In the world of superhero animation, Greg Weisman is known as the man with the plan.
From his acclaimed ’90s series “Gargoyles” through his fan favorite run with “Spectacular Spider-Man,” the writer and executive producer puts together shows chock full of world-building and continuity where twists and turns often become major payoffs as the seasons develop.
Currently, Weisman is at the helm of “Young Justice: Invasion” -Â the second season of the Cartoon Network series that has grown to anchor the DC Nation block of Saturday morning programming. After a first season that wrapped with Vandal Savage taking control of the Justice League for some mysterious intergalactic sabotage, the “Invasion” story takes place five years after Season 1 with some major shake-ups to the team. Robin has become Nightwing, Kid Flash has retired and Aqualad has turned to the dark side, teaming up with his father Black Manta…or so it seemed.
With the seventh episode of “Invasion,” “Young Justice” pulled a suitably Weisman-esque turn to reveal that Aqualad had been undercover the whole time. With the aide of the original six YJ team members, Aqualad faked the death of Artemis to get closer to the villainous cabal known as The Light and in the process brought the teen archer along for the black ops mission on Black Manta’s sub.
Now weeks of hiatus away from that shocking reveal, “Young Justice” returns to Cartoon Network this Saturday to continue the story of Roy Harper – the teen sidekick known as Speedy – who was in stasis for years while his clone (now called Red Arrow) took his place on the team. CBR News spoke with Weisman about his overall plans for the show, how the original six heroes remain the heart of the series, what complications lay ahead for Speedy, Red Arrow and their mentor Green Arrow, whether Tim Curry’s G. Gordon Godfrey will lead to a turn for Jack Kirby’s classic New Gods characters and how his continuation of the show in comics form at DC helps him flesh out the “Young Justice” story as much as he wants. Plus, check out some exclusive clips from this weekend’s episode!
CBR News: Greg, I wanted to start by talking a little bit about the transition from year one to year two. Like any show you’ve ever run, there are a lot of moving pieces in “Young Justice,” and the viewer may not see all of those until the very end. With the Season 1 finale, we had a bunch of revelations hit in terms of who Roy Harper was, what Vandal Savage’s plan was and how the team had finally come together, but at the same time you opened up a whole new mystery in terms of the brainwashed Justice Leaguer’s “Missing Hours.” When you plotted out Season 1, did you know you were heading to this whole invasion plotline, or did the pickup for Season 2 enable you to build that new mystery into the finale and carry the characters five years into the future?
Greg Weisman: We had two-year game plan from pretty much day one. I’m not saying I knew every single detail of Season 2 back when we were breaking Season 1, because we didn’t. But the BIG thrust of it we had. We knew exactly where we were going and what seeds we wanted to plant in Season 1 to get there. We knew we were going to do the time skip and all that stuff almost from the very beginning – certainly before even one episode of the show had aired.
Now, we didn’t get a pickup right away, and we had no guarantee that we would get that. But once we got a pickup of the first ten episodes for Season 2 and soon after another ten, that was great. Though, I wouldn’t have said no to 100. [Laughs] So we didn’t sit down and breakdown Season 2 episodically until we got that pickup, but in terms of the arc of the season and the main ideas we’d be addressing, we had it all figured out in advance.
Once the “Invasion” season got underway, you had a bunch of new ideas and new puzzle pieces in play right from the start, but I’ve got to say, episode 7 was such a crucial installment in terms of putting a lot of the story together…and THEN you went on a break!
[Laughs] It was not planned that way. I mean, from our standpoint we didn’t know that Cartoon Network was going to break after seven, but I’ve got to say, it was a great place to break. If you’re going to take a hiatus, episode 7 was a really great place to cliffhang. We were actually kind of pleased about that. It was timed out well.
What really stood out to me when we learned that Aqualad is a double agent and that Artemis and Kid Flash were being drawn back into the fold was that no matter how many new cast members you’ve added in Season 2 – and there have been quite a few – it seems like the big story for the show as a whole is still the story of this group of Nightwing, Aqualad, Artemis, Superboy, Ms. Martian and Kid Flash. What kind of goals did you make for the show in terms of whose story you’d follow most?
I think for us, from day one, we have six leads. And that’s huge enough. Now, there are other characters, even from Season 1, who will be recurring characters that we put a spotlight on and give some screen time. Those are characters like Red Arrow and Zatanna – even Captain Marvel and Red Tornado. I don’t want to knock them and say that they’re tertiary characters. They’re not. They’re important to our larger tapestry. But I think it was important from day one all the way through the end of Season 2 that we have six leads. They’ve been the same six leads from the beginning.
It all began with Robin, Aqualad and Kid Flash. Of course, Robin is now Nightwing. But after that first three, we added in Superboy, and then we added Ms. Martian, and then we added Artemis. And then we stopped. We kept adding characters, but I don’t think we kept adding lead characters. We sold the show on those six, and those six are still to us largely the focus of the show.
Now you are right that we’ve expanded a lot in Season 2. We’ve added Wonder Girl, Batgirl, Blue Beetle, Beast Boy, Lagoon Boy, the new Robin, Impulse…and we’re not done adding characters. Some of them will get a spotlight shown on them briefly. Some of them will get a larger role than even that. It will range. But we haven’t lost track of our six leads. They’ve always been the six leads for this show, and that will continue throughout the rest of the series.
That said, I think you could almost call Roy Harper the “Fifth Beatle” of the main cast…even if he is technically the seventh member. [Laughter] And in this season, we’ve had the added wrinkle of two Roys:Â the Red Arrow clone character we followed through Season 1 and the original Roy who’s just now emerging from stasis. That original, one-armed Roy -Â AKA Speedy – is at the heart of this week’s episode. What’s the attraction to shifting back into his subplot after the big revelations of episode 7?
Well, for one it’s always nice to take a breather from the main story. We’ve got a main plot with a lot of drive to it, and having revealed what’s going on with Kaldur and Artemis, [co-Executive Producer] Brandon Vietti and I wanted to have the audience take a moment and go, “What’s going on with those two?” And you’ve got to keep in mind that we didn’t know the hiatus was coming. But even without that, it was nice to slide off to a very important supporting character.
It’s interesting to see the dynamic of the Arrow family as it now exists. We’ve got a lot going on in episode 8 -Â which I say with tremendous modesty since I wrote it -Â that involves what’s going on with Green Arrow, what’s going on with Red Arrow and what’s going on with Speedy. And we’ve got to deal with what’s going on with all three of them when they believe that Artemis is dead. That fourth member of the family is gone, yet we brought back in the original second member who’s been gone for eight years and who until recently they didn’t know was gone. So what’s the dynamic like between these three characters? That’s what I think is really interesting about episode 8.
And having said that, this is also right after the “death of Artemis” where very few people know the truth about it. So we’re going to see some reactions to that. We’ve got some revelations coming over the next episode or two that will hint at what took place during the five-year gap. We’re not spelling it all out, of course, but we’re dropping a hell of a lot more hints as to what happened. We’ll be revisiting a couple of characters that we haven’t seen much of this season, and that should be pretty cool.
With only the original six knowing about Artemis’ death being a fake, it’s a pretty significant gambit for a lot of reasons. How much over the rest of the season will you be dealing with how the emotional response of people like the Arrow family can impact the undercover op in Black Manta’s organization?
Inevitably it will, though I really don’t want to go into details about that. It’s safe to say that yes, there are huge ramifications all the way down the line from this choice.
Speaking of things you may not be able to say much about, nearly every episode this season has started with the “Young Justice” version of Glorious Godfrey. Of course, he’s just a big neon sign that says “Darkseid!” We’ve also seen characters like Bruno Mannheim show up this year. Is there any other way to take that than as foreshadowing for some kind of Kirby New Gods involvement?
Well, this is Earth-16 so you can’t take anything for granted. We’re using G. Gordon Godfrey. Is he Glorious Godfrey, or is he just a guy on WGBS with a TV show? I’m not gonna tell you. [Laughs] I mean, we both know the Kirby history of this guy and even the John Byrne history of this guy. But how we’re using him is still up in the air. We have a lot going on this season. We’ve got a lot of aliens vying for the planet earth, and we have barely in the first seven episodes scratched the surface of that.
If nothing else, it’s a great use of Tim Curry. You’ve worked together in the past. Did you personally tap him to play this part?
I suggested him, yeah. Brandon, our voice director Jamie Thomason and I always cast everything together, and I threw out Tim’s name for this. You’re right that I’ve worked with him before on “Gargoyles,” but I really just thought this part was perfect for him. It’s so much fun to watch him in the booth. I love how the show’s turned out overall, but it’s almost worth the experience just to stand in the booth and watch the guy! [Laughs] He’s so fun, and he brings so much to Godfrey to give us exactly what we were looking for there. And he surprises us all the time. He doesn’t just give us what we were looking for. He gives us a little more that we were never expecting. I had a great time with Tim on “Gargoyles,” but I think that Godfrey is just the perfect part for him. And I think he’s enjoyed doing it too.
The last thing to talk about is the comics side of the equation. You started out consulting on the comic tie-in DC puts out when it was just a mini series, and then you co-wrote for a while with Kevin Hopps, and now you’re writing the book solo as last week we saw the first issue that fast-fowarded to the “Invasion” part of the timeline with #20. Reading that issue, it felt like you were revealing an awful lot of details there – stuff about Superboy and Ms. Martian’s relationship as well as Ms. Martian’s relationship with Beast Boy. How do you decide what details need to be in the show versus what can go on the page?
You know, screen time is particularly precious. We have less than 20 minutes a week, and we have a limited number of episodes. And like I said, there’s a huge amount of story to tell. It’s a truly huge story, and there’s tons of stuff we’d love to do on the show. I have entire bulletin boards full of index cards with ideas for the show, and there was one whole bulletin board of ideas that we just couldn’t fit into Season 2. So I LOVE having the comic because it gives me an outlet to do some of this stuff.
Now, pages in the comic are almost as precious as minutes on the TV show, but I do have a little more freedom in the comic to expand on things that weren’t covered on the show. I’m very conscious of trying to make the comic worthwhile in and of itself. I want to reveal stuff in the comic too. It’s nothing that you HAVE to know to enjoy the TV show. So if people are adamant about “I’m not going to buy the comic no matter what” on principal or whatever, they don’t have to. The TV show gives you everything you need to know to understand the TV show. But I’d like to think that the comic also gives you everything you need to know to understand the comic in case for some reason you refuse to own a TV. But obviously, you’re going to get a lot more out of both if you experience both. They do compliment each other and reveal things about each other.
The comic, because it’s on paper or on a screen where you can turn back and forth with ease, allows me the flexibility to do a lot with non-linear storytelling and flashbacks. So what you’ll see throughout the next six issues – issues #20 through 25 which form another single, huge story in the book -Â is that their story mostly takes place on December 1, the month before the start of Season 2. Season 2 began on January 1 five years after Season 1, and the comic takes place almost entirely one month before that. So you get to see things like Blue Beetle getting recruited to join the team. I don’t feel like you NEEDED to see Blue Beetle’s recruitment on the show to understand it. He’s just there and on the team, and you can enjoy it. But I’d imagine that a lot of the fans are curious about how that happened, so the comic lets me tell that story.
It also allows me to do flashbacks in the six issue arc to events that took place on December 1 during Season 1. December 1 in our universe is Dick Grayson’s birthday, so we get to see what his birthday was like five years ago and what it’s like today. And in issue #25 of this arc, we’ll show a little bit of what took place in between the two seasons. It’s something cool that happened just after the end of Season 1.
So all that flexibility allows me to play with a lot of characters and introduce new characters and all sorts of stuff. I’m just loving doing the comic and having a great time with it.
“Young Justice: Invasion’s” eighth episode airs Saturday morning at 10:30 AM/9:30 AM Central