Sunday, June 23, 2024

Young Justice Is Growing Up At SDCC

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Young Justice, the cartoon, is one of the great success stories of fan-campaigning. Despite the cartoon being cancelled in 2013, it continued to gain popularity due to its detailed character arcs and serious, mature overarching plots. This consistent, still-growing fanbase and a massive push to support the tie-in comics and binge-watch the series on Netflix finally got the show renewed for a season 3, set to air in 2018. The title of this season, Outsiders, was revealed in April along with the news that the series will be shown on DC’s upcoming exclusive digital service.

Yesterday, at the Young Justice panel at San Diego Comic-Con, we got a little bit more to tantalize us for the long-awaited third season.

A lot of questions were asked at the panel, a lot of never-before-seen concept art was displayed, but generating the most interest is our very first look at the character art for fourteen characters in season 3—ten core members of the new Team (three of whom are new to the show) and the new looks of three of the original Team members plus a surprising choice of Leaguer. I’ll lay out the facts before we get on to the fun of wild speculation.

Something Old

First up were a number of never-before-seen images from before the first season aired in 2010. The original tagline, “tell me they don’t have something to prove”, is a good summary of what the original show was all about. Unlike Teen Titans, where the actual Justice League was unseen, Young Justice was about the teenage heroes of the DC universe existing in the shadows of their mentors and fighting to establish themselves as heroes in their own right. It opened with four sidekicks in open rebellion against their mentors and led up to, in season two (Invasion)’s finale, the Team defeating both an alien invasion of The Reach and the supervillain conspiracy of The Light. The last episode shows the Team operating out of the Watchtower, alongside the Justice League. If those kids had something to prove at the beginning of the show, they’ve sure as hell proved it—so where do they go from here?

I could not be happier that this image was one of the scenes that Vietti and Weisman used to sell the show

Next up was a piece of series concept art—the iconic scene from Episode 5, “Schooled”, where Superboy attempts to disregard Black Canary’s training session (because he has super strength, so why does he need to learn how to fight?) and gets his ass handed to him. Neither Batman nor Red Tornado was present in the actual episode, replaced by Team members Kid Flash and Aqualad, and Robin didn’t have popcorn when he was laughing his ass off at Superboy getting wrecked, but otherwise the scene in the concept art is pretty much the scene that we got.

Oh, and Black Canary displayed proper fighting stances in the episode instead of the weird ballerina thing she’s got going on up there.

Superboy, Artemis and Robin’s original character posters.

According to Weisman, the character taglines were all on the theme of “growing up”, which both the characters and the show have done since 2010. The show had mature themes and storylines from the beginning, but darkened perceptibly after the five-year in-universe timeskip from seasons one to two. According to Weisman, they were allowed to do more or less what they wanted, with one “glaring exception […] we were told  we couldn’t depict an openly homosexual relationship back then, which was extremely frustrating.”

On the panel, though, they affirmed that since they’re going to be publishing the show on a new dedicated DC streaming service rather than conventional network channels, they will finally be able to enjoy that last bit of creative freedom–though they didn’t name any specific characters. But bear that in mind when we get to speculation town.

How tiny Robin is in this original design line up just cracks me up, honestly.

Finally, we got a peek at the original character designs for Superman, Kid Flash, Superboy, Artemis, Kaldur, Robin, Miss Martian and Red Arrow. There were some definite changes to the art style between concept and screen, but aside from Superboy losing the jacket and Red Arrow’s costume and hairstyle being most noticeably tweaked, the designs themselves are also pretty much the same as what we saw in season one.

Something New

L-R: Arrowette (Cissie King-Jones), 13 (Traci Thirteen?), Spoiler (Stephanie Brown)

Then the real fun began with the revelation of the new Team lineup, starring three brand new members—Arrowette, Spoiler, and a girl referred to only as 13. Spoiler’s appearance as a hero was foreshadowed in Invasion, when a blonde girl in a purple outfit got a lot of focus relative to the other nameless teenagers kidnapped by The Reach and was later confirmed by Weisman to be Stephanie Brown.

In the comics, in addition to originally being Spoiler, Stephanie also spent time as the fourth Robin and the third Batgirl, though as of Rebirth she’s back to having only ever been Spoiler. 

Stephanie in Invasion.

Arrowette’s appearance was similarly foreshadowed in season 1 when Artemis and Green Arrow saved a man’s life from the assassin Black Spider, witnessed by the man’s enthralled daughter who was later confirmed by writer Peter David to be Cissie King-Jones, a young vigilante from the comics whose mother was also previously an archery-based vigilante. Arrowette was described as “somebody who saw her father saved by Artemis and Green Arrow and was inspired by them”, so while Cissie herself was not named it’s pretty safe to assume that she’s Arrowette.

Cissie in season one.

Unlike Arrowette and Spoiler, 13 has not previously appeared in the show, so how she comes to be part of the Team is yet to be seen.

Something Altered

L-R: Robin (Tim Drake), Arsenal (Roy Harper), Blue Beetle (Jaime Reyes), Kid Flash (Bart Allen), Static (Virgil Hawkins), Wonder Girl (Cassie Sandsmark), Beast Boy (Garfield Logan)

Along with the three newcomers, we also get a look at seven characters from Invasion as they’ll look in Outsiders. Wonder Girl, Arsenal and Blue Beetle have no design changes at all, unless Jaime’s hiding an undercut like Beast Boy’s and Static’s under that suit.

Beast Boy is also no longer sporting the monkey-like look he adopted in Invasion, instead looking more or less like a normal teenage boy, but green. The default look of his suit has also changed to include a lot more white.

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Static’s outfit has changed but retained the overall aesthetic from Invasion. The fact that he’s displayed alongside the core Team members is exciting to fans of his previous portrayal in the show and the older cartoon Static Shock, especially since what we can see of his shirt under his jacket looks like he’s sporting his insignia from Static Shock.

Kid Flash has an almost entirely new look—while the costume’s new to this show, it’s strongly reminiscent of Wally’s Kid Flash costume in the prologue of Teen Titans: The Judas Contract. That movie also had Jason Spisak, Crispin Freeman and Masasa Moyo reprise their roles from Young Justice as Kid Flash, Speedy and Bumblebee for the prologue. I might have gasped a little when I heard Jason Spisak’s voice again. I mean, you wouldn’t know it was Wally otherwise thanks to the blond hair… Anyway, the costume itself seems to use the Judas Contract design, but with a pink visor added in reference to the visor Bart wore as Impulse.

Robin’s costume has also received a lot of tweaks—his boots and gloves are different, his belt is grey instead of yellow, the clasps on the front of his uniform are gone, there’s a lot more black to the costume and the colours of the Robin insignia have been inverted to a black “R” on a yellow background. Most notably, his costume has been given a hood, a modification to the Robin costume that isn’t associated with Tim Drake, but… well, I’ll save that for the speculation section.

L-R: Artemis/Tigress (Artemis Crock), Nightwing (Dick Grayson), Black Lightning (Jefferson Pierce), Superboy (Conner Kent)

Finally, we got a look at three of the original members of the Team, who were conspicuously absent until the end of the panel. After images were leaked from the convention hall over Twitter a lot of people, myself included, thought the third figure here was Aqualad and were freaking out about his new hairstyle (I personally am not in favour of him hiding those beautiful cheekbones), but apparently WB Animation employees have confirmed that this is, in fact, Black Lightning.

It’s a little surprising to see Black Lightning, a Leaguer who joined up in the timeskip between seasons one and two and whose most notable previous appearance was becoming Static’s mentor in Invasion, showing up alongside three of the original Team members. He was never a member of the Team or a sidekick—but then again, Dick, Artemis and Conner are no longer kids or sidekicks either. In fact, it’s questionable if they’re even acting as superheroes anymore, as they’re all dressed in black without any symbols.

Dick and Artemis are wearing nose-and-mouth-covering masks instead of cowls or domino masks, making this the first time since season one we actually get to see Dick Grayson’s eyes. And Conner… bless him. He’s dropped the S-shield, but he’s still basically just wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt, gloves, boots and cargo pants. Admittedly, there probably isn’t any armour on earth that’s more protective than being half-Kryptonian, so he might as well be comfy.

Something Q(&A)

During the panel, Weisman answered a number of audience questions, for a given value of “answered”. He did explain that Outsiders will have 26 episodes, with 10 already recorded and 12 further scripts completed. Of the last four scripts, he said that they’re not written yet but “we know where we’re going with them”. There is still no release date, other than sometime in 2018. It’s previously been established that Outsiders will be about meta-human trafficking and the arms race kicked off by the discovery of and research into the metagene, but who is trafficking meta-humans and who the overarching villains of the season is yet to be seen. Weisman said that they wanted to write “obscure” DC villains, as they did in seasons one and two when they made largely unknown villains like Sportsmaster into serious threats for the Team. The producers are, apparently, all for getting seasons 4 and 5, which if confirmed could allow Vietti and Weisman to produce some truly vast storylines.

Weisman also discussed how important diversity is to the creative team and what a big priority it is to everybody working on the show. He didn’t confirm whether or not this means that they will, finally, have openly LGBT+ characters on Young Justice, though hopes are high given Weisman’s oft-repeated statements that they’ve already written characters as LGBT+, they just couldn’t explicitly acknowledge it onscreen.

Finally, a Nightwing cosplayer asked one of the most popular questions in the fandom—given that we’ve seen a memorial hologram to Jason Todd in Invasion, will the second Robin return as the Red Hood to become an antagonist for the Team? According to Weisman: “Jason’s dead. He’s a hologram.” That is possibly the vaguest answer I’ve ever seen, giving that having died is a pretty damn crucial part of Red Hood’s backstory, so the fact that he’s dead is the opposite of an obstruction to him returning as Red Hood. Weisman has also previously vagued that Jason will be a part of the story at some stage, if we’re all patient. Frankly, if Red Hood is going to be Outsiders, I doubt he’d spoil what’s sure to be a plot twist of an appearance…

Jason Todd as a memorial hologram in Invasion.

Well, we’ve got through the facts, so it looks like we’ve arrived at wild and rampant speculation about what it all means!


Starting from the bottom up, I don’t know if Red Hood is going to show up in Outsiders, but I think that a) he’s going to appear in Young Justice at some stage and b) all we’re getting from Weisman until that point is his name, rank and serial number. If he was never going to appear, Weisman probably would have said so, given his usual approach to answering questions on Ask Greg. I think the main reason that Weisman’s been cagey is that he mostly hasn’t actually planned out when or how Red Hood appears, he just wanted to hold onto the option of having him on the show. His co-creator Brandon Vietti also directed Batman: Under The Red Hood, one of the best movies in the DC Animated stable and highly praised as a superior take on Jason Todd’s return as Red Hood (including by the original comics writers), so the character’s definitely important to the show creators and I can’t see him being left out completely.

I fully expect The Light to remain the Team’s primary antagonists, possibly with the members changed again as they were between seasons one and two. Invasion ended with Ra’s Al-Ghul, Lex Luthor and Vandal Savage all escaping scot-free—in Ra’s case, by getting stabbed through the chest and spirited away by Ubu, though its mentioned that he’ll probably be fine and the tie-in comics have previously shown him using the Lazarus Pit to recover from otherwise fatal injuries. Lex Luthor was set up as the Secretary-General of the UN and I’m personally holding out hope for a Justice Lords plot, which has actually been referred to previously as the six Leaguers who were accused by an alien planet of being destructive monsters were Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Hawkwoman, Martian Manhunter and John Stewart, AKA the six heroes from the Justice League cartoon who became the Justice Lords. I mean, it’s probably just an easter egg, but this is wild speculation time.

Back on track, most notable was Vandal Savage nicking off with the War World and going to hang out with Darkseid. Weapons from both New Genesis and Apokolips have previously shown up, including Superboy’s Sphere, so it seems likely that Darkseid is going to be a major antagonist in Outsiders and beyond, possibly engaging in meta-human trafficking to obtain superpowered humans for his torturers to break into weapons. I also expect, given that Spoiler’s a confirmed Team member, that her father, Cluemaster, will appear as a recurring antagonist. Possibly he’ll get an upgrade from a cheap Riddler knockoff to a genuine threat, a la Sportsmaster.

On the subject of Spoiler, I am praying that her introduction will not lead to a love triangle between her, Tim Drake and Cassie Sandsmark. The fact that Stephanie and Tim are recurring love interests in the comics doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to be a couple in the show, as Vietti and Weisman play around with character relationships all the time—Artemis Crock/Wally West (Spitfire) is a relationship entirely original to the cartoon (and one much beloved by the showrunners), as were Miss Martian’s relationships with both Superboy and Lagoon Boy. Zatanna’s shifted age down to being Dick Grayson’s age led to her becoming his love interest rather than Batman’s… the list goes on.

The changes also apply to non-romantic relationships—the iconic Tim Drake/Kon-el/Bart Allen friendship from the Young Justice comics is nowhere to be seen and many of the young heroes that fight together in both seasons are either not contemporaries or rarely interact in the comics.

Young Justice’s trend for original and often unexpected character dynamics is also why, at this time, I’m not too worried about Cissie and 13’s romantic prospects. They’re creating a stir as, in the comics, they’re love interests for Bart Allen and Jaime Reyes respectively—AKA the two halves of Bluepulse, one of the most popular gay ships in the Young Justice fandom and probably second only to Birdflash (Dick Grayson/Wally West).

Weisman’s insistence that LGBT+ characters already exist in Young Justice and his talk of “expanded creative freedoms” and “mature themes” (though treating non-heterosexual relationships as inherently more sexual than straight ones is bullshit) has a lot of people hopeful that Bluepulse will become canon, and Arrowette and 13 pose a potential threat to that. But frankly, it’s damn near impossible for a female superhero to exist without becoming a love interest, and as mentioned Vietti and Weisman are using the comics as a basis rather than a blueprint.

The show does have a problem with being nearly completely unable to have a female character who just isn’t in a romantic entanglement of some sort and they have been known to use love triangles for drama before, so fears that Cissie, 13 and Spoiler will all be part of romantic drama are definitely grounded. I’m far from the only person to feel that the romance writing is the weakest part of Young Justice, the most infamous example being Tim Drake and Wonder Girl getting together completely out of the blue in the finale of Invasion. But while I am concerned about Spoiler becoming part of a love triangle, and I do want Bluepulse to be canon and some female heroes to get screentime without having to make out with anybody, I am taking some comfort in the fact that Young Justice has yet to portray a single female character who existed only for romantic purposes. All the women and girls on the Team have managed to be multifacted characters with their own arcs and development. All three new girls have a lot to offer in terms of character and story that isn’t romantic, and I have faith in the creative team to use them well.

Also, the current comics incarnation of Traci Thirteen is a lesbian and has a girlfriend. So maybe instead of a romance with Jaime we’ll get a beautiful friendship made of mlm/wlw solidarity. I can hope.

While the reason for Wally’s exclusion is obvious, I’m curious about why Miss Martian and Aqualad are nowhere to be seen. I think there’s three possibilities: their designs aren’t finalized; they’re going to have a reduced presence in this season compared to the previous two; or something about their appearances could be considered a plot spoiler. They could have joined the Justice League, as Zatanna and Rocket did between seasons one and two, and will either have a reduced involvement with the Team as a result or be responsible for increased League support and teamwork with the Team (the fact that they never refer to the Team as Young Justice, only as the Team, leads to some awkward sentences). I do expect them to be crucial to the plot, as it would be unlike the show to disregard two of the original six starring-in-the-opening-sequence Team members. They just, presumably, aren’t in the black ops team that Artemis, Dick and Conner are apparently forming with Black Lightning.

And what is with the all-black, insignia-free outfits? Are they undercover? Or are they running something independently of the League and the Team, without their knowledge or approval? Is it something to do with finding Wally? A deep resentment of orders or people trying to control him has been a part of Superboy’s character since about half an hour after he opened his eyes, and Dick and Artemis both have histories of working outside of League control or knowledge.

If anyone’s going to go places the League wouldn’t approve of to do something they believe in, it’s these three; Aqualad’s already done it, but with how heavy his undercover mission in Invasion weighed on him, I can believe it if he wouldn’t want to go deep undercover like that again. I just can’t figure out how Black Lightning fits into it all, but we really saw extremely little of who he is as a person in the show. Maybe they are working with the League, just undercover, and he’s their handler; maybe he has just as strong an anti-authoritarian streak and bails to work with the kids. Well, they’re not kids anymore, are they?

While the length of the timeskip between Invasion and Outsiders isn’t clear yet, there definitely is one because Bart, Gar and Virgil all look older than they did in Invasion, so Dick, Artemis and Kaldur will all be into their twenties now. Hell, Wally, Artemis and Kaldur were all already at least twenty in Invasion, with only Dick still being nineteen. The kids have grown up and the next generation is already moving in…

Which brings me back to Robin’s hood. Now, nothing has been said to indicate that this isn’t Tim Drake with a redesign, but the hood is still a very interesting addition because a hood is a very distinctive part of Damian Wayne’s version of the Robin costume. The design lacks Damian’s equally iconic green boots, but the increased amount of black and grey in the costume, including the R itself being black (it’s been yellow on every version of Robin seen so far) could refer to Damian’s League of Shadows heritage and darker morality. As well as being interesting in and of itself, the hood makes it hard to see if the design of the domino mask has also changed and difficult to gauge if his face is different, a task made harder by the fact that, under all the distinctive costumes and hairstyles, Young Justice’s art style does not have the most varied facial designs in the world. I’m not saying it’s definitely Damian Wayne, but… well, it wouldn’t be the first time that the Robin costume changed hands between seasons.

Kid Flash and Beast Boy’s design changes are also interesting to me for what I think they indicate about both boys’ states of mind and hoDCw they’re processing trauma. We saw Bart wearing Wally’s costume at the end of Invasion, but it’s unsurprising that he’d spring for a change, both to help establish himself as a hero in his own right rather than feeling like a fill-in, and to help distance himself and those around him from the trauma of losing Wally. Beast Boy returning to a more humanoid form is interesting to me because we saw him shift from his monkey form to a human one only once in Invasion–when the sight of a waterfall gave him a flashback to discovering his mother’s crashed car (and implicitly her body, though it’s never shown onscreen). He reverted to his human (but green) form and stood, frozen and crying, until M’gann’s comfort helped get him out of the memory.

I’m personally hoping that this form change means that he’s starting to deal with losing his mother better and isn’t trying to hard to distance himself from his old life and his humanity. Potentially—and this is entirely a pet theory of mine—the reason that M’gann isn’t visible in the lineup is because she isn’t in the Team or the League, but sometime after the end of Invasion chose to take some time out to rethink how she uses her powers and spend more time looking after her adoptive little brother. Gar lost his home when Mount Justice was blown up in Invasion, on top of having already lost his home once before when he lost his mother, so I would personally love to see a bit more of M’gann and Gar living together as siblings, looking after each other and helping each other through their own traumas.

Other unseen characters include Bumblebee, Guardian, Rocket, Zatanna, Red Arrow, Lagoon Boy, Batgirl and the entire Justice League save Black Lightning. Bumblebee, Guardian, Batgirl and Lagoon Boy are all old enough to have moved from the Team to the Justice League between seasons as Rocket and Zatanna did between seasons one and two, which could account for their absence. It can’t just be that their design hasn’t changed since Wonder Girl, Blue Beetle and Arsenal are all here. Red Arrow never spent much time actually in either the Team or the League and it’s entirely possible that he’s stepped back to spend more time with Jade and Lian, speaking of characters I’d love to see more of.

I would, though, like to see a return to Zatanna’s trauma of losing her father to Doctor Fate, something that was touched on in the tie-in comics briefly but entirely unexplored in Invasion. With 13, another magic user, joining the Team, we might get a chance to explore a bit more magic in Outsiders as well as the focus on meta-humans. Some have also suggested that the lack of Batgirl could mean that she’s no longer Batgirl in Outsiders, but has become Oracle; if this is true (and I kinda hope it is because I love Barbara Gordon as Oracle), I just hope that whatever happened to her is handled respectfully. It can’t possibly be worse than The Killing Joke, at least.

What a lot of people, myself included, are most hopeful about is Weisman’s insistence that there are and always have been LGBT+ characters on Young Justice. With Outsiders being published on a dedicated online service rather than Cartoon Network, they could well include openly LGBT+ characters at last. I’m all for Bluepulse, and at the very least, Bart Allen came off as extremely gay in Invasion–among other things, they sent him on a mission to Bialya, a country that they had previously in the season sent an all-girl team to so that Queen Bee couldn’t mind-control them (though you’re having a laugh if you think you can convince me that Barbara Gordon isn’t bi). The mention that Queen Bee can control “some women” and the explanation that she was able to control Marie Logan was a roundabout way of revealing that Marie was bi, so the fact that Bart went to Bialya… you can’t tell me that that boy is a heterosexual.

I’ve also long held out hope for a bi Dick Grayson, a wlw Zatanna and the revelation that Rocket’s unseen, unnamed, unspoken-of fiancee in Invasion is a woman. I also want Spoiler to be bi (I just don’t think anybody in Gotham or Bludhaven is straight, okay, not anybody) and I would love for 13 to be gay. That’s what my bi ass wants to see, anyway; what characters or ships are you hoping for?

Final Thoughts

Honestly, I still found it hard to believe that we were finally getting a season three until seeing these images. Regardless of what was or wasn’t shown at SDCC, just the way these confirm that yes, this is really happening has me giddy. I’m thrilled to see my favourite Batgirl making it onto my favourite DC cartoon and interested by the possibilities in all of the new characters and redesigns, but even more intriguing is knowing that this is very early stuff that is only scraping the surface of who and what we can expect to see in Young Justice’s third season—to say nothing of the suggested fourth and fifth seasons.

We all have our favourite plots that we’d like to see done, we all have our pet favourite characters that we’d like to see appear (I’m personally hoping for Cassandra Cain), but the only thing we can predict is that Vietti and Weisman are going to carefully craft an abundance of original stories and character arcs, and that recognizing characters from the comics is no indication of what’s going to happen to them or who they’re going to become. I have faith in this creative team to make a hell of a show.

Just keep the romance nonsense to a minimum, please. Sorry, lads, but it is not your strong point.

Images courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation and runningwitches

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