Skipping Over the Good Parts

The first season of the DC cartoon Young Justice offered viewers some of the sharpest writing superhero cartoons have had in quite some time. While the stories were often 'adventure of the week', they fed into a larger narrative, and served to illustrate and expand on the characters of Robin, Superboy, Miss Martian, Artemis, Kid Flash and Aqualad. The show also introduced Red Arrow and Zatanna to the team smoothly, building them up as characters both in their own right and in relation to the others. It did, however, stumble with Rocket towards the end of the first season; unlike Zatanna, Rocket was simply with the team at the start of an episode, with no real introductory story for her. It was a pretty clumsy misstep for a show that had previously demonstrated such admirable patience in their character work.

And unfortunately, it was just a taste of the disaster to come.

The second season, Young Justice: Invasion, starts five years after the season finale. So, right there I have a problem; I don't like time-skips. It's not that they can't be used well. Indeed, my favourite anime, Gurren Lagann, has a seven year time skip that works very well indeed. But the reason it works in Gurren Lagann, and doesn't in so many other works, is that there the time skipped over is a period of peace and relative stasis. Characters grow, but not in shocking new directions; relationships develop, but nothing drastic happens off-screen; and because it was a period of relative peace and tranquillity, there's very little worth mentioning once the show picks up speed once again. Young Justice, however, has done the exact opposite, and so far it's just been three episodes of steadily worsening creative decision making. The original characters and their interpersonal dynamics are either gone (Kid Flash, Artemis, Zatanna, Red Arrow) or radically changed (Superboy and Miss Martian breaking up, ex-Robin Dick Grayson becoming Nightwing, Aqualad being evil). The show has actually added more new characters to the team (Beast Boy, Lagoon Boy, Wondergirl, Batgirl, Blue Beetle, Bumblebee, new Robin Tim Drake, some guy named Mal who runs operations from Mount Justice) than were originally present, and taken the time to introduce precisely none of them. This isn't so bad with characters like Beast Boy and Blue Beatle, who got exposure on Teen Titans and Batman: Brave and the Bold respectively, or legacy characters like Wondergirl and Batgirl, but Lagoon Boy was a background character in a single first-season episode, and as big a superhero fan as I am, I've never even heard of Bumblebee or Max. And time and again, the characters will obliquely reference events that took place during the missing period, events that clearly affected them but for which the audience has absolutely no context. Watching Superboy and Miss Martian slowly grow into a believable couple felt realistic, like you were actually watching two real people grow closer together; having Miss Martian gratuitously make out with Lagoon Boy while he calls her 'angelfish' every chance he gets just feels like the epitome of a clumsy author's fiat. And Aqualad's reason for joining up with Black Manta is just awful. He's apparently enraged that Tula/Aquagirl was killed on a mission, which is bad enough, but then he declares that because Black Manta is his father and 'blood is thicker than sea water', now he has to be evil to. Because, of course, it's not like a giant part of the previous season finale was all about demonstrating that no, just because your parents are villains doesn't mean you have to be one, too. Do you even watch your own show, Young Justice writers?

At the core of it, that's why I don't like, or respect, the vast majority of time skips; it's nothing but an endless series of 'tell, don't show' moments. Superboy and Superman have developed a good, friendly relationship; good thing we didn't see that character growth! Aqualad has betrayed the team because a love interest we saw once became a superheroine we never saw and died on a mission we didn't know about, and also he found out at some point that his father is Black Manta; thank goodness we didn't see his actual, immediate reactions to any of those momentous events! Superboy dumped Miss Martian, who is now dating Lagoon Boy and acting as a surrogate sister for Garfield, who's developed powers and lost his mother because of Queen B since we last saw him; I can't tell you how glad I am not to have any idea how or why any of that's happened! And each new episode just adds more and more questions, while offering up no meaningful answers. Why did Zatanna and Rocket join the Justice League but not anyone else? Where's Red Arrow? What happened with Kid Flash and Artemis? Did anyone ever rescue Speedy? Who is this Icon, and why does he conveniently have 'experience with interplanetary law'? Why did it take five years for anyone to mention to John Stewart, a Green Lantern space-cop who did nothing to disguise his identity and actually announced himself as having been from Earth, that he and his five closest Earth allies were wanted space-criminals? And why wasn't it one of John Stewart's various Green Lantern space-cop buddies, rather than just some random human who just happened to accidentally get transported to a planet conveniently close to where the space-crime was committed? What happened to 'poor, disgraced Ocean Master'? Did anyone ever do anything about Hugo Strange working with criminals while being warden of Bell Reve? Who the holy frak is this Bumblebee, and honestly, why should I care about her?

The biggest problem with a time skip like the one in Young Justice, however, is how it completely distorts narrative flow. There are basically two potential outcomes for this season. The worst case scenario is that the alien invasion/JL-as-criminals plotline and the development of seven new characters squeezes out all but the vaguest of explanations of what happened, and closes off various dangling plotlines. The best case scenario, which still isn't very good, is that the original cast members will routinely find themselves asked leading questions by strangers to prompt them to deliver some exposition about their recent past, leading to either dryly recited facts or flashback clips that won't carry any of the emotional weight of actually watching the event in question unfold. And of course, the more time spent catching up with the characters the viewer actually grew to care about over the first season, the less time there is to develop the new, larger cast introduced for the second season.

Really, it's lose-lose.

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