Animated Life Lesson #2: Independence

Independence (noun) – freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others

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If I were asked to choose, I would say I’m a Marvel girl.  I don’t know if it’s just that I’m more familiar with their characters or if I just find their stories more interesting, but if it came down to it, I’d pick Captain America over Superman every time.  And while the Marvel movies are generally much better than their DC counterparts, I have to say that the DC television shows certainly hold their own.  The live-action shows have fantastic casting and excellent visuals, and they manage to portray complex storylines with both humor and grim reality.  But the animated shows are just as wonderful, perhaps even more so because they can relate to both children and adults.

Young Justice is one of these animated DC shows, and although it follows the “sidekicks” of the main Justice League heroes, it shows the true value of independence and explores the fact that sometimes you need teenagers to get the job done.

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As I said, Young Justice follows a team comprised of the protégées of the main Justice League cast: Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash, Superboy, Ms. Martian, and Artemis.  This core team expands and changes later on, but the point remains that these are the younger counterparts to the better-known heroes.  Don’t call them sidekicks, though; just because they haven’t been playing hero as long as their mentors doesn’t mean they can’t hold their own.  

And that’s the premise of the show, that these teenagers, with some mentoring and direction from the Justice League, can take on cases that the main League either doesn’t have time for or can’t take because of their fame.  In other words, these guys are the B-team, but that doesn’t mean the missions they go on are any less important.

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In fact, over the course of the show, The Team, as they come to call themselves, takes on missions that are arguably more important than those of the Justice League.  Because they’re working more at the ground level, dealing with problems on Earth—regardless of whether those problems come from Earth or somewhere else—The Team is the first to encounter the Light and uncover their plans for an alien invasion and the eventual overthrow of Earth.  And while this is all well and good (it certainly isn’t bad, by any means), The Team isn’t doing all of this just to impress or help out their mentors.  For Robin and the rest, the formation of The Team is meant to free them from the shadow of their teachers and further them on the path to becoming full-fledged superheroes.

It’s an interesting story to play out, even though it’s not necessarily unique.  Any student wants to become as great as the one they learn from, and working on their own or on a team of their peers allows them to learn new lessons, make mistakes, and grow as a person in ways that continuing to work directly under their teacher could never allow.  The difference here is that these students are superheroes, so when they mess up, lives are at stake, and that means that their mistakes are much costlier than the average person’s.

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That doesn’t stop them from trying, though, and in trying, the Team learns to work together to achieve their goals.  They don’t quite start off as a team, though.  It takes a while to learn how to handle their newfound independence from their mentors, and in that time, it becomes clear that independence means different things to the different team members.

For Robin, being out from under the watchful eye of Batman means he can indulge a bit more in his clever antics.  While I get the sense that Batman forgives Robin for a lot of things, I also feel like he forgets that Robin is still practically a kid.  Of The Team, Robin has the most experience, but he’s the youngest—not counting Superboy and the technicalities of cloning—and being part of his own team makes him realize he doesn’t want to grow up and be just like his mentor.  Robin is more free-spirited than Batman, and this really starts to show once he’s part of his own team.  There are a number of missions when Robin goes against the plan and disappears to wreak havoc on his own.

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Yes, it’s generally effective, but his tactics show the downside of independence, that sometimes too much freedom causes its own problems, especially when you’re meant to be working as part of a team.  Batman can take care of himself with or without Robin’s help, so it’s as if Robin doesn’t truly realize how much his new teammates rely on him to have their backs.  That’s not to say that he deliberately puts them in danger, but his playful antics frequently put The Team at a disadvantage in terms of sticking to the plan.  It’s something that Batman would certainly frown upon—or frown harder upon, since he’s always frowning anyway—but Robin is no longer directly under Batman’s command, and so it’s something his team has to confront him about instead.

And they do, when Robin’s usual independent fighting style puts his team at risk, leading the boy wonder to question his skills as the leader.  He hands the reins over to Aqualad with the concession that he’ll return them to Robin when the younger hero decides he’s ready to lead.  From there on out, Robin works hard to make the most of his independence from Batman while still realizing that he’s not independent from his team, who truly rely upon his experience and his expert skills to get them out of many tight places.

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Aqualad himself clearly appreciates his independence from his mentor and king, Aquaman, but he’s more mature and more used to working directly with someone than his batty friend.  As such, he sees the transition from sidekick to hero-in-training as a personal responsibility.  Even before he’s officially made leader of the team, Aqualad shoulders the failures and sacrifices of the Team.  To him, being independent means that he and the rest of the Team are free to make their own calls in how missions are run, but it also means that there’s no one on hand to save them.  If things go wrong—and when you’re trying to save the world, things have a tendency to go very, very wrong—the only people they can blame are themselves, and while they learn from those mistakes, they aren’t free from the consequences.  It’s a much different view of the Team’s freedom, and it demonstrates how a different teacher and a few more years of maturity can change a person’s outlook on autonomy.

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For M’gann, her excitement isn’t so much for being out from under her uncle as it is to finally be on Earth.  She makes the most of her free time to explore and learn more about her new home, and it’s with a childlike joy that she embraces her freedom to be the Earth girl she’s always wanted to be.  She thinks being part of The Team is wonderful, and she gets along well with everyone.  M’gann still makes mistakes as a hero, but her screw-ups are almost always the result of her failure to clearly understand Earth culture rather than abuse of her newfound independence.  But there are occasionally instances where M’gann abuses her independence and uses her Martian powers unchecked, with disastrous consequences that M’gann struggles to fix.

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Connor, AKA Superboy, has never had any life before the team, his implanted knowledge aside, and so everything is new for him, including his freedom.  Never having known anything else, it’s clear that Connor often isn’t quite sure what to do with himself and his newfound independence; luckily he has M’gann and the rest of his friends to help him learn to live.

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Artemis’s presence on the team is originally under a shroud of dishonesty; although she’s introduced as Green Arrow’s niece, her true training came from her father,  Sportsmaster, and her mother, the retired Huntress.  Along with her sister, Cheshire, all of Artemis’s family are villains, and although she was brought up and trained in their world, she wanted out.  For Artemis, her new independence means getting to be one of the good guys, getting to use the skills her father taught her to take down villains just like him.

It’s a nice twist and a fine taste of justice, and Artemis certainly makes the most of it.  And although she enjoys being on the right side of the battle, being a good guy doesn’t come without its problems or its annoyances, the latter mainly in the form of Wally, who is using his freedom to flirt and show off his self-gained speed.  It’s not that Wally’s immature, he’s just a free spirit, but when it comes to the mission, he knows how to be serious.  It’s only on his own time that he likes to pester Artemis and keep the rest of the team on their toes, and his levity brings humor to most any situation.  Even more, when things seem dire, Wally can be depended on to look at the bright side, which is something the Team needs from time to time.

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Young Justice manages to bring together a number of DC heroes, each with their own complex story and past, into a strong team.  The fact that these guys were the sidekicks just now starting out on their own is a great premise for younger kids and teenagers who are just beginning to take on more responsibility and to learn what it means to be at least somewhat independent from their parents.  The Team’s actions both in and out of the field show how different people react when they’re allowed to stretch their wings, and the lessons that they learn about choices, consequences, and what it truly means to be a team are applicable to everyone, whether they’re a superhero or just wish they were one.

And these lessons aren’t just for kids; adults sometimes need reminders that all their choices have consequences and that the easiest choice isn’t always the right one.  On top of that, Young Justice manages to incorporate many fan favorites, and the action, the jokes, and the characters themselves will entertain anyone even if they aren’t looking for a deeper meaning.  Robin, Aqualad, and the rest of The Team are heroes worth admiring, and even though they aren’t perfect, they always take the initiative to do whatever it takes to get the job done, not just on their own but as a team.

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Young Justice Season 3 has been announced!  There aren’t too many details currently available, but you can catch up on the first two seasons on Netflix before new episodes are released


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