The Warner Archive Collection brought its highly acclaimed DC Entertainment animated series "Young Justice" to Long Beach Comic Con. From voice actors and writers to composers and show creatives, the hour-long discussion boasted a group of well over 15 panelists and a full room of DC Comic fans, every one gathered to discuss the fondly remembered show.
Diving into the discussion, panel moderator Jevon Phillips asked the producers to talk about some of the challenges of getting the show into production. "First was coming up with something new that we haven't seen before," writer Brandon Vietti recalled, stressing that they had to make sure they lived up to the great DC Comics animation that came before them. "Justice League Unlimited" had just finished its final season in 2006, and it was a little intimidating creating a show following in its footsteps. Greg Weisman echoed Vietti's feelings, adding, "Intimidation is an understatement: We were terrified."
The producers were able to solve the creative direction of the series problem by developing a covert operations premise instead of the normal superhero show. "The show was first and for most a spy show, second about teens and only third, a superhero show," Weisman said. Grounding "Young Justice" in the spy world while creating a coming of age storyline was necessary in order to separate the series from "Justice League Unlimited." Because everything needed to be more reality based, artist Phil Bourassa took the better part of three years to create and craft costumes that would support the show's tone. "I wanted to take something classic, recognizable and iconic and turn the dial just enough so that you're getting this believable real world feel without losing the nostalgia," he explained.
While character design plays a major role in defining a cartoon's tone, music is just a crucial. Composer Kristopher Carter spoke about living up to the captivating melodic tones established in previous DC Comics animation. "We had a challenge, because I [composed] on the Justice League and Teen Titan shows, and the music we did needed to have a separate identity from [those two series]." Weisman and Vietti actually provided the composers with a comprehensive mix tape of songs they wanted them to emulate. Composer Michael McCuistion said, "That was so very different from anything we had ever done, which [was] scary but was also very exciting... It was a really interesting and fresh way for us to think about doing superhero music. So we had a blast!"
Shifting the discussion to "Young Justice's" actors, Phillips asked about their individual levels of "Fandom." Some openly confessed to never reading comic books or only being vaguely familiar with the DC Comics Universe and the characters they portrayed. "I never read any of the comics, so I wasn't familiar with Lex Luthor, but I did play him before," Mark Rolston said, jokingly adding, "But I thought, a man who has everything -- it should be easy to fit into his shoes." The room erupted in laughter as he stood up and gestured to his humble clothing.
Other actors, like Eric Lopez (Blue Beetle), offered a different perspective. "I didn't start reading comics until high school, and that was only because of the art work." Lopez was an artist, and after he opened his first comic, "I fell in love with the stories!" When he was presented with the opportunity to play Blue Beetle, he "was very excited! I am always rooting for Latino characters in comics."
James Arnold Taylor (Flash) seemed to be the biggest genuine fanboy of the group, saying he had been a comic book guy since he was a kid. "When you walk in [the studio] and you get to meet the actors who voiced the characters -- I got overwhelmed with excitement!" He recalled pointing to the actors, stating their character names while gawking like a ten-year-old.
One technique utilized on the series was to have the actors voice their characters all together, an approach that is not unheard of, but is somewhat uncommon. "It's radio play. When you do a video game or promo, you're all alone. You get kind of isolated. But [in the studio], it is so much better because these guys are all surrounding you" Taylor said, with several other panelists nodding their agreement.
Phillips soloed out Nicole Duduc (Iris West-Allen) and asked her to describe what it was like as one of the few women working on the show. "I had a total blast. I was a writer on the show, and I kept bugging Greg to let me audition. He finally got me a part on there, and standing in the room with this group of actors blurred the line for me, like, 'Are these the real characters?' when hearing their voices, or are we all acting?"
It did get a little "blue" in the studio at times, Weisman revealed. The actors would go off the cuff and improvise at times, using language that, while funny, was not usable in the final product.
Duduc segued into an interesting topic of the "fake auditions" the producers put the cast through. During auditions for season one, the producers noticed information about the characters leaking onto the Internet."We created a completely different show called 'Cloud Ninja Storm City', or something," Weisman said, with the goal of protecting the show from criticism before it even aired. Weisman created not only code names for the original "Young Justice," line-up of characters, but a comprehensive fake script for the actors to audition with, with dialogue that mimicked certain traits the real characters might say. "People have the tendency to take very little bits of information and run negative with it, and they [fans] know very little and they're already sure were going to do something really horrible to each character" Weisman said. When asked about scripting for the fans, writer Kevin Hopps laughed, saying, "I appreciate the fans very much, but Greg is my boss, so I just listen to him." Duduc simply said he "just steered clear of the Internet."
The panel brought up an interesting fact about some of the character designs for minor characters: Some were actually based on people who worked on the series. The man barbecuing with his family only to be frozen by Mr. Freeze in the opening scene of the very first episode, was based on Bourassa. Another example is Dr. Wilcox, who debuted in season 2. He was modeled and named after David Wilcox, the series' line producer. "I was the one torturing the kids," he said with a smile.
Slang words like "whelmed" and "turbed" were called "unwords," something Weisman worked out with his kids. "We used to joke about, if people are overwhelmed and underwhelmed, how come no one is ever just whelmed? That's perfect for Dick Grayson. Dick would be the kind of guy that would question the very language he's using." As for the futuristic slang words used on the series, "It's really ironic, but that whole thing about 'feel the mode' and stuff like that, that was the slang we used at my high school in the '70's! We used it as future slang, but it was actually from the very distant past!"