The Quarantine Stream: 'Young Justice' is Way More Than Just an Edgier Spin on 'Teen Titans'
(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Series: Young Justice
Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max
The Pitch: The sidekicks of the world’s finest heroes team up to form their own superhero team, going on covert missions that the high-profile Justice League can no longer do, all while juggling teenage angst and adolescence. But that lighthearted premise gets thrown out the window after season 1, when Young Justice fully embraces its serialized storytelling and takes some surprising, emotionally affecting turns.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: I tuned into Young Justice way back when it first debuted on Cartoon Network in 2010 as the “cooler,” more “hip” alternative to Teen Titans, which begun its slow transformation into superhero Looney Tunes. I was one of the idiots who watched Teen Titans for the plot, and was eager for a new teen superhero show that could give me that balance of soap and superhero action that I craved. Though I was skeptical of Young Justice and how it appeared to lift the team dynamics straight from Teen Titans (the leader Robin, the Black character as the strongman, the fast-talking comic relief, the alien girl), I was immediately hooked. And then I was slowly heartbroken as Cartoon Network pushed Young Justice to the backburner, even as it became more comfortable in its own skin and ventured into more complicated narratives, eventually canceling the show because of its low toy sales. But then a miracle: DC Universe brought Young Justice back for a third season in 2019, which I couldn’t watch because it was on DC Universe. But Young Justice is finally on HBO Max in its entirety, and it was worth the nearly decade-long wait.
Let me tell you that Young Justice is catnip to me as a Dick Grayson fan and a fan of Jesse McCartney’s voice work (he broke my heart as Roxas in Kingdom Hearts II and I will love him forever, so him playing Dick nearly sent me over the edge). So maybe I’m a little biased about Young Justice, which completely caters to me and my love for Nightwing and the Batfamily, as well as that oh-so-cheesy marriage of teen soap and superheroes.
In fact, it might be accurate to call Young Justice DC fan service, in how it brings together beloved DC characters beyond the teen sidekicks to give longtime comics fans scenes of Batman and Superman talking about being dads, the Batfamily (including Spoiler!) in action, and the Justice League working in tandem with Young Justice and even more superhero teams. The show’s setting in an alternate DC universe, designated Earth-16, is what gives creators Brandon Vietti and Greg Weisman and their writing team freedom to play with these characters how they want, and craft their own story divorced from the years of DC Comics canon. And while the show struggled a bit to make the transition from lighthearted character-driven episodic storytelling to one that was more serialized in its second season, boy does its third season, the newly released Young Justice: Outsiders, give you that pay-off.
I’ve only dipped into Young Justice: Outsiders for a few episodes, but it has fully realized the potential that the series had, whch until now was hampered by Cartoon Network backtracking and a younger market appeal. Under DC Universe (and I guess HBO Max now), Young Justice turns up the gore and the emotions, delivering a superhero series that is in turns an epic tragedy, an experimental animated show (there’s a really fun nod to Teen Titans Go! with the returning voice cast), and still plenty of that teen angst.
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