Last night Cartoon Network debuted their newest show for what's becoming a sort of all-ages action block (other shows include Star Wars Clone Wars, Generator Rex, Sym-Bionic Titan, and Ben 10). Based very loosely upon DC's long-defunct Young Justice title (written entirely by Peter David, if memory serves), this cartoon pulls together some of the teen-aged side-kicks of the DCU into a team, but unlike its predecessor, Teen Titans, this series clearly takes place within the larger, more expansive DCU and acknowledges the legacy aspect of the DCU as the major plotpoint.
Lately I've been thinking a lot about how, online, some comic reviewers give Smallville critcism for playing to the DC Comics fanbase with familiar names, etc... from DC Comics. Frankly, I'm not sure I really understand the snark anymore. Once you move the character of Superman into the DCU proper, it kind of only makes sense that you DO show those characters and/ or use them when appropriate. "Fanwank" or not, the DCU has been around for 75 years across just thousands of titles. Why not use those things?
One thing that has never made sense to me (except from a logistical standpoint in the editorial offices at DC) is why DC hasn't treated Teen Titans as an academy for the Justice League (just as New Mutants was for X-Men). I understand that there was a certain "rebellion" factor in Teen Titans, but after Wolfman's run on the book, it often wound up feeling a bit like the adult figures shuttling the kids off for the weekend. David's Young Justice somewhat addressed this issue, and in addition to some branding issues, I can understand why the developers of this cartoon picked up
This show was very, very heavily into DCU continuity without making it a blocker for understanding or accessing the show. The story begins with several "sidekicks" given their first access to the Justice League's HQ (The HALL OF JUSTICE), only to learn that the Justice League is giving their sidekicks use of the coffeebar and library (seriously) but not including them on the actual team, Green Arrow's sidekick, Speedy, walks out on the the JLA. Soon, the remaining sidekicks (Robin, Aqualad and Fid Flash) decide to pick up a small emergency the JLA dropped in order to deal with a planetary threat.
And shenanigans ensue.
A secret lab is dicovered, a Superboy liberated, badguys thwarted, alliances forged, property damaged, threats suggested and authority figures challenged.
Its an interesting take. These sidekicks are in their late teens, and they make a compelling case with "why train us up if you don't intend for us to play ball?". After all, none of these superheroes are parents to their sidekicks, and expectation of a full partnership isn't completely unreasonable, and appeals both to kids watching the show and to, frankly, all of us who were left wondering why we were sitting at the kids' table when we felt we'd moved beyond that point (ie: all of us).
In some ways its stunning how much of an effect Kirby had on DC despite his relatively small output at the company in comparison to tons of other creators. Kirby developed Project Cadmus during his run on Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen (seriously), as well as reviving/ revising his own creation, the Golden Age character The Guardian, who had been a part of the 1940's-ish Newsboys series, and, of course, Dubbilex, all of whom appear in the episode. "Blockbuster" was a Bronze Age Batman villain on, I think, Earth-2, but who pops up from time to time.
I'll be honest, when DC introduced Superboy during the Reign of the Supermen storyline, I wasn't a fan (he was supposed to be a clone grown at Cadmus to replace Superman should he die. Which, of course, he just had). Kon-El was depicted in a way that I always found off-putting and, frankly, kind of dim and demonstrative of the limitations of DC's stable of writers. Geoff Johns' reimagining of Kon-El in the rebooted Teen Titans went terrifically far to rehabilitate a broken character, giving him something resembling self-awareness and concern about his relationship to the "S", and its that version that seems to have popped out of the cloning tube in this show.
The show also saw the introduction of Miss Martian to animation and helped usher in the new Aqualad, as seen in the pages of Brightest Day (a comic I haven't actually read yet, but DC and the animatiuon department decided to work together to develop the character). And, as I understand it, we'll also see a different take on Artemis, who is Wonder Woman's sort of frenemy in the comics, but here will be portrayed as a sidekick.
The story is kind of nuts and bolts basics, but its a very, very good start. I think they picked an appropriate scale for a threat, demonstrating both the strengths and weaknesses of the concept of the junior team, and they aren't screwing around with "is this the DCU or isn't it?" that became a meta-issue with the last Teen Titans series. We've not only seen Superman and the entirety of the Justice League, but seen Superman kind of flip out realizing he's been cloned. Batman making a difficult but reasonable decision. And we've now got a very interesting way to give kids and adults new to the DCU a way to look at the DCU that won't make them feel like they're reading "dad comics".
I was never a fan of the original Aqualad, but I am curious about the new one (this isn't Garth, who was like a weaker, dumber Aquaman). Haven't quite figured out exactly what his powers are, and I really don't know anything about his history, but he seems to have Aquaman levels of strength, which is cool, plus some sort of "water power game grips".
With the wide cast of the JLA shown (including Zatara, which seems random at first blush), I expect that we'll see more and more of the younger cast rolled out. Surely Speedy isn't gone forever. And where walks Zatara, won't we seen Zatanna?
Anyhow, very promising start.