Q&A With Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti: Creators Of Young Justice

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti, the creators of Young Justice. They shepherded the series successfully through four seasons; the first eponymous season, then […]

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti, the creators of Young Justice. They shepherded the series successfully through four seasons; the first eponymous season, then Invasion, Outsiders, and now Phantoms. We spoke about what made their series special and unique in a sea of similar superhero shows. The following is edited for clarity.

Fanboy Factor:  How are you guys doing? It’s a real honor to be able to ask you some questions today.

Greg Weisman: We’re honored that you’re taking the time for us. We appreciate it.

Brandon Vietti: Yeah, very much.

FF: I’ve been watching the show since the beginning, and I’ve always been a very big fan. It’s one of the more sophisticated shows that DC offers in animated form. Are there other shows you were influenced by, directors, or other authors that you brought to the table when you decided to put this project together?

GW: There are tons of influences. Some are probably more subliminal than others. I was hugely influenced my entire career by the television series, Hill Street Blues

FF:  The giant ensemble cast idea?

GW: Yeah, and just the ongoing storylines. I have this whole theory that all of modern television is derived from Hill Street Blues, but that’s an essay that would take way too much time and really not be about Young Justice very much. That was a huge influence. Buffyverse was a huge influence to me. And I’ve worked in comics since 1983, so all that stuff…

FF: Just builds and builds and builds.

GW: Also, both Brandon and I are huge Northern Exposure fans. That show probably isn’t one that people wouldn’t automatically think about, but I do think that influenced us as well.

BV: Yeah, that’s a good one. I learned a lot about writing from that show, and I can’t tell you how many times I watched through those episodes, particularly in college, when I was in art school. That was syndicated at the time and it would be on late at night, and I would have it on while I was drawing on my assignments. So yeah, it was great to finally connect with Greg so many years later and to have that sort of common ground about how they were writing characters and some of their interesting story structures. All of that was just great stuff I think for us to work with. What are some of my other influences? It’s hard to list everything, but Superfriends? That cartoon was my introduction to the DC Universe. You can certainly see that on the screen.

At the time we were starting the series, I was watching things like Ghost in the Shell, playing games like Splinter Cell, so there’s definitely some spy-vibes, sort of futuristic police-action-type vibes that are certainly ingrained in the show. I think it gives our superhero show a little bit of a different flavor. Honestly, science. I love science. Greg and I are trying to fold in some realistic science. There are a lot of science fiction elements in here, but once in a while, we try to throw in stuff that feels very much like true science. There’s a lot of stuff about genetics in the show, throughout every season, and that certainly comes from my love of science in general. So yeah, it’s quite a melting pot of different ideas and different influences, but it all goes into the show and hopefully helps make us stand apart from some of the great superhero shows that came before us.

FF: When you mentioned the Splinter Cell, I do remember that everybody in season two had a stealth outfit.

GW: Season one, also.

FF: Right. How hard was it to get back up to speed after the show was revived?

GW: Yeah, it wasn’t hard, it was fun. I mean, making a show is hard, but I don’t think it was any harder.

FF: So, getting the band back together again isn’t as hard as getting the band.

GW: There’s an element of getting the band back together, and the fact of life that not everybody in the band is going to be available right when you need that to happen. So we had a bunch of great people who worked on season one and or season two and then brought in new people. That’s a good thing, to bring in new voices and new talents that helped us with season three. And the same thing happened with season four, because, you know, by the time we got the pick-up for season four, the show had ended and our whole crew had dispersed. So when it came time to staff up, we got some people back from seasons one, two, and three, and we got some great new people as well.

FF: That’s pretty neat. One of the cool things that I’ve noticed about the show that a lot of other shows don’t do at all, (in American animation, as far as I know) is how you’ve allowed the characters to age. You do the time jumps between the seasons; there was a five-year time jump, then a two-year time jump, then another one-year time jump, and after each one, the characters have evolved. What made you guys decide you wanted the characters to grow up?

BV: I think with the title, Young Justice, number one, we knew we were going to be telling stories about youthful heroes. Coming of age was certainly going to be one of the big textures that we wanted to explore. Growing the characters was something we hadn’t really seen before in animation, and we knew that would help us in our primary goal of growing the characters and showing characters come of age, grow up, learn, evolve, these are all very, very important things to us. We were generally interested in that, but also we knew that those were elements that would help set us apart from other shows as well. It’s been extremely rewarding to have the opportunity to go the four seasons and continue to grow and push. Evolve. Not just the characters, but the stories; how we tell the stories, the structures of the stories, the themes, the topics, the maturity level. All of these things are like new tools that come to the writing-table as we move to the streaming services. And all of it has been fantastic for us to work with, to continue to expand our version of the DC Universe, and then see how that impacts our core characters that we started within the first season.

FF: Let’s follow up on that; in the last season or so, there have been much more serious themes. You’ve done regicide, there’s death, there’s betrayal, there’s marriage, there’s more death. It doesn’t feel grim, it doesn’t feel dark, but it does feel very mature these themes. Episode #5 was all about grief and loss and regret. The scene where Artemis pulls over in the parking lot just to cry? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that in costumed vigilante animation, ever.  Is this a by-product of having older characters, or are these just the types of stories you want to tell?

GW: I think it’s all of the above. These are the stories we want to tell. Writing about death from the standpoint of the survivors is something that’s always interested me. And, so dealing with those themes, I think just fits our show. If you look at Harry Potter, in the first book, these are young kids, and they’re on this exciting adventure. It’s not that it’s not dangerous, but the tone of the whole thing is younger. By the time you get to that seventh book, it’s all gotten much, much darker, much more mature, but so have the characters. They’ve aged.

FF: Right.

GW: So the fact that we age our characters, that our Dick Grayson starts at age 13 and is now 24 is significant. It allows us to get into more mature stories. Cartoon Network was a great partner for us for those first two seasons, but by moving to DC Universe last season and now HBO Max this season, it’s allowed us to deal with more mature themes. We have the freedom to deal with more mature themes more objectively. So, yes. As our audience grows up with the show, the show is growing up with our audience. All of that is very conscious and intentional on our parts.

FF: That’s excellent. Let me just ask you a question about the character selection. There’s this huge, huge well you’re drawing from; you stuck in the Milestone characters, you did that really sly nod to the Challenge of the Superfriends.  I couldn’t believe it when you guys used Jemm, son of Saturn. That was just awesome. You yanked him out of comic book purgatory. What attracts you to these really oddball characters and is there anyone off-limits? How do you guys go about picking who you want to use for the show?

BV: Well, at this point, I don’t think anyone is off-limits, we’ve never had any limits given to us

GW: But we did in Season One. Season one we had four characters, and I don’t know why they were off-limits, I don’t know why they were taken, they said, “Now you can’t use them”. I don’t know what the legal realities were behind that, but there were four characters in season one we weren’t allowed to use, all of which we’ve since used. But since then, I don’t think any character is off-limits. At least they haven’t given us any.

BV: Right, and it’s been fun, to go into some of the lesser-known characters and try and flesh them out a little bit more.

FF: I’m a huge Legion of Super-Heroes fan, so I was really excited to see the Legion on the show. If you want to talk about obscure characters with weird backgrounds, it’s the Legion. So, yeah, I was thrilled to see that.

GW: I think for me, something happened very early on.  Season one we decided to use Sportsmaster. I talked about it with our original character designer Phil Bourassa, and I said, “You know, he’s a blue-collar Deathstroke.” Then, he built a design for Sportsmaster that just really kicked ass, and Nick Chinlund came in and did the voice for him. I thought, “My god. If we can make Sportsmaster a cool character, we can make anyone a cool character.” So I really think that Sportsmaster was our key to realizing that it didn’t HAVE to always be the A-list character. That we could do some really amazing stuff with characters that are normally considered B-list, C-list, D-list, F-list, whatever. That the sky’s the limit, so why not avail ourselves?

 There were more things I wanted to ask, but I’ll save them for next time when I’ll try to get in my Billy Batson question. I enjoyed learning about one of my favorite shows.  I very much appreciate the opportunity to interact with such talented and creative people.  My thanks to Brandon Vietti, Greg Weisman, and the team at HBO Max that made it possible. 

About Dan Kleiner

Dan Kleiner is a strange visitor from another planet who resides in Brooklyn, New York with two cats and his amazing girlfriend. When not plotting world domination, he spends a great deal of his time watching movies and anime of all sorts, reading comic-books and book-books, studying politics and history and striving for the day when he graduates as a Class A-Weirdo.