DC rejuvenated their entire comics universe in 2011 when they released their bold New 52 experiment. Although less heralded, they did the same thing for their animated universe the same year with the introduction of the Young Justice cartoon. While fans may have complained about both reboots — the loss of Bruce Timm’s long-running DC animated universe was hard to swallow at first — Young Justice’s outstanding animation, great characterization, and its fresh look at the DC universe won over almost every viewer… and then DC killed it.
Yes, the second DC animated universe is dead, gone after two mere seasons and an overwhelming amount of promise, to be replaced by Beware the Batman. There's no use in speaking ill of a new Batman cartoon we haven’t seen a minute of (ALFRED FIGHTS CRIME WITH A GUN AAARRRGGGH) but there’s plenty to lament with the loss of Young Justice — specifically, a second amazing DCAU that was destroyed before it had a chance to reach its true potential.
• It looked so good.
No offense to Bruce Timm, but he'd be the first to admit his DC Animated Universe was heavily stylized; all the men had the same barrel chests, all the women had the same tiny waists, and everybody had tiny, skinny legs. But Young Justice not only looked like modern comic art, it was simply gorgeous. Brandon Vietti’s character designs were widely varied but perfectly encapsulated each character, whether they were be a member of Young Justice or of the Justice League. And their faces were far more expressive than Timm’s, bette exemplifying the drama that the first DCAU usually had to hint at through the voices or keep underneath the surface. Without a doubt, it’s the best-designed, best animated superhero cartoon made so far — in fact, only The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra even come close to matching Young Justice for pure visual appeal.
• The team was awesome.
It’s excessively generic to point out “the team” as one of the series’ high points — I mean, any show about Young Justice would star the team, right? But the team that ended up starring in the Young Justice cartoon is vastly different from the comic. More importantly, think about how many essentially all-new characters Young Justice established to non-comics fans: Kid Flash, Artemis, Miss Martian and Aqualad. Young Justice turned these essentially unknown DC sidekicks into some of the most popular DC characters around. As for Superboy and Robin, YJ presented a streamlined, iconic take of Superboy’s post-Crisis origin that will stick in the minds of kids much, much longer than his New 52 rebirth, and by putting Aqualad in charge of the team as opposed to Robin, viewers got to see a younger, less-sure-of-himself version of Dick Grayson. Even the characters mass audiences thought they knew got an intriguing new version.
• The diversity.
Aqualad. Artemis. Blue Beetle. Miss Martian. Static Shock. Batgirl. Rocket. Wonder Girl. Eduardo Dorado. Bumblebee. Guardian. Zatanna. Tye Longshadow. Asami Koizumi. Young Justice presented a hitherto unseen amount of superheroic diversity, an extremely welcome sight. Furthermore, Aqualad and Jaime Reyes (as Blue Beetle), both dominated large portions of the first and second seasons respectively, and were arguably the most main of the main characters. But the best, most powerful argument for acceptance in YJ was probably Miss Martian, who spent most of the first season hiding her true, monstrous White Martian form from her team. In the excellent episode “Usual Suspects”, she reveals her true self to her teammates to prevent Queen Bee from blackmailing her. Not only does the team accept her, but her Superboy tells her he always knew her true form (thanks to a bit of a telepathic chaos earlier in the season) and never cared.
• It provided a truly new look at the DC universe.
Although the series was focused on the sidekicks, that doesn’t mean that the show was all kid stuff. Far from it: The series encompassed the entire DC universe, including the Justice League, but as seen through the younger characters' eyes. This provided a whole new perspective on the DC universe — and what would it be like to stand in the shadow of the actual Justice League. Besides the wonderful characterizations of the younger heroes, it gave us a better look at main heroes like Shazam, Black Canary, Zatara and Red Tornado, by having them teach and/or assist the kids. This rose the stakes considerably, too; while the core Justice League seems mythic and unbeatable, they were often missing during Young Justice, forcing the kids to try to succeed in challenges even Batman and Superman might have found tough. And last but not least, forcing viewing to look at DC’s core heroes through their protégés — Robin to Batman, Aqualad to Aquaman, Artemis and Red Arrow to Green Arrow, Miss Martian to Martian Manhunter, and most dramatically, Superboy to Superman, whose discomfort around his unauthorized Lex Luthor-made clone was palpable — made this new DC animated universe fresh and fascinating.
• It was intense.
Not that Batman, Superman and the rest of DC’s Timm-verse didn’t have its share of drama, but Young Justice was not afraid to go dark. Almost every superhero had a secret, most of them terrible. Aqualad went so far undercover most of his teammates didn’t know, and seemingly killed Artemis — and then got his brain destroyed by Miss Martian for it. Hell, it turns out that Red Arrow was actually a clone of Red Arrow for almost the entire series, while the real Roy Harper had been kept comatose and had his arm cut off. And the situations the team faced were likewise dire — they weren’t fighting some kiddie version of Legion of Doom, they had to fight Lex Luthor, Vandal Savage, Despero, multiple alien invasions, and even Mongul and his entire War World. The fact that we were watching these younger, less experienced heroes try to fight these battles — and the show’s willingness to go dark when need be — meant the stakes were high in every episode.
• What could have been.
The worst part about the cancellation of Young Justice and the new DC animated universe it created? Thinking about all the possibilities we'll never get to see. And I’m not just talking about the final episode’s cliffhanger, where the Light meets up with Darkseid on Apokalips (although knowing that will never be resolved hurts very, very badly). The team battled against the Light throughout both seasons, and was clearly heading to an epic confrontation even beyond the New Gods. But before Young Justice ended, it had introduced Static and three genuinely cool, young versions of Apache Chief, Samurai and El Dorado! DC characters as varied as Plastic Man, Black Spider, Klarion the Witch Boy, Monsieur Mallah, and even Marvin and Wendy made appearances! Young Justice’s universe may not have been as enormous as Timm’s version, but it was clearly getting there. And the fact that we’ll never get to see it real its true potential should depress DC fans and fans of great cartoons alike.