Having suffered an arduous six-year hiatus, the third season of Young Justice was pretty much a forlorn dream of avid fans. But thanks to the powers that be, and a tireless fanbase, this beloved series has been granted an extra life. When it debuted back in November 2010, Young Justice asserted itself as not only the more mature, worthy successor to the critically acclaimed and well-beloved Teen Titans animated show that preceded it but also its edgier art style and tone have solidified itself as the well-received distinctive heir to the modern DCAU throne previously held by Bruce Timm.
Freed from any set continuity, most of the characters within the Young Justice universe are not behooved to certain character plot threads from established lore/canon. For example, while Superboy is still the hybrid clone of Superman/Lex Luthor as in the comics, his creation is not spurred by the Death of Superman arc. Other welcomed changes included the introduction of Kaldur’ahm/Aqualad (later revealed to be the son of Black Manta) (voiced by Khary Payton) who was a brand new character who premiered alongside his comic book counterpart. Aqualad, a wholly new Nubian character, was also poised as the team’s stalwart leader.
Young Justice’s greatest strength is its ability to address the realities of not just superheroes but young/maturing adults. Over the course of its three seasons, it has managed to tactfully address very mature content, touching on topics from the complexities of adult relationships, sex, drugs, human trafficking, trauma, grief and abuse. Young Justice has always been strongest in its “non-costume” moments, with comic book battles peppered for entertainment and to give us a respite from the engrossing drama between its expanding rosters. The power/danger of secrets and consequences is still the name of the game, and the writers of Young Justice can still surprise with mind-blowing revelations, and counter-continuity choices that we would have never considered or accepted in another context.
While not a glaring one, the numerous characters that make up the primary and secondary cast ends up being the series’ biggest obstacle. Having to juggle so many different heroes and teams can become a bit daunting, if not overwhelming to keep track of. This is on top of catching up with all the changes that happened “between seasons”. Thankfully it never quite feels that certain key characters are overlooked and others given excessive attention. The writers are always aware to give us healthy doses of cameos here and there to shake things up, and gleefully entertain the rabid DC nerds, even if most of these satellites go unvoiced or appear for a single episode or two.
Season three – dubbed “Outsiders” – acts as a natural evolution of the show and its cast. We find our original crew at different stages of their lives. There is Connor Kent/Superboy (Nolan North) and M’gann M’orzz/Ms Martian (Danica McKellar), Dick Grayson/Nightwing (Jesse McCartney), Kaldur’ahm/Aquaman, and Artemis Crock/Tigress (Stephanie Lemelin). Disappointingly, pretty much all of the newer recruits from season two are relegated to tertiary roles and get the least development.
“Outsiders” is broken down into two overarching narratives that happen to blend well into each other. The first half of the season opens with the Markovian (fictional Eastern-European country) coup and the growth of black market bio-weapon meta-human trafficking – which is later revealed to be intergalactic in scope. This is juxtaposed to Lex Luthor (Mark Rolston), and by extension “the Light” (this universe’s version of the Legion of Doom / Injustice League), gaining political clout to de-fang the Justice League in international matters. Outsiders leans heavily into a lot of geo-politics. This leads to the impromptu reformation of the youth-based cover-ops team “Young Justice” – which to my recollection was never a formal name. Here however the group is tentatively referred to as “Batman Inc”; basically the good guys’ Suicide Squad/Task Force X where failure means being disavowed.
By the end of the harrowing three-part opening story, we’re given half of our next generation of characters. There is the short-tempered exiled Prince Brion Markov/Geo-Force (Troy Baker) with lava/geomancer powers; Violet/Halo (Zehra Fazal) a resurrected Muslim girl with “rainbow” powers after fusing with a Mother Box (a sentient Fourth World iPod); and old-school electro-kinesis Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning (Khary Payton) who becomes the only “adult superhero” to stick around. Shortly thereafter the bulky insectoid Forager (Jason Spisak) from the planet New Genesis joins in, becoming the odd-ball, naïve, but super-kindhearted comic relief. There is also the mid-season introduction of Victor “Vic” Stone/Cyborg (Zeno Robinson) who remains relatively unchanged from his other incarnations.
It’s easy to see the parallels between the new and the old guard; Connor, Dick, and Artemis make up the new Trinity, as they reflect near-perfectly Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman respectively. It is also easy to see the similarities between Brion and Halo’s character development as it sort of mirrors Connor and M’gann’s when they started and where they eventually ended up. My biggest pet-peeve with the first half is the unintentional running gag of Halo always getting killed (in increasingly gruesome fashion) only to be resurrected shortly thereafter by her powers, with Brion mourning her death each and every time. But thankfully, it was dropped by the second half and I could continue to take the situation more seriously as intended.
As espionage and other covert missions take our myriad of heroes from the most remote and secluded bases on Earth to the outer reaches of space, the conspiracies surrounding the intergalactic meta-human trafficking grows ever deeper and darker. The writers don’t shy away from articulating the horrors these innocent children suffer to be mutated, mind-controlled pawns to whatever despot pays the highest bid. The fact that not every mission is a complete victory, some even ending in humiliating defeat are quite somber. And no one seems to bear that burden more than the guilt-plagued Black Lightning for accidentally killing one in the opening episode.
By the second half, the focus is shifted to media mogul Gretchen Goode (Deborah Strag), with allusions to the Fourth World. It is here we switch gears to Garfield “Gar” Logan/Beast Boy (Greg Cipes). To catch up, in this continuity a blood transfusion from Ms. Martian gave him his powers and he’s kind of her half-brother now, and his late mother was Rita Farr – aka Elasti-Girl from the Doom Patrol main continuity. Using his powers and following in his mother’s footsteps, he’s become a famous TV celebrity on his Star Trek-esque TV show. This Beast Boy is by far the most mature incarnation to date, displaying a level head, fortitude and a commanding demeanor befitting a leader. In fact, it is Garfield who forms the titular “Outsiders” as a public, independent superhero team of new young metahumans in the vein of Teen Titans. This bold new interpretation is a welcomed change for the character; whereas purist will laud all the drastic changes made to him, however.
Beast Boy’s “Outsiders” is made up of previous season two characters Jamie Reyes/Blue Beetle (Eric Lopez) a Hispanic teen fused with a “blue beetle” shaped synthetic parasite that grants a plethora of adaptable abilities; Bart Allen/Kid Flash (Jason Marsden) the Flash from the future; Virgil Hawkins/Static (Bryton James) the luckless lightning kid; Cassie Sandsmark/Wonder Girl (Mae Whitman) Blonde Wonder Woman; Eduardo “Ed” Dorado Jr/El Dorado (Freddy Rodriguez) another Hispanic superhero with teleportation powers; and Princess Tara Markov (Tara Strong) little geomancer sister to Brion. Geo-Force, Halo, and Forager also transfer to his team. Not to be outdone, Lex Luthor manages to steal the spotlight near the end with his “Infinity Inc” (harkening back to the “Everyman Project” in DC’s “52 Weeks” 2006 series), a competing brand of super-teens.
Most of the Outsiders (Gar’s team) episodes focus on social media and the power of perception on public opinion – #wearealloutsiders. It delves into the dilemma of genuineness and just having a façade of principles and morals and the difficulty in distinguishing the difference. While being a very trending topic relatable to millennials, I didn’t feel this transition (again from human trafficking) to be a shallow one, as it addresses the dangers of “fake news” and commercialization. Garfield unknowingly becomes a puppet of the system (on both sides), and this causes a schism between our heroes nearing the end.
It is worth mentioning that Outsiders is the most diverse the series has been; with not only alien heroes (Martian, New Genesis), but heroes of other ethnicities (Eastern-European, Muslim, African America, Hispanic) and sexual orientations. Kaldur’ahm is revealed to be bi-sexual (*I say “bi” because in season one he had unrequited feelings for Tula who died before season two, and Kaldur in the comics had since been retconned to be gay) and his charming romance with Wynnde. Halo is also a gender-neutral character as she does not identify herself as either male or female; although both her prior body Gabrielle Daou and the Mother Box are identified as feminine. She even has a moment of weakness where she kisses a girl even though she is in a more-or-less committed relationship with Brion.
After the heroes go head-to-head with the forces of Apokolips, most of the plot threads are resolved by the season’s conclusion. The looming threat of Darkseid remains ever-present and unchanged. It is as if Young Justice is taking the “Avengers” approach of building up to the inevitable clash with Darkseid himself, the same way that movie franchise did with Thanos. In addition, new threats open up and a certain tease set the stage for a potential fourth season.
My biggest fear going into a season four is actually the long wait until then, and the dread of how many in-universe years I would have missed as each season of Young Justice jumps many years ahead of the last. There is just so much to love about Outsiders, from the standout characters like Connor and M’gann, Brion and Halo, Artemis, and Cyborg, as well as Black Lightning and the duplicitous meta-human scientist Dr Helga Jace (Grey DeLisle), to the dozen or so standalone episodes that are so heartwarming, and heart wrenching. Sadly, Young Justice can’t please everyone, so your favorite non-main character(s) may just have to wait for their time to shine. Abounding with cameos, callbacks, nods and winks, for DC, superhero and Young Justice fans, Outsiders has a lot going for it from start to finish in terms of story, characters and art style. It’s a straight-up no-brainer.
Hailing from the eastern-most Caribbean island of Barbados, Fabian Wood has long since been fascinated by the power of storytelling to inspire and invoke emotions – whether in film, comics or videogames. No longer content to be just an avid comic book reader and videogamer, he’s eager to exercise his literary acumen as an aspiring writer and reviewer.