What’s old is new again.
How long has it been since DC has had a great ensemble comic focused on teenage heroes? The Teen Titans franchise has been repeatedly overhauled since the advent of the New 52, but to no avail. You really have to look all the way back to Geoff Johns 2003-2005 Teen Titans run to find a period where DC was truly doing right by these characters. And that’s despite the fact that DC has been finding so much success in the TV realm thanks to shows like Titans, Teen Titans Go! and Young Justice.
That’s where the new Wonder Comics imprint comes in. The hope is that the newly DC-exclusive Brian Michael Bendis can help spearhead a major push to revamp and revitalize these teen heroes, while at the same time adding a few new faces to the mix. Who better to turn to than the man who helped welcome Peter Parker into the 21st Century with Ultimate Spider-Man. Young Justice #1 doesn’t have quite the dramatic impact Ultimate Spider-Man #1 did almost 20 years ago, but it does suggest a much brighter future lies in wait for these characters.
While no doubt DC is happy to have a little comic book/streaming TV synergy going on with this series, this Young Justice comic is a direct throwback to the 1999-2003 series rather than the current animated series. That much is made apparent by the fact that Tim Drake, Conner Kent, Cassie Sandsmark and Bart Allen anchor the new team. Reading Young Justice #1 is like returning to a simpler, more innocent time for DC. This first issue capitalizes on the lingering nostalgia for the old team. Better yet, it plays on the existing relationships linking these characters together. Bendis writes the series as if the New 52 never came along to derail these characters and their shared history, and that’s exactly what I wanted.
The characterization for the leads is very much the highlight of this first issue. That goes for both the old favorites and the newbies. Jinny Hex immediately stands out as a memorable addition to the DCU. She has an aura of danger to her that’s offset by a fun “Aww shucks!” quality as she deals with life in the big city for the first time. We don’t get as much one-on-one time with Teen Lantern yet, but the very idea of a super-genius hacking her way into becoming a Green Lantern is promising enough on its own. Bendis often thrives the most working with younger heroes, and that trend seems likely to continue with this series.
Gleason quickly establishes himself as an worthy partner for Bendis on the new series. Gleason shows a real range in this issue, blending a handful of darker, more surreal scenes with larger-than-life superhero spectacle. The sheer scale of the visuals impresses more than anything here. Gleason is able to juggle his numerous heroes and villains with ease and craft a very kinetic, prolonged battle sequence. Alejandro Sanchez’s colors are also key. They bring a bright, cheery tone to the art, offsetting the darker underpinnings of Gleason’s style and heavy line-work.
The main factor working against the new series is that the villains aren’t particularly compelling yet. The warriors of Gemworld serve as the initial antagonists/catalyst for the formation of Young Justice. But apart from eventually setting the stage for Amethyst to join the team, this is a role that seems like it could just as easily be filled by any villainous army. Bendis works in a few interesting plot seeds as he ties back to past DC conflicts, but for now the characterization greatly overshadows the plot in this book.