Made-For-TV: Young Justice (2011-2012) Blu-ray

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(Warning! Huge amounts of spoilers contained within! Tread lightly!)

I think at this point it’s safe to assume Greg Weisman is as important to super hero toons as Bruce Timm is. And that’s saying a lot since Timm redefined DC entertainment on TV with his first super hero toon Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995). Since then he’s created, Batman Beyond, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and Green Lantern just to name a few. But Greg Weisman made an impressive debut with his own animated superhero toon, The Spectacular Spider-Man (2008-2009), that ran a very short but impressive two seasons, he then stepped up his game with Young Justice, and then stepped it up even more with Young Justice: Invasion (2012-2013), which I personally think is the better of the two seasons, but I’ll save my praise and extensive talk about that one when I eventually do it’s review.

I’ll admit I have not seen the entire season of Young Justice. It made a very good impression on me with it’s two-part premiere but I lost interest in it somewhere at the halfway point and  only came back to see a few choice episodes, including the ending, due to the fact that it’s action animation was too inconsistent. You see any toon I watch or want to watch is based solely only whether I like the animation style. When dealing with super hero cartoons, for me the action animation is paramount, it has to be fluid and dynamic, if it’s not, or if that fluidity is too inconsistent, I’ll tune out, no matter how well done the stories and characters are. The first season of Young Justice was like that, but the good news is with this review I get to do a re-evaluation of it.

I initially didn’t like the animation styles for Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes, Justice League Unlimited and Wolverine And The X-Men, and I tuned out after several episodes of them too, but revisited their series years later and I don’t know what happened but the animation suddenly appealed to me. I expect Season One of Young Justice to be the same.

I have not viewed any of them yet, for before I do a review of any movie or series, I tend to pen a preamble, which is what you’re reading now, with my general thoughts, memories I have, etc., so there will be a break in time between what you’re reading and my summations below regarding each episode.

I think I tuned out after episode #11, so everything after that will be a new experience.

I’ll then return with my final thoughts and I expect them to be good this time around.

All right, let’s do this!

I’ve never read the Young Justice comic book series, so I won’t be able to make comparisons, but the general plot of the show focuses on a group of teen super hero “sidekicks” who with the help of the Justice League form their own team and act as a kind of covert operations squad that can act behind-the-scenes more freely due to the fact the public at large isn’t as familiar with them as they are with the more public League.

The founding members of this squad consist of Superboy (Connor Kent), Robin (Dick Grayson), Aqualad (Kaldur’ahm), a character created specifically for this show, Kid Flash (Wally West), and Miss Martian (M’gann M’orzz /Megan Morse). Over the course of the season Artemis (Artemis Crock), Zatanna (Zatanna Zatara) and Rocket (Raquel Ervin) join, with Red Arrow (Roy Harper) granting only temporary assistance throughout.

I love to watch heroes in their prime having a good day as they tangle with some villain whose asses they’ve kicked hundreds of times in the past, it gives them a chance to multitask, giving us a momentary glimpse into what an average day, or night, must be like for them. The opening scenes of the two-part premiere (INDEPENDENCE DAY/FIREWORKS) of this season personify that perfectly.

It’s July 4th and various ice villains are creating mayhem in various parts of the country. Batman and Robin are taking on Mr. Freeze, Flash and Kid Flash are subduing Captain Cold, Green Arrow and Speedy are kicking Icicle, Jr’s ass, and Aquaman and Aqualad are in the process of knocking Killer Frost out cold. And in each battle each of the sidekicks are anxious about something, remarking casually that they’re going be late if they don’t wrap this up fast with their full-fledged hero counterparts as their respective battles wage on.

Today’s the day the sidekicks become members of the Justice League and they are brought to the Hall Of Justice just for that purpose, but how much of a “full member” is up for debate when they arrive and see they can’t get into the “inner sanctum” which is the orbiting satellite above the Earth (aka their real base).

Speedy is the only one that is outwardly disappointed and pissed. So much so he breaks from Green Arrow and goes out on his own. You can tell from the get go he’s going to be a “problem” for them in the future. While the Leaguers are alerted to two potential catastrophes, one involving a fire at a Project Cadmus building downtown and one involving the blotting out of the sun, the Leaguers head up to their orbiting base to deal with the latter, leaving Kid Flash, Robin, and Aqualad deciding what to do. Do what Speedy did and walk or . . . perhaps, help with the fire at Cadmus?

The last time we saw Project Cadmus play a part in a DC toon universe was back in Season 2 of Justice League Unlimited. I was pleasantly surprised when I heard their name mentioned again in this series. The sidekicks have no idea what Project Cadmus is and Robin hacks into the JL computer to find out what they do—genetic engineering—and off they go to rescue some scientists trapped on the second floor. But Robin wants to look into their affairs more thoroughly and this leads to the discovery of sinister goings on underground where the corporation has been breeding creatures called, Genomorphs, but the second biggest discovery they make is a clone of Superman in cryogenic stasis.

There are six types of Genormorphs and they all look like something bred from Clive Barker’s mind. I dug that. This two-parter also sets up the estranged relationship between Superboy and Superman. For some reason Clark is very standoffish with him at the end of “Fireworks,” and this strain continues right up to the last episode.

This whole premiere also sets up the season long villains, which are known as “The Light.” The mysterious board members of Project Cadmus are introduced on screens and masked by bright, white light as head scientist, Mark Desmond, informs them of the breach by the sidekicks and their release of Superman’s clone.

In the end we learn the Genomorphs no longer wanted to be enslaved, lured the Justice League to the building with the fire and psychically manipulated events within to help with this endeavor. The finale is a slam bang one where Superboy, Kid Flash. Robin and Aqualad take on a now hulkish and mutated Desmond in a fight that literally brings down the building.

Just before the episode ends Batman reopens Mount Justice, the original location where the Justice League was based, and creates the covert team of sidekicks, adding Superboy and a last minute Miss Martian. Red Tornado will live there with them, Black Canary will train them in combat and Batman will deploy them on missions.

This was a stellar kick off to this series.

Now here’s a brief look at how the rest of the episodes break down: 

3. WELCOME TO HAPPY HARBOR:  In an opening battle at the docks with villain, Bricks, Speedy’s bad attitude rears its head as he refuses to be a part of Batman’s covert team of sidekicks. This episode we see the team trying to be a team as they confront Mr. Twister, but there’s no plan, and everyone’s ego gets in the way. Miss Martian blunders big time in the confrontation and they momentarily refuse to allow her to help, but a call to Red Tornado gives her a clever plan that pays off and gives everyone hope there might still be a chance for this team. Character-wise we learn a bit more about Miss Martain. She has trouble shape-shifting into male forms and cannot density shift through physical matter like her uncle Martian Manhunter.

4. DROP-ZONE:  More team building as Batman sends them to an island that is producing a new, dangerous drug called, Venom. It’s an ‘observe and report’ mission only, but things go far beyond that when in-fighting makes the team sloppy and noticed. Lots of villains in this one. Major one is Kobra, which I last saw in Batman Beyond, Bane, Sportsmaster, Mammoth and his sister, Shimmer. In this episode Robin thinks he has what it takes to be team leader, but learns he doesn’t. They all elect Aqualad for the position and he accepts. We also see more evidence of Miss Martian’s crush on Superboy, but Kid Flash has a crush on her too.

5. SCHOOLED: Plot A involves the team escorting the recently decimated remains of Professor Ivor’s Amazo robot to a secure League location. Plot B involves Superboy (who has yet to adopt his soon to be “Conner Kent” name) trying to get Superman to accept his existence, which doesn’t happen thus sending Superboy into anger mode and again jeopardizing a mission when Ivo and Amazo become a threat again. We also get to see Black Canary sharing her experience and training with the team. Superboy and her face off and it ends badly, but at the end he’s ready to finally learn.

6. INFILTRATOR:  Villains in this episode are The League Of Shadows who have just used a scientist to create a nanotech weapon called, The Mist, that seeps into places like a mist and absorbs all the information within computers. Speedy, now going by his new Red Arrow moniker, has just saved the kidnapped scientist they used to create the weapon, but now The League Of Shadows wants her dead and the Young Justice crew is tapped with protecting her from assassination. The assassins/villains introduced are Cheshire (aka Jade Nyguyen), Black Spider and Hook. This episode also sees archer, Artemis (aka Artemis Crock), joining the team, with Green Arrow claiming she’s his niece. Red Arrow thinks this is bullshit. Kid Flash takes an instant dislike to her and vice versa. Cheshire has a secret; Artemis seems to know her, and it’s revealed later on that the team has a mole.

7. DENIAL:  This is a sorcery episode concerning Doctor Fate and his kidnapping. Red Tornado tasks the team with looking into his vanishing and they end up confronting supernatural villains, Abra Kadabra and Klarion The Witch Boy. In this episode we learn Kid Flash does not believe in the supernatural, that science can’t explain it all. It also starts to set up the eventual relationship between Kid Flash and Artemis.

8. DOWNTIME:  This is an interesting episode. It’s called, “Downtime,” because we see all the YJ team spending time with their respective families, but the plot primarily centers on Aqualad, who isn’t sure where he belongs: on the YJ team or back home in Atlantis. He heads back home to see if he can rekindle a relationship, but he learns she’s in love with another now. Villain in this one is Black Manta who infiltrates the Science Center in Atlantis to try and steal a strange, giant starfish-type creature frozen in ice. He fails and Aqualad finally understands where he really belongs, with the YJ team. Lagoon Boy (La’gaan) has a small cameo. This is significant because Lagoon Boy joins the team in Season Two.

9. BEREFT: An intensely interesting episode here. It starts off in the Bailya desert. All members of the team are separated and unconscious and they wake with no memory of who they are or who each other is or the last six months. Superboy is the worst since without the last six months of memory he’s nothing but pure animal instinct and very dangerous. And without memories of each other Kid Flash and Artemis are smitten with each other. Ultimately we learn (once Miss Martian restores some of their memories) Batman dispatched them to this desert to find the source of a possible ET landing, what they find is a weird, sentient sphere Superboy takes home as a pet. Villain here is Psimon who’s the one that blanked their memories.

10. TARGETS:  Similar to “Downtime,” where that was an episode that focused primarily on the plight of one team member, this episode is all Red Arrow’s, with a small cameo by Aqualad at the end. The League Of Shadows wants Lex Luthor dead so they send Cheshire. In the opening attempt Red Arrow prevents it and manages to capture her. Then she escapes with the help of Taskmaster. Ra’s al Ghul makes a cameo indicating something bigger is at play. Taskmaster and Cheshire try to kill Luthor a second time, but Red Arrow calls in Aqualad as back up. In the B Plot Miss Martian and Superboy head off to public school, this is the episode where they adopt their “Megan Morse” and “Conner Kent” monikers, and while there we get a cameo by Malcolm Duncan, who ends up joining the team in Season Two. This B plot also pushes the eventual Megan/Conner relationship further.

11. TERRORS: Our primary villains are the Terror Twins. This episode also harkens back to “Independence Day” when there were those three ice villains creating mayhem. Well, here Batman theorizes they were caught to easily and in so doing are planning something sinister, so after nabbing the Terror Twins Megan and Conner disguises themselves as them and infiltrate the prison all three of those ice villains were initially sent. Wouldn’t you know it Batman was right. Something big is in the works. On a more personal front Megan and Conner officially reveal their feelings to each other at the very and are now a couple. This is the episode I eventually bailed out on due to the first and middle parts where I thought the animation was looking a little sub par, it still looks like that to me now, but I see it gets better towards the end when the action hits.

12. HOMEFRONT:  This is mostly a Robin and Artemis tale. Red Tornado appears to be the mole. Red Inferno and Red Torpedo somehow have gotten access to Mount Justice and lay siege to the team within their inner sanctum. While most are caught Robin and Artemis give them the slip and it’s a test of wills to see if they can rescue the others before they are killed. Before all of this Artemis is seen attending Gotham Academy, where we get cameos from Barbara Gordon (aka Batgirl), who joins the team in Season Two, and. Bette Kane.

13. ALPHA MALES:  I had no idea there was a DC villain called, The Brain. He’s the main villain in this episode as the team is deployed to the jungles of India. Here we get connections to other episodes, the Kobra Venom from “Drop-Zone” which has been used to mutate and pump up the local fauna, and the control collars from the “Terrors” episode that the villains wore in Belle Reve prison. Here they’re being used by The Brain to control the mutated animals. The B Plot is the team learning Aqualad was withholding knowledge of the mole from them; they’re pissed and not acting very team-like on their mission, but Aqualad proves he’s the right member to be leading. Conner also gets his man-sized wolf pet in this episode.

14. REVELATIONS:  A big episode here. Lots of villains and lots of heroes pitted against each other. The main antagonists is The Injustice League (Count Vertigo, Poison Ivy, Black Adam, Wotan, Atomic Skull, Ultra-Humanite and Joker) who decide it would in their best interest if they used giant plant monsters to try and take over the world. While all the Leugers take on the monsters all over the world in an attempt to distract the Injustice League, Batman dispatches the YJ team to IL’s hideout, having them take the bad guys on directly. No B plot here, really, it’s just 22 minutes of asses getting kicked, with some of the best animation since the two-part premiere. Most of all the previous episodes end with an epilogue concerning “The Light” and how their “leader” comments on the events that just transpired stating that even though they were thwarted it’s all going as planned. Well, in this episode, in the epilogue, all the members of “The Light” finally step out of it and reveal who they are: Vandal Savage, Ra’s al Ghul, Lex Luthor, Queen Bee, Ocean Master, Brain, and Klarion the Witch Boy.

15. HUMANITY:  We learn Wally had his arm broken in the last episode. Can’t remember the last time a super hero toon wounded a character and then carried the damage over to another episode. It’s this kind of attention to detail that makes this show fantastic. Zatanna appears for the first time in this episode and is looked at for being a new member, but the team “kidnaps” her as they go looking for Red Tornado. The big story here is Red Tornado, Red Torpedo and Red Inferno. We get a nice history lesson on how they came to be, while the scientist who created them creates another, Red Volcano. His job is destroying the world. A good episode with excellent animation!

16. FAILSAFE: Was not all that impressed by this one. It’s a simple one. An alien race comes to Earth and actually manages to kill off the Justice Leaguers. Now the Young Justice team is all that remains and must try and stop them. None of them survive. It’s obvious this was a deceptive episode for all of it was a training exercise where Martian Manhunter put them all into sleep like trances where the exercise was akin to virtual reality. Problems arose when Miss Martian was unexpectedly traumatized by the “death” of Artemis so her powers spiked and made everyone believe it was happening for real. Only Martian Manhunter could stop her by stepping into the “excercsie” and killing her. This episode is notable for we learn that Miss Martians psychic powers are even more powerful than Manhunter’s.

17. DISORDERED:  The A plot revolves around the fallout from the last episode. The team members are still traumatized from what they experienced so each one has a counseling session with Black Canary. This was an especially excellent show where we learn about the inner fears of each member, except for Wally, who’s in denial. The B Plot involves the origin of the sentient sphere Conner took as his pet/companion from episode #9. The Forever People come looking for it, since it is their New Genisphere and they think Conner stole it. The sphere transformed earlier into a kind of cycle. As events play out Conner and the Forever People track the real thieves down and it’s Intergang, and then Desaad is revealed to be another player, all this leading to the revelation that Darkseid might be a villain they will all have to tangle with later on in the series. He does become more involved with matters in Season Two. Animation was real good in this one, too.

18. SECRETS:  This is the show’s Halloween episode and it certainly leaves a lasting impression. The A Plot involves Artemis and Zatanna out and about kicking random ass in the city when they encounter psychotic villain, Harm, who uses a mystical sword stolen from a nearby museum. The sword requires the usr to be pure of heart, whether that be good or evil it doesn’t matter. But to purge himself of all distraction and concern he had to kill his sister, and during the episode’s long battle, the sister’s ghost helps them get the drop on Harm and show them where she’s buried. The B Plot involves the rest of the team heading out to their school’s Halloween dance. We also learn more about Miss Martian, that Manhunter has 100s of nieces and nephews and that she stowed away on Manhunter’s ship the last time he visited Mars, which explains how she got to Earth. Animation was stellar; story was creepy and tragic. A high point in the series. 

19. MISPLACED: For some reason, barring the last episode, the “supernatural episodes” don’t really do much for me. This is another one where Clarion The Witch Boy gathers together others of his ilk and casts a spell that separates the adults and the children of the world into their own dimension. This is perceived as the adults seeing all the kids disappear and vice versa. This episode Captain Marvel, whose the only one that can travel between both, reveals to the Young Justice team that he’s really a 10-year old boy. Also a pivotal episode because Zatara dons Doctor Fate’s helmet to conquer Clarion and needs to be the new Doctor Fate now, leaving his daughter, Zatanna fatherless. She now joins the team as an official member.

20. COLDHEARTED:  This was another stellar episode. The A Plot here involves what at first appears to be a simple mission for Kid Flash, get a heart across the country in 4 hours to a transplant recipient, while the rest of the team (B Plot) destroy a bunch of ice making machines that are flying above the clouds, creating a hell of a snowstorm. What Wally doesn’t realize is that he’s going up against Vandal Savage and Count Vertigo in an attempt to usurp control from Vertigo’s presiding Queen. It’s also Wally’s 16th birthday.

21. IMAGE:  The A Plot in this is a political one. Batman sends the team to Qurac to stop Queen Bee from upsetting the status quo, along the way they are distracted on a side mission (B Plot) at a wildlife sanctuary to save a mother and a son from a stampede. This mother and son, Marie Logan and Garfield are crucial. Marie has a connection to Miss Martian. She was an actress when she was young on a show called, “Hello, Megan,” which explains Miss Martian’s catchphrase and her appearance. During this B Plot, Garfield is critically wounded and needs a transfusion, so Miss Martian alters her blood accordingly and he’s transfused. Garfield Logan becomes a member of the team in season two when he becomes the shape-shifter, Beast Boy, thanks to that Martian transfusion. We also learn even more about Miss Martian and her insecurity about her true appearance, which she does not want her team members to know about for fear of rejection. At the end Queen Bee attempts to blackmail her into compliance by threatening her with this. Yet another excellent episode with great animation.

22. AGENDAS:  The Thanksgiving episode. In the A Plot Lex Luthor leads Superboy back to Project Cadmus claiming there’s another clone. But the new Project Cadmus is a better place. The Genomorphs are free, kind of, they are building a secret city underneath the building where they can live in peace. Superboy does indeed find a new clone, but he’s insane due to the fact they used pure Krypton DNA to make him. Superboy is half Krypton, the human half came from Luthor’s DNA. In the B Plot, up in the watchtower, all the Leaguers have gathered to vote on who else they want to make full time members and who they may want to vote out. Apparently no one but Batman knew Captain Marvel was really a 10-year old boy. This episode’s main focus is Superboy and it’s a doozy. Luthor even gives him these patches that once stuck on the skin suppresses his human DNA so he can have all the power of Superman.

23. INSECURITY:  I like this Black Spider version in this series and in this episode he makes another cameo in the beginning, but this episode mainly focuses on the dysfunctional family dynamics of Artemis. Don’t forget villain Cheshire is her sister and here we learn Sportsmaster is her father. The mole situation pops up again as Red Arrow joins the team in an effort to ferret him or her out and he’s banking on Artemis being it.

24. PERFORMANCE:  You might call this the “circus episode.” Interesting location for a show. The team infiltrates the circus Dick grew up in and where his parents died. There’s someone or a bunch of someones stealing tech at the various stops it makes. The villain here is Parasite, which explains the mysterious “flu” going around. Those he touches and drains of abilities feel sick afterwards. Superboy starts to look like an addict as he relies more and more on those special patches Lex Luthor gave him. Red Arrow tagged along again because he’s still obsessed with ferreting out that mole, but comes to conclusion at the end that there is none. He and Artemis make peace, finally.

25. USUAL SUSPECTS:  The season comes to a close like it started with a slam bang unofficial 2-parter with excellent animation. As this episode starts off the League is holding an induction ceremony outside their Hall Of Justice. Being inducted as full members are The Atom, Dr. Fate, Icon, Red Arrow (finally) and Plastic Man. Taking the place of Red Arrow on the YJ team is Icon’s sidekick Rocket. Here a lot is finally revealed. Superboy comes clean about the patches and his connection to Lex; Artemis tells them of her villainous family; Megan finally reveals her true form to everyone to which we learn Robin and Superboy already knew. These revelations to each other help when Lex pulls all three secret holders to an island to join him and Queen Bee in a life of crime; Lex and Bee are cleverly set-up and a battle wages. In the final scene we learn Red Arrow was the mole all along. A sleeper agent. Once on the watchtower he infects all the members with Starro tech, taking over their minds as Vandal Savage finally shows up to claim victory.

26. AULD ACQUANTANCE:  In the final rip roaring episode it’s the Young Justice team versus the Justice League as they are forced to take on the mind controlled heroes. We learn Savage masterminded all the villainous events of the entire season, as his end goal was to destroy the Justice League. It’s also revealed Red Arrow was a Cadmus clone, had been for the past 3 years. The real Speedy was captured and put on ice the moment he became Green Arrow’s sidekick. The entire episode is watching the YJ team counteract the mind control and rescue the members and the watchtower from Savage. The icing on the cake in the final act is watching Robin take on Batman and Superboy take on Superman. In the final moments Batman is concerned what he and the others did for 16 unaccounted hours, which is revealed in Season Two. And Red Arrow vows to find Speedy if it’s the last thing he ever does. Relationships are confirmed as Artemis and Kid Flash and Robin and Zatanna embrace. Miss Martian and Superboy do the same. Aqualad is odd man out, which gives us a very slight hint as to what will happen to him in Season Two.

Well, now that I’ve finally seen the entire season I have to say my initial perception of the animation being inconsistent was wrong. “Terrors” is the only episode which still appears to be somewhat lackluster in this department, when it comes to the non-action scenes of course, and I also recall bumping into the “Revelations” episode, seeing the plant monsters and feeling disappointed in the animation too. I can’t tell you why, because seeing that episode now everything looks just as good as the rest of the season. As a whole this easily a season I could watch over and over, and will be adding it post haste to my collection.

This past August Warner finally converted it to blu-ray through their Warner Archives sub-label and the results are predictably stunning. The  1.78:1 widescreen transfer is as good as you’d expect it to be and so is the  2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio, English subtitles only are included and the season is divided up between two discs. Sadly, there are no extras at all, but as I understand it extras have been included on Season Two.

This series has everything that makes a DC toon perfect, the personal aspects of the characters and their relationships to one another are perfectly balanced with the traditional hero fisticuff eye candy, which always draws a fan like me in, but what gives it staying power are the internal lives and strife of the characters which Weisman, like Timm, can do create beautifully.

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