After the long wait since the conclusion of its third season, Outsiders, the critically acclaimed series Young Justice is back streaming on HBO Max with Phantoms. Praised for its writing, deep characterizations, diversity, action, and thrilling storytelling, Young Justice is one of the best DC onscreen projects that has retained a cherished place with numerous fans. Five episodes into the new season, so much has already happened, and the Team will have to deal with unforeseen threats at every turn.
We at The Nerds of Color were fortunate to speak with series creators and showrunners Brandon Vietti and Greg Weisman on how they approach the show, how they’re working on developing a storyline for a Muslim character, working with the Korea-based Studio Mir to animate the season and their reasonings for some of the story decisions taken so far.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Spoilers for the first five episodes of Young Justice: Phantoms follow below.
Thank you so much for speaking with The Nerds of Color today!
Brandon: Thanks for making time for us!
Of course! So I love Young Justice so much. It’s one of my favorite all-time series. How would you say you strike such a great balance in the show between the humor, the drama, and the thrilling action in your writing? It’s always consistent.
Brandon: Haha thank you! That’s the challenge, right? I mean, that’s what goes on in the writers’ room when you know when Greg and I are breaking stories when we bring our writers in to help us expand on the story. That is the challenge of you know crafting that balance, and sometimes there are episodes where you lean into a little more of one thing than the other things but But certainly, that’s our goal is to find just the right balance from episode to episode and throughout every season. So we’ve done that for you? Thank you. I’m glad we did our jobs right.
What’s it been like working now with the Korea-based Studio Mir and how’s the show’s animation game stepped up with their involvement?
Weisman: Well, I mean, Studio Mir did a couple of episodes for us last season and they really stood out in terms of quality and they’ve been great partners this season taking on the entire season. Now. I’m sure it’s nerve-racking for them and we and everyone but they’ve just really stepped up and I mean, Brandon, you work more closely with them.
Vietti: I mean, yeah, they’re, they’re great partners. They get the material they have a passion for the material. And I mean, let’s not forget they went through this pandemic, just like everybody else, and they overcame a lot of obstacles in working on the show, throughout this nightmare that’s going on in the world around us. And they delivered amazing work. I mean, it’s amazing and I have to say that for our crews here in LA as well. Everybody had to work through extraordinary circumstances, just like the rest of the world. We were very lucky to kind of keep the business running. We were able to keep doing the show. We honestly didn’t skip a beat. I mean, there was a little time I think as people were adjusting and getting the equipment home getting set up. But ultimately, once the dust kind of settled and we got into a rhythm, I think everybody’s passion for the material, passion for the show, really came through in the work and so so yeah, I’m really happy with what our artists that mir did for us as well as our many artists here in LA.
That’s absolutely evident while I’m watching. So on this season, the title for this season is “Phantoms” and fans have taken that to mean a number of things, from the Phantom Zone to literal ghosts appearing. So I know you can’t say any spoilers or anything like that. But can you say anything about what the thematic meaning is with the season title?
Weisman: Thematically, it’s about nothing’s ever gone. Things that took place back in season one are echoing forward into this season. Things that take place here will echo forward into seasons to come. If we’re just talking thematically, then it’s about that it’s about the idea that nothing ever goes away completely. Whether it’s the memory of a character or percussions of an event that took place sometime in the past, it’s all interconnected. And life is never as simple as just what’s in front of my face right now. I don’t want anybody else to tell me what’s here, right? Now. Life is never that simple. Phantoms of things always show up.
Love that, thank you. So getting a little more specific, in a recent interview with DC, you had mentioned that for Halos character this season, you actually worked with the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) And you learned that I’m quoting Brandon here, “We needed MPAC to help us with the nuances of authenticity that we could never find on our own as we plotted Halo’s next chapter.” So again, you can’t spoil any of the details, but how do you hope that Muslim viewers may resonate more with her this season in a way they may not have before?
Weisman: I mean, I think for starters, the thing to keep in mind is that Halo, Violet Harper, wasn’t a Muslim. This caught some fans off guard and that caught us a bit off guard to be perfectly honest, because we thought that was clear, I guess clear is maybe the wrong word. But in other words, Halo is inhabiting the entity that is Halo, which is a combination of two other entities, Gabrielle Daou and Mother Box, but neither, but is both, but is a whole new person. She’s now going to be exploring, what if anything, Islam means to her. And I’m using the word “her” on purpose because she hasn’t yet chosen her pronouns. And this is was important to us that this would be a journey and not an instantaneous thing. And one of the things she spoke to in the first episode this season is that Islam meant so much to Gabrielle that for example, Violet hasn’t been able to bring herself to stop wearing that hijab. But now she realizes that that’s got to mean something to her. And so she’s going to explore what that means. Again, as you mentioned, we don’t want to spoil anything that’s coming. But, I don’t think is a spoiler is that is the idea that it’s a journey. And so we’re hoping that Muslim viewers are willing to go with her on that journey. I don’t think they’ll be disappointed, and again, Brandon noted in that other interview, working with MPAC has been terrific. They’ve been great partners for us and a tremendous help, and incredibly supportive of what we wanted to do with Halo and with other characters on the show as well. And so I think folks are going to see that pay off throughout the season. But again, we never wanted it to be like flipping a switch. You know, we wanted it to be a path that she’s on.
I love that, thank you. So the entire team has been through the wringer many times and from these last few episodes they’re still going through it with the in the most recent episode(SPOILER) the apparent loss of Superboy, so why must you in the writers be so cruel to our favorite heroes? I’m kidding of course, but still, why?
Vietti: [Laughs] I mean, in general, I guess I don’t really give us as being cruel.
Weisman: I do! I think I’m truly evil.
Vietti [Laughs] I’ve said before I relate to villains often because as we’re writing the show, we’re often plotting the demise, downfall, or manipulation of heroes. I mean, that’s our job as the writers, you know, I think to tell interesting stories, but I think even more so, we’ve been always, always trying to make the world of Young Justice feel real and grounded in some reality. And I think in the high-stakes world of the superhero business, there have to be serious consequences. And we have shown that in so many ways throughout the show, we’ve tried so hard to sell a show in which problems aren’t solved in 30 minutes and forgotten by the next step is that there are always consequences and there are always big risks to take. And there’s always fallout. And so I think, you know, with all of what we’ve done, in what is aired so far in Season Four, and what’s to come, I think is a further exploration of that, and you know, we don’t do anything lightly. We don’t make big decisions about who’s gonna live who’s gonna die, what’s going to happen to any given character lightly. None of that is ever taken lightly. There’s always a reason. And you know, you have to know if you’ve been on board with us from the beginning, that we will continue to explore major repercussions for a very long time. So it certainly wasn’t a cheap shot to our audience. There’s much to come that I hope people will find entertaining and rewarding.
Well, I can guarantee you it never feels cheap. It feels absolutely earned. So again on this most recent episode, I loved how Artemis’ response to Conner’s apparent death was to reach out to her sister Jade, AKA Cheshire. I have my own thoughts on this but what can you say on why she did that and how it ties to themes of family and found-family on the show?
Weisman: Well, I mean I think she spoke to it on the episode which is that she was not without a doubt and not trying to hide it. The death of Connor is a tragedy in and of itself because she loved him. Not romantically but she loved him. But it also is a huge, traumatic flashback to the death of Wally and her feelings about Conners’s death, and her sympathy for M’gann is bound to reverberate with her own backstory. And she’s in pain and aware that her pain right now, relative to Miss Martian’s, is probably insignificant and yet her pain is still her pain. And so she’s learned to be proactive about that. She’s learned the hard way that she needs to try and find a way to reach out to other people to help them and that any act of doing that helps her. We’ve been working this season with Dr. Janina Scarlet, on the psychological and therapeutic aspects of the show, in particular with Beast Boy, but also with all the characters. And so we wanted to make sure this was our gut reaction about how Artemis would go, you know, we wanted to run that by Janina and make sure that that felt accurate and real and not just some clever creation from two guys in Burbank, right? And so, if you look at her life, and you look at this big empty hole, well, she’s got a bunch of those, but the one that she could actually try to address is her sister. And that doesn’t make it easy. It certainly doesn’t make it automatic. But it’s at least something that she can go for. And so you see her doing that, here.
Absolutely. So, one more question. In this most recent episode, we see Talia al Ghul. And a toddler Damian Wayne. This is the second time we’ve seen that since the end of last season. Can you say anything about how they’re going to play into Batman and the Bat-Family’s storylines?
Weisman: No. [Laughs]
Vietti: No spoilers. We just put things on the table! But yeah, we’re not going to speak to how they play out. We just want you to enjoy the ride.
I appreciate that as a Damian Wayne fan and as a Young Justice fan. I love the show so much. Greg Weisman, Brandon Vietti, Thank you both so so much for joining The Nerds of Color today and you have a fantastic rest of your day!
Weisman: You too! Thank you.
Vietti: Thank you!