Young Justice is indeed young, but the series has already defined its voice and the clip of its pacing. In its first few issues, we were introduced to a remixed version of the team, picking up members in the least likely of places before beinginstantly whisked away to Gemworld, where warring factions are engaged in a power struggle that can only be described as Game of Thrones for the Saturday morning cartoon crowd. But while a lot of this is fascinating (and all of it is immensely entertaining), the true scope of the series wasn’t fully realized until Young Justice #4.
For better or worse, Young Justice has been carved up into two major plotlines running toward the same conclusion (presumably), which, if handled incorrectly, could feel trite and predictable. Thankfully, Brian Michael Bendis is one of the most prolific creators in his line of work, and practice does make perfect. Bendis knows how to follow narrative structure rules closely enough to make the vast majority of his ever-expanding bibliography accessible to anyone with a working knowledge of good storytelling. He also knows when to bend those rules just enough to make a solid structure feel unique unto itself.
Young Justice so far has played to Bendis’ strongest talents outside of crafting smart crime stories and world-altering superhero tales. Though this team of young heroes, he’s displaying his gift for crafting a comic that has broad appeal, and Young Justice #4 is a perfect example of this. Not only does it give us some heart-warming reunions and some ostentatious action and adventure, it throws caution to the wind with regard to playing things too seriously. Yes, the consequences of what might happen to our heroes on Gemworld are dire, but the way in which the team handles their predicament shows a level of maturity a lot of comics aimed at young adults could desperately use more of.
A scene which exemplifies this is during a shakedown at the home of Conner Kent. After Bart Allen learns Superboy has been stranded in Gemworld for quite some time, he quickly learns the half-Kryptonian hero has built a new life, one with a wife and child. Impulse’s reaction to this revelation is mostly played for laughs, but there is a lot of heart to it. How Conner and Bart speak to one another feels natural. They use shorthand the way only old friends would. Its little details and character quirks like this that make all the difference in giving the story dimension.
The B-plot, if one could even call it that, stands in stark contrast. Instead of following the other members of the team (who are all trapped in cells) we get a little glimpse into the politics of Gemworld and how the House of Amethyst toys with the idea of handling the house of Opal. A lot of the dialogue in these scenes give Young Justice #4 its Saturday morning cartoon vibe, but series regular Patrick Gleason, with an assist by Harley Quinn artist John Timms, galvanize this feeling.
The art in Young Justice has been exceptionally strong. When Gleason isn’t flying solo, he's backed by an artist whose style compliments his own. However, what sets the art apart in Young Justice #4 isn’t how well the two artists jibe, it’s how well they are matched to their material. Timms has a bit of Joe Madureira flare to his action sequences, which helps the exaggerated Gemworld action sequences feel bright and alive, while Gleason is strong as character work and shock and awe moments, both emotionally and physically. However, the two artists are similar enough in tone within their work that the transitions between them are almost seamless.
Young Justice #4 keeps things moving right along at a steady pace, instead of trying to sprint to the finish line (or race to the bottom depending on the comics). And even you see the gears turning and are pretty sure you know how those cogs are going to fit together, you’ll only be partially right. Young Justice most likely has some tricks up its sleeve, but it’s in no hurry to show them yet. The fact we know they’re there is enough to keep readers coming back.