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Preview: Cartoon Network's 'Young Justice' is More Superhero than Sidekick

by Laura Prudom, posted Nov 26th 2010 12:36PM
We all know that it's not easy being green, but apparently it's even tougher being a superhero's sidekick. (Don't even get us started on being a superhero's sidekick and being green, like one of the stars of 'Young Justice'.)

If you're a fan of the various animated shows that DC and Warner Bros. have created over the past two decades, chances are that 'Young Justice' was already on your radar -- or maybe this is the first you're hearing about the super new series, an energetic take on some familiar -- and lesser known -- teenage heroes such as Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad, Superboy, Miss Martian and Artemis. Similar in tone to the superb 'Justice League Unlimited' but focusing more on the 'Teen Titans' generation, 'Young Justice' is certain to appeal to fervent DC fans and newcomers alike.

TV Squad was lucky enough to land an advanced screener of the one-hour pilot event airing tonight (Friday, Nov. 26) at 7PM ET on Cartoon Network. Join us after the jump for our advanced review -- there will be light spoilers, but nothing to ruin your enjoyment of the show.

As a reviewer, you're never quite certain what you're going to get with a pilot, which has the unenviable task of establishing characters, building the foundations for a season-long plot, and trying to present a compelling, self-contained narrative all in the space of an hour or less. Luckily, the first episode of 'Young Justice' succeeds on all counts, offering action, humor and some intriguing team dynamics that will clearly develop over time.

To kick things off, we're introduced to four sidekicks and their superhero mentors; the most recognizable pair are Robin and Batman, followed by the lesser known (but still awesome) Speedy and Green Arrow, Aqualad and Aquaman, and Kid Flash and The Flash, each in their equivalent home city.

All four duos are simultaneously fending off a well-coordinated attack by an ice-based villain, but the teen heroes are restless, each one eager to ditch the bad guys and get to the moment that they've all been waiting for -- induction into the legendary Justice League, the iconic superhero team that features heavy-hitters such as Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.

But the sidekicks are in for a shock -- their mentors aren't sure they're ready to become full-fledged members of the high-profile team, and their long-awaited indoctrination is more of a backstage pass to the Hall of Justice's library, gym, and kitchen ... not quite the promotion they were hoping for.

The snub proves a little too insulting for Speedy, who wastes no time in ditching his mentor and storming off in a huff, paving the way, we assume, for Green Arrow's lesser-known sidekick Artemis to join the team in later episodes.

The grown-up Leaguers make the mistake of leaving things unresolved with their young partners, and the remaining three teens decide to take the initiative and prove themselves worthy of the super team, mounting a secretive mission to the mysterious Project Cadmus. Inside, the trio makes a shocking discovery that cements them as a team and helps prove their worth to their mentors.

While the 'Young Justice' pilot does a competent job of setting the scene for newcomers to the DC Universe, there's certainly a lot for existing fans to love -- from the use of familiar villains such as Blockbuster, Amanda Waller and Mr. Freeze, to the inclusion of the teenage heroes' civilian identities. The producers also promise to include a wide variety of beloved DC characters -- 135 through episode 16 alone, including Captain Marvel, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, and Green Lantern.

Loyal Batman fans may be pleased to hear (as I was) that the 'Young Justice' version of Robin is Dick Grayson, the original iteration of the character. In an interesting twist, 13-year-old Robin will not be leading the team as he has in previous incarnations; that honor will instead go to the older Aqualad, AKA Kaldur'ahm, an entirely new version of the character created specifically for the show. The original comic book Aqualad, Garth, will appear later in the series as Kaldur's friend from Atlantis.

Since the 'Young Justice' version of The Flash is portrayed by the original character from the comics, Barry Allen, it makes sense that his sidekick, Kid Flash, is also embodied by his original partner, nephew Wally West. (Fans of 'Justice League Unlimited' will remember the series featuring Wally West as the grown-up Flash instead of Barry Allen, just to confuse everyone.)

Creators Greg Weisman ('Gargoyles') and Brandon Vietti ('Batman: Under the Red Hood') apparently chose to go with the earliest versions of the characters to distinguish the series from other continuities that came before it. Unlike 'Justice League Unlimited' which shared roots and voice actors with earlier shows like 'Batman: The Animated Series,' 'Young Justice' will take place in a universe where the concept of superheroes is still fairly new; Superman will have shown up on earth only a decade before the show begins, while Batman has been active for just nine years, allowing the series to tread new ground instead of relying on the convoluted history preceding it.

Voice talent for the series is impressive; Bruce Greenwood ('Star Trek') reprises his role as Batman from the direct-to-video animated movie 'Batman: Under the Red Hood,' while singer Jesse McCartney is surprisingly adept as Robin. Many familiar faces from TV and other Warner Bros. Animation projects are set to lend their pipes, such as Alan Tudyk, Phil LaMarr, Kelly Hu and Rob Lowe.

Line readings are unobtrusive and fit well with the characters, although I wish that Speedy (Crispin Freeman) had been a little less over the top -- hopefully he'll have calmed down a bit by the time the character reappears. My only real quibble was with some of the repetitive lines ("today's the day" is overused so much in the first five minutes that I never want to hear the phrase again) but I expect that as the writers settle into the show, such issues will iron themselves out. I also would've liked to see the inclusion of Miss Martian and Artemis in the pilot's narrative, but with a lot of ground to cover in the first episode, I can understand the decision not to shoehorn them in for tokenism.

The animation is clean and confident, and the action sequences are suitably impressive, particularly the fight scenes that take place at Cadmus. The pacing is taut and the tone mixes moments of tension with much-needed levity, allowing for a pilot that is fun to watch while still conveying a sense of urgency.

Certain aspects of the show seem unlike anything an animated DC series has offered before, which intrigues me. Since the members of the high-profile Justice League are positioned as celebrities whose every mission is scrutinized by the public in the same way we track Jennifer Aniston's love life, I'm interested to see how the show pursues issues of fame, identity and independence, especially with the Young Justice team acting as more of a covert special-ops team than their adult counterparts.

The series is also skewed towards a teenage/adult audience, as opposed to the younger demographic targeted by the more slapstick 'Teen Titans' cartoon, and the creators have previously indicated that it will focus on the heroes both in and out of costume, dealing with their home lives and school lives as well as the covert missions they take part in under Batman, Black Canary and Red Tornado's guidance. I'm interested to see how the show handles the teens in their civilian identities, since that's often been an untapped resource in the shows that came before it.

Overall, the pilot episode of 'Young Justice' is a strong beginning for what looks to be a fresh, engaging take on the superhero mythos. I'm excited to see where the show progresses from here, and predict that it will become appointment viewing for comic book fans and newbies alike.

'Young Justice' premieres as a one-hour movie event on Friday, Nov. 26 at 7PM ET on Cartoon Network, with new weekly, half-hour episodes beginning in early 2011.

Follow Laura on Twitter @LauinLA

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I just ran across this site and have to say that this show is awesome, pure entertainment! I have been a fan since I watched the first episode. Now that I have Sling technology with DISH Network, I never miss any of the shows. I live a very busy life and I use my iPhone to see his shows while on my lunch break at work. Being that I am a customer/employee of DISH I can’t recommend the TV Everywhere feature enough to anyone with a busy lifestyle.

April 12 2011 at 10:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gary griffith

this new young justice cartoon is better than the teen titans from a few years ago. the animation is good and has a lot of action. the teen titans cartoon
had its moments of seriousness but showed too much
of comical behavior.young justice will appear to young fans as well as older fans.

November 29 2010 at 2:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Michael C. Turner

Overall, rather interesting. Hopefully it will develop into a better series. Apparently Superboy is not ever going to be permitted to fly in any universe, clone or otherwise. His super powers ar very limited as well. I would like to see him in a more tradtitional Superboy/Superman costume rather than the simple T'shirt and jeans . . . Not much of a "costume" for a Super Hero, is it???

November 28 2010 at 8:58 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
John F.C. Taylor

I saw it. I thought it was pretty good. At least it's much better art work than some of the other cartoons CN has on these days. That and it is animated. I hate seeing live actors on CN. Not that I hate the shows, just the fact that they're not cartoons. CN is becoming more like the Syfy channel every day. Giving us less of what they are supposed to provide us with.

November 27 2010 at 7:57 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Freak Mojo

Just watched it. It was awesome! Not at all sidekick-y and more mature than you would expect.

I think this is another winner and with the callbacks to the Justice League and Hall of Justice, it offers a broader fanbase than just the young guns.

Watch it. You'll enjoy it.

November 26 2010 at 9:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Kind of backwards making Young Justice after making Teen Titans (since the newer rendition of the Teen Titans comic that the cartoon was based on came out of the Young Justice comic). But then again, this doesn't sound anything like the Young Justice--whose early comics I loved. Also funny that it sounds like the original Teen Titans (from the older comics) that are making up this Young Justice team. Hope it's good!

November 26 2010 at 9:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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