‘Young Justice’ Q&A: Producers Talk Team-Building, Going Real, And Comics Crossovers

Last week, we gave you an exclusive first look at “Young Justice” villain Mister Twister, who will make his debut in next week’s episode of the new Cartoon Network animated series. Before that happens, however, the two-part series premiere continues tonight (7 PM Eastern on Cartoon Network) with “Independence Day, Part 2.”

Given the great response to the six-minute “Young Justice” trailer we premiered here on Splash Page back in November, the adventures of DC’s new teen superhero team have found quite a following — which is why I reached out to producers Greg Weisman (“Gargoyles”) and Brandon Vietti (“Batman: Under The Red Hood”) for more info about how the series came together and what to expect this season.

From team-building decisions to finding a place for the series in DC continuity, Weisman and Vietti offered a great look at the past, present, and future of their teenage team.

MTV NEWS: So when it comes time to build the roster for a team like this, what goes into the decision? Are you picking names out of a hat? How does the selection process begin?

GREG WEISMAN: First, I compiled a list of about 50 or 60 teen DC heroes. We started with as wide a selection as we could and then we tried to narrow it down based on a number of criteria. The criteria included a good mix of powers, skills etc. It had to do with it being a good diverse group, but we had our own personal geek preferences, too. There was also age, gender, and a number of other things, like personality or origins. We also looked for characters that had, frankly, baggage — something we could make some hay out of. And that’s how we wound up with our half dozen.

MTV: When the series was first announced, people thought it would be a cartoon based on the old comic book series with that name. Then there was some confusion when the roster got out and it didn’t match up. Where does “Young Justice” fit in the greater DC universe?

BRANDON VIETTI: As we were developing the show, we looked at “Teen Titans,” and at “Justice League,” and all of the other DC shows that came before us. It was up to find a new way to do a superhero show. For us, it was about making the show as realistic as possible — more realistic than “Teen Titans” or “Justice League” or “Legion Of Super Heroes. ” We decided realism would be the stamp of our series. All decisions about the stories and the characters and their costumes were spun out of the question of how we make it real.

MTV: Whenever anyone starts talking about making a superhero project “real,” the conversation inevitably turns to making it “darker.” Is this a “darker” teen superhero series?

VIETTI: I don’t know that it’s darker. I think, when you decide to go more realistic with your tone, it can feel heavier. Danger feels more real when it happens. The dramatic consequences of dangerous situations impact your characters psychologically, and we play that as well as we can. I think there’s more gravity, certainly. That’s not to say that we’re a completely dark show. We’ve put a lot of focus on bringing our teenagers to life with moments of levity. Teenagers in real life are all about having fun, and we’ve tried to create fun situations to make our characters feel as realistic as possible, too.

WEISMAN: In this day and age, comics going dark seems to be their go-to mode. If anything, we tried to think in terms of grounding the series instead of going light or dark. This is a world where you have a strange visitor from another world flying around Metropolis, you’ve got a guy in a cape swinging around Gotham City, and you’ve got magic, science-fiction, and all sorts of staples of the superhero genre — which, of course, is a bastard genre. I say that with tremendous affection. It’s a genre that’s cobbled together from every other genre in existence, whether it’s science-fiction or fantasy or detective stories or anything else you can name. We look at it as if these things exist in the world, but we don’t take them for granted.

Grounding the series extends to how these kids react to situations, too. Being a teenager really means having something to prove — you have to prove things to your peers, to your teachers, to your parents and most especially to yourself. You’re trying to decide who to be in this world. When you’re also superheroes, that exponentially aggravates all those problems. Everything that’s funny about being a teenager is in there. Everything that’s dramatic about it is in there. You’ve got six teenagers with their hormones running wild, as well as lots of other characters in there. It sounds like we’re throwing everything and the kitchen sink in there, but that’s how life is.

MTV: You mentioned having some geek preferences for certain characters. Who were you campaigning to have on the team when the selection process began?

WEISMAN: Well, the characters weren’t really selected from a geek standpoint, but more from the concept of the universe. It’s a young universe. Superman would only have put on the cape 10 years ago. The Justice League was founded four years ago. Given those facts, it defined for us as geeks who we didn’t want to include to some degree. The example I’ve given in the past is that I wrote “Captain Atom” for DC Comics for years and have a huge affinity for the character, and he’s in the show, but he has a really minor role. I wanted to give him a bigger role in the show, but because he’s got no particular relationship with any of these teens, it just never worked out. So once we sort of figured out the basics of the universe, the series told us who was or wasn’t in it.

VIETTI: I’ll say this about some of the character choices: I can’t go into names of our guest stars or villains, but we fond some guys in the DC universe who seemed a little ridiculous in the past, or maybe seemed a better fit for a show like “Batman: The Brave and the Bold,” but once we looked into those characters, we found some great ideas in them and reimagined them for our series. They’re very different and very cool now.

MTV: Everyone wants to know if more of the classic teen characters will make an appearance in the show — other George Perez-era Teen Titans, for example…

WEISMAN: No one’s off limits. No one’s off the board. We’re going to meet more teen characters in this season than the six or seven we start with. We have 26 episodes this season, which we’re thrilled about, but we won’t pretend we don’t want to do additional seasons. So if the audience wants to see more teen characters, they have to keep our ratings high so that they keep ordering more episodes. But even in the first 24 episodes, we have 174 DC characters. That doesn’t even count episodes 25 and 26. There will probably be about 180 by the time we’re done.

MTV: And I’d imagine you have many more stories to tell with this cast, given the chance…

VIETTI: We could probably keep telling stories in this universe for a long, long time…

WEISMAN: Plus, we’ve got the comic book Kevin Hopps and I wrote. Issue #0 is coming out this month. We have six issues from Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani, who pitched in while Kevin and I were deep in production, then starting with issue 7, Kevin and I take over the writing again. So in addition to the 26 episodes, we have an ongoing comic set in the same universe and very much in continuity. All the animated series’ episodes have timestamps on them, so you’ll know exactly where these episodes fit in with the comic, because the comic will also have timestamps.

“Young Justice” airs Friday nights at 7 PM Eastern on Cartoon Network.

Let us know what you think of the interview in the comment section or on Twitter! You can also follow me, Splash Page editor Rick Marshall, on Twitter!