Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash, Superboy, Miss Martian and Artemis are set to join forces as Warner Bros. Animation launches its latest series, “Young Justice” on Friday, November 26. The two-part pilot, “Independence Day,” is scheduled to air at 7 p.m. EST on the Cartoon Network, with “Young Justice” slated to become a regular fixture in the Cartoon Network Friday-night programming block beginning in January 2011.
Set on Earth-16, “Young Justice” follows the lives of alternate versions of DCU’s greatest teenaged superheroes and sidekicks, who have been assembled by Batman as members of a covert operation team. Sam Register (“Batman: The Brave and the Bold”) is the executive producer while Brandon Vietti (“Batman: Under the Red Hood,” “Superman: Doomsday,” “The Batman”) and Greg Weisman (“Gargoyles,” “The Spectacular Spider-Man”) are the producers. The voice cast includes Jesse McCartney, Khary Payton, Jason Spisak, Nolan North, Danica McKellar and Stephanie Lemelin.
McCartney, who plays Robin, is primarily known as a singer-songwriter. A former member of the boy band Dream Street, he has since released three solo albums. His latest album, “Have It All,” will be released on December 28. When not making albums, McCartney has branched out into acting, most recently appearing on “Greek.” His previous voice work includes playing Theodore for “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and its sequel and JoJo on “Horton Hears a Who!”
McCartney told CBR News that playing Robin is a great honor and his ultimate goal is to make the Boy Wonder everything fans of the character want him to be.
CBR News: Robin is obviously one of the most recognizable superheroes in all of comicdom, but what was your familiarity with the character before you answered the call to play the Boy Wonder on “Young Justice”?
Jesse McCartney: I was big cartoon fan when I was a kid and watched all of the cartoons with Batman and Robin. I saw all the movies. I was just an action hero fan. I have a few comics but I wasn’t real versed in the comics world before getting this job, I was just a huge fan of the action hero, Robin himself and his sort of evolution over the years. And what’s great about “Young Justice” is that we see him at his earliest stage of being a superhero. He’s this prepubescent, cocky little kid that ends up becoming the leader of this team. And really early on in the season, you’ll see that and that was part of the appeal for me of taking this job and getting to work with all these characters and all of these voiceover recording artists.
You’re playing Dick Grayson in “Young Justice” as opposed to Tim Drake or the current Robin, Damian Wayne. What do we need to know about your take on the original Boy Wonder heading into the pilot?
These are only 22-minute shows, so they’re really just trying to re-introduce the relationships. You see a lot of scenes of him and Batman where Batman is encouraging him to step up and be a leader of this team and Dick Grayson is very reluctant to do that because he still feels that he doesn’t know enough, which you do see throughout the episodes. You’ll see that he’s still very young and still very green when it comes to leading a team like this. And they incorporate a lot of drama, as well, outside of the team. There is a lot of Superboy and Miss Martian. I was talking to the producer about this and how this show, this time around, they have a lot of outside drama that wouldn’t have been read in any comic. And I think that’s another cool appeal for the show.
Robin also learns pretty early on that no else is going to be able to lead this team. And everyone does get a shot. Aqualad has a huge episode where he tries to take on this team and essentially can’t do it, and there’s a nice scene between him and Robin where you see Robin realize for the first time: “I’m not that kid anymore. I can’t just be this cocky, brash little kid that can’t step up.” And then there’s this scene between Aqualad, Robin and Batman where Robin has to take the reins and that happens pretty early on in this season. Eventually he shows that he is a natural born leader. And that’s just part of what you’ll see from Dick Grayson.
After the leadership challenge, what’s the relationship like between Aqualad and Robin?
I think, at first, Aqualad is maybe threatened by Robin but he truly doesn’t want to let anybody on his team down. Ultimately, that’s the biggest thing. He feels like he’s going to be judged and he’s going to be looked at by Batman and Superman and all the older guys as to how he’s running the team and I think Aqualad, just under the pressure, says to Robin, at one point, “Look. You’re meant to do this, not me. And I’m happy to work for you and I’ll be there for you all the way.” And there’s a nice moment. I don’t think he’s resentful or upset in any way. He just wants what’s best for the team and he ultimately knows Robin is the man for the job.
You teased that there is a burgeoning relationship between Superboy and Miss Martian. Does Robin have a love interest?
No. He’s not that guy. The biggest love triangle is between Superboy, Miss Martian and Kid Flash early on. But Kid Flash is really just the dope of the group. Jason [Spisak] voices Kid Flash and he’s amazing. He plays this real almost douche-y kind of a character. You just want to cringe every time he comes up to you. He’s constantly eating something. There’s always food falling out of his mouth. He’s a bit of a slob but at the end of the day, he gets the job done. And the relationship between Robin and Kid Flash, you can tell they’re really good buddies but Robin is constantly giving him crap for just how much of an idiot he can be but ultimately, when it’s time to get the job done, they get together and they are an amazing team. So I think that’s the comic relief in this show, a lot of it is with Robin and Kid Flash. That’s just another little part of the writing that brings something positive to the show.
Do we get to see much of Robin teaming up with Superboy as kind of a World’s Finest 2.0?
Actually, that’s probably the least amount of interaction that I have with any of the characters is with Superboy. For the first season, a lot of Superboy’s scenes are with Miss Martian. There’s definitely that sexual tension and in the writing, they play that up a lot. So except for when they’re fighting crime, there’s not a whole lot of interaction between Superboy and Robin. But Nolan North, who plays the voice, does an incredible of job of making him this real brooding, dramatic, emotional, hormonal character that really kind of brings another level to this team. Each person really has a job to do. Superboy is the guy who is very moral and he wants everything to be right. And he’s very dramatic. And he’s loud. And he’s ready to rip the head off anybody who gets in his way. And sometimes that includes even his own teammates. But everybody has their place and for me, I’m the guy who realizes this team won’t survive without a leader. And that I really have to keep everybody together and that’s one of the things that Robin does constantly, is try to keep everybody on the same page and stays on task and stays on mission. Because there are people constantly bickering with each other and if it wasn’t for Robin, my character, he would never get these people to work as a cohesive group.
Are these primarily done-in-one, supervillain-of-the-week type episodes or is there is a larger mythos to “Young Justice”?
Both. Some of the storylines continue week-to-week and then within each episode there is a new mission, a new supervillain, like you said, to conquer. But within the characters’ storylines, their personal storylines, that carries over episode to episode.
I probably could have asked you this right off the top but Robin is one of the all-time classic superheroes with 2010 marking his 70th year in comics, do you wear the mask and cape heavily or is this just another voice acting gig?
No, it’s extremely exciting. Like I said, I grew up a fan of animation and of the people that voiced these characters. Mel Blanc was one of my all-time favorite voiceover recording artists and was a huge inspiration for me as a kid and he inspired me to be a part of this early on as a kid and now being a part of it is sort of surreal. I used to watch these shows when I was younger and now to be a part of it is sort of overwhelming and whenever a fan comes up and says, “What character are you playing?” And I say, “Robin.” You can see that they’re like, “No way.” You can tell that they’re thrilled and it’s a cool feeling. That character means a lot to so many people and just the whole comic book world is an audience that’s very, very particular and I’m going to try my very best to give them the character that they want to be. Because they are very particular about how he should be played and what he should be like.