Nearly six years after its abrupt cancellation, animated series Young Justice is back on television as part of DC Universe, DC Entertainment’s streaming platform. The first three episodes premiered last Friday, bringing the team of superheroes back for long-time fans and introducing new cast and conflict.
Picking up two years after the ending of season two (subtitled Invasion), Young Justice: Outsiders finds the superheroes facing a heightened, meta-human trafficking crises. Finding room for an almost-full line-up of the Justice League, returning characters from the younger team and the introductions of new ones, the first three episodes juggle an impressive cast, but does so with finesse.
[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for the first three episodes of Young Justice: Outsiders, as well as the ending of Young Justice: Invasion]
While there are new recruits to keep an eye on, most notably Prince Brion of Markovia (eagle-eyed fans will spot that he’s the infamous Terra’s brother) and the mysterious Halo-Girl, the core of Young Justice: Outsiders’ drama focuses on the original cast.
Miss Martian now leads the Young Justice team, while Kaldur has assumed the role of Aquaman and heads the League. Nightwing, meanwhile, is off doing his own covert missions (with the help of an unseen, off-screen Oracle), and recruits Artemis (now going by Tigress) and Superboy for help. The only member of the original lineup missing is Wally West, who perished in the last moments of season two, but his presence is still felt — Artemis keeps a picture of him by her bedside; their dog cuddles with a Kid Flash plush; Beast Boy mentions attending the funeral of a speedy friend.
The first episode finds the Justice League at a crossroads. Clearly, they need to do something about this uptick in meta-human trafficking, especially after a 14-year-old girl was found on a distant planet, her genes warped beyond comprehension. But the United Nations — headed by Secretary General Lex Luthor as we’re reminded in the next episode — blocks them from taking further action. While Aquaman (Kaldur, who has taken the role from his unseen mentor) and Wonder Woman wish to work around these parameters, not everyone agrees.
Batman declares that if the UN doesn’t want to work with the League, then there might as well not be a League and he, along with Green Arrow, Batwoman, Katana, Plastic Man and Hardware, resign. Their respective proteges, Robin (Tim Drake), Spoiler and Arowette leave with them. Black Lightning also exits, not because he was part of the coup, but because he’s shocked at the death of the 14-year-old meta-human.
Meanwhile, the king and queen of Markovia plan to announce the country’s support of Quraci refugees and their denouncement of meta-human experimentation. Nightwing has picked up intel that suggests that the country is a hub of meta-human trafficking, however, and the assassination of the king and queen further cements this. He recruits Artemis, now living with brother-in-law Roy Harper, who has changed his name to Will because the original Roy Harper is back in action (this new one is a clone — look, there’s two seasons about this), and Superboy (living with Miss Martian, who he later proposes to) and Black Lightning also join in on a covert mission to Markovia.
The next two episodes follow Nightwing on his trip to Markovia, where he investigates some suspicious scientists working at the children’s hospital, and the imposing regent ruler Frederick DeLamb, who’s just declared Markovia under martial law. The mission reveals that Count Vertigo of neighboring Vlatava heads the meta-human operations in Markovia with DeLamb. But one resilient Quraci refugee doesn’t stay dead, eventually manifesting powers of her own.
The third episode culminates in Prince Brion activating his own meta-gene and manifesting earth and lava manipulation powers and facing off against DeLamb. Frederick DeLamb is defeated and all seems well for a moment, before before Brion’s twin brother, Crown Prince Gregor, banishes him for Markovia. Though the team managed to destroy the labs in Markovia, Count Vertigo managed to escape and despite Black Lightning’s efforts, another mutated teenager is dead.
Without the restrictions of Cartoon Network’s guidelines, Young Justice: Outsiders embraces violence; when the assassin who kills the king and queen emerges from their room, they do so with bloody hands. Later, Halo gets her face burnt off before she regenerates. It’s darker and grittier, but never out of the realm for the tone of the show — in fact, it’s almost as if Young Justice was waiting for a chance to really delve into its darker aspects.
This newfound lenience has many fans hopeful for favorite pairing “BluePulse” (Jaime Reyes’ Blue Beetle and Bart Allen’s Impulse) to be official. But beyond a brief interaction in the first episode, neither character made a major episode appearance just yet, so word’s still out on their relationship status.
Make no mistake, even with more blood, Young Justice: Outsiders continues to do what it does best, namely balance a darker, action-driven plot-line with realistic character development and relationships. Nightwing, Artemis and Superboy enjoy their familiar banter and dynamic, though they’re still keeping secrets (why does Nightwing lie about Oracle’s existence to Artemis) and the loss of their friend hangs in the air. That’s a pressing question many fans have that still needs to be answered — will Wally West come back or is the speedster dead for real?
The next three episodes of Young Justice: Outsiders air on Friday, Jan. 11 on DC Universe.