Coming of age isn’t easy for anyone, but for superheroes those growing pains can come with world-ending consequences if they don’t learn how to control themselves. That’s a lesson that Kara Zor-El has to figure out alongside her fellow students at the Legion Academy in the brand new DC animated movie Legion of Super-Heroes. But in an interesting twist, this story isn’t directly adapted from any of the team’s famous DC yarns. Instead, it’s a new take on the iconic 31st century heroes through the lens of a new potential member in Supergirl.
The story of Superman’s Kryptonian cousin was where the seed of the script began for writer Josie Campbell.
“I knew I wanted Supergirl to be the main character,” she states. “She’s had so much trauma blown up in front of her eyes. Her mom’s gone. Everything she knows has gone. Batman’s mean to her. There are just so many roadblocks. And she’s really desperately searching for this place to belong. To me, that goes hand in hand with this teenage coming of age story.”
Director Jeff Wamester sees Kara overcoming that trauma and finding her place in the world as “the main thrust of the movie,” but explains that it’s also about her coming to terms with her Kryptonian lineage and what that comes with.
“She has these powers that are incredibly destructive,” he says. “She has to deal with the challenges that presents to her as a person. It’s an extreme version of being a teenager—it’s just amped up 100,000 times more.”
It was that drive to send Kara out of her comfort zone that inspired Campbell to bring the Legionnaires into the picture, sending Kara into the 31st century to come to terms with her powers and place in the world.
“Knowing that I wanted to tell a story with Supergirl being a fish out of water, it felt just so natural to be like, okay, well here’s Legion Academy,” she explains. “There are all these kids who want to get in, but they’re also fish out of water and maybe it won’t work out for them. That informed who I used. I love Saturn Girl and the main Legionnaires, but I wanted to pull some like oddballs in or some characters that maybe don’t have their powers fully figured out because then that gives them so much more room to grow.”
Using the Legion of Super-Heroes also offered the team the chance to tell a new kind of superhero story, one that focused on some of the lesser loved characters in the DC Universe.
“They’re a little bit strange,” Campbell laughs. “They’re a little bit weird. Some of them are aliens. None of them have the same powers you’ve seen before. Like we’ve seen Batman, we’ve seen Flash. This group of characters is a group of weirdos and oddballs, but they still want to save the world. And I think that as a writer and fan, that’s so appealing because they are so different from what has come before. It lets you tell a completely different kind of story.”
That outsider mentality was also something that drew Wamester to the Legion’s impressive new roster.
“It’s not like this one can fly and that one is super strong, the typical powers,” he notes. “It’s more like can they make something of this? Can they be the heroes? It’s that question mark.”
So, who makes up Legion of Super-Heroes’ titular team? The animated adventure draws deep from DC’s ranks, introducing viewers to iconic cult figures like Bouncing Boy, Triplicate Girl and Arm-Fall-Off-Boy. In other words, not necessarily the first heroes you think of when the Legion comes to mind.
“At Warner Bros., DC had all of these comic omnibuses from over the years,” shares Campbell. “I did a week-long deep dive, reading over various eras to see what stood out to me. Then Jim Craig, the producer, came into my office. I had a Charlie Day-style board set up with strings everywhere like, ‘I got a story to pitch to you.’ It was a delight and absolutely consumed every waking moment.”
There was another key aspect to building the new Legion roster too.
“All of them are mirrors for Supergirl,” Wamester explains. “She’s that fish out of water who’s wondering, ‘Am I even useful at all? Can I even fit into this world in any way?'”
Superheroes are often fish out of water tales, with the hero also taking on the role of the outsider in the world that they’re trying to protect. To Campbell, it’s one of the things that make the characters so relatable.
“I love the outsider story, partially because I think it’s a story that we can all relate to,” she says. “Even if you were the most popular kid in school, there’s always been that moment where you’re like, ‘Oh shit, like I really, really don’t fit in.’ Everyone can understand and empathize with that.”
Wamester agrees, explaining that adding the academy setting makes the story even more easy to connect with.
“I think that’s why we see it in a lot of stories,” he suggests. “We can all relate to that on some level. We all know how that felt. Every one of us walked into school, where you have this whole new set of consequences and a whole new set of responsibilities. And then, even when we grow up, we can still relate to that because it continues. When you have kids and get married, you still have those experiences where you’re like, ‘I’m all new to this!'”
While Kara begins this journey alone when Clark leaves her in the 31st century, she soon finds herself in allegiance with an unexpected new ally, Brainiac 5. Brought to life by Harry Shum Jr., this is the character’s first leading role in a DC animated movie, something that excited Shum Jr. to no end.
“We’ve never seen him in this capacity in one of these films,” he explains. “I just love that it’s taken all this time because there’s so much baggage. There’s so much that we’ve seen on the other side of Brainiac, the ones that came before him—being a clone, being an android, being artificial intelligence. All of that and then also having to navigate through the academy to figure out how to not allow people to treat you the way that they see you.”
All of that makes Brainiac an interesting foil and friend to Supergirl as the pair appear to be so different.
“Having someone like Supergirl—who, you know, didn’t really believe in herself, and then finally wanting to explore the idea of believing in Brainiac 5—I thought it was such a fascinating kind of convergence of these two polar opposites with opposite abilities,” says Shum Jr. “It’s almost like opposites attract in a lot of ways.”
Shum Jr. also had a very interesting take on the biggest challenge that Brainiac 5 faces—and it’s not the movie’s villain.
“In this particular story, his intelligence almost gets in the way because he’s thinking too far ahead,” he explains. “If you think too far ahead, you’re not living in the moment. You’re not seeing the things that you should be. Not seeing what could help you.”
It’s another similarity that the actor also sees in Brainiac’s new bestie, Supergirl.
“Her strength and abilities really also kind of set her back in a lot of ways,” he says. “So I feel like both of them are having their powers kind of supersede their ability to live in the present and see what’s in front of them.”
The team-up of Supergirl and Brainiac also speaks to what Shum Jr. sees as one of the most important takeaways of the film.
“It’s really about not just believing in yourself but having other people believe in you as well,” he shares.
While Legion of Super-Heroes represents the first appearance of the Legion in DC’s new animated movie universe, the team involved is hoping it won’t be the last.
“If they came back and said, ‘We want to do a sequel,’ then I’d be all on board,” Campbell enthuses. “I really, really love these characters and the version of them that I got to create. So if I got to tell further stories, I’d say, ‘Hell yeah!'”
“I’d love to (tell more stories),” adds Shum Jr. “There’s so much there. I think in a lot of ways this is just a really nice introduction to the possibilities of Brainiac 5.”
For the film’s director, however, it’s really all about the movie’s least likely hero.
“I think an Arm-Fall-Off-Boy short would be super fun,” Wamester chuckles.
Legion of Super-Heroes, DC’s newest feature length animated movie, is now available on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack, Blu-ray+Digital and Digital HD.
Rosie Knight is an award-winning journalist and author who loves Swamp Thing, the DC Cosmic and writing about those and more here at DC.com. You can listen to her waxing lyrical about comics, movies and more each week as she co-hosts Crooked Media’s pop-culture podcast, X-Ray Vision.