A few weeks ago, the highly anticipated Justice League was released to a reception that was lukewarm at best. It made me think about the difficulties of trying to recreate a shared universe of any kind on screen, well as bringing to mind one of my all-time favourite cartoons- Young Justice.
On the DCEU: it baffles me slightly how they keep trying and failing to set up this universe, and with every successive film (barring Wonder Woman) it just becomes more apparent how rushed and clunky it all is.
I suppose you can argue that it’s inherently limited by its medium. For one thing, the Arrow-verse on the CW, by virtue of its television format, is able to build itself up with each successive show and season (albeit without the big names) at a pace that seems appropriately natural and gives time to flesh out each character.
On television, you can give The Flash a cameo appearance and a whole season of development before his epic team up with Green Arrow. In film, the best you can do is one movie (or, I guess, you could just shove an introduction for him and Cyborg and Aquaman into the same film and hope the witty banter distracts everyone).
Returning to my point; Young Justice remains the best on-screen portrayal of superheroes I have ever watched.
Animation plays a big part in this- it simply makes things possible that live-action cannot, as well as not having to face the challenge of rendering these larger than life characters in the real world, relying on plastic props and prosthetics and trying not to make the costumes look too ridiculous.
It is a masterclass in effectively portraying the two things which make superhero stories so appealing: a true shared universe which can explore the relationships between different characters, without losing focus on the individual stories.
In the first season we are introduced to our core group- Robin, Kid Flash, Superboy, Miss Martian, Aqualad, and Artemis. Each member of the team is in the spotlight for a few episodes, as well as their group dynamic in various combinations being explored throughout. New characters are introduced along the way, but never in a way that feels too rushed, as each has clear and distinctive traits and motivations.
The show’s ‘way in’ to the universe provides the perfect opportunity to create not just a fun piece of television, but the sense of a real working world: with rules, history, and places with their own distinctive identities. The former sidekicks- who are now members of a new team in their own right- are our heroes, but through them we also get a new perspective of their famous mentors which immediately cuts through to their hearts: Bruce Wayne as a caring yet slightly distant adoptive father, Clark Kent not being ready to have responsibility for a kid, Dinah Lance being a teacher who genuinely wants to help her charges.
Even in the second season when a boatload of new characters is introduced it doesn’t seem that strange, as we’re already used to the idea of the team as something that is constantly expanding and growing. The developments and shifts in dynamics appear convincing and natural, all because of how well the previous season has established this world.
Young Justice is not a perfect show by any means- for instance, the pacing can sometimes feel a little rushed- but when you watch it you can’t help but become emotionally invested in the characters.
I suppose my point is that I don’t mind if the DCEU is a little bit disappointing, as we still have wonderful superhero cartoons which, in my opinion, capture the essence of these stories better than the films ever could.
Featured Image: Loren Javier/Flickr