International law and its applications on human trafficking aren’t really the kinds of things you’d expect an animated superhero show to tackle, but the Young Justice team left the story pointing in that direction when the show was canceled in 2013, and when they got picked back up three years later and started writing for Young Justice season 3, they didn’t want to miss a beat. Plus, said producer Greg Weisman, “…we don’t have Cartoon Network standards & practices to worry about this season.”
It’s hard to believe, but it’s been nearly six years since the last episode of Young Justice aired on Cartoon Network. That’s ten iPhones ago. But enabled by the streaming revolution and DC’s all-media streaming service, DC Universe, producers Brandon Vietti and Weisman started plotting a return for the beloved teen sidekick show over two years ago, and picked up right where they left off. “When we actually got the pickup for season three, we sat down, and we pulled out all the old index cards for the stories we hadn’t gotten to in the first two seasons,” Weisman told us. “We started to put it together.”
What came together was nearly seamless. For a show that was around for only fewer than 50 episodes, it made a mark. Young Justice’s cancellation in 2013 was immediately followed by a fan backlash: scurrilous rumors about short sighted network execs debunked by the team from YJ; a failed crowdfunding campaign to fund the third season; and then a concerted effort to goose Blu-ray sales and Netflix viewership numbers to help motivate Warner Brothers into picking up the third season. The fan passion eventually worked, and at the end of 2016 the show was picked up for another 26 episodes.
Season two concluded with alien invaders The Reach being defeated and thrown off planet by the team, but Wally West (Kid Flash) sacrificing himself to stop their final plan, Lex Luthor installed as UN Secretary General (this was 2013 remember), and the world being awoken to the sea of metahuman-capable people living amongst them. Young Justice season 3 picks up very shortly thereafter, but not everything is child soldiers and geopolitics. “That’s always been one of the hallmarks of the show is that while on the one hand, we’re telling these big stories and some of the stories are tough and some of them are dark,” said Vietti, “simultaneously life is going on and people are growing up and getting older and falling in love and falling out of love.” Even at the end of season 2 with all of that darkness around them, Tim Drake and Wonder Girl were still just starting a relationship. Season 3 has even more happiness in store for some characters.
And for the crew. One of the most beloved aspects of the show has been its willingness to go literally anywhere in DC continuity for story bits. Hell, one of the main characters of the show since season one has been the Forever People’s motorcycle (with the promise of more Forever People). “We like to drop in references that might have a new fan maybe scratching their head, but it might whet their appetite to jump online and dig into that and find out more about that DC thing they don’t know about, so that they can delve deeper into the DC universe themselves,” said Weisman. The first batch of episodes of season 3 are packed with nods, subtle and unsubtle, to every era of DC continuity, from recent hits like Grayson to deep cuts from Ostrander/Yale Suicide Squad.
“Do we ever feel like that’s one too many DC comics references?,” said Vietti. “I don’t think we ever feel that way.”
With Static, Rocket, and Icon playing important story roles in season 2, it was important to make sure that the Milestone characters were brought back. Hardware and Static have featured prominently in promotional materials for the new season, but Vietti said, “There’s a fifth Milestone character coming that we’re not revealing yet because we want to preserve that surprise.”
Probably the biggest change to the show that isn’t a natural progression of the story is the new format. Shifting from broadcast television to a streaming service freed the creators from some of the constraints of the broadcast formula. The team has been empowered to make the episodes long enough to tell their story without having to focus on shaving it down to the precise 22 minutes and change that a half hour time slot afforded them – the first episode of season 3 is about two minutes longer than standard broadcast runtime at 24 minutes and change – and gave them the space to add some entertainment value into the credits sequence as well.
But the biggest change? “No commercial breaks,” said Vietti. “We still have a three act structure to every episode, but I really had to reorganize my brain not to always be building to that commercial break,” Weisman told us.
The cast continues to be a rock for the show. Khary Payton’s Aqualad is a highlight, particularly his growth since the show’s start, but his versatility in playing Black Lightning, but there is also one pleasant return. “Jason [Spisak], who was so wonderful as Wally West and brought so much heart to our show and so much buoyancy to the team, he really does that again with [Forager],” Bourassa told us.
“One of the…interesting aspects of taking such a long break between seasons is I think all of us grew as artists,” said Vietti, and that growth shows, at least early on. The show is more sophisticated, more political, and more clever and fun now than it was five years ago when it left.
Young Justice: Outsiders premieres on DC Universe on January 4th. Weisman and artist Christopher Jones have also launched a two-part Young Justice: Outsiders comic on the service, which helps bridge the gap between season 2 and season 3. Check out these preview pages!
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