Young JusticePictured: TK
Credit: Warner Bros. Animation

After some time away, Young Justice is coming back — and it's bringing even more DC characters along for the ride. The long-awaited season 3 will bring in several heroes from the '80s comic Batman and the Outsiders, including Katana and Geo-Force (hence the season's subtitle: Young Justice: Outsiders). But amid these newcomers, the show retains a special focus on its core characters, some of whom are going through big changes. Kaldur'ahm (Khary Payton), an original character created for the show, started out as Aqualad, but come season 3 he'll take on the mantle of Aquaman himself.

"We established back in season 1 that King Orin was training Kaldur to take his place as Aquaman," producer Greg Wiesman says. "Aquaman was also King of Atlantis, which to most people would be a full-time job, and yet he also had to be in the Justice League as Aquaman, which was a lot on his plate. His game plan was to train Kaldur'ahm to be the new Aquaman so he could go back to being King of Atlantis, which was plenty. What you'll see in this season is that after everything that's happened in season 1 and season 2, and the leadership qualities that Kaldur has shown, Orin looks at Kaldur and says, 'You're ready.' It's a pretty momentous year for him."

Young Justice season 3 will premiere on the DC Universe streaming platform mere weeks after the Jason Momoa-starring Aquaman movie hits theaters. Wiesman can't help but look back to the creation of Kaldur: "Now that there's an Aquaman movie out, everyone gets how that's a cool viable character. Ten years ago, when we were developing this show, people were like, 'Really, you want to include Aqualad?' We thought we could create someone that could kick ass, and I think we've proved that."

In addition to Kaldur, other founding members of Young Justice like Nightwing (Jesse McCartney) will have roles to play in season 3. But the founders are also reeling from the death of their friend Wally West (Jason Spisak) at the end of season 2. Both Wiesman and co-showrunner Brandon Vietti say Wally's absence will be strongly felt this season, taking its toll on the surviving heroes.

There have been plenty of animated DC superhero shows over the years, but Young Justice stands apart from the rest with its high stakes and dark atmosphere. In this show, sacrifices get made, and not everything turns out all right in the end. That's the world that new heroes like Katana have grown up in, and it gives them a different outlook than Nightwing and Aquaman had back when they were Robin and Aqualad.

"What's great about those characters is they're young characters who are now growing up in a world that is formed from our first two seasons," Vietti says. "We really had a heck of an arc through our first two seasons. We explored how society viewed heroes, and how aliens came to Earth to harvest the metagene that powers many of the superheroes and villains. When we came back to start our third season, we were looking at this world we've created and watched grow through the first two seasons and we're like, 'Wow, this is a really scary Earth. What must it be like to grow up on this scary place that we've built up through 2 seasons?' We decided to tell that story that through this new young group of characters who are growing up in this crazy, scary world, and they don't know if they want to be heroes, they don't know if they want to be  villains, they're very much finding out who they are. They're not part of a superhero establishment like our season 1 and 2 characters were. They're figuring out their own way in the world."

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Credit: DC Universe

Longtime Young Justice viewers know by now that Wiesman and Vietti like to play a slow, subtle game. There's always some new mission happening in the foreground of the show, but in the background various subplots will gather steam one scene at a time. One of the most notable build-ups throughout season 1 and 2 was the slow reveal of more and more characters from Jack Kirby's "Fourth World" comics. The last seconds of season 2 found series big bad Vandal Savage traveling to the hellish planet Apokolips to shake hands with Darkseid, but that is no longer the end of the story. Wiesman and Vietti say there will be more Fourth World characters and elements in season 3 — most notably in the form of the bug-like hero Forager (Spisak), who joins the team alongside the Outsiders characters.

"That slow build, that snowball rolling down the hill, is going to continue to build through season 3," Wiesman says. "The shot of Apokolips in the new title sequence gives a strong hint that the Fourth World stuff is gonna be even bigger in this season than seasons past. That doesn't mean it does or doesn't come to a head here, but in the January episodes you'll see that build progressing with more glimpses of our favorite Fourth World characters. There will be the introduction of Forager to our group of new heroes, along with all the baggage he brings from New Genesis. It's a big, long hill."

The first half of Young Justice: Outsiders will hit DC Universe in January, with the second half to follow in June. Those who want to know more about what happened in between season 2 and the new season can check out two new issues of the Young Justice tie-in comic. Written by Wiesman, these comics exclusively hit the DC Universe service on Jan. 2 and Jan. 3, and will fill in the gaps specifically about what Superboy and Miss Martian have been up to since we last saw them.

Young Justice: Outsiders premieres Jan. 4 on DC Universe, making it the platform's second original show after Titans.

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