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Friday, June 29, 2007

On Adolescence and Emotional Resonance: Why Young Justice Didn't Work For Me

You know, honestly, I kind of dislike Young Justice.

I didn't initially. The first time I read it, I adored it. Laughed my ass off. The jokes were clever and funny. The situations absurd but still cute. But when I read it again, when the jokes weren't new anymore, I started to find the series a bit harder to read. It's not that it was any less funny or that I disliked the characters, but each time I read it, looked deeper into the "coming of age" theme, I found it more and more distasteful.

This really isn't meant to be a criticism of Peter David's work, since I do think he's talented, though not always to my taste. It's more of an element of personal connection. I always felt, reading Young Justice, that it read very strongly of an adults attempt to write about (then) contemporary adolescence. And while I often like that sort of story. This one didn't work for me.

Now, I admit, I'm looking back at the series with an adult's eye myself, but I do remember my teenage years quite well. I was fifteen years old in 1998, when Young Justice hit the shelves, and I can tell you quite honestly, my teenaged self would have felt no connection with this comic.

Sure, it's got angst and maturing themes amidst the humor, but the angst was epic, and the themes were honestly not very subtle. As an adult, I appreciate Tim's speech to Secret toward the end, but at the same time, I don't see it as being something any teenager I know would ever say. It's the sort of wisdom that comes from adulthood and retrospect. And honestly, it reads preachy. As for the humor, well, I liked a good joke as much as anyone, but that glib style full of puns and cleverly crafted quips doesn't read true to life. No one's that quick with a comeback.

It just doesn't ring true emotionally for me. I can't connect to it.

In contrast, lately, with the revival of Wally West and my unexpected joy at seeing him again despite my general unfamiliarity with the Flash, I've been reading lots and lots of post-Crisis Flash comics. And while I prefer the Waid-and-after runs in terms of general quality, I have to say...Baron and Messner-Loebs's Flash runs do everything that Young Justice doesn't for me, in terms of a story about growing up.

Of course there's the obvious element. This is the beginning of the post-Crisis Flash comic, the first 61 issues. Thus you have the former Kid-Flash really trying to settle into his role as the Flash. A kid stepping up to take an adult role, without the support of parents or mentors, to sink or to swim. The Flash might be twenty years old by this point, but anyone who thinks adolescence stops at twenty has never been twenty.

It's more than that though. Sure his missteps along the way bring to mind teenage/college age embarrassments and screw-ups. But that's not really what makes the story connect emotionally.

Tina McGee does. The Flash getting involved with a married (though separated) woman should not have worked as well as it did. But really, who doesn't remember what it was like to fall in love with someone completely inappropriate? To find yourself carried away with the moment? Doing things you wouldn't normally do? Having doubts and recriminations when alone at night, which all pale next to the thought of being with that person?

Who doesn't remember something like this, with "she's married" replaced by the self-recrimination of your choice:



I don't know about anyone else, but I do.

Jerry McGee does, from Flash #17

"You're thinking '...Jesus, he's so old! He looks like a freak! Could she have left me for that?' And you feel like pounding on me and yelling at me and showing her how wrong she is...And you don't because you know it won't make any difference. And you don't even know for sure if you love her."

"How...do you know that?"

"I was twenty once."


Tim Drake can make all the pretty speeches about mistakes that he wants, but if there's any speech that really sums up what it's like to be a teenager/young adult, it's Jerry McGee's right there. It's confusing and it's rough, and it makes no goddamn sense at all. And you kind of know it. You know how it's supposed to be. But your hormones are raging and your mind is racing and everything's so new and raw. And even if we've never had the married woman we were sleeping with go back to her husband, that doesn't mean we can't recognize the truth in that sentiment.

I also very much appreciate that the speech was made by an adult. I have trouble buying that any teenager, even one as mature and cerebral as Tim Drake, could wax so eloquently on the subject. I genuinely believe that it takes a certain measure of time and distance to be able to evaluate one's own adolescence in that matter. A kid knows how he or she feels, sure, but putting it into calm relatable words like that? Well. I know I couldn't have and I don't think I know anyone who could.

Chunk does. I know I've been there. I've had those friends that I relied on so much that I tended to take for granted. The friends that I thought understood that I loved and appreciated so much that I would forget to say so. The friends I would neglect, not because I didn't care, but because school or work or family or boyfriend troubles were so big at the time that it would slip my mind. There would be hurt and justified anger all around and I had no idea, until whacked severely with a clue-bat figuratively speaking, what in the world I did wrong.

Mary West does. God, the guilt for neglecting parents with the simultaneous feeling of being smothered by them. Not to mention the realization that my parents had lives completely outside of being my parents. Skills and hobbies and dreams and desires that went completely over my head. And when do parents ever seem to get along with significant others? Even Rudolph West, while horrible to his son, is horrible in that very familiar way that bad parents can be. Harsh, mean, ill-tempered, and seeing his son more as a tool for his own ambitions. I was lucky in that my parents weren't like that, but it's not anunfamiliar concept either.

Piper does. That scene in which Piper comes out to Wally is great. As is Wally's reaction. He freaks and runs, but not so much out of disgust or horror. His reaction is a startled and incoherent sort of "But...why didn't I NOTICE?" And who hasn't had something like that happen? Maybe not a friend coming out of the closet, necessarily, but I think everyone's had a friend make some revelation that shakes us to our cores. That thing, whatever it is, that we should have seen. Should have noticed. Could be anything from "I'm anorexic" to "I'm in love with you." The signs were all there! Why didn't we see it?

Vandal Savage is the enemy Wally West faces in Flash #1. Who better to represent the evil machinations of adulthood? The Baron and Messner-Loebs runs are filled with instances of Wally's powers not working as they should. Whether exhausting him to the point of collapse, not working at all, or going crazy. That bears no resemblance to anything that happens in adolescence of course! Our bodies ALWAYS do what they're supposed to do! Honest!

Adolescence is HARD. Everything's confusing, you're seeing the world in a brand new way. You've got new responsibilities and everyone expects things from you. You're talked down to, disapproved of, and you know everyone ultimately thinks you're a giant jerk because of all the mistakes you've made. It doesn't get fixed with a joke or even a hug. It doesn't get fixed with a spirit monster's temper tantrum or a pretty speech from a boy in tights.

It just is.

11 Comments:

  • At June 29, 2007 6:33 AM, Blogger Ununnilium said…

    Personally, me-at-15 would probably have liked Young Justice just as much as me-at-24 does, whereas from the little early-Flash I've read, I wouldn't have been able to appreciate it until puberty was up and done with.

    I just thought Young Justice had more of that ephemeral, elusive quality we try to define when we talk about "fun".

     
  • At June 29, 2007 6:52 AM, Anonymous Mela said…

    Kalinara, I love you, I love your ideas, and I want to subscribe to your newsletter.

    You're so right, about pre-Waid Flash being brilliant & real and about Young Justice being tiresome and forced. "Fun" loses its meaning when it's presented in such a way as to feel as heavy-handed as the worst moralizing. And the pains of growing up are better articulated when someone in the cast is a normal, over-thirty person, not just an oddly wisened adolescent.

    Loebs understood this. David just understands puns.

     
  • At June 29, 2007 7:11 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    ununnilium: I can understand that. Personally though, after my initial giggling at the jokes, I just didn't find YJ to be that much fun.

    A lot of it has to do with the way the characters' personalities seemed to get subsumed in the joke. I read comics for characters not caricatures of them. And the serious stuff seemed very, very heavyhanded.

    In contrast, the Flash had a guy who runs fast fighting aliens and occasionally keeling over, making me giggle. To me, that's much more fun. :-)

    mela:

    Yeah, I think a big thing is that adults tend to look back and analyze their adolescence so much that they forget that while it's a natural stage of development, teenagers and young adults aren't going to see it that way. They're busy getting caught up in everything and thinking no one could possibly understand and it's the end of the world and all that dramatic stuff to really stop and think about it.

    Which is why it's such fun to see an adult completely peg a teen/young adult so aptly, whether in comics OR real life. :-)

    And Snapper Carr was ridiculously underused. :-P

     
  • At June 29, 2007 9:04 AM, Blogger Rich said…

    I liked Young Justice at the time but confess I've never gone back to re-read it partly because I think it won't age well. I was 20ish when it started and liked it even though I knew that teenagers would never speak like that in real life.

    But then they'd never be as quippy as they were in Buffy either, and I can still watch that endlessly...

    I have no idea where I was going with that comment - but this was a great, great post. Have you ever thought about self-publishing a collection of these?

    Seriously - I think its worth thinking about.

     
  • At June 29, 2007 10:17 AM, Blogger Rob S. said…

    Teriffic post, Kalinara. I reread the entire Wally series in the three months between its cancelation and the launch of Fastest Man Alive, and came to really appreciate the long-form storytelling in the Baron & Messner-Loebs runs. You don't get that -- or the long-term, subtle character arcs -- in enough comics these days.

     
  • At June 29, 2007 10:23 AM, Anonymous zeb aslam said…

    Honestly...while I completely agree on Flash (Baron and Loebs were unbelievably good and set everything up prefectly for Waid...Waid's run wouldn't have been half-as-good without the leg-work they put in) I think the problem you're giving with Young Justice is a problem I have with Robin.

    He's too grown-up to be a kid. Regardless of the book or writer, for some reason being Batman's apprentice makes him a character that writers (for good or ill) tend to write as fully matured..which is one of the main reasons I hate reading about the character from anyone but Chuck Dixon (who I think was the only one who treated him like a kid).

    As for my opinion of YJ...I still love it, but then again I consider it to be Cassie's zenith so I'm somewhat biased.

     
  • At June 29, 2007 10:34 AM, Blogger SallyP said…

    This is why I love Wally the best. Bart as Impulse had his moments, but I never really warmed up to him.

    And that Snapper Carr reference was TOTALLY gratuitous!

     
  • At June 29, 2007 11:24 AM, Anonymous Lala said…

    I mostly find that Tim Drake spouts rubbish most of the time, because the writers can't seem to grasp the concept of a mature teenage boy without making him TOO mature.

     
  • At June 29, 2007 12:07 PM, Blogger Julio Oliveira said…

    I wil agree that Young Justice didn't age well. The jokes,after a few re-readings few a bit stale and outdated, and that is a shame, because is nonetheless good work, is just that is tied too much to its era.

    In this sense Impulse do it much better, both the growing up and forming connections to the world around you, and the humor. A shame what happened to Bart, but I think he died the moment he became Kid Flash... since it wasn't a organic transformation, like the way the Wally West matured over the years.

    I mean, yes, maybe getting shot can make you start acting like a adult really fast, but not in that way. Especially in ultra-dangerous world like the DC Universe. Is not like his life wasn't ever in peril before. So I think the character development ringed hollow and untrue and such developments ultimately painted DC in a corner, and the only thing they could do with the character I was killing him.

    I once read that Peter David said about X-23 that if knew that secret to have a character that sell really well was to get his "Wolverette" character from the humor comic books and pitch them to Marvel really like it as ultra-serious thing, he would have done.

    I feel the same kind of wasted opportunity happened with Young Justice: it could be still be a fun book, but yet a relevant book if he just wasn't so enamored with the idea of a terrorist called Agua Sinn Gazz (non gasified water).

     
  • At June 29, 2007 1:19 PM, Blogger Anthony Strand said…

    Messner-Loebs is my favorite part of Flash v. 2 (one of my favorite series ever) for exactly the reasons you mentioned. Over the course of his issues, Wally is really able to mature in a believable fashion.

     
  • At June 29, 2007 5:22 PM, Anonymous Dan Coyle said…

    My main issue with Young Justice is that Todd Nauck's idea of "teenager" equaled "encephalitic dwarf". Seriously, the big eyed anime look was all wrong.

    After the first arc of YJ I lost interest.

    Though I mainly have those old Loebs Flashes for the artwork, some of his stories could be really excellent.

     

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