When word came down that Cartoon Network was looking for a new animated series based on a DC comics title, and said series was being looked upon as a Justice League-like show, executive producers Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti were instantly intimidated.
“We were told they wanted something with Justice League or younger characters,” Weisman, the creator of Disney’s Gargoyles and, most recently, the guiding force on the Spectacular Spider-Man animated series, explains. “They threw out the Young Justice title — just the title — and I think we were both terrified, because Bruce Timm’s Justice League Unlimited is so iconic. And Teen Titans is a very different show, but it’s also a great show in the other direction [in terms of age], and so for us to forge something that was new, and wasn’t treading on the turf of those two shows, was sort of scary. But then we found our placement with this covert ops team, and I put together a list – I’m not kidding – of 50 teenage characters for us to choose from.”
The result is that the duo ultimately chose Robin (Dick Grayson), Kid Flash (Wally West), the new Aqualad (created by Geoff Johns in Brightest Day), Artemis, Miss Martian (niece of J’onn J’onzz) and Superboy (the clone of Superman from the comics – “This is a new interpretation of the character,” says Vietti, an animation director whose most recent credit is the DVD film Batman: Under the Red Hood, “but we feel it really stays true to the origins of the character and is a very honest portrayal of him, but I think he’s going to be different from what people expect”) as Young Justice, with Batman doling out assignments and Red Tornado serving as a team supervisor.
And to be given something of a clean slate, Young Justice has no continuity to follow as it’s set on “Earth 16,” one of the many worlds of the DC multiverse.
“We made the decision fairly early on that this was going to be a young DC universe,” Weisman explains. “That Superman will have only put on the cape ten years ago, Batman would have only put on the cape nine years ago, that the heroes haven’t been around that long, and once you’ve made that decision, then the idea of starting with Dick Grayson and Wally West, the original side kicks, they’re still young…”
“I think that also helped us get out from under the shadow of these other shows, like Teen Titans and Justice League,” Vietti adds, “to sort of reset the DC youth, in a way, and that allowed us the freedom to find our own identity.”
Like most of these animated series, Young Justice is designed for a specific audience – boys 6-14 in order for Cartoon Network to sell their ad space. “If you think of it as a bull’s eye with concentric circles, that’s the bull’s eye we have to hit,” notes Weisman, “but I’m not satisfied with that and I don’t think Brandon is either. A, we want boys and girls, so there’s a lot of great relationship stuff in this. There’s humor in this show. I mean, it’s a serious show, but there’s a lot of humor in it; there’s a lot of eye candy for little kids. I think little kids could enjoy this show and some stuff will go over their heads, but they won’t know it’s going over their heads. There are a lot of explosions and guys in costumes, big villains and big events that are eye candy for the youngest audience, but there’s also a lot of sophisticated stories for a teen audience, a college age audience, an old fart audience like me — and I certainly think any fan of DC comics in general is going to find a lot of great stuff from the 75 year history of DC to enjoy in the show.”
Does that means the farts and burps that punctuated Teen Titans won’t be present in Young Justice? “Maybe occasionally,” Vietti smiles, “but we’ve got teenagers and we’re true to that fact. They’re not dry teenagers, they’re fun teenagers. They may not be fun in the middle of a mission – we treat our missions and our action very seriously, but when they’re training together or hanging out together, there will be moments of levity, because they’re teenagers and I think they have genuine teenage reactions.”
Weisman emphasizes that they’re also trying to show a complete picture of the characters’ lives so that the audience doesn’t just see them training or on missions. Instead, there will be glimpses into their home and school lives. “We want to ground this series in reality as much as possible,” he says. “We’re dealing with science fiction and fantasy and superheroes and all the genre stuff, but at the same time we want to try and put it in the context of as much reality as possible and really ground it. We want to see these characters’ lives, their homes, their schools. All this stuff is part of our show; it’s a big canvas we’re painting on.”
Part of that canvas includes the Justice League, which has more than a passing presence on the show, with some characters playing larger roles than others. As noted earlier, Red Tornado watches over the team, but Batman assigns them their missions.
“It’s a little bit like Mission Impossible, actually,” offers Vietti. “Batman is kind of their Jim Phelps, if Jim Phelps didn’t go on the missions with them. So he chooses the team and he sends them out on these covert missions. The show has a generational element, but there’s also an element of the sidekicks saying, ‘We’re ready for the next level.’ There’s an element of the teens saying to the adults, ‘Get on board or get out of the way.’”
“Again,” interjects Weisman, “a show about teenagers. And I think to be true to that, to be true to what a teenager is, there’s a little rebellion there; there’s a little bit of kids wanting to get out on their own, and they want to take the next steps to being an adult. And in this show, we explore that thoroughly. These are their first steps into adulthood. They want their own team, they get their own team and then when they actually go out on missions, it isn’t always exactly what they want it to be. So there’s a lot of discovery that the kids have among themselves and on the missions at the same time.”