DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, The CW network’s series focused on characters from DC Comics’ pantheon of characters and set in the Arrowverse universe of shows, has an enthusiastic fan following, with viewers devoted to the tales of the crew of the Waverider as they seek to protect the universe in their time-traveling adventures. The series ended just last year, but its fans remain just enraptured in the Legends mythos, many of them still calling for the show to continue. And it’s no wonder why: Legends filled a niche that they didn’t exist in the television superhero landscape and that remains empty with the series ended.
One of Legends’ most vocal fans has been Russ Burlingame, multitalented writer and author of Best Movie Ever: An Oral History of Deborah Kaplan & Harry Elfont’s Josie and the Pussycats. Over the years—both as a fan and as an entertainment journalist—Burlingame had the opportunity to have behind-the-scenes looks at the origins of the series and beyond, well into its seven-season run. From that reporting and his love of the show and its creators sprang the idea for the book Time to Be Heroes: A Totally Unofficial Oral History of Legends of Tomorrow, which throws the spotlight on the origins of the series, from well before it first aired to its final episode and beyond. The book, currently on Kickstarter, includes archival and brand-new interviews and never-before seen photos, giving insights into the show that fans will love.
Burlingame brings a professionalism, talent, and love to whatever topic he tackles, as seen in his years of writing in entertainment. I’ve followed his work for years and it’s gratifying to see him throw that talent to a subject about which he is so clearly passionate. You’re sure to see that passion shine through in this newest piece work. Mr. Burlingame spoke with me recently about the impetus behind the project, the process of crafting the book, and why the television series has such a connection to its fans and means so much to them.
FreakSugar: For folks reading this, what is the secret origin of Time to Be Heroes: A Totally Unofficial Oral History of Legends of Tomorrow?
Russ Burlingame: The secret origin is kind of a long and winding road, honestly. After my first book, which was an oral history of the 2001 Josie and the Pussycats movie, I was thinking about what I might want to do next. I actually have a long list of ideas, some of which aren’t even in the geek space.
I landed on doing an oral history of Crisis on Infinite Earths. My idea was that the first third of the book would be about the comics, the second third would be an introduction to the Arrowverse, and the last part would be a look at the TV event from 2019-2020.
I started writing the Crisis book, but quickly found myself excited to talk about Legends whenever it came up. At one point, I reached out and talked to Jess Harnell, who provided the singing voice for Elvis Presley in a season 3 episode of Legends. He and I are friendly, so it was an easy call, but it had nothing at all to do with Crisis, so I started thinking I might be looking at a Legends book after the Crisis book.
Then, George Perez passed away. George drew the original Crisis comics, and I didn’t want to be bugging his friends and family, peppering them with questions right after his passing. I started figuring out what I could do with a short break, and then Legends was cancelled. It all just kind of came together.
FS: You’ve been one of the show’s—and the Arrowverse’s—biggest boosters in both your coverage and online in general. What personally moves you about that world?
RB: I love the way the Arrowverse feels. There are some shows that are better than others, and I haven’t loved every story or ever character. Still, it feels like the truest live-action adaptation of a superhero universe we’ve ever had.
The MCU, for instance. They’re great movies, but as a lot of people have pointed out, they’re basically just big action movies where the cops and soldiers are dressed in bright colors. The lack of any secret identities and the fact that they all work for the government…it doesn’t scream “superhero.” And that’s the closest thing we’ve ever gotten to a superhero universe besides the Arrowverse. DC’s live-action universe has been a mess ever since they started trying to set it up.
FS: Following up on that, what has been the most rewarding part of the crafting of the book?
RB: It’s still going on, but right now, a big thing is feeling like I’m giving some of the cast and crew a version of a happy ending. The show ended on a cliffhanger for the audience, but for the people who worked on it, it was cancelled after ratings had gone UP, not down, and with the series in the top half of the network’s ratings. It was kind of crazy to think that it would be ending, because it’s super rare for a network to slash something like 75% of all their shows at once.
So, I’ve spoken with a few people who were still really bummed out. And being able to relate the love that I’ve been getting from the audience, has been really gratifying. I can tell people, “No, this mattered and matters to people. What you did made a lot of people happy.”
FS: For the book, you interviewed a whole host of talent and creators associated with the book. You’ve been immersed in that world for quite some time. Are there facts that you didn’t know about the show during your research, even with your wealth of knowledge beforehand?
RB: Quite a few things, yeah. Nothing really earth-shaking so far, but certainly there have been a few fun anecdotes and some bits of trivia that have come up. One thing that I thought was really interesting is that because the Crisis on Earth-X crossover ballooned out over a few weeks, some of the actors were literally shooting scenes where they were mourning Stein’s death…and then jumping into a bus to go shoot scenes from “Beebo, the God of War,” where they were dealing with one of the silliest episodes of the series. More than one of them was pretty worried it wouldn’t work, apparently, but they all liked it once they saw the episode edited together.
Similarly, they had to shoot the season 5 premiere – which aired AFTER the Legends episode of Crisis on Infinite Earths – before they had a script for Crisis. That meant making a few educated guesses, and was especially challenging for Caity Lotz and Brandon Routh, whose characters had to act like they remembered the events.
FS: On to the Kickstarter itself, what can you tell us about the campaign and the potential rewards?
RB: I tried to keep it fairly basic, but we do have some fun stuff. Besides hardcover and paperback copies of the book, you can get a copy of my Booster Gold companion book, The Gold Exchange. And to give a sense for where the book is going, I have something that’s basically like a comics ashcan. Hedgehog Day is a 30-page, spiral-bound book that focuses just on the fan-favorite time loop episode from season 3 and the series’ finale. You can also get an MP3 of me and Legends co-creator Phil Klemmer talking over the series finale, and some little 2” squares of authentic Beebo fur, which I’ll be mounting in little acrylic frames.
Oh! And back in 2020, I wrote this silly short film about Hawkman being stuck inside due to COVID and calling up the last Blockbuster Video in Bend, Oregon to get some movies. The short was directed by The Last Blockbuster director Taylor Morden and stars Falk Hentschel, who was Hawkman on Legends. In the campaign, you can get a VHS copy of the short, which is totally exclusive to Kickstarter.
FS: You’ve already far exceeded your initial campaign goal. Congratulations! That has to be gratifying and speaks to the love of the show and the love of your work.
RB: Thank you! I created a very low goal, because Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing platform, and I’m positive I’m going to do the book. It’s that simple, and so I wanted to make sure the campaign funded, because if I have to go out of pocket to make it exactly what I want, I will, so the most important thing is making sure I have an audience when it’s done.
I’m really gratified by how well received it has been, and how much passion there clearly is for Legends, but I’m still a ways away from my “ideal” amount, where I can do things like record an audiobook – if we reach $9,000 on the campaign, I’ll make that an option – and some other fun ideas I have for stretch goals.
FS: Besides being entertained, what do you hope readers take away from the book?
RB: I’m really trying to make it FEEL like it’s Legends content. The beauty of an oral history is that for the most part, it isn’t my voice you’re reading, but the voices of those who created the show, and whose interviews drive the narrative of the book forward. So that’s what I want the readers to get.
Also, I want them to get a sense for who some of these folks are, who aren’t necessarily the actors or showrunners. I’ve talked to some writers, and some directors, and I’m going to talk to people from music and VFX. TV is a really collaborative medium, and I want to give a voice to every Legends creator who wants to take part, even if they aren’t the kind of people who you would ordinarily see interviewed.
One of my absolute favorite anecdotes from my first book came from Jennifer and Sylvia Soska. They’re pretty well known as grindhouse horror directors now, but when they did Josie and the Pussycats, they were teenaged extras. And yet, they remembered something that the directors completely forgot. I want Time To Be Heroes to be like that – I want to dig deep enough that I come up with stories that surprise the showrunners.
FS: If you had a final pitch to potential backers, what would it be?
RB: Legends of Tomorrow is a show that means a lot, to a lot of people. It provided diversity, and heart, to the DC Universe at a time when both of those things were in pretty short supply. I’m happy to be writing the story of how this beautiful, weird little show came to life, and I hope you’re interested in hearing the story I – or rather, the cast and crew – are telling.
As of press time, the Kickstarter for Time to Be Heroes: A Totally Unofficial Oral History of Legends of Tomorrow has already reached its initial goal almost TEN TIMES over! It’s well worth your time to check out this campaign, whether you’re an ardent fan of the series, a new viewer, or just a lover of comics in general.
From the official press release:
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow ran for seven seasons and earned a dedicated fan following who are still fighting to bring the show back, a year after it ended. But it was not always easy: while Legends was ordered straight to series and included fan-favorite characters from other popular TV shows, it took a while to find its identity, and even once it did, living up to its own increasingly unhinged standards became a challenge.
That’s the story of TIME TO BE HEROES: A TOTALLY UNOFFICIAL GUIDE TO LEGENDS OF TOMORROW. The upcoming, book-length oral history of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow is now funding on Kickstarter (link here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/russburlingame/a-totally-unofficial-oral-history-of-legends-of-tomorrow). Featuring more than a dozen interviews with members of the series’ cast and crew, TIME TO BE HEROES aims to be the most comprehensive look at the series ever written.
From ECV Analog and author Russ Burlingame (Best Movie Ever: An Oral History of Deborah Kaplan & Harry Elfont’s Josie and the Pussycats), TIME TO BE HEROES features both archival interviews with cast and crew members, and all-new conversations, plus never-before-seen behind-the-scenes photos.
Never-before-seen interviews include cast members like Tala Ashe (Zari Tomaz/Zari Tarazi), Jes Macallan (Ava Sharpe), Adam Tsekhman (Gary Green), and behind-the-scenes creatives like showrunners Phil Klemmer and Keto Shimizu. Legends co-creator Marc Guggenheim and producing director Kevin Mock also join the fun.
TIME TO BE HEROES starts at the beginning – with backdoor pilot episodes of Arrow and The Flash – and follows the series and characters all the way through to the end, when the show introduced Booster Gold and ended on a cliffhanger. In addition to giving insight into the creative process, TIME TO BE HEROES will examine what made the series so beloved, and how it managed to differentiate itself in a crowded field of comic book-to-screen adaptations.
“DC’s Legends of Tomorrow was a show that meant a lot to a lot of people. To an audience that often felt like they weren’t ‘seen’ on network TV, the show provided boundary-pushing superhero entertainment and gave its fans the kind of TV family that you don’t usually see: one that is diverse ethnically, in terms of sexual orientation, and philosophically,” Burlingame said. “I was there the whole time. As a reporter in my day job, I have been on the Waverider numerous times over the years, dating all the way back to before the show was actually on the air. Legends of Tomorrow itself is great, but the narrative behind it — a network TV show that found its identity and its audience by leaning into the insanity of its premise and ‘screwing things up for the better’ — that’s what really made me fall in love with Legends, which I think is bound to become a true cult classic.”
Russ Burlingame is an entertainment journalist living in Upstate New York. He has previously written books about the 2001 cult-classic movie Josie and the Pussycats, and about DC superhero Booster Gold.
TIME TO BE HEROES is scheduled for release on February 2, 2024.