Friday, December 26, 2014

2014 Holiday Surprise Special!

(Apologies for the lateness of this post. It’s been a busy week with Christmas and all.)

Holiday greetings, citizens! Well, this is going to be my final review for the year. Like I said last week, I had been planning on reviewing the Teen Titans animated series for this week, but I unfortunately did not have an opportunity to re-watch any of the episodes. I could have just written about it from memory, but there were some episodes that I wanted to re-watch before talking about them. So instead, a good friend and I watched something I’d never seen before, specifically for me to review it. So, let’s take a look at Young Justice season one!

Young Justice was an animated series that ran on Cartoon Network from November of 2010 to March of 2013. It was critically acclaimed and well received by viewers. Unfortunately, it wasn’t popular with the right demographic. Because the network wanted to see good sales figures for toys and other merchandise, the series was targeted at teenage boys. The show turned out to be popular with both boys and girls however, which lead to it’s doom. Sooo… do girls not have an interest in toys? I’m pretty sure I always see aisles dedicated to “girls” toys whenever I find myself at a place that sells toys. This just baffles me. If the show is popular with girls and boys alike, aren’t you going to be able to sell more merchandise?

Anyway, let's get down to the important stuff, starting with the characters!

Robin (Dick Grayson)
Ah, Dick Grayson, probably the most portrayed and famous of the Robins, and also the one I’m most familiar with. This is actually a really different interpretation of the character than what I’ve seen before though. He’s the youngest member of the team at only thirteen, and his immaturity shows through. At the beginning of season one, Robin sort of has a problem with keeping still as well as communicating with his teammates. He also has an odd obsession with picking apart words, taking prefixes off of them and using the base word, like turning overwhelmed into whelmed and disaster into aster. Oddly enough, whelmed and aster are indeed words, but Dick doesn’t quite use them properly. However, Robin does mature as the series goes on, most notably after the episode “Failsafe.” In it, after Aqualad is taken out, Robin steps into the role of team leader and learns about the burden of leadership. He becomes much more serious, but still manages to retain some of his youthful innocence. An interesting point is that while Robin is a skilled fighter on the team, his talents seem to focus more on utilizing tech, especially hacking into enemy computers. It’s nice to see that side of him more than focusing on his combat skills.

Speedy/Red Arrow (Roy Harper)
Roy starts off as the sidekick of Green Arrow, but in the very first episode, he gets fed up with being treated like a child and goes off on his own, becoming the hero Red Arrow. Personally, I think that is a stupid name, but Roy’s judgment has never been the best in the comics. Anyway, he’s really more of a recurring character than one of the stars, not actually being a part of the team. He does get a fair amount of screen time, however, and he seems to be more or less a stock “lone wolf” character. He does show that he cares for the team, being concerned when it’s learned that someone has been giving valuable information on the team to the villains. In the season finale, it is revealed that Red Arrow is not the real Roy Harper, but a clone created by Cadmus to serve as a mole within the Justice League.

Kid Flash (Wally West)
Interestingly, Wally served as the Flash in Justice League, so this is the second time we’ve seen a take on this character. Personality wise, they’re more or less the same, being very light-hearted, optimistic and comedic. However, in an odd twist, this version is an even bigger flirt than the JL version. Which is kinda weird since he’s only fifteen (later sixteen). He is constantly hitting on Miss Martian, as well as just about every other female character save for Artemis. So of course he and Artemis are the ones with the real chemistry. Kind of a cliché, but I think it’s handled better than some of the other confrontation-based flirtations I’ve seen. What is less clichéd is that we actually get to see that Wally’s a pretty solid scientist. His expertise is more in the mechanical side of things than Robin, so there’s no overlap or tension between the two of them for having the same role. Speaking of Robin, the two are actually best friends, with Wally being the only one who knows Robin’s secret identity and past.

Aqualad (Kaldur'ahm)
Aqualad is a character I’m not very familiar with. The only real exposure I had to him before this was the bit parts he had in the Teen Titans animated series. But that works out, because this is a reinvention of the character. Even though very little of the show takes place in or near water, he manages to be possibly the biggest badass on the team. He has super strength and durability of course, and he’s also a waterbender, taking with him a backpack like thing of water, and using it to shape various weapons. He also does some other neat things with water, like dousing an area and making water platforms. Though, for all of his badassery, he’s something of a stock “leader” character, being very serious, confident and commanding. He’s not a killjoy though, which is nice considering how immature his teammates can be at times. But the most interesting stuff we see from him is dealing with the burden of command, but even that comes off kind of flat and is only seen in a couple of instances.

Superboy (Connor Kent)
A fast-aged clone of Superman created by Cadmus, Superboy is the team’s powerhouse. He’s short-tempered and rebellious, which causes a lot of friction between him and some of the more mature characters. He’s also arrogant, thinking that because he’s the strongest, he can deal with everything on his own. All of this does change to varying degrees throughout the course of the season though. He becomes more patient and learns to take orders better, and he also develops a relationship with Miss Martian. Superboy also has some issues with his “father,” Superman. Superman is pretty distant with him, avoiding the team specifically because Superboy makes him uncomfortable. Superboy though really wants to live up to the example that Superman has set and make him proud. But because Superman doesn’t acknowledge him much, Superboy gets frustrated when people compare them. He later learns that his lack of flight and heat vision is because his kryptonian DNA was spliced with human DNA, specifically Lex Luthor’s.

Miss Martian (M'gann M'orzz/Megan Morse)
Miss Martian I’m kind of at a loss for on what to say. She’s a character I had only ever heard of before the series, so I had no expectations about her. She’s introduced to the team as the niece of the Martian Manhunter. She’s able to do some minor shapeshifting, which allows her to take on a human guise and goes by Megan Morse. Her human persona is based off of a character of the same name from a sitcom. She also adopted the show’s catchphrase, “Hello, Megan,” and uses it all the time much to my annoyance. We later learn that she is not in fact the Manhunter’s niece, but a white martian in disguise. She assumed the form of a green martian because she was afraid that the team would not accept her otherwise, since white martians are persecuted on Mars. Even after growing close to the team, she doesn’t think they’d accept her, and she does some serious psychic damage to a villain who threatens to blow her secret. I’m not much of a fan of hers, honestly, but I don’t dislike her either. She’s just kinda there.

Artemis (Artemis Crock)
Artemis is yet another reinvention of an existing character. In the comics she goes by the name of Tigress, and is a villain. In this series however, she’s a hero trying to overcome her upbringing. She’s the daughter of the villains Sportsmaster and Huntress, the latter of the two being an ex-villain who was in prison during a good chunk of Artemis’ childhood. She’s also the sister of Cheshire, who is a recurring villain in the series along with Sportsmaster. Artemis seems to be defying the whole “apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” aphorism, which is good to see. It’s not easy for her though, with her father and sister trying to turn her, and Roy Harper’s constant distrustful statements towards her. I kind of like her, but she's not my favorite. That might just be because she's an archer though, and I have issues with archers.

Zatanna (Zatanna Zatara)
Zatanna is a character that I’m only sort of familiar with, but would like to see more of because I like magic-using heroes. The daughter of the superhero Zatara, she makes an appearance or two as a friend of the team before officially joining. Her abilities are quite diverse, but she’s somewhat inexperienced. Her father is initially against her joining the team, worried that she’s not old enough or experienced enough for that life. However, she does end up joining after her father takes up the mantle of Doctor Fate.

Dr. Fate/Nabu
Doctor Fate is yet another character I’d like to know more about. But not this version. This version is… kind of an asshole. Well, it’s not Doctor Fate that’s the asshole. For this version of Doctor Fate, the wearer of the helmet becomes possessed by Nabu. Three times in the series, somebody dons the helmet, and each time, Nabu is against allowing the person to remove it, allowing them to go back to being normal. The first two times the original Doctor Fate, Kent Nelson, intervenes and convinces Nabu to relent. However, after the third time, Nabu is fed up with this and decides to keep the wearer, Zatanna this time. Her father is able to strike a deal with Nabu though, offering himself up in place of his daughter.

Captain Marvel/Shazam (Billy Batson)
Captain Marvel (or Shazam, as he’s now legally supposed to be called in the comics and other media) is also a character I was exposed to before via Justice League Unlimited. He’s a bit different in this version, and acting much more like the ten-year-old that he is. He’s not a member of the team, but he is close to them and makes several appearances.

The writing for the show is excellent. Every episode is well paced and doesn’t feel like a single moment is being wasted. The characters are relatable and realistic, though there are some times when it’s heavy on the teen angst, but they’re teenagers, what do you expect? One of my only complaints is with some of the humor. It seems like about half the jokes are dead on arrival, a problem that’s much more prevalent in the first several episodes. It does have some funny moments though, which is good because it helps to keep the serious from being too serious. Speaking of the serious tone, I was actually really surprised by just how serious it was. I had heard very little about the show prior to watching it, beyond “it’s good, watch it.” So when I saw just how dark and serious the show was, I was a bit taken aback. Not in a bad way, mind you. I thought that it was excellent that a series that was aimed at a younger audience would be like this. It addresses real issues through allegory rather than being direct, and never tries to dumb itself down. It’s rather fitting, considering that the team in the beginning was adamant about not being treated like kids, and the show has no intention of treating the audience as such.

Every episode it seems it peppered with references to other parts of the DCU, especially the Teen Titans comics. Tons of Titans members show up in the series, including the original Aqualad (Garth), Mal Duncan, Bumblebee, and Beast Boy/Changleing, and those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head. But those aren’t the only appearances of other characters. The first villain that the team truly faces is Mister Twister, the very same villain who was the first opponent for a proto form of the Teen Titans back in The Brave and the Bold #54. Various other characters get re-purposed for the show as well. Amanda Waller, instead of being in charge of the Suicide Squad or a part of Checkmate, serves as the warden of Belle Reve Penitentiary. Jason Bard, a Batman supporting character, also make an appearance, though as a soldier instead of a cop. There are a lot more, probably ones I didn’t even pick up on, but if you enjoy that sort of thing, you’ll get a kick out of the series.

Finally, let’s talk about the artwork. It’s great, of a much higher quality than is generally seen in cartoons these days. Everything is nice and fluid, especially action sequences. The character designs are more or less directly from the comics, but there are a few where they change things up. The previously mentioned Mister Twister is a good example. Here’s what he looked like in the comics:

And in Young Justice:

Aqualad, being a reinvention of the character, also had a new character design.

It’s reminiscent of other Aqualads, but still unique.

Well, that's all I've got to say, really. I haven't gotten to look at the second season yet, but I've heard some negative things about it. Still, I will eventually take a look at it, maybe even give my thoughts. For now though, I wish you all a wonderful holiday!

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