If there was ever a time more confusing in relation to comic books it was the ’90s. I was born in 1988 and grew up a child of the ’90s, a product of a pop culture environment that gave emphasis to “the X-treme.” Comics were in a boom of consumerism brought on by the false pretense that comic books, if bought en masse, would prove to be an effective form of investment (a get rich quick scheme). Now there are many nuances to that particular topic that I am glancing over, so forgive me for any broad strokes I use to portray the ’90s era in comics, but many fans remember the ’90s as a creative blackhole characterized by large weapons, improbable muscles and art, and cut and paste ultra-violent names. While there were some brilliant gems in this era of comics, such as Starman, Doom Patrol, and Sandman, we still remember the “Liefeldian” tropes and publisher bankruptcies when we think of the ’90s…well…that and the cartoons.
Yes, despite a plethora of “bad” moments that flooded the comic book industry in the ’90s there was a particularly positive creative experience in the field of comic book based animation. I grew up watching and loving every cartoon made in the ’90s. Batman, X-men, Spider-Man, Superman, and a plethora of other cartoons that helped revolutionize how we viewed the transition of our beloved characters from the printed page to television. Our beloved comic book heroes championed a time of mature storylines that revolutionized how we look at the animated medium. If it weren’t for the ’90s and the multitude of animated series that came from it, I may not have fallen in love with comics like I did; a trait I may share with many others as well.
Animated series based on comics have always been at the forefront of providing mature stories and proving that even programming aimed at children can provide engaging story telling. Even after the boom of such series in the ’90s this trend continued. The Batman. Justice League Unlimited. X-Men Evolution. Teen Titans. Even the series that were designed to be more lighthearted were brilliantly designed, such as Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Each show designed with loving affection to the source material.
But the most recent example of this brilliant and lovingly televised programming based on comic books may have the most tragic and unceremonious end of all (though the argument could definitely be made that Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Spectacular Spider-Man had unceremonious and unexpected ends.) I am referring, of course, to Green Lantern the Animated Series and Young Justice. Two shows that were used as the basis of Cartoon Network’s DC Nation program block, that have both garnered impressive fan followings despite their relatively short tenure on air.
Each show nearing the end of their second seasons, set to air March 17th, both shows were slated to not be renewed in favor of two new programs titles: Beware the Batman and Teen Titans Go! Why should I care, though? Why does it matter that two programs are being canceled in place of these new programs? Because these shows have not even come close to being finished with their audience.
When Young Justice premiered in November of 2010 with the Emmy Award winning episode ‘Independence Day’ I was astounded by the quality of programming presented by DC and Cartoon Network. Animation quality that moved smoothly and left me salivating at the beautifully choreographed action scenes. Character direction and plotting that told me everything I needed to know about these characters without needing exposition or prior knowledge; letting their actions and subtleties speak for them more than anything. I saw a story about young heroes looking to prove themselves, while tying them lovingly to their mentors and their universe. These were people that were still learning to be heroes and they made mistakes, but grew with each moment.
I was a fan right away.
The series knew how to handle its cast and give them each a voice. It made the Justice League feel like this imposing and daunting parental figure to aspire to and let the team of young heroes grow and understand loss under circumstances that best allowed them to cause great impact on the greater universe without placing them in situations that the audience felt was over their head. Character relations mattered and every character was designed to organically play with everyone else. Even the romances felt real, as did the internal struggle of each character. It was no wonder how this show developed such a strong fan base, in spite of poor scheduling and multiple hiatuses placed on it unexpectedly by the network,
Conversely, I was not as excited upon seeing the initial episodes of Green Lantern the Animated Series, but even still it has proven to be the kind of program that matured and excelled as it progressed. Where Hal Jordan came off as too squeaky clean and unlike the current iteration of his comic counterpart, he inevitably showed himself to be flawed. Kilowag remained the same kind of fun and begrudging drill sergeant I always enjoyed, but the original characters of the series were what made the show. Razer was a conflicted soul, haunted by his actions that contrasted with his own personal convictions and Aya was an artificial being slowly exploring the nature of life, much akin to Data from Star Trek: the Next Generation. The true beauty of this show, however, really came out in the second season as we saw the evolution of the Aya concept down a similar path as the aforementioned Data in the exploration of her emotions, but also seeing how destructive the negative results of that exploration can be. Turning her from a compassionate and compelling heroine to a heartbroken and terrifying destroyer of worlds.
Much like the compelling series of the ’90s, these shows have drawn people into comics. These series have made people look at the compelling characters and try to find out more about them. I see the impact these shows have online and first hand as people I know who had little interest in comics ask me more and more questions about the characters and events that these shows presented. I am moved by how shows like this impact people, and I want them to continue to show how many compelling characters exist upon the printed page.
The fact that both these shows are singing their swan songs now is quite unfortunate, as both have only gotten better as time has gone on. The creators hint at potential future storylines, telling the audience that there is more to be told, but no time to tell it. How will the young heroes of Young Justice continue to evolve, growing into the heroes they always idolized? Will Green Lantern explore the betrayal of Sinestro or the horror of the Black Lanterns? I long to see what kind of stories could be produced, but know that it might not come to pass. Even with the fervent support from fans petitioning to save both shows it seems that neither will be saved.
Still, I am glad that I see the same spark and quality now that I did when I was growing up in these shows. If they can survive, I will be glad, but if not? Then I hope the replacement shows will show the same love and devotion.