Cartoon Network’s DC Nation block made waves again this week when the cable channel’s up front for next year left current DC shows “Green Lantern: The Animated Series” and “Young Justice: Invasion” out of the lineup. But as fans wonder whether the latter series might have a chance at a third season (producers have yet to comment, and when contacted by CBR, a representative from Warner Bros. Animation had nothing to add to CN’s up fronts), there’s still plenty of action left to play out across Season 2.
In its “Invasion” story cycle, “Young Justice” has seen the addition of new team members like Blue Beetle and teen-from-the-future Impulse, the seeming defection of Aqualad as he goes undercover on Black Manta’s sub, the faked death of Artemis on the same undercover mission and most recently, the full plan for world domination by the charming, PR-driven aliens known as The Reach. This Saturday morning on DC Nation, the story adds a new wrinkle with “Runaways” — an episode focusing on former Reach-captured teens with powers of their own.
To catch up on all the recent invasion-filled action, CBR News spoke with executive producers and series masterminds Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti. Below, the pair explain how they’ve worked to balance action between the old and new “Young Justice” team members, how the inclusion of The Reach led to new characters like Green Beetle, what the secrets held by the original six team members and their undercover mission will do to the team and more as the series enters its last seven episodes of the season. Plus, courtesy of Warner Bros., we’ve got a new exclusive clip of this week’s episode!
CBR News: I wanted to start today talking about The Reach. The subtitle for the series — “Invasion” — has been simmering in the background this season, and as we’ve now seen the Reach’s plan for takeover, that idea has come more into focus. How did you decide on using such a modern set of villains in the show?
Greg Weisman: If I recall, wasn’t The Reach a [DC Creative Director] Mike Carlin suggestion to us?
Brandon Vietti: Yeah. We had a meeting at DC where we knew we were doing an invasion theme for the season. We were all talking about it, and I can’t remember if it was Mike or Geoff [Johns] or if it just bubbled up out of both of them that The Reach would be a perfect group to work with for our needs.
Weisman: We knew that Blue Beetle was in the cast, and we had figured out who our heroes all were, but not necessarily who our bad guys all were. [Laughs] I’m pretty sure it was Carlin who made the suggestion. It was a long time ago. But one of the things we did say — and this was a discussion with Cartoon Network — was that we didn’t just want “Independence Day,” with the aliens coming down and blasting the White House. We wanted this invasion to be more subtle. We were already using Blue Beetle, we knew how the invasion would play out, and Mike said, “Well, what about The Reach? They’re part of Blue Beetle’s origin, and it seems to fit perfectly.” Brandon and I did some reading up on The Reach, and it did seem to fit. Then I think the Kroloteans were your idea, right?
Vietti: Yeah. I was flipping through the various DC encyclopedias and comics, and I came across them as our first wave of invaders to work with. They fit nicely into what I needed. From what I read of them, they sneak in and do abductions and experimentations on people from other planets. That worked really well. It was creepy and kind of gross and made a good first wave. Then we had to top that with a second wave, which there was always a plan for, and it turned out to be The Reach.
The past few episodes, we’ve also seen the Green Beetle, which is a totally new character to the DC mythos. Usually in the past, even when you’ve created a new characterization for someone on the show like with Black Beetle, it’s been based on something that came before. What was the impetus for creating a brand-new hero with Green Beetle?
Viettie: For Green Beetle, for us it just made sense. In our timeline, there’s still a population on Mars, and it made sense that if a Scarab was going to make it to Earth, there would also be one on Mars. It felt odd to ignore that. If we’re going to bring a Reach fleet to Earth, it seems like we’d be missing a part of the story if we didn’t bring another neighborhood Beetle in and see what complications that could bring to the story.
How do you approach new characters overall? I feel like you err on the side of established, if obscure, characters for the show overall. Is that why a totally new character is so rare on the show?
Weisman: Well, when it comes to pulling stuff from 20 years ago — I’m just really old. [Laughs]
To me, a character that may seem obscure to our audience is maybe one I have really fond memories of, and since I’m still so incredibly immature, it doesn’t register to me that so much time has passed. I’m just sitting there going, “Oh, we’re going to get to use this guy!” Even with minor characters who are really obscure like Ida Berkowitz, we’ve got some really great help and research from a guy named John Wells who seems to literally know every — and I mean every — character, location or anything that ever existed in any DC comic ever. I can e-mail John and say, “Hey, I need someone who lived in Chicago in a brownstone,” and he’ll come up with Ida Berkowitz for me. The irony, of course, is that I remember Ida Berkowitz. I hadn’t thought of her, but there you go.
But when we’re coming up with a new character, which is pretty rare, it’s not that we have hard and fast rules, but I think it has to be something where we have a very specific need to be filled and we can’t quite find something that fills it. So you have the Terror Twins, for example, that we introduced in issue #0 of the comic book and then in Episode 11 of Season 1. We just needed someone specific for Ms. Martian and Superboy to be able to pose as them in prison.
With Green Beetle, we feel like it came logically out of the concept of what The Reach was up to, not just on Earth but also galacticaly. So that was our little play on that. We made this character of B’arzz O’oomm whose name is obviously a nod to the John Carter books, which I was a fan of also. He’s a green Martian, and we established what green Martians are like. We established a lot about Mars, but we didn’t have the opportunity to go there yet. So all of that stuff comes logically out of both the need for the character Brandon was talking about and what we already knew about Martians.
The Reach has really heightened up Blue Beetle’s role in the show, and through him we’re seeing a lot more of Impulse, Robin and the younger heroes. And talking about callbacks, you even put Mal Duncan in the Guardian armor. Previously, Greg had told us about the desire to keep the original six members of the team together as a focus this season. Was there also an overall arc you wanted to write for the new kids as a unit?
Viettie: I think we definitely wanted to do the compare and contrast between a new generation of heroes and our first season characters who have now taken on the “Senior” role, as we call it. We’ve now got some Freshmen coming in, and that was definitely a goal with the younger kids — to play that dynamic and see what you can get out of it for all the characters. And of course, when you bring in these new younger characters, you want to explore them. They all have great stories they bring with them that have been established in the comics, and we wanted to explore them as much as we could.
Weisman: I’ll admit that we wish we had more room to explore them even more. We had 26 episodes in Season 1 and only 20 in Season 2. Losing those six episodes I don’t think affected our larger story, which is much more plot-driven in Season 2 than in Season 1 in terms of the arc. But despite it not hurting that, I do feel like having six fewer episodes meant that we had a little less time to characterize particularly some of the younger characters. Our original six leads pretty much still drive the show, though they don’t get as much time as we’d like, either. If anything, Jaime may emerge in Season 2 as the seventh lead. In this season at least. But we wanted as much time for Impulse, Robin, Wonder Girl and Batgirl.
It’s an interesting dynamic because we have our six Seniors, like Brandon said. They’re our six originals. Then we have our Freshman group of Robin, Arsenal, Wonder Girl, Blue Beetle and Impulse. But we also have some Juniors in there — Batgirl, Bumblebee and Mal, who’s now Guardian. These are characters who though they weren’t part of the team in Season one in theory joined closer to the beginning of five-year gap as opposed to the end of the five-year gap. We’d like to have some time to explore those Juniors as well as the Seniors and the Freshman. I think it’s fair to say that some characters have gotten shorter shrift than others, but we have a really driving story to tell and fewer episodes to tell it in. We’re doing the best we can.
It seems as though the pendulum swings back and forth between the two poles. Now that Ms. Martian has gone down to Black Manta’s ship to try and repair Aqualad’s mind, can we expect the focus to come back to that original six more?
Weisman: Yes and no. We’ve got that going on, but we also have a handful of other characters that we’ve been building very slowly who are not even Freshman yet. They’re preschoolers! [Laughter] Those are the characters that are the young, runaway teenagers who were kidnapped by The Reach and experimented on. They’re going to emerge as prominent players as the story ramps up over the last seven episodes of the season.
Another thread that’s just be reemerging in the show involves Artemis’ family. I’ve got to say, this is probably the only DC anything that’s made Sportsmaster a legitimate bad ass. [Laughter] But you just replaced him in The Light with Deathstroke, who we hadn’t seen at all before now. What dimension does he bring to the proceedings this late in the season?
Viettie: Well, Sportsmaster is involved going forward. He’s not done yet — we’ll definitely see more of him.
Weisman: Part of this is that sometimes the show tells us what it needs. When you “kill off” Artemis, that’s got to spur a reaction in her family. Obviously, the fact that her death was faked is not something you’re going to risk telling to Sportsmaster or Cheshire. You can’t trust them. So if you do that, there are going to be consequences. And the consequences to us, given the characters we’ve developed on the show, is that Cheshire is going to want revenge for her sister and Sportsmaster is going to want to protect his reputation. So how are they going to respond to the Light when one of the Light’s members is Black Manta saying, “You can’t kill Aqualad. We’re not going to let you do that!” That means you’ve got a breach between the Light and their main enforcer. And if you’re Vandal Savage and you still need an enforcer when you’ve got this guy running around threatening to kill your operatives, you need a new enforcer.
We always talked about Sportsmaster way back when as the sort of blue collar version of Deathstroke, so now it was time to bring in the white collar assassin that is Deathstroke himself. That’ll make for an interesting mix in the series, and it almost felt to us, much like we were saying when we brought Green Beetle to life. It was like, “We don’t have a choice but to use Deathstroke.” Sportsmaster had to do what he did, and Vandal would have to be prepared for that. What other option could there be? And Deathstroke has an agenda of his own, as does Vandal, as does Sportsmaster — as does pretty much everybody on the show.
Wrapping up, you did mention how this season is a much bigger story arc and a much longer through-plot than Season 1, which had longer stories but rolled them out in a more episodic manner. How do you view the last seven episodes on the whole? Is there a final act to be built out of them, or does the whole story to this point steamroll through to the finale?
Viettie: We had kind of broken the 20 episodes of this season into two parts. The first ten was still familiar to a lot of people in that we had our team operating out of a headquarters and investigating what appeared to be a secret invasion. There’s some stability in that and some familiarity. I think our goal for the last ten was to really shake things up. We took their headquarters away from them. The secret invasion is no longer a secret, and in fact, public sentiment is turning away from the heroes in the last ten. Our heroes are more or less on the run. They’re no longer the ones starting from a place of power. They searching for a way to get their power back in a lot of ways. So I think that “on the run” feel was a vibe that we wanted to get across. It was a new way to ratchet the tension up that we hadn’t used before. With every episode of the last ten of our season, things just keep getting worse. We end each episode in a place where you think it can’t possibly get worse, yet we find a way to make it worse! [Laughs] I think that gives you something pretty cool to look forward to.
Weisman: The characters are heroes. They’re going to have their victories here and there, but they’re also going to have their defeats. There are consequences to some of the things they’ve done — some of the secrets they’ve kept and the lies they’ve told. The overall theme for our series from day one has been “Secrets and Lies.” I think we’ve seen that play out already to a great extent in Season 2, and this is going to continue as we play things out through the last seven episodes.
Viettie: And like you had pointed out, we’ve got a return to our core members from the first season. We spent some time in the first ten episodes of the second season establishing new characters, but our core members are coming back into the spotlight in the last ten. Yet at the same time, I think we’ve found a way to keep in all the new characters we’ve introduced as well. Even The Light is starting to come back. I feel they were a bit absent or you didn’t feel their presence as much in the first ten. But in the last ten, you’ve already started to see a little more time spent with them. You’ll get a sense that they’re going to have a larger role in episodes to come. It’s a really long answer to your question, but we definitely did always plan on breaking the season up into two parts and giving each part a unique feel.
“Young Justice: Invasion’s” new “Runaways” episode debuts Saturday at 10:30 AM Eastern and Pacific as part of DC Nation on Cartoon Network.