The Story: Feeling their induction into the Justice League is taking too long, superhero sidekicks Aqualad, Kid Flash, and Robin take matters into their own hands when they embark on a mission without their mentors.  Things quickly go out of control as they discover within Cadmus Labs secret experiments that could threaten not only their newly-formed team, but the Justice League as well.

The Review: The tricky part of making cartoon adaptations of comic book sources is balancing the needs of a mixture of viewers.  On the one hand, you have the main group of cartoon watchers, who are younger and in it for action, gags, and bold personalities.  Then you have comic book fans watching (with a little bit of foreboding) to see their favorite characters come to life on the screen.  The fans are usually older and they’re used to a modicum of sophistication in the dialogue, characterization, and storylines. Young Justice’s pilot episodes’ looks set to appeal to the younger viewers, but there’s potentially a lot for the comic book fans to enjoy too.

One thing the pilot definitely gets right is action—there is lots of it and it is as loud and kinetic as you can possibly hope for, thanks to the bright, fluid animation, which are up to the usually high DC Animation standards.  There are plenty of instances for each character to show off, doing a lot to explain their value to the team and possible future roles.  What’s really impressive is the attention given to animating the physics behind the superpowers.  A great example: Kid Flash’s speed is restrained by the height, weight, and length of the surfaces he runs on and his surroundings.  When he runs into a metal door, he flies off with a satisfying trajectory and distance to show just how fast he’s going.  The choreography of the fight scenes is complex and well-timed, especially toward the end, with five characters going battle royale with their various powers in play.

The characterization and dialogue is about what you’d expect from a cartoon revolving around teenage superheroes—generic most of the time, at times so cliché as to be cringe-worthy and other times surprisingly subtle.  It is a cartoon after all, so there’ll be plenty of moments when the characters eat up time spelling out exposition and their motivations.  Yet no matter how impulsive the characters act or how melodramatic their lines, they consistently seem credible.  I don’t recall a point in the pilot when I felt someone was acting completely out-of-character or ridiculous, and that’s saying a lot.  On that note, the voice-acting is fine—a little over-the-top, but fine.  I do hope somewhere down the line Nolan North (as Superboy) and Khary Payton (as Aqualad) drop some of the grimness to their overall tones; their pitches just seem a little too low for supposedly teenage characters.

The producers of Young Justice created an entirely new world populated with familiar DC brands, rather than make a straight adaptation of the Todd Dezago/Peter David-penned comic book series.  The downside is the absence of the series’ trademark wacky and offbeat humor (years later, the lines, “Id, Ego, and Superego unleashed—I could explain it in more detail, but I’d need a slide projector and some charts,” still crack me up).  What you have instead are some real groaners of one-liners—such as Robin’s “I’m at the end of my rope,” when he literally comes to the end of the rope he’s descending on in an elevator shaft.  Sometimes the mix and match of characters seems arbitrary and confusing (having Dick Grayson as Robin and Wally West as Kid Flash, but Jackson Hyde instead of Garth as Aqualad, for example).

The upswing is the writers have a fresh canvass uncluttered with continuity demands to play around with.  With access to the entire DC roster of characters and the freedom to tweak them as needed (hopefully to iron out the outdated concepts and inject some new life into them), there’s a potential for a lot of fun new stories to come.

Conclusion: If you’re looking for the next great superhero cartoon after the end of Justice League Unlimited—well, who knows if Young Justice is what you’re looking for.  But the pilot has set up an interesting cast and promising premise for their future adventures.  There’s a whole new world for them to romp around in, so there’s a lot of room for them to grow and develop as the writers see fit.  The animation is fairly first-rate and there’s clearly a lot of love for the DC universe and its legacy embedded in the storyline and characters.  Come January, Young Justice just may be the cartoon you TiVo, or DVR, or torrent—but at least you’re watching.

Grade: B+

-Minhquan Nguyen

 

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