Vintage Interviews with the Makers of the DCAU

Revelator

Loathsome spotted reptile
Hello Gang,

This thread will be devoted to posting vintage magazine interviews with the creators of the DCAU (Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, etc.). As you will notice, all but two of the interviews are more than 20 years old. All are from magazines that ceased publication long ago and are no longer easy to find. For the benefit of researchers and fans, I have transcribed 22 articles and will upload one a week in this thread.

This post will serve as an index to the series. Links will be added to the article titles after each week's post. If you know of a valuable interview that I've missed, send me a message and I'll try to locate and add it. Here is the line-up:

01. "Animated Knights: Grim & Avenging, Batman Returns to the Cartoon Night" (Interview with Alan Burnett, Comics Scene V.2 #29, Oct. 1992)

02. "The Joker's Keeper: When Batman gets Animated, Paul Dini Tickles the Funnybone of the Clown Prince of Crime" (Comics Scene V.2 #31, Feb. 1993)

03. "Cartoon Noir: The Architect of Gotham City, Bruce Timm Designs & Produces the Adventures of Batman" (Comics Scene V.2 #32, April 1993)

04. "The Dark Knight Returns...Again!!!" (Interviews with Timm; Hero Magazine, Special Edition: Batman, V.1 #1, Oct. 1993)

05. "The Sounds of a Bat" (Interviews with Kevin Conroy, Loren Lester, Paul Williams, Richard Moll, and Bob Hastings; see above)

06. "Batman Reanimated" (Interviews with Timm and Radomski, Wild Cartoon Kingdom #1, June 1993)

07. "Batman Returns…Again! The Dark Knight is back on the silver screen, Bigger and Better in Mask of the Phantasm" (Interviews with Timm, Dini, and Radomski; Wild Cartoon Kingdom #2, Dec. 1993)

08. "Grimmer Gotham: It's a Dark Knight for the Silver Screen" (Interview with Dini on Mask of the Phantasm, Comics Scene V.2 #40, Feb. 1994)

09. "The Noble Voice: In an Animated Gotham City, Kevin Conroy Speaks Up" (see above)

10. "Knight Vision: That Master of Dark Deco, Eric Radomski, Looks Behind the Mask of the Animated Batman" (Comics Scene V.2 #43, June 1994)

11. "The Man Who Laughs: Dealing Mayhem as the Joker, Mark Hamill is All Smiles" (Comics Scene V.2 #44, July 1994)

12. "Gotham Nocturna: Too Dark for the Dark Knight, She Didn't Get to Put the Bite on an Animated Batman" (Comics Scene V.2 #46, Sept. 1994)

13. "Animated Steel: The Men Behind the Dark Knight File the Flight Plan for Superman" (Comics Scene V.2 #54, Jan. 1996)

14. "Men of Steel: 'Batman' Team of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm Hope to Weave Their Animated Magic on Superman" (Wizard Magazine #59, July 1996)

15. "The Dark Knight Returns: Now on Kids' WB! the Animated 'Batman' is Back with a Gritty New Look, Despite Bubbly Sidekicks" (Wizard Magazine #72, Aug. 1997)

16. "Eternal Knight: The Future Turns Dark in Batman Beyond" (AnimeFantastique #4, Winter 1999)

17. Batman Beyond "First Season Episode Guide" with commentary (see above)

18. "Designing Batman Beyond" (see above)

19. "Batman Beyond: Influences & Evil" (see above)

20. "Last Laughs: Dealing in Dark Knights of Yesterday & Tomorrow, Animated Ace Bruce Timm Faces the Return of the Joker" (Starlog #282, Jan. 2001)

21. "Justice League: Superman, Batman & Their Super Friends Get Animated for the 21st Century" (Starlog #294, Jan. 2002)

22. "The Wizard Q & A: Bruce Timm (on JLU season three; Wizard Magazine #173, March 2006)

I would like to offer these transcriptions to the World's Finest website, should it be interested.
If you enjoyed this series, please take a look at my post on Cinefantastique's coverage of Batman: The Animated Series.
 
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Revelator

Loathsome spotted reptile
01. Animated Knights: Grim & avenging, Batman returns to the cartoon night
By Pat Jankiewicz (Comics Scene V.2 #29, Oct. 1992)

Batman has never been lucky with his cartoon career. Past trials-by-toon have reduced the grim avenger to a pointy-eared dad playing straight man to the likes of the Wonder Twins, Bat-Mite, even Scooby-Doo.

Warner Bros. Animation is changing all that with Batman: The Animated Series, a captivating cartoon that mixes elements of the hit Bat-films with the comic book, from the Neal Adams ’70s to the Norm Breyfogle ’90s.

“This Batman is a flesh and blood human being, and you get a stronger sense of his crusade,” declares Alan Burnett, the amiable producer of the series. “This is not a cardboard character. He’s a man with a cause in a frazzled society. Batman is unremitting in his obsession to rid the streets of crime and save people from the pain he experienced.”

Burnett’s office looks like the Batcave West. Besides the usual producer bric-a-brac of files and scripts, he has a well-read copy of The Batman Encyclopedia, stacks of DC comics, The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told, character sketches and a leering wind-up Joker.

“We show a character who’s mortal,” he says of the Dark Knight Detective. “One difference between our Batman and the movie Batman is our guy wears cloth clothes. Ours is much more fluid in motion. The movie Batman is interesting in his stiff, almost knight-like look. Ours harks back to the classical Batman, who’s very vulnerable.”

Nonetheless, the cartoon crime-fighter is modeled after his cinematic cousin. “We’re trying to stay as close to the movies as we can,” says Burnett. “Visually, we’ll be in tune with the movies. Our Catwoman and Penguin models are based on drawings that Tim Burton made for us. Bruce Timm designed Batman and most of the other characters, but Burton saw and approved everything we did. We had meetings with him to keep the franchise close.

“Burton is a very gracious fellow, full of ideas. He said to us, ‘Do what you feel needs to be done. This is your series, this is what I’m doing, so take it from there.’ We’re trying to keep the show close to the movies—for example, Batman has the film’s grappling gun, and Penguin is referred to as a mutant because that’s what he’s called in Batman Returns. We also wanted to stay close to the comics. The classic Batman with Dick Grayson as his partner emerges in this show and blends with the movie’s tone.

“It was difficult developing Catwoman and Penguin without having seen Batman Returns. Our versions had to live on to bother Batman. We were told the story’s basic bones, but had no idea how they moved or talked. Our Catwoman is more social than the movie.”

Burnett, a comics fan as a kid, enjoyed researching the series. “He was my favorite comic-book hero,” the producer remembers. “When I was 10, I loved the first Batman Annual with his origin stories: how he got his suit and car, and how the Bat-Signal was created. I went to DC last year and raided their files! In two days,” he laughs, “we literally went through every Batman and Detective comic, starting with the late ’40s to today.

“Around 1957-58, I started recognizing comics I had bought! It was amazing to see and hold those covers again. It’s strange that now, 30-odd years later, I’m producing Batman shows for a new generation of kids. It’s ironic to me. The project feels special because of that.”

Burnett, who also wrote Duck-Tales: The Movie and won a Humanitas Award for The Smurfs, was summoned by Warners’ Bat-Signal. “I had just story-edited the second season of Hanna-Barbera’s Dark Water when Jean MacCurdy called up saving, “You’ve got to come over to Batman!

“She showed me a promo clip by co-producers Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, and I couldn’t believe my eyes,” he states. “It was the best action/adventure animation I’d ever seen for television. That promo clip got me here, and I’ve been jazzed about the show ever since.”

He and the other producers have a strong rapport. “Radomski and Timm are good guys who are very dedicated to the show. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them. Radomski and I are both from Cleveland and Timm’s from Ohio. That state’s a real hotbed for superhero creativity,” he jokes. “[Superman creators] Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and Howard the Duck are also from there!”

The animated Batman, which will air weekday afternoons on Fox this fall, has a noir ambience. It seems as if characters from Max & Dave Fleischer’s Superman cartoons are wandering through Akira’s Neo-Tokyo. “We call the look of the show ‘Dark Deco.’ Dark Deco is as if there were computer technology in the ’40s. The show takes place at night with Batman unseen until he literally steps out of the shadows. With this look, even his cape has a heaviness to it.”

Characters move appropriately—with Bruce Wayne's slouchy millionaire gait and the Dark Knight’s lithe motion. “Batman wouldn’t work if the acting wasn’t as well-animated as it is,” the producer muses. “I see similarities to Fleischer’s Supermans, but our look is softer and more, to use a phrase—cartoony. Those cartoons also had a dark palette, so Fleischer has been an influence on our artists. Batman has the darkest palette I’ve ever seen for TV animation.”

The show, which features some of Danny Elfman’s music themes as well as original music by Shirley Walker adheres to Batman’s grim tone. “I’m very proud of my story editors,” enthuses Burnett. “We’ve done stories with a lot of depth. We have one ['I am the Night'] where Jim Gordon gets shot. Batman feels responsible, so he throws in the cowl and quits. We have a show called ‘It’s Never Too Late’ about the redemption of a Mafia king. It’s strange, because it touches on religious faith—the Mafioso’s brother is a priest.

“There are so many good episodes. In ‘Perchance to Dream,’ Batman wakes up to discover that not only is there no longer a Batcave, but his parents are still alive. They’re 20 years older and living in the mansion. He concludes that he dreamt this Batman thing up, and he’s now coming out of it,” Burnett relates. “I like it because it’s not a dream—we don't fake people out!

“‘The Man Who Killed Batman’ is about a low-level shmuck in the gangster organization who everybody thinks killed Batman. Suddenly, he’s king of the mountain, but it becomes a nightmare, as the Joker tries to kill him for killing Batman. In ‘What is Reality?’, the Riddler traps Batman in a virtual-reality computer game. Some shows are lighter than others. We’re doing one where Penguin enters high society, and it has some screwball scenes. The nice aspect of doing 65 episodes is that we can experiment more and try different ideas.”

Batman’s flight from comics to cartoon incurred “lots of problems, because comics can get away with many things we can’t,” he says. “For instance, we can’t murder people like in comics. We have a certain quota of blood we can use, while comics can bathe in the stuff! It’s a problem, because we wanted to find comics stories we could translate to the screen.

“Many of the comic-book stories were based on violent injuries or murders, and if we couldn’t find a parallel event to substitute, we couldn’t use the story. It was disappointing, because there were great comics stories that we otherwise would have used.

“As it is, we’ve used several, including ‘Moon of the Wolf’ [a Neal Adams werewolf classic], ‘The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy,’ and right now, [Batman comics editor] Denny O’Neil is writing a Ra’s Al Ghul show based on his stories. It’s pronounced ‘Raysh all-Ghoul,’ ” says Burnett.

Some classic tales were condensed. “We took two stories and slapped them together,” he explains. “We took Steve Englehart’s ‘The Laughing Fish,’ where Joker is killing bureaucrats, but in our version, he’s putting them into catatonic states. We used the body of that and the ending of a Denny O’Neil story ['Joker’s 5-Way Revenge'], where Batman fights a shark, because the story has a fish motif. Denny adapted it.

“When I came on, I started tracking down comic book writers as fast as I could, particularly people who had written Batman. Marty Pasko and Michael Reaves, our story editors, and [writers] Denny O'Neil, Gerry Conway and Elliot Maggin all wrote Batman comics. Many of the original writers adapted their Batman stories. Eric Radomski and Paul Dini know the character pretty well, too. I gathered people who love Batman and they’ve taken the show places couldn’t have gone without them. The producers, directors and writers are all doing the best we can!”

Certain to be of interest is the slate of celebrity guest villains: “Our casting director, Andrea Romano, is wonderful—she has gotten us all these high-caliber people. We recently got David Warner to be Ra’s Al Ghul,” he notes proudly. “Helen [Supergirl] Slater’s his daughter, Talia!”

He’s very pleased with the rest of the rogues’ gallery. “Mark Hamill is the Joker, Michael York’s Count Vertigo, Adrienne Barbeau is Catwoman, Brock Peters is [Bruce Wayne’s VP] Lucius Fox, Marc Singer’s Man-Bat and Meredith McRae is Francine Langstrom and She-Bat. Roddy McDowall’s the Mad Hatter and Paul Williams is the Penguin.

“Michael Ansara is Mr. Freeze, John Glover is the Riddler, Harry Hamlin’s a werewolf, Treat Williams is Professor Milo and L.A. Law’s Alan Rachins is Clock King. We treat it like a radio play, and have the actors do it as straight as they can.” he notes. “They always have a good time.”

Mark Hamill’s role as the Clown Prince of Crime seems odd, as early word said the part had gone to Tim Curry. “We decided to go in a different direction on the Joker’s voice,” Burnett explains. “So, we recast. It was a hard decision to make, because we really like Tim Curry as an actor, but Mark Hamill filled the bill.”

Burnett has nothing but praise for the Batman’s voice. “Kevin Conroy is terrific. He does an interesting thing with his voice: As Batman, he has an almost harsh, Clint Eastwood resonance, but as Bruce Wayne, his register goes up like an aloof playboy.” the producer states. “People can’t believe it’s the same guy doing the voices.”

Among the other regulars, Commissioner Gordon is Bob Hastings, known as Joe Flynn’s second banana on McHale’s Navy. Lloyd Bochner is weak-willed Mayor Hill, “not the strongest leader you’ve ever seen,” and Robert Constanzo is Detective Bullock. Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. voices Alfred. Other non-baddie guest voices include Robby Benson, Ed Asner, Dick Gautier, Bud Cort and John Rhys-Davies.

As for villains, “We’ll also have Killer Croc, the Scarecrow, Hugo Strange and crime boss Rupert Thorne [voiced by Animal House’s John Vernon], our mock-Kingpin who has appeared in several episodes. The joke around the office is that we have everybody but Killer Moth [a lame 50s Bat-villain],” Burnett laughs. “Well, we just haven’t come up with a story for him yet!

“Ron Perlman’s great as Clayface. We do several with him—our Clayface outmorphs Terminator 2! We have a great origin and then we do ‘Mudslide,’ where Clayface is disintegrating and must be put into an exo-skeleton. It’s the third stage of his evolution. I wrote that story, of Clayface trying to save his own life.

“Our Clayface is the Matt Hagen [’50s] Clayface, but we included elements from the others. Clayface is an actor used by the mob to set people up. The mob gave him a cream that allows him to change his face’s shape. He becomes a problem to the mob, so they stuff the cream down his throat. [A violent act they got on the air by using “a lot of shadows!”] He ODs on it and his body turns to clay.”

The series will also introduce new faces: “We’ve given Joker a girl friend named Harley Quinn. We have a reporter named Summer Gleason, our all-purpose press character, and Officer Montoya, a strong, Hispanic female character. And there’s the Ninja, a brand new creation. We have a story where the Ninja comes to Gotham with a vendetta against Bruce.

“In the sequel, Bruce Wayne goes to Japan to fight the Ninja. Batman’s summoned there by the man who taught him martial arts. The Ninja has captured one of his students. In that episode, we actually used English subtitles! It was interesting to record that one,” he grins.

Batman’s car, in the pilot, resembles a rolling shoebox. That design will change. “Paul [Terminator] Winfield builds the Batmobile,” he reveals. “He’s at a company that’s putting out defective cars. He’s a whistleblower Batman saves, and Batman tells him, ‘I need a car!’ We were going to have Batman driving a ’40s roadster until he got the Batmobile.”

The show will occasionally feature both Batman and Robin. “For the longest time. Warner Bros. wasn’t sure if Robin would be in Batman Returns, so we waited. When they finally cut Robin from the movie, we went with Dick Grayson, the one with whom most people are familiar.

“In the series, Robin's 18 years old and goes to Gotham State University, so when we want him in a story, we can bring him in and if we don’t, he’s ‘away at college,’” laughs Burnett. “He’s in a third of the stories. We gave Dick Grayson the current [Neal Adams-designed] Robin uniform.

“We’re developing a Batgirl story,” notes Burnett. “Melissa Gilbert-Brinkman will be Barbara Gordon. We’ve already introduced her in the show. Like Robin, she’s a college student. We haven’t done any stories between Robin and Batgirl yet, but the one we’re doing has them at odds.”

Batman’s faithful butler Alfred will play a major role. “We want to have some moments of lightness and Alfred helps provide that for us,” Burnett states. “Next to Batman, Alfred’s in the most episodes. He really plays an important part: He’s the surrogate father, the one who comments on what the audience is thinking, and he has a wry view of things that’s quite amusing.

“Sometimes he sounds a bit like John Gielgud in Arthur, as he’s aloof and above it all, with a jaundiced view of things. Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. can turn a phrase so nicely that you smile listening to comments he makes as Alfred.”

Sharp-eared viewers will notice a new Alfred midway through the series. “Efrem is Alfred now, but the first few episodes were done by British actor Clive Revill. He got another job and had to leave, but did such a nice job that we didn’t feel compelled to [re-dub him].”

Familiar Gotham landmarks like Crime Alley and Arkham Asylum will dot the animated landscape. “We're trying to be faithful!” the producer exclaims. “'Appointment in Crime Alley’ explains Leslie Thompkins [Diana Muldaur]. Batman goes to lay roses on the spot where his parents were murdered. Dr. Thompkins [who comforted him after the murders] goes with him every year. That was written by Gerry Conway, based on an O’Neil story.

“We have Arkham Asylum on Gotham City’s outskirts,” Burnett reveals. “It’s where psychotic members of Batman’s rogues’ gallery go. One show begins in Arkham. A doctor goes to a cell door and the inmate says, ‘You must listen to me. You’ve got to get me out of here!’ and it’s Batman in a straitjacket! That comes from Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, who write science fiction.”

Batman will occasionally have brave and bold guests on his missions. “We’re trying to develop a story right now with the Creeper,” Burnett reveals. “We figure it’ll look flashy to have a yellow guy jumping around this Dark Deco City. This morning, we recorded a show starring Zatanna, the magician. Zatanna is Julie [Earth Girls Are Easy] Brown, and Vincent [Batman Returns] Schiavelli is Zatarra, her father.”

Burnett, a Cleveland-born USC-grad, began as an NBC intern for Margaret Loesch, then- director of NBC Children’s Programming, and her manager, Jean MacCurdy. “Now, Loesch is President of Fox Children’s Programming, and Jean MacCurdy is my boss here at Warner Bros.,” he happily informs. “Both of these women I worked for 15 years ago I’m working for again.”

The producer has experience at several studios. “At Hanna-Barbera, I worked as a staff writer. I did Jonny Quest, Super Powers and Super Friends, and I story-edited The Smurfs.” He also worked on Martin Short’s The Incredibly Mental Adventures of Ed Grimley and wrote for Disney’s DuckTales.

On Batman, his tasks include “writing, supervising and rewriting. I try to help pull the elements together. I even became a Toon on the show,” he says incredulously. Burnett’s cartoon self is “a poor shmuck” voiced by Ed Begley Jr. in "The Joker’s Favor." “He gets in the Joker’s way on the road and thinks he’ll be killed, but Joker says, ‘I'll spare you if you do me a favor one day.’ The guy says, ‘Anything!’ Joker says, ‘OK, I’ll call you when I’m ready!’ We cut to the words ‘Two years later.’ The guy moved out of Gotham, got a new name and has done everything he can to hide. The Joker calls anyway.

“I’m tormented for 20 minutes by the Joker,” Burnett chuckles. “I got a big kick out of it. It was amazing how close my [cartoon version] is. After seeing it, I told the other producers, ‘Boy, do I have to lose some weight!’”

Besides producing and writing, Burnett will also bring Two-Face to the screen, altering his origin (in lieu of thrown acid, D.A. Harvey Dent is disfigured by a bullet-stricken acid tank), but keeping his scarred visage and bad attitude.

“Two-Face was the first guy I wanted to work on,” explains Burnett. “He’s so volatile and unpredictable, you can think about him for a long time. You wonder how he flips from one side to another. There’s a line I really love where Batman wonders what Two-Face dreams.

“I’m proud of that show because it’s the first time that anyone in animation has dealt with a multiple personality. We’re doing a different take on the story and because it’s Two- Face, we made it a two-parter!

“I was interested in showing his [schizophrenia]. Two-Face makes sense if we understand he was a multiple personality first, and then became Two-Face. His back history [as a guilt-tormented child] came from an example a psychiatrist gave me of the way a split personality can begin. I wrote the story. The script’s by staff writer Randy Rogel.

“Harvey Dent is Richard [Night Court] Moll. He has one of the scariest voices in animation. When he first spoke as Two-Face at our recording session, a hush fell over the other actors because it sounded so demonic.

“Two-Face is a tragic horror story of a man losing his soul. Like ‘Two-Face,’ the ‘Mr. Freeze’ episode is very sad. For some reason, the sadder the stories, the more I like them. There’s a lot of tragedy with Batman.

“I’ll tell you something I learned about Batman.” Burnett says in a conspiratorial tone. “I always thought he was popular because he was a self-made superhero, but doing this show, I learned what really elevates him to the Hamlet of superheroes is his parents’ murders. That’s where it all stems from. Every move he makes harks back to that moment, and it’s the reason why my staff and I can talk about him for hours.

“Early renditions of their murders in the comics show that he’s not sobbing over the bodies, he’s glaring at the killer so hard that the killer backs off and runs away. The horror is that his father is trying to get to the killer. It’s as if the rest of Bruce Wayne’s life is finishing that action.”

In his 50-year history, Batman’s origin has only been told twice outside the comic. Once in 1989’s Batman and earlier, in a special 1985 episode of Super Friends. In “The Fear,” [which Burnett wrote], Batman relives his parents’ murders. “To this day, I’m not sure how I got that on the air,” he admits.

“It was written as a pilot for a Batman series, not as part of Super Friends. I went to DC to discuss story ideas, and Paul Levitz said, ‘What if the Scarecrow discovered Batman is afraid of Crime Alley?’ I thought, ‘Wow! That’s an interesting idea.’ There’s no way to tell that story unless you tell about the murders, so I had to do tell it obliquely, because I can’t show people getting killed on Saturday morning, God forbid!

“I did it by cutting to lightning flashing across the sky during the gunshots. Everybody watching at home has a good idea of what happened, but you don’t actually see the murders. That’s how I got around it. I enjoyed writing that show,” he says. “I tried to push the envelope.”

Burnett respects the entire Bat-heritage. “Adam West did Batman’s voice on my Super Friends episode, and he was quite wonderful,” Burnett states. “He’s a very good dramatic actor and had to do scenes where Batman was choking back tears. He pulled it off! He’s in an episode of our show, ‘Beware, The Grey Ghost!’

“The Grey Ghost was Bruce Wayne’s favorite TV superhero as a boy. Now, 20 years later, Batman’s investigating a series of bombings and realizes the pattern fits an old Grey Ghost episode. He seeks out the actor who played the Ghost, and they have an adventure together. Adam West plays the actor!”

Batman is more action-packed than any cartoon since Jonny Quest. In the pilot, “On Leather Wings,” which features Man-Bat, Batman suffers numerous facial cuts. “That’s as bloody as Batman’s face will get.” Burnett states. “The network started to pull back on the amount of blood, scratches and abrasions we can have. That first episode almost used up our whole quota! Batman will get injured in the series. We have a story where he’s blinded, and, in ‘Two-Face,’ we suggest he has broken his leg.”

Despite the wall-to-wall thrills, the producer doesn’t expect an outcry from parents. “We did a lot of testing with parents and children on the pilot, which has some pretty violent scenes where Batman and Man-Bat both get pretty beat up, and nobody was bothered by it.

“My 10-year-old son Nicholas has helped on Batman by letting me know what he likes in the episodes I’ve shown him. I’ve used my children as barometers throughout my animation writing career. It’s wise to try and see through their eves.”

He has a unique way of rewarding them. “In every season of animation I’ve worked, there have been characters named Nicholas, Andrea and Melanie,” he grins. “Usually, if there are kids in the show, I name them after mine. Nicholas is the boy in ‘I've Got Batman in My Basement.’ Batman’s gassed by the Penguin and saved by a 12-year-old boy.”

Batman’s greatest foe may be the Broadcast Standards and Practices Department. “Fox’s BS&P department is the best I’ve ever worked with, but they’re trying to protect the network from irate parents,” Burnett notes. “Nonetheless, we still have arguments. The latest is over the Penguin—they want the cigarette holder out of his mouth!

“I just can’t do it—that would be like taking the pipe out of Popeye’s mouth! We also had arguments with BS&P over letting Batman and Catwoman kiss. They didn’t want them to kiss and we did.

“The biggest battles have been over language. One problem we have to watch out for is when we endanger children on the show. When a character is under 12, we have to look out for child endangerment. Over 12, we can get away with more. We’re telling Robin’s origin, and he’s eight.

“As a child, he goes out to find Tony Zucco, the man who killed his parents, so we had to watch how dangerous the situations we put Robin in were.”

Still, it’s much easier than Burnett's last superhero assignment. “Let me tell you something.” he confides. “When I worked on Super Friends, nobody could throw a punch, even if it didn’t connect! We could destroy robots only if they were non-human looking. There were other strange things. It’s a wonder to me that an adventure show with any bite to it at all could be done on Saturday morning. The Fox broadcast standards people recognize what we’re trying to do with Batman, in trying to make a gritty, realistic, action-adventure show. They’ve been much more open to ideas than any BS&P department I’ve ever worked with.”

As for Bat-action, “We're allowed a certain leeway in fight scenes, but they don’t like punches in the face! We get away with martial arts-type punches, but a real roundhouse punch has been, of late, hard to do—we had a couple early on. Still, we’ve told the stories we wanted to tell.”

Alan Burnett enjoys working in Gotham City. “I tired of The Smurfs after the first year,” he admits. “I did a good job, but wearied of them. I am now through 55 shows of Batman and I’m not tired of him at all! Batman is a great character.

“We have 55 scripts written with 10 more to go. There’s talk of doing a movie-length cassette version and possibly 43 more episodes down the line. It all depends on how well these are received. I hope they’re liked, because Warner Bros. is trying to do a quality product. It’s a real team effort, with everybody working at the top of their craft. We want to make this Batman special!”
 
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James Harvey

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I would like to offer these transcriptions to the World's Finest website, should it be interested.
If you enjoyed this series, please take a look at my post on Cinefantastique's coverage of Batman: The Animated Series.
This and the other thread, you better believe I'll archive these on WF, as well. Thank you very kindly for the offer!
 

Revelator

Loathsome spotted reptile
02. The Joker’s Keeper: When Batman gets Animated, Paul Dini Tickles the Funnybone of the Clown Prince of Crime
By Bob Smith (Comics Scene V.2 #31, Feb. 1993)

When it comes to killing people with laughter, no one does it better than the Joker. But, who writes his material? On Batman: The Animated Series, it’s Paul Dini.

For more than a decade, Dini has written scripts for TV animation, serving as story editor on
The Ewoks/Droids Adventure Hour (which he discussed in Starlog Yearbook #3), John Kricfalusi’s version of Beany & Cecil and Tiny Toons Adventures, for which he won two Emmy Awards.

On
Batman, Dini story-edits along with Alan Burnett, Michael Reaves and Martin Pasko. He has written 10 scripts—most starring the Joker—plus a few episodes in collaboration with other writers. His solo stories include “Heart of Ice” (the acclaimed Mr. Freeze story), “Joker’s Favor,” “Joker’s Wild,” “Zatanna,” “Mad as a Hatter,” “The Laughing Fish,” “The Man Who Killed Batman,” “Harley & Ivy,” “Almost Got ’Im” (featuring all the major villains) and “The Worry Men.”

In live-action, Dini wrote two
Monsters episodes, plus Double Dragon, an action adventure feature to be lensed by Imperial Entertainment.

One Dini story will be drawn by series co-producer Bruce Timm for a DC
Batman Adventures graphic novel, which deals with how Harley Quinn came to be the Joker’s “hench-wench.” He’s also co-writing the new 70-minute animated Batman video.

COMICS SCENE: What accounts for the animated Batman's success?

PAUL DINI: It’s the coolest-looking world on television. Even if nobody listens to the dialogue, you turn it on because it’s a great-looking show. You can’t look at the version of Gotham City that Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm created and just not love it.

CS: How did the show’s writers translate Batman from comics?

DINI: From a writer’s point-of-view, we wanted to transpose classic elements of the Batman stories into animation. In some cases, we adapted [six] stories that existed before, and in and of themselves were classic Batman stories—such as the Ra’s al Ghul stories, which were adapted by Denny O’Neil (who created that character) and Len Wein.

Bruce Timm and I adapted two stories, “The Laughing Fish” and Joker’s Five-Way Revenge,” into one. Those stories were by O’Neil and Steve Englehart, and we chose some of the more dramatic elements and combined them into one story. Len Wein adapted a story of his own called “Moon of the Wolf,” where Batman fights a chemically-created werewolf. We went mostly for a certain type of and tone that we liked in the early Batman stories, where Batman was a grim, avenging creature of the night. In his early appearances, we don’t know that much about Batman. He doesn’t speak much. He’ll help people in trouble, but he’s more like this force of nature that comes in and makes a situation right, then vanishes.

We did not use the Batman who speaks out every action he’s planning, or gives long-winded dialogue when he’s in a fight. We thought that weakened the character. When Batman’s in a fight, he throws a punch and that’s it.

CS: Isn't that unusual for a TV cartoon?

DINI: One of the challenges that we faced as writers was to tell the story and move the plot visually, not necessarily with much dialogue. Batman’s world is very visual. In our show, it’s a stunning and unique visual. If you spend a lot of time with Batman talking and explaining things, that dilutes both him and the power of that world.

CS: In what ways does the animated Batman differ from the comics?

DINI: Batman comics make a wonderful springboard to start from for developing the animated series. We wanted to present a classic vision of Batman, a sort of archetypal Batman.

In the animated series, Batman is an amalgam of all his different personas. He’s more akin to the Batman of the early ’40s and then, more toward the Dark Knight version.

He lives in the shadow of his parents’ deaths. Something that we may never really touch on in the TV show is Bruce Wayne’s transformation into Batman as a catharsis to deal with his parents’ deaths.

CS: What approach was taken in adapting the comic-book villains?

DINI: In some cases, we reinvented the characters from what they were in the comics, such as Mad Hatter, Two-Face, Poison Ivy. They’re still recognizable from their comic book incarnations, but we shaped the origins in a special way to serve the needs of our series a little bit better. In the case of Two-Face, Mad Hatter and Mr. Freeze, we infused a good bit of pathos into the characters to make them more human. More believable.

The villains were played pretty much for laughs in the 1960s TV show. They had their affectations and there were some great actors performing them. But in our series, we looked beyond the bizarre costumes to find out, “What’s unique about the Mad Hatter that’s compelling? What’s the story behind the Riddler? Why is Poison Ivy a murderess? What prompts them to do these things?” We uncovered great things about the characters. They’re as much a part of Batman’s world as Robin, Alfred and Commisioner Gordon.

CS: Most of your scripts feature the Joker. What’s so appealing about him?

DINI: I happen to like him a lot. He has this perverse, sadistic side, but it’s counter-balanced by the veneer of being a funny clown. He’s somebody who could be your best friend, you know, like [unctuously], “Oh, I’m so glad to see you. Ooooh, look, I’ve got a balloon animal for you. How are ya?” Pulling funny jokes and being your best pal, and then as soon as you’re not looking, he shoves you in a pit of hyenas who rip you to shreds.

One new villain we’ve created is Harley Quinn, the Joker’s henchgirl. She’s the willing helper in all of his antics and takes good care of him while he plots his crimes against Batman. She adores him and would love to one day settle down with him, but he barely even notices her.

I created her because—specifically, in one episode, the Joker had a plot where he needed a girl accomplice. He just had to have a pretty girl bring a cake into the room like a showgirl, and then leave [in “Joker’s Favor”]. And we thought, well, in the TV shows, the villain usually had a moll with him. Why don’t we make this character into something more?

At recording sessions, the actors really get into it. Mark Hamill does the Joker, and Arleen Sorkin, Harley Quinn. Mark, when he plays the Joker, is unique in that he doesn’t sit down to record his lines. He stands up and acts out the character with his whole body. He’s throwing his arms out and snarling and smiling and grinning and acting really frantic, and he is the Joker. And Arleen will be in her booth sitting next to him and look up and go, “Wow.” But their back-and-forth banter is very nice. It’s kind of a warped Punch-and-Judy show.

When we were feeling our way with the earlier scripts, the Joker had a group of henchmen and he would be very hyperactive, very funny, but in some stories he was sort of infantile, which we didn’t like. We discovered when we put Harley in the story, it gave the Joker a bit of stature. Harley could be silly and goofy and overanxious to please, and the Joker could be a little bit more restrained, a little bit meaner, more psychotic—more demonic, actually.

As we worked with the Joker, his sadistic side came out. Batman knows that his own image can spark fear in criminals. In our series, the Joker realizes that his image sparks fear in innocent people. The threat of what the Joker can do to you is worse than him actually pulling out a gun and shooting you. People live in terror of the Joker, and he knows this. And he willingly exploits that.

CS: The relationship between Batman and the Joker is always interesting.

DINI: He views Batman as his equal. Batman is his property. The Joker really believes that Batman exists to give him new challenges. He looks forward to their deals.

In fact, in “The Man Who Killed Batman,” Batman’s involved in a fight and falls to his supposed death. And the person who killed him is this drippy little guy who works as a mob underling. When the Joker hears of it, he’s furious. It’s the ultimate irony. Somebody killed Batman and it wasn’t him. Even worse than it being Penguin or Two-Face, it’s this little nothing guy. And for a while, the Joker is really grief-stricken. He misses Batman. He mourns him. And then, to make himself feel better, he tries to kill the guy who killed Batman. That’s the capper on the joke.

Batman made the Joker what he is today. And the Joker has always been looking to thank Batman for that in his own sick, sinister way.

CS: What about the Mr. Freeze show?

DINI: The way I wrote “Heart of Ice” is, I worked backwards from the visual. What if you had a man sitting in this refrigerated room and as he wept, his tears turned into snow? What would cause him to cry?

It’s basically a story of a good man who suffers an accident and it snaps him. It transforms him into this pathetic creature who can’t live outside a sub-zero environment. It also turns him vengeful, because he lost somebody very close to him in the same accident. His story is really a vendetta. He has come back almost from the grave, as it were, to settle the score with a guy who ruined his life [corporate exec Ferris Boyle, voiced by Mark Hamill]. That puts Batman in an interesting position where he’s not unsympathetic to Mr. Freeze, but he can’t let him commit murder, either. So, Batman goes in to fight him, and you can tell although he has to stop this guy from murdering a roomful of people, he’s not unsympathetic to the man’s pain.

I regret we did only one show with Mr. Freeze. I’m sorry we never brought him back, now that we’ve done the first 65. Alan Burnett, one of our producers, kept saying, “How about another Mr. Freeze story?” I would sit down to write one and somehow, I would end up, “Well, the Joker’s funnier. Let me write another Joker story.” To a degree, I didn’t want to write another Mr. Freeze story. I thought his story was so sad and it comes to such an emotional ending that I didn’t want to bring him back if he was just going to be a stock villain. I probably will write another Mr. Freeze story, but it has to be tied in with emotions, because that’s the great paradox about him. He’s someone who claims all emotions have been frozen in him, but on the other hand, he’s the most passionate one because his pain is so deep.

CS: So, the villains are written to be more sympathetic?

DINI: With some of the villains, Batman has a more human side. Mr. Freeze is one of them. Two-Face is definitely one of them. We have a fairly new character from the comics named Maxie Zeus, a rich Greek shipping magnate who believes he’s the reincarnation of the god Zeus. That story is almost like a Greek tragedy, where Batman works with Maxie’s girl friend to try and save him from slipping deeper into madness, and it all kind of sucks them down in the end. It’s a tragic story of a guy whose fantasies take him too far.

CS: There seems to be a continuity between the episodes.

DINI: We do have a continuity. It’s a loose continuity, but when you watch the show from the beginning, you’ll be able to pick up certain developments with the characters. A couple of early episodes feature Harvey Dent as Gotham City’s district attorney and also Bruce Wayne’s best friend. If you know about Harvey Dent in the comics, he suffers a tragic accident and becomes one of Batman’s worst enemies, Two-Face. So, “Two-Face” is two of our most heartfelt episodes, where Bruce Wayne loses a friend and gains a deadly enemy.

Richard Moll plays Two-Face and Harvey Dent. He’s great. When he’s Harvey Dent, you really like him. I’m just sorry we didn’t do half the series with Harvey Dent, because he’s a very likable character. When he becomes Two-Face, he becomes frightening, and that makes his transformation all the more tragic.

We do refer to things that happen in other stories. In the story that introduces Poison Ivy, she’s actually romancing Harvey Dent, whom she’s trying to murder because she believes he was instrumental in a rare plant’s extinction. Later, after he becomes Two-Face, he encounters Poison Ivy again [“Almost Got ’Im”]. It’s a funny scene when they meet: Now, he’s this freakish creature, she’s a villain. They get to know each other again in these circumstances, and they don’t particularly like each other.

Diane Pershing voices Poison Ivy, and she’s great. She came in and did this great voice, just sexy, but it was also nasty and had this undercurrent of hatefulness. It was everything that character should be.

In “Harley and Ivy,” the Joker calls it quits with Harley and throws her out. She decides to become a crook on her own and forms an alliance with Poison Ivy, where they become far more successful criminals on their own than the Joker ever was. He’s furious at this, and they have it out. Batman is in that story, too, someplace [chuckles]. Not so you would notice.

CS: The Joker is celebrating the holidays with his own special.

DINI: Oh yes, I worked with a very talented writer named Eddie Gorodetsky on a show where, during the holidays, the Joker preempts television and puts on his own special, “Christmas with the Joker.” He’s dressed up as Perry Como, with a roaring fire, he has some victims to terrorize and he’s waiting for the stroke of midnight for Batman to find him. If he doesn’t. well, his victims aren’t going to have a very merry Christmas. That turned out to be one of the funnier ones.

CS: What other DC characters appear?

DINI: Zatanna, a sexy, talented showgirl. and a young magician. In the comics, she’s the daughter of Zatarra, a classic Golden Age character. In our version, when Bruce Wayne was traveling around the world at age 16, he studied with her father and learned how to be an escape artist. After he met Zatanna, he had to leave to study martial arts. Years later, they meet after he becomes Batman, and they share an adventure, where he clears her of a crime for which she has been framed.

Julie Brown—the funny one from Earth Girls Are Easy—does Zatanna as comical. Vincent Schiavelli, who was in Batman Returns and Ghost, plays Zatarra.

I would say that with our cast of characters, doing 65 half-hours, there’s a chance to spotlight each throughout the show's run. There are some episodes they’re barely involved in at all. In other episodes, they’re really spotlighted.

CS: What about Batgirl?

DINI: Batgirl makes an appearance for two episodes. Everybody gets their chance in the spotlight. That’s great. These things add richness and color to Batman’s world, and I don’t think you would want to see Batman going against freak-of-the-day villains. That would get old pretty quick.

If this was just Batman brooding over his parents dying, again, you would get tired of that, quick. Also, if you’re just doing stories where the Joker is running crazy over every episode, why bother calling the show Batman? But, in the run of 65, we’ve done shows exactly like that. You get an even mix of what's going on, and a lot to choose from.

In their way, they’re all integral parts of Batman's world. They’re all the things that make up his mythos.

We did a very good story by Michael Reaves called “I Am the Night,” where Commissioner Gordon gets shot when a stakeout goes bad, and Batman blames himself: “Oh, I got there too late. I could have prevented it. It’s not worth it anymore.” What good has being Batman accomplished? The city’s still just as bad off. He takes off the mask and cape and throws it into a crevice in the Batcave, and he gives it up.

That’s a tremendous part. Kevin Conroy as Batman does a hell of an acting job. So does Bob Hastings as Commissioner Gordon, because at the end, when he comes out of the coma, he makes a speech about never giving up the fight; the work goes on; what they do is important. Although it’s one of our grimmer episodes, it's a very good one. It very much affirms Batman's place in Gotham City. Although the battle is a hard one, there are triumphs.
 
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Revelator

Loathsome spotted reptile
03. Cartoon Noir: The Architect of Gotham City, Bruce Timm designs & produces the adventures of Batman
By Bob Miller (Comics Scene # 32, April 1993)

“Dark Deco” describes the style of Batman: The Animated Series, evoking a somber, shadowy mood that harks back to Bob Kane’s original creation.

One of Gotham’s chief architects is Bruce Timm, who co-produces the series with Eric Radomski and story editor Alan Burnett. Together, they supervise four crews of artists, nearly 70 people, who work diligently to animate Batman's adventures.

For more than a decade, Bruce Timm has been part of the animation industry, beginning in 1981 at Filmation as a layout artist on
Blackstar, The Lone Ranger, He-Man and She-Ra. He also worked as an assistant animator for Don Bluth on The Secret of N.I.M.H., Space Ace and Dragon’s Lair. Timm worked for John Kricfalusi on Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures in 1987 and Beany & Cecil at DIC the following year, designing characters and rendering storyboards.

Timm joined Warner Bros. in 1989, serving us character designer and storyboard artist on
Tiny Toon Adventures (including “Bat’s All, Folks!”, the first “Bat Duck” episode and “Hollywood Plucky”) for director Art Vitello.

Warners vice president and general manager Jean MacCurdy recognized Timm’s talents and in 1990 teamed him with background stylist Eric Radomski to co-produce the animated Batman series. In addition to designing characters for the show, Timm oversees nearly every phase of production, as well as contributing storyboards and even voicing a villain (in “Beware the Gray Ghost”). Timm’s own caricature can be seen frequently in
Tiny Toons, and in Batman's “Harley and Ivy” episode as an unruly teen whose car is bazooka-ed by Poison Ivy.

Timm is currently co-producing the
Batman 70-minute home video, illustrating a special Batman Adventures graphic novel written by story editor Paul Dini, and developing new projects for Warner Bros. A second season of Batman awaits a “go-ahead” in April.

COMICS SCENE: How much of the show’s vision belongs to you, DC, Warners or Tim Burton?

BRUCE TIMM: This show is absolutely not Tim Burton’s vision. In fact, I would like you to put that in print because I read many people saying, “Oh, yeah, the show is based on the movie.” The show is steadfastly not based on the movie.

It’s almost as if people think that Batman was never dark and moody till Tim Burton came along. Anybody who knows anything about the comics knows that’s not true. If anything, our show is more faithful to the comics.

But, beyond that, it really is our vision of the show. Warner Bros.’ feature division has pretty much left us completely alone. And we have very little contact with DC. Early on, they were getting all the scripts and story-boards—I think they still do—and they were giving us their two-cents’ worth. Sometimes we agreed with them and sometimes we didn’t. And if we didn’t agree with them, we would say, “Well, we'll just do it our way, anyway.”

It’s mostly Eric Radomski’s and my vision of the show, and Alan Burnett’s as well. It really is a split three-way collaboration. Of course, the directors and story editors all have their bits and pieces, too.

CS: How did all this get started? Who got the Batman project rolling?

TIMM: Somewhere in the middle of 1990, we were finishing up Tiny Toons and Jean MacCurdy had this big meeting with the whole Tiny Toons crew. People were wondering what was going to be next. She said they were going to start developing new projects, probably a Batman series.

I got all excited about Batman, went back to my desk and said, “Oh, I don’t want to be doing this Tiny Toons board; I want to be drawing Batman.” So, I whipped out these character designs of Batman and to me, they were what I always wanted to see Batman look like.

The next time Jean had a meeting, I showed my drawings to her and she said, “Oh. Yeah. It’s perfect. He’s exactly what he should look like.”

Nothing really happened for a while. Then, Jean said, “I would like you and Eric Radomski to put together a Batman cartoon, because the Warner Bros. corporate guys aren’t really sure if they want to do a series.”

We did this little two-minute promo. I designed all the characters, and did the storyboard. Eric did the background styling. That’s where we came up with the idea of doing the backgrounds on black paper.

Eric painted all the backgrounds here and then it was shipped to a Canadian studio called Lightbox Animation, whom Eric had dealt with in the past. They put the whole thing together from beginning to end in about a month-and-a-half.

By the time it was done, the series had already sold. [We thought that] we wasted our time, but not really because everybody liked the promo so much that Jean said, “Well, I know you guys never produced a series before, but how would you like to produce a series?” So, Eric and I went, “Well, OK. Sure.” [Chuckles]

But we did do it with some reservations. We said, “Well, it depends on what you want us to do. If you want to let us do the series this way, like in the promo, and the way we want to do it, then sure, we’ll do it. But if you want us to make it a carbon copy of the movie, we don’t want to do it.”

I didn’t want the show to be seen as a cheap ripoff of the movie. I like the movie, but to me it wasn’t Batman. It wasn’t what I thought he should be.

One of the amazing things about this whole project, is how little interference we’ve gotten from the Warner movie studio. We had some grumblings early on. People were a bit concerned that our Batman, our Batmobile and the background styling looked different. It wasn’t exactly the same.

After the first movie came out, 20th Century Fox Television started running the old Adam West Batman series in syndication to capitalize on the character’s popularity, and it was a big ratings success. So, I said, “Kids can understand. They’re not confused. They know there’s a movie Batman and a TV Batman. They won’t be confused by having a third cartoon Batman.” Fortunately, everybody bought that idea.

There was a little bit of nervousness at one point. We had already shipped four or five shows overseas to be animated, and suddenly, somebody from the lot said, “Oh my God, they have a different Batmobile design than in the movie. This will confuse kids and all the licensees. We’ve got to have the movie Batmobile in the show.”

Fortunately, Tim Burton came to our rescue. Jean had the idea of showing Tim our designs and saying, “Is this close enough to what you’re doing in the movie?” He said, “Oh yeah, that’s fine. It looks close enough.”

Because the characters were so heavily featured in the second film, they did insist that our Catwoman and Penguin look more like the movie’s. My initial version of the Penguin looked very much the comic book’s ’50s Penguin. I wanted to put that design on the screen. And they said, “No, no, no. It’s got to be the Danny De Vito one.” So, we changed his design a bit to make him more like the movie.

Once the show’s look was sold, we went full speed ahead. We just developed the show as we went, which, of course did cause some problems.

There were just the usual birthing pangs. Eric and I didn’t really see eye-to-eye with our first story editor. Once they hired Alan Burnett as the co-producer/head story writer, things have been much smoother because Alan has a great story sense. We don’t always agree on everything. We’ve had our fights about things like the Bat-signal. Eric and I were fighting against the Bat-signal as long as we could because we thought it was just plain stupid. But Alan kept insisting. It’s in the show, but we compromised on it.

CS: What are all your duties?

TIMM: Well, I wear a lot of hats. Early on, I was designing almost all the characters, and quickly realized I couldn’t do that and supervise the storyboards. recordings, scripts and everything all at the same time. So, we quickly hired a bunch of model guys. And we got a really good crew.

But I still end up designing many major characters. It’s not that these guys aren't capable. But rather than articulate what exactly’s wrong, it’s much easier for me to grab a sheet of paper and slap it down over their drawing and redo it.

The directors supervise the boards, and then they bring them in to Eric and me, and we correct them.

Alan [Burnett] supervises the scripts with his story editors and once they deliver a script, Eric and I make notes on it. Sometimes the directors have ideas of what they would like to do differently.

Eric and I usually go to all the recordings. Alan’s always there, and Andrea Romano directs the actors. And then we make suggestions, changes, how we would rather hear things right there at the recording. And, I'm almost always at the music and sound FX mix, and sometimes Eric is when he’s not too busy. We basically have our fingers in the pie from the very beginning to the end.

What has been great about this show is for a lot of our crew, this is their first job in animation.

CS: You didn’t use the Tiny Toons crew?

TIMM: No. Very few. We had a couple of guys who came over from Tiny Toons, but it’s like funny animals and superheroes. Some people can do both; many people can’t.

We had a very hard time finding people to work on the show. There have been many people who have done adventure cartoons before, but they have all those bad habits, and because Batman has such a unique look to it, we didn’t know if they would be able to do our style.

Towards the end, we had deadlines to meet; we had no crew; so we were getting desperate. We ended up hiring a lot of people who did have experience, but probably half the crew had never worked in animation before, or anywhere.

A number of guys could hardly draw when we hired them. Within a couple of weeks, they were going “great guns.” When you work around talented people, it forces you to come up to their level. It’s like playing tennis. You can’t learn to be a good tennis player by playing somebody worse than you. You have to play with somebody better than you. And, it’s the same thing here. It has been a real delight to see these guys stretch as artists.

Many guys have worked on adventure cartoons where they were never allowed to have any action, because [they’re told], “Oh, no, it’s unacceptable,” [and as a result] have done mediocre work. But here, they get to pull out all the stops. They think, “Oh, God, I’ve always wanted to do this and now I’m going to do it.”

There was this one show [“Heart of Steel”] where robots are taking over Gotham City. The second part of the episode is Batman fighting these robots, and because they’re robots, we can beat the crap out of them. So, every time the storyboard artists got a sequence with Batman versus one of these robots, they went crazy. And the board came out twice as long as it should have been. We had to cut all that stuff out. Each segment turned into its own episode.

CS: Tell us about the show’s style.

TIMM: Basically, we’re trying to do Citizen Kane. One of the whole reasons why Eric and I wanted to do Batman was we wanted to do the first really good adventure cartoon for TV. ’Cause there has never really been one. Jonny Quest was good for its time, but when you look at it now it’s pretty crude.

CS: Why don’t we see more quality adventure cartoons?

TIMM: I don’t know. I always thought, what’s the big deal? Why are adventure shows so bad in animation? What’s the missing ingredient? Whatever it is that we're doing right, I honestly don’t know what that is. I have some theories, but—

CS: Such as?

TIMM: Well, one thing is timing. And before you can even get to the timing—but it’s directly related—is the length of the scripts. Most animation scripts are twice as long as they should be. They jam so much story in there that you don’t have time to let anything play out. Especially mood scenes.

We had serious problems with that at first. We were getting all these really long scripts, really dialogue-heavy. Dialogue eats up an incredible amount of time, and we were trying to tell as much of the story visually as possible. So, we would yank whole chunks of dialogue out. This was a big fight between us and the story editors early on, because they couldn’t understand.

There’s a solid rule for live action, where a script page equals a minute of screen time. And that’s never applied to animation. And I don’t know why. It should apply to animation. If you have a 22-minute show, you should have a 22-page script. Even now, we still don’t get scripts that short.

CS: In many ways, Batman seems like a live-action show.

TIMM: Our whole thinking on this series has been live-action storytelling. A big part of what makes Batman work better as an adventure series is the simplicity of the design. In every adventure series I’ve ever worked on, they load the characters up with so much detail. Many guys who produce adventure series are first of all, stoned comic book fans, and Japanese animation fans. They have this attitude that, “Well, the only reason why our shows look so bad when they come back is all those damn animators overseas are just too lazy to draw in all those muscles.”

Well, that’s not true. When you have all those muscles on a character, it looks bad when it starts moving around. I like the simplicity of design. All you have to do is look at any Disney film. That’s the most expensive studio in the world with the best animation in the world and all of their characters look very, very simple. They know that the more detail you have on a character, the harder it is for that character to move.

So, I think that anybody who’s in charge of art directing a series really should do some assistant animation for a while. I did that at Bluth. Every single line that’s on a character has to be drawn thousands and thousands and thousands of times. So, it just makes sense to simplify the design.

Beyond simplification, the character design has to be pushed. It has to be cartooned, because cartoons aren’t “moving comic books.”

CS: How is Batman’s approach to cartoon voice acting different?

TIMM: When I first started talking about the series, I was picking the brains of the other directors on Tiny Toons. For Batman, I wanted to have all of the voices sound like real people. I’ve always hated the way characters sounded in adventure cartoons—either really flat or too cartoony.

One director said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, at Marvel when we did Spider-Man, we tried to do naturalistic voices, and it doesn’t work. It just sounds boring.”

And I went, “Oh, really?” I was actually freaked out by that. I thought. “Well, maybe he’s right. Because I had never heard naturalistic line readings in a cartoon before. Maybe it won’t translate to animation.”

But what the hell, we tried it, and I think it works. When you listen to the series, it doesn’t sound like a cartoon. It sounds very much like a live-action show. That includes the sound FX. They do a total Foley job [sound FX addition process] on every show, so every single footstep, cape rustle and everything is there.

CS: Wasn’t it risky using celebrities for voices, as opposed to people who make their living projecting character through their voice?

TIMM: Well, that’s what celebrities do. Celebrities are actors as well.

It has happened in almost every show we record: Any time we’ve had somebody new, when they sit down and we rehearse and they start reading the lines, they immediately start doing cartoon voices. And we say, “Stop it.”

Initially, I told Andrea [Romano, voice director], “I don’t want to hear typical cartoon voices. I don’t want Maurice LeMarche and Frank Welker on this show because I’ve heard their voices so many times.” But we did eventually end up using both those guys, and both were real good. But, we did have to tell them both, “No, no, no, no, stop doing those cartoon voices. Do some real acting.” And they did.

CS: Was the staging in the storyboards influenced by the Japanese?

TIMM: I’ll tell you something. I’m not a big Japanese animation fan. I’ve seen a lot of Japanese animation, and I don’t like it. There’s a little bit too much of it. It overwhelms me, so I’m not as big a fan as some other guys here are. But most of my directors are real big Japanese animation fans.

Kevin Altieri, for example, is a huge Miyazaki fan. And so he throws every Miyazaki trick in the book into the series. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, I’m in the editing room hitting him, “Don’t do that effect, ever again.”

We pick and choose stylistic stuff from different sources. There’s also movie staging. Many times when we’re doing a board with a director, I’ll say, “Oh, remember that scene in Touch of Evil? Why don’t we do this scene like that scene?” And he knows what I’m talking about.

Many people notice the [Max & Dave] Fleischer influence, too. But it’s not like we sat down and studied all the Superman cartoons and said, “Oh, let’s do this.” We’ve all seen those cartoons so many times we naturally pull that stuff out of our subconscious.

One stylistic thing that we do in the series I got directly from a Fleischer Superman cartoon—and that’s the simplicity of the background design.

You look at those Fleischer Superman cartoons and they look so complex and so rich, but there are so many cheats in there. Many times you’ll have a room, and there’s an overhead shot of Clark Kent talking to Perry White. There’s the desk, and then the whole background is just a spotlight. There’s just no room in there at all. They totally faked it. And so we could do things like that all the time, because you’re not going to notice it anyway. The background’s not there. You just have a graduated shadow that looks like a background. When you’re watching the show, you’re not sitting there admiring the background. Your eye is actually following the characters. The backgrounds fortunately look great, but they’re really very simple.

CS: Why can Batman take risks other adventure cartoons haven’t?

TIMM: That’s because of the character. We had meetings early on over at Fox with [Fox TV exec] Margaret Loesch. We told her straight up front: “This is Batman. Now everybody knows Batman from the movie rather than the TV series. So, everybody’s idea of Batman is much more sophisticated than it would have been, say, five years ago. Our audience expects a certain amount of dark, gritty, realistic.” And Margaret said, “Well, of course. That’s why we want to do this, because of the movie.”

Thank God. I may not have agreed with that first film, but at least it changed people’s attitudes about what Batman was. So, we were able to push the outside of the envelope a little bit further than probably any other show has been allowed to do or will be allowed to do. Even then, it has been a struggle dealing with the broadcast standards and practices.

We go totally full-out every episode. We’ll say, “Yeah, let’s make it as action-filled as possible, and we’ll let them tone us down,” because they will.

CS: Keeping the pressure groups in mind, how do you deal with the show’s violence?

TIMM: The show only looks violent compared to other cartoons. It doesn’t look violent compared to any live-action show. Any episode of Magnum, P.I. is three times as violent as any Batman episode. Magnum can hit 10 guys in the face in an episode. We can’t do it once. Which is why you see a lot of kicking, because theoretically, kicking is less imitable than direct blows to the head.

There’s a lot of implied violence. Stuff takes place off-screen. Things are done in silhouette, with shadows, or with cutting. So, the feel of the show is actually more violent than it is.

Again, if Batman was nothing but wall-to-wall violence, and if that was the only thing going on, that would be a different story. Fortunately, I think the scripts are real strong and dramatic. They’re actually telling stories. It’s not just, Batman fights the villain today, and then they get into a big fight and then it’s over. There actually are plots and character development within the series.

The action is there just as spice in the mix. There’s not only violence. There’s humor, dramatics, mood and mystery. Action is just one of the elements of the series; not the whole reason for the series.

CS: Is Warners planning an animated feature?

TIMM: There’s discussion of that at the moment. Warner Bros. Animation is strongly thinking about going into feature animation. I’ve talked to Jean about that, about possibly doing a feature-length adventure cartoon. I would love to do it. There’s a totally untapped market out there for adult adventure cartoons.

CS: Are there any other superhero shows from Warners in the works?

TIMM: Maybe. The guys and I went down the entire DC roster, but really, anything we do will be anticlimactic after Batman, because Batman is the ultimate icon superhero. There’s so much that’s cool about Batman that doesn’t apply to any other comic character. We thought about all the other DC characters, but it’s, “Well, yeah, do we want to do 65 half-hours of Hawkman? You like him but do you really want to do 65?”

Another problem is selling it to the corporation. We have to convince them that it’s a commercially-viable project: “Do you want to do 65 episodes of The Creeper?” And they’re going to say, “Well, what’s The Creeper?”

CS: What about Green Lantern?

TIMM: You could maybe do 10 cool Green Lantern shows. But when you get to episode 10, it's like, well, what else is he going to pull out of that ring? Geez, those giant scissors aren’t going to work anymore.

CS: Wonder Woman?

TIMM: No way! The comics don’t know what to do with Wonder Woman. She’s not an interesting character. And women characters are particularly sensitive. Little girls will watch. But we don’t know if little boys will watch.

Blackhawks, maybe. But only if they would let us do it the right way, set it back in the ’40s during World War II. That might be kind of fun. Even again, 65 of them? That’s an awful lot.

There are really very few characters who can sustain that kind of interest. The reason Batman is so good is because he’s an icon; he’s a symbol.

CS: What’s the show’s future?

TIMM: It depends on whether Fox wants another season. We are going to be doing a 70-minute direct-to-home video episode. Then, there’s the possibility of doing 30 more episodes.

I’m of two minds about that. On one hand, it would be nice. On the other, I’m kind of tired of Batman. I love Batman and everything, but man, we’ve done 65 of these suckers. I’m just burnt. I would like to move on and do something else. We’ll see.
 

Revelator

Loathsome spotted reptile
04. The Dark Knight Returns … Again!!!
By Joe Funk (Hero Illustrated, Special Edition: Batman, Vol. 1 #1, Oct. 1993)

Few heroes in our society, comic book or otherwise, conjure such distinct images as Batman: the familiar logo, the dark brooding character, the unmistakable silhouette.

By retaining those trademark qualities, history has showed that Bob Kane’s original Batman is open to a variety of interpretations. From Tim Burton’s shadowy protagonist in the Batman blockbuster films to the twisted and dorky Batman spoof pulled off by Adam West in the 1960’s, the Dark Knight has always managed to retain his intrinsic identity.

Batman: The Animated Series continues that tradition, but adds a depth and style that has quickly made it one of the most appealing Batman versions of all.

“Run With It”

In 1992, a new interpretation exploded on the scene in the form of Batman: The Animated Series. One year and a bevy of critical acclaim later (including Emmy awards), this version of Batman has been thoroughly embraced by both traditional Batman fans and mainstream America.

The series began development when Warner Bros. Animation Studios executive producer Jean MacCurdy approached the Tiny Toons Adventures duo of Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski about doing a Batman animated series. “The only criteria Jean gave us was that they wanted something reminiscent of the Fleischer brothers Superman cartoons,” Timm recalls.

Inspired by the unusual amount of freedom, Timm, Radomski, producer Alan Burnett, story editor Paul Dini, and a growing creative team began developing the series. Propelled by an uncommon synergy between animators and writers, they began modeling the show after what they considered to be the best animation and comic art styles.

The Shape of a Bat

“I’ve been a Batman fan since I was a kid,” Timm continues. “The first thing that got me into the character was the live-action TV show. I was only six and I didn’t realize it was a spoof. I took it seriously and was a Batman fan from then on. I had the Batman lunchbox, a thermos and all that.

“As I grew older and started reading comics I learned who Batman really was. The comic books are our biggest influence on which version of Batman we consider to be the definitive Batman.

“Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers comics from the 1970’s are the quintessential Batman comics. The stuff Frank Miller did with the Dark Knight in 1986 is also a real big influence on our Batman.

“I liked Batman because he was mortal, without super powers, so he was readily identifiable on a human level. We have retained that aspect solidly in the series,” Timm added.

Another major influence on Batman: TAS's nouveau-classical style is the work of comic book illustrator and animator Alex Toth. “What’s great about his art is that it’s both ultra dynamic and illustrative but at the same time it’s ultra simplified,” Timm said. “When I was a kid, I actually didn’t even like his comics, because I thought they looked like coloring books. But as I got older I began to see how deceptively complex his artwork actually is.

The Sleeping Beauty cartoon that Disney did in the 1950’s was another influence on Batman: TAS. “It was the first Disney film that got away from the real rounded cartoon characters and introduced more sharp, angular characters,” Timm revealed.

“There's many ways of doing Batman, as long as they're cool, like the Frank Miller version or the Neil Adams interpretation. We feel Batman: TAS is one right way to do Batman,” Timm said.

“My opinion on the Batman movies has gone back and forth. The first time I saw the movie I didn’t like It. I went and saw it again and thought it’s really neat. The mood is really good but I have some problems with Tim Burton’s vision.

“On one hand, parts of them work really great but the biggest problem is that they’re action films and there’s very little action in them. They also took some liberties with the characters that I just wouldn’t have done. My biggest problem is that they’re just not much fun. The mood and mystery is great, but it’s a little too dark and unpleasant,” Timm stated.

Bat Technique

In an attempt to combine classic elements of the Fleischer cartoons with a cutting edge Japanese anime style, the team fused techniques from seemingly opposite ends of the animation spectrum. “We were trying to do something that had never been done before in TV: a feature film quality look on a Saturday morning budget and time frame,” Timm said.

“At first, we had some great ideas, such as Eric Radomski’s idea for black backgrounds. We didn’t know who was going to animate the series overseas, so we sent out a few sequences and the first one that came back was really awful—it looked like a typically bad Saturday morning cartoon show—just what we didn't want,” Timm remembers.

“It was really choppy. They didn’t follow our background styling or character designs very closely. It really looked very standard and we were crushed wondering, ‘Maybe it's going to look like typical stuff after all.’”

Bummed but not unbowed, Timm and his team tried other studios. “It took us a year before we got our first full cartoon back, which was the ‘On Leather Wings’ show featuring Man-Bat. After seeing it, we knew the series was going to work. Everything we laid out, they did. They followed our plans faithfully and we said ‘Wow, it does work!’”

One reason the show works so well is that it incorporates virtually any and every animation trick in existence, in addition to a few original ideas.

Radomski’s idea for using black backgrounds, for example, was at first scoffed at by tradition-minded animators who never used anything but white backgrounds. To create a heavier mood, the basic design for the series called for large patches of black in almost every frame.

After seeing the amount of time it took to fill in all the black areas, Radomski came up with the ingeniously simple idea of beginning with a black background and painting the scene over it. The effect worked perfectly.

But incorporating a dazzling array of tricks does not necessarily mean a desired effect will work. “All the tricks we use have been used before,” Timm said. “But it’s all in how you use them—knowing when to use the right trick at the right time. The imitated camera movements that simulate a live-action camera panning across an accident scene have been used for years by the Japanese.”

In another departure from the helter-skelter flow of typical Saturday morning fare, Batman: TAS has a much more deliberate pace. “There’s been a lot of other cartoons that I’ve worked on where they’ve tried to employ the same techniques,” Timm recalls. “But for some reason or another, whether it was budget or timing constraints or whatever, it did not work.

“Timing is a very important part of our show. It’s not like most other adventure cartoons where everything is moving at the same speed. In them, when two characters are speaking, the lines are falling on top of each other—there’s no dramatic pauses. It’s something our directors are very conscious of. They try to give our series a real-time, live action pace.

“The biggest lie of animation is that you don't need writers for an animated story,” Timm attests. The Emmy awards won by the writers for the “Heart of Ice” episode vindicate that statement.

Good Guys
[A generic description of the show’s protagonists, which lacks interview content, has been omitted.]

[On Robin] “Personally, I like Batman alone—the mysterious dark avenger of the night,” [Bruce] Timm said. But I’m kind of like Joe Q. Public in that on one hand I really like Batman just as a loner, but on the other hand, there's just something classic about it when he and Robin team up.”

Ugly Guys: Censors

“The worst thing about the censors, BS&P (a.k.a. Broadcast Standards & Practices), is that we never really know what they’re going to say,” Timm frets. “The rules change on every single show. Some shows we can have people getting hit in the face and other shows we can’t.”

“It’s frustrating because we’ll do something we've done in a previous show and they’ll say ‘Oh, you can’t do that.’ And we can’t justify it by saying we've done it before.

“We always get tons and tons of censor notes on every show such as ‘Get rid of those alcoholic beverages.’ That’s a big no no. But it’s also a real touchy one because every time we have a party scene such as a big charity ball, what are the people drinking? So we’ve always had to make glass tumblers and put water in them. I guess everyone is drinking Perrier.

“In the upcoming season, we have an episode named 'Harlequin-aid,' where there’s this whole scene that takes place in a speakeasy and, well, people drink in a speakeasy. BS&P said we can’t have any glasses, none at all. It becomes a game after a while.

“On the other hand," Timm concedes, “the BS&P people serve a really good purpose. If we were allowed to go crazy, we might make some kids out there psychotic or something.”

Despite such behind-the-scenes obstacles, "The BS&P people have never ruined a show. They’ve never taken the guts out of a show so completely that it ruined the episode.”

The Second Season

To reflect its comic book roots, and in honor of Batman #500, Timm disclosed the team was working on an episode featuring Bane. “It’s going to be a bit different than the comics. We’re not going to be able to break Batman in two, so we’ve come up with a slightly different take on it.

“It won’t be anywhere near the depth of the comic version, because we’re trying to do in one episode what the comic series has covered over several issues. There’s no wheelchair, no Azrael, no angst. It’s going to be more of a fun knockabout half hour.

“Most of the other changes for the second season are reflective of what Fox feels. They do market research and survey kids and pass it on to us.

“The show is going to be a little less grim than the first season. Less of Batman being tortured by the death of his parents. I think the second season is going to be just as good as the first; it’s just a little bit more fun. Fox definitely wants more super villains. Apparently kids would rather see Batman fighting the Joker rather than some thug with a trench coat and a big hat.

“That’s fine, we’ve done enough of those kinds of shows. We don’t need to keep using gangsters. There will also be more emphasis on larger-than-life action and more humor, but that doesn’t mean it will ever be that campy Adam West style.

“There are still things I don’t want to do with Batman. We'll never send him into outer space or anything. But the personality of the villain he confronts in a particular episode helps dictate the story. Batman wouldn’t be in the same situations if he was fighting the Joker or Poison Ivy.

“We’re very aware of not repeating ourselves. During the course of the first 65 episodes, we kind of fell into a sort of formula such as: Batman does this, then he fires his grappling hook, then he flies away. So we’re always trying to come up with new things for him to do and the villains.

“There's not going to be a whole lot of new villains in the second season, basically just more of the rogues gallery including the Joker, Penguin, Riddler, etc.

“Paul Dini and I did create a new character called Baby Doll. She’s a former child star, TV actress (a la Shirley Temple). She kind of has that Gary Coleman syndrome. Now she’s 33 years old, but she still looks like a 6-year-old. Of course she’s psychotic and she has a disgusting speech pattern that Paul came up with.

There will be one more Batgirl show in the second season. “I really like the Batgirl character and what the writers have done with her,” Timm said. “Rather than making her this goofy young girl, when they first introduced her in the ‘Heart of Steel’ show they established her alter-ego Barbara Gordon as being very intelligent, resourceful, and capable. So when she became Batgirl, it was almost logical. But she’s also a fun character like Robin. A Batgirl/Robin team-up is actually planned where Batman appears very little. She’ll appear in the fall.

“There’s been some talk about Sandman, but I don’t know; it doesn’t really seem to fit our show. Paul and the writers would like to do an episode [with Neil Gaiman’s metaphysical Hero], but the Sandman comics are pretty talk-oriented and not very action-oriented, and I don’t see that working in our format. Animation is about fluidity and movement, and Sandman stories don’t have much of that.”

Other episodes include: a three-part series dubbed “The Trial” where the inmates of Arkham Asylum act as judge and jury; “A Bullet for Bullock”—loosely based on a Chuck Dixon detective story; “House & Garden”—Poison Ivy appears to have retired from crime; “Harlequin-aid”—Batman embarks on a 48 Hours style romp to defuse a nuclear bomb; “The Terrible Trio”—featuring the Fox, the Shark and the Vulture; and a Batman crossover with Jonah Hex.

The Movie Outlook

“The current plan is to use the computer generated Gotham City from the movie,” Timm said.

The map itself is a technological triumph. [Made for] an upcoming feature film, it will eventually be used for the series. “The map is amazing,” Timm said, “Gotham City exists. All we have to do is tell the computer where we want to start and where we want to end and we can zoom anywhere.

“As far as the movie goes, it’s basically being animated as we speak,” Timm said. “Our end of it is done, pre-production was done months ago, and we’re just now starting to get sequences back from overseas. We’re starting the post-production process such as editing. The computer generated title sequence is being rendered on a machine in France.”

Although most of the characters in the movie have already appeared in the series, a few new voices and faces will debut in the film. Stacey Keach does a voice in the movie. So does Abe Vigoda, Dick Miller, and Bill Mumy. When the movie is released this Christmas, keep an eye, or an ear, open and you’ll be sure to recognize a few more Hollywood personalities.
 

Revelator

Loathsome spotted reptile
05. The Sounds of a Bat
By Joe Funk (Hero Illustrated, Special Edition: Batman, Vol. 1 #1, Oct. 1993)

Elizabeth Taylor and Aerosmith guest star on The Simpsons, and suddenly every actor in Tinseltown is lining up for animation voice-overs. The hottest ticket for willing windpipes belongs to Batman: The Animated Series. The popularity of the Batman myth has prompted dozens of stars to guest on the show, not to mention the stars who have recurring roles, like Mark Hamill, Efram Zimbalist, Adrienne Barbeau, Richard Moll, Paul Williams, and the dynamic duo Kevin Conroy and Loren Lester.

We talked to several of the voices behind BTAS, to get an idea of what led them to the series, what they’ve experienced while doing it, and what the future holds for them.

The voice of Bruce Wayne, and his alter ego-the star of the show, Batman, is Kevin Conroy. Usually working “on-camera,” Conroy may be familiar to readers for his roles on Dynasty, Tour of Duty, and as a doctor on last year’s Fox sitcom, Rachel Gun, R.N.

“I’ve had a lot of television on-camera work, and in New York I do a great deal of theatre,” Conroy says. “This is the first animated voice I’ve done. It’s kind of a new thing for me, but that seems to be the direction that a lot of animation is going—away from the more mainstream actors’ voices to give cartoons a more realistic feel. That’s the style of [Batman: The Animation Series].

“There have been over two hundred actors involved in the show so far, and it’s an amazing list of people. Every week I’m amazed at who’s walking in. The feature that’s coming out at Christmas has Dana Delaney, Stacy Keach, Mark Hamill. Abe Vigoda and myself. It’s really an honor to be working on the show. I guess because of the success of animated features, they have no difficulty getting really wonderful actors to come in and do voices.”

It is a new experience for Conroy, a different kind of challenge. “I didn’t have a very deep background in it, like Mark Hamill, who is sort of an expert on the whole genesis of Batman. The producers said ‘the character is known as the Dark Knight. He’s very mysterious. He’s a man of few words. What do you think that would sound like?’ So my voice became deeper and huskier and darker and sort of a whisper. It became almost like a secret, like a who lives in the shadows.

“Bruce is very charming, very outgoing, very much a man of his moment, very comfortable in society, very athletic, yet with this very tortured secret. But you can’t give any indication of that secret when you’re playing Bruce Wayne. You can’t give any foreshadowing of that because it would blow it for the other characters. No one’s even supposed to suspect. And it also makes the drama of the show more pronounced if Bruce is as different as possible from Batman. So for [the voices], Bruce is very much a confident, socially easy-going guy, and Batman is a shadow. He has to sound to me like a shadow.

“In the earlier episodes there was one called ‘Perchance to Dream’ that really dealt heavily with why Batman became Batman, the tortures of his childhood and what he’s been through. That’s one of my favorites because it was so much fun to do. It was beautiful and I think the fact that so much of it was in black & white was really daring of them. It’s hard for me to be objective. The episodes that I had good performances in are my favorites,’ he laughs.

Conroy draws a clear line between BTAS and other portrayals of Batman. “I'm in my mid-thirties so I grew up in the sixties with the TV show,” he admits. “But only after the features were coming out did I become more aware that the sixties show was a real departure, that is, it didn’t have much to do with the original Batman. Our show goes back to the original concept of the Dark Knight.”

And the future seems bright for Batman: The Animated Series. “Fox is very happy with the way things are going. They made a commitment to Warner Brothers when they renewed. It’s really phenomenal to be part of this show because it’s become a kind of cultural thing. Not only young people, but people of all age groups really enjoy this show and relate to it and get into it. It’s fun to be part of a project which is that successful and means that much to people.”

Loren Lester has done plenty of voice-over gigs, but these days he’s locked himself into a sure thing—Robin, the Boy Wonder. Of course, there are a lot of expectations to live up to when one takes on a character with Robin’s history.

“The script is written so well,” he explains. “I’ve done a lot of animation, and the people who write the Batman scripts just write lines that are easy to say in the character. So that made it very easy.”

As far as working on the show is concerned, he couldn’t be having a better time. Especially since the ratio of ‘Robin episodes’ to ‘non-Robin episodes’ is fast changing in his favor.

“It’s been wonderful,” Lester admits. “At a certain point, they decided that Robin was really important. I did the very first episode and then disappeared for about forty episodes, and then, in the last twenty that they taped for the first season, I was used almost continually, non-stop. At a certain point I think they felt that the character was important to the story, but initially they didn’t. I know that the network requested more Robin episodes for the second season. They’re getting lots of fan mail, and I’m getting a lot of fan mail, and the comic book on the TV series is getting a lot of fan mail saying ‘why aren’t there Robin episodes?’”

Many people have the impression that voice-over is a very solitary craft, that the actors work alone. That idea has been instilled in the public through our limited knowledge of “looping,” which happens when an actor records, or re-records lines in a movie after a scene has been shot. In reality, especially on BTAS, the actors work together, as in a play.

“All the time,” agrees Lester. “On very rare occasions, an actor will have a job that takes him out of town, and they’ll put him in later. But, I’d say ninety-plus percent of the time, all the actors are there. And I’ve worked with some great people.”

Lester is very pleased with Warner Brothers’ plans for Robin in the season to come. “He’s become a more integral part of the story,” the voice of the Boy Wonder confides. “A lot of the exchanges between Batman and Alfred, where Batman took Alfred into his confidence in the first season…there’s more of that with Robin this year.”

Batman: The Animated Series has been a boon for Loren Lester, and it’s obvious what his favorite episode is. “There was a two-part episode called ‘Robin’s Reckoning,’ which was sort of the background to how Batman took Robin on as his ward. That’s the one they submitted for Emmy consideration, and that’s why the series is now nominated for an Emmy for Best Animated Series."

Though the recent live-action films haven’t included Robin, Lester fondly recalls one live-action version that had a real impact on him. “I used to be fanatical about the sixties’ TV show,” he says. “Absolutely fanatical, never missed it, and of course I had every toy that you can possibly imagine. If it was on the market, my parents went out and got it for me.”

And don’t think that just because he grew up on the Adam West TV show, Lester doesn’t read the Batman family of comics. “I read them all the time,” he assures us. “The Robin that I’m playing, I guess you know, is Dick Grayson in the current Robin’s costume. It’s a combination of the two.”

He agrees that the new costume, Tim Drake’s, is a great look, but what about that Robin who didn’t look the part, Burt Ward? “He was very skinny and very small and I guess he fit into the tights or something,” Lester laughs. “But he was directed, I’m sure, to play it very over the top and campy and silly, which is what the whole theme of the show was. For what they were trying to achieve I think they achieved it very well. If you watch it now, it’s hilarious. It’s not the spirit of the comic book, but it’s hilarious.”

The animated Penguin, Paul Williams, is remembered for his roles in such films as Smokey & the Bandit, Phantom of the Paradise, and Battle for the Planet of the Apes. He has endured, as have most actors, a burdensome number of uncomfortable costumes and restrictive makeup jobs. In that light, his first reaction to Batman: The Animated Series comes as no surprise.

“Oh, it’s great. It’s a great batch of actors, and nobody has to get dressed up. We can come at it just funky, and sit down and do it. And you don’t have to memorize your lines, you just sit there and do it. Part of the joy of it, too, is having a really great director, Andrea is terrific.”

At first, however, Williams wasn’t certain he wanted the part. “Doing the Penguin is strange,” he admits. “I didn’t read for it—they just decided they wanted me to come in and do it—and I’m very grateful for that. If they had called and said they wanted me to read for it, I would have said no. There’s no way in the world I could ever do this part, based on having heard Burgess Meredith do it. I love Burgess Meredith’s Penguin, so I didn’t think I could do this. When I think of the Penguin, I think of Meredith.

“I do him a little more erudite,” Williams says. “He still has the caustic cynical tone, but he’s also kind of sophisticated. I don't think it’s so much the way I play him but the way he’s written.”

Obviously, like his co-stars, Williams learned the Batman mythos from Adam West. But had he been exposed to the comic books at all? “I must have read the comic book a few times,” he says. “But like most people my age, the television series was my real exposure to Batman. I associate all those great actors, Frank Gorshin as the Riddler, Buzz Meredith as the Penguin, you know.”

When asked about Danny DeVito’s performance in Batman Returns, Williams has nothing but superlatives to describe the other actor’s performance. Still…”Oh, of course, sour grapes. I’d love to have played it, but Danny gets all the luck. He’s wonderful. Quite evil, y’know?”

Williams has been very impressed with the work of all the actors on the show, and one in particular. “There are some fine actors who show up to do parts occasionally. Richard Moll was excellent. Efram Zimbalist is terrific to work with. It’s kind of interesting to watch Mark Hamill, work because my exposure to Mark is as your basic hero type. To watch him dig into the Joker is great.”

No news yet on whether the Penguin will return for season two, but Williams is hopeful.

“This is the first regular voice-over gig that I've done. I seem to be doing more of it.”

We knew him as “Bull” on the ensemble comedy Night Court, but these days we’re more familiar with Richard Moll’s voice—both the confident bass tones of D.A. Harvey Dent, and the gravely sinister threats of Two-Face. Sometimes, though, Moll forgets which role he’s playing.

“I’m in the role of Catwoman,” he claims. “Julie Newmar, move over.” Reminded that he might not fit into Newmar’s costume, Moll relents. “ I once wore the shoes, and that was murder. They don't make them in 13D.”

And what about that voice? “We kind of fumbled around at first. The producer, Andrea Romano, wanted me to do almost like a ‘Godfather’ voice. That was after Two-Face had the acid thrown on him. But after a while, we went back to the good old ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ voice, the nasty wizard messed up voice, y’know. You’ve got to have gravel in there. It’s pretty chilling, so I think it works for the character. Once we decided on that, we stuck to it.”

But the sound of Harvey Dent is “definitely closer to my real voice. In fact it may even be my real voice, “ Moll realizes.

Interestingly enough, Moll was unfamiliar with the Dent character before landing the gig on BTAS. “I’d never heard of Two-Face before,” he confesses. “I hadn’t heard of Croc before, either. Of course, we’ve all heard about the Joker and the Riddler, and the Penguin and what have you. I remember Batman comics from way back when, but I’d never seen Two-Face.”

One of the most suspenseful moments in comics is the flipping of Two-Face’s coin. “I enjoy the whole threat of the coin,” Moll says. “Is it gonna be heads or tails? Is he gonna maim you or kill you? What's it gonna be? That's what I get off on.”

Moll enjoys the way the actors work on the series. “It’s like the beginning of a horse race because everyone’s in their own little stall and you’re waiting for the bell to go off and you all run to the window. You're sitting in a semi-circle in these little stalls and each person has a microphone in front of them. It’s almost like doing a play reading in a way.”

Though he loves Two-Face, Moll has a lot of other projects on his plate these days. “I’m working on a new cartoon called Mighty Max, which is going to be coming out in syndication,” he says. “I’m a regular on that. I do a character called Norman, a big swashbuckling warrior type who’s got a bloodlust. He’s a hero but he can’t get enough fighting. Like a ‘make my day’ kind of guy.”

When asked whether the audience can welcome some “Two-Face experiences” in season two, Moll’s reply is typically sharp-witted. “You’d have to ask my agent about Two-Face experiences,” he mumbles.

The subject turns to Tim Burton’s vision of the Caped Crusader, and Moll is surprised when he makes the connection he had previously missed—that Billy Dee Williams’ character is the pre-Two-Face Harvey Dent. There's no way to know if Warner Brothers ever plans to use Two-Face, or if Billy Dee Williams would return in that role, but Moll is interested, of course.

“I’d love to play it,” he laughs. “Gee, Harvey’s changed a lot, hasn’t he? Not only is he scarred, but now he’s white! No, I’d love to do something like that. I love playing heavies anyway, and it would be fun to bring Harvey to life on the camera. I think I could do a hell of a job with it. No offense to Billy Dee of course.”

What's next for Richard Moll? “I’m in the new movie The Flintstones,” Richard says, an unabashed plug. “That’s another one based on cartoon characters. Cartoons rule, man!”

Bob Hastings, the actor who plays Commissioner James Gordon on BTAS, is familiar to an entire generation of Americans for his work on another show. He played Lieutenant Elroy Parker for the entire run of McHale’s Navy. Anyone remember the voice of Joe Flynn as Captain Binghamton, screaming “Parker!?” Ah, nostalgia.

Actually, Hastings has been in the entertainment business since the thirties, and in some ways, voiceover animation is like coming home.

“It’s like going back to radio, where I started,” he says. “It’s a little different because we all have little booths, and we’re not looking at each other while we’re working, but that’s the only thing that’s different.

“I started in 1935, in radio back in New York. I was a kid singer and then I did all the old radio soaps, Hilltop House, Kitty Kelly, all of those. Then I went into the service and won the war, I guess. I don’t know if we won, I’m not sure yet. I was a navigator on a B-29. And then I came out and went back into radio, and as for comic books, I played Archie from Archie Comics from 1946 until about ’55 on NBC Radio.

The day I walked in they said, ‘My God, you even look like Gordon.’ I said, ‘What? He has white hair. I don’t have white hair.’ But I had a moustache at the time and I have that cowlick at the front of my hair.”

Of course, with a career stretching back as far as Bob’s does, he had some opportunities the rest of us can only dream about.

“I think I probably had the first Batman magazine that came out. I used to commute from New York to Chicago to sing on a show, and my folks always gave me some comic books to read on the train. I wish I had saved it. I had them all.”

With his roots in a more wholesome time for entertainment, how does Hastings feel about today’s entertainment, including BTAS? “I have found that a lot of fathers I know have the kids tape it so they can see it. So I don’t think it’s strictly for children. It can be above children in a sense, but the cartooning makes children want to watch it…it’s an exciting show.

“I think the best actors I ever have worked with were radio actors. You had to be a good actor in radio for people’s imagination. Now you can have a guy who’s six-foot-eight, who can’t act, come in and say ‘I’m going to kill you,’ and it comes across. But you couldn’t do that on radio...I think young people have missed a great deal because of television.”
 
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Revelator

Loathsome spotted reptile
06. Batman Reanimated: Not just for kids, Batman: The Animated Series effectively outclasses all previous incarnations of the enduring superhero in gritty, film noir fashion
By Gabriel Alvarez and Chris Gore (Wild Cartoon Kingdom #1, June 1993)

Long before he was a brooding, borderline-psychotic avenger, Batman “biffed” villains in relatively sweatless fashion (the ’60s) and fraternized with the Super Friends on Saturday mornings (the ’70s). Children everywhere would gather before their TV sets—sporting bath towels as capes and beating each other up in homage to their cowled comic strip hero.

Influenced, perhaps, by real-life vigilantes like Bernard Goetz and our increasingly problem-riddled environment, Frank Miller’s ballyhooed 1986 graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns ushered in a drastic Caped Crusader makeover: No longer a bastion of unmitigated altruism, the alter ego of aging socialite Bruce Wayne became painfully human as he coped with mental and emotional instability. The success of Miller's interpretation led to Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), which—aside from raking in millions at the box office—introduced the “tortured soul” version of Bob Kane’s creation to the moviegoing masses. Critics cited various problems with the blockbuster and its inevitable sequel (plot holes, miscasting and suspenseless action, to name a few), but regardless, the stage was set for what may yet be the most compelling metamorphosis of the Dark Knight: Warner Bros.’ Batman: The Animated Series—a sleekly drawn, film nourish cartoon that out-dramatizes its cinematic counterparts.

As the producers of the show, which premiered in September 1992 on the Fox Children’s Network, Alan Burnett, Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm were all well aware of the public’s preconceived notions about Batman when they began work on the series three years ago. “I was worried that by the time the movies came out, people would be tired of Bat hype—especially since the second one wasn't the big cultural thing the first one was,” says Timm, admitting that there was an initial concern that potential buyers would want a cartoon carbon copy of the films. “We said, ‘If you want us to make it look just like the movie, forget it.’ Because, on the one hand, I wanted to do my version of Batman. I didn’t want it to look like Tim Burton’s. Second of all, from a purely commercial standpoint, if we made it look exactly like the movie, it would be seen as a cheap rip-off. Fortunately, everybody bought into that.”

Timm, an affable 32-year-old who likes Batman and “some parts” of Batman Returns, is aware of the flicks’ critical backlash. “Whatever you say about the movies, at least they created a different perception of the character in people’s minds,” he says. “Before the first movie came out, everybody thought of Batman as Adam West. They thought it was a jokey thing.” The public’s acceptance of the darker portrayal, in turn, helped to mitigate the sometimes intense—for children’s television—content of the cartoon in the mind of Margaret Loesch, the Fox TV executive in charge of children’s programming. “She was well aware that the audience was going to expect a certain amount of violence and mood.”

The inception of Batman: The Animated Series was an unusual one. Timm explains: “I really didn’t pitch it. It was given to us.” As the tale goes, both Timm and Eric Radomski were working for Warner Bros. Animation on Steven Spielberg’s Tiny Toon Adventures. In 1990, the end loomed near for the cute creature comedy, which meant possible termination for the entire production team—a common occurrence in this field. Fortunately for the animators and Batfans alike, executive producer Jean MacCurdy informed the group that they would remain to develop new projects, of which Batman would be one. That day, Timm immediately realized that doing Tiny Toons no longer interested him. He recalls saying aloud to himself, “Forget this! I’m gonna draw Batman.” It took him barely an hour to come up with the drawings that would eventually become the character design for the series.

Meanwhile, Radomski was developing background stylings for the show. But it wasn’t until after Tiny Toons ended that things started happening. “We were wondering what was holding them back,” says Timm. “It was an obvious sell.” Finally, MacCurdy asked the duo to create a minute-long Batman promo detailing their vision of the superhero. The action-packed short, which features a mysterious and menacing Batman foiling a jewelry heist atop a brilliantly moonlit roof, encapsulated the mood the series would evoke but to a slightly higher degree. In an incredibly choreographed sequence, our protagonist escapes from a hail of bullets before unleashing a flurry of brutal blows on the hapless criminals.

By the time the month-and-a-half-in-the-making promo was completed, however, the series had already been sold to Fox. “Fortunately, because everybody liked what we did with the film, Jean came to us and said, ‘Okay, I know you guys never produced a series before, but how would you like to produce Batman?’” says Timm. “And Eric and I said, ‘Well, okay, sure. Why not?’ At the most, I thought they’d hire us to do the art direction. I didn’t expect them to give us the whole darn show!”

They Call Me Bruce

Bruce Timm’s career in animation was just as unexpected. “I always wanted to be a comic book artist ever since I was a kid,” he says. “I learned to draw from tracing comic books.” Batman, quite prophetically, was the first thing he can remember ever sketching. With no formal training (except for a few life drawing classes), the animator’s first stint came in 1981 at age 20 on Filmation’s Blackstar. “I had been working at Kmart doing artwork around the store and everybody would always come up and say, ‘Why aren’t you doing this professionally?’ I had actually tried to get into Filmation the year before, when they were doing Flash Gordon. I took their test and I didn’t make it. A year later I was still at K-Mart and I was going nuts. I heard they were looking for people so I tried out again and managed to get a job—although I was really lousy.”

Timm did layouts for Flash as well as for The Lone Ranger, but he was eventually driven back to his crummy job at Kmart after being laid off in advance of an industry-wide strike. Later, Timm managed to get a job at Don Bluth Productions doing assistant animation work on The Secret of N.I.M.H (1982). When the company went belly up, Timm spent a few years floating from studio to studio. Some of the admittedly subpar shows he slaved on included Marvel’s G.I. Joe and Filmation’s He-Man and She/Ra Princess of Power. “Back then, animation was in the pits,” he says—largely due to the fact that most cartoons were half-hour plugs for the latest action figure toys. As a result, chances to be imaginative were few and far between. “You’d go in there and you’re real hot to do something really cool and they immediately tell you, ‘Don’t do good drawings. Just make it good enough to get it by,’” he says. Although obviously a negative atmosphere to work in, Timm cites the experience as a learning tool, as far as sticking to rigid schedules is concerned. “In a way, it was kind of a good education because you learned all the different aspects of animation. It was good and it was bad.” But mostly bad.

Things did turn for the better momentarily when Timm worked with John Kricfalusi on The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse and Beany & Cecil. “I actually consider that a turning point in terms of my artistic growth,” he says. “I can’t look at anything I drew before 1987 without cringing. I learned from John how to simplify drawings and really push them and make them extreme rather than having characters just standing there.” Although directing episodes of Beany & Cecil was his first crack at helming a project, Timm admits to “flipping out” because of the daily stress. Much of the pressure could be attributed to the strained conditions surrounding the show.

“Unfortunately we were doing it for ABC rather than CBS, and the Broadcast Standards & Practice people at ABC were treacherous,” says the animator. “It was an uphill battle all the way. I’d pretty much had it with cartoons at that point and got out,” continues Timm. “Working for ‘children’s television’ is too restricting. There’s just too much heartache and work.” The next year found the burned-out artist coloring comic books for First Comics. “They were really bad,” he says. “But it paid the bills.” For a while, at least. He soon found out that he would have to paint a heck of a lot of comics to remain solvent, so he returned to making cartoons. “Besides, I was getting sick on xylene fumes,” he laughs. Timm joined Warner Bros. in 1989 to work on Tiny Toons, figuring he’d “just come in and sit down and do my work and not worry about it being terribly funny. But Tiny Toons had its moments. We were allowed a certain amount of creativity.”

Back in Black

In a rare departure from the usual Hollywood production scenario, the creativity behind Batman: The Animated Series arises not from the studio executives, but from the artists. One merely has to consider the show’s strikingly innovative backgrounds to see this. Eric Radomski concocted the idea of painting backgrounds on black paper not only to enhance the program’s sophisticated visuals, but to facilitate production.

“As far as I know we’re the first cartoon that ever did that,” says Bruce Timm. “When we first started, we knew we were going to put big areas of black in almost every background to keep it moody.” But when Radomski began painting the backgrounds for the promo, he realized that filling in all the black areas was time-consuming. Tossing out an old aesthetic rule that dictates backgrounds can’t be painted black because it looks dull, he decided to start with black paper and paint color into it. “When he first told me I thought, God, it’s going to look like a velvet Elvis painting,” says Timm. The effect, however, was exactly what the animators wanted. The only remaining concern was how to help other studios readily adapt to the style. “The obvious solution was to work with an airbrush,” says Radomski. “It’s a rich look and it’s fast. And applying it to the technique, it takes half the time to paint a background.”

Saving time is a critical factor considering Batman’s heavy-duty production schedule, which—since its debut—has entailed completing an astonishing 65, 22-minute episodes as well as a 70-minute direct-to-video movie. “You’re supervising four directors, all of the artwork that’s coming through, the scripts, the postproduction and still, within all that, Bruce managed to direct four episodes and I directed three,” says Radomski. “I would love nothing more than to have the opportunity to continue to do artwork, but there’s just no way. But the fact that you get to oversee things and that you created [the show], you know exactly what you want and you can pass it off to qualified people.”

Instead of recycling standard TV serial plots, Batman: The Animated Series actually harks back to film classics such as Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil, according to director Dan Riba (“Blind as a Bat,” "See No Evil”). “We don’t have them on laser disc and study them,” he says, “but they’re an influence.” Riba, however, emphasizes that they are not the first to be guided by cinematic conventions—pointing to past artists like Will Eisner and even Bob Kane, who actively studied Citizen Kane. “It’s only natural that we are going back to it,” he says.

Interestingly, it appears that today’s comic book artists may in fact be inspiring live-action directors. The influence of Jack Kirby alone on George Lucas (Darth Vader is patterned after The Fantastic Four’s Dr. Doom) and James Cameron (in the Terminator films) is clearly evident. Yet, as Riba relates, Batman’s instances of deja vu differ from the obvious homages that pepper The Simpsons. “This is more subliminal,” he says, pointing out that the key is Batman’s almost timeless setting. Although the show’s milieu resembles classic ’30s and ’40s deco, many anachronistic props coexist harmoniously within its shadowy environment. “If it was up to me, I’d set the show right in 1939,” says Timm. “Early on, I was a real stickler for that. No cellular phones. If they had a computer, make it look like it was made out of Bakelite. After a while, some things started slipping by me. There are cellular phones, but we still try to make everything look real deco and old fashioned. Because you look outside in the real world and it’s dull.”

Far from white-washing the action, the basic approach to producing Batman is maintaining a high level of quality lacking in many contemporary cartoons. From Batman/Bruce Wayne’s voice, superbly underplayed by actor Kevin Conroy (who’s often accompanied by the celebrity vocal talents of Adrienne Barbeau and Mark. Hamill) to the animation process itself, strict guidelines are adhered to. For example, the Batmobile does not mimic Tim Burton’s complex design because the extraneous detail would hinder its on-screen appearance. “It has to be bare bones—only what you need to make it look convincing so it can move around,” explains Timm.

Worried Warner Bros. executives, however, concluded that audiences would be confused by the films’ and TV show’s different vehicle designs. Jean MacCurdy suggested that Timm and Co. take drawings of Catwoman, the Penguin and the Batmobile to Tim Burton for approval in hopes that that would calm the nervous suits. “He could only spare us a few minutes,” laughs Timm. “He sat down and said, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah. They’re fine.’ It was good that he comes from an animation background because he knows that you can’t put all that detail on the characters and the vehicles.”

With former art students directing million-dollar movies, it seems odd that most TV cartoons could be run by anybody other than animators. “Looking back, the whole animation business came from cartoonists—it didn’t come from writers,” says Radomski. “And that got lost somewhere down the line. Now they’ve given it back to cartoonists.” Well-written scripts, most animators agree, can’t always be translated visually to the screen. “You can’t expect to get [a cartoon] from somebody that’s just dreaming it up in their head. You have to sit down and do it,” he says.

Just the same, the writing on Batman far exceeds that of most children’s programming. Story editor Paul Dini, who has written the episodes “Heart of Ice,” “The Laughing Fish” and “The Man Who Killed Batman,” among others, emphasizes the importance of solid characters. In fact, he admits to wanting to develop further several characters he has worked on in the past. “They’re such interesting characters,” says Dini. “Poison Ivy, for instance, is somebody who treats men like toys. She’s very sexy. She will flirt with a guy merely for the sake of entrancing him and then ditching him. If you treat these characters right, they really do take on these identities. And you really begin to wonder what triggers their psychoses.”

Bat Behavior

The same can sometimes be asked of Broadcasting Standards & Practice. The creators have waged a difficult battle to insert “mature” material into the kids’ show, particularly firearms. Early on, Timm realized that “if we don’t have guns—if the villains don’t present a credible threat to Batman—how are we going to keep tension in the series? Ray guns aren’t going to do it.” Predictably, the show has had problems with Broadcasting Standards & Practice from the get-go. “Every time we had a single gun in the show, they would go nuts,” says Timm.

However, as is typical of censorial rules, the degrees of acceptability were often muddled. “Strangely enough, we were allowed to have machine guns. I guess because they’re less imitable than hand guns. The whole problem with BS&P is imitatability. They don’t want some kid shooting some other kid on the street and saying, ‘Oh, I saw it on Batman.’ I can understand their position there. But I think we have been fairly responsible.” That responsibility also includes no actual depictions of death. “Killing somebody on the show is the hardest thing in the world,” says Timm. “We can never really kill anybody, ever. So if somebody falls from a building, they have to land in a river. If Batman punches somebody and they fall down, we have to show that they’re still breathing.”

The rules concerning violence often throw the producers for a loop. For instance, Timm recalls that at the conclusion of “Two-Face,” it was originally scripted that one female character would smack another during a heated argument. “They said, ‘No way. You cannot hit a woman in the face.’ I said, ‘Not even by another woman?’ They said, ‘No. You absolutely can’t do it.’” The producers, puzzled by the mandate, asked what would be acceptable. “They said, ‘You can have her pull her hair and kick her.’ And I’m thinking, Okay, we can do that. It’s definitely meaner. If the whole problem was imitatability, as far as I knew, little girls don’t hit each other in the face—they pull their hair.”

Broadcasting Standards & Practice doesn’t always inadvertently add such realistic moments to the show—sometimes they demand it. “We had problems with ‘Two-Face’ initially because we began the show with how Harvey Dent was like before he became Two-Face, when he was a schizophrenic,” says Timm. “They said, ‘Okay, since you’re playing him as a schizophrenic, we just want to make sure it’s all scientifically accurate.’ So we had to call in a psychiatrist to read the script and vouch for the fact that this is actually the way people who have schizophrenic problems really are so that we weren’t misleading children about mental illness.” While some may argue that the folks behind BS&P suffer from personality disorders themselves, Timm is appreciative of the latitude the censors have granted the creative team. “In their defense, they have been pretty good with us,” he says. “They have let us do a lot of stuff that they would never let anybody else do.”

Eric Radomski sees the problem thusly: “Broadcast Standards just really doesn’t know what it is they’re trying to show or not show. Because a lot of things that we had to restage ended up being more dramatic and more frightening than they would have been. Implied tragedy allows your imagination to conjure up more horrible things that you would literally draw on paper.” This is best exemplified by the two-parter “Robin’s Reckoning,” which dealt with the death of the Boy Wonder’s folks. “That was down to the wire,” recalls Timm. “They were not going to let us kill Robin’s parents, even though when we pitched the story to them, they were saying, ‘Okay, his parents have to die. We can understand that.’ But when it came down to doing the script, they said, ‘Oh, no. You can’t do it this way.’ So we compromised and we got it to the board and they said, ‘It’s too horrifying. Kids will be upset. You can’t show this little boy’s parents falling to their deaths.’”

The solution was to devise the couple's demise offstage. “It’s still pretty powerful. You see their silhouettes swinging across and they go out of the frame and then the rope swings back and it's been cut. The music blares, so you know something horrible has happened. And Bruce Wayne stands up and he's like, ‘Gasp.’ But we were not allowed to show anybody else reacting. We had to compromise to the point where it almost didn’t work, but it does.” (Ironically, Timm says that if it were the animators’ choice, they wouldn’t have put Robin in the series in the first place. But Margaret Loesch felt young girls would watch the show if they had a teen idol-type with whom to identify.) Thanks to Batman: The Animated Series, fans can see a ton of nonstop action and not have to pay $7.50 for it either.


Action Archives [Comments on various episodes]

“On Leather Wings” — “Still just about my favorite episode, even though I’ve seen it a million times, says Bruce Timm.

“Two Face, Part One” — “The ending still gives me the chills, says Timm.

“Heart of Ice” — Michael Ansara’s heart-rending, monotone performance was inspired by an Outer Limits episode.

“Beware the Gray Ghost” — This is another Bruce Timm favorite: “I got to act with my childhood idol.”

“Joker’s Favor” — This Hitchcockian episode led to the series’ first hate mail. Producer Alan Burnett is the visual model for Charlie. In Dini’s original premise, the Joker didn’t have a word of dialogue.

“Appointment in Crime Alley” — “The ending still brings tears to my eyes,” jokes Bruce Timm.

“Dreams in Darkness” — One of the creators’ favorite episodes.

“Robin’s Reckoning, Part One” — Young Dick’s “farewell scene” made Dan Riba weep in the editing room.

“Robin’s Reckoning, Part One” — Keep an eye out for Chi-Chi, who’s modeled after Betty Page.

“The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne” — Strange’s design is based on Bob Kane’s original.

“Heart of Steel, Part One” — Sexy Randa Duane is patterned after Marilyn Monroe.

“Birds of a Feather” — “Probably the best Penguin show,” says Timm.

“Harley and Ivy” — Fox detested this episode.
 

Revelator

Loathsome spotted reptile
07. Batman Returns…Again! The Dark Knight is back on the silver screen, BIGGER and BETTER in Mask of the Phantasm
By Gabriel Alvarez (Wild Cartoon Kingdom #2, Dec, 1993)

[Note: several sections of editorial--either unrelated to BTAS or Mask of the Phantasm or containing no interview material--have been omitted]

Spawned from the Fox Children’s Network series, this theatrical release pits Batman against the Phantasm (as well as the Joker, brilliantly played by Mark “Luke Skywalker” Hamill). This treacherous tale digs deep inside the troubled mind of Bruce Wayne via various flashbacks, which include Batman’s first night of crime fighting and his tragic relationship with Andrea Beaumont (voiced by everybody’s favorite China Beach nurse Dana Delaney).

“It’s a hard-edged story,” says cowriter Paul Dini about the almost-an-entire-year-in-the-making effort, which was originally slated to be a direct-to-video release. Mask revolves around the Phantasm, a mysterious figure, who has a vendetta against a gang of Gotham City mobsters who ran him out of town years ago. His daughter, Andrea Beaumont, who was going to marry Bruce Wayne (who, in turn, was contemplating NOT becoming Batman and instead settling down), is caught in the cross-fire.

As coproducer/codirector Bruce Timm explains, “I don’t think that anybody higher up [at Warner Bros.] actually read [the script] until late into production and then said, ‘Hey, wait a minute. This is really good.’” A change of plans came down from top Warner Bros. brass when Timm and fellow coproducer/codirector Eric Radomski were in Korea literally handing the show to the overseas animators. “We got this phone call from the States saying, ‘Um, we have to reformat everything. It may be a feature,” recalls Timm. “We were like, ‘Oh, no.’ We thought we were gonna have to recompose every single shot. But, fortunately, we didn’t have to storyboard it again. When we came back to the States, I took the first sequence and made little matte guides and laid it on each scene. And almost everything worked for both formats.”

Not that making Mask of the Phantasm was easy to begin with, considering there were four different directors responsible for overseeing the storyboarding of their assigned sequences. Timm and Radomski then acted as the cohesive element, directing the overall film. “We gave each of the directors a sequence that played to their strength,” says Timm.

“For instance, Boyd Kirkland is really good with acting, in terms of dramatic scenes. So we gave him, along with Frank Paur, basically all of the-stuff with the flashback sequences. Kevin Altieri really has a flair for taking action set pieces that are okay in the script and coming up with these weird ideas that make them really better. So we gave Kevin the big action scene in the end. All that stuff wasn’t even in the script. Kevin was like, ‘Oh, no! I could do something better than that!’ Dan Riba did linking segments in between flashbacks and the action sequences. And I boarded and directed the beginning and end sequences just to keep my hand in it.”

BATMAN VS. BATMAN

Although Mask of the Phantasm materializes from a television series, the scope of the project is by no means limited to the confined space of the boob tube. As Radomski points out. “Some people have described the TV series as mini-features. As a matter of fact, the first episode, ‘On Leather Wings,’ we screened on the lot a year and a half ago just for the crew to get jazzed about the series. And we were amazed at how well it held up because we never intended it for the big screen. After that, there was never a question that we could pull off feature quality work.”

Timm concurs with his partner. “Even when we were thinking of [Mask of the Phantasm] in terms of just being a video, we were still thinking of it as our Batman movie. Because it was feature length and it had a more adult storyline and a little bit more intense action. We said, ‘Let's go for it. Whether it’s going to be on the big screen or not, let’s think of it as a movie.’ It’s funny because at first I thought, ‘Oh, man, if I had known that this was going to be a feature, I would have done everything different.’ But when we saw rough footage up on the screen, I thought, “No, there’s nothing I would change. It’s all there.

“We didn’t think it was going to be a feature film, so we didn't worry about contradicting the live-action movies,” continues Timm. “I don’t think it matters anyways. It’s a different thing. The only thing we wanted to do was stay away from things that they did. There are some similarities, in terms of structure, but overall I think our story is real solid.” Radomski is also keen on Mask’s script. “The biggest difference between the TV series and the movie is that we have time to develop an interesting, plot-filled story—something that you’re going to get sucked into and really have to pay attention to.”

That’s the case thanks to the team of dedicated Batman writers, who after 65 22-minute episodes the first season and an additional 20 the second, have had to prevent their brains from turning completely to mush. For the feature, there were four writers, including Dini, Michael Reaves, Marty Pasko, and coproducer Alan Burnett, who wrote the overall story which the rest of the staff would later contribute their own ideas to. He kicked off the script by writing the first couple of sequences himself, and similar to the directing responsibilities, Burnett then picked the other writers to pen individual parts of the movie based on personal abilities. So for that reason, Marty Pasko was selected to write many of the flashback sequences dealing with Andrea Beaumont in Batman’s early years because of his experience with writing origin stories for other characters in the series. Michael Reaves, on the other hand, wrote a lot of the finale and linking segments. And Paul Dini wrote most of the action dealing directly with the Joker.

"There was a while where we were all writing ideas for the movie,” says Dini. “And we ultimately went with this idea that Alan came up with—to do a story that was very much centered on Batman’s past and the events that might have kept him from becoming Batman.”

Employing brainstorming methods to write the story meant rejecting certain suggestions, something that could potentially lead to creative conflict. But as Dini says, “Everybody’s ego is usually pretty much in check. When you work in a situation like this, there will be favorite expressions, dialogue—like ‘See you in hell,’ for example—or action that will have to be trimmed. So there is a little bit of bruised egos here and there, but everybody tries to be big about it. There was never anything like screaming fights where people are lunging for each other’s throats because we did have an overall vision of the movie.”

According to Radomski, the expanded running length in which the Batman crew worked within was of great importance. “For the series, we did the best we could within 22 minutes,” he says. “So you try to cram in an interesting story, enough action adventures, and some really cool shots. And you look at these shows again and you go, ‘Well, that was contrived.’ In the movie we have an hour and fifteen minutes to really spell out a story and really get to know these people.”

Connecting with the characters is important as Dini explains, “When you do a movie like this in live-action there's the added perk of seeing an actor that’s usually known for being in other kinds of pictures putting on a silly costume and running around. If you want to see Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, Danny DeVito as the Penguin or Jack Nicholson as the Joker, you get that novelty factor we don’t have in a cartoon.”

BIG AND TALL

But what the makers of Mask lacked in human flesh, they made up for in size—as in the dimensions of the silver screen. This cartoon promises to deliver more cinematic oomph for your dollar than its live-action predecessors.

But as Timm relates, the transformation from the small to the big screen wasn’t without its initial bumps. Starting production on the movie was tough because for a period of two months after the first season was finished, there was a delay while the script was being re-written. “It was really hard to get the storyboard crew motivated to start working again. So, literally, everybody’s first storyboards were garbage,” laughs Timm. “I basically had to call the entire storyboard crew into a meeting and kick their butts. We kept telling everybody, ‘This has got to be better than the TV show.’ And the stuff that they were doing wasn't even as good as the TV show. Their first boards just didn’t have a feature film quality. Almost everything was shot with medium close-ups. There was no feeling of-scale. So they were all really depressed after I chewed them out.” But much like their powerful protagonist, the crew regrouped and resurfaced from the ashes of Timm’s temporary fury with some astounding results. “They got better,” says the co-producer. “It’s probably the best storyboard work they’ve done. It’s great to see [footage] with that letterbox aspect ratio—the composition looks really dynamic.”

What is also guaranteed to blow away audiences are the striking, ultra-slick Radomski backgrounds that define the look of the show magnified to overwhelming and glorious proportions. Because the mood of Gotham City is such an essential ingredient of Bruce Wayne’s world, the animators had to make sure that the overseas Studios paid a lot more attention to the backgrounds. “We were able to cheat a lot with the TV show. When we added texture to a building, it was just a bunch of paint splatter,” says Radomski. “So, for the feature we’ve tried to pay closer attention to background styling—to really finesse the paintings. We’re working with larger paintings to get more fine-tuning to the backgrounds so it holds up on the big screen.”

THE TWO FACES OF EVIL

“I know it gets a little harder when you’re dealing with more than one villain, but in the case of this movie, the Phantasm and the Joker as linked out of events in their past,” explains Dini. “I think in Batman Returns they just kept throwing plot thread after plot thread and none of them added up to anything and you forgot Batman was in the movie—he was just this traffic cop sorting things out.”

Still, one of the proposed stories by Timm and Dini in the preliminary stages of production had Batman up against every one of his villains while trapped inside Arkham Asylum. And the criminals put him on trial. “That story would have made a good hour episode,” offers Dini, “but we didn’t know if it would make a good movie because the more we kept working with it, the more self-contained the one setting inside Arkham got.” Batfans will be happy to note that this way-cool idea was paired down into a new half-hour episode. “But that idea had at least nine major villains going after Batman,” continues the co-writer. “So you could do it if all the characters have a reason to go after Batman. In the case of the Joker and Phantasm, Phantasm comes to Gotham City with a hit list and the last person on his list is the Joker. So there’s a reason.”

Another reason for the Joker to be included is quite simple. According to Timm, Warner Bros. liked the Alan Burnett-created Phantasm, but wanted the film to also have a villain that everybody knows. However, the inclusion is not an intrusion. Rather, as Timm, says, “Just when you get to the part of the movie where you’re going, ‘Man, this is really good, but it’s really heavy and really dark for a cartoon’—bang! The Joker comes in and lightens it up.” The cartoonist adds, “But he’s still a lot more scary than he was in the TV show.”

And what about Gotham’s newest evil-doer? “The Phantasm is basically the Angel of Death,” says Dini. “He wears a black cloak, a skull-mask and he projects smoke out of his costume so he can appear and disappear into mist at will. He’s also got a sharp sickle-like hand that he can use to slash people.”

BAM!!! POW!!! OOF!!!

The highly impressive Mask promises to show more hard-edged action than is allowed on network broadcasts. But did its makers still need to be careful of the content? “Heck, yeah,” says coproducer/codirector Bruce Timm. “We still had to police ourselves.”

“I think Warner Bros. would have been happy with a G-rated Batman movie, but you really can’t make a G-rated Batman movie,” says Dini. “So they’re happy to go with a PG-rated one. Originally, the edict from the higher-ups at Warner Bros. was to make a Batman movie that a parent would feel good about renting for their kid. Not necessarily something that’s gonna be cute and whimsical, but something that’s not going to be grotesque and offensive. That was the argument against Batman Returns. That it was hyped to the roof as a kiddie movie with promotional tie-ins with McDonald’s, toys and games, but when you actually saw the movie, it was really twisted and violent. And although this has a harder edge than what we usually do on television, it’s not gratuitous violence—it’s not horrific.”

Still, the story itself, a good old fashion murder mystery, is not something that could really be done on TV. “Very rarely can you have characters die,” says Dini. “If they die, it’s offscreen and we don’t make a big deal about it. This movie is definitely about a series of murders. I think that viewers are going to see a more emotional story than they’ll see on the TV show.”

The reason for this is the cartoonists’ attitude toward producing the series as well as the movie. As Radomski points out, “Bruce’s and my approach in the beginning was using the guide that early animators used—you make the films that you want to see. You really have to please yourself. If it works for you, for the most part, it’s going to work for a whole bunch of people out in the viewing audience.”

But what about those who maintain that cartoons should be made exclusively for kids? “When you set out to do something specifically for kids, you’re immediately limiting yourself because you’re trying to second-guess what kids are thinking,” says Radomski. “You can’t treat Batman silly. He’s a detective and he’s dealing with real crime. And unless he’s specifically fighting supervillains, he’s otherwise dealing with thugs and criminals that everyone can relate to. So immediately you’re dealing with an adult theme. Batman’s just not a hero for kids.”

So prepare yourselves for the return of Batman this holiday season. “It’s going to be great. It can’t be compared to an Aladdin only because we’ve done it in quarter of the time and for a heckuva lot less money,” says Radomski. “In that regard, we’re proud of it to put it up against anything that’s out there.”
 
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Revelator

Loathsome spotted reptile
08. Grimmer Gotham: It’s a Dark Knight for the Silver Screen
By Bob Miller (Comics Scene V.2 #40, Feb. 1994)

Gotham City has a new caped crusader: Phantasm. Like Batman, he uses similar methods for fighting criminals—not to capture them for the law, but to execute them. Some members of the police think that Batman has turned rogue; likewise, Gotham’s gangsters believe Batman has gone psychotic and is murdering them one by one. Terrified crime bosses go to the Joker for protection. As Batman is drawn into a climactic battle with Phantasm and the Joker, he confronts the tragedies of his past and the dramatic origin of Gotham’s Dark Knight.

Thus, the stage is set for Batman: Mask of Phantasm.

According to producer and co-writer Paul Dini, “There’s a level of action in the movie that we don’t do in the TV show. It’s more of a serious play-for-keeps tone that adults and teenagers will be attracted to. If you like the darker comics and graphic novels, this is definitely up your alley.”

Once again, Kevin Conroy voices the dual role of Batman/Bruce Wayne with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. reprising Alfred the Butler, Bob Hastings as Commissioner James Gordon and Mark Hamill as the Joker. Dana Delany stars as Andrea Beaumont, Bruce Wayne’s love interest; Stacy Keach Jr. is her father, Carl; Abe Vigoda plays crime boss Salvatore Valestra. Hart Bochner voices Councilman Arthur Reeves. And veteran character actor Dick Miller plays Chuckie Sol.

Robin will not make an appearance, Dini says, because “this is Bruce’s story. It’s more of him coming to terms with his past and what he has become in the present.”

In producing the movie, sections were assigned to different writers, Dini explains. “Alan Burnett wrote the overall story. He also wrote the very beginning and very end. He set up the plot, Marty Pasko set up some of the flashback segments and I wrote most of the middle, which deals with the Joker. I also did some of the flashbacks and the heavy romance stuff. Michael Reaves rounded it out by adding the finale and other flashback elements.

“It was also parceled out among the [animated series’] directors: Boyd Kirkland, Frank Paur, Kevin Altieri and Dan Riba. We all knew what the story was overall, but each concentrated on the areas where we knew our strengths were. As I carved out the Joker as my personal niche, I wrote most of the scenes with him.

“Alan Burnett made the observation after seeing the Leica reel that it looked like a very good graphic novel, blown up and put on the screen. It has a big story that’s very important to Batman and all the characters intimate to his world, and it has many repercussions in his life.”

Originally, the movie was a made-for-home-video project. Why did Warner Bros. decide on a big-screen release?

“I think it was because the show was such a hit and there seems to be a bigger audience for a movie rather than a made-for-video,” Dini says. “It will ultimately show up as a video release, but the Warner Bros. feature executives read the script and saw the art and liked it very much. Also, Warners has been looking to get into the animated feature film business. So, they decided, ‘Well, let’s spend a little more time and money on it [the Batman video], make it a theatrical release and see how it does.’ ”

The bigger budget has enabled the Batman crew to utilize computer-generated effects, particularly in the opening title sequence.

“A computer visual artist named Alan Brown came up with this wonderful program that creates Gotham City inside the computer, which gives you a 3-D rendering. We can swing through the city like a moving camera, go around a building and up and down. It’s an incredible effect. We’ll be using that throughout the movie, possibly in upcoming episodes.”

In pitching for the Batman video-turned-movie, Dini and producer Bruce Timm created a story which will instead be done as a second-season episode. “Trial” involves virtually all of Batman’s Rogues’ Gallery and Janet Van Dorn, Gotham City’s new district attorney (Shelley Hack, from Charlie’s Angels). She replaces Harvey Dent, who has, of course, become the notorious Two-Face.

Dini describes Van Dorn as “a strict, by-the-book law-and-order type who doesn’t see any particular reason why Gotham needs Batman. She’s disdainful of Gordon because he seems to rely on Batman as some sort of magic drug that will cure the city’s evils, and she’s frustrated because he gums up the legal process for her. She feels that if there was no Batman, there would be no Joker, Riddler, Two-Face, Clayface or any of these guys haunting the city. But, she [later] realizes Batman didn’t create these guys; they created him.”

Robin will be seen more often in the second season, because the Fox network believes he’s one of Batman’s star attractions. “He’s very popular with kids,” the producer says. “Many people like the fantasy of ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to be Batman’s sidekick?’

“We met with Fox early on and they said they would like to see more Robin in the show. However, if really terrific stories came up where Robin was just dead weight, we shouldn’t use him.”

Twenty new episodes have been produced for the second season, in addition to the five stories held over from last season (which aired in September). New stories involve a turning point in the relationship between Batman and Catwoman; an adaptation of the recent Detective Comics story, “A Bullet for Bullock”; Batman teaming up with Harley Quinn to stop the Joker from nuking Gotham; a battle between Batman and his nemesis from the comics’ “Knightfall” storyline, Bane (Henry Silva); the return of Mr. Freeze; and a mystery that involves Ra’s al Ghul and Old West bounty hunter Jonah Hex (Lance Henriksen), scripted by Jonah Hex: Two-Gun Mojo comics writer Joe R. Lansdale. These episodes are scheduled to air in May (some possibly in February) for the ratings sweeps. Also, the delay gives the producers time to polish the episodes.

After the first season, producer Alan Burnett left the series to work on other Warner projects. Dini was promoted from story editor to producer “to fill his very large shoes around the office.”

Recently, Batman: The Animated Series won a daytime Emmy for Best Writing in an Animated Series (Pasko, Reaves, Dini, Sean Catherine Derek), represented by Dini’s episode, “Heart of Ice.” This marks Dini’s third Emmy.

Meanwhile, Dini and Bruce Timm are collaborating on special Batman comics done in the show’s style. The first is a 64-page Batman Adventures special, to coincide (but not as a tie-in) with the movie’s Christmas opening.

“It’s a story that we could never tell on the show,” Paul Dini reveals. “It’s a little too sexy and a little too violent for the series, but it’s a story that’s dear to our hearts. It’s called ‘Mad Love.’ It’s the origin of Harley Quinn, and it explains who she is, where she came from and why she’s infatuated with the Joker.

“For next year, we’re plotting a Harley & Ivy three- or four-issue mini-series. That’ll probably come out sometime next summer. It’s going to be really funny and very strange, and it’s going to be great. We love those crazy girls.”

Killer in Mothballs

In the animated series’ second season, Batman faces such returning fan favorites as Catwoman, Ra’s al Ghul and the Joker. But there’s still one beloved bad guy missing from the line-up.

Namely, Killer Moth.

“What is it about Killer Moth?!” exclaims series producer Paul Dini. “Why Killer Moth? I have to ask you people—all you fans out there—I love you for loving our show, but what is the deal with Killer Moth? HE’S DRESSED LIKE A BUG, for God’s sake! He has one of the ugliest costumes in creation. Green with orange stripes. OK, I know they re-invented him; Legends of the Dark Knight was pretty good. But, come on—Killer Moth? Just one punch. Batman hits him—BAM—he goes down. Killer Moth couldn’t—couldn’t whip Leslie Thompkins in an arm wrestling match. Get real! What do you want next, Bat-Mite?!?”

Dini calms down. He has read the mail and knows that, despite everything, fans like that garishly clad moth man. “The thing about Killer Moth is—and actually, some fans have written in, sending in their own ideas for Killer Moth stories. It’s just that what makes a good villain for us is somebody whose motivations come out of an emotion.”

He points to Mr. Freeze, antagonist of his Emmy-winning “Heart of Ice,” as an example: “There was a very strong emotional hook I felt with Mr. Freeze, with the idea of an emotionless man—a man who is so cold, emotionally and physically, that all human caring was frozen out. Now what’s great with a character like that, is that supposedly you can make him human again, and that’s terrific, ’cause all his motivation comes from emotion. Mr. Freeze seems stiff and unyielding, and bitter and cold, but within, he’s probably the most emotional character.

“The Mad Hatter is another character we sort of re-invented for our series,” Dini says. “The idea of the Mad Hatter came out of his penchant for collecting hats, but more came from this question of a guy who’s searching for respect, for self-respect and for respect from other people. Here was somebody who knew he was funny-looking and who believed that everybody laughed at him because of his looks.

“He couldn’t trust himself to make friends any other way, rather than just controlling other people’s minds, And also, he had been rejected by a woman he had a crush on, and—as I think everybody has—fantasized that, ‘Well, if I could just change that person’s mind about me.’ So, Jarvis Tetch goes out and does that, and he’s successful, but at the end, of course, he loses because it was never meant to happen and you can’t will that into happening. That’s what undoes him at the end. And that makes him sad and makes the ending kind of touching. And I think that every villain has that in him.

“With Killer Moth, it’s not that we just hate him for no reason,” Dini explains, “it’s just that we were never able to find anything that was particularly powerful for him in that regard. Ultimately, it came down to—we looked at what was there, and there was nothing much powering the character, so sorry, all you Killer Moth fans. Maybe we'll stick him in someplace; maybe we’ll find a place for him, but right now, we just don’t think he can carry a show.”

“I would consider doing Killer Moth if we could get Dan Aykroyd for the voice,” Paul Dini notes, “and have him running around yelling, ‘I’m a bug, I’m a bug!’”
 

Revelator

Loathsome spotted reptile
09. The Noble Voice: In an Animated Gotham City, Kevin Conroy Speaks Up
By Bob Miller (Comics Scene V.2 #40, Feb. 1994)

When the Dark Knight speaks, it’s with a cold, impassioned voice hardened by an iron resolve, fueled by vengeance—and trained in the dramatics of Shakespeare. For the animated Batman, these are the qualities provided by actor Kevin Conroy, who has elevated the role beyond that of a typical cartoon superhero.

A native of Connecticut, Conroy began his acting career in 1973 at age 17, performing off-Broadway and attending Juilliard’s Drama Center. There he roomed with Robin Williams, and developed his thespian skills under John Houseman’s direction. After graduation in 1979, he toured with Houseman’s The Acting Company, followed by a national tour of
Deathtrap. He later starred in productions of King Lear, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Eastern Standard and Lolita.

Since 1985, Conroy has worked predominantly in television, appearing as a regular on
Dynasty (1987), O’Hara (1988), Tour of Duty (1990) and Rachel Gunn, R.N. His mini-series appearances include George Washington, and playing Ted Kennedy in Kennedy. Batman: The Animated Series is his first animated starring role.

COMICS SCENE: How is the animated Batman more than just “illustrated radio”? Why is it so popular?

KEVIN CONROY: Because it’s not done as a “cartoon.” It’s done as a dramatic series that happens to be animated.

Viewers, especially the young audience, are so tired of being condescended to in animation. The world has changed: Younger and younger kids are exposed to more and more. To entertain the young audience, you must fulfill those expectations. If you come up with a cartoon like they used to do 20 years ago, you’re not going to satisfy a young audience.

That’s why there’s a cross-over appeal to adults, too, because the show doesn’t condescend to anyone. They’re writing good dramas, with good actors and good writing and music.

People react well to that. It proves that if you give people quality, they’ll tune in more. From what I’ve heard from other studios in town, it has raised the industry standard for TV animation. This is only going to benefit the audience, because the audience will get better and better shows.

CS: How did you get the role?

CONROY: I had never done an animated voice. I had done some voiceover work, but I’m primarily a theater and TV actor.

My agent said, “They're casting an animated series; why don’t you do some voices?” So I went in and did a cold audition. The producers said, “The character's nickname is the Dark Knight. Use your imagination. What sound do you think a Dark Knight would make?” And so my voice got deeper, becoming this husky, deep, very dramatic sound. They said, “That’s exactly what we want.”

CS: Did you have any prior exposure to Batman that prepared you for the role?

CONROY: I never read comics as a kid. I went through very strict Catholic schools, and that kind of stuff was really frowned upon.

I had seen the Adam West TV series in the ’60s, as a kid. But that seemed so different than what they were going for [in the animated series]. So, that was no source of information for me.

CS: So with limited knowledge of the character, how did you approach it?

CONROY: As an actor. As a performance. I approach each script like it’s Hamlet. That’s the only way to do it. You approach each one as if this is the best writing; this is the most interesting character; how you make him as three-dimensional, sympathetic and real and passionate as possible. The kind of actors they’ve attracted have approached the characters with that kind of seriousness.

The challenge is to only use your voice to express all that, and not rely on physicality. For an actor who has never done an animated voice, it’s a challenge, because I’ve never been able to rely solely on my voice. I've always had other things to work for me.

When I’m doing Batman, every now and then I have to redo [my lines] because I’ve hit something—I hit the microphone or the side of the booth, and make these big banging sounds because I’m getting into it so much.

I was approaching it as an acting exercise. Then, I started reading the comics, so I did some of the homework backwards. Mark Hamill was the one who said, “Well, you really should look at some of these books because might help you.”

Then again, it might not. The fun thing about having no background is that you come into it totally fresh, and approach it completely as an acting challenge, with no preconceived notions of what this guy should sound like, or how he should be. There’s a certain sense of humor about him, which the producers love. They didn’t know I was going to be that irreverent, which gives it a little more life. My classical theatrical background training makes me prepared to challenge some of the long, internal soliloquies they have for this character.

The one I’ve found most challenging to do was “Perchance to Dream,” where I played so many roles. There were long scenes that were soliloquies. I loved that, not only because it was a challenge for me, but because we really got into Batman’s mind, and what makes him tick. I thought that was really powerful. Also the fact that some of it was in black and white, which I think is very courageous of the studio to do. And, the use of some Shakespeare. I found the whole thing elevating to the audience, rather than condescending.

I did the voice of Batman, Batman in an altered state (he was drugged), young Bruce Wayne, Bruce Wayne and then the father, Wayne Senior. So there were five voices that I was doing. It was so much fun doing scenes with myself. I was doing [assumes voice] Batman to Altered Batman. The nuances to keep it all subtly believable that it’s the same person, but different enough so that the audience keeps track of the fact that it’s different dimensions of the same person. It was a challenge, and fun, to be able to draw on those old theatrical skills to pull it off, and then have other actors come up afterwards and say, “That was great. That was passionate, what you were doing.” And it was fun, because you think, “This is an animated series we’re getting all excited about.”

But the proof’s in the pudding. The result has been. the public reception; they really appreciate it.

CS: But when you’re going from Bruce Wayne to Batman, what more is there than making your voice lower?

CONROY: There’s much more to it, because—it’s a hard thing to really explain. He has to be believably the same person with the same outlook, the same morals, the same everything. And yet, when he becomes Batman, it’s more than his voice that changes. It’s another aspect of his personality that takes over, and he becomes more impassioned, more noble.

That’s what’s great about Batman. It’s the nobler aspects of Bruce Wayne, but it’s also the nobler aspects of all of us. When confronted with tragedy, we would love to become something bigger than ourselves, and solve the tragedy. People fantasize about being a hero and helping someone in trouble. Batman is that fantasy realized—not just for Bruce Wayne, but for the audience. So when he gets into that voice, there’s a lot more weight that goes into that voice than just changing it.

There’s other thinking that must go into the character. Inwardly, Bruce Wayne is still an adolescent watching his parents being murdered. That will never leave him. And people really relate to that.

Everyone has those [times], whenever their heart has been broken, that they can relate to. That’s human. Even though Bruce seems like he doesn’t have a care in the world, very flip and has a sense of humor, sophistication and wealth, he’s really a lonely, hurt person—overwhelmed by a great sadness that he has never been able to get over. Everyone appreciates that, because everyone has had those moments in their lives.

CS: When you started the series, did you have an idea that this was going to be a quality show?

CONROY: No, I had no idea. None of us had any idea. We got involved in it a year-and-a-half before it started airing. We started recording episodes during January or February ’91. The reason it took so long was because the stories were taking much longer to write than the studio had thought. In setting the tone, there were two schools of thought: One wanted a comic-book show, and the other, a dramatic series. So, they tried to arrive at a middle ground, but I think the dramatic people far outweighed the comic people.

We started doing this in spring ’91, and they got together an amazing cast. Two hundred voices, and they’re all actors like Harry Hamlin, Mark Hamill, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Ed Asner, Adrienne Barbeau, Jean Smart, Stacy Keach and Dana Delany and Treat Williams—an unbelievable group of actors. It’s amazing. I mean, where are they getting all these people? They’re all busy, but they would make time for [the animated series] because everyone wanted to be part of it.

But no one knew what the quality was going to be until the first episodes came back from the [overseas] animators for looping. We went in to loop the extra lines, and people came out of those sessions with their eves hanging out of their heads: [incredulously] “Have you seen the footage?” We were all blown away—we were just acting it as well as we could.

CS: Do you record with the cast as an ensemble, or does each actor record their part separately?

CONROY: All of us are in a room together, doing the whole script in sequence. Periodically, they [record separately] because someone’s not available that day. When you’re dealing with an average of eight or 10 actors per episode times 65 episodes, there are times that someone’s not available. That’s the only time we do things out of sequence.

Even in episodes where I’m Batman/Bruce Wayne, or Batman/Crazy Batman arguing with myself, doing different voices, they do it sequentially. They don’t do all one voice and then the other. If they can get away with it. they do it as it’s written, sequentially. It makes it more difficult and more challenging.

CS: What about the other actors that you’ve worked with? Like Adam West.

CONROY: He did the Grey Ghost, an older actor, and [it was] a very moving performance. He’s a very gracious gentleman, as an actor, and as a person. I felt a little awkward because it was sort of his territory from the TV series. Here I was doing the voice, but he was so gracious about it. We had a wonderful session together, and he put me at ease. He loved playing that character. It was a beautiful performance, the producers were very happy with him, and he was, too.

CS: How about Loren Lester?

CONROY: That’s Robin. Oh, he’s great. I’m not sure how many episodes Robin has actually been in—about a dozen. I think he would like to have Robin in more episodes. He’s a very good guy: he’s a very good actor, and does the role very well.

But they wanted to concentrate, as the movies have, on the Dark Knight aspect of Batman. It makes it more dramatic when he’s alone, in many of these situations. The lone hero kind of thing. Robin is a great character to have, periodically, but I don’t think you would want to make him a constant, because it diffuses some of the drama for Batman.

CS: What about Efrem Zimbalist Jr.?

CONROY: [Chuckles] I’m tempted to say that Efrem is like acting with my father, but it’s better than that. He’s what you would want one’s own father to be, the perfect father. He’s very, very generous, very kind. He has had such a long career and done so much film work that one forgets the amount of stuff that he has done, how long he has been acting. So, he has a wealth of stories, and everyone loves him on the show. He’s a true gentleman, a real pro. Also, I knew Stephanie Zimbalist at Juilliard. So, there was sort of a bridge there. I had never met him, but it was a contact through his daughter.

The relationship is funny, because the relationship between Bruce and Alfred, and Batman and Alfred is not unlike the relationship between me and Efrem. It makes it very easy. And we ad-lib periodically. We throw in an extra line [chuckles], and the producers vote as to whether it gets to stay.

CS: And Bob Hastings?

CONROY: I call Bob Hastings “The Man That Time Forgot,” because he has been acting forever, he’s not a young man anymore, and yet he looks like he’s 30. It’s amazing; the man has not aged. I don’t know how he has done it. He’s very funny, very nice, a real pro with a very gentle disposition. That Commissioner Gordon gruffness is a put-on, he’s not gruff at all.

CS: Ron Perlman?

CONROY: Ron came on for just a few episodes as a guest villain [Clayface], and he’s a good example of people approaching the role from a very dramatic point-of-view, going into the character and giving a dramatic reading, rather than doing what one might consider a typical comic-book voice. He really delved into the mind of the character, and gave a very rich reading of what he thought the man was like. He’s that kind of actor.

CS: Richard Moll?

CONROY: Richard Moll is a very funny man. Very funny. When he turns into Two-Face, and that monster comes out, you think, “Boy, where did that come from?” It’s surprising because he’s so funny, and a nice guy.

CS: Adrienne Barbeau?

CONROY: She has been very, very nice to work with. We have many mutual friends, actually, although I never knew her. The incredible thing about Adrienne is her voice. It’s so seductive that it’s perfect for that role. And it’s very easy for her to do—she’s very facile with her voice. She’s seductive in person, too. We had a good time working with her.

CS: Paul Williams?

CONROY: Well, he’s terrific, he’s very funny. He has a great sense of humor about the whole thing.

CS: Mark Hamill?

CONROY: Mark Hamill is so impressive doing the Joker, because he becomes sort of mad as he’s doing it, physically. People sometimes underestimate Mark’s talent because of Luke Skywalker. They think of him as just a young man because he has done that movie [Star Wars] so well. He’s so much more than that. He's very multi-faceted, and quite brilliant. His mind goes so fast, and he’s able to improvise with the stuff sometimes, wildly, and it’s a real pleasure watching him.

CS: What can you tell fans about Mask of the Phantasm?

CONROY: Well, it’s great because they’re not constrained by Standards and Practices from the network; the writers can do anything they want to do—within the confines of good taste. Batman has a love affair, and it’s with a woman that he had gotten involved with years and years before, and had never done anything about.

The [casting and recording] director of our show is a lady named Andrea Romano, who is really the spark that keeps it all going. She’s such a dynamite person; she can inspire a rock to give a good performance.

Early in the episodes’ recording, I was trying to keep everyone’s spirits up by kidding around, so every now and then I’ll say something that’s a little ridiculous—in the Batman voice—in the middle of the scene, and it’ll crack everyone up. I’m a little irreverent, but the producers like it and it makes the show more fun.

One of the earlier things I did was during a fight scene: [grunts] “Unh! Unh! Uhhhh! Unh! [followed by a sigh]—Ooooooohhh, Andrea.” [Chuckles] Everyone was just destroyed, and we had to stop for five minutes. The booth, the producers, everyone just lost it because it did sound like the kind of sounds you would make doing something other than fighting. Andrea loved it.

Every week, during an episode, I would find a different place to put Andrea’s name in. After a fall, after a grunt, I would go, “Oooohhh, Andrea.” She said she had an outtake reel she put together [chuckles] that she was taking home with her.

So, in this film, what do they name the girl friend? Andrea.

CS: In the film, both you and Mark Hamill play younger versions of your characters. How do you alter your voice for an earlier age?

CONROY: You can’t make them too different where it’s not believable for the same character. For example, young Bruce can only be a little different than mature Bruce. When I was 17, my voice had already changed. My voice wasn’t quite as deep as it is now, but it was pretty deep, so when you’re playing these characters in their 20s or in their teens, there’s only so much that you can change your voice.

CS: How do you perceive Batman, personally and as a role model?

CONROY: The important thing to come out of this experience for me, and that I would want the audience to get out of it, is that out of Bruce Wayne’s very dark experience, he makes a positive choice to change people for the better—to do something good, rather than feeling sorry for himself or doing something negative. He always does something positive. It’s a great metaphor for people to use in their own lives. It’s certainly one I try to use in my life: To always leave a situation better [after] you have encountered it.

That’s why people get into Batman, because he’s ennobling. He brings out the better parts of people. We would all like to do that, but for some reason we don’t. If people just take the active choice and do it, everything would work out so much better.

After the troubles in South Central [Los Angeles] last year, I threw a broom in the car and went down and helped clean up. And there were all these people who had come from all over LA and Southern California. Everyone was there shoveling the debris and sweeping the streets, and we were interacting with the people living in that neighborhood. It was a bonding that should have happened years ago. It should happen every day in our lives. We should be a part of each other’s lives. Why not?

It was just this myth of separation that people live through. It’s me vs. them, or us and them. People don’t understand that we are all in it together, it’s the same thing. Every group, every town, every city—if you look at other people as not being different than you, but the exact same, just another aspect of you, then everything will work out better. And that’s what Batman is about.
 

Revelator

Loathsome spotted reptile
10. Knight Vision: That Master of Dark Deco, Eric Radomski, Looks Behond the Mask of the Animated Batman
By Bob Miller
(Comics Scene #43, June 1994)

The most often-asked question about Batman: The Animated Series is, "When are new episodes going to air?"

Twenty have been made for the second season, but most won’t see broadcast until the fall, a year after a second season would normally begin.

Why has the Fox Network waited so long to renew its two-time Emmy winner?

Producer Eric Radomski is as baffled as any of the Batman crew. “I don’t know why, ’cause the series was number one; it did great; it held the position throughout the whole season and into [ratings] sweeps for February [1993]. Some of the episodes were in their second or third run. Everybody was going, “Well, why don’t they order more? What’s going on? We never really got an answer as to what the delay was.”

It wasn’t until late April 1993 that Fox ordered 20 new episodes. But there wasn’t enough time to make them for fall broadcast. So, Warners pulled five first season episodes and ran them that September. Five second season episodes are supposed to air this May: “Trial,” “House & Garden,” “Avatar,” “Sideshow,” and “A Bullet For Bullock.” Fifteen will air on Fox’s Saturday-morning schedule this fall, with a minute trimmed per episode, in a retitled format called The Adventures of Batman and Robin.

As for a third season, “They still have the option to order more, but I don’t know if they’re going to,” Radomski says. “It may have something to do with budget. It’s an expensive series but you get what you pay for.

“I have heard gossip that action/adventure isn’t like a comedy series where you can see it two or three times and pick up on the jokes. Once you know the plot of an action/adventure show, you really don’t need to see it again unless you’re a big fan. That might have something to do with it,” Radomski speculates.

With the series airing on Saturday morning, will Fox’s Broadcast Standards & Practices (BS&P) be more restrictive about the show’s content?

“The BS&P concerns were put to sleep after the series was successful,” Radomski replies. “They’re still always going to watch for blood and really extreme violence, but we’ve found methods for getting around that stuff. We know they’re going to cut a percentage out, but there’s a certain percentage they’ll leave in.

“We got away with plenty in the first season. There are plenty of fights. Just really dramatic and intense scenes that come off stronger than when we would actually show a death scene.

“The death of Robin’s parents is the best example. You don’t see anything. It has everything to do with the staging and things that BS&P has no control over: the post-production sound mix, where you have sound FX and this crowd noise going and this really emotional music, and people just get caught up in that and it’s like, ‘Holy cow! This kid’s parents died.’ But, you never saw anything. You saw them fall off-screen and that was it. Everyone reacted and everyone knew it happened, but you didn’t see it. So, there’s that little bit of trickery that we did to get our point across.”

With Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, the crew didn’t have to contend with the network’s BS&P. Instead, they had to consider the movie ratings system. “They [Warners] wanted us to definitely keep the film ‘PG.’ We shot a Leica reel of the whole film and ran that for the executives, and for Jean [MacCurdy, head of Warners animation] and the crew,” Radomski says. “By the time we got to the final mix, they had a preview screening for the kids and parents and then for teenagers. It was to our benefit because the kids loved it; the parents loved it, and they had no problems with the violence or the storytelling. As a result, they recommended the film.

“But, to keep it within a ‘PG’ rating, the only thing they suggested was toning down sound effects in two areas: A tombstone falls and kills one of the gangsters, and it sounded, they felt...too crunchy.” Radomski chuckles. “They didn’t want to hear all of the bones crunching.”

“Later, the Joker is fighting Andrea, and he belts her on-screen three times. They wanted those punches toned down—not animation-wise, but sound-wise, because they were crunchy.

“That’s pretty much the only limitations they put on us,” Radomski says. “We had one scene after the first rough cut screening where Batman gets clipped by this autogyro. The overseas animators had a little bit of fun with it. Blood squirted out of his arm, and when it flew out, it made a web-like shape, so it hung up in the air a little while, and they thought, ‘Well that’s too much.’ We agreed. He still gets cut and blood still comes out, but it goes away quicker.

“In the film, we have gunfire galore, a couple of murders and characters smoking [the bad guys smoke]. Bruce Wayne gets ‘laid’ for the first time, which is kind of cool. So, we did pretty much everything we wanted to do for the film. As far as I’m concerned, it’s done much more tastefully than a lot of Japanese animation, and even some live-action films where it’s just violence for violence’s sake.”

After four weeks in release, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm grossed about $6 million, much less than the crew had expected.

“I’m personally disappointed at the way it was handled once it left the animation studio,” Radomski says. “The film opened across the country in 1,500 theaters, which we were excited about, but it didn’t show in the evenings. That affected it in a big way. It could have done much better had it been promoted and advertised as a real movie, and let people have the opportunity to go and see it. I don’t know all the rhyme and reasons for the studio choosing to distribute the film the way they did, but that’s something you have no control over. You make the film; you do the best you can.”

Despite those disappointments, it’s anticipated that Phantasm’s home release next month will do quite well, a sequel has been discussed. “The latest I’ve heard is it’s not going to be for Christmas, but they’re definitely interested in doing another film. Warners is currently in the running to create a fifth network. If that happens, our division will be swamped with work. They’re still in the process of assembling a really good feature idea—in terms of Disney quality, budget and time. They’re looking for the correct material, and they haven’t found it yet,” Radomski says.

Meanwhile, Batman’s television success has “blown open the doors” of opportunity for Radomski, as it has for his fellow co-producers. Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, and Paul Dini. “Before this, I was in in this business because I liked to do artwork. And now, people are looking at it and going, ‘Hey, this is cool.’ You’ve establish yourself as somebody who knows what they’re doing and can put out a decent product, and it gives you some credibility—people listen to you when you’re trying to get a point across,” Radomski says.

“I never knew I had so many of the things in me that have emerged through the series,” he says candidly. “I knew the basics and the technical end, but just being involved with a whole group of talented writers and great artists has made me a better artist, and I look at things with more open eyes.”

He adds, “As far as my personal life, I’m pretty anonymous and I like to be that way. I have a wife and a son, and my time is my time. I’ll work my butt off when I’m here, and I have taken work home, and thanks to my wife for being so understanding about that.

“But the interviews get old after a while. You get sick of telling the same story. Who really cares about this? But I guess many people really are interested. It’s not that I wanted to be famous. I just want to do my work.

“So,” he explains, “that’s why I feel strange accepting credit for establishing our style. It’s true that I was the influential springboard, but without all of the people who influenced this project, it wouldn’t be what it is.”

Radomski’s entry into showbiz is an example of what he calls “The Hollywood Story”: Succeeding through perseverance, hard work, meeting helpful people and being at the right place at the right time.

“I had always wanted to go into animation,” he says. “I’m from Cleveland, and there’s not much animation in Cleveland, so I studied as an artist. I made three trips to California at about 19 or 20, and I was completely humiliated, not being able to find work.”

But Radomski had learned of another Cleveland native working in the Los Angeles area: actor/composer Will Ryan, who was doing voice work for Rick Reinert Productions on Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore. Will Ryan then introduced Radomski to director Dave Bennett, who introduced him to Reinert—who, as it happened, used to have his studio in Cleveland, and still had an ink-and-paint unit there, headed by Gretchen Heck and Bev Chiara. Radomski was given their telephone number. Back in Cleveland, he got an entry-level job with the unit.

“The Pooh film was my first big piece of animation work,” he says. “I was just hand-inking and stripping cels. I learned everything from the bottom up, which was great. It was a priceless education.”

While in Cleveland, Radomski also worked for Ennis McNulty and John Gibel, doing commercials for two years, until Dave Bennett offered Radomski a job in LA. For three and a half years, Radomski assisted Bennett with storyboards and layouts, assisted Reinert with background painting and did some cel work. After leaving Reinert and freelancing for six months, Radomski joined Warner Bros. full time. “I was going to make good money, and I could paint all day long. And that,” Radomski says, “is exactly what I did.”

After the first season of Tiny Toons, Radomski explains, “The studio had specific properties they wanted to develop: Gremlins, The Griswolds [based on the National Lampoon’s Vacation characters], Tazmania and Batman. I did samples for each proposed idea, just to have some part to do with a new show. Jean MacCurdy really liked my version of Gotham City. And Bruce Timm basically did a one-sheet Batman design, just a whole body shot and a couple of poses and head shots, and that’s what we pitched.”

MacCurdy asked Radomski and Timm to produce a two minute promo piece, to test their capabilities and see how the show might look. Meanwhile, Warner Bros. provided backing for a 65 episode Batman series. To Radomski’s and Timm’s surprise, MacCurdy appointed them producers. “Neither Bruce nor I had ever produced a series before, let alone 65 episodes, let alone such a high profile property as Batman,” Radomski says.

“When we did the promo, we talked about what we wanted to do. Bruce did the storyboards and the character designs, and I was doing the backgrounds. We knew where we stood right there. I knew I wasn’t gonna sit down and draw characters; I just felt that I was more of an organizing-type person. I could gather people together, get the word out on what we wanted to do, and in the meantime, Bruce could start thinking about his version of Batman. I know the character, but I’m not necessarily this religious believer in the character. Bruce was more involved in the story and the acting performances. I was probably more in the technical, stylistic end, and getting things done on time as well as we could.”

While Timm dictated the character style, Radomski designed the background style, starting with a black surface and then adding layers of light. “I laid in these big flat areas of black and did the simple lighting on the buildings, and that was the springboard. Once they saw that it worked, everybody started going through their references of New York City, which has lots of older buildings. It’s vintage detective. [Architect] Hugh Ferris was a great influence on the series. They brought in this art deco influence and then we went into Mr. X comics, saw the big, bold, simple designs and said, ‘God, that’s us, too.’”

Radomski credits Timm and background supervisor Ted Blackman with the art deco feel and the simplified graphic look. “The real benefit to that kind of working relationship is that, when you have as good a crew as we do, you allow a great deal of freedom. For the most part, everyone really had the same thinking on the show.

“Basically, we were filmmakers. We weren’t just making cartoons. We were doing these as individual little films. I’m not sure most people understand the complexity of getting a film done, especially for animation. The process is just endless.”

Although Radomski and Timm “jelled” as producers, they encountered difficulties with a story editor who felt the show needed a different direction. As a result, many early episodes were message-oriented and stressed “pro-social” values.

“Because of our lack of experience, management felt we needed somebody who had done some of this before,” Radomski says. “We never had the same attitude toward the series should be. It was [the story editor’s] opinion that it should be more pro-social. It could be violent and whatever we wanted it to be, but that doesn’t mean Batman has to always have the episode’s end quote and say, ‘Kids, go up to your rooms and brush your teeth,’ and all that crap.

“Batman’s character motivation is simple—just do whatever it takes to get the point across. That doesn’t mean lecturing or being a great philosopher about life. He just says you’re doing wrong—don’t do it.”

Another challenge was in convincing the writers to avoid the bane of TV animation: excessive dialogue. “Bruce and I always felt that way, completely separate from each other, that cartoons are way too chatty. You just want the characters to shut up. You don't need to see Batman talking throughout the whole episode. It’s more interesting for him to walk into a darkened room, open up a file and let the audience read it, than for him to go, ‘Hmmmm, I wonder what’s in that file cabinet?’

“When you look back at some of the older cartoons, they did stuff exactly like that, where a character is telegraphing everything he’s going to do! How stupid! Batman doesn’t need to do that. He’s a detective. He doesn’t need to give away all that information,” Radomski says.

So, to trim excess dialogue and allow for more action, the producers wanted scripts in half the standard length for TV animation (one instead of two pages per screen minute) 50-30 page scripts instead of the usual 60. Writer-director relations also improved when veteran story editor Alan Burnett (CS #29) came on board as a producer.

“We really all had the same kind of approach in mind,” Radomski says. “We didn’t want it to be just action/adventure. We didn’t want Batman to always be the hero. Let’s not have him just go out and beat up the bad guys and he’s always the winner. That's no fun. Let’s really get some heart and soul into this thing and make these characters come to life, instead of just doing another merchandisable episodic series. We wanted them to be dramatic mini-features.”

Because of the hectic production schedule, Radomski and Timm were pushed into directing episodes themselves. This became Radomski’s first foray as a director.

“The studio wasn’t very interested in hiring another director to pick up those extra seven shows. So, Bruce and I said we would do them, and we just basically added them to our normal workload. But it’s fun to take something from a script stage and make it your own,” he says.

“I would have loved to have done a whole bunch more, but it was way too burdensome once we started mid-production on the series. We were getting shows every week and having to edit and retake, and then mixing finished shows and still doing pre-production on others. It was a killer, but fun at the same time. I would love to be able to focus either on producing or directing. Doing both at the same time on a big series like this one, you never feel like you’re doing your best.”

Radomski cites his influences as “everything from Little Rascals to Outer Limits and The Godfather, which had this great impact on me when I was 11 or 12. But even with those things in mind, I always try and approach things fresh. I don’t want to come in and say, ‘Well use this shot from this movie.’ I just try and do whatever the script influences me to do.”

Regarding his first episode, “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?” Radomski says, “It came off okay. I didn’t like the script [by David Wise] at all. I still don’t. I hated the title. I tried my hardest to get it changed, but Alan Burnett wouldn’t budge.

“We just couldn’t convince the writers that the Riddler might set something up as simple as a bomb in somebody’s office. It had to be complicated. So, that posed a real problem because you have 22 minutes to establish the character, and they suddenly put in these complex riddles that Batman must figure out. And of course, he immediately figures them out, and that destroys the whole mystery of Batman as a detective, because all he does is think for a minute and he has the answer. That didn’t really work for me, but I did the best I could with it.

“I had fun with it and unfortunately, we were trying out a studio in Spain—La Piz Azul—and that was their first [and last] episode. So, it comes off real cartoony compared to the other episodes. It was fun to do, but not one of my favorites.

“And I don’t care for the Riddler a whole lot. If there was an opportunity to work with him again, and I had complete say over that character, I would treat him as we do the Joker, where in reality he’s a mean bastard. He uses his wit, but it’s not the main thing he relies on, which is his ability to dominate.”

With Paul Dini’s “Almost Got ’Im” (in which various Bat-villains explain how they almost destroyed the Dark Knight), Radomski had better results. “It played well, which I was happy about. The dialogue is really snappy. Paul did a great job in the transitions as far as the writing. Each character has his unique dialogue which really sells the story and keeps you involved. You never get confused.”

Then comes “Mudslide,” the final appearance of Clayface. Radomski describes this episode as “a blast to do. We had written 50 scripts so far, and everybody was running out of ideas. Alan came up with this idea about Matt Hagen: The chemicals are wearing thin and he’s basically dying. This woman comes into his life and tries to help him because she has been in love with since his early days in the movies. And then when Alan started talking about really using Clayface for what animation could do with him, I just got so excited, I couldn’t wait to work on it.

“Clayface ends up consuming Batman within his body and he’s gonna kill him, and Batman uses the grappling hook to blow his head off. It was just a beautiful opportunity to really get extreme in what we wanted to with it, because Clayface was a big monster. We didn’t have as much of a problem with the network saying, ‘Well, you can’t do that ’cause this is a human being.’ It looked like a big flabby mass of goo on the storyboards, so the network never got too crazy about it. We ended up killing him in the end. Basically, he melts in the ocean. He disintegrates and he’s dead.”

The twist is that Batman is actually the story’s antagonist, because he prevents Clayface from becoming normal. “We thought that Batman is a real bastard in the episode, but he has a couple of lines where he has made an effort to save Clayface, and if he doesn’t want to be saved, Batman can’t let him go on, because he’s gonna hurt somebody someday. That’s the justification,” Radomski says.

“But it was a whole lot of fun to do, an opportunity to take complete advantage of animation. You buy the fact that Batman’s gonna die inside this guy. You think he’s suffocating and he’s really gasping for his life. It does get pretty intense. You don’t see stuff like that done all the time on television.”

As it turned out, Studio Junio animated “Mudslide,” not TMS, which had animated “Feat of Clay, Part 2” and chose to pass on further Batman assignments to work on Animaniacs instead. “We had six or seven studios at one time working on the show,” Radomski notes. “Die-hard fans can tell the difference: we can definitely tell the difference, but I don’t think the general viewing public notices.

“We’ve had a couple of studios [Akom, Sunrise] that we’ve had to dump after a while because it was just a consistent problem getting what we wanted and having to fight over it and not seeing anything get any better. We had to do some shuffling as to where we were going to get the best production done, and we just managed to get through it somehow.

“It would be nice to be able to get production back in the States, but I don’t know when that will happen, as far as television goes, because it’s just too expensive to do it here. Eventually, I would like to think that we’ll get to a point where things will even out and we can train more people and do more of the animation here.

“But for the time being, we must learn how to work with the overseas studios, and help them to understand our culture more,” Radomski says. “I think that’s why many Japanese films never really made it here. There has never been an animated film that has done close to what Disney films do. It’s a whole different kind of storytelling and approach to films, and people just look at them and go, “God, this is a really long and boring story.”

“I don’t know if we would have done the Batman film the same way for a Japanese audience. There’s a Warners Bros. division in Tokyo that distributes films internationally, and they ran the series there, and for the first few months, the network took surveys and found that the kids liked it because it was animated and they thought it was kind of cool, but they didn’t quite understand what Batman was. They’re not able to relate to this vigilante—is he a good guy or a bad guy? They didn’t know.

“Americans would think, ‘Well, that’s easy. How basic can you get?’ But it’s not that easy. It’s a cultural thing. It needs some explaining. They’re used to having stories told to them the way they do, as much as we have,” Radomski says.

Warner Bros. wanted to follow Batman’s first season with a direct to video feature, Mask of the Phantasm, which Radomski says was basically “an exanded episode. We boarded the script and did all of our designs and shipped it overseas. We were treating it with more quality, but we originally didn’t intend it for the big screen.”

Spectrum in Japan did the layout and key animation; Dong Yang did the rest. Then Warners called and announced the switch to the big screen—which meant the visuals had to be re-jiggered to accommodate widescreen theatrical aspect ratio.

Other hurdles included the time factor. From start to finish, the movie had to be completed in eight months to meet the December 25 release date. Although the budget was increased to around $6 million, the studios had to pool their resources to give better-quality animation for the big screen.

“We weren’t working with seasoned veteran animators from Don Bluth’s studio or Disney,” Radomski points out. “These guys were good, but they hadn’t done too much feature work in the states. They really rose to the occasion. All things considered, it’s a really good film.”

On the other hand, Radomski says, “I don’t want to set a precedent that a film of this quality could be done in this amount of time. It’s not fair to us or to the product. You put a studio through the wringer, and you go, ‘How can I criticize what they did, because they got it done in this amount of time and it looks fine.’ We’re really proud of what we did.” Mask of the Phantasm, in its May video release, will be refined from its movie version with a thousand feet of retakes.

For Eric Radomski, the fascination with animation is that “it’s completely fabricated from nothing. It comes from a pencil and paper and by the time you get to the final product with the sound FX and music, people think it’s real.

“That’s the biggest plus in doing this kind of work,” he says. “If you can really make that happen for people, you know you’re doing something right. If you can really buy into it or be moved by it or somehow it affects you, that’s great. That’s the biggest compliment that anybody can give someone making animated films. I’m glad to hear compliments like that.”
 

Revelator

Loathsome spotted reptile
11. The Man Who Laughs: Dealing Mayhem as the Joker, Mark Hammil is all Smiles
By Kim Howard Johnson and Elizabeth Gunderson (Comics Scene #44, July 1994)

Mark Hamill says his voiceover career is a dream come true in many ways. “I’m sorry that I missed out on that whole Golden Age of Radio,” he muses. “My generation of actors never got to do that, and the closest thing would be animated voices. They cast you for the way you sound, not the way you look. At first, it’s a little disconcerting to realize casting directors are turning their heads as you’re auditioning, but if not for that, I don’t think I would have snared the role of the Joker!

“Having read about the animated Batman series in the Comics Buyers’ Guide, and the fact that they were emulating the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons, and being an animation buff, I said, ‘This could be really good!’ They’re going to tell 65 stories, they’re going to do it very noir, Dark Knight-ish—I told my writing partner that we should get in and pitch villains that they hadn’t done in the Adam West TV series or the Tim Burton movies. It turned out that most of the stories were already assigned by that time, but I wound up doing a voice in ‘Heart of Ice,’ where my character is responsible for Michael Ansara becoming Mr. Freeze. I was very impressed by the script; it was very melancholy for children’s animation. I promptly forgot about it, because my original approach was as a writer.

“They called me six weeks later and asked me to audition for the Joker [initially voiced by Tim Curry, who left the role]. I did, and I eventually got it. When I auditioned, I really wanted it, and when they told me I had it, I thought, ‘No, what did I get myself into?! He’s too big an icon! I would much rather have done Ra’s al Ghul or Clayface—somebody where people didn’t have expectations!’ ”

Hamill didn’t think about competing with past Jokers Cesar Romero or Jack Nicholson until he actually got the part. “Then, I thought, ‘What kind of fool follows Jack Nicholson in anything?!’ ” he laughs. “Not only that, but I had a set of all the Adam West Batmans. I was a big fan of the TV show—I know that’s heresy to some people, but there are some fantastic performances on that show. I’ll never forget Frank Gorshin as the Riddler—I did homages to him as the Trickster on The Flash!”

As the middle child of seven, Hamill can’t remember a time when comic books weren’t part of his life. A diverse collection of books, from Superman to Little Lulu, were widely passed around and traded, read until they were unreadable and even then too beloved to throw away. On long car trips, Hamill and his numerous siblings were given money to buy what they wanted, and comic books always topped the list.

Since his father was in the Navy, the family moved often and collections frequently underwent secret parental pruning, causing many books to “disappear” before a move, with the comics’ absence discovered only when the children reached their new home. When the family got transferred from Virginia to Japan, Hamill had grudgingly whittled down his number of books to a 4 1/2-inch stack, but he was still determined to ensure that they would show up in Yokohama instead of at Goodwill.

“It would always be at the next stop when you got transferred that you said, ‘Gee, what happened to my Dennis the Menace puppets?’ and they would say, ‘Oh, you’re too old for them, we gave them away to the poor kids.’ I wasn’t going to let this happen to me again, so I got up after everyone went to bed, went down to a box of already-packed kitchen stuff and slipped them in. When we got to Japan, my mom opened the box and found the comics. She was cool and said, ‘Oh, I think these are yours, just don’t let your father find out.’ That’s a stack I still have.”

Ironically, long before he had to perfect the Joker voice for animation, Hamill had a special affection for Batman. “I love the fantasy of Superman,” he observes, “but strange as it sounds, I used to think Batman was fairly realistic. He didn’t have superpowers, he was just incredibly wealthy. As a kid, I thought you could train yourself to the physical perfection that he did and devote yourself to science and detective work and get all the gadgets and fight crime, and it just seemed to me that it was possible.”

Hamill’s parents tried to shame him out of his comics at a certain age, by smoothly goading, “You’re much too old for this, c’mon.” He laughingly admits that in the throes of adolescence, he didn’t want girls to know he still read Jimmy Olsen, but he was fortunately able to find like-minded collectors, who understood his passion for the hobby.

“I remember in Virgina just sitting in the basement of a friend’s house for hours and hours reading comics, not conversing. The most you talked was ‘Hey, have you read this Hawkman? It’s really, really good’—and we traded books.”

Now, with three children of his own, Hamill has passed on his fondness for comics, although they view the industry in a different way. His four year-old daughter enjoys being read Archie and Little Lulu at bedtime, with voice-trained dad doing all the characters like her own personal radio show. Hamill’s sons, however, ages 10 and 14, are full collectors, heading straight for the bagged selections upon entering a comic book store.

Hamill sighs in paternal defeat and says, “They’re concerned about the value of their books in a way I never was as a kid. In fact, I’ve tried to tell them that there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that the books can increase in value, but that’s no reason to pick one title over another. Buy what you like, buy what you enjoy. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing 11-year-olds going in and buying these things that are never going to come out of the bag.”

After almost 20 years as an actor, Hamill was finally able to combine his career with his hobby, first by playing the Trickster, then by laughing it up as the Joker. “One of the first letters of complaint we got after Fox started airing the series was from the mother of a kid who was really scared of the Joker, which I took as a great compliment,” he confesses, rather more than happily. But it wasn’t Hamill’s dedication to Batman as a comic book character that earned him his chance at giving children nightmares. After playing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart on tour for a year in Amadeus, he perfected a high-pitched, annoying laugh that he utilized when auditioning for the smiling villain.

“Apparently,” he says, “that’s what got me the part, the laugh. One thing that’s great about doing the character is he’s just such a rich loony.”

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (now on video) gave Hamill another chance to spread his wings as the Clown Prince of Crime. “They pretty much handled the Joker origin in the Tim Burton movie, but in our continuity, the Joker did not kill Dr. and Mrs. Wayne—that was purely an invention of the movies,” he says. “Mask of the Phantasm is our take on Batman’s origin. My Joker is anything but subtle, so when he appears halfway through the movie, he’s much like the Genie in Aladdin—he’s just a burst of energy!”

After finishing 13 episodes of the series as the grinning baddie, Hamill is still incredulous about the types of restrictions his character must accommodate, right down to the inability to say “killed” on an animated show. “So you’re the man who iced Batman,” he notes. The mildly homicidal voice begins again, “So you’re the man who whacked Batman.” Within the same breath Hamill has returned: “Whack? A Mafia term is acceptable in place of ‘killed’?”

Hamill’s biggest regret in voicing the Joker is that he hasn’t been able to do it enough. He’s happy, though, that Hollywood has finally done it right. “Batman has been a dream come true,” he says. “For writers, they finally got people who have written comic books as a livelihood to work on the show. When TV producers buy Wonder Woman, they usually hire a couple of Hawaii Five-O writers! And now, I think for the first time in an animated series, they have people with comic book backgrounds. You wouldn’t think it’s that unusual, but it is.

“What they’ve done with this series is about as much as we comics fans can hope for,” Mark Hamill says, “and I think it’s setting a trend. They’re about to do Spider-Man, and Batman is the standard against which everything else is judged, and that’s good for us because there’s a copycat mentality in Hollywood. Isn’t it better for them to copy the good stuff?”
 

Revelator

Loathsome spotted reptile
12. Gotham Nocturna: Too dark for the Dark Knight, she didn’t get to put the bite on an animated Batman
By Pat Jankiewicz (Comics Scene #46, September 1994)

Throughout Batman: The Animated Series, Gotham City’s pointy-eared protector has fought a wide variety of foes: mobsters, madmen, renegade robots, science-spawned mutants and monsters, even a werewolf or two. Still, there was one supernatural menace that Fox TV found too unsettling for the caped crusader.

At his Warner Bros. Animation office, Batman producer/director Bruce Timm discusses the Dark Knight’s close encounter with another creature of the night. “For the second season of Batman, we wanted to do a ‘vampire show.’ There was a character from the 80s named Nocturna, a female vampire. We really wanted to use her in the worst way and I came up with a really neat design for her,” Timm states.

“It was going to be a two-part episode involving a really sick love story. Nocturna falls in love with Batman and wants to vampirize him so that they can live together eternally as vampires. She puts the bite on him at the first episode’s end.

“Bruce Wayne wakes up the next morning, and says, ‘Oh boy, how did I ever get home?’ Alfred tells him, ‘I found you and dragged you home. Good thing you’re safe now.’ Bruce feels like he has a really bad hangover. Alfred pulls open the blinds and Bruce starts shrieking because his skin is on fire! He looks in the mirror and sees that he has vampire fangs.

“The second episode was going to focus on Batman trying to cure himself of the vampire taint. We were going to say he wasn’t a supernatural vampire but a biological vampire, with a chemical substance in his bloodstream. He’s in the Batcave frantically trying to cure himself and at the same time he’s looking at Alfred, thinking, ‘God, he looks really tasty.’

“He’s about to attack Alfred, when he realizes, ‘This is horrible, I’m not gonna have time to cure myself of being a vampire; I’ll have to destroy myself before I’m a danger to anybody!’ Alfred says, ‘Just calm down. You’re too distraught to cure yourself. I’ll go get Kirk Langstrom [the scientist who turns into Man-Bat]. He’s the best guy to help you. Just lie down and relax!’

“Bruce tries to relax, but he can’t control the bloodlust. Batman goes out to Gotham City looking for victims when he realizes at the last minute that he must cure himself. That was as far as we got, but we thought that would make a great two-parter.

“The Fox Network said, ‘Nope, can’t do it! First of all, you can’t do vampires. You can’t have anybody sucking anybody else’s blood. You also can’t have Batman as a vampire looking for victims, you can’t have biological vampires, because you can’t have a disease that’s transmitted through blood, it’s too much like AIDS,’ ” Timm recalls.

“We went back and forth with them on this. We really wanted to do it and they really didn’t want us to, so we didn’t, but it would have been fun.”

The comic-book storyline that inspired the episode (from Batman and Detective Comics) was even grimmer; Batman is infected with the vampire virus by Robin, who got it from a lady vampire he met at college. In the story, Batman saves Vicki Vale from a bloodthirsty Robin and narrowly avoids preying on Alfred. He loses control, goes into Gotham City looking for victims and actually kills and drains a burglar in a back alley. (“I sent you to jail once, Marley. Now I only hope I haven’t sent you to Hell.”) There’s a violent showdown with the vampires in a desecrated church before he finds a cure.

As for whether Batman would have taken a hammer and put his love at stake, Timm says, “I’m sure we would have played up all those traditional vampire clichés and put some kind of twist on them, but we never got past the development stage. I would have loved to have done it, but...”

Vampirism has always been somewhat taboo in television animation. Past incarnations, like the short-lived superhero monster/comedy shows Monster Squad and Drac Pack, simply ignored the main preoccupation of their vampire leads. Super Friends was able to circumvent the “no vampires” policy by doing an episode where Dracula turns Superman into a vampire by having him use ridiculous eye-beams instead of fangs.

Despite this setback, Batman has encountered several unusual monsters, including the reptile-man Killer Croc, the shape-shifting Clayface, the savage Man-Bat and a steroid-induced werewolf. “We get away with monsters easily,” Timm explains. “It surprises me, because I think some of our monsters are really scary.

“Monsters are great, because the network thinks of them as fantasy figures and not things that could exist in real life. The censors are concerned about drive-by shootings; things that a kid can actually get in trouble by repeating in real life. They’re actually more concerned about things like parents being divorced than monsters. They don’t want any mention of divorce; they don’t want kids to think about that. Monsters they don’t have a problem with, which is great, because I love monsters,” he says, gesturing towards the Aurora Universal Monster model kits that sit on his shelves.

“For the most part, the network doesn’t like zombies, or any living dead people—even though we have one in the second season, a 2,000-year-old zombie sorceress [voiced by Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols]. It’s pretty scary, but the network approved it.” (Reportedly, Fox kiboshed plans for another ectoplasmic enemy of Batman’s, the Gentleman Ghost.)

As for the Dark Knight’s other fearsome foes, Timm feels, “Somebody like Clayface isn’t really horrifying, he’s just gross. He looks like a big walking pile of turds,” Bruce Timm smiles. “Two-Face actually scared me, the first time he turned around and revealed himself. There’s something about him that gives you a weird chill. It’s pretty scary. Still,” the producer sighs, “Nocturna would have made a really interesting story.”

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Note: Nocturna, who was created by Doug Moench for Detective Comics #529, was not a vampire, but rather a jewel thief whose skin was drained of all pigment by an accident that rendered her sensitive to light. The animated Nocturna was really based on Dala, a vampire who was the very first Batman villainess (way back in Detective Comics #32). She was resurrected by Gerry Conway during the 1980s for the story arc described in this article, where she briefly turned Batman and Robin into vampires (Detective Comics #517 and Batman #349-351). Bruce Timm and company therefore planned to use the character of Dala but give her the more evocative name of Nocturna.
 
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Revelator

Loathsome spotted reptile
13. Animated Steel: The men behind the Dark Knight file the flight plan for Superman
By Pat Jankiewicz (Comics Scene #54, Jan. 1996)

Everybody knows that Superman, strange visitor from a faraway planet, can change the curse of mighty rivers and bend steel in his bare hands, but the big question is: will he ever have a successful TV cartoon series? The team responsible for restoring the Dark Knight’s luster with Batman: The Animated Series is about to work the same magic on Superman.

The Man of Steel has flown in animation before, most spectacularly in a series of 1940s big-screen cartoons by Max and Dave Fleischer, who pitted him against everything from giant robots to malevolent mummies. Those cartoons are considered to be some of the finest superhero animation ever done. Since then, Clark Kent fronted several disappointing TV series of his own and has served as a member of the bland Super Friends.

Now, it appears he’s finally getting his due. Warner Bros. Animation has announced plans for an animated Superman series for September 1996, to air on the WB Network. Bruce W. Timm, producer/designer/director of Batman: The Animated Series, states that “I have done a bunch of designs for Superman and would love to do it.”

As for the Man of Steel’s appearance, Timm feels, “It would be Fleischer all the way. Not just the Fleischer look, but the early Superman, with his Jerry Siegel/Joe Shuster look. I love that look on Superman, with the little squinty eyes and everything. That would be my take on it.”

“Personally, I would take a similar approach to what we did with Batman and set it in a very ’40s film noir-ish world. My personal take on it is that I would like to do Clark Kent the way they did him in George Reeves’ Adventures of Superman TV series, where he’s not the ‘bumbling Clark Kent’ or the ‘real nice guy Clark Kent,’ but a real hard-boiled crime reporter. That would be a neat approach.

“That ’40s kind of style would dictate the entire series to me, even when using the more science-fictiony characters like Braniac. It really would be neat to do Braniac as a ’40s android from Hell.”

And what would Superman be without the loyal gang at the Daily Planet. “Oh yeah, they’ll definitely be there,” he promises. “Jimmy Olsen and Perry White, everybody. It will be very much a ’40s kind of Jimmy Olsen, rather than the new, hip Jimmy Olsen. I like Lois & Clark a lot, I watch it every week, but I wouldn’t do it that way. I want to something different. I like Jimmy Olsen as a young, 15-year-old kid. To me, that makes him a fun character.

Batman writer/producer Paul Dini is also on hand to help launch the Man of Tomorrow. “We’ll have the main characters like Jimmy, Lois and Perry,” Dini agrees. “Maybe even some Smallville people too. We’re also using Maggie Sawyer, the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit and Terrible Turpin [all cops from the comics]. The SCU is interesting, so we should see a lot of them. We’re also creating some all-new supporting characters.”

As for using current super-villains like Doomsday, Timm issues an emphatic “No! On Batman, we did Bane under duress, but we did our version of Bane.”

Dini’s list of villains includes Bizarro, Darkseid and Mr. Mxyztplk. “I like Mxyztplk and really want to do a story with him. I want to take him over and do interesting stuff with him like we did with the Joker,” he professes. “How do you make him interesting, not all-powerful and annoying? I’m not sure how much we'll see of these guys, because the show’s real focus is on Superman.

“We want to give attention to everything in the Superman mythos that we like and the fans expect, but the real challenge is Superman himself. We don’t want to destroy him, we want to make him as interesting as possible. And for that matter, Clark Kent, too, because when you look at some of the Fleischer cartoons and the live-action black-and-white show, you see he was a pretty interesting character.

“On TV, you couldn’t do that much with Superman, because so much of his action revolved around stock flying shots and special FX they had trouble pulling off, so they really had to work to give Clark Kent a big portion of the action.

“In animation, we can do anything, but the more I see of the George Reeves show and read the early comics, the more I realize maybe there are things to do with Clark and Lois that no one has thought of before. We’re starting very early in Clark and Lois’ relationship. In fact, in the first episode, Superman comes to Metropolis and meets Lois.”

Dini and Timm have specific plans for the Man of Steel. “I would like to do stories that show Superman being Superman,” Dini says, “the apocryphal hero in everybody’s minds. I want to do interesting stories with him and some good villains, stories that’ll tell you a little more about him than you remember seeing.

“I want to keep many familiar elements intact, because you’re dealing with a hero of mythic proportions, probably more so than any character that has appeared in the last 200 years. Superman sums up what many people think of America. I would like to do really classy superhero stories.”

As for the voices of the Man of Steel and friends, “We would like name actors, if we can get them. We don’t have any of the actors cast yet, but we do have a wish list.”

Dini says the group has no intention of doing another Super Friends. “We sure ain’t gonna have him hanging out with two kids and a dog,” he laughs. “I think of Superman as a loner hero. He’s somebody that everybody likes, identifies with and would like to be, but other than the occasional team-up with another character, I don’t see him taking part in a group or Justice League.

“I think we will do several ‘World’s Finest’ stories with Batman, because he’s the most likely one to cross over. Batman works because he’s a good contrast for Superman; the darkness and the light of those characters is interesting. We might use other characters like the Flash.

“Again, the thing that makes it Super Friends is just sticking another hero in there for the sake of their being there. That’s why we did it so rarely on Batman. It’s not important to me to wedge every DC hero in there with him. I really want to focus on the classic Superman elements.”

As for those inevitable comparisons to the to the Fleischer adventures, Dini feels, “That’s inescapable; there will be some Fleischer influence in it. Look how much there was in Batman. The Fleischer Supermans are really good models as to how to make a really great cartoon. There’s very little set-up and then you put Superman in a lot of action.

“You put him in a situation where he’s not the all-powerful, godlike superhero. He can beat up a robot but he really beats it up! He doesn’t freeze it with his super-breath and shatter it.”

As for Superman, “It won’t be Batman and it won’t be Fleischer, although there will be elements of both,” the writer states. “We won’t have a dark look like Batman. Metropolis, as we see it, is very futuristic. It’s like the 1939 World’s Fair—our vision of Metropolis is New York as a very beautiful place. We’re going to do an initial 13 episodes for Saturday morning, followed by 65 for daily strip.

“We’re still in the process of figuring out what we’re gonna do, but in the initial designs, Superman has a pretty classic look. We’re still evolving the show; we have a presentation we’re happy with, but we still have a ways to go. We’re writing it at the same time.

“Just to re-acquaint myself with Superman stories, I went to a convention and bought a ton of old comics,” Dini explains. “I was reading through them going, ‘Ugh! Crap! Ugh, more crap!’ In some of these stories, the set-ups are pretty good, but Superman’s way of getting out of them? The villain says, ‘I’ve destroyed everyone on Earth!’ and Superman says, ‘Well, you haven’t destroyed me! By the way, right when I was throwing a punch at you, I stopped time and rescued everybody!’ ”

As for his take on Superman’s personality, “I don’t know yet; I don’t really want to have Superman going through a lot of angst—‘Boo Hoo! My planet blew up! Now I must deal with it by putting on a cape and flying around!’

“Everybody knows his planet blew up, that he’s a stranger on Earth. It’ll take some work to figure out what the most distinctive thing is about Superman. We’ll probably discover it as we go along.

“We all know that we can do ‘Superman vs. the giant robots’ and make it interesting, but after we’ve done the first 10 or 12 ‘real action’ shows, we’ll gradually discover how to layer the character and those around him to make it just as interesting, if not more so, than Batman.”

One wonders if fans will see Superman’s beloved pet, Krypto the Super Dog. “I love Krypto. The first model kit I ever got when I was a kid was the Superboy model kit,” Dini grins. “I spent about a week with these gummy, stained fingers putting Superboy and Krypto together.

“Part of me loved the idea that Superman had a dog. I bought every comic book that had Krypto on the cover just ’cause he was neat. I like Krypto, but I don’t think he’s going to show up in the series. The way it’s shaping up now, Superman is pretty much the only super-being. Early on, I did come up with a pretty good Krypto story. I had a talk with Bruce where I said, ‘I want to do a Krypto story,’ and he said, ‘NO!!!

“I pitched him the story and he said, ‘It’s pretty good, but NO KRYPTO!!’ When he made up his rules on what we will and won’t put in Superman, Krypto was at the top of the ‘No’ list,” Dini chuckles. “I said, ‘Fine, we don’t have to deal with him, there are plenty of good stories without him.’

“Krypto is only really good for one story anyway. He’s one of those things I loved seeing in the comic as a kid, but if we did it on the show, we would kick open the door for Super-Horse, Super-Monkey and Super-Wombat. There was even a Super-Mouse in one story.”

As for the future, the team has but one goal. “We want to make everyone really excited about seeing Superman,” Paul Dini declares.
 

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