By Arturo R. García
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 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: 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.
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.