003: young justice

TLDR: Peter David’s Young Justice is king; accept no substitutes, and especially not the animated series.

Until I was sixteen, I thought “muchacha” was a dirty word.

Whenever they were trying to figure out what to do with me, my parents never used my name. Instead, they referred to me as “la muchacha.” Whenever they discussed the logistics of grocery runs and home-renovation projects and extra shifts, the question on my mother’s lips was always “what are we going to do with la muchacha?” Even though I didn’t know exactly what the word meant, I knew it had to be an insult. She said it with such despair, it bordered on contempt. It wasn’t until I was a teenager, and finally asked her how she would felt if someone called her “muchacha” every day of her life, that I learned the truth. She laughed, and said that she would be flattered. As it turned out, “muchacha” meant “young woman.”

That’s when I learned that it’s not possible to discuss what you should do with your kid without sounding a little contemptuous.

When I first read Peter David’s Young Justice, I loved it because it felt like it was written for my generation: kids of helicopter parents, kids who’d never met an adult capable of trusting them. Tim, Kon, Bart, and Cassie weren’t the Teen Titans. They weren’t cool. Their lives weren’t enviable. While they occasionally did cool things, they received no credit for them. And while their mentors on the Justice League liked them, they didn’t enable them to engage with coolness. Instead of worrying about their training, the League was more concerned about the damage the kids could do if left to their own devices. They weren’t allowed to party in a giant ‘T,’ but saddled with the indignity of a babysitter in the form of Red Tornado. The League, as a general rule, frowned upon most of their missions, but didn’t oppose them with any force or ferocity. The kids were never granted the dignity of being an honest challenge. Instead, the League handled them with the weary aggravation of parents trying to corral accident-prone toddlers — and the kids responded with the brattiness of petulant tweens, and never made the situation better. Even though the comic favored the absurd, it still felt nauseatingly relatable.

My biggest disappointment with the cartoon is the weight it gives the conflict between the kids and the adults. The stakes are so high (the kids are actually a part of the League’s special black-ops team! And Superman hates his horrible clone baby!), and the situations so tense, that:

  1. All the kids feel at least thirty years old (especially Artemis, who I assume is so unpleasant because she’s still recovering from the trauma of her divorce and losing her house to her ex-husband); and
  2. None of them feel like they were ever anything like the kid I once was.

Even though the show is well-made, it seems like it was made old nerds in mind. The comic wasn’t like that. Give me petty power-struggles any day. After all, that’s what parent-teenager relationships are all about.

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