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WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 17, 2007

LEGION OF SUPER HEROES' JAMES TUCKER -- PART 1

SHERMAN OAKS, Calif. -- As Elmer Fudd might say, it's "vewwy quiet."

The facilities at Warner Bros. Animation are next to empty. Cubicles that normally house the folks who help create some of the most colorful characters on television are stripped. No one's about.

Walls that would be plastered with model sheets, storyboards and various forms of inspiration are blank, except for scattered Justice League coloring book pages and a kid's drawing of Spider-Man.

It's downtime for the studio. This season's episodes are in the very final stages of completion, and the animators are awaiting word on what shows the networks will be picking up for next fall.

Keep walking, though, and you finally see signs of life, the row of producers' offices, where the likes of Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett and Paul Dini oversee their projects.

That's where we find the subject of the intended interview -- James Tucker -- arriving back at his office.

As part of Timm's gang of creators, Tucker has been an important part of such shows as Superman, Batman Beyond and the two Justice League series.

This past year, Tucker became a show-runner, guiding DC Comics' beloved Legion of Super-Heroes into their own animated series for the first time as one of the stalwarts on Kids' WB!'s Saturday morning line-up.

With seven new episodes yet to air this season and a good possibility of a second season, The Continuum sat down with Tucker last week to talk about his Legion experiences and hopes for the next year.

Following is the first of a two-part interview. Look for the second part on Thursday.

The Continuum: This place is basically barren. You're done with the first season?

Tucker: Oh, yeah. We had an order of 13 and generally that takes about a year. Last year we started around this time. So when we know about our second season, we will be starting around this time.

The Continuum: Are the episodes completely done?

Tucker: We mixed the next-to-the-last one yesterday and we mix the last one tomorrow. They just have to show them now. (laughs)

The Continuum: On Legion, you're the show-runner. How has that experience compared with what else you've done?

Tucker: In the past, I've been a co-producer with Bruce Timm, and then Dwayne McDuffie and Bruce Timm on Justice League Unlimited. The division of labor was different then. Bruce was in charge and we all kind of pitched in and divided up everything. When you're the sole show-runner, a lot more is on you. It's been grueling. It's very intense, especially to do a team show.

Legion is like compressing three years of Justice League into one year. All the decisions came through me, as opposed to me or Bruce.

The Continuum: Did you like that responsibility?

Tucker: I liked parts of it. Other parts were a little overwhelming. I thought I knew what being a producer was having been on Justice League. It's a whole other thing when the buck stops with you.

My job on Justice League, I knew what Bruce would want and so it was to save him time. Anything he didn't need to see, I saw. There's millions of decisions a day and basically it was my job to cut his down to...

The Continuum: Half a million.

Tucker: Half a million, yeah. That's basically what a co-producer does, at least that's what I did on Justice League.

On this one, I get all the decisions. Everything that goes through, I'm asked. It's overwhelming. If it would have been a single-character show or a single-focus show like a Batman, I think it wouldn't have been quite as overwhelming.

But it was fun. I enjoyed it. I'm really happy with the way the season ended up. And I think, really, the best shows are to come and haven't aired yet.

The Continuum: Obviously, you're aware of the Legion fan base...

Tucker: Oh, sure.

The Continuum: And generally, the reaction has been really good.

Tucker: Yeah, I was shocked. Working with Bruce on everything, usually the first gut reactions to a show are negative -- even if the show goes on to be very popular and well-respected.

Starting with Superman there wasn't a big Internet for people to glom on to back then but a lot of people were comparing it to Batman: The Animated Series. And they were disappointed it wasn't Fleischer. The first reactions are always negative, same with the New Batman Adventures, same with Batman Beyond, same with Justice League, same with Justice League Unlimited. When Justice League Unlimited was first announced there, was a barrage of negativity.

So when Legion didn't get that, I was like, "Uh-oh, I must be doing something wrong." (laughs)

I look at Legion as a great franchise and there's only a few things that needed to be changed to suit the intended audience. So why throw it all out if I didn't have to? It just makes my job easier. I didn't have time to reinvent it, and I wouldn't have wanted to. I tried to keep the gist of what the Legion was.

The Continuum: You didn't reinvent it, but it's still kind of yours. How would you describe your Legion?

Tucker: A little bit country and a little bit rock 'n roll. (laughs) I just thought what I wanted to see when I was a kid and what did I like when I was a kid. That's all you can really do when you're doing these things. If the Legion were on as a cartoon when I was a kid, how would I want to see it? And just given my particular tastes and things...

I didn't have full control over every aspect of it. I didn't write every one of them. But I thought that with the style of it, I didn't want it to be heavy, I didn't want it to be sterile science fiction. I want to mix a lot more fantasy into it. Basically, the era I was born into was the Mike Grell/Jim Shooter era. So I kind of wanted to have a little funkier edge to it, a little more mod, for lack of a better word. Something that boys could tap into, but it wouldn't scare off girls and it wouldn't be too adult-skewing.

Although I hear it is adult-skewing and I don't know how that happened.

The Continuum: I would think because of the fan base.

Tucker: I would think so, too. The fans have been great. Legion fans are awesome.

I've been accused on this show of gearing it to fandom and not really thinking about kids, but kids adapt to whatever you give them as long as you make sure there's enough interest there and it doesn't go over their heads.

Kids liked Justice League Unlimited. I can't tell you how many times a parent would say to me, "I watched Justice League Unlimited with my kid and he loves it." Even though that was very adult-skewing, there was stuff in there a kid could watch. And the stuff that went over his just went over his head.

Working with Bruce, we like to do entertainment that grows with you. So you really don't outgrow it, you go to another level and then there's something you understand more that maybe you didn't understand earlier on.

Like I said, I could only make the show that would interest me.

The Continuum: Your instincts seem to be working.

Tucker: Well, thank you. I'm glad the fans like it. Our ratings have been picking up lately, and I think that had to do with the fact we're on a new network for all intents and purposes and people didn't know how to find it. Now that they're starting to go up, I'm really happy about that.

The Continuum: With Teen Titans, the characters seemed to quickly grow to be very defined and likeable. Only six Legion shows have aired, but do you see the characters doing that?

Tucker: With the types of characters the Teen Titans had, they were, not stronger, but more easily defined. And Glen Murakami really pared them to their essential elements. And I didn't want to do that with Legion because we didn't want Legion to be as young-skewing as Titans. I wanted the stories to be a little more complex. But having said that, you still need that level of character. And when you're doing complex character studies, that takes a little more time to build up.

I definitely think the second half of our season, things definitely start to fall into place. But because people who have watched the show have only seen these same six episodes, things are getting put into place, but they haven't gelled yet.

I think ours is a slower build, whereas Titans came out of the gate running because their types were clearly defined almost immediately. Robin was the leader, the strict cop. Beast Boy was the goofball. Raven was the Goth, Starfire the airhead, etc.

Our characters aren't that clearly defined with one sentence. For good or ill, I thought we could be more complex than that.

With Titans, you had that instant in because you know who Robin is. And once you know who Robin is, everything falls off of him.

We kind of have that with Superman, though this Superman is a Superman no one has every seen before because he's a novice. Apart from Smallville, no one has really done that. This is the point where he's starting, he's just put on the costume. So it's almost the point after Smallville. Which I thought was an interesting hook for the show.

COMING THURSDAY: In part two, Tucker talks about working with DC Comics on the show, a second season and building a future world.



E-mail the Continuum at RobAlls@aol.com



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