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Young Justice, explained

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The fan favorite DC Nation show was cancelled after only two seasons — but it’s coming back

The line-up of the Young Justice team at the end of Season 1
DC Entertainment / Warner Brothers Animation

The first footage for Young Justice: Outsiders finally debuted at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. The debut footage has been anticipated for five years, ever since DC Nation’s Young Justice animated series was not renewed for a third season.

The show has long been considered a fan favorite, and its revival nearly six years after its last episode aired is reminiscent of Samurai Jack returning to Adult Swim for its final season — as well as the recent announcement that Star Wars: The Clone Wars is returning. Each one represents a belated victory for animated shows that were cancelled before their main arcs resolved.

Five years after it finished airing, Young Justice still has an ardent fanbase, excited for the long-awaited third season. But what was it about Young Justice that brought it back?

What is Young Justice?

Young Justice aired on Cartoon Network’s DC Nation block from 2011 to 2013, and was produced by Brandon Vietti (Batman: Under the Red Hood and Jackie Chan Adventures) and Greg Weisman (Gargoyles and Star Wars Rebels). Airing alongside Green Lantern: The Animated Series, the superhero team-up show followed in the heels of the beloved Teen Titans animated series.

It followed the lives of a group of teenage sidekicks, whom were delegated as a covert ops team by the Justice League, as they tried to prove themselves as heroes and deal with their own struggles. In terms of DC continuity, Young Justice took place in a universe separate from the main timeline, allowing for different interpretations of existing characters (an aged-down Zatanna, for instance) and the introduction of new ones. There was also a tie-in comic series with art by Christopher Jones, which focused on events that happened in between episodes.

The series was praised for handling mature and complex storylines, and during its airing, was one of the highest-rated shows on Cartoon Network. It garnered a strong fan community, which rallied together following the show’s cancellation.

What exactly was the show about?

Though it shared the same name with a comic series, the animated Young Justice has many differences from it in tone and line-up. In the first season, which premiered in 2011, Superboy, Dick Grayson’s Robin, Wally West’s Kid Flash, and Miss Martian were joined by Aqualad and Artemis — two characters loosely inspired by their DC Comics namesakes, but with different origins and backstories.

This version of Aqualad was not the traditional Garth, but instead Kaldur’ahm, an original character revealed to be the son of Black Manta. Artemis Crock originally was the minor villainess Tigress in the comics. While Young Justice’s version of the character shared the same parentage (daughter of minor villains Huntress and Sportsmaster), she was also Green Arrow’s protege and bore some similarity to Arowette (Cissie King-Jones, who would be introduced in a cameo in the second season).

Zatanna and Artemis on a mission
DC Entertainment / Warner Brothers Animation

Later on in the first season, Red Arrow, Rocket and an aged-down Zatanna joined the team.

The first season followed this lineup of the team, handling heavier, overarching plot lines and lighter teenage moments equally well. According to Weisman, the themes of the first season are “secrets and lies, and also independence.” The young superheroes navigate their secret identities and forge their own paths in the shadows of their mentors, while combating a secretive group of villains known as the Light.

Some of the heroes in Season 2
DC Entertainment / Warner Brothers Animation

The second season — Young Justice: Invasion — premiered in 2012 and skipped ahead five years, introducing a host of new characters, including Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl, Tim Drake’s Robin, Jaime Reyes’ Blue Beetle, Cassie Sandsmark’s Wondergirl, Beast Boy and Bumble Bee. The characters from the first season were present, some still affiliated with the team and others followed different paths. Without revealing too much, the second season dealt with an incoming invasion by a mysterious alien race known as the Reach, and ended on a cliffhanger with the death of a major character and the revelation of an all-powerful villain in the last episode.

And then the show got pulled off the air.

Why did it get canceled?

After two seasons, the show was not picked up for a third season, despite high ratings. While a rumor persisted that the cancellation was due to the show’s high female viewership, Weisman confirmed in a podcast that it was actually because of low sales of the show’s tie-in toy line from Mattel. Taking over Young Justice’s DC Nation time slot was the more light-hearted, easily marketable Teen Titans Go!

When the cancellation was announced, fans rallied, writing up petitions to keep the show alive — whether on Cartoon Network or a streaming service, like Netflix. DC Comics, however, simply told fans to appreciate the episodes that they had left, which elicited a negative online response. Warner Brothers cancelled a fan-run crowdfunded campaign to make a third season.

How did it come back?

Even with initial dismissal from DC and Warner Brothers, fan efforts to bring back the series persisted. The hashtag #RenewYoungJustice periodically trended on social media. In February 2016, Weisman hinted at the possibility of a revival in a tweet, where he urged fans to buy the Blu-Ray and DVD-sets. A rumor started that Netflix was considering reviving the series if enough viewers watched it and a new hashtag (#KeepBingingYJ) emerged in that time.

The show’s voice actors expressed interest in returning, and in June 2016, Weisman commented about the “very real” possibility of Young Justice returning. The hashtags continued, rumors about meetings flew around, till finally in November of that same year, Young Justice season three was officially announced.

“The affection that fans have had for Young Justice, and their rallying cry for more episodes, has always resonated with us,” said Sam Register, President, Warner Bros. Animation and Warner Digital Series in a press release. ”We are excited to bring the show back for this loyal fanbase and to provide an opportunity for new viewers to discover this excellent series.”

What now?

Since then, there have been periodic updates before today’s big reveal. Season 3 will be called Young Justice: Outsiders. The new characters revealed to be on the team are revealed to be Stephanie Brown’s Spoiler, Arowette, Forager from New Gods and Girl Thirteen.

“We wanted to explore this world we built over the first two seasons through the eyes of characters who aren’t sidekicks and aren’t born to be heroes,” Vietti said in the San Diego Comic-Con edition of TV Guide. “It’s about a different group of kids who were developing powers and didn’t know what they wanted to do in life, and how they see the world. It gives our first- and second-season characters the opportunity to step into the lives of these outsiders and help guide them to a better future.”

For fans across Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit and other social media, this latest season comes after years of campaigns, rumors and prolonged waiting. All that waiting has finally paid off — and we can’t wait to return to our favorite team of heroes and see what this belated season has in store.

Young Justice: Outsiders will be available on DC’s new streaming platform, DC Universe, and will premiere in 2019. The first two seasons will be available with the release of DC Universe