Teenage ‘Kicks: ComicsAlliance’s Guide To ‘Young Justice’ Episodes 1 And 2: ‘Independence Day’ / ‘Fireworks’
How do you do, fellow teens? Because you demanded it, Young Justice is returning for a third season in 2017, four years after it was canceled with major plots still unresolved. For people who are already fans of the show, it's exciting news, and here at ComicsAlliance that means that there's no better time to look back at the first two seasons and get caught up on all the action.
To that end, Elle Collins (who has seen the entire show and likes it a lot) and Chris Sims (who hated the pilot episode and never went back for more) are sitting down to watch the entire series and, hopefully, get excited for its return.
This week: These two Olds want to know why all these teens can't just behave themselves in the show's pilot episodes! "Independence Day" and "Fireworks" were directed by Jay Oliva and written by Greg Weisman, and originally aired on November 26, 2010.
Elle Collins: Let's start with our history with Young Justice. I actually watched these first two episodes (which I think aired as a double-length premiere) when they were brand new. But I didn't much like them, and decided not to follow the show. Then years of people saying it was great eventually won me over, and just last year I watched the rest of the series, and liked a lot of it. I've only seen it all the way through that once, though, so I'm curious to rewatch.
Chris Sims: Well, as long-time ComicsAlliance readers might recall, I'm in a pretty similar situation to you — or at least where you started. Back when these two episodes first aired, I watched and reviewed them alongside Chris Haley, and I did not enjoy them at all. I'll admit that I went in with a pretty big chip on my shoulder, though. I was in the hall at San Diego where they announced this show, and I was against it literally from the first second.
See, the announcement came right after they announced the end of Batman: The Brave and the Bold (which beats out even Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League as my favorite cartoon depiction of a full-on DC Universe), and then went on to talk about how Young Justice was going to be set on one of the 52 worlds of the Multiverse and involve the Justice League using their kid sidekicks as a black ops team. I hated basically everything about that, and then the pilot episode did nothing to win me over back in 2010.
Elle: Here's my biggest beef with the opening two-parter: Why aren't there any girls? Miss Martian could have been there from the beginning, or for that matter Wonder Woman could have brought in Cassie Sandsmark. But instead they made a show about four teenage boys, and I think we all know that teenage boys are the worst people. Except for Aqualad I guess. That kid's okay.
Chris: Here's my problem: Ain't no Kamandi in it.
Elle: That is also a valid problem! In general, this show takes itself way to0 seriously, especially considering the premiere involves little gnomes that sit on your shoulder and control your mind.
Chris: Seriously though, one of my major problems at the time, and something that came up watching it again, was purely visual. The actual designs of all the characters are pretty great, but the style that they're presented feels incredibly generic, especially considering how much the other DC animated shows put into their aesthetics.
The slick retro Bruce Timm designs of BTAS and the DCAU, the chunky Dick Sprang style of BATB, and even the anime-inspired Dan Hipp stuff that you see on Teen Titans and Teen Titans Go. All of those give those projects a kind of instant visual personality that Young Justice seems to lack here at the start. Heck, even relative "failures" like Beware the Batman, Green Lantern, and The Batman (which actually ran for a good long series) had a defined look to 'em.
Elle: Totally agreed. There's something generically video-gamey about this show. I mean, the Cadmus story here is 100% a video game plot, but the look of the world and the characters adds to that too.
Chris: Just so I'm not purely, overwhelmingly negative here at the start though, I will say that I have seen one other episode of the series: The one featuring Captain Marvel where all the adults vanish. That thing was unquestionably brilliant, and it gives me a lot of hope for where the show might be going once we get further in.
Elle: There is absolutely good stuff to come, and a lot of it involves DC characters who are often underused. You know I'm a Black Manta fan, and this show gives him one of the best storylines he's ever had in Season 2. But here at the beginning, there is not much to be excited about.
Chris: I actually am really into Jim Harper. I mean, I'm more interested in Jake Jordan, but if we start going down the rabbit hole of which obscure characters we like the most, we're never going to get to the episode. That said, if Wild Dog ever shows up in this, you might wanna tell me now.
Elle: The temptation to get distracted by favorite obscure characters is going to get way worse as this show goes on. I like Jim Harper, but I really love Dubbilex. I don't love his design here, but I'm glad he's around.
Chris: So about the pilot, there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that I kinda hated these two episodes, just like I did back in 2010. The good news is that I don't have to immediately change my opinion, and since you like the show more than I do, that means we're ready for some entertaining conflict!
Elle: I hate to disappoint you, but I still don't like these episodes either! It doesn't help that we literally start with a Mr. Freeze who's off-model in an incredibly boring way. Why does he have hair? And man this Robin is annoying.
Chris: Oh good, then it's not just me. I know I tend to fixate on things as being the One True Version Of A Character, but snakes alive, I do not like this Robin and his attempts at quippiness.
Elle: He is the worst take on Tim Drake ever to be called Dick Grayson. I want to say he gets better later, but I honestly can't remember if he does or not. I guess we'll find out.
Chris: And if you think Robin's bad, just wait 'til we get to Speedy. So the show opens with four separate attacks by four separate ice-themed villains: Mr. Freeze in Gotham City, foiled (in broad daylight!) by Batman and Robin; the Icicle in Star City, taken down by Green Arrow and Speedy; Killer Frost in Pearl Harbor, taken out by Aquaman and Aqualad; and Captain Cold in Central City, who's dealt with… in a flash! by Flash and Kid Flash.
Elle: Unlike Mr. Freeze, Captain Cold is pretty on-model to the comics. But he's also nothing like Wentworth Miller, which is always going to be disappointing now. I like the thematic ice connection though, even if it doesn't lead anywhere. And it works to introduce these teens and their mentors. The immediate standout is Speedy, but for all the wrong reasons. It's amazing how obnoxious he is in this show.
Chris: Yeah — I really do like how they use a common power with four unrelated villains to show how each team approaches things differently. Kid Flash is impatient, Robin's a motormouth, Aqualad is driven by duty, Speedy… has… a bow and arrow? But ultimately, this feels like something that should go somewhere and then doesn't, at least in these episodes, even though Batman mentions it a few scenes later!
Elle: It might go somewhere, but I'm not sure. For now though, the important thing is that Today's The Day. Which means going to the Hall of Justice, which looks just like it did on Superfriends, but with more tourists.
Chris: Which is probably another example of how I'm the Worst Possible Audience for this show. I can't see that thing without thinking of the Brad Meltzer run on Justice League of America where it had an ersatz Danger Room with the monumentally stupid name of "The Kitchen." Which sucks, because I really have some fond memories of the Union Terminal in Cincinnati.
Elle: I've never read Meltzer's JLA, and I'm pretty happy about that. But there's probably no Kitchen in this Hall of Justice, since it's not even the real headquarters. Even though Batman can still receive distress calls and coordinate missions from there, which seems pretty headquarters-like when you think about it.
Chris: The whole "Hall of Justice as a front that leads to the orbiting Watchtower satellite" was, I believe, lifted fully from the Meltzer-era JLA, and it's a complicated enough setup that even the characters on the show start questioning whether it makes sense before they get into their big conflict.
Elle: When I find myself wondering, "How can this possibly make financial sense for the Justice League?" I can't help but feel like the show has led me down a bad path. I do like that Green Arrow is the only one who's told his sidekick the League's secrets. He totally wants to be the cool dad, but all he's done is raise a terrible kid.
Chris: Yeah. While most of the sidekicks think that they're getting the grand tour, they're really just in the front while the real action happens in orbit, and the fact that they're not immediately led to the VIP room causes a petulant Speedy to throw a fit. And… look, this is an honest question, Elle. Are we meant to sympathize with him? Are we… am I… old? No, it can't be. It's the children who are out of touch!
Elle: We may be old, but I'm pretty sure we're meant to think Speedy is overreacting. I think the viewer is meant to sympathize with the other three kids, watching Speedy storm off and thinking that this day is not going as well as they'd hoped. Then of course the whole thing is interrupted by Superman, who is in turn interrupted by Zatara, who in this reality is in the Justice League and has a terrible Italian accent.
Chris: The League basically tells the sidekicks to sit tight in their billion-dollar rec room while they go and fight crime, so in the most homework-oriented overachiever-ass teenage rebellion ever, the sidekicks decide that what they should do is solve the League's problems first, thereby proving their worth.
Elle: Nice clunky bit of foreshadowing here when J'onn J'onzz admits he's glad he didn't bring "you know who." Which I'm sure has nothing to do with Miss Martian being in the opening credits. Just like the kids running off to solve the mystery of Project Cadmus has nothing to do with Superboy also being there.
Chris: Yeah. Coincidence may be the gasoline that fuels the engine of superhero stories, but this is pretty darn clunky. But hey! Cadmus! I like those guys! Can't wait to see what this show does with the Newsboy Legion, the little miniature Jimmy Olsens — ooh, do the Hairies show up riding the Mountain of Judgment down the Zoomway?!
Elle: You're still wanting this show to love Jack Kirby as much as Brave and the Bold does, which is just never going to happen. But I do love the moment when Aqualad spots a skinny figure with horns in the elevator. Both because that's genuinely pretty creepy, and because it's so obviously Dubbilex!
Chris: I'm poking fun. I can settle for Dubbilex and the Guardian, even if Flippa Dippa remains the most woefully underused character of our times. The rest of this staff, though...
Elle: This feels to me more like Dan Jurgens' Cadmus than Kirby's, which makes sense considering the Superboy origin factor. But here it's not run by Dabney Donovan or Paul Westfield, but by a long-haired guy named Dr. Desmond, who's working on a "Blockbuster serum," which I'm sure is going to work out well for him.
Chris: Look, Kirby's Weirdies aren't for everybody, but the fact that we got Mark Friggin' Desmond instead of Simyan, Mokkari, and the full-on Evil Factory, is a massive missed opportunity. Either way, Desmond's down there up to no good, using Cadmus's weird little psychic lemurs to keep Guardian from asking too many questions. And I have to admit that referring to them as "G-Gnomes" is a pretty darn Kirby touch.
Elle: Another moment I quite like is when they go down the elevator to find out what's up with Cadmus, and immediately find a herd of dinosaur sized troll-monsters shuffling along a corridor. Whoever's calling the shots, Cadmus is not known for restraint.
Chris: The kids poke around, and thanks to Robin's skill at hacking the Gibson, they eventually discover that Cadmus seems to be breeding monstrous cloned super-powered soldiers called Genomorphs with tailored super-powers — which, to be honest, are basically just Pokémon — in tanks. There's one project that's of particular interest, though, codenamed "Kr." Sadly, Robin has never seen a periodic table, so the reveal on that one is going to be a surprise.
Elle: Robin's a computer science geek, he has no time for chemistry! Also it's quickly becoming clear that Aqualad is the smartest one here. It's those Atlantean schools. Anyway, they run into Guardian, who's totally going to help them out of this mess until his G-Gnome makes him order the other Genomorphs to attack them instead, which leads to some running around, and eventually the mysterious "Kr" room.
Chris: Kr… The atomic symbol for Krypton! Which is also the name of the planet where Superman's from! And it happened at sea! C! For Catwoman!
Elle: Who is this mysterious teen in a glass jar who looks like Superman and has an S on his chest? Could he be some manner of Super... boy? And more importantly, is he friend or foe???
Chris: Or is he both?! Oh wait. Wait. He's in the opening credits. That's Superboy, he's part of the team. Solved it.
Elle: Solved that mystery. Of course he's still kind of a problem with all these G-gnomes around. But the bigger problem is Desmond, who gets on facetime with the Guild of Calamitous Intent's Council of Thirteen and gets the go-ahead to totally murder three teenagers whose guardians are the most powerful people in the world.
Chris: It's not as good as several thousand other villainous plans I've seen in my life, that's for sure.
Elle: It does involve putting them in glass tubes and sticking needles into their chests for the purpose of cloning, which looks painful as all heck.
Chris: I have to say, for all my grumpiness about the show's aesthetics, the fight scenes that we have in this first episode — both the kids versus the Guardian and then the kids versus Superboy — actually do look really great. They're quick and frenetic and do a good job with the powers that we have on display, even if it relies a little heavily on the old Superman: The Animated Series trick of asking us to believe Kryptonians are inexplicably vulnerable to electricity.
Elle: The fight scenes are really well done, you're right. I like how Aqualad's powers are portrayed. They're weird, but the show makes them work visually in a really consistent way.
Chris: Another really nice thing: Desmond keeps referring to Superboy exclusively as "the weapon," using "it" as a pronoun, even when Guardian is calling him Superboy. It's not subtle, but it's a good way of making him a jerk.
Elle: Totally. And it's interesting how Superboy has been lied to, even if the lies have come in the form of psychic programming. He thinks he's meant to be a suitable replacement for Superman, but nobody who's built to be a weapon could ever be that.
Chris: Eventually, Superboy breaks through the conditioning by looking at his WWSMD bracelet — okay, that's a slight exaggeration but it literally happens when Dubbilex asks him "What would Superman do?" — and then goes to rescue the other kids. And once he's chosen to help out, he also immediately develops sarcasm, which is pretty surprising given that two minutes ago his boldest statement was "I know the names of things."
Elle: "I have never seen the Sun, but my programming includes all five seasons of Daria."
Chris: Those monsters.
Elle: Here's where the episode really turns into a video game. Level after level of indistinguishable monsters that our heroes have to fight through to escape, and then a literal boss at the end. But Dubbilex's inevitable face turn makes me happy, not to mention explaining why he was in that above-ground elevator at the beginning.
Chris: The boss in this case is, of course, Blockbuster, who is essentially the Hulk. Wait, no, I typed that wrong: He is exactly the Hulk.
Elle: This might be a nitpicky comics nerd thing, but I find it annoying that they spend the entire two-parter teasing that this guy is named Desmond and he has a Blockbuster serum, and then when he finally uses it, he doesn't turn into any recognizable version of Blockbuster. He's just another big gray monster like all the other big gray monsters in Cadmus.
Chris: It's a weird way of getting us to a big super-strong slugfest to start things off, too. Again, though, the action looks really good, especially once the other kids get involved. Poor Kid Flash sure does get knocked through a lot of walls and glass cases in this show, though. It's like they kinda forgot he's not invulnerable?
Elle: Maybe that forcefield that protects him from wind resistance also protects him from, I don't know, concrete resistance? It does seem particularly implausible when the entire building collapses and then Superboy's three non-invulnerable friends all emerge from under a giant piece of roof looking basically fine.
Chris: Seriously, if you thought the fight was video gamey before, Robin going full Zelda on the lobby supports to take out the boss is literally next level. I kinda love it.
Elle: Not to mention that they win by destroying the entire building where they originally came to investigate an explosion. It's very Dirty Pair of them. Which makes this the perfect time for the Justice League to show up.
Chris: Specifically Superman, who drops out of the sky to meet his young clone alongside what I think we can agree is an incredibly mötley crüe: Zatara, Martian Manhunter, Captain Marvel, and… ugh. I can't say it, Elle. I don’t even want to say his name.
Elle: Oh man, I'd forgotten how much you hate Red Tornado. That's going to make parts of this show pretty rough for you.
Chris: I'd forgotten he was even on this show.
Elle: There's a moment here when Superboy says "I'm Superman's clone!" and J'onn gives Captain Marvel a look and Captain Marvel's like "...what?" I'm not sure if it's on purpose, but it cracks me up.
Chris: The rest of the JLA shows up, too, and while characters like Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Batman, and Green Lantern are to be expected, we're also looking at Captain Atom and the Hawks. This is a pretty weird group.
Elle: Yeah, the Justice League is huge in this world. I think the only adult hero who's not a member might be Guardian, which would explain how he fell in with those Cadmus jerks.
Chris: If you're at the point where you're bringing in Captain Atom and John Zatara, then I kind of wish they'd just kept having Leaguers show up until things got truly ridiculous. Like, here's Blue Beetle and Booster Gold! Here's Resurrection Man and Chronos! Hey, here's Grifter and Zealot, too! Here's Manitou Raven and Faith!
Elle: It's also a recurring theme on this show that Superman is very bad at handling sudden kind-of fatherhood, and doesn't really treat Superboy well. I don't think it's necessarily a bad take, but it is interesting because it's so rare to see Superman's flaws foregrounded.
Chris: Yeah, I kind of like Superman peacing out after meeting his clone son. It's just too dang weird for him.
Elle: He's of course famously the one who's never had a costumed sidekick (just a pal in bow tie), so suddenly having a younger version of himself running around with Robin and Kid Flash has got to be pretty jarring. Fortunately, since there's like 60 Justice Leaguers, they can spare Red Tornado to keep an eye on the teens.
Chris: Ugh. Right. After Aqualad informs the grown-ups that they have forged something powerful in the heat of battle, Batman agrees to use the Teen Titan— sorry, the As Yet Unnamed Team Of Young Justice Leaguers as a covert strike force, which is certainly a great job for #teens. But hey, at least they have a group dynamic that has already been forged in battle, right? Something that won't be disrupted by any last-minute additions that defy all logic?
Elle: Since there haven't been any girls in this entire episode, we don't learn that Kid Flash is kind of a skeez until the very end, when J'onn shows up with his niece (?) Miss Martian, a cute green redhead. Because I guess he decided it was a bad idea to bring her along for the tour of the Hall of Justice, but when he heard Batman was putting together a black ops team, he knew that was just the place for her.
Chris: Look, don't get me wrong: I like Miss Martian. Great name, great look, great idea for a character. I want her to be on this team and on this show. But this has to be the worst possible way to introduce a character to a team, literally just having her show up after all the action with a chipper "me too!"
Elle: It's so bad! I don't know if they were afraid that having a psychic around would mess with the Cadmus doings, or if they were just trying to get young boys engaged with the show before introducing any icky girls, but it is a truly weird call to not bring her in till now.
Chris: You've seen the rest of the show: Does this ever pay off? Is there a reason for her to not be there for the first adventure? Because it's literally the worst thing about these episodes.
Elle: I don't think so? Miss Martian does end up becoming one of my favorite characters on the show, but I think you just have to ignore the fact that she came in late. And of course there's another female team member still to come (also seen in those spoilery opening credits, of course), but she actually gets a whole introductory story, so that makes a little more sense.
Chris: It's such a weird setup, and if it's never addressed, it raises the suspicion that you were talking about, which was that they just didn't know how to introduce her into this plot. That means that the show starts off with a failure of imagination and plotting, which goes a long way towards explaining why I've spent the last six years usually forgetting that it existed. I realize that's my tendency to leap to the least charitable conclusion in action, and I wouldn't be doing this column if I didn't want to give it more of a fair chance, but for real, it's bad.
Elle: I can't promise that you'll ever like this show, but I can promise that it gets better. And just to give you something to look forward to, the fourth episode features Bane, and his voice casting is absolutely genius. It's such good casting I'm jealous I didn't think of it. But we'll talk about that when we get there.
Chris: I'm starting to think this would be going a lot better if I was the one who showed up at the end of the first episode.