A caveat: this is only the second episode of Young Justice I've seen. (I watched the episode before this one, "Bereft," earlier this week.) I was familiar with most of the characters and the basic idea of the show before signing on to write about this sort-of premiere, and I did a bit of research so I wouldn't be lost when it came to the story and characters I wasn't familiar with. Watching "Targets," I never felt all that out to sea or confused, partly because I did my homework, and partly because that's how shows like this are designed; while the details of the conflicts shift, the basics remain constant. The bad guys are always one step ahead of everyone else, right up until they aren't, and the good guys are always struggling to prove themselves, both on the field and on it. Tonight, Red Arrow (aka Roy Harper) worked to stop an assassination attempt, all the while struggling against his insecurities, and Miss Martian (aka Megan Morse, aka M'gann M'orzz) and Conner Kent (aka Superboy) tried to fit in at high school. Red Arrow's battles were more exciting to watch, but both conflicts centered on young people trying to fit into larger worlds. Red Arrow wants to be viewed as a full-fledged super-hero, and Megan wants to make friends, fit in, have a life. (What Conner wants, I'm none too sure, but presumably, like all angry people, he also wants to fit in—just not the way everyone else does.)
A bit of an over-simplification? Maybe. But any show which features Young so prominently in the title, which stars a team made up largely of sidekicks and sons, is bound to be interested in poking at how teenagers become grown-ups. "Targets" is very, very easy to watch. I suspect that's a quality it shares with most action cartoons, at least these days; gone is the age of cruddy animation and flat dialog, where cartoons existed to sell toys first, entertain children second and hold up to repeat viewings by skeptical adults not at all. Which is an old news observations, probably old news since Batman: the Animated Series hit screens, but it's still impressive to me even now, picking up the occasional animated straight-to-DVD super-hero adaptation or hearing great stories about the heydays of Justice League Unlimited. The kids who grew up watching Transformers and and Thundercats and Silverhawks (and, okay, the superior The Real Ghostbusters, maybe), some of these kids have grown up to be in a position where they can synthesize their ideal cartoon action with comic books and anime-influenced animation, and even if it's not necessarily top-shelf brilliant all the time, these guys and gals all, clearly, care about what they do. There's a commitment behind something like Young Justice that adds an undeniable layer of pleasure; just knowing that the folks who wrote the lines and arranged the plots and did the voices really did want to tell the best stories they could means something.
This particular result of their efforts is solid, if unspectacular. It seems a little odd to bring back the show after a six month hiatus with an episode that doesn't feature the full team at work. Robin, Artemis and Kid Flash are entirely absent—I'd be curious if this is standard for the series or not. Red Arrow isn't listed on the team roster (from what I can tell, he was replaced with Artemis, for some mysterious reason), and while Aqualad makes an appearance in his story, it's definitely Roy's show, as Green Arrow's former protege works to protect Lex Luthor (mwa-ha-ha) from a pair of League of Shadows assassins, Cheshire and Sportsmaster. Red's got the whole chip-on-his-shoulder-made-of-insecurity thing going, as he appears to be freelancing a peace conference between North and South Rhelasia. When Cheshire tries to kill Luthor (with a bazooka!), Red steps in, and while he foils her initial efforts, she busts out of jail, and our hero discovers that she's working at the behest of Ras Al Ghul himself. Realizing he's going to need some back up, Red calls in Aqualad, the Young Justice team leader who works very hard to make up for all those "I talk to fish!" jokes that've been dogging the Aqua-family all these years. This plot arc gives us some fun, kinetic action sequences, some snappy back-and-forths and a nice pay-off at the end, when Red Arrow acknowledges that Young Justice is worth his respect.
The other half of the episode (less than half, actually. Maybe third?) focused on Megan and Connor's first day at school. It was significantly less exciting than the storyline with assassins and rocket launchers; while neither story is going to break down the doors with originality (gasp! Lex and Ras were working together, despite their assertions that they did not much care for each other!), the high school stuff lacked something in the way of, well, coolness. Megan is an awfully sweet character (although her "Hello, Megan!" catchphrase wears thin quickly), and Conner is an awfully jerky one, and her desperate crush on him isn't so much charming as more than a little sad. Plus, and not to get too hyper-critical or anything, but that has to be the most welcoming, instantly inclusive cheerleading squad ever. (Also, the skirts are ridiculously short.) Trying to give the teenage heroes some non-super-powered peers is an understandable, but given how early in the run this show is, it seems sort of unfair to start shoe-horning in predictable high school plot beats, especially when there are alien orbs and Machiavellian villains to confront. But since Young Justice does seem interested in dealing with how teens assert themselves and develop autonomy, maybe high school is necessary.
All in all, this was a well-crafted piece of work—there's nothing truly exciting here, but it's heartening to know that even regular action cartoons like this one have this level of care and thoughtfulness put into them. For fans of the series, I'm curious to hear your thoughts: how does this hold up compared against last winter? And how weird is it that you had to wait so long after just nine episodes? We're clearly building towards something here, and such a long break makes it hard for a story to hold onto momentum. But still, it's back, and it's pretty good; and the idea of a covert team of made of young heroes who can do the work their more famous adult counterparts can't, is a neat one. Also, I dig the beeping alien ball.
- "Your stab at pragmatism is, well, adorable."
- "I can't believe we just did a solid for Lex Luthor."