Thursday, July 4, 2013

Animation Observation-Young Justice: Independence Day

Young Justice came into development when Sam Register of Warner Bros. Animation wanted a show based on the concept of a cross between the Teen Titans and Young Justice series of comics but didn't want it to be an adaptation of either. Brandon Vietti, an animation director who had just finished work on Batman: Under the Red Hood and Greg Weisman, creator of Gargoyles and producer of the acclaimed but short lived Spectacular Spider-Man were hired to produce but also included in the writing process.

The series takes place outside of what is known as the DC Animated Universe (DCAU) in which series like Batman, Superman and Justice League took place. Basically we were seeing characters done before but now being done in a new light. I don't want to dwell too much on the production of this show, so without further ado, let's start with the first episode, Independence Day.

While the series might have really gotten started in early 2011, it actually premiered as a one hour special back in November of 2010. Since it did premiere in 2010, the show takes place in that year as well. Remember this, it'll be important later.

"Independence Day" begins on July 4th no less at a park in Gotham City with people celebrating the day President Bill Pullman and Will Smith defeated alien invaders. (I should remind you that Superman's only been around 10 years in this universe which is why he didn't help and the Justice League has been around for less than four years) Your usual July 4th afternoon activities are going on: Families are barbecuing burgers and hot dogs, kids are playing Frisbee and civilians are fleeing in terror as another super-villain launches an attack on them. Seriously, why would anyone want to live in Gotham? The crime rate is so high it probably makes Detroit look like Mayberry.

"Why is everyone running, Daddy?"
"Hey, I didn't spend all this time grillin' so you could ask questions. You want a burger or not!?"

Before most of the people can escape they are frozen in ice by a blue ray. Yes, it seems that the world's biggest climate-change critic, Mr. Freeze is on the loose to...freeze people...and not make awful puns like someone else we know. This version of Mr. Freeze, unlike previous versions just sounds like a guy who is a cold-hearted bastard. And he continues to prove so by zapping the family that was dumb enough to stay and watch him while everyone was running away.

You might want to run

OK you might want to start running now...

I think he's going to do something with that LARGE GUN of his...

I'm sure your family will get unfrozen, sir, but you guys kinda had this coming

Freeze is going to continue his assault on Gotham when all of a sudden a batarang deflects his aim and knocks him off balance. He turns around, expecting to find the Caped Crusader but instead finds...nothing. A sneaky laugh echoes throughout the park when all of a sudden a figure crashes down from out of the sky onto Freeze's helmet. The figure does a leap away from the villain and tosses some projectiles at him. This is our first glimpse of Robin, the Boy Wonder. The youngest yet most experienced out of the trio we'll get to know over the next half hour.

Awfully nice of Batman to let a 13-year old help him in his war against crime

"The Bat sent you to drag me off to prison? Frankly I'm underwhelmed," Freeze grumbles.

Robin mentions that he's in a hurry and before Freeze can ask what killed the dinosaurs, Batman leaps down from the sky (Seeing Batman in the afternoon is a bit weird but the image itself is awesome) and quickly disables Freeze with a single punch.

Meanwhile in Star City another ice-themed villain, Icicle Jr., is wreaking havoc this time on a bridge.
And you thought your commute home was pain in the ass

A fleet of arrows attack the icy evil-doer and at the top of the bridge are Green Arrow and his drug-addicted sidekick Speedy. (Don't worry, I'm just joking about that part...maybe) Icicle Jr. comments that he was waiting for them to show up only for his dumb ass to get knocked out ten seconds later from an arrow to the chin (It had a blunted end, it didn't pierce the skin)

Green Arrow makes a joke about Jr. having a glass jaw but Speedy isn't in the mood. He, too, seems to be in a hurry for something. "Today's the day," he reminds his mentor.

"Can we get going? I want to score some-I the world."

Meanwhile in Pearl Harbor, Aquaman and his sidekick Aqualad are ice themed villain. OK, I'm sensing a theme here and I'm thinking that all these bad guys were hired by the evil corporations to promote "Christmas In July" sales. Don't look at me like that, I don't put anything past Wal-Mart.

Anyway...Aqualad. When I heard he was going to be in this show, I facepalmed. You have a guy who's greatest power is that he can talk to fish...and that's it. And gasp! Aquaman is quickly incapacitated by the villainess (Her name is unimportant at the moment) but escapes and chats it up with the younger hero. It seems that today is a day of great importance but Aqualad would rather focus on the matter at hand. 

OK, so I'm guessing that he's going to ask a school of rainbow trout to launch themselves out of the sea and-
Wait, what the hell are those? Where'd you got those? I want one of those!!!

To make Aqualad, you know, not useless, the creators of the show gave him the ability to form hard water constructs through the use of his Atlantean water bearers which can also channel electricity, which is apparently a combination of Atlantis technology and sorcery (Hence why the tattoos on his body occasionally glow). These changes were made by Weisman and Vietti. These changes were so good that they were later adapted into the comic books.

So Aqualad knocks out the stone-cold bitch and then decides to focus on other matters.
"Yes, I'm excited. Today's the day."
In this series, Aqualad is played by former recording artist Sisqo

Finally we make our way to Central City where Flash and sidekick Kid Flash (I honestly thought Speedy was Flash's sidekick) are running circles-literally-around Captain Cold (OK, what's with the "ice" theme and bad names?)

Kid Flash is getting really bored, mentions that they don't have time for this and helps take Captain Cold's gun so that Flash can knock him out. The older man wants his protege to relax but KF won't have any of it.
"You'll chat it with the cops, with bystanders, with...Cold even. No, no way. Today's the day!"

"Hi, I'm Kid Ginger-I mean, Kid Flash."

We cut to Washington DC and the Hall of Justice. My compliments to the animators because they took a dull looking HQ from Superfriends and have made it look something grand. As Batman, Green Arrow and Aqualad and their respective sidekicks get ready to enter, they take a moment to prepare themselves for what lays ahead until they hear Kid Flash bitching about how he and Flash were the last ones to arrive.

I'm sure some of you are saying, "Wait a minute, that's four heroes! You said 'trio'!"
My response: Shut up and let the episode play out.

Returning from the opening credits, the heroes make their way towards the Hall like celebrities going into an awards ceremony, with spectators watching behind a guard rail as cameras flash and autograph pads are waved so that the owner can later auction them on Ebay. There's actually a funny bit of dialogue while this takes place as to who is who.

Spectator #1: "I see Flash and Flash Jr!"
Spectator #2: "His name's Speedy. Duh."
Spectator #3: "No, Speedy is Green Arrow's sidekick."
Spectator #4: "Well that makes no sense."

It's also established that while all four of the younger heroes know each other, this is actually the first time the four have been together at the same time. Kid Flash, in his overwhelmed state, makes the mistake of referring to themselves as sidekicks, earning a warning from Speedy.
"Don't call us sidekicks," he says, paraphrasing the tagline for the series. "Not after today."

This also introduces us to Robin's habit of creating back-formations by removing prefixes.
"You're overwhelmed, Freeze was underwhelmed. Why isn't anyone just whelmed?"
Get used to this as he'll be doing it a lot throughout the first season.

The group is lead to an "Authorized Members Only" door where they are met by Red Tornado and Martian Manhunter. The latter welcomes them and informs them that they now have unlimited access to the gym, the fully stocked galley and the Hall's library. The older heroes attempt to debrief in private over the four separate ice villain attacks while the young men relax but Speedy isn't having any of it.

Aquaman tries to calm Speedy by telling him that they have been granted access few others get. Speedy quickly proves how useless that statement is by pointing towards the tourists looking into the library through a very large window.
"Hey, honey, come over here, I think they're having a fight!"

While the other three assumed this tour of the HQ was just standard into becoming full members of the Justice League, Speedy (Whose name is revealed to be Roy for those of you not familiar with the comics-like myself, to a degree) spills the beans that the Hall of Justice isn't the real HQ. It's just a front for tourists and a pit stop for catching zeta-beam transporters to the real HQ, an orbiting satellite called the Watchtower. 

Green Arrow reveals that he might have shared a few secrets but Batman is obviously not happy. Arrow and Aquaman try to calm Speedy down but he's gone without a hit so long that he can't stay focused. He tosses off his dopey hat and more or less terminates his partnership with Green Arrow, shocking everyone and leaves the Hall, dismissing his young colleagues as, "Not ready."

Well...let's be honest, Roy does have a point. After all these four have done the training, put in the hard work and what do they get for it? A gym, a cafeteria and a library to an extent.  And I'm quoting the episode directly, everything Manhunter said was in the previous paragraph. If you think about it, doesn't Robin already have access to everything mentioned back at Wayne Manor? I'd be annoyed too, considering the Hall of Justice library has only one computer and Aqualad always hogs it so he can look up Little Mermaid porn.

Before Kid Flash can inquire about getting free Wi-Fi on his Android, Superman appears on the computer monitor informing them that there is a fire at "Project Cadmus", which is a facility Batman has had suspicions about. But before he can act, there's another alert as someone is trying to blot out the sun-no joke.

Since the Cadmus fire is mostly under control, Batman calls all Leaguers to deal with the 'blot out the sun' crisis. He and the other mentors order the sidekicks (Speedy's not around, I can say it) to stay put. Kid Flash protests but is dismissed as they are inexperienced to working with the Justice League.
"For now, stay put," orders Batman. 
I'm not going to go into every voice actor but I like this Batman's voice. Bruce Greenwood's not trying to be Kevin Conroy with his performance and it works. It's a good fit. If he sounds familiar to you, Greenwood played Captain Pike in the Star Trek reboot.

Just as they leave, Green Arrow asks Martian Manhunter if he's glad he didn't bring, "You-know-who". Remember this, it'll be important later. 

Once the heroes leave, Aqualad, Kid Flash and Robin are pretty bummed. They thought they had earned the respect and trust of their mentors only to find out that simply isn't the case.

"What else aren't they telling us?" wonders Aqualad.

"Why didn't we leave with Speedy?" asks Robin. The answer to that is because Speedy would have told them to get lost as he only had enough cash for just a few lines of cocaine and he wants them all to himself.

Aqualad however decides to get the plot moving and asks what Project Cadmus is. With some unorthodox computer skills, Robin finds out it is simply a genetics lab. But if Batman was suspicious, it must be worth checking out. Kid Flash is all for going however Aqualad is hesitant about leaving. He quickly changes his mind when Robin reminds him, "We didn't come for a play date."
"You guys ever see '2 Girls 1 Cup'?"

As they arrive at Cadmus, Kid Flash rescues two scientists falling from a window but almost needs saving himself as he loses traction after running up the side of the building.
"Does he always have to run ahead?" asks Aqualad to a suddenly absent Robin as his creepy laugh fills the air. Gotta be honest, I really hate the laugh. Everytime I hear it, I expect the Joker to pop up out of nowhere. 

No, Robin ran off to swing up to the window ledge Kid Flash was hanging from to get them into the building while Aqualad uses his water bearers to manipulate the water from the fire-hose to lift himself into the building. 

With this sequence, we get an idea of the maturity levels of all three characters without them having to say or do much. Kid Flash is 15 and runs ahead of anyone without really thinking things through properly; Robin is 13-the youngest yet most experienced and will go off alone expecting others to follow his lead; Aqualad is 16 and attempts to plan a strategy before moving forward. He also returns the scientists Kid Flash threw on the roof to the ground and is less than impressed with Robin's teamwork skills.

As he rounds a corner to investigate on his own, he sees what looks like a human-shaped creature with horns coming out of his head getting into a closing elevator. Robin finds that the elevator is high-speed, unusual for just a two story building. Aqualad opens the doors to the elevator shaft to find that there's a reason why it's a high-speed elevator.

"Why don't we just take the stairs. It'll be good exercise."

They descend using Robin's grappling hook until stopping at sub-level 26 only due to the fact that it's as far as the rope can carry them. The floor appears empty so Kid Flash decides that now is a good time to run ahead and crossing the bridge of consequences as he comes to it. Now I've seen plenty of shows like this, this is where he'll suddenly run into guards or security robots and-


Kid Flash quickly rolls out of the way as the...creatures-best word I can think of-continue on their path, but a small horned Salacious Crumb like beast atop one of larger creatures begins to have his horns glow. This is either a sign that it's time for him to mate or that he's sending a telepathic message to others. For the safety of our heroes, I'm hoping it's the latter.

Meanwhile in a laboratory, a scientist is mixing one compound with another to make his favourite blue Kool-Aid when he's interrupted by Guardian, a hero, it seems who also seems to be carrying Salacious Crumb. The scientist, Dr. Desmond, is voiced by Rene Auberjonois, who played Odo on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He does a really good job as the bad guy for the episode. He quickly dismisses Guardian's claims of a security breach but allows him to take a squad to investigate. He then puts the blue Kool-Aid test tube in a cannister labelled "Blockbuster". I have a feeling it's going to take more than that to resurrect a dead video-rental chain.

Meanwhile the horned creature from the elevator (Dubbilex-pronounced 'Double X') enters and recommends that Guardian's G-Gnome (Salacious Crumb) stay behind but Desmond refuses despite Guardian's agreement with the former. Desmond has his own G-Gnome manipulate Guardian's G-Gnome to manipulate him into taking his G-Gnome with him. Confused yet? Basically, this is the Church of Scientology.

The three heroes enter a large chamber where they find row upon row of different creatures in glass tubes which are generating their own electricity, allowing Cadmus to stay off the grid.
"Even the name is a clue," observes Aqualad. "The Cadmus of myth created a new race by sewing dragon's teeth into the earth."
I did that with my teeth when I was a little kid and all I ended up doing was creating a new species of Pokemon. I had to exterminate it for it's own good.

Thanks to his expert hacking skills (Wonderful things you're teaching kids, Batman) Robin discovers the other creatures we see are called Genomorphs and upon seeing their abilities, such as enhanced strength, stamina and telekinesis, deduces that they're living weapons; an army being arranged for someone. There's also something called "Project KR" but he can't access it.

All of a sudden Guardian comes in with some smaller Genomorphs but stops when he recognizes them as they do him in return. He tries to convince them as Cadmus' chief of security to contact the Justice League but his G-Gnome does the glowy thing with his horns and Guardian declares they be taken down with no mercy.

"Time for a mind-fuck..."

It's going to be hard to comment on the action sequences but for the most part, they're well done and choreographed. It's not like Batman Begins where you have no idea what the hell is going on, every punch, kick and dodge is shown off in amazing detail without compromising a view. Once again, Robin takes off and leaves Kid Flash and Aqualad to battle the Genomorphs and Guardian.

They escape to an elevator and realize that Robin is taking them down. While Kid Flash reminds him that "out is up", Robin states that Project KR is located on Level 52. I have no idea if that's a reference to the DC series 52 or just a random number. Aqualad begins to feel like this may be going too far and that it might be necessary to call the Justice League.

Before anyone can answer, the doors to Level 52 open. It looks like an alien cave. The walls don't even look like stone, more like they're made out of This time it's Robin who runs ahead of the others while Kid Flash informs Aqualad since they're already here...

Before they can choose a hallway to go down, Dubbilex appears and begins showing off that advanced telepathy mentioned earlier. They run down with Guardian and other Genemorphs in pursuit. As Kid Flash rounds the corner he is stunned to actually encounter a human woman this far down below. He knocks her off her feet (accidentally) and holds to door to Project KR open while the others make it through. 

"I disabled the door. We're safe," declares Robin.
"We're trapped," corrects Aqualad. 

Kid Flash calls their attention to a large glass pod the center of the room. Inside is a young man and he bears a striking resemblance to Superman.
Still a better costume than that electric blue one he had in the late 90's

Kid Flash immediately deduces that the "KR" is actually the atomic symbol for Krypton and suspects that it might be a clone. I'm not sure why they would think it's anything but...unless they expected to find Superman on an episode of Maury titled, "Last Son of Krypton? Take The Paternity Test!"

They discover that this is a clone, Project Superboy, force grown within 16 weeks with DNA stolen from Superman-obviously Project Cadmus has been raiding Lois Lane's bedsheets. The suit he's wearing is actually a solar suit which allows him to absorb yellow sun radiation 24/7 despite being underground. There are also three G-Gnomes above him which are telepathically force-feeding him an education. Reminds me of the Catholic school I went to.

"They're making a slave out of Superman's...son," observes Kid Flash. 

Aqualad knows they're up shit's creek without a paddle and tries to contact the League but they are too deep underground to get a signal. 

Meanwhile, Constable Odo-I mean, Dr. Desmond races to the doors outside the lab and asks Quark-I mean, Guardian why the door isn't open yet. Reinforcements are on the way. Desmond informs Guardian that once they get in there, they can't allow the three to leave. Guardian tries to hold him back but has Salacious Crumb contact the G-Gnomes inside Superboy's pod (Desmond refers to him as 'The Weapon').

Back inside, the three heroes decide to set Superboy free. This might have been a mistake.
Apparently he hasn't gotten around to reading 'How to Make Friends and Influence People'

Superboy starts beating the crap out of them and the three attempt to fight him off. Kinda ironic when you think about it. Two minutes ago they were all, "You can't treat a person like this, clone or not" and now they're kicking him, throwing stink bombs in his face and giving him electric shocks. Cadmus might not be the best place to raise a kid but damn, at least they don't tazer their kids to sleep.

Robin and Kid Flash are down and out. Aqualad might have super-strength but nothing what a Kryptonian might have. He's going to have to use drastic measures.

"Surprise buttsex!"

Inappropriate gestures might work on a human clone but this is Kryptonian, Aqualad. You're going to have to throw in something else to really make a difference.

"This is how we do The Shocker in Atlantis."

It seems to be working but before Superboy can admit he's getting an erection, he leaps towards the ceiling and has Aqualad out too. He forces the door to the lab open and shows Desmond his three new captives. The episode ends with Desmond giving Superboy a creepy "Attaboy" as the latter stares into the camera with a dull emotionless look that had me thinking I was watching an animated version of Twilight.

Normally, I would give my personal thoughts on the episode here...but since this is technically the first half of the pilot, I'm going to hold off until we get to the end of the next episode.

What does Cadmus have planned for our trapped heroes?
Can Superboy become more than he was made to be?
Is Speedy going to wake up covered in his own vomit after a wild binge?
What other sexual techniques has Aqualad evolved into fighting tactics?
Come back next week for "Fireworks".

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