"Young Justice" is a reunion of friends, old and new
A beat-up old pickup truck winds through the streets of Metropolis. At the behest of a pursuing police officer, the unseen driver pulls over to the side of the road. After a conversation about a busted taillight and the questionable safety of the vehicle, the officer demands the driver step out of the vehicle.
She complies, and introduces herself as Jinny Hex. She is your new favorite character.
Full of sass and spunk, with a razor-sharp wit, Jinny takes the confrontation with the police officer in stride. Admirable, as a potential traffic ticket would be enough to ruin a normal person’s day.
Jinny Hex is not a normal person, though, and Metropolis is not a normal city. From nowhere, a group of strange warriors appear, seeking an audience with Superman. Jinny does what she must, grabbing the shotgun from the rack in her truck, and sets about trying to drive off the invaders.
Soon, she is joined by a caped figure, who uses a combination of melee and bo staff attacks. It’s Tim Drake, Robin (one of them), and he’s here to help.
And with that, Young Justice is back.
When the relaunch of the 1998 comic series was announced a few months ago, anticipation was high, and with good reason: the original book is still highly regarded by fans, after all, the television series of the same name was making a long-awaited return, and the creative team attached to the book is just stellar. Brian Michael Bendis and Patrick Gleason? That’s a pretty solid pedigree.
Even better, the book would reunite the Tim Drake Robin, Conner Kent Superboy, and Bart Allen, also known as the speedster Impulse. At least two of those boys have been all but absent from comics for the past several years, and even if they were technically part of continuity, their characterizations were… questionable at best. So seeing the trio back in classic costumes (and a stripped down update, in the case of Robin), each with a smile on their face, was a welcome sight for long-time fans.
Even better, Wonder Girl Cassie Sandsmark would also be part of the lineup, along with Amethyst of Gemworld and two new characters. With such a strong lineup, Young Justice had already earned plenty of goodwill after barely even being announced.
Personally, this was one of my most anticipated books of 2019, and let me tell you: it’s good.
It’s really good.
It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly makes it such a good book, because it does so many things right. I think, more than anything, it succeeds because it doesn’t play out exactly like I thought it would. If you’re like me, you probably thought this debut issue would follow one of the boys through some sort of journey, a path that would see him meet up with one of the other team members about halfway through and then ultimately find the third part of the trio at the very end.
That does not happen. At least, so much more than that happens.
Aside from a brief opening scene on Gemworld and a short flashback to just before the main action starts up, this book is nothing but forward momentum. The pacing moves at a breakneck speed, yet the story never feels rushed. Characters are allowed to have their own moments, and the constant action is exciting rather than exhausting.
As much as Bendis deserves credit for writing a pretty good script, Patrick Gleason and Alejandro Sanchez deserve just as much recognition for bringing the story to life. Gleason’s pencils are outstanding, as you’d expect, and the way he uses panels and layouts is inspired. Action will rise within a scene thanks to a small sequence of ever expanding panels, for instance, and he uses splash pages sparingly and effectively.
But it’s not just what happens to the characters that’s effective; it’s the characters themselves that truly elevate the story. The infectious energy of Impulse makes his grand return all the better. Considering we haven’t really seen Bart in the better part of a decade, it’s great watching him run around saving people, all while his hyperactive mind almost forces him to make quips and jokes so he can keep processing information. Gleason channels that energy into his pencils, with a double-page spread that sees Bart almost leap and slide between panels while a larger fight goes on around him being a particular standout.
It’s the small moments that give it weight, too, best displayed in Tim and Cassie’s reunion. They talk like old friends, excited to see each other again after some time apart. It’s clear that they have a history as friends, and it’s also evident that they have different reasons for being here that they’re hesitant to share. Cassie in particular is guarded, unwilling to take part in the fight because of some unnamed insecurity. Some of the dialogue in this scene is a bit clunky, I’ll admit, but the heart is there, and Cassie’s big scene later on still feels earned. There aren’t too many of these quieter moments, but Bendis has a good enough handle on the characters that it’s clear he knows that they’re the entire reason we’re here.
As evidenced by Jinny Hex, even the new characters make an impression. It’s often a thankless task being the newbie on a team of established characters, especially when the team in question has such a long history. Of the two new characters, Jinny is more memorable, as she’s effectively the protagonist for the first third of the book or so. Teen Lantern doesn’t have as much to do, but she still has a few good lines here and there, mostly about how silly her name is and how she’ll think of something better.
The best thing I can say about Young Justice is that it surprised me. I would have been content with the issue I thought we were going to get, heavy on exposition and buildup, laying the groundwork for a greater story ahead. Instead, I was enthralled from the get-go, thanks to how fun and exciting the story ended up being. There are even a few almost throwaway scenes that pleasantly surprised me, be it the cameo from the two women at the diner who first appeared in Action Comics #1000 to the revelation that each and every Crisis has indeed happened. Given that the title of the arc is “Seven Crises,” this initially cryptic conversation is sure to have great consequence in the coming months.
Young Justice succeeds on almost every level, and not just as a comic. As the flagship title of the Wonder Comics imprint, it holds the standard high. As a relaunch on a beloved property, it’s accessible for both existing fans and new readers.
And yes, as a comic it’s an absolute blast. The writing is sharp, the visuals are great, and the characters are spot-on. Young Justice #1 may not exactly be what we thought it would be, but it’s what it needed to be: a great comic, plain and simple.