Review: "Young Justice: Dangerous Secrets" Makes the Kids (and Their DVD) Alright
The latest Young Justice DVD, Dangerous Secrets, is a non-trivial improvement on the last DVD, for both the show itself and its presentation on home video. If the last episode on the last disc managed to hook me, the ones on this set reel me in. The 14 episodes that wrap up season one of the show are a nearly perfect blend of action, drama, teenage angst, and surprise twists that make for incredibly enjoyable watching. Add in some eye-poppingly good animation and near-perfect voice casting across the board and you get a show (and a DVD) that easily wins the full-throated recommendation I couldn’t quite muster the last time around.
When we last left the teens of Young Justice (Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash, Superboy, Miss Martian, and Artemis), they had just fought off a surprise attack by their former mentor and chaperone, the android Red Tornado, and the Tornado’s cybernetic siblings Red Torpedo and Red Inferno. This turn of events seemed to flush out the mole on the team, and much of “Alpha Male,” the first episode on this disc, hinges on the fact that Aqualad was aware of the mole but kept this information from the others. This is perhaps the one major misstep in this entire set, since the team has to spend most of the episode upset at Aqualad for not telling them about the mole, which leads to lots and lots of rookie mistakes against the wonderfully outré villains Monsieur Mallah and the Brain. I have no idea why it takes Aqualad until the very end of the episode to explain the obvious motivations for his actions, especially since I’m pretty sure he explained his rationale to someone else in an earlier episode. Even if he hadn’t, it’s just common sense why you don’t advertise suspicion of a mole, so it just makes everyone look dumber when Aqualad doesn’t explain until the end of the episode, while all the other team members don’t think it through but then accept his explanation so readily in the finale. I’m also not quite as taken by this show’s angle on Monsieur Mallah and the Brain in comparison to the version on the original Teen Titans show, but a decent Monsieur Mallah and the Brain is better than no Monsieur Mallah and the Brain. This episode also introduces Captain Marvel (Shazam!) as the team’s temporary chaperone, which leads to some amusing throwaway bits later in the series.
“Revelation” sends the Justice League across the globe to tackle giant, hostile sentient plants, leaving the kids to take down the Injustice Gang that controls them: Poison Ivy, the Joker, Count Vertigo, the Atomic Skull, Wotan, Black Adam, and the Ultra-Humanite. I’m rather pleased at how credibly the team handles itself against such superior odds. The whole thing is fun enough that I can tolerate an unimpressive take on the Joker and another ending that hints at the depths of the conspiracy that the Light is weaving. However, it’s nice to see the Light finally get revealed as the heaviest hitters among the DC baddie-verse. Interestingly, once the Light is revealed, the big conspiracy theory subplot seems to fade into the background more, only popping up at select moments for the observant. I think this actually makes the rest of the season better, since individual episodes can stand on their own more effectively while still linking together more solidly to form a bigger serialized narrative. “Humanity” introduces Zatanna, turning the mistress of magic into the teenage daughter of Zatara–a nice way to be faithful to her comic book roots while updating her and setting her up as an ally to the team instead of the League. It also reveals the motives behind Red Tornado’s actions in “Homefront,” which relieves some concerns but makes the mole subplot a more serious concern again. “Failsafe” is one of the best episodes of the season, as the team must step up for the fallen Justice League during a massive alien invasion. I won’t give away the twist, but I will say it’s a doozy and nicely sets up a future plot twist involving Miss Martian.
“Disordered” deals with the fallout from “Failsafe,” as the team comes to grips with what happened in that prior episode and how it affected them. It’s a nice touch that reveals the price of being a superhero and makes for a good continuity bridge. This episode also introduces the Forever People, an outlandish band of teens from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, who come seeking the mysterious sphere that Superboy picked up way back in “Bereft” on the last DVD. Unfortunately, the show’s more serious, strait-laced take on superheroics makes characters like the Forever People feel rather out of place, and I don’t think the episode quite manages to capture the Kirby’s more outlandish spirit for these characters. Still, I’m impressed that they tried, and also rather pleased at how easily the show subverts the usual “fight-then-team-up” superhero trope. “Secrets” is a good but slight episode, teaming Artemis and Zatanna on a magical adventure in New York City, while Kid Flash, Miss Martian, and Superboy work a bit on the underdeveloped “high school” plot thread. “Misplaced” is another gem of an episode, as Klarion the Witch Boy pulls off some major magical mojo to make all the adults on the planet disappear. The trick is eminently logical but brilliantly creative, as is the solution to the problem.
“Coldhearted” focuses on Kid Flash, who is assigned a mercy mission to transport an organ donor heart across the country while the rest of the team gets to fight alongside the Justice League to take down giant ice fortresses snowing in the nation. The plot twists keep coming in this one, ensuring we’re pleasantly off-guard and never quite sure what’s coming next. “Image” feels rather unbalanced, as the team begins by infiltrating Qurac to save its democratic government, and then gets stuck on a nature preserve with a former child star and her young son for half the episode. DC comic book fans will pick up on names and figure out it’s an origin story, but I’m not sure any non-fan would understand why this subplot is so important, and why it is almost entirely unconnected with the main plot. “Agendas” is a solid Superboy spotlight episode, as he discovers a bit more about his past history from Lex Luthor, while also receiving a gift of questionable merit. It ends up giving his angry boy persona much-needed depth. “Insecurity” brings the mole subplot up again, as Red Arrow shows up to throw more suspicion on Artemis. It’s best for the revelations of the greater conspiracy in play, and for some terrifically well-choreographed action sequences with the Sportsmaster and Cheshire taking on Artemis, Red Arrow, Aqualad, and Kid Flash. “Performance” gets the team out of their normal costumes and into acrobats’ garb, as they infiltrate a circus suspected of a high-tech crime spree across Europe. I got a geeky thrill from recognizing a reference at the start of the episode (which immediately told me it was going to be more Robin-centric than normal), and for a plot point involving the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva.
Watching “The Usual Suspects” makes the entire season feel kind of like The Big Sleep: if you weren’t listening for a few minutes somewhere earlier, you’re going to be hopelessly lost. The show rewards those with long attention spans by pulling off double- and triple-crosses that have been foreshadowed all season, sometimes tossing in surprise revelations that are surprising to us for how un-surprising they are to the cast. It is quite pleasing to see how many of the usual fears and clichés of these kinds of plots are neatly subverted as a result. As a side note, I was extremely tickled to see Icon and Rocket from the late, great Dwayne McDuffie’s Icon comic book series join the League and the title team, respectively. The episode also sets up the season’s big finish in “Auld Acquaintance,” when a sudden reversal of fortune pits the team against the Justice League with the fate of the world at stake. The episode is marvelously tight, not wasting a second anywhere and allowing the team to recover their balance and turn the tides on their seniors quite credibly, given the team’s growth (in numbers and ability) since the last time they fought against stiffer odds in “Revelation.” I’m also a little amazed at how the show can manage to turn in a thoroughly satisfying ending to the season and its myriad plot threads while setting up an even bigger mystery to be tackled in season 2.
If I have a criticism of Young Justice now, it’s that I’m not quite sure how easily the non-initiated will be able to follow what’s going on. DC Comics characters fly so fast and furious throughout the series that I wonder if there was some kind of bet for packing the most number of obscure cameos in a single series. If there was, though, then Young Justice‘s crew clearly won that bet, because it seems like the show packs in nearly every character you could ever think of (and quite a few that you never thought you’d see). However, I think its thoroughness works against it occasionally. As mentioned, I don’t know that the Forever People were the best choice to use among Jack Kirby’s Fourth World characters because they just don’t quite fit the tone of the show. “Image” feels really out of balance if you don’t know who the kid is and who he’s being set up to become, and even if you do I’m not sure his role in the episode warrants quite so much screen time. More critically, a big revelation involving Miss Martian in “Image” doesn’t seem to get enough context on-screen, so only comic fans will understand the full implications. I don’t think any of these make the show worse, but I do think they make the show a little less accessible than earlier series like Justice League or Teen Titans.
I’ve complained in the past how unsatisfying the “soccer mom” releases of Young Justice are, so I’m happy to report that Warner Home Video gives us these last 14 episodes on a well-priced two-disc set. Video and audio quality is excellent, as it was on the earlier releases, and the fast menus and ample chapter stops within episodes are all very welcome. Unfortunately, there are still no substantial extras on the set, which contains only a digital excerpt from the Young Justice tie-in comic book and a set of trailers, all on disc 2.
I’m still not quite sure I have an answer to the question I asked in the earlier review of Young Justice, but I can safely say that if I didn’t love the first half of the show’s first season, I sure love this second half. The only way to top this set would be a full-season set on Blu-ray, but the curious non-initiates and the impatient hardcore fans can both be more than satisfied with the Dangerous Secrets set.