Cartoon Network's series "Justice League Action," about a group of DC Comics superheroes that includes Superman and Batman, has episodes that last only 11 minutes, but the series has attracted an impressive number of stars to voice heroic and villainous roles.
Starting with the return to TV of longtime Batman voice actor Kevin Conroy, who last took on the Dark Knight in 2006's "Justice League Unlimited" series, "Action" boasts a glittery cast that includes James Woods, Ken Jeong, Mark Hamill, Carl Reiner, Sean Astin, Christian Slater, Brent Spiner and Hannibal Buress.
The assemblage speaks to the rise in popularity and respect in the superhero genre of film and television. Conroy was particularly impressed by the new additions, some of which may have only been around for one episode, and that was one big reason why he returned to the role.
"Cloris Leachman is amazing. Carl Reiner was giving us all a lesson on how to edit yourself when he came on," said Conroy. "They've brought a lot of new characters like Booster Gold, who Diedrich Bader plays, and he's phenomenally funny. And James Woods as Lex Luthor is really off the wall."
The show launched in December, and though it has a familiar animation style evoking the angular shapes of Bruce Timm's preceding "Justice League" series, the dynamic between the heroes and the pace of the stories is much faster.
"What's different about 'Justice League Action,' besides some unique and exciting additions to our cast, and of course the new takes on villains and heroes, is that we're attempting something new and fresh in tone and look," said "Action" voice director Wes Gleason.
Getting that tone right, which meant corralling and guiding the many actors that come through the voiceover booth, was Gleason's main focus. The show boasts team-ups and includes more than 100 characters. With so many — from the popular Harley Quinn (voiced by Tara Strong) to the obscure Space Cabbie (voiced by Patton Oswalt) — there were often instances of the unexpected.
"We really gravitate toward enthusiasm," said Gleason on how they guided the actors. "Maybe there's touches that we haven't thought of — and that's what I call the magical stuff — where we've gotten the actor in the right place and in the right tone and familiar with the show and the essence of the character, and then they start adding things that we hadn't thought of or just a little subtle touch to the character that now makes it their own."
The 11-minute format also allows for more actors to be involved. With such a short time period, an actor can get in and get out, and the exposition and introductions that usually make up a show are done away with.
"What's interesting about the format is that it's deceptive," said Conroy. "The writing assumes you know the characters [and] assumes you know the world they're living in."
Conroy, in the meantime, definitely knows the world his character lives in after 25 years of voicing him. Despite not being on a TV series, he's created many straight-to-video animated films that allowed him to maintain a firm grip on Batman and his alter-ego, Bruce Wayne.
"The character he evolves into as the Batman, to me that's his comfort space," said Conroy. "To me, Bruce Wayne is the character, the costume."
He's one constant in a changing franchise. "Justice League Action" airs on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on Cartoon Network.