Young Justice: Invasion
OK, everyone who told me, when I said I didn’t like Young Justice, that it got better, was right. Young Justice: Invasion, the renamed second and final season of the animated series, is much more watchable. In fact, I enjoyed it enough to watch the whole thing in one long day.
At the start of this season, we’ve jumped ahead in time five years, which means the characters aren’t so whiny and juvenile, a plus. The overarching theme is battling alien invaders. First, there are little, lizard-like aliens hiding in human-looking bodies (as in Men in Black). The Justice League and Young Justice split up to send a group to Rann to investigate the plot while other groups break up the encroachers’ secret headquarters on Earth.
As the season progresses, there are different attackers, from Mongul to various friends revealed to be enemies in disguise and vice versa. Soon enough this turns into a super-villain group vs the superhero group, with a revelation of a surprise twist related to what happened over the five-year gap (a phrase I can’t help typing, given my long-running time in Legion of Super-Heroes fandom).
Finally, there’s a group of aliens called the Reach that kidnaps humans to experiment on them. They also are attempting to infiltrate society from the inside, presenting themselves as allies. A particularly entertaining subplot to me was G. Godron Godfrey (Tim Curry, excellent casting) riling up anti-alien paranoia from his TV show with a greasy, insinuating, all-too-realistic tone. Using aliens allows for battle without ramifications to the kids, unlike fighting humans.
The Young Justice team, managed by Nightwing (voiced by Jesse McCartney), often splits up into Alpha, Beta, and Delta Squads, so we get different combinations of heroes. Key players (and their actors) are:
- Blue Beetle (Eric Lopez)
- Robin (Cameron Bowen)
- Superboy (Nolan North)
- Miss Martian (Danica McKellar)
- Beast Boy (Logan Grove)
- Bumblebee (Masasa Moyo)
- La’gaan (aka Lagoon Boy, who has the Hulk-like ability to inflate himself into an imposing muscle-bound appearance) (Yuri Lowenthal)
- Wonder Girl (Mae Whitman)
- Batgirl (Alyson Stoner)
- Wolf, a giant white dog who apparently joined in S1
It’s great to see more characters in the regular cast. I also liked seeing mention of the bigger Justice League as well, since that means glimpses of lots of favorites (including Rocket!). They’re led by Captain Atom, oddly. (I’ve never liked him.) Later on, there’s a spin-off group featuring Static and three reworked Super Friends (Tye/Apache Chief, Ed/El Dorado, and Asami/Samurai), which I found both amusing and surprisingly effective in a modern story.
But first, there’s an intriguing episode not really suited for a “children’s cartoon” in which former teammates try to help a burned-out Red Arrow (now a clone?) (Crispin Freeman) obsessed with finding the original Speedy. He fulfills the “really angry” character part that Superboy has since grown out of.
The show, because of more complex motivations like that, kept my interest much more than recent animated DC movies or the previous season did. I can see why it didn’t go over well, though, since it’s a fairly major change in direction to expand beyond the “boys 7-11” target category. More significantly, it’s a pretty big challenge trying to do more substantial work for a company who probably looked at the expanded cast and thought “oooh, more toy options”.
A continuing focus on Blue Beetle allows for further exploration of the theme of aliens among us, since his powers and supersuit come from a scarab possessing him. Various revelations play out in future episodes, such as when Artemis (Stephanie Lemelin) returns. Young Justice: Invasion seems to have been conceived as a real series, with continuing ramifications, even as the episodes have their own stories. The alliances and motivations are much more pleasingly complex than I expected.
I loved the bit in episode 2 where Adam Strange (Michael Trucco) needs to distract some guards and does so by quoting Jabberwocky and other Lewis Carroll at them. As you might suspect, I also enjoyed the Impulse (Jason Marsden) episode (written by Peter David) because of how much the wisecracking speedster shakes things up.
The animation here looks very good, building a compelling world. Since the series was cancelled abruptly, there are a few minor loose ends left (and room for me to hope one particular revelation of the finale could be reversed), but nothing substantial or atypical of the genre.
The Blu-ray set has two discs for 20 episodes, 10 on each disc. The only options on the first disc are subtitles and an episode listing. Watching the subtitles shows that they weren’t done with the quality one might hope for, since Zatanna’s name isn’t spelled consistently or correctly the first two times it’s used. The second disc has commentaries for the series finale episodes “Summit” and “Endgame” by show creators Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti and voice actors Jason Spisak (Kid Flash) and Stephanie Lemelin (Artemis). They’re ok to listen to, if a bit self-congratulatory and lacking any new information.
There’s also a 16-minute “Behind the Scenes” featurette filmed halfway through season 1 teasing what’s coming up with the show joining the “DC Nation” programming block. It’s mostly Weisman talking, and I didn’t learn anything new from this either. (The studio provided a review copy.)