Episode Title: "Independence Day"
Writer: Greg Weisman
Director: Jay Oliva
The next generation of superheroes band together to prove themselves to the Justice League and redefine themselves as heroes. They are Young Justice.
On a day in which four different cities are attacked by cold powered villains, Robin (Jesse McCartney), Aqualad (Khary Payton), Kid Flash (Jason Spisak) and Speedy help their mentors defeat their adversaries and eagerly await their entrance to the Justice League as full members. But when they arrive at League headquarters, they discover that their new status is little more than a backstage pass. Speedy walks out in disgust, but the other three sidekicks remain. The League is soon called away on an emergency by Superman (Nolan North) and Zatara, with Batman (Bruce Greenwood) ordering the younger heroes to remain behind. But Robin and the rest regret not walking out with Speedy and decide to investigate a fire at Project Cadmus to prove their worth to the League.
While Aqualad saves people from the burning building, Robin and Kid Flash discover that the real Cadmus facility is located several levels below the surface. Reuniting with Aqualad, the trio descend into the deepest parts of the complex; coming to the attention of The Guardian (Crispin Freeman) and his superior, Dr. Desmond (Rene Auberjonois). The trio quickly realizes that Cadmus is creating an army of superpowered beings known as genomorphs. They attempt to contact the League, but they are too far underground to get a signal out. They also find Cadmus’ greatest secret: a clone of Superman himself. This "Superboy" (Nolan North) appears to be sixteen and undergoing brainwashing by the genomorphs. The three heroes free him from his vault, but he turns on them and instantly defeats them.
With the young heroes now in his custody, Dr. Desmond is instructed by the Cadmus board of directors to clone them and dispose of the originals. An unseen telepath awakens the trio of heroes and it soon becomes clear that The Guardian is being controlled through his genomorph by Dr. Desmond. Aqualad reaches out to Superboy telepathically and urges him to act as Superman would. Superboy responds to the message and frees them from the cloning machines, but he seems to get angry when Robin starts barking out orders. The four of them then try to escape to the upper levels with all of the genomorphs in pursuit.
The heroes are eventually cornered by the genomorphs and they meet Dubbilex (Phil LaMarr), the telepathic genomorph who aided them earlier. He tells Superboy that he represents the genomorph’s best hopes for freedom. Superboy agrees to help free his people and even The Guardian is freed from his mind control, but Dr. Desmond exposes himself to an experimental compound and becomes Blockbuster, a being with Hulk-like strength. The newly formed team eventually gets the upper hand on Blockbuster and bring the building down around them.
In the aftermath, Superman and the entire Justice League descend upon Cadmus and the Man of Steel is taken aback to meet his clone. Batman and the rest of the adult heroes are furious at their actions, but Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad and Superboy refuse to back down and insist that they will remain a team with or without their mentors’ consent. Batman relents and recruits the four of them to be part of the Justice League’s new black ops team. They also meet the fifth member of their team, a young girl known as Miss Martian (Danica McKellar), the niece of the Martian Manhunter (Kevin Michael Richardson).
Among long time fans, the DC Animated Universe created by Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and Alan Burnett is considered the gold standard for all comic book animated adaptations. From "Batman: The Animated Series" all the way through "Justice League Unlimited," Warner Brothers animation had a string of hits that actually worked for audiences of all ages. However, the DC record since then has been spotty. "The Batman," was just a bad series and "Batman: The Brave and The Bold" tends to target an even younger audience (although it’s very well crafted).
But "Young Justice" seems to hit all of the right notes in its premiere episodes. This may be the first DC related series in a long time to pull off what Timm and company did years ago. The writing and animation seem sharp and thus far, all of the performers have been excellent. If you’re familiar with Greg Weisman from his time on Disney’s "Gargoyles" or "The Spectacular Spider-Man," than it shouldn’t surprise you that he’s one of the driving forces behind this series. The sheer number of DC related characters in this series is also impressive and it gives "Young Justice" an instant sense of scale for the larger universe around it.
I have to admit that I got a bit of a chuckle out of Superman’s bit of dickery when he encountered his clone. He basically blurted out a few nervous platitudes rather than embracing someone who is either his genetic brother or son. But it’s also a very human reaction to being cloned against his will and the relationship between Superman and Superboy could be very intriguing down the line.
As for the team itself, I was kind of surprised that Speedy got written out so early. But Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad and Superboy seem to mesh well with each other. I’m not sure how well Miss Martian will mix into this dynamic and it was a very "X-Men" way to introduce the group’s lone female (for now). The producers also made a smart choice by keeping Batman involved in the series going forward and Bruce Greenwood’s Dark Knight is my favorite since Kevin Conroy’s iconic performance.
There’s also a sense that a larger storyline is building in the background in these episodes. The coordinated assault by the cold related villains is never explained, but the heroes did theorize that they were connected. And the Cadmus board of directors (or the Light) is still out there, making plans of their own. It’s too soon to tell where it’s going at this point, but I’m eager to find out.
If the rest of "Young Justice" can be this entertaining, this may be the next classic superhero animated series. And I would love to see that happen.
Crave Online Rating: 8.5 out of 10.