On Its Way Out, Young Justice Does Right By Its Diverse Cast

By Arturo R. García

Aqualad stands at the ready in “Young Justice.”

With just a few days until the series end, we come not only to prepare to bury Young Justice, but to praise this series and its creative team for not just engineering one of the best seasons by an animated series–perhaps one of the top five ever–but for doing so while making full, honest use of a cast of characters that got only more diverse as the series went on.

Spoilers under the cut

The show re-branded itself this season as Young Justice: Invasion, a nod to a renewed focus with more serialized elements and an older, tougher cast, with the show picking up five years after the end of the first season. This past week’s episode, “Summit,” brought to a head several of this year’s plot points, as the alliance between supervillain cabal The Light and the extraterrestrial invaders known as The Reach dissolved. But what elevated the episode from competent to cheer-worthy for me was its refutation of the idea of Aqualad as a second-tier character.

It’s in this episode that Aqualad not only tells his father, Black Manta, that he’s been working undercover on behalf of the YJ team alongside Artemis, but he bests Manta in individual combat despite his own conflicted feelings, which he readily admits to, ending the fight by coolly telling his father, “I believe that was fairly ruthless. I hope it made you proud.” No backup. No distractions. It’s Kaldur’s moment and the showrunners give it to him entirely. Even better, Kaldur is handed leadership of the team voluntarily by Nightwing (who himself came a long way from Season One, where viewers were told the team was “his.”)

On top of that, showrunners Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti should also get credit for giving enough screentime to these characters and their stories:

Bumblebee (l) and Guardian saw their relationship survive this year on Young Justice: Invasion.

Bumblebee and Guardian: These two characters grew not only into full members of the team, but managed to forge their own identities–superheroic and otherwise–as well as their relationship, despite almost losing touch with each other. Bumblebee emerged as a science-minded protege of The Atom, while her boyfriend stepped into the Guardian identity to fool the marauding Despero long enough to allow the team to subdue him. Best of all, neither of them was written to play the “bad apple” in the relationship; they were given the chance to work through their issues–and enough characterization for it to ring true.

Blue Beetle found himself under the influence of the villainous Reach before being freed.

Blue Beetle: Maybe no character has gotten more lip service and promises of advancement from the powers that be at DC Entertainment. But this show finally delivered for Jaime Reyes, as we saw all that his power suit was capable of–not just through his own increased abilities, but by fighting his more villainous namesake Black Beetle and his own manipulations by the Reach before being set free.

(L-R) Virgil, Tye, Eduardo, and Asami were thrust into the thick of the action.

The Runaways: Later in the season, the show’s ensemble expanded even more with the introduction of new takes on not only the much-missed Static Shock, but former Superfriends characters Apache Chief, El Dorado, and Samurai. Thankfully, the Saturday-morning versions of the characters from long ago were shelved in favor of a group of kids who stood apart from the program’s other major players on their own terms.

Add in guest appearances by Milestone Entertainment’s Rocket, promoted to Justice League membership between Seasons One and Two, and Invasion has managed to make ten characters of color not just appear, but matter. Not even live-action series can make that claim these days.

Unfortunately, DC refuses to get the hint. The show will not be renewed, instead making way for a rebooted Teen Titans cartoon and appearances by a version of Katana in yet another Batman series, as well as a new series of shorts featuring DC’s latest alleged pet project, Vibe.

Counting Cyborg on the Titans, that’s a 10-for-3 tradeoff. Addition by subtraction? Not likely. But for now, Young Justice’s accomplishment should be lauded on its own merits. And maybe, someday, someone who watched this remarkable ensemble developed will get a chance to give them the credit it deserves in the comics, too.

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Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at team@racialicious.com.

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  • Berry Grey

    when I sent the message about sgmo talking to Warner Brothers to return young justice I meant SMGO

  • Berry Grey

    hey guys the people at SMGO are talking to Warner Brothers about the show being renewed there was a scheduled meeting on April 11th so far no info has been leaked on how it went but something tells me there is going to be a series of meetings also if you want there is petition to save green lantern and young justice and the numbers are going up by the minute also if you REALLY want it saved then buy the merch fans of the show aren’t letting it go without a fight so sighn the petition or buy the stuff if you want it saved http://www.change.org/petitions/cartoon-network-warner-bros-bring-back-young-justice-and-green-lantern-the-animated-series#intro

  • Ariel c

    I feel like Artemis should be included in this write up as well, seeing as she’s biracial (Paula is Vietnamese). Otherwise, I absolutely agree! This show has done rather well in diversifying its cast of characters and as someone who has fallen deeply in love with all these young heroes as well as the complex story they’re telling…the non-renewal of this show is hitting me ridiculously hard.

  • QueerJock2

    Just to clarify, DC probably had nothing to do with this, this nonsense is on Cartoon Network. I do hope that Katana at least gets some good writing in Beware.
    And I know the Falcon is supposedly a main character in the new Avengers cartoon, but I hope he gets a big role and not just the token minority in the background.

    • aboynamedart

      But do you think that if DC had said, “Hey, we have some plans for the YJ kids,” that CN would have said no? And is it only a coincidence that Vibe gets a short right around the time he’s getting a solo series?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=615763230 Cherry Davis

    I’m very disappointed that CN is clearing out the whole lineup of DC Nation with not only my beloved Young Justice but also Green Lantern (less diverse with alien creatures but a good solid animated series). I just can’t figure out WHY they aren’t keeping Young Justice since they lost Star Wars the clone wars and now will have a 30 minute slot that needs to be filled!

    I was at SDCC and spoke with them about Teen Titans reboot but they were cagey about what’s next. I hope that fan support will make CN reconsider canceling this well made series!

  • Naishee

    “Unfortunately, DC refuses to get the hint. The show will not be renewed, instead making way for a rebooted Teen Titans cartoon and appearances by a version of Katana in yet another Batman series, as well as a new series of shorts featuring DC’s latest alleged pet project, Vibe.”

    The cancelation of Young Justice is *entirely* because of Cartoon Network. There’s lots to criticise DC for, but this cancelation was not of their doing, and not something they wanted. Not sure about Vibe being a DC pet project either, I must have missed Vibe. But if it is on CN, it is more than likely the finally say was theirs, not DC’s. But anyway, DC did NOT want YJ canceled and it was out of their hands.

    • aboynamedart

      I call shenanigans. As I said above, do you think CN would say “no” if Dan DiDio and company wanted to focus on YJ?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1290273863 Kwesi Ako Kennedy
  • ladyfresh

    aand apparently i have a series to catch up on =)… =( sucks its on it way out