Superheroes and Supervillains have permeated our lives on television, movies, webseries, graphic novels and comic books, where fans of any age can dream of a better world. From the latest incarnation of Batman via FOX’s hit series Gotham, to the CW‘s affinity for superhero series, like The Flash, Supergirl, Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow, one can be catapulted to other times and places far beyond our galaxy. We can take a moment out of reality and contemplate ‘if only’ there really were superheroes protecting time and history.
Marc Guggenheim, Executive Producer and Writer for Legends of Tomorrow and Arrow took time out of his busy schedule to chat one on one about both Legends and Arrow‘s new seasons.
So how does one become a television writer and Executive Producer of not one but two hit superhero series? Guggenheim explains that as a little boy he loved comic books and superheroes. Interestingly he went to law school, but in his third year he caught the writing bug. “I started writing even while I was practicing law and found the more I did it, the more I enjoyed it. I wasn’t writing superheroes or comics, but I was writing legal stuff and romantic comedies, a spec script for Star Trek Voyager. I broke into the television side of the industry and after a number of years, that work in television allowed me to break into comics. I found himself writing comic books, then for television.”
Legends of Tomorrow is about Time Masters who fight against rogue enemies, jumping from time to time. The original Time Masters were killed. Now Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill), has assembled several superheroes in hopes of ridding the world of those who would seek to destroy it. This season, Dr. Martin Stein (Victor Garber), his counter-part Jefferson ‘Jax’ Jackson, AKA Firestorm (Franz Drameh), Ray Palmer, AKA The Atom (Brandon Routh), Mick Rory, AKA Arsonist (Dominic Purcell), Sara Lance, AKA White Canary (Caity Lotz), and Gideon (Amy Pemberton), make up the Legends under command of Rip.
There are two new characters added to the cast this season: Nate Haywood, AKA Citizen Steel (Nick Zano) and Amaya Jiwa, AKA Vixen (Masie Richardson-Sellers). Zano plays Citizen Steel; however what is unique about the character is that he doesn’t know he has powers yet. Guggenheim is very excited to write an origin story since the Legends came from other shows “…fully baked. [Here] we get the chance to actually meet a guy before he becomes a superhero and get the chance to tell an origin story. Scenes [are] a lot like a comic book and there’s a lot of fun to be had with a guy that’s developing his powers for the first time and learning about them.”
Of course he has an affinity for Vixen, having been Executive Producer of that series last year. Guggenheim said he really “loves the fact that Legends and Arrow have these strong, tough female superheroes and Vixen is definitely one of the them.”
Guggenheim had nothing but praise for the newcomers. “Nick just brings so much charisma and enthusiasm to the role. I think fans are going to be real happy with both characters.”
One of the reasons that I believe both Legends of Tomorrow and Arrow are successful is that the creators are themselves fans of the genre. They know what excites them, so they try to think of the episodes and story arc’s as a fan. “We approach these shows from the standpoint of people are going to watch for the characters. They may come for the superheroes, but they’ll stay for the characters and that really drives all of these shows- compelling characters going through an interesting emotional journey.”
Guggenheim adds that in the case of Arrow, if the audience doesn’t understand the emotion or what is driving Oliver (Stephen Amell), the fight sequence, no matter how well shot, doesn’t mean anything. He and the writers feel there would be no character development, which is key throughout the season, whether it’s for Legends or Arrow. The characters have to evolve.
The interviewer became the interviewee when I told Guggenheim that I’ve never read any of the comics but I love the shows. He asked if watching the shows compelled me to want to read the comics- the answer is yes! For me, when Sleepy Hollow came out with their comics last year, I’m such a fan of the show I got them! Now I understand their appeal.
In talking about where they were going in season two of Legends, Guggenheim explains he sat down with the writers and identified what worked in the first season and what didn’t. “The main thing we learned is what the show does well- going to a time period, fixing a problem, having fun, and having some dire consequences. The show seemed to really live and be very vibrant under those circumstances.” He adds that one of the pitfalls was trying to service too many characters and the cloud over Rip’s head dealing with his family’s destined death didn’t help matters. Though the CW has only ordered 13 episodes thus far, Guggenheim and the writing team have an end-game in mind for the season. With Legends they felt like it was a good show, with potential to be a great show so they wanted to fine tune it a bit this season, which is why we’ll see more focus on one or two characters per episode versus the whole cast.
As far as Arrow goes, he explains that there were ideas dropped in season one that they ran with for this season. In its fifth season, it’s a little more straightforward. “We go in and say this is what we want to do for the season and usually it’s drawn from an idea used in the previous season. There are ideas thrown out in the previous season, “you know what would be good for next season.”
According to Guggenheim, both Legends and Arrow are similar but very different in terms of the process in preparing for a season.
“With Legends, the mission statement is a little different from what it typically is with Arrow. With both shows we do sit down at the beginning of the year and figure out what the long arc of the year is, who the big bad is, what the storyline is, the ten-fold we’re building up to.” He adds “Legends is more like working under hood [of a car] there’s a lot of getting in there and really dismantling the machinery and examining it from all angles and putting it back together.”
Speaking of last season on Legends we were re-introduced to the season’s nemesis Vandal Savage played by Casper Crump. Unfortunately, we had met Savage during the crossover episode and we immediately knew who the big bad of the season would be, the fact he was going to accomplish his mission and kill Rip’s wife and son in 2061. Guggenheim felt this put a huge cloud over Rip and the team knowing that this destiny date was out there. He said this was one of the things the show suffered in season one. Because we already knew who Savage was, what he was going to do. They had to back-engineer the character.
One of the coolest aspects of having so many series about superheroes are the crossover events. Last year we saw The Flash on Supergirl, Supergirl on The Flash and Constantine on Arrow. With so many jumping from show to show, I can just imagine what the writers have to do to keep it all straight! Guggenheim says they really truly do it for the fans. He explains the are two types of crossovers they do- there’s Easter egg crossovers where it’s one character going over to another channel and while it has challenges especially with scheduling, it’s relatively easy compared to the annual mega-crossover! “I describe it like playing tic tac toe. The mega-crossover is like playing 3-Dimensional chess with Rubix Cubes. We, the writers and producers, don’t get paid extra for doing the crossovers, even though the amount of work is exponentially greater. We really do it for the love of the genre and fans. We are fans ourselves so we approach it from a fan’s perspective. We go, “what would excite us as fans?” That’s what we start with and we know that all that hard work is gonna pay off in the form of producing something that fans are really going to love and hopefully go crazy over.”
One of the highly anticipated aspects of season two is the introduction to the Justice League of America and the Legion of Doom, a squad of baddies taken from The Flash and Arrow who we’ll see revealed slowly as the series progresses. It kind of makes the hair on the back of your neck stick up just thinking about them and exactly what they have planned for our Legends. The reveal of the Legion of Doom will be more like what they’ve done on Arrow and Flash. “There’s a little bit of a mystery so you don’t know what they’re up to and you don’t know that 2061 date is looming.”
I’m fascinated about time travel and having the ability to step into whatever moment in history or the future, which is why Legends resonates with my inner explorer. For Guggenheim, he gets to recreate decades long past and he teases there will be several decades featured this season, including the civil war.
Since there are two African-American characters, Jackson and Vixen, they decided to do a story about slavery. I asked what made them want to do that time period, the time of such an ugly part of American history. Guggenheim explains they tossed around several ideas, such as WWI, the Revolutionary War, etc… However went with the Civil War because both Vixen and Jackson have different perspectives- Vixen from 1942 and Jackson from 2016. “By placing these two characters in a time period was obviously very terrible for their ancestors, one we wanted to give Vixen a prominent role and with Jackson we wanted to tell stories that didn’t revolve around Stein or his parents. We wanted him to stand alone.” (This episode airs October 20.)
Guggenheim adds that while Vixen is initially introduced as part of the Justice League, after this experience, she can’t ignore what she learns and joins the Legends.
Another time period they’ve been talking about doing is Ancient Rome. However, he quickly adds that they’d want to have the ability to make it look authentic and not cheesy. Personally I think they can pull it off!
Fans had many questions for Guggenheim and I think we got answers!
Q: Is Jay Garrett going to make an appearance on Legends?
A: “I don’t know. We don’t have that story, right now we’re focusing on the intro of Justice League of America; I would love to do something with Jay, but it comes back to story. We have to have a great story. I think the fans can tell when you just check off the box. It comes down to story.”
Q: Who would you pick to be on Legends from DC?
A: “Batman”, he answers with no hesitation! “Obviously I’m a big Batman fan. I love the way Gotham has dramatized and projects out the spirit of Batman without Batman being in it. One of my favorite comics was Ed Brubaker’s ‘Gotham Central’ which I think Gotham owes a lot to that. Just making the city a character in the show is really, really smart.”
Q: Will Constantine appear on Legends?
A: “I don’t know if he’ll be on Legends. When Constantine came on Arrow it was with the understanding it was a one-off. It always starts with a story. Last year Constantine came on Arrow not just because it was cool, but because we had a great story to tell. As an example we have to bridge the story before getting into any conversations with Matt (Ryan) and DC Comics.”
Q: Do you think these shows should follow what’s in the comic books and not veer off, do something different?
A: “I don’t personally require total fidelity to the source material. I say it less as a writer and more of a fan of comics. JJ Abrams wrote a Superman script a few years ago. Outstanding script but to me it wasn’t Superman. Krypton didn’t blow up, Lex Luthor was an alien, it diverged too far from the source material. Although it was a phenomenal script, it’s like you can’t do Batman without killing his parents. There are certain elements that you do if you change those basic genetic components, it stops being what it is. Like the X-Men have to be mutants. Wolverine can’t have gotten his powers from a Wolverine radioactive bite, he’s gotta be born with it. With the exception of those specific cultural examples, change it up. What works in one medium might not work in the others.”
“With Arrow,I get angry tweets from fans who say Arrow isn’t close enough to the comics and what those fans really mean is it’s not close enough to the comics they want to see. There’s over 50 years of ‘Green Arrow’ comic books out there. Not every single comic revolves around Arrow romantically involved with Black Canary.”
Q: Some fans say Arrow has become a supporting character on his own show?
A: “That’s a popular read among that segment of the audience. We don’t like Arrow because we don’t like Felicity and we are going to say that Felicity is overshadowing Arrow. The problem is the reason they say they don’t like Felicity is because that’s who Oliver is romantically involved with and not Laura Lance, who is the Black Canary. In the comics the Black Canary and Arrow are romantically involved. In my mind it all comes back to the shippers. No one is more aware than I am of how much screen time Stephen gets relative to the other actors on the show, how much story is developed for Oliver, how Oliver is written relative to the other characters on the show. the argument that Oliver is a supporting character is a very ficus argument that is actually not born out by stories we are actually telling on the show.”
Lastly Guggenheim adds his thoughts on Legends, “I love it because there are so many different perspectives [within] each time period. It’s what really makes Legends different than other CW shows or any superhero shows. It gives the show its own geeky identity, which to me is very very exciting.”
Be sure to tune in for Arrow, Wednesday’s at 8:00 p.m., followed by the new hit series Frequency at 9:00 p.m. and Thursday’s at 8:00 p.m. for Legends of Tomorrow, followed by Supernatural at 9:00 p.m. only on the CW Network.