When it comes to teen superheroes in general and DC Comics' classic sidekicks in particular, the rap that they mostly get saddled with is a reputation for ridiculous banter, frequent troubles with death traps and a generally sunny disposition. But the new animated series "Young Justice" is looking to dispel those notions with a black ops teen team armed with drama and determination.
Only four episodes in, and Cartoon Network's latest DC Entertainment adaptation has already piqued the interest of many comic fans thanks both to its close ties to the DC Comics Universe and its curveball twists to the expected order. The series takes place on Earth-16 -- an officially sanctioned reality of DC's multiverse canon -- and has already inspired some stories on the paper publishing side of the company including the introduction of a new Aqualad in "Brightest Day" based on the TV show's hero and a monthly "Young Justice" tie-in comic that hews closely to the shows expansive plotline. At the same time, viewers have had mystery after mystery thrown at them about the origins of some of the on screen teens, including Superboy and the new as-yet unseen on screen beyond the opening credits Artemis.
To get an inside look at how the show came together, CBR News spoke with series producers Greg Weisman ("Gargoyles," "The Spectacular Spider-Man") and Brandon Vietti ("Batman: The Brave & The Bold," "Under The Red Hood") for their take on what makes "Young Justice" stand apart from past DC animated series. Below, the pair riff on making Earth-16 a realistic backdrop for action stories, the mysteries and secrets inherent in the show's black ops high concept and the characters who will play the biggest role in the arc of the series-planned 26-episodes season.
CBR News: Gentlemen, "Young Justice" is a bit of a departure from some of the previous DC animated series, and a big part of what people are sensing as different about it is how connected it is to what DC Comics is doing. How has this process been different from previous DC shows Warner Bros. has done?
Greg Weisman: Well, I can't speak for the previous DC animated shows. I wrote for some of them, but I was just a freelancer on the outside of the process. But there's no doubt that on this show, we've been really tight with DC. Ivan Cohen, who just left, and especially Geoff Johns and now Mike Carlin -- it's been a very close process, and they've been involved since day one. They're very cooperative and great partners on the project.
"Young Justice" is a series that takes its name from a DC book, but it isn't exactly what you'd call a straight adaptation. Were you guys looking to do a teen team show in general and found a comic series to help flesh out the background?
Brand Vietti: Going back to the start of it, Sam Register who's our boss here at Warner Animation put Greg and I together. I think one of the first things he wanted us to think about was a "Justice League" show. And Greg and I said, "Love the idea, but..."
Weisman: It terrified us.
Vietti: [Laughs] Yeah! Bruce Timm had just done an awesome "Justice League" show not that long ago, and we really didn't want to try and do it again. It just felt like to new of a thing. At some point, the idea of a younger hero show came up, and then "Young Justice" came up and that started the conversation rolling together. That got all of our interest -- another teen show but not too close to something like "Teen Titans." It was maybe a little closer to "Justice League," but it could stand on its own compared to both of those shows, which were great shows. From that point, Greg and I started really thinking about it.
We were both interested in trying to do a new take on a teenage superhero show. We'd both, in the pasts of our careers done teenage superhero shows, and there's a lot of "-isms" that are sort of common to those shows. We wanted to put all that behind us and try to find a new way to do a teenager superhero show. We've really focused on trying to ground the series and make it feel more realistic than anything we've done before. We thought that would make a great stamp of originality on "Young Justice" as a series. From the bottom up, we think of it a little bit like a teenager reality show. We're just dealing with teenagers who happen to be superheroes.
With a cast this size on a show designed for general audiences, some of the characters like Robin are pretty easy to identify while Superboy or Miss Martian might require a bit more explanation. Is there a character you view as the star of the show?
Weisman: I think we've got six leads plus a boatload of supporting characters of secondary or tertiary characters. And amongst our six leads, we try to share the wealth. I think obviously if you take the pilot and cut it in half -- because it really is two episodes -- you get one episode that focuses equally on Aqualad, Kid Flash and Robin and one episode that obviously focuses on Superboy. As the series progresses, particularly the six that follow the pilot, we try to give each one of those six a shot to lead. Plus, we don't ignore the other five during any of those. Episode three focuses on Miss Martian, but we're not losing focus of the other four. And Artemis hasn't even joined the show yet. So we really try to spread the wealth.
Having said that, obviously our conception of Superboy is a little bit different from what people see in the comics. I think it's true to the origins of the character, but it's definitely a new interpretation. In the same way, our new interpretation of Aqualad is a whole new guy wearing the red and blue. We wanted to make sure we were conceptually introducing him, but Aqualad compared to Aquaman isn't that hard to get across as a concept. You've got to see how he operates and what his personality is like. But Superboy you've got to understand the concept of Superman in order to get this kid at all. Then you've got to understand that cloning...we just didn't want to make it seem like cloning happens all the time here. We wanted to make a big deal of it.