Ricky Church chats with Justice Society: World War II star Armen Taylor…
Though the Justice League consists of some of the most popular superheroes in comics and has been around for decades, they are not the first superhero team in either the DC Universe or the comic book industry. In 1940 the world was introduced to the Justice Society of America, a group of heroes made up of those with superpowers, scientists or highly skilled people who went on adventures, fought supervillains and even took part in World War II, fighting for the Allies against Nazi Germany and members of the Axis.
The original line-up included characters like Jay Garrick and Alan Scott, the original Flash and Green Lantern respectively, Hourman, Doctor Fate and Hawkman with Wonder Woman and Black Canary being added to the team later. While the Justice Society may not be as popular as the Justice League now, the JSA was a pretty big title for several years after its creation and remains a favourite among fans, so much so when DC wiped away the JSA out of continuity in their 2011 reboot many fans cried foul.
In a few weeks the Justice Society will receive their first feature length animated adventure Justice Society: World War II, the latest film in DC’s line of original animated movies. It follows Barry Allen’s Flash as he accidentally travels back in time, landing in Nazi-occupied France and meets the Justice Society, a team of secret superheroes led by Wonder Woman. Flash teams up with them to uncover the Nazis’ latest scheme and find a way to travel back to his time.
We got to chat with Armen Taylor who provides the voice of Jay Garrick, the original Flash from the Golden Age of comics. We spoke about Jay’s legacy, having two generations of The Flash in the film and seeing the JSA brought to life in their first animated feature. Check out the interview below…
Ricky Church: In Justice Society: World War II you play the original Flash, Jay Garrick. What was that like to play the original himself?
Armen Taylor: It was exceptionally cool getting to play this iconic hero that was a part of the original superhero squad. It was very cool. It was definitely a responsibility, but what a very, very exciting opportunity.
Like you said, he’s part of the original team of superheroes as Jay was among the first wave of Golden Age characters. Was that intimidating at all for you to step into such a big legacy?
Yes, absolutely, but also no. Yes before you got into booth and got working, but then Wes Gleason [voice director] and Butch [Lukic, supervising producer] are such great collaborators. They are so inviting and so welcoming and you just know you’re in good hands and the writing was so great. That really took the pressure off doing a performance and worrying about that too much. I mean, on the drive home I’d be like ‘Man, I really hope I didn’t screw that up’. I hope I did that justice. Pun not intended.
Speaking of legacy, Jay isn’t the only Flash here as Barry Allen also plays a pretty significant role. What’s interesting is how the two heroes learn from each other more about their powers and themselves. Was that a fun relationship to evolve? What do you think the differences are between Jay and Barry?
I think a big one is, as you see in the beginning, Barry obviously has this responsibility that he feels based on the fact that he’s superhero. Barry’s journey on his end, not just in this movie but in general, is he’s kind of in the shadows a bit because he can run faster than anyone can see. He’s not out front taking the hits, taking the shots, and he’s kind of gotten used to doing superhero things, but not at the level of responsibility. And then he comes and meets Jay and this team who’s fighting to save the world during WWII and they’ve all had to grow up a little bit differently and a little bit faster and seeing how that changes Barry on a very interpersonal relationship and then also centered what the world in his time needs. That would be a part of shifting the balance of how the future will go.
The Flash is pretty interesting because in the 80 years since his creation there have been three different Flashes with Jay, Barry and Wally West. What is it about The Flash you think makes the concept and his legacy so endearing?
I think one of the big things is, and I have not seen every or read every iteration of each of them, but one of the through lines is they’re always a little bit lighter, you know, they run fast, they think fast, they talk fast. There’s not this sort of grim element to them. There’s not the global saving responsibility that Superman has. They’re not quite like funny jokesters, but there’s an element of levity to them. I think people respond to that because you can sort of put yourself in their shoes. You can’t imagine running faster than a speeding bullet, but you put yourself in their shoes as an audience member and be like ‘Oh yeah, this is kind of how I see the world too’. And then I think we all love the idea of getting to run that quickly or moving that fast as sort of fun. There’s something endearing about that.
As we’ve mentioned already, the Justice Society is made up of some of the oldest heroes in comics. Alongside Jay, why do you think they’ve remained popular for so long?
I think we as a culture, every culture generally, has a pretty strong love of nostalgia. You can have the Justice League, but the Justice League exists because the Justice Society exists. Even the Marvel universe with the Avengers was sort of an offshoot from this original idea. There’s something about them being the originals that carries a little weight in the back of all of our minds. Each one is also very different than the superheroes we have now. A lot of the superheroes we have now have sort of transcended as our audiences evolve in terms of our expectations or grows for capabilities. I love the Justice Society and this group of them, this particular iteration of them. They’re all superhuman, yes, but they all have something on the back end that pulls them. Hourman is amazingly strong, basically Superman in terms of his strength, his ability to take hits, but only for an hour. Hawkman carries the weight of thousands of years on him in a way that is different than Wonder Woman, for example, who carried that weight and that expectation differently. Then you have Black Canary who has lived a rough life, but is using her powers for good. They all seem to carry it differently than the modern ones.
Cool. Obviously with a title of such as World War II, Jay and the JSA aren’t fighting super villains, but Nazis. What was your reaction to learning to that aspect of the story?
It was very, very cool is what it was. It was an interesting idea of how do you show the world what it looked like if we had people like this back then? How would that have changed things? One of the things I really loved about this is you get the sense that it’s not changing it enough. It’s not like in one year the Justice Society cleaned up the entire world. No, they’re out there fighting with superhuman powers and superhuman strength and speed and the Allies are still finding themselves on the back foot from time to time. It doesn’t matter that Jay can run around a thousand soldiers and disarm them in two seconds. There’s still so much at stake which is interesting to explore.
Also on a fun note when I went back into ADR for pickups, I voiced some of the German soldiers who got the crap kicked out of them! There’s one scene where I voiced every German soldier getting beat up by Jay. They were like ‘I think this will work, we’ll see what happens.” There’s a moment where Jay shoots through and you hear “Oof! Ow! Grunt! Ah!” and it’s all me getting my ass kicked by me. I was like, I’m going to keep a clip of this on my phone all the time!
On that note, you are a pretty prolific voice actor. What’s your process for getting into a new role and how did you find Jay’s voice?
The biggest thing was the writing on this and the direction from Wes and Butch. They really shaped it in a way where all I had to do was show up and give it my all. With a character like this, you learn as much as you can about them as quickly as you can and try to integrate it and figure out how close you can get to them. I think one thing that’s nice is getting to play around with vocal range and doing fun character voices is a blast, but one thing I like about this is unless it’s an accent or something you’re usually using more or less your own voice to bring this great human element to it.
Thank you very much to Armen Taylor for speaking with us!
Justice Society: World War II will be released on digital April 27th and Blu-ray May 11th.
Ricky Church – Follow me on Twitter for more movie news and nerd talk.