By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
Cartoon Network’s Young Justice cartoon isn’t your daddy’s Teen Titans. It’s not even your older brother’s.
Young Justice is its own animal by virtue of playing mix and match with the various teen sidekicks from different eras of DC superhero comics, plus inventing a couple more. For example, the show features the original Robin at age 13, even though in the comics he hasn’t been that age since the 1950s. By contrast, YJ features the contemporary comic-book version of Superboy, a teen cloned from Superman in 1993.
One new character is a black Aqualad, although the original in the comics was white (and is dead). Evidently DC liked what they saw, since the new guy was recently introduced as Aquaman’s partner in the comics, too. Another new character may be confusing if you know too much; she’s a girl archer named Artemis who is NOT A) the Amazon warrior with that name in Wonder Woman comics, or B) the girl archer in the 1998-2003 Young Justice series named Arrowette.
But you don’t need to know all that to enjoy the cartoon. The ensemble cast is fine without prior knowledge, and entertains by depicting the interactions of an immature Robin, a reckless Kid Flash, a brooding Superboy, a flighty Miss Martian, and so forth. The flirting, fighting and search for identity and acceptance all ring true.
My one complaint is how they portray the Justice League. The show’s premise, you see, is that the sidekicks had demanded to join the League and be treated as adults. But that wouldn’t create a show starring that all-important demographic, the teenager. So story considerations required heroes like Superman to refuse to associate with the kids, and force them instead to become a covert superhero team. That’s not only more dangerous, it’s cruel. Thankfully, these jerks masquerading as super friends don’t show up much, except for Batman (assignments), Black Canary (combat trainer) and Red Tornado (supervisor).
And it seems to be working; Young Justice has been renewed for a second season. If you can’t wait, Warner Home Video released the first four episodes on DVD July 19 as Young Justice: Season One, Volume One ($14.97) and DC Kids has launched a companion comic book.
* Sweet Tooth is ongoing mature-readers series set in a post-apocalyptic America where a plague has wiped out most of humanity, and animal/human hybrids are being born. These hybrids are immune to the plague, and are pursued by the ruthless human survivors for their secret. The eponymous star is one such hybrid, a boy with antlers who loves chocolate. Hence, “Sweet Tooth.”
I have to say I’m not a fan of the impressionistic art style of writer/artist Jeff Lemire (Nobody). On the other hand, my wife is crazy about every aspect of the book, so it’s really a matter of taste.
You can judge for yourself with the latest collection, Sweet Tooth Vol. 3: Animal Armies (DC/Vertigo, $14.99). Collecting Sweet Tooth #12-17, this volume sheds some light on the plague’s origin, re-unites Sweet Tooth with the big man who’d sold him for experiments (and has since had a change of heart) and begins a quest to learn Sweet Tooth’s origins.
Naturally, all of this complicated by the usual inhabitants of an apocalypse: brutal survivors, religious fanatics, mad scientists and rogue militias. Which, in Lemire’s hands, feel fresh. I may not care for the art, but Sweet Tooth is an absorbing and disturbing read.
* When Deluxe Comics re-launched a beloved 1960s series in 1984 as Wally Wood’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, I bought them while holding my nose. I was a purist, you see, and was irritated by the title and concept, because Wally Wood – the heart and soul of the series – had died in 1981. I didn’t think of these characters as the “real” agents of The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserve.
Now DC has reprinted those five issues as T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Archives Volume Seven ($59.99), and I was surprised: They were much better than I remembered. With work by Rich Buckler, Dave Cockrum, Paul Gulacy, Jerry Ordway and George Perez, it is more consistent in quality than the original 1960s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, which featured two or three superstars (like Wood) but also a whole lot of drek. Given that DC has re-launched T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents currently with the welcome revelation that all previous stories remain in continuity, this volume of obscure stories is simply that much more necessary for any hard-core comics fan.
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at email@example.com.