I just watched the preview for Young Justice. It’s a new series premiering at the beginning of 2011 on Cartoon Network and will be focusing on the young sidekicks of DC Comics: Robin, Kid Flash, Superboy, Aqualad, etc. But as I watched it, I was struck by two things.

1. It’s really weird that there are so many ice-themed villains in DC. The preview featured the sidekicks and their mentors fighting villains, all of whom have an ice theme. The uniting feature was a nice technique to bring together all the young heroes before they share screen time, but it was also just kinda funny to see DC/Cartoon Network wearing such unoriginality on its sleeve. That brings me to Point 2.

2. Haven’t we seen this before?

Now, there is something tricky about doing cartoons on comic books. At their best, they create more engaging stories that we could find in comic books. Cartoons are the natural progression of comics. Still pictures lead to moving pictures. When I think of the best of DC cartoons, I think of Batman: The Animated Series, episodes of Justice League and Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. They are independent stories, original. Even some of the characters have been brought over to DC Comics, such as Harley Quinn, Mr. Freeze’s wife (as well as his current origin) and the new Aqualad that will be in Young Justice.

But at their worst, these series are just retreads of what has already been done. Famous stories that are just adapted to the screen. That’s sort of the trouble with the current slough of DC animated movies. While quite good, their whole purpose, for the most part, is to just adapt famous story lines from the comics into animated form, limited only to being as faithful as 100 minutes can allow. The only exceptions are Batman: Gotham Knight, Green Lantern: First Flight, and Wonder Woman (though the last two borrow from various works from the characters’ extensive history). And here we are again with Young Justice. Already, the teased out storyline for the first episode is a retread. Not only of Superboy’s origins in the comic book, but with the animated series that have preceded it, most specifically Justice League Unlimited, which featured the same genetics lab, CADMUS, in a similar way that is previewed in Young Justice, through its own first season. Not to mention that Teen Titans, the last series to feature the majority of these characters, is still a recent memory.

What are you to do?

Let’s look at Spider-Man for a second, as he, in my opinion, is the model, or will be in the near future, of adapting story lines and constantly being re-invented. To date, he has had four cartoon series, three movies and is going to be rebooted in the next year or two from scratch. Marvel has this problem much more than DC, mainly because DC has gotten really lucky, as it has been unified for the majority of its output with cartoons through the past two decades (and by extension, its films with Warner Bros. since Superman in the late 70s.) But Spider-Man has had to tell the radio-active spider story at least five times to audiences, . And the movies took many story elements from the books as well. There was rarely a truly original story line in the 90s Spider-Man cartoon, as almost all of it was an adaptation of sorts, only altered to fit the status-quo of the animated series.

So what is there to be done?

I can’t think of anyway around this. Beyond the continual clamoring of comic fans to see animated versions of their favorite story lines, adaptation has been a genre in and of itself through the history of entertainment and Young Justice is just a continuation of that train of logic. So many have done it before, so what is one more.

Alan Moore, the creator of Watchmen and V for Vendetta, has famously been against the adaptations of his works, stating that they were only meant to be done in comic book form. When discussing the possibility of a Watchmen movie (this before the book was adapted last year), Moore said “If we only see comics in relation to movies then the best that they will ever be is films that do not move. I found it, in the mid 80s, preferable to concentrate on those things that only comics could achieve. The way in which a tremendous amount of information could be included visually in every panel, the juxtapositions between what a character was saying, and what the image that the reader was looking at would be. So in a sense… most of my work from the 80s onwards was designed to be un-filmable.”

I’ll check out Young Justice. I’ve already seen the trailer and it does look exciting. But, unlike the shows of the past, I won’t be expecting the most original of series.

All images are copyright of Warner Bros. Animation. Young Justice promo pic taken from ToonBarn.com

The Young Justice trailer is HERE