Review: ‘Young Justice #1’
Young Justice #1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Patrick Gleason
DC Comics; $4.99
Longtime Marvel Comics writer Brian Michael Bendis automatically became the biggest story in mainstream superhero comics in late 2017, when he moved to the Distinguished Competition after almost two decades of writing pretty much all of Marvel’s most popular characters in dozens of books. That he would be writing DC’s biggest characters Superman (in both Superman and Action Comics) and Batman (in the lead strip in the Batman-focused Walmart exclusive anthology) was no real surprise, nor was the fact that the notoriously prolific writer would be writing a small suite of creator-owned comics along with many frequent collaborators (Pearl, Cover, Scarlet, and United States Vs. Murder, Inc.)
That he would also be launching his own “pop-up imprint,” Wonder Comics, featuring four titles featuring teen superheroes? Well, that was something of a surprise, as was the title he would be writing: Young Justice.
Running from 1998-2003, Young Justice starred the publisher’s then-emergent new generation of 90s-born sidekicks—kid sidekicks having been dumped for seeming too silly and unrealistic in the grim, gritty 80s—organized into a secondary teen team with an awkward name. “Teen Titans,” was, of course, taken. For a solid five years, writer Peter David and artist Todd Nauck presented the monthly adventures of Robin, Superboy, Impulse, Wonder Girl, and friends, with a greater emphasis on lighthearted comedy than melodramatic combat.
That eventually ended, but not because fans stopped reading the book or caring for the characters. Rather, the characters got absorbed into the Teen Titans book and have, as a group and individually, been somewhat lost for much of the past decade, as the publisher struggled to find a place for them. (Oddly, the Cartoon Network animated series bearing the Young Justice title and loosely based on the comic suffered a similar fate; it was canceled out from under fans not due to poor reception, but to make room for other shows.)
Well, DC has apparently finally found a place for them: A new volume of their own title, now the anchor of a new suite of books by one of pop comics’ all-star writers. Bendis is here collaborating with Patrick Gleason, a long-time DC Comics artist who has drawn most of the publisher’s prominent characters, including substantial runs spent on the Superman, Batman and Robin, Aquaman, and Green Lantern characters.
Given how long it’s been since the previous volume existed, and how far the various characters have drifted over the 15 years since—we’re talking multiple reboots, redesigns and revamps—launching a new book featuring the team isn’t as easy as it sounds. In fact, it sounds darn near impossible.
It is therefore perhaps understandable that, in the first issue, Bendis and Gleason are mainly content to introduce characters one at a time in rapid-fire succession, each of them getting a dramatic entrance and their name said aloud in logo-form (“Yer… Robin,” the new cowgirl character says upon seeing former Robin Tim Drake appear for the first time, for example, and the word “Robin” is the big yellow and back stylized logo for the old Robin monthly series).
There are two bits of intrigue in the story. The first involves the rationale of the alien invaders who attack and force our heroes to rally together, a sort of meta-narrative that seems to be extrapolated from the aforementioned reboots, redesigns, and revamps. And the other is the presence of the heroes themselves, as several of them seem to have regressed back to previous, more popular iterations, to a degree that the fact that Gleason gives them all new costumes—or new versions of older costumes—doesn’t seem sufficient to explain.
Other than that, the plot of this 30-page comic is as generic and simple as can be: Powerful alien warriors from Gemworld (a setting from early 1980s fantasy comic Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld) attack Metropolis, looking for Superman. Instead they find Robin Tim Drake, Wonder Girl Cassie Sandsmark, and Impulse, as well as new characters Jinny Hex, the great-great-granddaughter of Western character Jonah Hex, and a mysterious Green Lantern-like character who introduces herself as Teen Lantern.
They beat back the invaders, following them through a portal, where they encounter two unexpected heroes: The 90s Superboy (an entirely different character than the one who has been appearing in the Superman comics and Super Sons the last few years) and Amethyst. You can see them all on the cover, even though about half of them only appear in a single panel or from afar in this issue.
Gleason does a pretty incredible job on the design elements of the book, as almost every one of the returning characters has a pretty dramatic redesign from the last time we saw them, most of them wearing new costumes that are visually close to the ones they wore upon introduction, only with tweaks to make them look less dated. Of the old Young Justice characters, Wonder Girl has the most dramatic redesigns, although like her earliest costumes she’s basically just wearing Wonder Woman-branded street clothes; as with Jinny, a cosplayer wouldn’t have much difficulty throwing that costume together the night before a convention.
The simplicity of the plot is a pretty good example of why it’s often better to wait for the first collection of a comic book series than to review the first issue—and sometimes, it’s better still to wait a few collections for an ongoing comics serial. On the other hand, it’s worth finding out immediately if a comic is going to be worth following or not. Young Justice appears to be worth it. Sure, Bendis and Gleason will be able to coast on goodwill for awhile, but the first issue is well written, well drawn and, so far at least, it seems to be effectively relaunching a title that seemed all but impossible to relaunch.
DC has rated the book “T+”, meaning “appropriate for readers ages 15 and older,” but it’s not clear to me why they didn’t rate it “T”, for the 12-and-up set. It’s probably just reflex on their part; there’s no swearing save for a grawlix, the violence is pretty minimal for super-comics (the most violent bit is a 12-panel page full of close-ups of Drake striking an alien invader displaying his martial arts prowess), and there aren’t any challenging or intense themes or subject matter.
The remaining three books in DC and Bendis’ Wonder Comics line will debut in coming weeks. These include Naomi, featuring a mysterious brand-new character; Wonder Twins, a book based on the characters from the various 1977-1985 Super Friends cartoons; and Dial H For Hero, based on the 1966-1968 strip. If the first issue of Young Justice is any indication of the quality of the rest of the line, then it seems even more promising today than it did upon announcement.
About J. Caleb Mozzocco
J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.
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