Young Justice: A Beginner's Guide To The DC Comic And Cartoon
No relation. Sort of.
Chances are, the name Young Justice has come up in your life from some corner of pop culture, but with not one but two major returns for the brand dropping this month, the specifics can be a bit confusing. There's the cartoon, Young Justice: Outsiders, the third season of the cult classic that's been six years in the making, and there's the new Young Justice #1, a comic reviving a long defunct superhero team that was shelved back in the early 2000s.
To make matters even weirder, the two properties actually have nothing to do with one another. Sort of. Almost. Look, it's complicated--but don't worry, we're here to help.
Here is your beginners guide to the world of Young Justice, and a look into what makes both versions of the story well worth your time.
Let's Talk Comics
The origin of the Young Justice brand at DC was, unsurprisingly, a comic. Young Justice #1 was published in 1998, springboarding three core characters--Tim Drake aka Robin, Bart Allen aka Impulse, and Conner Kent aka Superboy--into one ongoing story. They weren't specifically a "team" so much as they were three kids with big name mentors who sort of fell into hanging around with one another--the team stuff just followed naturally. Even the name "Young Justice" fell into their laps as a sort of gag as they wound up practicing some public superheroics and trying to explain to the press afterward that they weren't a new Junior Justice League, they were "young and it's just us."
Of course, in the name of slapstick '90s humor the explanation got misheard and the name "Young Justice" wound up sticking. That's when things truly kicked off and the team began to perform in earnest. Tim, Conner, and Bart were joined by other young superheroes from every corner of the DCU and actually garnered a pretty large following both in terms of in-universe notoriety and real life fans. They weren't specifically designed to be a new incarnation of the Teen Titans, but that's largely what they ended up being--and later, the connection became literal when a crossover event in 2003 called Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day officially promoted the Young Justice roster into the new Teen Titans niche.
That's actually why the name became defunct--the group didn't actually disband (though some members left and/or faded into obscurity over time) but rather shifted positions and swapped names. With the core roster now taking over as the Teen Titans, the Young Justice brand stepped decidedly out of the spotlight.
At least, until now. With the announcement of Brian Michael Bendis' curated imprint, Wonder Comics, Young Justice fans were able to rejoice with an all new issue #1--the first in nearly two decades--that would return the original core line up as a team while bringing in a handful of new characters to the mix.
For some characters, this was a lot more than a simple pivot. DC's undergone a number of tricky, multifaceted continuity reboots in the past ten or so years, including the line-wide total revamp known as The New 52, making things like history and canon a bit tricky to puzzle out. Officially, despite versions of Impulse and Superboy existing through the New 52, the ones fans were familiar with in the pre-New 52 era have been missing in action since 2011.
Now, however, after another major reboot known as Rebirth, the runway has been cleared for major returns and the puzzle pieces have been slowly placed over the last year or so, making it possible for Bart, Conner, and their friends to actually make the jump back into the limelight.
Okay, What About The Cartoon?
The first thing you need to understand about the Young Justice cartoon is that it premiered in 2010, long after the name had gone defunct on the comics side of things. The second thing you'll need to understand is that it's officially set on an alternate Earth, meaning it's not actually beholden to any of the comics continuity at all.
The Young Justice cartoon, while technically having no real relationship or legitimate connection to its comic book predecessor, borrows pretty heavily from things like tone and style to make its original story work. It's not actually adapting anything in a literal sense, but it does cherry pick all sorts of things from the DC Universe's long history and complicated canon to make something new--meaning that while it is technically a Young Justice property "in name only," it does embody the spirit of Young Justice as a whole.
It just does so without really leaning too heavily on any one specific story arc, issue, or team roster from the things that came before it. For example, the core roster of the Young Justice cartoon includes Conner Kent, but uses Wally West instead of Bart Allen for the team's original speedster and Dick Grayson rather than Tim Drake for the team's Robin. Other characters who have never been members of the comics team like Kaldur'ahm, aka Aqualad, are given the spotlight, while heroes like Artemis, the show's amalgam of the comic's original Arrowette and another character named Tigress, were given complete revamps.
You absolutely don't have to have a background in the Young Justice comics to understand the show, the same way you don't need to have an understanding of the show to jump into the comics--but it certainly won't hurt you to be familiar with both at any given time. If anything, being comfortable with both iterations of the team and the story will only bolster your overall experience--and make you an Easter egg hunting pro.
The third season of the show is currently debuting on the DC streaming service, DC Universe, while the new volume of the comic just release its first issue this month--so, really, no matter which angle you want to tackle the Young Justice franchise from, now is probably the best possible time to take the leap.