So I’ve been watching Young Justice ever since its premiere, mostly due to my love of DC and Greg Weisman. However, the start of the recent season has found me complaining more than appreciating the series. Let’s see why.
I. The New Batch – Because of five years passing by between seasons, it was natural that the cast would be affected. However, it was much more than expected by the series unleashing more than half a dozen new main characters onto the show. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. The problem is, the show doesn’t know how to naturally expand upon their personalities.
Compare this to another show that introduces a hoard of characters every season, The Wire. Like Young Justice, it often confuses the viewer by making them focus on more characters than most European alphabets. But on The Wire’s part, it slowly tries to get you to understand by showing off the characters for the first three episodes of each season before fully expecting you to comprehend what’s going on. Whereas for Young Justice, we haven’t gotten any development out of characters like Bumblebee or Lagoon Boy yet. All we’ve gotten is plot development with little focus on the actual characters behind it all. Weisman and company don’t seem to realize that they’re writing for a 20-minute show instead of an hour drama, and this ends up crippling what their ability to tell stories by being over-ambitious.
II. Tell, Don’t Show – Another consequence of the time skip is that it gives the writers an excuse to just remark upon what happened instead of directly showing it and letting the audience to figure it out. Unfortunately, this leads to exposition taking the place of natural character development. Let’s look at Aqualad’s betrayal for a prime example of this fault. Throughout his scenes, we slowly get clues as to why he chose the dark side, because Aquaman lied to him, Tula died, etc. What’s wrong is that these words don’t naturally fit here, and just work for the convenience of the viewer. In other words, it’s just talking down to the audience. There’s no reason for the characters to say these things to each other, since they should already know it, after all.
This is akin to lazy storywriting here, to have characters directly expositing things to the audience instead of trying slowly lay it out. Hell, I’ve seen Sentai series that have done better jobs laying out character development than Young Justice. What does that say? You can’t have characters become mouthpieces, or else they stop becoming their own people and start to resemble talking heads. And speaking of talking heads, let’s go into the portrayal of G Gordon Godfrey. Instead of actually showing the dispute between humanity and aliens, we have to have a talking head tell us of this issue. And of course this is what a superhero show needs, a parody of a political pundit instead of actual cause and effect going on.
III. Forced Drama – Beast Boy’s flashback to when his mom died took me a while to see it for what it really was: An cheap cash-in to garner audience sympathy. For the unthinking eye, this might come off as tragic and a way to subvert BB’s character by giving him an extra layer. This would make sense of Gar had a character other than being a curious, little kid. There’s no character growth if there’s nothing to grow from. It’s almost like Tiny Tim here, having a character portrayed by what happens to them instead of what they are. Once again, you have to take time to show what happens to these characters instead or ram it in front of us like a flasher with a two-inch schlong.
This is equivalent to shows like Clannad, where we were expected to care for cardboard cutouts because horrible things happen to cause generic trauma to the cast. The jaded eye doesn’t care about a character whose mom died if there’s nothing to the character. We need more reasons to care. Otherwise, what point is there in sympathizing for a featureless punching bag?
IV. Gambits, Yawn – It’s a known trait of Greg Weisman shows to have it seem like the hero has won, when the villain has secretly achieved a victory of their own. While initially an intelligent action that made the villains have plots within plots, it feels forced here. It’s become predictable for the hero to get a hollow victory when the Light gets another step closer to their plans. It devalues the protagonists by making them seem like idiots who couldn’t think on their feet, while diminishing the villains as characters due to not giving them enough flaws of their own. While previous Weisman villains like Xanatos and Demona manages to do these things while showing off distinct personalities that attracted the audience’s sympathy, none of the Light have done so in favor of just being villains for us to root against. There’s no gray in this show, and don’t use the whole “Vandal Savage wants to improve the world by going towards social Darwinism” plot. There has never been a non-villainous use of social Darwinism. And besides that, we don’t have much on his character besides what he is: An immortal, scheming caveman.
And then we get to the other villains like Queen Bee, Klarion & Luthor. What actual motive do they have out of this other than to be evil and be rid of the Justice League as threats? By limiting the villains’ primary personalities, it just makes it easier to root for the heroes, thus not allowing the audience to think on their own about who’s really good or bad. I’m know I’m basically attacking a superhero cartoon for using the ubiquitous motif of good vs evil, but something doesn’t work if the good is allowed to have a face when the evil can’t.