In late 2010, Cartoon Network released a new cartoon from well-known show-runners Brandon Vietti, an Emmy-winning animation director behind The Batman and Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and Greg Weisman, the man behind Gargoyles and The Spectacular Spider-Man among other things, that depicted a team of young superheroes in the DC Universe. Promotional images and advertisements of the show drew ire from fans who immediately assumed it was a rip-off of the beloved Teen Titans show that had ended some five years earlier. Much to their surprise, Young Justice proved to be its own creation, a funny, action-packed and slightly nuanced show that gave viewers everything they wanted and more.
Despite the show lasting a meager two seasons, it gave fans a new universe to admire and left them salivating at a prospect of a third season on Netflix. Inevitably, this started to invite comparisons between Young Justice and the revered DC Animated Universe. In particular, the group dynamic of the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited television shows. And there’s nothing like competition to emphasize the highs and lows of a product. With that in mind, it’s only fair to review the various "betters" and "worses" of Young Justice and see how it compares to Justice League.
15 BETTER: DEEPER CHARACTERS
One thing that DC in general has been rightfully accused of is overuse of archetypes. Their main teams usually contain the alien demigod, the lone brooder, the leader, the mechanic and the comic relief. Though Young Justice primarily kept to this formula, it wasn’t afraid to switch things up for the sake of the narrative, something Justice League largely avoided. For example, the team joker is Wally West, aka Kid Flash, who’s quick thinking lets him plop out quips and sarcastic wit as easy as breathing.
But he’s also a brilliant scientist who can analyze chemical compounds and atomic structures like he’s reading a picture book. Robin was the team’s go-to tech guy, but was also a jeering punk who had moments of solemnity. That depth of identity is present in all the major characters throughout both seasons of Young Justice and is something that Justice League only hinted at.
14 WORSE: LESS STYLIZED ANIMATION
One of the major draws of the DCAU was its unique animation style. The early days of the universe used strong lines to overemphasize curves and by the time Justice League rolled around had evolved into a format of jagged angles and sharp faces. It looked great and subtly emphasized the rigidity of the story and character structures. Young Justice, on the other hand, utilized a very standard animation style with realistically proportioned faces centered around wide, expressive eyes.
This is particularly disappointing as every DC-based cartoon has boasted a different and creative visual trademark. Teen Titans took heavy influence from anime, Batman: The Brave and the Bold used softer lines with vibrant colors to make a retro look, and even the oft-forgotten Legion of Super Heroes cartoon used a curvy, super-shaded style. Compared to all them, Young Justice is just bland looking.
13 BETTER: AN OVERARCHING PLOT
The first few seasons of the Justice League show was broken up into two- or three-episode arcs. When the show transferred to the Unlimited format, it began a more conventional monster-of-the-week format with a bigger narrative only coming towards the series’ end. Young Justice took a less fluctuating approach and began hinting at an overarching plot in the very first episode, which saw Aqualad, Kid Flash and Robin freeing a brainwashed Superboy from a secret laboratory.
It immediately introduced the concept of a shadowy, villainous organization who would operate behind the scenes in every episode, orchestrating the team of young heroes through various villains and pawns, letting them think they’d won while the true masterminds fulfilled their mysterious goals. This larger narrative would leak into the main plots and fans were allowed to revel in the tight storytelling. This display of extended world building put Justice League to shame.
12 WORSE: RUSHED CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT
This isn’t so much a problem with Young Justice as a show and more a problem with how long it was allowed to be. Combined, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited were allowed to go on for five seasons, enough time for Wonder Woman to realistically transition from being a reserved prude to openly flirting with Batman. Young Justice lasted only two seasons and had a significant time skip in between them, forcing the show to put a clear emphasis on narrative development rather than character growth.
For example, at one point Aqualad is conflicted over his team’s lack of faith in his leadership, but seconds later calls them back to order despite doubting himself. His reversal of confidence is par for the course as far as cartoons go, but the beauty of Young Justice was that it was capable of being more than just another cartoon.
11 BETTER: MORE REALISTIC RELATIONSHIPS
There were only three significant relationships in the Justice League shows. Green Lantern and Hawkgirl were cheesy as hell while they lasted, Green Arrow and Black Canary were only a pair because they were in the comics, and Huntress and the Question were downright unhealthy together. Fortunately, Young Justice didn’t suffer from the same issue.
The two primary couples on the team were Miss Martian and Superboy and the famous "spitfire" duo of Kid Flash and Artemis. Miss Martian and Superboy could be accused of being sickeningly sweet, but it’s also an example of two people with shared experiences of feeling like outsiders gravitating towards each other out of emotional necessity. Kid Flash and Artemis are like every high schooler with a crush, too confused by their feelings to treat the other with the affection they want to give until both of them finally break and admit their attraction.
10 WORSE: THE FIVE-YEAR TIME SKIP
There’s arguably no lazier story-telling convention than a time skip. It creates a break between two periods of a story that initially confuses fans and forces them to keep interest just to learn happened when they were gone. But they never left, the story just decided to jump around a bit. Time skips suggest a lack of faith in a story to retain its audiences’ attention all the way through. Granted, the five-year time skip between seasons one and two of Young Justice was done out of practicality.
Weisman and Vietti knew their show was being cancelled and wanted to tell the conclusion they’d planned. There was an unspecified time skip between the end of Justice League and the beginning of Justice League Unlimited, but nothing in either show suggested that anything of real consequence happened in this period. Regardless, the time skip left a bad taste in viewers’ mouths like Justice League never had.
9 BETTER: AN EMPHASIS ON HUMOR
Rosenbaum as the Flash had a few good one liners and his repartee with Maria Canals as Hawkgirl was witty, the funniest part of the DCAU was Mark Hamill as the Joker, who made scarce few appearances on the Justice League shows. This juxtaposes Young Justice which consistently churned out funny lines and humorous character quirks.
Between Wally’s over-the-top personality, Captain Marvel’s immaturity, and Robin’s inexplicable obsession with prefixes, the show was stuffed to the gills with wall-to-wall jokes that helped to alleviate the extreme tension and harsh realities the show dealt with. At one point it’s revealed that Miss Martian based her entire personality off a stereotypical '80s show. The team is shocked by her lie, but their reactions and the whole concept make for one of the show’s funniest moments.
8 WORSE: DROPPED PLOT POINTS
Nothing is worse than introducing interesting concepts and ideas for stories, and then never following through on them. Justice League, for all its back and forth, never left a loose end and was sure to keep its stories tight and concise. Young Justice reached above its station and set up long-term stories without the assurance that the show would have time to tell them.
Many of these stories either ended or were resolved in the time skip between the seasons. How did Zatanna make-up with Doctor Fate when the later possessed her father? The issue is never resolved. Would Robin ever reveal his name to the rest of the team? During the time skip, apparently. This isn’t so much a matter of telling and not showing, it’s a case of neither telling nor showing, leaving the audience confused as to what the stakes of Young Justice really are.
7 BETTER: BROUGHT MINOR CHARACTERS TO THE MAINSTREAM
Having too many characters is a problem DC shares with Marvel and both have had different techniques to try and combat the issue. Justice League did pretty well by putting the spotlight on little-known characters like Shining Knight, Vigilante and Stargirl, but Young Justice upped the ante by making Captain Marvel, who had been in one singular episode of Justice League Unlimited, a reoccurring character and a major plot device in a few episodes.
It’s a safe bet that before Young Justice, most casual comic fans didn’t know who Icicle Jr. was, or Cheshire, or Artemis. Go ahead and add Guardian, Sportsmaster and Rocket to that list too. Other characters were made iconic by Teen Titans or the DCAU itself, but there were still a fair number of intellectual properties that owe their relevancy to Young Justice.
6 WORSE: DIDN'T USE ANYONE FROM THE DCAU VOICE CAST
One of the reasons why the DCAU is so revered is because of its spectacular voice cast, which has since risen to near-legendary status. For many people, George Newbern simply is the voice of Superman, Susan Eisenberg simply is the voice of Wonder Woman, and, for just about everybody, Kevin Conroy just is Batman. Perhaps to distance itself from the DCAU, Young Justice chose not to capitalize on the familiarity of these voices in their respective roles, instead focusing on a new cast.
The show included some voice actors from the DCAU, notably Phil LaMarr, but none in the roles they’d previously inhabited in their last jaunt to the wacky world of DC Comics. Doing so helped the show stand out, but also sacrificed a valuable tool that could have been used to placate a potentially hostile or unresponsive audience.
5 BETTER: BROUGHT TOGETHER A CAST OF EXCELLENT VOICE ACTORS
While the show didn’t use the famed voice actors of the DCAU, Young Justice decided to introduce a fantastic and diverse voice cast of its own and has forever left an imprint in cartoons as a result. There were almost no miscasts and most of the voices were spot on for the roles they were playing. Having former tween heartthrob Jesse McCartney play Robin as he ages into Nightwing was inspired, Jason Spisak’s distinct high-pitch was perfectly balanced for Wally’s comedic antics and scientific insight, and Danica McKeller as Miss Martian became a winking in-joke when her backstory was revealed.
However, full honors go to the workhorse of the cast, famed video game voice actor Nolan North. Besides starring as Superboy, North handles almost half voices in the show by himself and is completely unrecognizable as each one.
4 WORSE: TEASED TOO MUCH, DELIVERED TOO LITTLE
One of the biggest problems with the five-year time skip between the two seasons of Young Justice was that not all of the questions that it raised were answered by the time the show ended. Characters like Wonder Girl, Batgirl, a new Robin and Bumblebee were thrown into the mix with no origins or introductions. Zatanna, Artemis, Wally and Rocket left the team and apparently had important arcs of their own that were never shown to the audience.
Robin’s transformation into Nightwing is one of the most defining part of his character and symbolizes his growth from being a wide-eyed sidekick to becoming a hero in his own right, outside of Batman’s shadow and it’s skipped over entirely. The show even suggests that at a certain point, Jason Todd joined the team squandering a classic story for a cheap sight gag.
3 BETTER: IT INTRODUCED COOLER TECHNOLOGY
If there was ever a problem with the DCAU, it was that it was limited by the imagination of its time. The most advanced thing that prolific producer Bruce Timm could imagine for his world of superheroes was an orbiting space station with its own artificial gravity. Young Justice does not suffer from these constraints. In a symbol of torch passing, Robin hacks the Justice League’s computer mainframe with a holographic computer that he carries on his wrist in the very first episode.
The series continues with this futuristic aesthetic, with touchable screens made of hard light, a fog of data-eating nano-bites, and DNA suppressing skin patches. Occasionally, these technologies are used as frustrating deus ex machinas, but the way the world sets up its innovations suggests that such miraculous machines could potentially exist and could be drawn up on demand.
2 WORSE: IT MADE A TERRIBLE VIDEO GAME
The DCAU is no stranger to bad video games as the now-mythical Superman 64 can attest, but apart from a fairly naff Game Boy game, the Justice League shows managed to avoid such a poor spin-off. Not so for Young Justice. Young Justice: Legacy bears the uncomfortable distinction of being one of the worst video game tie-ins in a time where the genre has largely died out due to lack of popularity.
Despite having most of the main cast from the show, the game suffered from poor controls, rubbish graphics and generally poor gameplay. Unfortunately, it also took place during the time skip and held crucial plot details that would have clarified certain elements of season two of the show if anybody had bothered to play the game, which almost nobody did.
1 BETTER: SO! MANY! CELEBRITY! CAMEOS!
Whether you’re willing to admit it or not, pop culture is completely dependent on celebrity idolatry, and celeb cameos are the glitter on the idol’s grinning teeth. You want a fittingly fierce voice as Wonder Woman? Here’s some Maggie Q for you! Bane’s a jacked-up Danny Trejo-type? Why not get Danny Trejo? Dave Franco as the Riddler? Yes, please! Alyssa Milano as Poison Ivy? Sure thing! Wentworth Miller as Deathstroke? Nobody will ever say no to that. Adam Baldwin as Parasite? Absolutely! Rob Lowe as Captain Marvel? All day, every day, forever, yes. Brent Spiner as The Joker? Eeeeeeeh sure why not.
The icing on the cake, however, is Tim “I’m the coolest man to ever draw breath” Curry as the conniving media mogul G. Gordon Godfrey who fans got to see light up the screen from behind a microphone throughout season two.
Which animated show do you prefer? Let us know in the comments!