Television continues to deliver the message that these days, teenagers are all about the bling, smoking a j, getting it on, and getting crunked. If you don’t have any idea what those terms mean, well, then perhaps you shouldn’t be doing any of it. But both parents and cynics have reason to hope, as a new animated program has promised us that in the future, teenagers will possess super powers and fight for good, in a veritable legion of do-gooders.
If you’re a comic book reader, you’ve heard of DC Comics’ Legion of Superheroes, whether it be because of the rabid fanbase, the complex history, or the enduring popularity of the team. With their recent debut in the Kids WB animation block, Saturday mornings on the new CW network, everyone’s hearing about the Legion for a different reason: they’re media darlings. Earning praise from a number of print and online sources, “Legion Of Super Heroes” has resonated with both fans and critics, acting as the perfect introduction into the world of the Legion and as a legitimately fun show for fans of the superhero team’s mythos. CBR News recently spoke with the show’s Producer James Tucker, providing a bit of history for those unfamiliar with the Legion. Now it’s Rob Hoegee’s turn, who serves as Series Story Editor/Head Writer for the show.
Hoegee may be best know for his work on the other hit DC Comics animated series “Teen Titans,” where he was also the Story Editor, before coming over to “Legion.” As a fan of DC’s futuristic superhero team, he’s read through numerous incarnations of the Legion, finding the inspiration for the new show from a specific era. “I’ve probably drawn the majority of my inspiration from the Silver Age run – mostly in terms of the sense of fun and adventure it had,” Hoegee told CBR News. “One of the great aspects of writing for Legion is how each new creator brought his or her own interpretation to the world and characters. I’d like to think we’re doing the same thing here. You hear the words ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’ all the time in our corner of the studio.”
Though the various writers may toss around a variety of story ideas, when it came to code-names, all were in agreement. Eschewing the more “current” names for the Legionnaires, such as Live Wire and Apparition, Hoegee & Co. chose the classic hero names, such as Lightning Lad and Phantom Girl. “There never was much of a debate here,” admitted the writer. “As far as all of us were concerned (network included), it couldn’t be the Legion without the classic names. Same goes for flight rings and the rocket ship HQ.”
Speaking of the cast, the Legion has earned its name over the years, with the team’s comic book series numbering in the dozens, and from what fans have seen, this series will easily keep the team’s memberships in double digits. When asked how he chose which characters to focus on, Hoegee, explained, “It’s a lot like casting a sitcom. You look at who works well together and go with it. We knew Superman would always be standing at the center, so a large part of the decisions were based on creating a team around him. They needed to be equally iconic. One look at them should give you a pretty good idea of who they are and what their power is – or at least set your imagination off to work. I love all of the characters, but Bouncing Boy and Brainiac 5 I have a special fondness for.”
Superman’s seen a lot of different interpretations in the realm of animation, from his straight laced appearances in “Super Friends,” to his more nuanced portrayal in “Superman: The Animated Series” and “Justice League Unlimited.” In “Legion,” we’re seeing a young Superman in quite a different light, new to the superhero game and not quite so sure of himself. “The whole Superman mythos is something that’s always resonated with me,” said Hoegee. “What’s great about this show is we’re getting to explore a period of his life that’s seldom been depicted. I don’t think we’re going to do anything ‘different’ in terms of continuity or character, but we’re getting a chance to dig a little deeper, and hopefully add something interesting to his character and legacy.”
If reactions to the first few episodes are to be believed, Hoegee has succeeded in more areas than just that. Critics and fans seem to agree on their love for “Legion Of Super Heroes,” a reaction that puts a smile on Hoegee’s face. “I’m sure that for long-time Legion fans, seeing some of their favorite characters in their very own show for the first time must have been special,” he said. “Legion fans are notoriously vocal. The sentiment of ‘don’t screw it up’ is something I’ve been very mindful of. In terms of writing, I’ve taken the approach that everyone – even supporting Legionnaires – are treated as if they’re the star of the show. Plus having a great writer like Amy Wolfram work with me on it certainly didn’t hurt.”
Hoegee also credits the Legion’s rich mythos as a large part of the show’s success, allowing him to balance drama and humor. “It’s a great sandbox for sure. Having something set 1000 years in the future always presents limitless possibilities. For me personally, I always enjoy introducing new characters. Plenty of that with Legion.”
Every hero needs some good villains, so for a team as large as the Legion, fans can expect a bevy of interesting adversaries. “The Fatal Five play a big part in season one and I’m sure they will continue to throughout the series,” revealed Hoegee. “It’s already been reported that Starfinger will make an appearance as well as The Sun Eater. As for the rest, I have to leave a few surprises.”
One member of the Fatal Five has a special connection to the Legion: he’s one of their own! In the classic Legion comics, Validus was revealed to be the son of Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl (yes, it’s a bit complicated), and since his appearance in the first “Legion” episode, fans have been wondering if that relationship will be addressed or remain intact in the show. “I really don’t know how we would ever deal with that in the scope of this show, but it does make it fun for the fans knowing that he could be,” admitted Hoegee.
With superhero programs such as “Justice League Unlimited” and “Teen Titans,” viewers have become accustomed to the large, “epic” storylines for their favorite heroes. “Legion Of Super Heroes” has been focusing on stories that begin and end in a single episode, something that Hoegee explained doesn’t negate the chance for epic stories. “The trend these days is for more contained ‘stand alone’ episodes, but James Tucker and I are interested in finding ways to have some continuing threads in the future. Character arcs are another matter though. We do have quite a bit of emotional continuity between episodes. Another trick is to make each episode feel ‘epic’ on its own.”
Writing stories for “Legion of Super Heroes” is hardly conducive to a typical day, said Hoegee, who says that the unique nature of each tale makes the endeavor quite fun. “It’s a pretty cool job. I love that I get paid to make stuff up. Since we work freelance, the hours depend entirely on the writer. It’s sort of like when you have a term paper in school: if you start as soon as you get the assignment it’s usually pretty painless. If you wait till the last minute, an all-nighter is inevitable. In my capacity as Story Editor, I try to keep normal business hours – same for when I’m writing. I know others however who work better at 3 am.
“Writing an episode usually takes about 6-8 weeks start to finish. On Legion, most of our stories are generated internally – meaning I’ll come up with an idea (or James Tucker will, or we will together) and then a writer is hired. After a premise is approved by DC and the network, I’ll sit down with the writer and flesh out the entire episode beat for beat. Once everything is figured out – and this usually takes a few hours – I’ll bring James into the room and pitch him what we’ve got. He’ll add his ideas and then the writer goes off to write an outline. Then the fun begins.”
With a new episode premiering Saturday morning, Legion fans can continue to expect the same combination of humor and action that they’ve come to love, but Hoegee says there’s also a lot of drama coming up as well. “Lots of new characters, that’s for sure,” he said of what to expect. “We’ve got a two-part season finale that promises to be a real knockout. We actually get a bit epic in the last three episodes, with writing duties split between Amy Wolfram, David Slack and myself. As far as hints, I’ve noticed in the fan feedback to our ‘Timber Wolf’ episode many were wondering why we set the story on the planet Raal instead of Zoon. This wasn’t an oversight. You’ll find our why in episode 9.”