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 V.20 No.1 | January 6 - 12, 2011 
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Don’t Call Them Sidekicks

“Young Justice” on Cartoon Network

While TV is still struggling to tell superhero tales in a live-action format, animated comic-book-inspired stories continue to soar on the small screen. Perhaps it’s because the entertainment industry is faintly embarrassed by the idea of people in costumes. Hence, just about every superhero series these days features heroes who refuse to wear costumes (“Smallville,” “Heroes,” “No Ordinary Family”). Why? It’s like making a musical in which the actors refuse to sing.

Thankfully, cartoons have no compunction against showing people in tights, capes, masks and other superheroic accoutrements. Hence, TV has been home to a long list of excellent superhero cartoons—from Bruce Timm’s groundbreaking “Batman: The Animated Series” onward. Joining the roster now is DC Comics’ “Young Justice.” Instead of being based on a single, pre-existing property, this one’s an all-new concept concentrating on the younger members of DC’s superhero-filled universe.

For you über-nerds out there, the show takes place on Earth-16 during a “new age of heroes.” (So much for Crisis on Infinite Earths.) For the rest of the viewing public, you only need to know that superheroes are something of a new phenomenon here. Hoping to share the spotlight with their superstar mentors are teen sidekicks Robin, Speedy, Kid Flash and Aqualad. The series starts with the junior crime-fighters stoked about joining the famed Justice League. But the big guys aren’t all that receptive to letting their young partners sit at the adult table. Angry at getting the brush-off, the kids start their own, clandestine supergroup, adding teen sensations Superboy and Miss Martian to the mix.

The animation on the show is typical anime-inspired stuff—all skinny limbs and sharp angles. But it’s not sloppy and conveys the show’s many action sequences well. The writing toes the line between drama and humor. It’s aimed mostly at teenagers, what with all the angry rebel talk, but it’s considerably more mature that CN’s entertainingly silly “Teen Titans” series. The characters have well-delineated personalities. (Hell, Aqualad is actually kind of cool—which is the first time you can say that.) Also nice is the fact that the show (like “The Avengers” over on Disney XD), opens up the entire DC Universe, allowing all manner of heroes and villains to drop by. (The Guardian? There’s an old-school obscurity for ya.) Hell, even the plots have a sense of history. The first episode story arc borrows elements created by Jack Kirby back in 1970. Bottom line: If you like superheroes, “Young Justice” does the genre justice.

“Young Justice” premieres Friday, Jan. 7, at 8 p.m. on Cartoon Network.

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