After undeserved cancellation, rumors suggest the show could find new life…and it’s about time.
When news broke earlier this week that prematurely cancelled animated series Young Justice could possibly be revived at Netflix, fans everywhere perked up with excitement. There’s good reason. Based on the DC Comics title of the same name that featured the publisher’s notable teenage heroes (Robin, Superboy, Impulse), Young Justice debuted in 2010 and impressed an initially wary audience. This was one of Warner Bros. first forays outside of their established DC animated universe continuity that started way back in 1992 with the classic Batman: The Animated Series and included everything from Justice League: Unlimited to Static Shock. With a surprisingly mature tone and faithful, yet original takes on DC’s greatest superheroes,Young Justice quickly gained a loyal audience. However, the series was short-lived and received the axe after just two seasons; a decision later attributed to weak action figure sales and a sizable female viewership.
“There was something for everyone to love about Young Justice. All the more confusing that Warner Bros. abandoned it so swiftly.”
Young Justice wasn’t Warner Bros. first series based on DC’s young heroes. Teen Titans premiered on Cartoon Network in 2003. With anime-inspired wackiness , it was a radical departure from the more mature style of The New Batman/Superman Adventures, the mash-up of Superman: The Animated Series and The New Adventures of Batman and Robin. It was clearly aimed at younger viewers and quite successful in that regard, running for five seasons while slowly maturing with its viewership. Older viewers were largely able to ignore it since the beloved Justice League animated series was running at the same time and continued with the style and creative teams from Batman/Superman. Both Titans and Justice League ended in 2006, the latter concluding their long-running animated universe. This left a void in Cartoon Network’s programming and in the heart of fans everywhere.
A NEW FRONTIER
In 2011 Young Justice seemed poised to fill that void. Thoughtfully created by Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti, the series seemed like a fool-proof project. The kids that watched Teen Titans were now older and too mature for something quite so zany. Young Justice would lure them in with familiar characters and more complex themes. Those who loved Justice League could enjoy the team’s mentors (Batman, Superman, Flash, Martian Manhunter), who all featured prominently in the show. Fans of DC’s animated feature films would notice the animation style used on Young Justice was strikingly similar in both design and quality. There was something for everyone to love about Young Justice. All the more frustrating that Warner Bros. abandoned it so swiftly.
That’s not to say there was malicious intent on part of Cartoon Network and Warner Television. Young Justice’s financing was indeed strictly tied to a merchandise deal with the toy manufacturer Mattel. But there was also a diametric shift with Warner Bros. at the time. The studio used to hang their hat on animation, where they were (and arguably still are) considered king. The CW series Arrow, a live action adaptation of DC character Green Arrow, premiered in 2012 and kickstarted DC Comics television universe that includes The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and now Supergirl. Similarly, Man of Steel started production that same year and would be the first film in Warner’s new cinematic universe. Understandably, the focus shifted away from animation in favor of live action adaptations.
While it’s true there is a multitude (and even multiverse) of live action options for DC fans to enjoy, not everyone has been able to join the parade. Both the television and motion picture universes are mostly devoid of live action counterparts to Young Justice. The CW shows are under strict guidelines for what characters they can or can’t use, likely leaving popular characters like Nightwing and Superboy in limbo. The heroes of the cinematic universe hardly seem like the types that would tote along young sidekicks and that point really has been driven home. As it currently stands, the young heroes and their fans have been left out in the cold. To Warner’s credit, they have recently been given a direct to video animated movie, but there’s something to be desired for serialized storytelling.
A major draw of Young Justice was that the stories mattered. The characters bickered, had interpersonal conflict with both each other and their mentors. There was legacy. Season two started with a five year time jump that allowed the characters to age and explore more mature themes. New heroes were introduced, roles and identities were redefined. Subplots from season one carried over from season two in dramatic fashion. There was diversity. Characters from various ethnic backgrounds were consistently featured, including the first appearance of Dwayne McDuffie creations Icon and Rocket outside of comics. Female heroes were plentiful and wonderfully written, which was naturally responsible for the large female audience. There was scope. Virtually every DC Comics character worthy of mention found their way into the show. In a surprising turn, the universe Young Justice inhabited became incredibly similar to the comics, perhaps more than any adaptation to date, live action or animated. And just like that it was all pulled away.
With all taken into account it’s easy to see why fans are hyped for the possibility of the series returning via Netflix, a platform many people used to discover Young Justice after it was cancelled. There’s a promise the show held, a potential that was just starting to be tapped. We were introduced to a broad, inclusive new DC animated universe that was lively enough for young viewers and complex enough for older viewers. The long-form storytelling carried a certain substance that even surpassed Justice League Unlimited. The show simply felt like you were reading a comic. At a time when Warner’s live action adaptations sharply diverge from the source material, which itself is currently a menagerie of continuity, Young Justice is a series the DC Comics faithful deserve. It’s what the characters deserve.
Using Netflix as a vehicle removes many of the obstacles and metrics used to gauge the success of animated shows. It wouldn’t be subject to ratings scrutiny. It wouldn’t be obligated to sell merchandise. Its success would only be determined by the loyalty and passion of the viewership and Young Justice has that in spades. Netflix has made a something of a reputation reviving shows, be it Arrested Development, Full House, or the new Voltron animated series. Time will tell if season 3 becomes a reality, but fans should expect news sooner rather than later. Until then we all await news with bated breath, eager to discover if true justice will be done.