Sunday, January 8, 2012

Comic TV: Young Justice

Coming home from Leduc Junior High School in my early teens, I would often stop in at a magazine and smoke shop on main street.  I'd chat up the owner, and on days when shipments arrived, I would help him put new comics on the racks, which gave me a comprehensive overview of everything new in that week's four-colour treasure.

One week I stumbled across the first issue of a new series, and intrigued by the cover art (and the chance to get in on the ground floor), I gambled 50 cents and took it home.  It turned out to be a good decision, and I bought the next 50 or 60 issues of The New Teen Titans, almost all of them written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by George Perez.

While a lot of people decry mainstream superhero comics as being about nothing but 'tights and fights', Wolfman's scripts focused a lot on the characters themselves, dealing with themes of acceptance, bigotry, belonging, and family, similar to what Chris Claremont was doing at Marvel with his all new, all different X-Men.  Sure the fights were always there, but the real compulsion was coming back to see how Wonder Girl handled her desire to find her birth parents, or if Cyborg could be reconciled with his father.

Most interesting of all was Robin, learning how to become a team leader instead of always following "Batman and...", gradually gaining confidence in himself and in his experience, and defining what differentiate. from his mentor.  To find such depth in a character introduced four decades earlier to 'lighten up' the Batman comics with his gaudy costume and brutal puns was a real treat.

Over the Christmas break, I had the opportunity to watch a few episodes of Young Justice, an animated adventure series set in the DC Universe.  Robin is a member of the team, but at 13, is one of the youngest members, despite having the most experience.  He's joined by Kid Flash, Aqualad, Miss Martian, and eventually Superboy and Artemis, and set up to be the 'covert' arm of the Justice League.

Like the Teen Titans comics I grew up with, the portrayal of Robin is pretty well done, especially for a half-hour cartoon.  His skillset has been upgraded to include a high degree of tech and hacking skills, and his personality vacillates between a consummate professional and an adolescent boy.  In place of the terrible puns of the 40s and 50s, YJ's Robin has an appreciation for other wordplay, like wondering why people are usually overwhelmed, rarely underwhelmed, but never just whelmed, or this exchange with Green Arrow's (alleged) niece, Artemis:
Artemis: What do we do now? Robin: We save them. That's how it works.Artemis: Maybe that's how it's supposed to work, but those robots already took out our four super-powered friends.Robin: You seem distraught.Artemis: M'gann is dying. We have no powers and I'm down to my last arrow. Of course I'm distraught!Robin: Well, get traught or get dead.Artemis: How can you be so calm?Robin: Practice. I've been doing this since I was 9.
The other characters are fairly well-rounded too, with Miss Martian's insecurities about fitting in with both her new team and an Earth school, and Superboy's hot temper distancing him from his ersatz father figure, who simply does not know what to do about him.  Of course, with all teenaged characters, it would be unrealistic if there weren't some pairing up, so "Shippers" will find that itch scratched as well.

Young Justice is the first animated DC program in twenty years not to be cast by Andrea Romano, but the talent is still there.  I'm not familiar with those portraying the team themselves, but there are a lot of familiar voices in the Justice League, like Bruce Greenwood (Batman), Phil Lamarr (Aquaman), Alan Tudyk (Green Arrow), and even Rob Lowe in one episode as Captain Marvel.

The animation is top-notch, drawing more from the world of Japanimation than the simpler lines of Bruce Timm's Batman/ Superman/Justice League work, which I am also a huge fan of.  There is definitely an emphasis on action, like all superhero cartoons, but the sequences never feel rote, and the relative inexperience of the team makes the battles feel engaging and challenging.

It's nice to find a broadcast show that the whole family can enjoy (even if Audrey refers to it as "that Little League show"), and if you have any sort of hankering for colourful, comics-inspired adventure, Young Justice is certainly worth checking out.

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