Geoff Johns: Bringing the Legion to Smallville

Tonight, the Legion of Super-Heroes will debut on Smallville, bringing the concept adored by DC Comics readers for 50 years to millions of television viewers.

For Geoff Johns, who wrote the episode after pitching the Legion's appearance to the Smallville producers, the chance to bring the Legion to a live action series fits right along with his revitalization of the team in comics during the last year. As the Legion celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2008, Johns re-introduced the original Legion team to his Action Comics series and later launched the current Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds mini-series with George Perez for DC.

As comics readers know, the Legion of Super-Heroes is a group of super-powered teenagers from 1,000 years in the future who are inspired by the historic legend of Superman. When the Legion was introduced in comics, the founders of the team, Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad, traveled back in time to meet a young Clark Kent and became some of his closest friends.

Now the story from the comics will be echoed in "Legion," this week's Smallville episode, as actors Alexz Johnson (Saturn Girl), Calum Worthy (Lightning Lad) and Ryan Kennedy (Cosmic Boy) portray the three Legion founders as they travel back in time to meet Smallville's young Clark.

Smallville fans have already seen versions of many DC Comics heroes on the live-action show, including Black Canary, Bart Allen, Cyborg, Aquaman and a regular role for Green Arrow. This season, the show also introduced Superman's most potentially deadly villain, Doomsday, and the Legion will show up on Smallville just as that villain's debut story hits its climax with a little help from Brainiac.

Newsarama talked to Johns about writing all these DC characters for television and found out that not only is this episode respectful of the comics versions of Doomsday and the Legion of Super-Heroes, but some of the lines in the show are straight out of the writer's comics.

Newsarama Note: There are some spoilers ahead for what’s already occurred in this season’s Smallville episodes.

Newsarama: When we talked about this episode when it was announced at San Diego Comic Con, we only talked about the debut of a live action Legion of Super-Heroes. But after the surprises Smallville had in November before its mid-season break, this episode is also the continuation of a pretty big cliffhanger involving Doomsday and Brainiac, isn't it? He's possessed Chloe?

Geoff Johns: In the show, Brainiac is a literal computer virus that infects people and takes them over. And he's infected a handful people, and now there’s Chloe Sullivan. Picking that up was obviously a challenge, but it was a challenge I welcomed because I really enjoyed the set-up for it. And then carrying that through and tying it into the Legion and having it all culminate into one big flash point was very exciting.

NRAMA: Counting the people who have been possessed by Brainiac on the show, wouldn’t that make Chloe the fourth one? Is she Brainiac 4? And what does that mean for the future?

GJ: That's an interesting question. I guess we'll find out.

Clark meets the Persuader

NRAMA: Besides Brainiac, this episode is also dealing with Doomsday. Having just written the comic book version of Doomsday in the last few months in your Action Comics issues, what do you think of how the Smallville universe is handling the Davis/Doomsday character? Did you get to write him in this episode?

GJ: I do get to play with Doomsday a little, telling Davis Bloom's backstory and what Doomsday is on Smallville. I have to admit that when I first heard he had this alter ego, I didn't really understand where they were going, but then, believe it or not, it's actually really close to canon. They took what Doomsday is and where he comes from in the comic book and just personified it with a human side. And that human side is more of a camouflage.

NRAMA: Is the attack by Brainiac and Doomsday the motivation for the Legion's visit to the past in this episode?

GJ: Well, the Legion comes in for one reason that's seemingly unrelated. Then it all dovetails into one adventure. Time travel knocks down a few dominos and you have to figure out how to put them back.

NRAMA: The episode also has the Persuader in it. Was that your idea, and why pick him as the Legion villain in this episode?

GJ: There was a villain from the future coming back, and I thought, more than almost anyone, he would look great on film. I love the Persuader, and I wanted to see him swinging around that Atomic Axe. I did a list of villains that could come back, but at the end of the day, Persuader was the best one.

NRAMA: So then are the Persuader's powers on the show similar to the comic book character? I mean, you said he has the Atomic Axe, right?

GJ: Yeah, he's got his Atomic Axe, which Saturn Girl says at one point can slice an atom in half. So yeah, Persuader is the Persuader. I think this year in Smallville in particular, unlike some times in the past, they’ve attempted to stay true to the comics.

NRAMA: You've made it clear in our past discussions that you're a huge fan of the Legion of Super-Heroes. What was it like for you to hear the dialogue you'd written for these three characters interpreted by actors in live action?

GJ: It was great seeing the Legionnaires come to life. I was working on the set when they were filming, and I think the first time they came out and had their rings on and their pseudo-costumes, I just had this huge smile on my face. Just seeing them film that first scene where they explain why they're there, what Clark means to them, it's cool to see the Legion come to life like that. They’ll be exposed to millions of people Thursday night, most of those people will have never heard of the Legion.

NRAMA: We've talked before about why you think the Legion's so important to Clark Kent's development into Superman in the comic books, but is this visit important to Clark's future in the Smallville universe as well?

GJ: Very much so. In a different way, but the repercussions of it and the seeds sown play into the series later on this season.

NRAMA: What's it like for Clark to hear about what's coming in his future?

GJ: They do tell him about the future, but they temper it because of their Legion Code and the rules of time travel. But Clark probably hears a little more than Cosmic Boy would want him to know. And that's a lot of fun. There's a couple things that the Legion mention specifically that will resonate with comics readers and fanboys -- because Legion members are essentially fanboys and fangirls themselves, coming back in time to meet their greatest idol. So they know a lot about him, but there are certain things they see now that don't necessarily match what they've come to know in the future. What they believe is probably more in line with what we know about Superman. So, on one hand, they’re fanboys looking at Smallville and going…”Uh, why aren’t you flying yet?”

NRAMA: While Smallville is clearly a different universe from the comic book DCU, we've seen in previews for this episode that there are a lot of nods toward the comic Legion just in the way they're dressed, with their rings, obviously, but even a few little touches on their costumes. Was that important for these characters?

GJ: That's something everybody on the show was really into, making sure that, while they weren't going to wear spandex, they still needed to be Legionnaires. So I said, well they've got to have the colors and they've got to have their symbols. You know, Cosmic Boy has to be black and purple, and the only symbol of sorts he has are the metal discs. But they work.

NRAMA: Even besides the rings and costumes, are there other small things they mention that comics readers will recognize?

The Legion finds an "artifact" of their past

GJ: There are so many throwaway lines that will resonate with comic book readers. Maybe for some other viewers, it will just kind of pass them by. But there are a lot of references to things in this episode. There's a couple things directly from the comics I've done in the last year on this episode. There's a prop from my Action Comics run, there's a line that Garth says to Rokk in it, and we mention Polar Boy's planet. Persuader is obviously in there and called the Persuader. It's pretty full of references like that. It's a Legion of Super-Heroes episode, and the coolest thing about Darren [Swimmer],Todd [Slavkin], Brian [Wayne Peterson] and Kelly [Souders], the producers, is that they've really embraced that and let the Legion be who they are. Darren was kind of my point guy on the episode, and he was great in the pre-production about the script and letting the Legion be the Legion. There were certain things -- I was like, "they've got to say this; you've got to have a moment of this."

This is the first live action Legion, so we wanted to make sure they really were the Legion of Super-Heroes. And that in turn carried over to Glen Winter, the director, who kicked ass. And any Legion fan should be grateful about how respectful he was and how important the material was to him. He really responded to their motivation and their story. And there were instances where there were chances to pepper in more stuff, and he was all for it, always with his eye on character and story. Working with the actors was great too. I can't say enough good things about the whole experience.

NRAMA: In this episode, you've got Clark Kent dealing with the Legion of Super-Heroes, Brainiac, Doomsday and the Persuader. With all of these things happening at one time on Smallville, this episode is pretty epic, isn't it?

GJ: It's pretty epic for the show, though I deal more with Davis Bloom than Doomsday. The hardest thing was the budget because it's the reality of television. There's a big difference between film/TV and comics. With comics you don't have to worry about how many times someone uses their powers because you can't afford it or you have to save cash for something else. It's very different from comic books. So that was the hardest challenge.

I really wanted Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl to use their powers every five seconds. That's just my instinct. So really controlling what happened yet making it as big and epic and cool as we could within the constraints of TV was a challenge.

Geoff Johns, making new friends on the set

NRAMA: The network released some "director's cut" videos of a couple scenes, but there were just placeholders for the special effects. Have you seen the special effects?

GJ: Yes, and they are awesome! And the whole idea was that we could have the characters use their powers as much as we want and it will look just OK, or we could have them do it just this many times and it will look bad-ass. And they will look bad-ass.

And there's something they do in there that's just really cool. I don't even know if they've done it before with their powers.

NRAMA: I think we might have seen a spoiler for that on one of the director's cut videos that was posted by the CW. Was it where Garth and Cos put their powers together to make an electro-magnetic pulse?

GJ: A biological electro-magnetic pulse, which is different than a true e.m.p. but has the same effects.

NRAMA: Just to finish up, Geoff, what was this experience like for you, working on these characters on Smallville?

GJ: I tell you what -- it's very cool to be on a show where in one episode I get to write Clark Kent, Brainiac, Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, Cosmic Girl, the Persuader, and Doomsday. It doesn't get much better than that.

I’m anxious to bring more DC Comics to the screen, big and small.


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