Recently a friend shared that Young Justice, a cartoon about a superhero team, was coming to Netflix. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t discriminate against a show based on age. If anything kids’ show are my personal staple for entertainment.
Nothing against Being Human, Supernatural, or Smallville (i.e. other science fiction and fantasy shows that are more adult-ish) but I usually don’t have time to watch a longer program over my lunch break or after work. Besides, sometimes I need something short I can watch without becoming an emotional wreck afterwards (I’m looking at you Dr. Who).
So kids shows…
I started watching Young Justice. I had nearly no expectations. I had seen part of one episode on TV and it looked okay. The first six episodes were more or less straight superhero action drama. Nothing new under the sun there.
The Justice League of America, an organization of heroes like Wonderwoman, Superman, and the GD Batman, have decided that their sidekicks are ready for the big time. In preparation for becoming full members in the league, they take them to the Hall of Justice in Washington, D.C. for a tour of their super-digs.
The only catch is that the Hall of Justice is a sham. It is a pretty building with areas for interviews but no actually crime fighting takes place. The real League business happens on their secret orbiting asteroid base that they have hidden from the general public (and their best friends/side kicks).
The kiddos get pretty upset and dash out to do some freelance hero-ing on their own. During their adventure they discover a genetically similar clone of Superman and end up ending a plot to take over the world with genetically engineered monsters.
In return for their heroics, the League decides that they can’t keep treating the kids like they are baggage but they don’t want to bring them into the dangers they face (just yet). So they form a junior League to take secret missions that the adults wouldn’t be able to go on.
At the start there are just boys; Kid Flash, Robin, Aqualad, Superboy, and Red Arrow (formally known as “Speedy”). Red just isn’t feeling like a team player and drops out as Miss Martian (Martian Manhunter’s niece/some sort of family relation maybe) joins. For a few episodes she is the only lady superhero and for nearly the entire first season the only woman of any color (green) in the series.
This would be fine normally. The representation of a woman at all in a show that was likely only marketed toward boys (because not having a penis means girls don’t buy dolls action figures like people with penises) is normally low or only used for making a love interest. It was no surprise then that Miss M was hotly pursued by all the boys (and later Artemis and Zatanna and Rocket as they added more girls to the roster).
During the first six episodes the boys take turns harassing her about going out, looking hot, and in general just getting hung up on her appearance as a sultry shape shifting alien from the red planet. That is except for Superboy–who as a clone of an alien doesn’t seem to really know what all the fuss is about.
In the first season ***MINOR SPOILER STARTS*** Superboy and Miss Martian start going out. The crazy part is that they actually have a healthy, well-adjusted, and overall nice relationship ***MINOR SPOILER ENDS*** After episode six (I’m guessing the pilot episodes) the sexism drops out nearly altogether. By the eighth episode it doesn’t just pass the Bechdel test, but wipes your nose in the feels that it makes while doing it.
From there things really seem like they are on the up and up. Like maybe the writers were finally being trusted to write the material the way they wanted. This is where the show really shines. Besides the great understanding of the world, diverse characters, and the deep overarching story–the character relationships actually seem like real human interactions and not just stereotypical cardboard cutouts they hung names on.
However, sexism still worms into nearly every episode. Mostly in the form of Wally, aka Kid Flash, hitting on Miss Martian. When I say nearly every episode I mean multiple times every episode till about 24 of 26. He is constantly trying to kiss, ask out, physically handle, oogle, and otherwise demean the alien girl.
That would be fine except that no one ever tells him to stop. Keep in mind this is the show where racism, drug abuse, child abuse, agism, suicide, and a whole host of deep teenage issues not only are talked about but actually openly debated. In fact the team has a psychologist (Black Canary) that even does sessions with each member from time to time to talk things out.
Even with all this, every character just shrugs and lets him make an embarrassment of himself (***mini-spoiler: even when her boyfriend could literally break his neck with his pinky***). It felt weird and I mean mega weird for this show to just completely overlook that…
Oh H.E.L.L… They didn’t…
Imagine a world where a single white privileged male with a good education from a rural farming community was a god. Think about a world where powerful men are allowed to rule the world events from their orbiting satellite and destroy (with their secret children’s army of police) any opposition in their way. On more than two separate occasions the Jr. Justice League actually shakes down foreign powers through strength to keep governments open to trade (on Bruce Wayne’s orders no less).
Consider that and then think about what that world would be like. We have trouble getting maternity leave for professional women in today’s world. What if their suffrage hadn’t come as soon as it did in our world? What if Superman was oppressing women’s rights to match how his adopted Earth parents had raised him?
I wasn’t completely sure about this till two major things happened (besides the Wally stuff). 1) Wonderwoman said the team needed more female representation and the Justice League looked at one another confused about what she meant, and 2) the villains want to stop heroes from meddling in human affairs.
The first was hilarious in a sad way. The League and the world they live in has been so fixated on men as heroic protectors that they actually don’t think there is a problem in keeping women off the team. It just isn’t a thing that computes to what constitutes the greatest and brightest people of Earth.
This is in stark contrast to Atlantis where women enjoy equal footing from what we get to see. Equal training, executive weight, and place in their underwater society are all much different from on the surface world.
The second was a little horrifying. Throughout the series (***mini spoiler***) you find out that several super villains are working together. They don’t want money or fame or glory–they want freedom. In this DC universe, the heroes are so powerful that they are literally protecting humanity from itself or rather–the Justice League has made humanity into livestock only kept to feed the egos of the heroes.
It sounds weird but the more you watch the more you start to agree with the villains on that one. You start to slip into their ways of thinking. In the end you start to have trouble knowing who the good guys and who the bad guys are. This is exemplified by a speech Lex Luthor (who is somehow more scary as a bald guy in a business suit than a sorcerer in a robe) gives about how the world is just shades of gray.
Which means this series is the anti-Ayn Rand, teen edition.
In many ways the world is akin to the works of Charles Martin’s Wonderboy. In that series he creates a world where people stopped progressing their morals in the 1950’s leaving gender, race, and sexuality on the table as unnecessary issues to work through.
Thinking of Young Justice from that light, it makes the experience richer–fuller. It makes me think through character actions rather than just have them happen.
I for one am truly sorry I doubted the series and tweeted its sexism early on in watching. The series is a deep, dark, intelligent show that dwarfs similarly experimental works like Batman Beyond or Teen Titans in scope and follow through.
So now I’m a fan (not fanboy mind you) of Young Justice. Just in time for it to be canceled after three seasons. No matter. The show is amazing and I look forward to two more great seasons of gender issues in the world of living god-boys.