We’re just going to say it. Young Justice fans are truly some of the best fans out there. Since the ever-popular animated series made its debut over a decade ago in 2010, Young Justice’s fans have stood by the show as it’s moved from cable TV to streaming, then from the DC Universe streaming service to its current home of HBO Max. All the while, the show has become better and better, benefitting from the chance to tell its far-reaching story at the pace it deserves, with room to breathe and the freedom to surprise. If at times the show’s journey to its fourth season, “Phantoms,” has been a bit too fraught with unexpected twists…well, it’s almost fitting. After all, Young Justice is a superhero season about growing up, and what is growing up if not messy?
But getting back to the fans. It’s well-known that Young Justice: Phantoms would never have seen the light of day were it not for the show’s passionate fanbase, and so it seemed only natural to celebrate the show’s midseason return this week with a fan Q&A featuring Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti, Young Justice’s dual showrunners. Earlier this month, fans in the DC Community were asked to submit their questions for Greg and Brandon and as always, they rose to the occasion, submitting dozens of questions about the in-process new season and about the series in general. Now, one day away from the return of Earth-16, we’re pleased to present their answers to eleven of your questions about everything from their production process to the show’s signature time jumps to one of the longest-brewing subplots superhero animation history!
NYJt3: My question is why did you choose the starting roster heroes as the team’s starting roster? Did those starters influence what other heroes to bring in the teams next rosters?
Greg Weisman: We began with a list of over fifty DC teen superheroes and quickly started to narrow it down to a dozen or fewer. We wanted a mix of characters. Some with powers. Some with only mad skills. We wanted to respect tradition with some of the original “sidekicks/proteges,” but we wanted to shake up expectations, as well. And we wanted to prioritize diversity and inclusion. Beyond that, one of the main themes of our series was “Secrets and Lies,” so, obviously, we wanted some of our leads to be keeping secrets and/or telling lies.
Thus, when it came to adding more characters in subsequent seasons, certain parameters were already set. Dick Grayson was a young Robin in season one, so the other Bat-proteges would have to follow him. On the other hand, Kaldur’ahm was our Aqualad, so that meant that Garth began his heroic career as Tempest. The passage of time, created by our between-season time-skips, also dictated who could and couldn’t now be with the Team (or the League or the Outsiders, etc.).
Brandon Vietti: We set out to make a show that was grounded in as much realism as possible in an animated superhero show. So, another factor that was important for us in choosing our Team was finding characters with powers or skills that weren’t so fantastical that they would undermine realism at every turn. We were growing the DC Universe around our Team and through their eyes. With each season, we wanted to progressively introduce our grounded characters to reality-shattering characters and concepts in small increments and make great stories about their reactions to those things.
david.rey0902.23620: Do you think this will be your biggest season finale yet?
GW: I guess it depends on how you define “big.”
BV: I think it’s fair to say that our season four finale was the most challenging to produce of them all. Our crew dug deep, at the end of a long season, to bring their best to the screen, and the end result is a landmark spectacle for our series. The scale, the action, the breathless pace of twists and turns…the horror!
Elop0923.96576: I’m really interested to learn how the show in itself is produced and how the process is done. Can you guys give me sort of an inside view of how?
GW: We start with story. Brandon and I break the entire season on index cards. Then I write up outlines for each episode. Those are handed off to our writers in a writers meeting, where everyone gives and receives feedback. Then the writers go off and write their individual scripts. I edit them. Brandon and the episode’s director give notes. I take the script final. At every single step, we share our work with various experts and sensitivity readers to make sure we’re doing justice to the issues and communities that are raised in each story.
The next major step is the voice recording. Jamie Thomason directs our amazing cast of actors, and those vocal tracks are handed off to our directors (Christopher Berkeley, Vinton Heuck and Christina Sotta) and their storyboard teams. Meanwhile, our design staff—led by Art Director Brian Jones and Model Supervisor Dou Hong—are designing characters, backgrounds, props, effects, etc., first in black-and-white and then again in color. Brandon and I give notes on everything at pretty much every stage.
Ultimately, all that work comes together in a design packet and in an animatic, which editor Cris Mertens edits alongside Brandon, myself and the episode’s director. All that stuff gets shipped to Studio Mir to be animated. When each episode comes back for post-production, Cris gets back to work, editing with Brandon and me. We call retakes; we get the retakes back. We call more retakes; we get those retakes back. Once we have a locked cut, the team at Audio Circus begins work on sound effects, while Dynamic Music Partners start scoring, and our Visual Effects team starts enhancing the look of the show, all after hand-off meetings with Brandon and myself. (Brandon usually takes on a few shots personally, as well.) Next comes the sound mix and the online. I review the closed captions. And the episode is in the can.
BV: And I’ll just add that all of it, every step, is planned with consideration of a budget and schedule. Greg and I factor these things into every single creative choice. And to help us with those considerations, we have an amazing production crew that helps us traffic huge volumes of art between team members, convey notes and deadlines and just keep everything running smooth. Honestly, it would all fall apart if we didn’t have our production crew holding it all together for us while we focus on the creative work.
GW: Here, here!
Spidey54: Out of curiosity, do you guys ever sit back and think about how much of an impact Young Justice has had on so many people? I imagine it makes you proud to be the showrunners behind such a major cultural phenomenon!
GW: It is very gratifying to know we’ve made an impact on people’s lives. But, honestly, we try not to let stuff like that go to our heads. Job One is still to make an entertaining series, a series we would like to watch. Something we feel passionate about. (After all, if we aren’t passionate about it, how could we expect our audience to be?) We’re not sure we really are “a major cultural phenomenon,” but we’re always happy when we reach people, make them think, make them feel.
BV: What Greg said. And thanks for the compliment!
CWDCTVFAN: Can’t wait for the 2nd half of the season! I am curious about the motivation behind the character-based arcs this season, as well was what went into deciding the order of said arcs.
GW: We felt it was time—after two seasons where the plot drove most of our choices—to get back to the core characters of our series and see where each one was in their lives, a decade after we first met them. In terms of the order of the arcs, the decision there was a combination of the overarching plot of the season and a desire to mix things up so that no two arcs in a row felt too similar.
BV: We’ve also tried to make each season feel unique by changing the overall story structures each time. Trying to break the mold a bit for each season keeps us on our toes creatively and hopefully defies audience expectations to some degree.
Sandiovala21.69453: One of the more amusing stories this season was the journey of the Metropolis School District bus commandeered by Klarion and how it manifested as far back as season one. What exactly inspired this particular subplot? Thank you!
GW: Um…the school bus itself and the folks inside it (i.e. the bus driver and the students). We decided LONG ago what the deal was there. It just took us a while to let you guys in on the secret.
BV: You may have noticed that we thread MANY story threads throughout the series. Some threads tie into the story where they first appear. Some threads are clues for a larger arc. And some threads are there because Greg and I are just wondering how long we can thread a thread.
Capo-Mage: What’s the significance with the usage of the #16 in pretty much every episode the last two seasons? I know it can’t be an accident...
GW: We think you mean, “What’s the significance with the usage of the #16 in pretty much every episode in every season?” It’s been there from the pilot on. So, turning the question back on you, why are you only noticing now?
BV: Young Justice takes place on Earth-16 in the DC Multiverse.
Row.Harper: Young Justice has had such a huge main and supporting cast during its current four seasons, but are there any characters that you have wanted to include that you weren’t allowed to or weren’t able to find a place for? And with all the time that has passed between seasons, have any opportunities for those characters opened up that wouldn’t have otherwise?
GW: Way back at the beginning of season one, we were told there were four characters who were off-limits to us: Darkseid, Wonder Girl/Donna Troy, Wonder Girl/Cassie Sandsmark and Blue Beetle/Ted Kord. We have no idea why those particular characters were off-limits, and obviously those restrictions were eventually lifted, as all four have since appeared in the series. Since then, there have been no other characters that were declared off-limits.
There are so many wonderful DC characters that there are always going to be a few that we don’t quite have room for…yet. But given enough episodes—or comic book issues, etc.—eventually we’ll get to everyone. And then more will be created, and we’ll try to get to those, too… It’s a never-ending cycle, you see.
BV: Someday…the Wonder Twins!
Nicksname: While I’m sure you’re proud of all of them, out of the first three arcs, do either of you have a personal favorite? Thanks so much for your time and dedication to this show!
GW: Honestly, we don’t. (And thank you for watching!)
BV: What Greg said. It’s impossible to choose.
SpoilerAlert88: How do you decide how much of a time jump you want between seasons? And is it hard to decide which events in your timeline happen onscreen versus events that the audience learns happened offscreen between seasons?
GW: We wanted a big time jump between the first two seasons to truly illustrate what our series was about, i.e. GROWING UP. After that, honestly, it’s more about what feels right. There are always things we want to skip, so that they become reveals. We have a timeline, which is currently 716 pages long (and growing), that dictates when certain things must have happened logically, stemming from events that have already taken place. And each new event that we add cascades into other decisions that also help to fill out the timeline. When things are really humming, the characters pretty much tell us what happens next, and we have surprisingly few “decisions” to make.
BV: Time jumps obviously create a mystery at the beginning of each season. We know our audience will want to know what happened between seasons and we can tease out the highlights over the course of a new season, which gives us good material to write around.
TaimurDar: Did you always know the title for season four would be “Phantoms” from the very beginning or did you come up with it afterwards or in the midst of working on the season?
GW: We didn’t know it a decade ago. But when we first pitched season four (immediately after season three) to our boss, Sam Register, we already knew it was PHANTOMS, before we’d written a single outline or script.
BV: As we often do, we had our plans for the season from an early stage. Greg pitched the PHANTOMS subtitle and it just spoke to so many of our thematic goals, while giving the season a standout vibe from past seasons. It was a perfect title choice and that will become clearer with each new episode in part two of season four.
Young Justice: Phantoms returns tomorrow with a three-episode midseason premiere event. After that, look for new episodes every Thursday on HBO Max!
Are you excited for the return of Young Justice? Talk about right now with fellow Young Justice fans in the DC Community!