Behind the Scenes:
Every Villain Has His Day

The JUSTICE LEAGUE pulls from over 60 years of DC Comics history to create formidable enemies for its titular team

6 December 2001

By Eric Moro, Executive Editor

What can be said about the Cartoon Network original series JUSTICE LEAGUE that hasn’t already been said? The show is a smash hit among fans and non-fans alike, drawing astonishing numbers for the cabler. The press has been hailing the team’s classic lineup and updated storylines as the “SUPERFRIENDS for a new millennium.”However, little to no attention has been focused on the show’s villains – the baddies that provide audiences with a reason to tune in each week. After all, the SUPERFRIENDS had the Legion of Doom and the SUPER POWERS team had Darkseid. What does the JUSTICE LEAGUE have?“For the most part, with the exception of the pilot and one other episode, all of the show’s villains are established DC Comics villains,” says JUSTICE LEAGUE creator Bruce Timm. “We thought that it was really important to stay as close to the source material as we could and there’s 60 years of DC Comics for us to pull from. So, not that it was easy, but it certainly made our job a bit easier to have that to go through and say, ‘OK, this would be a good villain. Or this would not necessarily be a good villain, but we could recreate him and make him a good villain.’ So that’s pretty much what we’ve Lex Luthor as portrayed in JUSTICE LEAGUE

”Of course, as the numerous screenwriters currently bombarding Hollywood with comic to big screen adaptations can attest to, adapting a comic book character – friend or for – for television or film is not an easy process.“Going through the history of DC Comics, we find villains who work on the printed page, but for some reason when you transfer them to a film medium they don’t have the stature or grandeur that you’d like them to have,” explains Timm. “So we have to ‘plus’ them a little bit. Or raise the level of their competence, to make them credible villains.”Part of this process involves taking an established DC Comics villain – a character that may have posed a formidable threat to, say, Superman 20 years ago – and finding a place for him/her in modern day continuity. However, that doesn’t always equate to lifting him/her into arch nemesis status.“Kanjar Ro is a really good example,” says Timm. “He’s a character that at one point in DC Comics history was a major villain, but looking back at him now he’s too goofy to take seriously. When you look at that design you think, ‘OK, how could this guy take on the whole JUSTICE LEAGUE?’ So we wouldn’t want to necessarily make him a major villain, but rather the story he appears in he makes an excellent henchman. He makes an excellent second-string villain. There are a lot of stories that have a main villain. There’s the Goldfinger-like villain and then there’s the Odd Job villain. Kanjar Ro makes an excellent Odd Job villain. We’ve done that with a number of other characters, most of them I don’t want to tip off – some of them are kind of a The Joker as portrayed in JUSTICE LEAGUE

”In the past, animators felt it necessary to match villains up with their Justice League opposite – a determination made according to superpowers. In other words, Sinestro would always fight Green Lantern; The Joker would always fight Batman; Black Manta would always fight Aquaman. While the current production does admit to pairing up villains with heroes (a la the Legion of Doom), don’t expect this sort of combination on a week-by-week basis.“We’ve done that, yeah,” admits Timm. “We have a Legion of Doom/Injustice Gang episode. It’s like the fourth or fifth story arc – that’s kind of a fun one. That’s a temptation that’s too great to resist. So our super group of villains is Luthor, The Joker, Solomon Grundy, Cheetah, Star Sapphire, Copperhead and the Shade.”And while villains may be pulled directly from the pages of DC comics, their accompanying storylines aren’t necessarily aped as well. After all, fan favorite stories by Grant Morrison and Mark Waid aren’t necessarily suitable for the younger viewers of JUSTICE LEAGUE and the Cartoon Network.“Looking at the Grant Morrison stuff – and this is not to pinpoint or target him – a lot of current comics are probably aimed at an older audience then our show. And not only an older audience, but also the comic book audience is definitely a niche market. There are people who’ve grown up with comics who are really into all the lore and back-story. So the Grant Morrison run, I felt, was kind of complicated and a little too dark in tone for what we’re actually striving for in our show. Our show is a little more of a ‘feel good’ show, if you will – a little more pure and innocent. It’s definitely intended for a wider mainstream audience, so the show has to appeal to comic book fans certainly, but it has to appeal to a much broader audience than just comic book fans. We thought the Grant Morrison stuff wasn’t exactly a good model for us to Cheetah as portrayed in JUSTICE LEAGUE

”With only 26 episodes in its season and so many DC Comics villains to choose from, Timm and crew are picky with the adversaries they utilize. However, one or two favorites do manage to stand out.“We’ll get around to all of the ones that we consider our favorites eventually,” says Timm. “If we get picked up for a second season, we definitely want to do something with the Crime Syndicate – the alternative universe bad guy Justice League. We’ll probably bring Darkseid back in the second season. We wanted to avoid him in the first season just because we wanted to try different things and we thought we’d done rather a lot with [the character] on the SUPERMAN series. Not only that, but also all of the Darkseid episodes have a real grim tone to them, and it’s hard to avoid that. So we kind of put Darkseid on the back burner, but I would almost guarantee we’ll bring him back for the second season. He’s such a great villain!”Ironically, great villains aren’t the only tool Timm and crew are utilizing to weave compelling stories. On the contrary, a number of big name actors are providing their vocal talents to voice the rogues’ gallery, lending credence to the concept that it’s more fun to play the bad guy.“We’ve been approached by certain actors, or their agents saying, ‘Oh, our client would love to work on your show,’” says Timm. “But usually it’s the opposite case. Every time we get a script we sit down with the voice director, make our wish list and say, ‘Oh, you know. It would be great to get so-and-so for this part.’ Sometimes we get lucky. Getting Powers Booth to play Gorilla Grodd was a huge coup. I know he’s not really a huge box office name anymore, but he has a certain stature–the minute you get Powers Booth to play Gorilla Grodd, suddenly Gorilla Grodd has a lot more credibility than he had before. But at the same time, it’s still kind of ludicrous: this super-intelligent ape that’s out to conquer the world. It’s got an inherent element of just wackiness. So casting somebody who’s as straight and suave as Powers Booth, on the one hand gives it more credibility, and on the other just makes it even more absurd. So I just love that Solomon Grundy as portrayed in JUSTICE LEAGUE

.”Ultimately, the real challenge is not so much coming up with formidable villains for the Leaguers, but rather creating bigger and better episodes each week. After all, every 30-minute installment of the JUSTICE LEAGUE must support seven superpowered gods.“We’re kind of pulling back on bigger stories,” says Timm. “The first four or five story arcs we did were huge and it’s really hard to do that on the TV budget and schedule we have. There are just not enough hours in the day. We’ve got to get these shows on the air. So we’ve kind of pulled back on the scale of the shows to make them a little bit easier to produce and still kind of keep the excitement level up. But we’re always trying to top ourselves. We never want to become complacent and say, ‘OK, we can do what we’ve always done. Make the JUSTICE LEAGUE show just like the SUPERMAN show or whatever.’ We’re always trying to find fresh approaches to storytelling, special approaches to design—everything. So we are our own biggest critics.”

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