The Media Man Reviews: Young Justice: Phantoms


Title card for my review

Young Justice is by far one of DC's most interesting properties to get into, especially as it's one of those examples of how much love for a product can bring back what was once previously cancelled.


Developed by Brandon Vietti and Greg Weisman for Cartoon Network back in 2010 (and ironically being closer to a Teen Titans adaptation than Young Justice), Young Justice became massively popular and was one of Cartoon Network's biggest hits at the time, as well as one of the most popular superhero shows currently airing on TV back then. Sadly, the show was cancelled way too soon in 2013 after airing only two seasons. The reason for the cancellation was because a large source of the show's primary income was down to toy sales from Mattel. The toys weren't selling well enough so Mattel couldn't help fund the show anymore and because they couldn't find a source of income big enough to replace Mattel, they couldn't afford to keep the show going any longer. And this people is why your show's success shouldn't rely on toy sales. =P


However, much like the huge amount of fan support that finally got Zack Snyder's Justice League released, the fan support for this show was so enormous that Young Justice was eventually revived with a new season titled Young Justice: Outsiders in 2019. And now here we are with Young Justice's fourth season, which has been subtitled Young Justice: Phantoms.


So does this season do justice to its young heroes? Or should we banish this season to the Phantom Zone? Let's grab our capes and jump to the rescue as we review Young Justice Phantoms...


Section 1: The Story


Young Justice Season 4 sees our heroes once again battling against super villains while also dealing with their own personal struggles in life be it Connor and M'gann's wedding, Artemis's family issues, Rocket raising an autistic kid, Zatanna mentoring a new bunch of potential magic users and more. However, things get real crazy for everyone when a time traveller comes to the past with the hopes of releasing the nefarious General Zod from the Phantom Zone...


Young Justice Phantoms takes a departure from the previous two seasons in terms of story-telling by not telling one single story over a whole season, but instead with a series of mini-arcs that are all connected by a single plot. Each arc is about four episodes long with two arcs at the end of each half of the season being five episodes long and in order, the arcs are based around Superboy and Miss Martian, Artemis, Zatanna, Aquaman, Rocket and Nightwing. Now on paper, this sounds like a good idea as instead of trying to focus on everyone at once, the season can devote time to a few characters and give everyone their time to shine. Unfortunately, the execution leaves a lot to be desired as this approach ironically enough causes the show to feel even more unfocused than it already did in Outsiders. Remember when this show used to be focused on just a team of young heroes having to stop The Light? Well that was a LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG time ago...


While this format worked well for the first half of the season, it really fell apart in the second half as instead of focusing on the characters the arcs were supposed to be about, some of the arcs feel more like they're about the supporting cast than the main ones. Superboy & Miss Martian and Artemis's arcs are tightly focused around them but all the others feel more like other people's arcs, like Zatanna's arc felt more like it was about her students and Klarion the Witch Boy than Zatanna herself, or Kaldur'ahm's arc felt more like it was about Aquaman, Mera and Ocean Master than Kaldur himself, and especially Rocket's story felt more like it was interested in the New Genesis stuff than Rocket herself. And Nightwing's arc isn't even ABOUT Nightwing! This season suffers tremendously from a lack of proper focus on its characters. No joke, this season really started to feel like a chore to sit through as it went on and by the time I got to Nightwing's arc, I was actively saying "Let's just get this over with" instead of being enthusiastic about seeing how it was going to end. Oh and it's because of this as to why I'll be skipping the characters section for this review because if I try to talk about them all, we'll end up with a novel-sized review the size of the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy! Besides, most of the stuff about the characters I can cover here so I hope you don't mind.


The big problem that causes this season to buckle under its own weight and the major cause for why this show feels so unfocused is the simple fact that this season is overstuffed with plot and characters to the point that it's splitting at the seams just trying to fit everything in. It's like watching a season of Chris Chibnall's Doctor Who except instead of feeling overstuffed and incredibly rushed, this season feels overstuffed and incredibly slow while also feeling really rushed at times. You have plots like the Superboy in the Phantom Zone subplot that goes on forever and in some episodes is literally just nothing happening, you have Beast Boy's depression arc that simultaneously dragged on for too long, yet wrapped up way too quickly (no joke, it's literally just a talk with Black Canary and then suddenly next time we see him, he's much better with his recovery having occurred off-screen) and then you have Rocket's development in her own arc that felt incredibly rushed as a result of fighting for space with the New Genesis and Lor-Zod plots. It's what makes this season such a gruelling sit for me, we have all these arcs to give the characters some time to shine and yet it feels like the writers had a million other ideas they wanted to throw in as well and as a result, we have subplots taking up time that should've been spent on developing the characters that these arcs were supposed to be about. Like was it really that vital we interrupted important events going on at the time so we could see Violet go on a journey of discovering their true identity? Did we really need to have Razer from Green Lantern: The Animated Series interrupt Rocket's arc in one episode just to remind us he exists and leave just as quickly? And did we really, REALLY need to spend so much time on Beast Boy angsting over Superboy's "death", subplot that only felt like a waste of time because of how quickly it wrapped up and how pointless it was because Superboy wasn't actually dead the whole time?


Speaking of that, this is another problem I have with the season. It is SO predictable. No joke, I outright called it from the moment it happened that Superboy wasn't actually dead at the end of his and Miss Martian's arc. And big surprise, I was right and it turned out he was stuck in the Phantom Zone. As a result, the show felt especially tedious during the first half when it kept pretentiously trying to hammer in the fact Superboy is like "totally dead everyone! We swear we're not jossing you, he's totally dead! 100% dead!" only for it to (predictably) turn out he's actually alive. And because Superboy turned out to be alive, it made some of the developments and subplots in this story feel worthless in the end. Kaldur'ahm coming to terms with the passing of another team mate? Doesn't matter because Superboy's not dead. Beast Boy angsting over his passing? Didn't matter because Superboy's not dead! Superman and Lois having that talk with Jonathan (their son) about death? DIDN'T MATTER BECAUSE SUPERBOY'S NOT DEAD! If you're going to have your characters go through arcs and developments where they have to cope with loss, then don't have the character they're mourning over turn out to be alive, otherwise you're just wasting time on stuff that ultimately doesn't matter in the end. Don't get me wrong, I love Superboy and I'm glad he turned out to be alive! It's just this is the kind of story that ironically would've benefitted from actually having him die and that having him turn out to be alive just shot the story in the head.


Oh and while we're talking about predictability, was anyone actually shocked during the Artemis arc when it turned out Cassandra Savage was the spy and Onyx was the innocent one? Not only was that twist super-predictable, but it felt really lazy to me as it was literally THE most predictable outcome they could've gone with. The only thing that surprised me was her injuries and missing arm actually being an illusion but that's about it. Wouldn't the twist have been SO much better and more creative if it turned out in the end, there was NO spy at all and both Cassandra and Onyx had been led to believe either one was a fake as a ploy to distract the team? In fact, I was kinda hoping and expecting them to go in that direction at first, only for them to go with the obvious and squander a lot of potential as a result.


And you know how I said the pacing feels really slow as a result of this show's unfocused story-telling and strange priorities on what to focus on (wow, this really does feel like Chibnall's Doctor Who!)? The pacing feels even worse when put into context with the rest of the show. You see, Season 2 ended with The Light making an alliance with Darkseid. Two seasons later and that plot hasn't gone anywhere. Season 3 felt more like set-up, set-up and more set-up and by the end of it, we get all set-up and no payoff. Season 4 feels like they just didn't care about that plot and was more interested in what everyone else was doing with a last minute bit of set-up right at the end with The Light just out of nowhere suddenly nabbing all the Kryptonians in the Phantom Zone. You see why I say this season feels simultaneously slow yet rushed at the same time?! Young Justice has been revived and yet two seasons later, the plot that was teased at the end of Season 2 STILL HASN'T GONE ANYWHERE YET! It isn't helped by the fact most of the plot we get here has nothing to do with the Light/Darkseid alliance plot, which further adds to the lack of progression we're getting here. It's like the current volumes of RWBY in where we're on Volume 9 next and we're still no closer to defeating Salem than when the plot was set-up back in Volume 3! When you're making a show, you shouldn't procrastinate so much with the story, otherwise viewers will just get bored and stop watching. As I said, the revival has started to feel like a chore to watch because of this snail's pace progression of the plot and how it keeps biting off more than it can chew with how overcrowded the cast is and how overstuffed the plot is. It's at the point were Season 5's next and I'm just sitting here hoping it'll finally get the plot going!


Oh and all that plot we got in Outsiders? Barely any of it is followed up on and Brion gets like two episodes where he actually appears and only one of them gives us any idea on how things are going with him and his country lately. All this just makes Outsiders as a result feel like it wasn't worth watching in the end as even the show itself barely acknowledges it now.


Another thing that makes this season such a gruelling sit for me is how incompetent the heroes look half the time. It really does feel like the only reason that the villains succeed at anything they do half the time is because the heroes are complete morons and don't do the smart thing half the time. Case in point, Lor-Zod breaking into Bio-Ship and forcing it, the Legionnaires and Kid Flash to play nice for him. The only reason Lor-Zod got everything going his way there was because the heroes were too stupid to properly deal with the situation. Like how did Kid Flash not anticipate that Lor-Zod would be fast enough to follow him? And why did Bio-Ship give up so easily when it could've easily incapacitated Lor-Zod with its shape-shifting abilities? And when Zatanna, Klarion and the others were fighting The Child, HOW DID IT NOT OCCUR TO ANYONE UNTIL THE LAST EPISODE TO HIT HER ANCHOR'S VERY OBVIOUS WEAK SPOT?!?! These heroes have been in action since Season 1 and A LOT of years have passed since then so you'd think they'd be more experienced and much smarter than they are depicted as here. Instead, it's a case of they have to be stupid so the villains can succeed at what they're doing.


And finally, there are some character portrayals that I'm personally not fond of. I don't think they should've made Orphan mute here and I especially hate the way they've characterized Lady Shiva in this series. Lady Shiva is NOT like this and I don't see why they've made her more villainous and more closer to David Cain in terms of character and backstory. Why was this change to her character necessary? It just makes her feel not like Lady Shiva as a result. Oh and do we REALLY need to adapt the evil Mary Marvel plotline from Countdown to Final Crisis and Final Crisis here? It sucked when the comics did it so what makes this show think it'll be any better here? It doesn't help how the set-up was just poor and threw away all of Mary's character development during the Zatanna arc. I mean that episode where she and the other students fight and overcome their fears and insecurities? Completely irrelevant as Mary regresses as a character and turns evil just because she was rightfully lectured on misusing her powers. If your characters aren't going to develop, then don't waste time developing them! Also, I found Lor-Zod to be a weak villain in this show. He's not interesting, charismatic or sympathetic whatsoever and half the time, he only ever succeeds at what he's doing because of everyone around him being incompetent idiots, not because he's an actual threat. I genuinely smiled when he died at the end because I cared that little for him.


So yeah...I don't think very highly of this season. It's a complete mess thanks to being overstuffed with plot and characters, having weird priorities on what to focus on, some questionable character portrayals, terrible pacing and villains that require the heroes being incompetent idiots in order to get anywhere. Is there anything I DO like? I liked Superboy and Miss Martian's arc at least as that felt the most focused, had the best pacing and was really heart-warming to watch at times with the love these two have for each other. Their wedding at the end was also a satisfying way to cap off the season and was neat subversion of expectations as I genuinely expected the season to end on a low note so I'm glad it didn't. Also I guess Halo's subplot was kinda nice, even if it had nothing to do with the main plot? And the plot with Artemis and Cheshire was pretty decent and had a good conclusion to it so there's that too. Honestly, I'm having a hard time picking what I did like because of how disappointing this season is...


Young Justice: Phantoms should be used as an exercise in writing. Namely how too many characters, too many ideas and a lack of proper focus can ruin a good series. If the writers just had less toys out of the toy box to play with at the time, we could've had a more tightly focused story and more solid pacing as a result. For what we got, it's just a mess and I hope the next season will improve from that...


Section 2: The Animation


As I said, this season is way too overcrowded with characters so it's pointless to try and recap them all. We'll be here all day if I do, so I'm skipping straight to the animation. And for what we have, it's...alright for the most part.


I don't know if anyone's going to look at me as if I'm crazy, but I can't be the only person out there who thinks the animation got a bit of a downgrade post-revival, right? OK, downgrade's a bit of an exaggeration but still, I feel like the animation nowadays tries to be more...cost effective I guess? What I mean is that compared to the Cartoon Network era, the animation in this season and Outsiders doesn't seem quite as energetic or lively as before. More often than before, you're likely to have scenes where the characters don't move a muscle and the only thing animated on them is their mouths (and maybe an occasional blink) as if they were Family Guy characters and during the Mars arc, you don't even get THAT much as the characters mostly talk telepathically to each other so in that arc you'll probably end up looking at still images for a few minutes with maybe the occasional bit of movement! It especially looks bad during crowd scenes or at least scenes where there's a lot of characters together as many of them will just be still as statues and not even so much as blink. But it REALLY gets egregious during the end credits scenes in where I often question the point of them in the first place because a good chunk of them are pointless. Nearly every one of these is a still image or at least a single scene with like the smallest bit of movement here or there like someone's arm moving or the rise and fall of Wolf's body as he breathes in his sleep. I just question if you're not going to animate these scenes or barely put any animation into them then why even animate them at all?


Also, there's some pretty conspicuous CGI in places throughout the show. It's most noticeable with Bio-Ship, the Time Sphere and the erupting volcanoes around the world during the battle with The Child in Zatanna's arc. It's not bad CGI by any means and it does decently blend in with the 2-D environments. It's just it still looks like CGI and does stand out a bit.


However, this isn't to say the animation is bad by any means. Hell, it's UNTHINKABLE that I would ever call it "bad"! Even if it may not feel as great as before, the animation is still really good for the most part and the animators at least put their budget to good use where it counts. The character designs maintain that great Young Justice style we known and love where they take cues from anime and Bruce Timm's art style while still making it their own and staying true to the classic designs of many of these iconic DC characters and everybody looks easily identifiable from our heroes to our villains. I really enjoy the costume designs that our heroes and villains wear too. They managed to be very detailed while also looking simple enough to draw and having that "comic-book" look to them that we expect superheroes and supervillains to wear. They manage to give everyone a good look in this show and I'm glad the revival still continues to give us great looking characters.


Character animation is, as mentioned earlier, more limited than before, which could be down to the team maybe not having the budget they used to have in the Cartoon Network era, but they still manage to do well enough with it when the characters are actually able to move. They're expressive and can display a lot of character with their body language while also showing off a variety of fighting styles be it Miss Martian's flying, Artemis's swift and agile combat skills while using many different weapons, Lady Shiva and Orphan's sword fighting skills or the brute strength of the Kryptonian characters. Whenever we get a battle, they manage to give us a lot of cool powers and fighting styles to watch and it's when the show is honestly at its most enjoyable.


Speaking of the action, that is when the animation truly goes all out and feels really epic. The action scenes can get very chaotic, action-packed and even brutal at times. Every blow the characters receive feels heavy and like it really hurts whether it's someone being punched or someone being hit by a laser. And given the show's no longer on Cartoon Network, they can allow the fight scenes to get more intense and graphic as a result with some characters actually bleeding from the resulting fight. I find some of the most creative action comes from the battles with The Child and Klarion in where its two godly beings fighting one another so they can go all out and be as exaggerated and over-the-top as possible, as a god fight should be.


As is, the animation can still have some good moments even when its not action-packed. The emotional moments especially hit hard because of how expressive the character animation can be at times. The romantic moments with Superboy and Miss Martian are depicted as sweet and tender, Beast Boy's angst is reflected with his sleep-depraved eyes, sullen body language and Greg Cipes's vocal performance and the wedding scene at the end is depicted as happy, wholesome and heart-warming. No matter the situation or what's going on at the moment, you can always read the expressions like a book and tell perfectly how anyone's feeling at any time.


Also the background work is absolutely gorgeous. Every place the characters visit in this season is very well detailed and brilliantly depicted from something as pedestrian as an Earth city to something as fantastical as Mars and even something as isolated and eerie as the Phantom Zone. I love this show's version of Mars especially for how beautiful, alien and creative it looks. It's like no version of Mars I've ever seen before and I love how the designers didn't just give us another red planet. This version of Mars is more colourful and isn't just red everywhere as that would've been dull to look at. I also like the design of New Genesis. In the comics, New Genesis is meant to be the heaven to Apokalips's hell and they really made it look idyllic and peaceful while also looking very futuristic and other-worldly to emphasize that this is the home of the New Gods. And of course we have the Phantom Zone where due to what little there is in there and the colour palette consisting of mostly blues, blacks and whites, it literally looks like a cold, uninviting, lonely place to be. Seeing Superboy trapped in such a place makes us want to see him escape even more due to how well the animators made this place look like a place nobody would want to be imprisoned in. It's too bad the slow pacing of the story means we have to be there a while but that's besides the point. The background artists easily did the best work of anyone in this season and I applaud them so well on giving us such glorious scenery to look at.


The animation is still solid enough, but it does have its issues. Thankfully, those issues don't ruin the visuals and I can say that after the revival, the show still looks as good as ever.


Conclusion


I can only describe Young Justice: Phantoms in one word: DISAPPOINTING. This is easily one of the most disappointing seasons to a TV show I've ever seen. The plot is a mess with too many cooks in the kitchen, the characters are constantly fighting for space amongst themselves, the pacing is horrendous, some character portrayals are baffling, there's a lack of development in many of the characters and also the plot and overall it ended up feeling more tedious than enjoyable to watch as it went along. The animation is really nice at least and gives us some good visuals to watch but why should I care if the visuals aren't accompanied by a good story? I was once excited about Young Justice making a comeback. Now I kind of wish it didn't come back. Because if this is what we're going to get now, mediocre seasons with overcrowded plots and sluggish pacing while constantly making us feel like nothing's really going anywhere, then Young Justice was probably better off staying cancelled. At least then we were looking back on the show fondly. Now thanks to the revival, I feel considerably less enthusiastic about the show than I used to. I hope it'll get better of course, but I'm not holding my breath. This season should be banished to the Phantom Zone along with Dru Zod and his followers...


And that's all I have for this review. I hope you enjoyed it and as usual, feel free to share your thoughts down below. Did you like Young Justice: Phantoms? Did you find it disappointing like I did? Please share.


Next time, we go from one TV series to another as I review Disney+'s latest Star Wars project. Move over Boba Fett, it's Obi-Wan Kenobi's turn to have his own show! See you then everyone...




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