- This article is about the TV series. For the homonymous tie-in comics, see here.
"Don't call them sidekicks."
Young Justice is an American animated television series created by Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti for Cartoon Network. Despite its title, it is not an adaptation of Todd Dezago and Todd Nauck's Young Justice series of comics, but rather, an adaptation of the entire DC Universe with a focus on young superheroes.
The series follows the lives of teenaged superhero sidekicks, who are members of a fictional superhero team simply known as the Team, and their relationships with their Justice League mentors. The story is set at a time where superpowers and superheroes are a relatively recent phenomenon.
Conception and development
Sometime between 2008 and early 2009, just after Greg Weisman had finished producing The Spectacular Spider-Man and Brandon Vietti had directed the DC animated movie Batman: Under the Red Hood, Sam Register approached them to develop an animated series based on the "Green Lantern" property. During the ensuing months, the duo developed the premise of a "covert ops unit" for this show, but due to the postponement of the live-action motion picture, the show was put on hold for at least a year. Warner Bros. decided to move Weisman and Vietti onto a Space Ghost series, which ultimately didn't come to fruition either. Finally, Sam Register told them he wanted a show that he described as a "Young Justice League". At first, Weisman and Vietti were very apprehensive, because Teen Titans and Justice League Unlimited had been immensely successful, both critically and commercially, and were relatively recent shows. So, they took a different route and incorporated their idea of a covert ops unit from the Green Lantern series into this show. Young League was therefore conceived primarily as a "spy show", then a "coming-of-age show", and finally a "superhero show".
Weisman and Vietti then had to find a convincing premise to pitch a show in which the adventures of a team of teenage sidekicks were more interesting and important than the adventures of the Justice League. This was how they came up with the "War World scenario". As Vietti described it, "should the War World ever show up on Earth's door step and threaten us with annihilation, the Justice League would be the ones, as expected, to shield the planet from the massive frontal assault. But, unexpectedly, a newly formed, secret group of teenage covert operatives would sneak into the War World from behind and shut the War World down from the inside". This idea was literally pinned to a bulletin board for two years until it was materialized in the season two episode "War".
Universe building and character selection
Warner Bros. assigned Weisman and Vietti to build a new DC universe with a wide array of characters. So, they asked DC Comics for one of their unused 52 Earths and were assigned Earth-16, which was purportedly untapped and "allowed them to set the rules and conditions for their universe". However, the production team eventually became aware that this world had been partially explored already, but it was too late to change for another Earth, so they chose to ignore that pre-existing continuity.
The heroes list was comprised of over fifty teenage heroes, ranging from prominent characters, like Supergirl, to more obscure ones, like the Wonder Twins. They reportedly considered every existing DC teen hero. They were also given a list with four off-limits characters, which included both Wonder Girls, Cassie Sandsmark and Donna Troy. Weisman claimed that they were likely to have used Donna Troy as a homage to the original Teen Titans comic series from the 1960s, which featured her as one of the five members. However, this was in very early stages of development, so this impediment didn't have any significant consequences. Halfway through season one, though, every previously off-limits character became available, but at that point it was too late to include Donna Troy in that season.
As one of the main themes of the series was going to be "secrets and lies", Weisman and Vietti set out looking for characters that had secrets, which was essentially how they settled with Miss Martian and Artemis. They kept trimming the list down until they had the six leads they felt comfortable with on a variety of levels, ranging from age, powers, personality, iconic status and dynamics.
For the main antagonists, they culled characters from a list of over 100 DC villains. Weisman stated that "most of the choices were fairly obvious", but they tried to strike some balance by choosing characters with different spheres of influence and resources, among other criteria. For example, they settled with Queen Bee mostly because she has an entire country in which the villains could hide their nefarious activities. The character's gender and powers also weighed in. Klarion, on the other hand, was chosen over Wotan as the magic-wielding member, because Vietti noted that they needed a "kid" on their villain team.
Very early on, the producers outlined the basic plot that encompassed three seasons, even though only one had been ordered. They wanted to have "a strong sense of where some story threads were going and where others were ending so that [they] could better plan the beginning and the middle". Firstly, they outlined the general story and the characters, including general directions for each major character. Then they broke down the entire season on index cards and moved them around on a bulletin board until they had "a cohesive set of stories, creating an arc or tapestry for the entire season". This allowed them to not only keep track of the various multilayered plots and subplots, but also plant clues along the way that would pay off farther down the line. This method also included color coding: yellow cards for titles and dates, blue cards for the teens as superheroes, purple cards for the teens in their civilian lives, red cards for the Justice League and green cards for the villains.
Despite the broad overarching plot, Weisman has stated that they strive to make episodes that can "stand on their own". In other words, each episode has a self-sufficient story—with a beginning, middle and end—that can be comprehended by any newcomer, regardless of how many episodes they may have missed before. He hopes that this will spur the audience to watch every episode that follows and came before that. This is also one of the main reasons why Weisman is against using the "Previously On" segment in the beginning of each episode.
Weisman stated that in building this universe they followed the same tenets he had used for The Spectacular Spider-Man, which he called "The Five Cs": Contemporary, Cohesive, Coherent, Classic and iConic.
The creative team held auditions for seven characters: the six main teen leads plus Superman, as they wanted the same actor to play both Superman and his clone Superboy. For guest characters, however, they did not do this. Instead, Greg Weisman, Brandon Vietti and casting and voice director Jamie Thomason would brainstorm names of actors, whom they knew or had worked with, that would fit a given guest character. They also cast actors who had auditioned for the regular characters, such as Crispin Freeman, who had auditioned for Superboy/Superman and was called back to play the various Harper clones.
Weisman stated that they made a conscious effort not to cast actors for characters which they had already voiced in former projects, so as to avoid direct comparisons to previous series. There have been a few exceptions to this, namely Bruce Greenwood, Jeff Bennett, Steve Blum and Ariel Winter, all of whom have reprised characters from previous projects. The producers even balked at casting any of the main actors from Teen Titans for the main leads, because they wanted to make it clear that Young Justice was set in a different universe, and casting those actors, even for different roles, could potentially mislead the viewers.
Every character was designed by Phil Bourassa, who joined the production team in the spring of 2009 after working on Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths. Brandon Vietti, who did the majority of the art directing, insisted in grounding the visuals of the show in a "believable and realistic feeling world", so both worked together to develop the more modern, realistic design sensibility for every character. Sportsmaster has been often cited as their crowning achievement is this regard. Widely known as a cheesy character in the comics, Vietti and Bourassa set out to make him look "100% pure badass at first glance" and consistent with the grounded tone of the series. In order to do so, they incorporated the sports theme in his costume, but in a way that would make his getup practical and also intimidating.
Vietti was adamant from the start to avoid giving the impression that the heroes "shop at the same store for their clothes". Each costume needed a unique tailoring, all the while reflecting the wearer's personality, physical needs, and traditional DC universe look. He cited Aqualad and Robin as the best two examples of this tenet:
"Aqualad's outfit is nearly seamless and shiny to convey a slick and textureless material designed to cut through water fast. Robin, on the other hand, has a costume that's all about seams and padding. When fighting crime on the streets of Gotham it just makes sense to wear protection. Robin's costume seams imply reinforced stitching and sewn in materials designed to protect the body during street fights or even stop a bullet."
Vietti intended this variation between texture and tailoring in the costumes to not only establish the mark of realism needed to match the tone of this brand-new universe, but also to visually differentiate the show from every preceding DC animated project.
Phil Bourassa stated that DC Comics was largely very open to and supportive of his interpretation of the characters and have given them a lot of latitude when it comes to the visual direction of the show. In September 2011, Bourassa won a Primetime Emmy award for Individual Achievement in Animation for his character design work in "Independence Day".
Like most animated series, Young Justice recorded their actors in group sessions, which typically lasted three to four hours. There were occasions when, due to conflicting schedules, an actor recorded their lines separately. Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti oversaw every session, alongside their voice director Jamie Thomason, in order to make sure that what they recorded what was "intended and needed". Weisman has described this as one of the most important and fun parts of the process.
The animation was done by two Korean studios, MOI Animation, Inc. and Lotto Animation, Inc., which alternated episodes between themselves. Brandon Vietti remarked that circumscribing the number of animation studios was meant to avoid fluctuating quality and consistency, as the more studios are involved in the animation, the higher the risk of inconsistent animation is.
Musical score and sound effects
The score for Young Justice was composed by Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion and Kristopher Carter, who are collectively known as the "Dynamic Music Partners" and had previously collaborated with Greg Weisman on The Spectacular Spider-Man. When Weisman and Brandon Vietti approached the group to score the series, they made it clear they did not want a traditional score for the show. Vietti wanted a score that was "less about big music from traditional instruments, and more about electronic sound effects creating atmosphere and mood". Weisman added that the show "was going to play edgier – more like a spy thriller.
The sound effects were provided by Audio Circus, Inc.
Official announcement and debut
Early reports of the show began to surface in late 2009, when an actor who had auditioned for Aqualad tweeted a picture of himself holding artwork of the character. The inexplicable change in the character's ethnicity sparked immense negative backlash on the Internet, as it was (prematurely) perceived as shallow tokenism.
In January of the following year, Stephanie Lemelin announced on her blog that she had been cast as "Arrowette" on "Young Justice League", but she removed the publication shortly afterwards. Also in the same month, a poster on ActionFigureInsider reported that Warner Bros. had three shows in development, one of which was called "Young Justice".
On April 21, Young Justice was officially announced at Cartoon Network's Upfront presentation. On July 23, at San Diego Comic-Con, Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti shared some broad details about the premise of the show. Two months later, at New York Comic Con, Weisman and Vietti showed two clips from the first episode.
On November 26, the first two episodes of the series, "Independence Day" and "Fireworks", premiered on Cartoon Network as a special one hour event, attracting more than 2.5 million viewers. Production on the first season officially ended one year later, on November 21, 2011.
Young Justice was marred with a convoluted and extremely irregular broadcasting history. Following a nigh two-month gap between the sneak peek and the official premiere of the regular series, Cartoon Network aired the first nine episodes of season one on the Friday afternoon slot from January to March 2011. The series was scheduled to return with "Targets" on June 3, but it was postponed for unknown reasons. The ongoing hiatus lasted six months, making it the longest break in the history of the show's run.
The series finally resumed airing on September 2011 for nine more episodes, only to be plunged in yet another break after the broadcast of "Secrets". Three and a half months later, the show returned with "Misplaced", as a part of the DC Nation programming block in the Saturday morning timeslot. It aired 15 episodes, segueing into the second season with no breaks, until June 2012, when it was pulled again from the air.
Nearly four months later, CN aired two more episodes in September, but in an inexplicable last minute change that preempted the entire schedule of October, the show was put in another hiatus for three more months, making up roughly seven months in which only two episodes aired. On January 2013, the remaining 11 episodes of season two aired uninterruptedly.
Overall, Young Justice took two years, three months and 18 days to air all of its 46 episodes.
On January 28, 2013 when Young Justice was airing the last episodes of its second season, Cartoon Network announced its fall schedule, which didn't include Young Justice or Green Lantern: The Animated Series as returning series. This heralded the cancellation of both shows and fan protests were clamorous. In response to this, two Cartoon Network representatives issued comments about the absence of both shows from their upcoming line-up:
"Shows will run their courses, others will premiere – but we are not canceling anything, and those two series are still on our air."
"[We] still have premieres for both those shows and are committed to excellent action programming and are very excited about 'Beware the Batman.'"
While this didn't exactly confirm the shows' cancellation, it didn't confirm that they would return eventually either. Fans organized several campaigns to demonstrate Cartoon Network and Warner Brothers their support for both Young Justice and Green Lantern: TAS, which included donating toys to the Ronald McDonald House Charities, a Facebook page, online petitions, a letter writing campaign, a Fans Tribute video, sending Reach bottles, blue flowers, domino masks, and merchandise receipts to Warner Brothers, and, most notably, eight Twitter campaigns. Six of those campaigns managed to get their assigned hashtags trending internationally and even worldwide on four occasions. The hashtag #YoungJustice also trended on two occasions, in addition to the intended ones.
Shortly after the season finales of Young Justice and Green Lantern: TAS, a startup company called "my Show Must Go On" (SMGO) took it upon themselves to launch a crowdfunding campaign to save both shows, once they got permission from Warner Brothers. A meeting was scheduled for April 11, and, according to SMGO, Warner Brothers turned them down because they didn't think SMGO could reach their goals. Nonetheless, SMGO decided to enter the fundraising phase anyway to attempt to get $10 million, but this time to revive only Young Justice. SMGO managed to raise $33,700 in 18 days, but momentum quickly dissipated and by the end of the campaign, three months later, they had reached only 0.4% of their goal ($43,090 by 475 pledgers).
Despite the high ratings of Young Justice and its high ranking on iTunes' Top Animation TV Episodes and Top TV Episodes charts, neither Warner Brothers nor Cartoon Network ever officially acknowledged or addressed this wave of fan outcry. Nevertheless, the fandom's tireless efforts did not go unnoticed. On November 13, an episode of Teen Titans Go! aptly called "Sidekick" featured a reference to the #SaveYoungJustice campaign.
During the following months, fan fervor eventually waned, but it never went completely away, as nods and references to the show occasionally resurfaced. On July 28, 2014 at the San Diego Comic-Con, Teen Titans Go! producer Aaron Horvath announced a Young Justice crossover episode. The episode titled "Let's Get Serious" aired on February 26, 2015 and it featured Aqualad, with Khary Payton reprising the role, chastising the Titans for not being serious superheroes. Superboy and Miss Martian also appeared in non-speaking roles.
In January 2015, The Outhousers.com elected the cancellation of Young Justice as the "Most Maddening Moment of 2014", despite being over one year after the ordeal. Later that year, on August 18, ComicBook NOW! tweeted the words "Renew Young Justice" attached to the hashtag #MakeLifeBetterIn3Words that was trending at that time. Greg Weisman retweeted that post and that apparently prompted ComicBook NOW! to push for a Twitter rally for the following day to get the hashtag #RenewYoungJustice trending, which it did worldwide with over 32,400 tweets, once again reigniting discussion about the show.
Greg Weisman has gone on record to say that the main reason for the show's cancellation was entirely monetary. Essentially, due to the box office failure of the Green Lantern movie, Mattel cancelled their entire DC toy line, which included the Young Justice toy line that financed the series.
On February 1, 2016 when the second season began streaming on Netflix, Brandon Vietti and Greg Weisman galvanized fans to show their support for the show's revival by watching it and buying its merchandise. Voice actor Khary Payton (Aqualad) posted a tweet endorsing the initiative and later another one saying he had a "good feeling" about a potential third season. Fans soon organized a Twitter campaign to get the hashtag #RenewYoungJustice to trend on February 16.
One day later, a report resurfaced claiming that Netflix was considering reviving Young Justice for a third season based on its viewership numbers. On that same day, voice actress Danica McKellar (Miss Martian) urged fans to keep watching the show on Netflix and trend #RenewYoungJustice. On the following day, she tweeted a link to the Young Justice Needs a Season 3 Facebook page that by then had accrued over 400,000 likes. Eric Lopez (Blue Beetle) also tweeted his support and McKellar kept touting the campaign.
Following this, Greg Weisman exhorted fans to watch the show repeatedly on Netflix and broaden the fanbase, using the hashtag #KeepBingingYJ as the campaign's mission statement. Cameron Bowen (Robin) also chimed in his encouragement and Danica McKellar paired with Stephanie Lemelin (Artemis) to marshal more fans into action.
On February 27, while promoting his new animated film LEGO DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League Cosmic Clash, Brandon Vietti told ComicBook.com that he would love to work on more episodes of Young Justice and teased the future of the show. This quickly became a trending topic on Facebook.
During the subsequent days, more support tweets ensued from various cast and crew members, such as Jason Marsden (Impulse), Khary Payton, Nolan North (Superboy), Crispin Freeman (Red Arrow), Danica McKellar, Jason Spisak (Kid Flash), Marina Sirtis (Queen Bee), Christopher Jones, Vanessa Marshall (Black Canary), Peter David and Yuri Lowenthal (Lagoon Boy).
On March 5, fans managed to get the hashtag #KeepBingingYJ trending worldwide on another Twitter rally. Weisman repeatedly stressed out the importance of persistence and that this was a long haul campaign.
During this nine-month campaign, the show trended several times on Netflix. Once again, these efforts did not go unnoticed, and the binging campaign made it to the newspaper comic strip Candorville, on September 3.
Finally, over three years after the cancellation of Young Justice, on November 7, 2016 Warner Brothers issued a press release announcing the production of a third season of the series, with the original showrunners Brandon Vietti and Greg Weisman back at the helm:
#YoungJustice quickly became a worldwide trending topic that day on Facebook and on Twitter, even becoming a Twitter Moment. In the following day, #YoungJustice trended again on Twitter with 35,803 tweets.
Initially, there was no announcement about where the show would air, but according to Greg Weisman, "[Warner Brothers executives] have confidence [...] that wherever it winds up and whatever merchandise they may or may not eventually release or license, they'll still make a profit. That's based on what the fans proved over the last few years." On April 25, 2017 DC Comics announced that the third season would be titled Young Justice: Outsiders and released in 2018 on an upcoming "DC-Branded Digital Service". A year later, however, the release date was pushed to 2019. On November 16, the release date was announced for January 4, 2019.
Series creator Greg Weisman has spoken about the naming of episodes, saying that "[his] tendency has always been for one word titles", as 36 out of 46 episodes of both seasons together have been (including the hyphenated title "Drop-Zone"). The titles usually have layered allusions, referring to more than their literal meanings. This paradigm, however, changed for the third season, in which the majority of the episodes have more than one word and their meaning is more literal and straightforward. This was likely due to the fact that all 26 titles make up an acrostic, so they were created to fit the intended hidden message.
Animated by MOI Animation, Inc. and WUT IT IS, the opening sequence starts off with close-ups of the main cast and then dissolves into a montage of assorted scenes featuring the heroes in action. This footage was created either for promotional purposes or specifically for the main title. The end of each main title also features clips from its respective episode. The sequence is 20 seconds long, which was mandated by the network. Finally, the theme music is mostly synth. The special one hour event didn't feature an opening sequence. From "Misplaced" onward, the opening was shortened to buy time for the DC Nation shorts. It can still be seen on the episodes' HD versions for season one. As of season two, there is no opening sequence; just the title card.
- Main article: 16
The number 16 appears frequently in the mythology of the series. It is more prominently featured on timestamps, but it also appears through subtle subterfuges, such as units of time, ages and designations. It likely refers to the fact that this series takes place on Earth-16, but its significance, if any, remains to be revealed.
- Main article: Timestamp
Both the series and its companion comics feature timestamps in order to maintain an established timeline. Each timestamp indicates the current date, time and location, and usually appear when the location of scenes are changed. According to Greg Weisman, the timestamps are meant to ground the show in the moment, allowing viewers to realize how much time has passed between episodes. It is also the next logical step from what he tried to do on The Spectacular Spider-Man, in which the timeline could be inferred by seasonal holidays. Weisman has since expressed regret over the use of this device, due to the hardship of keeping track of timezones and having to do calculations.
- Main article: The Team
- Aqualad/Kaldur'ahm (Khary Payton) is the Atlantean leader of the Team. He is able to manipulate water at will, and breathe underwater through the use of his gills. His mentor, and his king is Aquaman, a member of the Justice League. Aqualad holds great respect for his mentor.
- Kid Flash/Wally West (Jason Spisak) is the speedster of the Team. He's always joking around, hitting on girls, and wants to have fun. His mentor and uncle is the Flash.
- Robin/Dick Grayson (Jesse McCartney) is a vigilante crime-fighter in Gotham City, and the Team's chief hacker. He's not only an incredible acrobat, but also the most experienced member of the Team and the youngest. His mentor is Batman.
- Superboy/Conner Kent (Nolan North) is a genomorph and a clone of Superman. He is quiet, brooding, serious and is constantly worried about living up to Superman.
- Miss Martian/M'gann M'orzz/Megan Morse (Danica McKellar) is a shy, caring, happy and kind white Martian posing as a green Martian, with the standard Martian abilities, including flight and telepathy. She is the Martian Manhunter's niece.
- Artemis/Artemis Crock (Stephanie Lemelin) is a confident, flirtatious, and very outgoing, sixth member of the Team. She is an archer and protégé of Green Arrow, hiding dark family secrets.
- Zatanna/Zatanna Zatara (Lacey Chabert) was introduced to the Team by her father, Zatara, during his time as "den-mother". After Zatara became the host of Doctor Fate, she became the seventh member of the Team.
- Red Arrow/Speedy/Roy Harper (Crispin Freeman) is the former partner of Green Arrow who now works as a solo hero, but helps the Team from time to time.
- Rocket/Raquel (Kittie) is the straightforward and bold partner to Icon who joined the Team and became its eighth member.
- Sphere is a machine from New Genesis picked up from one of the Team's missions to Bialya, Sphere is a loyal companion to Superboy. She can transform into assorted machinery, including a motorcycle-like vehicle which Wally has dubbed "the Super Cycle".
- Wolf (Dee Bradley Baker) is a pet adopted by Superboy and the Team whilst on a mission to India, enhanced with Kobra-Venom by The Brain that made him smarter and stronger.
- Black Canary
- Red Tornado
- Martian Manhunter
- Green Arrow
- Captain Marvel
- Main article: Season one
The first season of Young Justice follows the origins of the Team, starting from July 4. The season then proceeds through the Team's missions, and how they interact with one another on and off duty. The main antagonist for the series is the Light.
Greg Weisman has stated that the overall theme of this season is "secrets and lies, and also independence."
- Main article: Young Justice: Invasion
A second season in the form of a ten episode serial was confirmed shortly after the show's regular release in early 2011, before being picked up for 20 episodes instead. The series began airing on Cartoon Network on April 28, 2012, with "Happy New Year".
The series takes place five years after the first season, and follows an expanded Team led by Nightwing, as they must deal with an alien invasion. Newly introduced characters include Blue Beetle, Wonder Girl, a new Robin, Impulse, and farther down the line Static. Several other minor characters from season one have stepped into their hero roles, including Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, La'gaan as Lagoon Boy, Garfield Logan as Beast Boy, Karen Beecher as Bumblebee, and eventually Mal Duncan as Guardian.
Regarding the expanded regular cast, the showrunners held auditions for the characters of Blue Beetle, Robin, Impulse, and Static. However, due to previous leaks, security measures were increased and the auditions were held under the guise of a fictitious show dubbed Cloud Ninja. As for Wonder Girl, the producers cast Mae Whitman based on her season one audition for Miss Martian.
- Main article: Young Justice: Outsiders
The third season was announced on November 7, 2016, with original series creators Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti returning to produce. The first three episodes debuted on January 4, 2019, on the DC Universe streaming service. In Young Justice: Outsiders, the Team will "battle meta-human trafficking to protect a society caught in the crossfire of a genetic arms race."
- Main article: Young Justice (comic)
A tie-in comic further explores the characters and locations of the television series, published by DC's Johnny DC imprint. The first issues were written by Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani, with Mike Norton providing the art. Christopher Jones took over art duties with #5, and Greg Weisman and Kevin Hopps started writing from #7, after having done the zero issue.
Home video releases
- Young Justice: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
- Young Justice: Invasion (Blu-ray)
- Season One, Volume One
- Season One, Volume Two
- Season One, Volume Three
- Young Justice: Dangerous Secrets
- Young Justice: Invasion – Destiny Calling: Season 2 Part 1
- Young Justice: Invasion – Game of Illusions: Season 2 Part 2