Fans lucky enough to attend the packed-to-capacity panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego were treated to a screening of a new episode of the Cartoon Network series, as well as behind-the-scenes tidbits from Danica McKellar, the voice of Miss Martian.
Titled “Targets,” the new episode focused on Red Arrow going undercover to stop an assassination plot that threatens two Earth-16 countries on the brink of war. On the surface, political intrigue might not seem like standard cartoon fare, but as producer Brandon Vietti explained to the crowd, it was exactly the kind of story he wanted to tell: “I think it’s still accessible and interesting for younger audiences as well, but you know it’s a slightly more sophisticated story.”
Moderator and Senior Editor at “Entertainment Weekly” Rich Sands asked producers about the change in story format in the new episode, which featured a solo Red Arrow story instead of the usual team dynamic. “With a cast of hundreds, I just think we want to be able to shake things up and, you know, not always have it be a team of six every single episode,” said producer Greg Weisman. In terms of the decision to have Red Arrow take the lead in his own episode, Vietti said, “He’s very much a part of the series, and we wanted him to have a little spotlight.”
Producers were tight-lipped about future plotlines, story resolutions and the identities of the mysterious secret council known as The Light. “If you’re paying close attention, at least five or six members of The Light might be kind of obvious at this point,” Weisman said, “but if it’s not, I’m not going to help you.”
Careful not to give away any spoilers, McKellar (best known as Winnie Cooper from “The Wonder Years”) did reveal to that her character would soon lock lips with a certain Boy of Steel. “I can tell you that there’s going to be a kiss, and in fact, the kiss is real,” she began. “They had [actor Nolan North and I] kiss in the booth, which is really rare. For voiceover, they almost always have us kiss our hand.”
McKellar laughed when she recalled being eight months pregnant when the scene was recorded. “It’s a very sweet little kiss, but still it was a real kiss in the booth, which is unusual. So, when you see that, you’ll know that it was real.”
When asked if the team would be returning to Atlantis any time soon, Weisman, who also writes the companion “Young Justice” comic book with Kevin Hopps, said, “The two of us are planning a bunch of stories that will intertwine with the TV series and be in continuity with them, and one of those stories has us go back to Atlantis, so we’ll be learning more about Aqualad and his family.”
Lead Character Designer Phil Bourassa admitted he never thought he’d have a chance to design such an iconic cast of characters and spoke about his approach. “We’re trying to find that nice thru-line that you know is faithful to the tradition of the characters, but still sort of presents them in a more contemporary context,” he said.
Vietti, who related that the most exciting part about working on the show was the chance to start from scratch at the beginning of the DC Universe, also enjoys exploring the lives of these superheroes in entirely new ways. “The Justice League hasn’t had to deal with a young group of kids sort of coming up beneath them, and dealing with these kids who want to be like them throws these superheroes — these public superheroes — into this role of being parents, in a way.”
With so many characters at their disposal, Weisman explained how they decided on the six heroes who would eventually comprise the Young Justice team. “We started with a list of over 50 teenage heroes from the DC Universe,” he recalled. “For example, the DC Universe has four blonde teenaged female archers, so there are a lot of characters.”
Using the “Secrets and Lies” series theme as a compass, the producers began narrowing the list down further until they had a cohesive, iconic cast with powers that complemented one another. “We also obviously went back to the ‘Teen Titans’ [cartoon] and took inspiration from that, and ‘Justice League’ and ‘Super Friends,'” Weisman said.
Even with so much history to draw on, creating a realistic take on the DCU was not always easy. “The challenges of bringing to life the DC Universe in a more realistic fashion are incredible,” Vietti said. “It’s really difficult. I directed on ‘[Batman:] The Brave and the Bold’ just before this, which really embraces some of the absurdities of the DC Universe, and we had so much fun taking things way too far with the characters, because that’s what felt right for that show. It was more of a challenge, I think, with this series to sort of go the exact opposite direction and make it as realistic and grounded and gritty as possible.”
Though it was her first time attending Comic-Con, McKellar displayed infectious enthusiasm for the show, as well as the opportunity to play Miss Martian. “For me, to be part of the DC Universe now is just a thrill,” she said. “I grew up watching ‘Wonder Woman’ with Lynda Carter. I used to take my mom’s glasses off and shake my hair and spin around and jump off of things.”
“Young Justice” has been renewed for a second season, which is set to air in 2012 on Cartoon Network.