"Legion" Producer James Tucker Finds a "Message In a Bottle"

After driving DC Comics' heavy hitters for five years to all parts of the galaxy riding shotgun with Bruce Timm on "Justice League Unlimited," producer James Tucker is about to take the "The Legion of Super-Heroes" to about the only place they failed to explore -- the legendary bottled city of Kandor.

In the original episode "Message in a Bottle," which airs this Saturday, December 1 at 11:00 a.m. on Kids' WB!, Superman and the Legion venture to Kandor to stop the show's resident villain, Imperiex, who seeks an advanced Kryptonian technology believed to be hidden inside.

In describing the episode written by Joseph Kuhr and directed by Scott Jeralds & Brandon Vietti, James Tucker told CBR News, "I liked featuring Kandor because it's one area that we hadn't covered in all the earlier shows that I worked on with Bruce Timm. We never did a Kandor-type show. And so, I was like, 'Okay, this is something that I can add to the Superman mythos that is actually from the comics and I can give it to an audience who aren't necessarily familiar with some of the crazy stuff that's in Superman's history.' It actually fit right into what we are doing with 'Legion' and in a way it's weird because it ties into the continuity of the Legion show perfectly. And it also kind of ties into earlier version of Superman, as well, because of the Braniac connection."

The connection being that in its Silver Age telling, Kandor -- the former capital city of Krypton -- was shrunken and stolen by Braniac several years before Krypton was destroyed. Superman recovered the city and kept it in the Fortrss of Solitude for safe-keeping. A set of circumstances Tucker finds interesting, if not disturbing.

"It's just so crazy," laughed Tucker. "It's the reverse of Gulliver's Travels because Superman has to get small in order to relate to these people, who are already his people. So they know more about his background and his history than he does.

"It's kind of like, if you could go back and visit all of your ancestors and they are all there captured for you, because he has them in his Fortress, it's like, 'I always wondered what happened back when my great-great grandfather was alive. Let's go ask so-and-so in the bottle.' It's kind of morbid that he keeps them in a bottle. But we address that, sort of, in the show too.

"As far as other things to watch in the Kandor episode, there will be a few cameos for diehard fans that I won't ruin," continued Tucker. "I think it's a really solid episode. I think it ties together some stories from the first season, particularly dealing with Superman and Braniac 5. There will be some answers there from some threads we left hanging from Season 1 as far as their interaction and their storyline. And it also opens up a new door to another storyline."

Just past the midway point of Season 2, "Legion of Super Heroes" has found its groove, as Tucker says, "I heard good things about the first season and great things about the second season."

The leap from good to great is likely the result of a new addition to the Legion roster, Superman X, otherwise known as Kell-El from the 41st Century. A clone of Superman, Kell-El is an original creation of Tucker's, and has served the "Legion of Super Heroes" immediatelyasthe yin to Kal-El's yang.  

"I think the two of them interacting is very interesting to watch," said Tucker. "I like the way we are dealing with Superman in that, he's basically coming to the future to learn about his past. That's been the whole key element about using classic Superman. And he's worked well with the new Superman we've introduced, which I am really glad fans have taken a ling to, as well."

In describing his Superman, Tucker hardly sounds like a gushing father. "Kell-El came about because when we were on the bubble for a second season, because we were never guaranteed a second season, the network wanted us to do a little something extra. That's the case on any show, for every season, I don't care what show it is. So we needed to change the dynamic. Give the show some extra oompf. So I came up with the idea, to flip the themes of Season 1, where Season 1 was about the Legion goes into the past to recruit the Superman who influenced them and inspired them. This season, it's about a Superman from the future, who goes into his past to get the Legion and help him. Although, he has no love for the Legion and he is doing it because he is forced to, not because he chose to on his own.

"We took the themes from Season 1, turned them on their head, and instantly created some tension. The first season was about what does it take to make a hero? And this season is the same theme, only it's seen from the eyes of a person, who has a great legacy behind him but doesn't really want it.

"He doesn't really care about being a hero. He's just doing a job. He was created for one thing, and one thing only and that is all he cares about, at first. But that was great actually because future Superman gives classic Superman something to rub off on and build some tension between them. But also, it helped deepen the whole relationships throughout the Legion. Certain characters react well to Kell-El, some don't. He has helped a lot. He has served the purpose that he was designed for, which was to energize and kind of change the dynamic of the team a little bit without totally changing everything else."

Tucker said having the opportunity to create a new version of Superman is a dream come true for the lifelong DC fan.  "It was nice to be able to play with the iconography of Superman, like the color schemes and not have to be beholden to a boy scout image," said Tucker. "It was fun to make a bad-ass Superman. That was a kick to see how far we could go with it. And to know there weren't any restrictions on him because he was our original character."

Tucker explained the only mandate sent down from DC headquarters was that there had to be balance between the appearances made by 'classic' Superman and the ones by Superman X.

Handling the voice for both incarnations of Superman is Yuri Lowenthal, which is no simple task, says Tucker. And yet the veteran voice actor makes it look, or sound, easy.  "From day one, since Yuri was cast as Superman, we knew we had made the right choice," Tucker remarked. "First off, Yuri is a great guy and I find, working on these shows, when you cast someone as a hero, who is well-known, the actors take good care of the role.  They really take it to heart. They feel like they are representing a legend, an icon and Yuri is no different. We made a great choice because Yuri is a great person and a great actor. And he likes being Superman. He likes being part of the legacy. With him, we really struck gold as he is able to do Superman, but also one who is young, youthful but also strong and determined.

"And when the challenge came to do both voices, he really rose to that challenge and pulled it off really well. He immediately got the differences in the two personalities, the similarities and the differences. Our greatest fear was we end up with two Supermans with basically the same voice. And the minute he want in the studio, our fears were gone."

"Message in a Bottle" is the last new episode of "Legion of Super-Heroes" in 2007, but Tucker gave CBR a glimpse of what is ahead in 2008.  "We are going to have the founding of the Legion, that's something to look forward to," said Tucker. "And we are going to have the first episode where Mordru appears. Dream Girl is coming up. And we have a really big season ender that I can't say anything about."

Tucker hinted at a few things to watch out for during this weekend's episode. "All I can say is watch Braniac 5 at the church. I will leave it at that. Don't leave for that. That's all I'll say on that one," teased Tucker. "And also, look for some background stuff in the Fortress. Pay attention to some of the backgrounds in the Fortress of Solitude. That might be fun for fans."

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