MILD SPOILERS AHEAD!
I’m a sucker for 90s animation. I remember watching Paul Dini and Bruce Timm’s Batman: The Animated Series every night on Cartoon Network at 6:00 and 6:30 (yes, I remember the time; don’t judge me). It had a darkness to it, and a noir sensibility that, in many ways, is the seed of my love of crime fiction. It’s almost poetic, then, that I would eventually find my way to Disney’s Gargoyles, itself taking inspiration from acclaimed drama Hill Street Blues when portraying the NYPD’s Elisa Maza. Like Batman, Gargoyles worked hard not to talk down to the viewer, delivering meaty, sometimes serialized storylines, and even one using the H-word. And this was supposed to be a Disney cartoon. The creator, Greg Weisman, believed in taking the storytelling seriously, a belief he had carried over to the main subject of this week’s Why I’m Excited.
When Young Justice was first announced, I was thrilled. Weisman’s last animated project the, well, spectacular series The Spectacular Spider-Man starring arguably the Kevin Convoy of Spider-Man actors, Josh Keaton, was ended far too soon. I would constantly look online hoping that Disney would allow for both of his opuses to come back to get the endings they deserved. Granted, I knew Spectacular Spider Man’s planned 65-episode run would not become a reality, but maybe they would at least let Weisman finish Gargoyles in an animated format rather than a comic (albeit a great one) from Slave Labor Graphics. Instead, Weisman and Brandon Vietti of the great animated feature Batman: Under the Red Hood would create a cartoon based loosely on Peter David’s Young Justice comic. The conceit of the show was a simple one: allow the sidekicks to form their own group and take on the smaller missions the Justice League was too busy to tackle. The creators would often draw parallels to Mission: Impossible, with Batman played by Star Trek’s Bruce Greenwood (who also played the role in Under the Red Hood), acting as the Jim Phelps of the team. Whenever I read this comparison, I would be incredibly intrigued. I was never a huge fan of Mission: Impossible growing up; I only had the Tom Cruise film series as a reference. But I’ve gone back to watch the originals, so I had a very clear idea of what Jim Phelps was about beyond the first movie. Phelps would dispense the info and off the team would go. Likewise, Batman would give the missions to the team in Young Justice and off they would go. We’re talking about an adult prime time drama once again being a direct influence on what is ostensibly a children’s cartoon.
Right from the beginning, due to Weisman‘s bonafides, I knew we were getting something special with Young Justice. The show begins with Robin, Kid Flash, and Aqualad presenting a united front to their famous mentors and insisting they could handle anything the veterans could throw at them. Though they go out on their own in the beginning, the team is quickly formalized. From there, Young Justice quickly becomes a solid superhero teen drama done in the tradition of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm’s DC animated universe. In an age where animation is increasingly falling back on CGI, Young Justice succeeded in being a prominent 2D animated series. Yet, like so many of Weisman‘s other shows, Young Justice was often underrated, with fans wondering if it was even going to come back for a second season. When I heard the season was only for 20 episodes, I got a funny feeling it wasn’t going to go much further. Sure enough, after an extended hiatus, Cartoon Network canceled the show, dooming this take on the DC Universe to a lifetime on Netflix, with fans lamenting what could have been. Or so I thought.
When season 2 of Young Justice came to Netflix, Weisman and several cast members cryptically suggested to fans that they keep watching. At first, I thought there was a possibility that Netflix would pick up the show for another season, given their affinity for animated television and TV revivals. When the creators announced that the show would return for a new season, subtitled Outsiders, they didn’t tell anyone where it was going to land. I was very excited, although I will admit to being a bit disappointed it wasn’t going to be on Netflix. If the age of streaming has taught us anything, it’s that there are more venues for content than ever before. What better way for DC to resurrect a much-loved animated show than to make it one of their first pickups for their all-new streaming service? One of the silver linings of the premature cancellation was the fact it had set up a very interesting season 3, particularly for Artemis, who I feel had the greatest arc during the show’s transition from a double agent to a valuable asset for the team and one half of, at least from my perspective, the greatest couple in the show: Kid Flash and Artemis. I cared about them and was extremely invested in their future. So when Wally disappeared in a Crisis-like event, it was just as heartbreaking for me as it was Artemis. I felt her pain, yet I was optimistic about her future, which seemed to be a leadership role in the team, as well as taking over the Tigress identity. This was something that made me very nervous when I heard about the trailer for the new season of Young Justice, which I heard focused mostly on new characters. I was happy when I saw that Artemis was front and center, still wistful over her time with Wally. Here’s hoping the season culminates in the triumphant return of the once and future Flash.
The fans demanded Young Justice return, and our wishes were granted. For the first time in as long as I can remember, Greg Weisman is going to get to finish one of his stories, one that also happens to be among the greatest in 2D animation history. All we have to do now is log on to DC Universe on January 4 and go along for what it is sure to be an epic ride.