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Backstage - Interviews

McDuffie Discusses The Complexities of "Justice League Unlimited"
by Jim Harvey

With the current season finale of Justice League Unlimited in high gear, writer and story editor Dwayne McDuffie has his hands full. Besides the heavy planning already going into the next thirteen episodes, he's making sure the current finale story-arc flows smoothly. McDuffie says that a lot of work has gone making sure this finale is just right, causing it to swell in length.

"It happened organically," he says. "Weíd developed this storyline over the past two seasons, and as we got closer to the end, we realized the two-parter we had planned wasnít nearly enough time to wrap everything up properly, so we went with the four-parter."

Calling it their most ambitious arc to date, McDuffie is certain the episode will pays off for fans of the Justice League Unlimited. As for that follow-up episode, "Epilogue"?

"Itís immense."

Not only is it immense, it will have lasting consequences for the DC animated universe. McDuffie believes that change is necessary for a show such as Justice League Unlimited.

"What's the expression?" McDuffie asks. "Change or die?"

McDuffie admits it would've been easier, once Justice League found its groove, to keep doing more episodes of the same show. He believes there's nothing wrong with that, especially if a series (he cites Law & Order as an example) keeps fans entertained, episode after episode, year after year.

"But Bruce Timm is a guy who likes to reinvent the show, challenging our assumptions pretty much every week." McDuffie adds. "This spirit of creative experimentation, the willingness to push at the boundaries of what's considered possible in an adventure series, is what keeps taking the franchise to unexpected and often delightful places."

It would be a lot easier to just keep doing more shows like the ones theyíve already done, he adds, but it would also be a lot less fun, both for the creators and the viewers.

"Everyone who works on these shows is always looking to top what weíve done before."

This past season has also seen a large number of references to the previous animated DC series. Some have been subtle, some have been obvious, and others have involved part of an episode's plot. Some fans were worried this was too much for the casual viewers, who may be turned off by the "fan service" that many thought was invading the series.

So are these episode geared towards the fans who've been watching the DC animated universe grow since day one?

"Absolutely not."

The episodes are written with the casual viewer in mind, McDuffie says. Everything they need to understand the episode is provided, but if you've watched the series you'll get more out of it. "Sort of like Easter eggs."

McDuffie explains: "For instance, if you never saw Clock King before ĎTask Force X,í you still understand who he is and how he operates. That said, thereís one episode coming up this season thatís a huge exception to this rule, where we indulged ourselves to send a Valentine to long- time Timmverse fans, but thatís the one and only time."

With that information in mind, McDuffie adds this nugget concerning the finale, and what fans can expect in the final episodes of the season.

"There are hints everywhere, judging from what Iíve read on The World's Finest," he says. "But the thing that most people guessing need to keep in mind is this: Characters donít have perfect knowledge of the world. They get things wrong. Some of them even lie. Donít take everything at face value."

This applies particularly to two characters who fans have noticed acting a bit unusual this season. Batman and Superman have been at the forefront of many controversial events this past season: Superman got into a slugfest with Captain Marvel, and Batman has been voicing increasingly paranoid sentiments in the Cadmus conspiracy.

But are these characters really acting out of sync?

"I think Supermanís behavior is appropriate, considering the pressures heís under," says McDuffie. "Sometimes doing the right thing makes you look like a bad guy. Supermanís too good a man to let appearances prevent him from doing what needs to be done, but itís hard on him.

"And Batman isnít paranoid, heís suspicious. The Question is paranoid." McDuffie adds: "Batman, for instance, doesn't think the Girl Scouts have anything to do with crop circles, and he thinks aglets are simply to make it easier to lace shoes."

Regardless of what creators may say, the fans will make their opinions heard. Never before have fans had such a chance to chime in on a DC animated series such as Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, thanks to the popularity of online message boards. And like any writer, McDuffie loves the input.

"I think itís pretty cool that people are engaged enough to want to talk about the show," says McDuffie. "I try to stop by The World's Finest's DC Animation Forum and a few of the others whenever I get a chance and see what you guys think."

McDuffie says his only real peeve is when people write long critiques of episodes they havenít yet seen based on what they have heard happens or, worse, what they think is going to happen. He believes they should view the content before condemning or endorsing it.

McDuffie cites Justice League Unlimited as one of the most ambitious projects he's ever been involved in, a project that every creator involved really gives their all to.

"The level of craft on these shows is amazing, and it's been a joy working with and learning from all of these incredibly talented people," he says. "I'm just grateful that I got to come in and play at all."

With the end of the season for Justice League Unlimited right around the corner, both creators and fans are looking ahead to the next season. While creators may enjoy dropping hints about what's to come and who will appear, they stress that not knowing is sometimes better. McDuffie says they already know what the next thirteen episodes will bring, and he believes long-time DC fans will be pleased.

"Iím not really sure how to tell you about surprises without spoiling them," says McDuffie. "So Iím not telling you anything except not to miss a moment, because from here on out, every moment counts."

He says it is a bit hard to keep secrets under wraps nowadays, what with the plethora of rumor and news sites on the web. McDuffie would rather people got their surprises in the episodes rather than hearing about them from someone else. But wait, if the creative team behind Justice League Unlimited is hell-bent on keeping secrets, then what about the early confirmation that the DC character Warlord for the next season?

McDuffie coyly responds, "Warlord, huh? That would be cool..."

Originally posted on TZN on 07-08-2005.

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