opportunity for the writers. Unfortunately, this may have been unavoidable due to the massive timeskip.
With a third season coming up, though, the show will hopefully find some balance with its characters’ screen time. The trailer for season three looks promising, and if there’s anything the writers have proven by now, it’s that we can trust them to juggle a lot of moving pieces.
Like most superhero shows, Young Justice features an array of tropes like mind control, faked deaths, faked betrayals, and clones. Hardcore superhero fans might start to be able to predict these twists, but newer fans might genuinely enjoy them. Plus, even the more predictable tropes often have an additional twist to them - just as the characters think they understand what happened, the writers throw us all for another loop.
Even one of the more poorly-executed episodes in season one, which involves a massive deus ex machina reviving dead characters, has some interesting psychological consequences for the team. Young Justice isn’t afraid to depict the lingering effects of war on its young characters, and that definitely makes it more watchable fare than most episodic or light-hearted shows.
A Complex World
Sometimes it seems the writers forget that not all of Young Justice’s fans are in on DC lore and worldbuilding, and do need a brief refresher if it’s been more than a few episodes since something was last explained. This probably contributed to the show’s cancellation - it was ultimately too smart for the target audience Mattel was trying to sell toys to.
In addition to having a ton of characters to keep track of, viewers have to remember fairly large amounts of worldbuilding. For example, the last few seconds of season two alluded to an alien enemy and planet whose race was briefly introduced (and then forgotten about) earlier in the series. On a few other occasions, the show used alien tech or referred to some event that had been introduced earlier on, but hadn’t been mentioned in several episodes or more.
Like many superhero shows, Young Justice gives its cast a wide range of superpowers without making them invincible. For example, Martians are weak against fire, and most of the bad guys remember this and exploit it at least once. Occasionally we see a character figure out truly clever ways to exploit a character’s weakness, but these moments are few and far between. It seems the show is sometimes more interested in inventing new alien tech for the heroes to use or fight against.
Setting Up Season Three
The final battle of season two brings some satisfying closure to the season’s main arc, but leaves plenty of ground for the writers to explore in season three. Nightwing in particular finally gets some interesting development after being neglected for all of season two. The last episode of season two is shocking, though, and only time will tell if the writers will undo the damage done to the cast.
Hopefully, the writers manage to continue with the same things that made season one so good. Character development is important, especially to the older fans that lobbied for Young Justice to be resurrected. A good balance of geopolitical tension, drama and action will help round out the show.
Even if you don’t normally watch superhero shows, give the first two seasons a try ahead of the premiere of Young Justice: Outsiders. If you like it, it’ll probably be worth it to get the DC Universe streaming service for as long as they keep Young Justice around. (Remember, the continuation of Young Justice is going to heavily depend on online subscription numbers!)