Last week, the world of DC animation was blown wide open with the news that the beloved Young Justice would be making a return to our screens, years after it was canceled. People—including us—flipped the hell out. But if you’re not sure why this news is so exciting, or why the animated series is so special, please allow us to explain.
The importance of diversity in our media (especially comic book-related media) is a conversation that still dominates discourse today, and one that began well before Young Justice was a twinkle in the eyes of producers Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti. But Young Justice proved itself to be a champion in giving us a wide cast of characters, all compelling and interesting in their own rights.
To some extent, this diversity applied to the breadth of heroes the show introduced as primary characters. Aqualad, Artemis, Kid Flash, and Miss Martian (who were joined in the primary team by the more familiar Superboy and Robin but never overshadowed by them) were practically unknowns outside of DC comics diehards. But given attention and care on the show over its two seasons, these iterations became the popular and definitive takes on these heroes in the eyes of legions of fans, comics readers or otherwise. Seriously, if you saw someone hyped for Miss Martian showing up on Supergirl recently, it was probably because they loved the hell out of M’gann on Young Justice rather than because of her comic book appearances.
Additionally, Young Justice championed a cast inclusive of many female and non-white characters that were there for more than just ticking a box on some sort of non-existent diversity checklist. Huge arcs were given to the show’s new version of Aqualad, a young black man named Kaldur’ahm (son of Aquaman villain Black Manta), and Jamie Reyes, the Latino incarnation of the Blue Beetle. Beyond the presence of the previously mentioned Miss Martian and Artemis on the main team, the series’ universe expanded to include roles for Batgirl, Wondergirl, Zatanna, and Justice League alumni like Black Canary.
Young Justice was a bit ahead of its time in how fiercely it explored and championed diversity, and in this regard alone its return would be great news. (And just think of what it could do a lot with some of the things the comics themselves have done with these characters in the few years since it went away!) But that’s not the only reason to welcome the series back.
There is a lot of nostalgia for what is colloquially known as the Timmverse, the DC animated output spearheaded by the legendary artist and producer that gave us Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, and more. For many (considering DC hasn’t really attempted it since with its strong animated output), it is the definitive shared DC universe outside of the comics. But one of the things we mourned about Young Justice’s cancellation was how it felt like the potential successor to the Timmverse had been cut down in its prime.
Although the premise of Young Justice was that it was told from the perspectives of young heroes, sidekicks, and proteges of the icons of the DC Universe, the show never restricted its exploration of the wider DC universe, seemingly because these were teenagers and not the Justice League. Even across just two seasons, the show didn’t relegate DC’s major superheroes to the fringes but used their relationships with their sidekicks and students to flesh out both sets of characters. YJ also had its young protagonists tackle major comic book villains, explored the fringes of the DC universe like Atlantis, and more. The fact that we were experiencing this vast new retelling of the DC universe at large from perspectives that weren’t ones we’d already seen in Timm’s animated outings was just icing one the cake.
Since I’m expecting people who read this not to be familiar with the events of Young Justice’s first two seasons, I’m going to keep spoilers to the minimum here. But without saying too much, the show’s second season ended with a hugely climactic moment that played off a story arc that had been building up across the show’s entire existence. It was one that would eradicate any sense of doubt to outsiders looking in that Young Justice wouldn’t be dealing with some of the biggest threats of the DC Universe, just because they’re the teen hero subordinates of the Justice League.
Any show cut down before its time is a tragic loss—but it stings even more when the show ends without a clear resolution. Young Justice was a show that prided itself on the strengths of its character arcs and plotting, so getting to see where all that would have led to before its untimely cancellation will be immensely satisfying.
Speaking of that golden age of yesteryear, the world Young Justice returns to in terms of superhero animation is one radically different to the time it left it. There isn’t really anything else doing what Young Justice was doing in the superhero space, either from DC or Marvel’s current outputs.
That’s not a critique of DC’s current animated fare—its animated movies, despite some recent missteps, are still some of its strongest output. And while many shudder at the goofy hysterics of a young-kid-friendly animated series like Teen Titans Go! in comparison to its far more serious predecessor, it’s a series that balances being a ton of silly fun with a rampant adoration for the sillier side of DC comics’ long history.
But there’s room for a show like Young Justice alongside the lighter, campier fare of Teen Titans Go! or the incoming Justice League Action, especially in a landscape where cartoons are moving away from serialized, in-depth story-telling (there are of course, extremely excellent exceptions to that sea change) that Young Justice prided itself on.
Young Justice respected its audience (even if the powers at be that ultimately canceled it didn’t seem to) with a surprisingly mature take on its characters and stories. It was never afraid to get dark and complex, and its tight plotting and overarching story lines made it just as compelling for older fans as its gorgeous action made it dazzling for kids. Since it ended, there hasn’t been another animated series like it. So it’s more than welcome to come and reclaim its crown as one of the best examples of its genre.