As I watched the first DVD collection of the second season of Young Justice, the DC Comics-based cartoon featuring the sidekicks to more famous superheroes, all I could keep thinking was, "Of course Cartoon Network cancelled this. How could they not? It's just too damn good. Of course it had to die. Why does everything I love go away?"
Young Justice: Season Two, Part One--or, if you prefer, Young Justice: Invasion - Destiny Calling--gathers the first ten episodes of the 2012/2013 season on two discs. From the premiere and straight through the shows collected here, it's obvious that Season Two is already looking at Season One disappearing in its rearview mirrors. Though not quite a reset or reboot, Young Justice: Invasion is a bold redirection of the superpowered cartoon. Season One ended with the kids saving the day, bailing out their more accomplished bosses; Season Two begins with a mystery directly tied to that finale--"What happened to the Justice League in the 16 hours they were off the grid?"--before jumping ahead five whole years. The mystery is still unsolved, but the status quo has been shaken up like a snow globe.
For starters, Dick Grayson has stopped being Robin and become Nightwing, and he's been replaced by Tim Drake in the familiar costume. The new Robin is part of an equally new Young Justice, alongside Wonder Girl, Blue Beetle, Lagoon Boy, Bumblebee, Beast Boy, Batgirl, and Mal Duncan, who some may know as the new Guardian. Miss Martian and Superboy remain from the old team, though they are no longer dating (she has taken up with Lagoon Boy, and Beast Boy has actually been rewritten to be her little brother). Artemis and Kid Flash are no longer donning their costumes, they are now college students. And Aqualad is missing in action--or at least we assume so. He reappears in episode 3, wearing the helmet of Black Manta, the archenemy of Aquaman. He defected after his Atlantean girlfriend was killed on a Young Justice mission, right around the time he discovered Black Manta was his real father.
Yeah, it didn't sound like a familiar story to me, either. Don't worry, you didn't miss an episode. I was confused by this at first, too. That's how pronounced a shift the producers have made in Young Justice: Invasion. They've let all of that backstory play out in the space between seasons, meaning a lot of what I have described happened entirely off-screen, and we only learn the whys and the wherefores as the new cycle of shows progresses.
Not that everything is new. One major storyline involves Red Arrow's downward spiral after learning that he is not the original Roy Harper (a.k.a. Speedy/Arsenal), but a clone created in the same lab that created Superboy. His hunt for the missing Roy will put him in direct conflict with the Light, the criminal organization that has plagued Young Justice since the start. Running parallel to this is the overarching plot of an alien invasion that happened while no one was watching. The Krolotean's came to Earth in secret and have infiltrated all aspects of human life, hiding in plain site, kidnapping humans and mining our society for our resources. This discovery is only exacerbated by those missing hours where the Justice League apparently acted in such a way to cause them to be branded as cosmic criminals and a cable news commentator who is waging a xenophobic campaign against all aliens, including ones that are "out of the rocket," as it were, like Martian Manhunter and Superman.
There is an evident plan at work here. The creators of Young Justice: Invasion are creating one macro plot across which all other stories cross and intersect, and which they further layer and build as the series progresses. For instance, when Bart Allen, the grandson of the Flash and a speedster known as Impulse, comes from the future with a larger mission that is not immediately revealed, we can only guess at how this will funnel into the larger cosmic adventure. (The major themes and stories in this season seem to predict some of the major upcoming live-action comic book blockbusters. Xenophobia appears to be a plot in Zack Snyder's Superman do-over, while Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy is poised to tentpole a franchise with the publisher's more popular space-faring creations.) That's how smart Young Justice truly is.
Smart on top of being funny and also being a kick-ass action serial. The shows are fun and exciting, even as the scripts tackle serious subjects and aim for a demographic that may be older than the featured characters. It's also consistently good looking, never skimping on character design or the more dynamic elements that define a superhero adventure. Again, Young Justice: Invasion - Destiny Calling is just too damn good. It's a marked improvement over Season One, and just a damn fine cartoon show in general. So, of course, they cancelled it. Why wouldn't they?
Here's hoping that Warner Bros. stays committed to the DVDs. Young Justice may be ending production, but that doesn't mean home viewers who aren't; watching it on Cartoon Network should be denied the option of seeing this through.
Young Justice: Invasion - Destiny Calling (Season Two, Part One) is shown here in its broadcast aspect ratio, widescreen, anamorphic, full color. The image quality is very good, with sharp lines and bright colors. Dark scenes have the right amount of shadow, and the animation comes across as really clean and slick.
The English-language soundtrack is mixed in Dolby surround. The volume levels are excellent with unimpeachable clarity and decent balance between speakers. Dialogue is crisp, sound effects have a lot of boom. Alternate audio options include French, Spanish, and Portuguese. There are additionally subtitles for the latter two languages, and Closed Captioning for English speakers. (No French subtitles.)
Episodes can be chosen one at a time, or there is also a play-all function. The 10 shows, each about 22-minutes long, are spread over two discs. They are packaged in a standard-sized case with a double tray.
The main extra is three episodes of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, all featuring the Jaime Reyes incarnation of the Blue Beetle who has now joined Young Justice, thus giving unfamiliar viewers background on his character. These are on Disc 1, alongside a commercial for DC Comics and one for their We Can Be Heroes charity initiative.
There are no extras on Disc 2.
Highly Recommended. Young Justice: Invasion - Destiny Calling starts off the show's second (and last) season with a bang. Lots of new developments and new characters push the story of teenage superheroes coming into their own into overdrive, setting up an overall plot that looks to be very exciting without sacrificing character development or shying away from the tough subjects that cause those developments to matter. One of the best cartoons on television, and one of the best action shows, as well. Too bad it's not going to last...
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.