Vintage Interviews with the Makers of the DCAU

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It's kind of interesting to think that the addition of more sidekicks and other heroes to the DCAU led to DCAU Batman becoming a little more colder and antisocial compared to how he was depicted in B:TAS. I honestly never really thought of it that way.

It's weird seeing Tara Strong's old name back when she first started playing Batgirl :p.

"Who doesn’t love Batgirl...except maybe the people at DC Comics?” Well, I guess if you're a fan of just the Barbara Gordon Batgirl...of course, now I can't help but think of the Killing Joke :sweat:.
 

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16. The Wizard Q&A: ‘Batman’ and ‘Superman’ cartoon producer Paul Dini looks to the future with ‘Batman Beyond’ and several comic collaborations with Alex Ross

By Tom Russo (Wizard #88, Dec. 1998)

Few writers have redefined Batman. Frank Miller is one of them. Denny O’Neil, too. And Paul Dini.

If the third name on that list leaves you scratching your head, it shouldn’t. After all, not many can say his Batman is seen by an audience of more than two million people. That his Batman has won numerous prestigious awards, Emmys included. That his Batman will be the one painted in a book by superstar Alex Ross to celebrate the character’s 60th anniversary in 1999.

Dini is one of the guys who makes the “Batman” animated series the standout TV show it is, with credits as a story editor, producer and writer (he’s penned a quarter of the hero’s 100-plus episodes). He’s also left his mark with identical credits on the “Superman” animated series (also an Emmy winner) and is currently reinventing the Dark Knight Detective’s future in the new “Batman Beyond” cartoon on the Kids’ WB. And in his spare time, he’s a comic book writer whose credits include several animated-style Batman comics, notably 1993’s Eisner and Harvey award-winning Batman: Mad Love. His latest comic masterstroke is November’s Superman: Peace on Earth, the first of several planned collaborations with Ross.

Not that all this good fortune has gone to his head. At once both chatty and slightly embarrassed at occupying the spotlight, Dini’s got a shyness about him that’s hard not to like. For someone who’s really just a fanboy at heart, he seems surprisingly comfortable with the creative and cultural slickness of Hollywood, all the way down to his trendy beatnik specs. Yet, at the same time, for someone who’s a Hollywood creature by profession, and who in college aspired to be an actor, he sure does fit in well with the comic-con crowd.

Paying Dini a visit at the Warner Bros. TV animation headquarters in Los Angeles only underscores his improbable image as a showbiz-and-comics “player.” Cramped as his work space is, it’s hardly a power office—“My couch is my filing system,” he laughs while rooting through some clutter in search of proofs for his new coffee-table tome, Batman: Animated, a behind-the-scenes look at the show. The place isn’t even on the Warner’s lot, but in a mall complex known chiefly as the local hangout in the ’80s teen flick “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” But in all the details—from the modestly camouflaged plaques and trophies to the animation cels stacked on the floor because there are too damn many of ’em to hang on the walls—this is clearly an office of powerful ideas and flights of imagination. Here, Dini shares a few.

WIZARD: So what’s the lowdown on “Batman Beyond”?

DINI: When Bruce Wayne started to get older, which we envision as about 20 years after the current series, he found that he wasn’t able to perform as capably anymore as Batman. So he created this supersuit to wear that would help him. It had retractable wings and was bulletproof, laserproof and magnetized to allow him to hang upside down like a real bat. But it also had such a kick that the first time he wore it, it gave him a heart attack. So around age 60, he took the suit off for good, hung it up in the Batcave and left it there. And there it stays for another 20 years until [novice teen hero] Terry McGinnis basically steals it and uses it to go avenge an injustice in his life.

And so we have our new Batman. How closely will all of this be tied to the original series?

If you’re a longtime fan, the natural tendency with a show like this is to want to know where the Joker is, where Robin is, where Nightwing is…and we’re purposely not answering a lot of those questions. For right now we really don’t want the audience to need to have seen the old “Batman” shows to enjoy the new show. What's important is to establish the relationship between Terry and Bruce, and to make sure that works before we start reintroducing old characters or filling in what happened to everybody in those 30 to 40 years between series. One thing I can tell you is that Commissioner Gordon is still around in Gotham City—but it’s actually Barbara Gordon.

And your chief bad guy is...

Derek Powers. He’s a rising billionaire industrialist who’s an antagonistic partner in Wayne Industries, thanks to a hostile merger. At a point early in our story, one of Powers’ schemes to unseat Bruce comes back on him and he's transformed into this creature called Blight, who’s basically a radioactive man. His skin becomes transparent: you can see his bones underneath, and anything he touches is infected and can die.

Any other new characters on “Batman Beyond”?

We’re introducing the Royal Flush Gang into the show. We always wanted to do them for “Batman” or “Superman” episodes, but we never found the right story. Here they’ll be more futuristic villains—they’ll use flying playing cards as vehicles and have a more sophisticated look. Oh, and something that we resurrected from the old Batman comics of the ’50s that’s actually a lot of fun is Ace the Bat-Hound. Not that he wears a mask and fights alongside Batman; Bruce is now a recluse, and his only companion is this massive, Hound of the Baskervilles-type dog named Ace. Then we have a new character called Inque, a shapeshifter who can morph into this shiny black shadow, which makes her a perfect corporate spy. We have a street gang called the Jokers, who have elements of the original Joker, but not so that we're just doing Joker 2000. And there’s a superheroine called Freon. That’s an episode that should be a lot of fun for die-hard comic fans because it introduces a new superteam that seems to have, ah, close parallels to a certain other superteam out there.

We’ll guess that that “certain other superteam” is the JLA. Speaking of which, how did you decide on this particular series concept as opposed to doing a new series with, say, the JLA or Flash or Green Lantern?

Among ourselves, [producers] Alan Burnett, Bruce Timm and I develop a lot of things. We’ve looked at pretty much every DC Comics property, and there are a lot of characters we’d like to work with. We worked up a development for a Catwoman solo show that we liked an awful lot. But what it comes down to is what the WB wants to buy. The higher-ups stress to us at every opportunity that it is the Kids’ WB—that’s who they're targeting, so they would like to see shows [such as “Batman Beyond”] that have more of a kid appeal. Also, you’re dealing with folks at the network who know Superman and Batman. Aquaman? Probably not. So it doesn’t boil down to not wanting to do the Justice League, or that we don’t think we can—we’re just dealing with a marketplace where there’s very little room for experimentation.

Do you know how many more seasons you’re likely to do “Batman” and “Superman”?

Well, we’re not on any sort of set “season.” We like to produce new episodes every year, but we’re heavily into “Batman Beyond” now, so “Batman” and “Superman” are both sort of on hiatus at the moment. We tend to work on each show one at a time. But it looks very likely that we're going to keep “Batman” and “Superman” going for some time to come.

They’re obviously different shows despite their visual similarities. Which “Superman” episodes do you feel have worked best, given the differences?

The Lobo episodes. You have the ultimate boy scout and the ultimate jerk. They don’t like each other at all, so when they’re thrown together, there’s a lot of energy to their relationship. We found that Superman really grew as a character when you played him against somebody like that. That’s another reason why, when everybody asks us, “When are you gonna do the Justice League?” it’s like, think about what you’re asking. You really run the risk of having it become “Super Friends” when it’s a bunch of characters who all get along standing around in capes and masks talking about saving the world.

So, what’s in store for “Batman” and “Superman” this season?

Well, in the 11 new Batman shows, we’ve gone back and used a lot of our recurring villains. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Because air dates had yet to be finalized at press time, some of the episodes listed here may already have aired.] There’s a lot more Joker, more Harley, and a couple of Poison Ivy stories. We’ll see the Creeper, who’s going to have a big romantic fixation on Harley—but even though he's [another] pale-skinned, green-haired, laughing maniac, she doesn’t want anything to do with him because he’d treat her too well. And there’s a new character called Roxy Rocket who Bruce and I created for Batman Adventures Annual # 1 a couple of years back. She's a daring-to-the-point-of-psychotic stuntwoman with a '30s aviator look who flies around on a Buck Rogers-style rocket. She develops this weird fixation on Batman, then shows up in an episode of “Superman” causing trouble for him, too.

You’re actually doing a couple more “World's Finest” crossovers too, right?

Yeah, we’re doing one where Batman and Superman take on Ra’s al Ghul, and another where Batman is missing and Superman has to fill in for him. In that one, the criminals have such a field day with Batman gone that some of them have to branch out to Metropolis instead, which alerts Superman. It has the most villains we’ve ever put into one episode—dozens of ’em.

This is also the year where you’ve finally done that long-anticipated adaptation of Mad Love for “Batman.” What took you guys so long?

For a long time we felt that it was fine just as it was, as a comic book. But we just liked the story so much that, over time, we wondered how it would work in animation. Also, various elements that we’ve introduced in the cartoon have been used for the feature films or as a springboard for other people’s stories, and we had no control. We began to think, “Well, if they do wind up using Harley, we’d like to do our own screen version of the story [first], and make it as true as we can to the comic.” We didn’t really add anything, we just played everything more toward the confrontation between Harley, Batman and the Joker, because that’s where the real dramatic energy is.

You and DC’s Bat-office recently announced plans to introduce Harley into mainstream DC Universe continuity.

Right, as part of the “No Man’s Land” story arc. I’ll probably write a couple of issues that introduce her and, depending on what my schedule is like, I’d also like to write some other story elements or come up with ideas for ways they can use her. She’s probably not going to be as out-and-out homicidal as other characters in the mainstream Batman books, but she was never intended to be bad, anyway. I think fans who like her will like this version, too.

There’s been a lot of buzz about your upcoming project with Alex Ross, a treasury-edition-size book called Superman: Peace on Earth. What’s it about?

It’s a more introspective Superman story, with something of a holiday theme to it. You don’t often see Superman trying to confront a real problem. We know he can save a crashing plane or beat up Braniac. But what if he decided, “There’s going to be one day in the year where I make sure no one in the world goes hungry”? This doesn’t have Lois Lane, supervillains or any of the current storylines in it—it’s much more an all-audiences story. The temptation when you work with someone like Alex is to do the big story—you want to do want to do Marvels, you want to do Kingdom Come, you want to have him paint every character in the DC Universe because he makes them look so damn cool. But this is more in the vein of Uncle Sam—which isn’t a bad way to play the character.

And ideally we want to do four books, one a year, where we tell stories about the great superheroes. Each of the books will come out during the character’s 60th anniversary, so next will be Batman, then Captain Marvel and then Wonder Woman. You’re going to see smaller, more thoughtful stories that remind people why these are important characters.

Any other comics work on the horizon?

Bruce and I are doing a three-issue miniseries, Harley and Ivy, that will be out around the middle of next year. They’re not exactly sophisticated stories, but they’re very sexy, very racy and a lot of fun. But I’m also experimenting with some of my own characters. I’m doing a book for Bongo Comics that’s coming out early next year, a really weird funny-animal book called Emu and Thylacine. The characters are a little like Road Runner and Coyote, and the book deals with what happens to them offscreen: They’re best friends, they live in Hollywood, and they both have really crappy lives. [Laughs] Then I’m doing a strip for a special one-shot, boy-produced issue of Sarah Dyer’s Action Girl Comics. It’s a weird combination of Buck Rogers and Roy Rogers called “Mutant, Texas,” about a little town that was blown off the map 50 years ago, where life revolved [in the form of] strange animals. And it looks like I’m going to do a couple of books for Oni Press [including] a story based on the high school I went to, which I’m calling either Rich Kids in Prep School or Wastes of Skin, and then for Christmas of ’99, Jingle Belle. The character is Santa’s kid, but she hates it—she’s 16 and she’d rather be off snowboarding or meeting Eskimo boys.

Sounds like a plan.

I just want to do something that’s accessible to all ages, something like Bone or Scary Godmother or Usagi Yojimbo. I want the audience that would have read “Bloom County,” that just wants to pick up a comic because it’s funny and a bit adult, but not too explicit.

Some people would say you already managed to pull in that all-ages audience when you helped put “Batman” on the air—and that in the process, you really have defined Batman for generations to come.

You know, I wish I could step into a time machine and see how the artistic vision of “Batman” shapes 7-year-old kids who watch the show now and grow up to become artists and writers and filmmakers. Because I think it is going to have a far-reaching influence on their imaginations. It feels really good to work on something that you have a gut feeling is going to endure as well as the Fleischer “Superman” cartoons [from the ’40s] or “Looney Tunes”—things that kids really enjoy at a certain time of their life and then think of fondly later. The greatest success a cartoon can have, I think, is when it’s enjoyed by kids and adults. That’s what entertainment of this nature should be about.

VITAL STATS

NAME: Paul Dini

OCCUPATION: Writer-producer on the “Batman” and “Superman” animated series, as well as the new series “Batman Beyond”

BORN: Aug. 7, 1959, New York City; grew up in Northern California

BASE OF OPERATIONS: Los Angeles

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Animating DC’s heroes on his signature shows; winning Emmys for his work as story editor on “Batman” and “Tiny Toons”; writing various comics for DC in the animated style of the shows, including the award-winning 1993 one-shot Batman: Mad Love.

WHY JOKER WON'T KILL HARLEY QUINN: “What’s going to hurt Harley more—to just shoot her or to withhold affection from her? Joker knows that’s what will do the most damage. Never, ever give her what she wants—that, to him, is the joke.”


CARTOON NETWORKING

For Paul Dini, the road to “Batman” meandered through plenty of other toontown districts first. Beginning with his earliest writing gigs while he was still a student at Boston’s Emerson College, Dini racked up such wide-ranging credits as “Shazam,” “Tarzan,” “Dungeons and Dragons,” “Fat Albert,” “Ewoks,” “Droids’ and “Tiny Toons.’ Along the way, he rubbed elbows and/or funny bones with some pretty interesting people, among them:

GEORGE LUCAS

“George wanted to do animated spinoffs of ‘Star Wars,’ but this was in that cooling-off period after the movies, so the shows missed out on the intensity of the spinoff novels and comics that have come out since. But I look upon my four years on ‘Ewoks’ and ‘Droids’ as my film-school days, because I got to learn everything I now know about [animation].”

STEVEN SPIELBERG

“Steven showed a lot of interest in going back and somehow revisiting the classic ‘Looney Tunes’ characters, so ‘Tiny Toons’ was a great opportunity to work with him. He was very much in love with the idea of the old-fashioned way that cartoons were created, so whenever he had time, he’d sit in on storyboard sessions and make contributions to the process. And he was very accessible—he would come in with very definite ideas of what he wanted to do but he was also open to suggestions. Whatever made us laugh. That was a definite plus.”

BILL COSBY

“‘Fat Albert’ was the first thing I ever wrote. And as a kid who grew up listening to Cosby records incessantly, it was like a dream come true: ‘I get to work with Cosby? Great!’ He’d come in, do the recording, and then vanish very quickly, but it was still like, ‘I wrote a joke that Cosby said! Woo-haaa!’”
 

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17. Eternal Knight: The Future Turns Dark in Batman Beyond

Batman Beyond: He de-powered the Power Rangers and forced ABC to endure One Rough Saturday Morning. The Story of how a Dark Knight was reborn as the bright light of the Kids’ WB.

By Dennis Fischer (AnimeFantastique #4, Winter 1999)

A thin, tall figure in a black and red suit gazes down on a 21st century Gotham City. His incredible batsuit enhances his strength and is flight-capable; in his car is the voice of Bruce Wayne, the voice of experience, an ever present counsel guiding the young protégé past the dangers that confront any superhero-to-be. The youth’s mission? In the world of Gotham: to battle the dark and terrible forces that threaten the city. In the reality of the fledgling Kids’ WB Network: to win the Saturday morning ratings battle. One could well say that both missions have been accomplished: premiering in January 1999, the Batman of BATMAN BEYOND has since faced down every super-villain from old stalwart Mr. Freeze to the newfangled shape-shifter Inque. More importantly, the guy has been renewed for an additional 39 episodes, starting this September.

ORIGINS

The guiding lights for BATMAN BEYOND are its writer-designer-producers Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, and Bruce Timm, and designer-turned-producer Glen Murakami, the same team that shepherded the original BATMAN animated series to four Emmy wins (and created the equally acclaimed SUPERMAN animated series). According to producer Alan Burnett, BATMAN BEYOND was created because there was “a feeling that Batman needed a new shock of some sort going for it. We had done 109 traditional BATMAN episodes, and it had been on the air since 1992. This is a pretty long haul for a guy in tights. There was a feeling around Warner Bros. that maybe the time had come to do something radical with the character. The kingdoms that be at Warner Bros. thought that maybe we should go for a younger Batman somehow, someway.”

According to producer Bruce Timm, in November of 1997, there was a meeting with Paul Dini, Alan Burnett, executive in charge of production Jean MacCurdy, the head of the WB Network Jamie Kellner, and himself. Recalled Timm, “Jamie was concerned that the old, classic BATMAN show, even though it was doing really great ratings, was skewing a little bit old in the demographics. We’ve always been proud of the fact that adults and teenagers watch the show, but they were concerned that there were more teenagers or late teenagers to young adults watching the show than kids, and a lot of their advertising revenue comes from young kids.

“We were just toying with the idea of how we can make Batman more accessible to young kids. During the course of this meeting, it became very apparent that Jamie wanted to do more than just revamp the current series; he literally wanted to reinvent it from the ground up. It was more than just tinkering with the design or adding more teenagers to the show. At one point he said, ‘What if we put a teenager in the batsuit?’ We all kind of just went, ‘Oh, okay...’

“From there we came up with the concept that eventually became BATMAN BEYOND. Some of the ideas that we first talked about was doing a young Bruce Wayne show, the adventures of Bruce Wayne before he became Batman. I said, “Well, that’s okay, except that there’s no Batman in it.’ Then there was another concept that was like the Phantom from the comics, where Bruce Wayne was just the latest recipient of the bat costume. We didn’t want to do anything like that; we didn’t want to do anything that a) violated the spirit of the comics, and b) wiped out the continuity that we had established.

“To keep all of that in mind, we came up with this concept of setting the show in the future. Bruce Wayne is too old to be Batman, he has to get somebody else to be Batman, so that’s where the teenager comes in. In a nutshell, that’s how the concept came about.”

Producer Paul Dini asserted that BATMAN BEYOND, “takes its creative spark from our original BATMAN series. We look on it more as a continuation of the BATMAN cartoon series rather than something that was originally inherent in the comic books. We’re doing a sort of ‘what if’ future based on the established animated series, and so we looked ahead about 40 or 50 years into the next century. We said, ‘If Bruce Wayne was an old man and he was physically unable to fight crime, what would he do? Would he hang it up or hand it over to somebody else?’

“What he’s done in our series is that he’s grudgingly handed over the reins to a kid who has come to him with a chip on his shoulder. They forge a sort of sometimes supportive, sometimes-adversarial relationship where they are fighting together for the common good, only Bruce is now behind the scenes, with his new associate Terry McGinnis actually out in the field in the Batman costume. The sidekick is now the hero, and vice versa.

“There’s a big generation gap between them; they have wildly different approaches to solving problems, so there is some conflict there. Terry is much more of a brawler. He’s learning the art of self-control and stealth and deduction, whereas Bruce’s relationship with him is reopening his eyes to what it’s like to be young again and to be doing all this stuff for the first time.”

“It’s that relationship of the mentor: the old samurai warrior who has a young charge who wants to be given direction,” expanded Burnett. “The idea that student and master don't get along was also intriguing for us. I was also interested in working with a flawed boy, and Terry McGinnis is sort of a troubled hot head.

“We are also actually, at this very moment, starting to add to his background. We will learn that a few years before the series started, he was actually in juvenile hall, that things had gotten that bad for him. So he’s a troubled kid who is now making good and is determined to really prove himself beyond just avenging his father’s death.”

NEW BLOOD, OLD TORMENTS

The new Batman in BATMAN BEYOND is Terry McGinnis, a rebellious, 17 year-old high school senior with a troubled background and idealistic views of how the world should be. In the premiere episode, corporate henchmen murder his father and Terry stumbles onto the opportunity to become Batman and avenge his father’s demise. Terry moves in with his mother, who had previously divorced his father and who once considered her son too much to handle. Now, Terry must learn to adjust to her expectations and to his responsibilities.

“He was always envisioned to be sort of a hothead,” commented Dini. “He was somebody who fought with his fists initially, and then only later sat back and reasoned things out. We liked the idea of a character who had son of a chip on his shoulder, who would be very action-driven, and yet very smart and canny in a way. We thought that was a good place to start with the new Batman. We didn’t want to repeat Bruce Wayne and bring in a rich kid who had lacked for nothing in his li e and yet became a vigilante.

“Initially, when we did the development on Terry and told his story with him avenging his father’s death, we asked, ‘What’s going to come up?’ Theoretically, he’s avenged his father’s death and brought to justice the people who did it; why should he go on being Batman? We looked at his character again recently, and we decided to come up with ways to tweak it and give him more of an ongoing mission and responsibility, which is going to come out a bit more in the next season.

“One of the ideas that we always wanted to play around with, and we’re actually bringing to the fore, is the idea that Terry is sort of a bad kid. He’s been a bad kid before, and the idea that, somewhere in his past, he’s done a few really bad things and he’s had to atone for them. He was in juvenile hall at one point in the last few years before he became Batman, and he’s been trying to atone for that.

“In addition to his regular, teenaged problems, he’s got this past reputation as a bad kid that he’s trying to live down. One of the reasons that he wants to stay being Batman is that he feels he’s got a few blots on his soul that he really would like to expunge. As time goes on, we’re going to find out what those things are, and how they have repercussions for him now that he’s older and supposedly knows better.”

According to Dini, a Batman who has been a lawbreaker himself will likely have more compassion for the criminals he apprehends: “We want to make him into somebody who has seen both sides of the law, so there will be compassion there. But there will also be a sense of responsibility to society as a whole. He’s evolving into a very complex character, but also a very likable one. The more we give him the shading, the more we like him, the more heroic he seems to us.

“One thing we didn’t want to do was settle into this pattern of, ‘Old man Wayne needs me again, I guess I’d better go off and become Batman.’ We really want to keep working on the relationship between him and Bruce, and between Terry and himself.

“With the first season, we were really trying to find our footing with the show and the characters. We had a lot of different elements we had to service, whether it was the superhero element—bringing in this new Batman, giving you a lot of Batman action—or the teen element, the family element, or the element of Bruce Wayne. And you can’t let Wayne be relegated to the shadows. In our minds, he is and will always be Batman to a degree, but we have to work and find new roles for him. So there was a lot of stuff to get up and running with in the space of 13 episodes.”

THE BREATH OF LIFE

Will Friedle, who stars as Eric Matthews on BOY MEETS WORLD, voices Terry McGinnis/Batman. According to the series’ voice director Andrea Romano, the actor’s selection came after extensive auditions for the role: “One of our producers had seen Will’s work on BOY MEETS WORLD and said, just as a last shot effort, ‘You know, this young actor is very talented, let’s bring him in, read him, see how he does.’ We auditioned him and we just loved his audition. It’s also one of those casting situations where you listen to the voice as he progresses on through the series and you wonder how you could have even considered anybody else. He’s so good at it , and he’s such a fine young actor.

“He’s got a lot of energy. A role like a Batman character who goes through a lot of fight scenes requires a really specific kind of voice acting, which you have to teach him how to do. ‘Whoa! Ugh! Aww, yeah, egh.’ All those sounds which we call impact sounds. Will is a very fast learner on those things, and he's learning very quickly how to do them.

“He does a very subtle voice change for Terry McGinnis versus Batman. Terry McGinnis has a very genuine, honest, straight-ahead sound. When he performs the voice of Batman, his voice is pitched down slightly. He adds a little bit of air to it and pushes it out a little bit harder, so that it is a more forceful voice. When Batman speaks, he is more often commanding, as opposed to Terry McGinnis who is in high school and would just be speaking.”

The genuinely commanding presence in the series, though, is provided by Bruce Wayne, who in the premiere episode is shown as having quit his role as the Batman after being forced to shoot [sic] a kidnapper with a gun in order to save his own life. In the intervening years, 'Wayne has become something of a recluse, living out his old-age in a now-empty Wayne Manor, his alter-ego abandoned.

When Terry stumbles upon Wayne’s secret Batcave, the millionaire responds to McGinnis’ energy and passion. The young man’s enthusiasm awakens long dormant emotions in the elderly Wayne, enabling him to once more take an active role in crimefighting. While the new Batman performs the physical feats that Wayne’s decrepit body is no longer capable of, Bruce remains at the Batcomputer, feeding Terry valuable information over a radio link to the new, high-tech batsuit. No one knows Gotham City or the dark side of humanity better than he, and he will guide the impulsive youth past the potential pitfalls—if McGinnis will only listen.

“It’s funny,” noted Timm. “On the old series, one of our old writers, Michael Reaves, told me that he thought the dynamic of Batman and Robin was Dirty Harry teaming up with Spider-Man. I thought that was a great idea, though I don’t think we actually accomplished that. I felt that Robin was just too bland a character to do that.

“But when we came up with this new show, I kinda remembered what Michael had said, and that subconsciously pushed us in that direction: to make (McGinnis) a little bit more of a spitfire, rebel kind of character, but also more fun. He’s a smart-ass, and he’s not always right, and he’s very street on a certain level. Then we add in this ultra-cranky authority figure, and it really makes a nice contrast.

“We’ve always tried to [explore the psychological aspects of the characters], even going back to the old ‘classic’ BATMAN episodes . Every time we used one of the classic villains, we always tried to figure out why that character was the way they were. There was a catch (for BATMAN BEYOND, though. That worked like gangbusters on the old BATMAN show—in our version of the BATMAN ethos, he is just a justice figure, he’s not really a three-dimensional human being. We actually tried to keep him away from being a three-dimensional human being. We wanted to make him cold, emotionless, and really driven.

“To do that, we had to take out a lot of extraneous dialogue. We didn’t want him to be really chummy with people. A lot of times he’s by himself in shadows. Even when we did the new episodes for the WB when we teamed him up with Batgirl and Robin, we did even more of that, so that Batgirl and Robin had all the dialogue, and he would be like this quiet and angry authority figure, ordering them around. It actually made him seem even darker, even though he’s teamed up with these two kids.

“So focusing on the villains and their psychological motivations was great for the old show because you had a lot of time to dwell on that. Unfortunately, when we started doing BATMAN BEYOND, a lot of the writers were stuck in the old BATMAN formula. They really didn’t quite get what the new show was.”

In an apt link with the classic BATMAN animated series, Wayne is voiced by Kevin Conroy, who in addition to assuming the mantle of the Dark Knight in the previous series has also had a substantial career on stage and in daytime drama. Said Romano, “It’s been very interesting how over the years that voice has progressed and grown and evolved, as many voices do as they continue on through a series year after year. They evolve and become something different.

“Energywise, it is considerably different. It’s not just that the character has aged many years since we last saw him, it’s that he has become far more embittered, and really is kind of housebound. He rarely, if ever, leaves his house. When you physically watch the actor perform the role, where before he had a strong, upright posture when he was voicing the character—very forceful, and his face would be very bright and alive—now when you watch him, he sits hunched over in a chair. The way that he moves his head and neck is much more the way an older, 70-year-old-type person would move. Therefore, the voice comes out that way.

“It’s not nearly as energized a voice. He doesn’t push it quite as much to get the voice. Every once in a while he’ll have to yell to McGinnis, ‘Get out of there now!’ and you will see a flame of that old energy that used to be there. For the most part, though, it is a quieter, less energetic, deeper pitched, more breathy, less full sound.”

New heroes and new times call for new villains. For the first season of BATMAN BEYOND, the main antagonist was industrialist Derek Powers, who in essence has taken over and corrupted Wayne Enterprises. Commented Dini, “We were looking at the way crime had evolved over the past 40 or 50 years. The old-style, street-level gangsters were no longer a big part of the picture. We were thinking that, over the last few years, we’ve really seen the rise of the corporation as the new powerhouse in American business. People can take all sorts of shortcuts to get to the top of those companies, there are huge fortunes to be made. We thought, ‘What if the criminals had moved off the streets and into the boardrooms?’

“So you have these very unscrupulous, high-tech robber barons, essentially, controlling the stakes in Got ham City—not to say that every corporation is bad, but there are quite a few lapses of ethics in there.”

In the premiere episode, Powers gets exposed to a mutagenic nerve gas which covertly transforms him into a walking toxic hazard, later known as Blight. Powers hides this transformation beneath a layer of artificial skin that covers his phosphorescent-green, transparent body, but in moments of stress, the cracks begin to show. Powers will exploit anything and anybody to make a profit, and his hidden agenda is to take revenge on Batman, on whom he places the blame for his condition.

Explained Burnett, “The feeling was that we did want a central villain for the series, at least for the first season. By the time this gets published, you’ll find out that he dies in the thirteenth show.”

The part of Derek Powers is voiced by Sherman Howard (LETHAL WEAPON II, CASUALTIES OF WAR, MAX HEADROOM). Recalled Romano, “We had auditioned Sherman Howard for the voice of Lex Luthor. I could be remembering that incorrectly, but I think that we did—he came very close to getting it. We ultimately went with Clancy Brown instead, but I remember saying we have to keep Sherman Howard in mind because he would be an excellent villain. Then when this villain came up, we called the agents and asked around, and went, ‘Oh, Sherman Howard, Sherman Howard! Let’s bring Sherman Howard back in.’

“And we’re all so glad that we did because he’s wonderful in that role. Really, really talented. Brings a certain level of oiliness and bad business and someone that can appear to be so good, and yet you know there is something so inherently bad. He just does a wonderful job. We’re very happy to have him on that.”

Other regular characters on the show include McGinnis’ Asian American girl friend Dana Tan (Lauren Tom), who is bothered by Terry’s frequent disappearances and his inability to confide in her; Nelson Nash (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and AUSTIN POWE’'s Seth Green), the star athlete and high school bully who gets away with murder and loves to pick on younger, weaker kids; Terry’s mother Mary McGinnis (Teri Garr of YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND), who is pleased that her son is now being responsible and working for the famous Bruce Wayne; Terry’s eight-year-old brother Matt McGinnis (Ryan O’Donahue of TALES FROM THE CRYPT: DEMON KNIGHT), who admires the mysterious Batman while seeking any opportunity to squeal on his older brother: and former Batgirl turned police commissioner Barbara Gordon (the highly talented Stockard Channing), who is shrewd, conscientious, matronly yet tough, and who, after a falling out with Wayne, thinks that police work should not be handled by costumed heroes.

FORMING THE FUTURE

Rather than the semi-period feel of the classic BATMAN animated series, BATMAN BEYOND is imbued with a very contemporary feel, reflecting ’90s culture in many ways, especially in the fashions worn by the characters and the musical styles used to score the show. Early on, the producers decided they wanted to have a different sound for the music. Said Timm, “Literally, one of those first meetings with Jamie Kellner, he even brought that up: ‘What kind of sound do you envision for the show?’

“And I said, ‘I'm thinking possibly rock music.’ The only problem with that is we didn’t know who would be able to do it. There was literally nothing on the air anywhere on TV that I thought had the kind of sound that we were looking for, something that sounded very modern and authentic and at the same time not just neat rock songs, but that would work the way a musical score works.

“We’d experimented with some rock music on SUPERMAN previously, mixing live guitar and drums with the orchestra, and it never really came out sounding very good. It didn’t gel, so I didn’t think our usual composers were going to be able to do this new show. I had this uncomfortable meeting with Shirley [Walker, previously the team’s musical director on BATMAN and SUPERMAN], where I expressed my doubts. She said, ‘Well, that’s fine, I appreciate you’d like to try something new, but at least give us a chance to try it.” I said okay, and figured they deserved that much at least.”

Walker had provided BATMAN with its lush orchestral accompaniment, and certainly knew the ins and outs of scoring music dramatically for television. To give her an idea of the kind of sound he wanted, Timm provided Walker with music by Nine Inch Nails, White Zombie, and the Propellerheads. Timm recalled saying, “If you guys are going to get this gig, the music has to sound really ballsy, has to sound much nastier than you have ever envisioned before.

“So she got together with her team of composers and put together a demo album of music in the vein of what we were talking about, and played it for me two weeks later, and it was perfect. It was exactly what we wanted. It was real nasty, heavy metal techno, everything, and yet it had a real, nice, moody, BATMAN feel to it. It was literally perfect. I liked it so much that I had her make CDs of it to distribute amongst my storyboard artists so they could listen to it as a soundtrack while they were working on the series.”

Commented Dini, “We wanted to make sure that the future as we envisioned it was not inaccessible to contemporary audiences. If you look at American society of 40 years ago — we’re talking the late ’50s — a lot of what was around then still applies today. Granted we have VCRs and computers and everything, but we still have automobiles, and we still have elevators and televisions and everything. Life still goes on and it’s still recognizable.

“We didn’t want to make this 40 years in the future and suddenly it’s Buck Rogers time. There are some advances and there are some fantastic sections, but we read a lot of books about speculative fiction and the theoretical future of the next 50 to 100 years, and we found ourselves incorporating some of the more believable elements or possibly believable elements into the series. We didn’t want to lose the audience by suddenly setting it in the STAR WARS galaxy or something.”

Prior to the series debut, Dini researched speculation about the future, and now tries to keep abreast of the latest scientific advances by reading Popular Science, National Geographic, Omni, and other scientific magazines. “What intrigues me are things that could be happening in a few years. We’ll look at contemporary life, and that will prompt ideas, like when we were coming up with the idea for an upcoming episode called ‘Splicers.’ Today, a lot of kids are gelling tattoos and then a lot of them are gelling pierced, and a few are going beyond that and getting implants put in their heads—you look at some people nowadays and they’ve got like real spikes implanted under their skin or something. I started wondering where this was all going to wind up.

“As we progress in technology and keep moving forward, people will find newer and more exciting ways to abuse their bodies. I was thinking, what if you could do selective gene splicing on yourself? You could combine your DNA with that of another animal, and you could get slight augmentation on a part of your body. It’s not like people turning themselves into animals, but what if you could somehow augment your fingernails so that they looked more like claws, or do something to your eyes to make them look more like cat eyes.

“I was thinking that would be a really good look for a street gang. So I took the bare bones of that idea and I handed that over to Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer and said, ‘See what you can come up with,’ and they came up with a pretty good story about it. Things like that we want to keep in the series.”

When the producers lake a more satirical approach to their speculations, the result can be something like BATMAN BEYOND’s ubiquitous pseudo-CGI newscasters, depicted as stylized human figures with smiles permanently plastered across their faces. Said Dini, “Those were supposedly created in a computer to appeal to all different sorts of people and to look happy to everybody. They arc of no defined background except human. They could be talky, smiley heads, except they are a little more human stylized. They are designed to be—in the world of the show—completely computer generated people.

“You look at news these days, and as soon as the news broadcasters can do that, I’m sure they will. You just have a happy face there, telling you the day’s news. They don’t express personal opinions, they don’t age.”

Added Burnett, “They mostly give happy news. Even if it’s sad and tragic news, they still find a way to make it more appealing, more listenable.”

HOW TO BUILD A BAT

An episode of BATMAN BEYOND begins with the writers and producers coming up with story ideas. Commented Dini, “Frequently, Bruce Timm. Alan Burnett, Glen Murakami and I will all sit down and go over lists of what we want to do with the characters. Sometimes I’ll bring in a story that I’ve fleshed out, and we’ll all hand it around, or we’ll sit in a conference and talk about what kind of stories we want to tell or what kind of villain we want to use, just interesting ideas. That’s how it starts”

After the writers and producers agree what to do, then the concept will be developed as a story that is written as an outline or a script. “Or sometimes I’ll hand the outline to another writer and have them develop it further,” added Dini. “Because I’m usually reading scripts or working on scripts, it makes it sort of hard for me to sit and write it all myself, but I will work with other writers on them.

“Then, when I’m not generating story ideas, I’m going over storyboards, I’m going to recordings, just working on the various stages of production that each episode goes through. Then it falls into the artists’ domain . Once the script is complete, and we’ve edited the script and recorded the script, the artists take it and do a storyboard. From there it goes to layout and animation, which is done overseas, with a Korean animation studio.

BATMAN BEYOND is blessed with a stable of writers who know the comic book characters and can handle them well. Said Dini, “We’ve got a staff of writers who for the most part have been with us over the last three years. When we started doing the SUPERMAN series, we had a new writer start with us at that time named Robert Goodman, who initially wrote the first couple of Bizarro episodes for us. He worked out very well, so he’s been with us all that time.

“There is also Hilary Bader, who has worked for a number of science fiction and fantasy genre shows, including STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE and XENA. She came to work with us on SUPERMAN around that time. There’s Rich Fogel, who worked with Alan Burnett a few years back at Hanna-Barbera—they worked together on a number of shows. Rich has a fondness and affinity for superheroes, so Alan brought him over once we were in the thick of things with SUPERMAN. We also have Stan Berkowitz, who worked on the Superman character as Superboy in the live action, syndicated SUPERBOY series a few years back.

“In SUPERMAN and BATMAN BEYOND, we have used a pair of freelancers from New York: Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer. Evan is known in the comics community as the creator of Milk and Cheese, one of the funnier independent comic books out there. They wrote a number of SUPERMAN stories for us, and they’ve written a great BATMAN BEYOND for next season called ‘Splicers,’ which is a lot of fun.”

According to Dini, one of the biggest challenges is to be careful not to fall into a rut and repeat what has been done before. “You always have to think that it’s not the old BATMAN show. This is something I myself have to keep in mind as well as the other writers, and to that degree it’s good that we read each other’s scripts and we get together and talk about the show. So we catch each other.

“When I read, ‘A group of criminals are robbing a bank.’ I’ll look at that and I’ll go, ‘Whoa, whoa, a bank? A money bank? Who needs money 40 years in the future!’ They don’t have money, everything is done on credit cards. We shouldn’t deal with bank robberies any more.

“We point things like that out to each other so the show doesn’t get stale or predictable or too convenient. As a writer, that’s the big problem we run into: coming up with something that reads as too convenient. It plays well and it gets the show off, logically, but if you do that too many times, you give the impression of it being same-old, same-old.”

Except for one newcomer, the directors of BATMAN BEYOND have worked with the producers for many years on the original BATMAN or the later SUPERMAN series. Explained Dini, “Most of the directors came in as board artists who worked their way up, getting adjusted to the style, making refinements in it, working with Bruce Timm, and just having a good grasp of the show, the characters, the sensibilities. Pretty much all of our directors [Curt Geda, Butch Lukic, and Dan Riba] have worked up through the ranks.

“The directors are usually always present for recording an episode, but the actors primarily take their cues from Andrea Romano, our voice director. The way we do the recordings is that the people present are always the producers, Bruce, Alan, Glen or myself, and usually the writer of the specific episode, and the director. About six people, with Andrea Romano, who is our voice director, and Leslie Lamers who casts our show, and some of the people who work with the recording.

“We’ll run through the show once with the actors so they get a sense of the show, and usually they get the script a day or two in advance so they can look it over if they want. We’ll do a reading for the show once, and then we’ll record the show and have some time for pick-ups. The whole process rarely takes over two and a half hours.

“We’ll try and get as many of the cast members there as we can. One of the things that’s happened over the years is that as we begin using more and more diverse talent on BATMAN and SUPERMAN; a lot of the actors arc harder to get for a full session. They may have commitments elsewhere. or we may want a guest star who is not available to us, so we’ll have to do a phone pickup with them at some point. Usually we’ll try and accommodate people if we can, but for the most part we like to have everybody sitting there in the studio. It just builds up a nice rhythm going, and we always think it makes the shows sound better.

The animation for BATMAN BEYOND is provided by Korean studio Koko, formerly known as Dong Yang. Said Timm, “When we first started working with them back in 1991, they were basically a studio that had handled subcontracting work from Japanese studios. But [the founders of Koko] were looking to expand their horizons, and somehow they came to our attention. They said they would really like to give it a try, and we took a gamble on them. We gave them—I think it was episode three of the original BATMAN series—and they just did a really good job on it. Eventually, they got so good and they are so fast that they’ve become our main suppliers. On BATMAN BEYOND, they are the only studio we’ve used on the series so far. For the 39 new episodes, it’s an awful lot of work in a short amount of time, but they say they can handle it, and we hope that they can.

“What’s great about them is that they have literally gotten better and better throughout the years. They are constantly trying to improve their own skills and pay close attention to what we want, and they just deliver.”

However, before the animation studio can get to work, the script, once it is put on the schedule and is assigned to a director, goes through the design and storyboard departments. “Sometimes the directors will have a real specific idea of what they want, and sometimes they won’t,” noted Timm. “Sometimes the director will have to get together with a designer and/or me and Glen and do some brainstorming.

“Ideally, it would be great if our background designers and our character designers got on a show before it went to the storyboard guys, because it is always better to have a bunch of materials to work with rather than have (the storyboard artists) make stuff up as they go along. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way with all the overlap. Everybody’s busy all the time, so we try to do main character design and get rough ideas of those right at the top. A lot of our storyboard guys are good artists in their own right, and sometimes they’ll come up with their own character designs.

“James Tucker is one of our main storyboard guys. He started as a character designer here and moved over to doing storyboards, but he’s still good at character designs and he’s really fast. What’s really great about James is that he won’t just come up with one design and then give you five slight variations of it, he’ll come up with five radically different designs so you have a good range of which way to go. It’s real easy to narrow it down. He’s a real good artist and has real good instincts on this kind of stuff. A lot of the other storyboard artists do that too.”

Once the story is boarded, the work is re-examined because, as Timm explained, “There are always things that you can’t think about upfront. Sometimes a storyboard artist will put in a sequence that isn’t there in the script, and we’ll say, ‘Okay, that’s really great,’ but suddenly we’ve got these five extra characters that weren’t in the script, so they have to be designed. Then we have to do turnarounds on them as well, which is basically a model sheet which has the characters from all different angles to animate from.”

As the script gets storyboarded, the design crew works on it as well, designing the backgrounds and characters needed to tell the story. Commented Timm, “It’s ideal to have a week or so before the board guys get it, so they can have some backgrounds to work off of and some character designs. Unfortunately, everyone is so busy working on five different things at once. It doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes the board guys are literally drawing a board without knowing what the character is finally going to look like, so they are just roughing in stick figures, you know?

“All this stuff is happening at the same time. We are literally working on six or seven episodes in various stages of completion at any given time. Once the board is done, they hand it to the writers, producers, Glen, and myself. We all put notes on the board.

“The writers’ notes are predictable: ‘Well, this wasn’t the way it was in the script.’ Actually, they are not that bad about it, but sometimes the board guys have gone so far that they’ve actually really hurt the story by changing things, so I force them to put it back. Most of my notes are, ‘Okay, so does this cut work? Is this going to drive us crazy in the editing room when the show comes back or is this effect too hard to do?’ Everybody is trying to do really spectacular special effects. but because of the time and budget restraints, I just know the effects are not going to come out nearly as well as they expect it to, so we’ll scale back.”

Then the work goes back to the design staff so they can create all the final character and background designs based on the storyboards. “We’ll pick a number of background designs to be painted as background painting keys to ship over to the Orient,” said Timm. “Put it all together and then ship it off to Korea, and then it comes back probably four or five months later. I’ll sit down with the editor and director and we’ll cut the show. I’ll sit down with the composers and the sound effects guys, and we’ll watch the show together and say, ‘Okay, this is where we should start the music here. This should be romantic music or this should be really intense scary music, or whatever.’ We usually have anywhere between two or three weeks to put it on the air.”

All the post production must be completed quickly, requiring the talented crew often to work around the clock to get the shows on the air by the promised airdate. Nevertheless, the consistently high quality of BATMAN BEYOND attests to the production team’s understanding of storytelling and superheroics.

A VOTE OF CONFIDENCE

Alan Burnett remembered that when he was doing SUPER FRIENDS, he wanted to include Jack Kirby’s character of Darkseid, one of the inspirations for Lucas’ Darth Vader. But despite having toned the character down so that he wouldn’t be too gruesome looking for the tiny tots, Burnett was told that he couldn’t use the villain because, “his name was spelled with an ‘ei,’ which would offend our German viewers. That’s how they put it! That’s the kind of weirdness we were working with in the ’80s.”

Noted Dini, “I’d say over the last ten years or so, a lot of those restrictions haven’t exactly fallen by the wayside, but they have eased up a lot. At one point, the thing that was most distressing about the restrictions in animated television wasn’t that the censor was objecting to specific bits of action here and there, but would just get on a bandwagon over the intent of an entire episode . It couldn’t be the intent of a criminal to be out to hurt somebody else. They had to be out to threaten somebody or out to steal something, or the heroes couldn’t take direct physical action to stop him. They had to use some sort of action that would allow the villain to fall prey to their own devices, or something.

“Once you get into something like that, you know, that’s ridiculous. No kid wants to watch that. They want to see a hero out solving a problem directly. You can’t cushion these things enough if you start doing stuff like that, so that was the thing that was great about Fox early on when we started doing the show over there.

“We were happy to see it stay the same at Kids’ WB. In every situation, the standards and practices people appreciated the integrity of the show that we wanted to do. They understood that we were doing an action-adventure show, that the action sometimes got a little intense, and yet it was true to the character and his world. They may have problems here and there with specific actions. We’re usually happy to change that if we look at it and think we’re going too far.”

Bruce Timm agreed. “The censors have been really, really good to work with,” he said. “When we got to the WB, the broadcast standards and practices people were a lot easier to deal with than even Fox, so we got kind of spoiled. We could make the shows really, really intense, and we wouldn’t get stomped on.

“Because of recent events, such as the Columbine massacre, the network is very, very nervous about how intense the action is in our series. Specifically, they are concerned that we don’t have too much gunplay, too much negative ambiance or too intense violence. They are making us pull back a little bit, but we try to please ourselves anyways. We’re not in the business of twisting kids. We try to keep aware that young people are watching the show as well, so we try not to make it anything we would not let our own children watch. They haven’t been unreasonable.

“Alan always likes to say that when he worked on SUPER FRIENDS 15 years ago, characters were not even allowed to make a fist, much less throw a punch. We’ve gone a long way since then . For most of the stuff—prior to the tragedy in Littleton—the biggest complaint was about sexuality. I have a number of really, really excellent artists on staff who just excel at drawing pretty girls, and I have a lot of really red-blooded males doing the storyboards for the series, so they truly like to push the envelope in terms of good girl art.

“The censors usually say, ‘The sexuality in this scene is a little bit inappropriate for children,’ or, ‘Could we please lengthen the girl’s skirt a little bit in this sequence?’ We usually say, ‘Darn it, but okay.’”

BATMAN BEYOND CONNECTS WITH ITS AUDIENCE

The Kids’ WB has really been on a roll lately, with BATMAN BEYOND debuting to good numbers and then shooting up to incredible numbers. The WB then brought in POKEMON, which got even more incredible numbers, making the network number one on Saturday morning.

Dini just hopes audiences like the series. “I hope they like the first season enough to tune into the second season,” he said. “I hope that they are excited about seeing new adventures with the characters. That’s about it. As an audience member myself, there are certain shows that I like, and when I know there are new episodes coming, I just make a point of watching it, enjoying it. I might tape it and look at it again—it’s purely an enjoyment thing. I don’t know that it makes a big impact. I just think it’s a lot of fun for them to watch.”

Commented Burnett, “The interesting thing about this show is that we make it up as we go along. We have no bible. We all work together and we all toss ideas and it’s a very organically produced show. We find things we like and situations, relationships, ideas for villains. We find new ideas all the time. We work on them together so the show has an evolution to it that is unpredictable.

Said Murakami, “I like the new show because it is more fun. I like Terry not being as depressing as Bruce Wayne. I think the contrast is really interesting. It was calculated to make the show a little bit more lively, a little bit more fun.” With a couple of comic book spin-offs. rumors about a direct-to-video feature, and enough episodes to be syndicated five days a week, BATMAN BEYOND’s future seems assured for some time to come.
 

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18. BATMAN BEYOND: First Season Episode Guide

By Dennis Fischer (AnimeFantastique #4, Winter 1999)

[Episode summaries omitted]

REBIRTH PARTS I and II

“We hint in the pilot in the very beginning that Powers is trying to make moves into Wayne Enterprises and at that time, Wayne is holding his own with Powers,” commented Burnett. “But then comes that fatal night when he uses a gun to save himself, and he realizes that it’s all over. That’s the point when he wraps it up.

“When Terry McGinnis comes into his life and starts the rebirth of Batman in Gotham City, there is also a rebirth of the old guy. We have plans for him to regain control of his company down the line.”

BLACK OUT

“For the villains,” said Timm, “we didn’t want to just use Joker 2000 or Two Face 2000 or Clayface 2000. We wanted to come up with all new villains that somehow echoed the old villains and at the same time were new, and made sense in this more science fictiony type world. James Tucker did about 30 drawings of all these villain types. I saw one drawing and said, ‘Wow! What’s that?!’

“He said, ‘I don’t know, she’s just this weird, globby character.’ He’d actually named her too. He’d wrote on it, ‘Inque.’ We said, ‘Wow, there’s something really cool about that.”

GOTHAM GOLEM

“Willie Watt and the Golem is a great story,” observed Timm, “but it’s an old Batman formula plot because it focuses so much on the villain that Terry walks on, Bruce tells him to get to work , and he goes and fights. It’s not really about Terry. After watching those couple of episodes, I had a meeting with the writers and said this is a problem. We really have to establish Terry more as the star of his own series, because he’s not Bruce Wayne. We have to spend more on his relationship with Bruce Wayne, his relationship at school, his family.”

THE WINNING EDGE

“The Winning Edge” was the first full directing assignment for Studio Spectrum animation director Yukio Suzuki.

DEAD MAN’S HAND

“There was this Justice League cover where the Royal Flush gang are marching towards the camera and they are holding the Justice league over their heads, and the one in the fore ground is Batman,” recalled Timm. “DC used to do that all the time—the dead hero cover all over the place. To this day, I’ve never read that comic [Justice League of America #54], but that image was stuck in my head. I felt the Royal Flush gang just looked neat, so we wanted to see if we could do something with those characters”



MELTDOWN

“I fought against the idea of bringing him [Mr. Freeze] back,” said Timm. “Mr. Freeze is a character who has been near and dear to my heart since the first season of the original show. He’s one of those special villains that I think if we are ever going to bring him back, we had better have a damn good story to tell around him because you don’t want to cheapen the character by bringing him back too often. Every time we bring the character I want it to be a special event.”

HEROES

“It’s an episode that works well on its own, but Terry isn’t integral to the story,” admitted Timm.

“At one of our villain sessions where we sat around and talked about what kind of new villains we wanted for the series, we toyed with the idea…of turning some heroes into villains, Just round robining and throwing ideas back and forth. We came up with the idea of doing an evil version of a group like the Fantastic Four. Our first idea was that they weren’t going to be just tragic, they would be blatantly evil. Working publicly for good, but behind-the-scenes stealing and stuff like that. That storyline didn't pan out, and it evolved into the story that made it onto the screen.”

SPELLBOUND

“We got an outline from our staff writer Robert Goodman describing this character and his powers,” recalled Timm. “In the script he was described as being dressed like an old magician with a top hat and cape and everything, and I thought that didn’t work. Glen and I spent the better part of a day just throwing ideas back and forth and sketching out ideas for his look. We settled on a swirly design on his face, and that became his whole motif. It became a very Steve Ditko-y kind of thing.

“The weird coda of the story is that the very next day, one of our artists brought in this comic from the ’60s that had Spellbinder in it. We didn’t realize he was from the comics, and he showed us a drawing of him, and it was exactly what we drew, even the same color scheme. It was so weird. It was like we invented the wheel without even knowing it. Strangely enough, we’d done the same thing with Phantasm in the movie.”

SHRIEK

Glen Murakami sketched out a design for a villa in with a neat looking suit, which was stuck in the villain file and forgotten about. “I had always wanted to do an episode with a villain who had sound-based powers,” said Timm. I was in Alan Burnett’s office and we were brainstorming, trying to come up with ideas for shows and villains, and I mentioned to him I wanted to do a show where the climax was silent, that we had a villain whose powers were controlling sound, that he could negate sound. The whole climax of the episode would be absolutely silent.

“Then years later in the present, Alan was talking over ideas with his writers and mentioned my idea of a sound villain and a silent climax, and Stan Berkowitz came up with that villain. We remembered the design that Glen had done and said, ‘Oh yeah, that could be a sound suit.’ We put the two of them together and voila!”

A TOUCH OF CURARE

One of the most intriguing conflicts in the show is between McGinnis and Barbara Gordon. Commented Dini, “She doesn’t feel this is a life for anybody, least of all a kid, yet she went through it herself around the same age. She’s not one to badmouth it, but on the other hand she does know where that path leads. A lot of sad things can happen to somebody along the way.”

DISAPPEARING INQUE

Said Timm, “Writers always try to think of what happens to the villains at the end of a previous episode and ask, ‘What happens then?’ I wish they wouldn’t think that way because of the continuity problems, but I’m sure that’s how this episode came about. At the end of [“Black Out”] she was frozen into a big cube, so what happens next? They developed their story based on that, and we thought she was a neat character, that she worked really well. We’ll be bringing her back next season.”

ASCENSION

Blight’s name was coined by storyboard artist James Tucker. “I don’t think it actually looked like what Blight eventually looked like,” said Timm, “but we liked the name. It must have been Alan who came up with the idea of turning Derek Powers into Blight. Then for the look, it was based on the idea of Dr. Phosphorus, a mad scientist guy who had a glowing, see-through skin. We felt that would be a neat look, and it kind of ties in with the Batman mythos in a strange way.”
 

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19. Designing Batman Beyond

By Dennis Fischer (AnimeFantastique #4, Winter 1999)

Leading a team of designers and storyboard artists on the BATMAN BEYOND TV series are producers Bruce Timm and Glen Murakami. Timm has been working in animation since about 1981. He’s worked for several different studios including Filmation, Don Bluth Productions (where he worked on THE SECRET OF NIMH), and Ralph Bakshi Productions (where he worked on the revived MIGHTY MOUSE series). In fact, he’s logged time at most of the studios in town except, strangely, the two best known: Disney and Hanna-Barbara. Murakami’s first job in animation was with the first BATMAN series, which he started working on in ’91, then with SUPERMAN, and now with the new BATMAN BEYOND.

Timm and Murakami were responsible for designing the look of the new series, including the new batsuit. “It was kind of a challenge,” commented Timm, “because the ‘real’ Batman has just about the coolest costume of any superhero. I knew there were certain things I had to keep, but also had to make it futuristic and new.

“I knew immediately that we had to keep the long ears, and he had to have a bat symbol on his chest, but the first thing I did was to put him all in black, just so he would be an all-black silhouette. I did about ten different designs before I came up with the one we finally settled on. I had one that was a lot more RoboCop-looking, there was a lot more tech stuff over it. Going back to what we learned on the first BATMAN show and the SUPERMAN show, though, we knew detail is not necessarily a good thing in animation. We try to keep the level of detail down so that the show is literally easier to animate and easier to keep on model.

“So I kept going back to simpler designs, and basically after I came up with the concept of him being all in black and his face being all in black, I wanted to get rid of the cape. Even though the cape is really important to Batman, it’s a real pain in the butt from the animation standpoint. It gets in the way of the action. The cape looks great if they animate it really, really well, but if they don’t do literally full animation on it, it can look kind-of cardboard and kind-of cheesy. I just eliminated the cape and thought, OK, it’s futuristic—what if he flies? What if he has jets in his boots instead of this cape? That’s where I came up with the idea of the retractable wings.

“I like this because, on the one hand, it still keeps him kind of true to the Batman look; he’s got like big batwings now. At the same lime, it’s a completely different look than he had before. The color scheme kind of suggested itself—classic Dracula colors, black and red. That’s how that came about.”

While it is a superhero show, BATMAN BEYOND does try to keep a sense of realism in most of its elements, though in the case of Batman’s flying batsuit, the physics of aerodynamics are largely ignored in favor of wish-fulfillment-style fantasy.

Commented producer Paul Dini, “It’s taking Batman out of the realm of being purely just a comic book detective into the realm of midgrade superheroes like Iron Man, somebody like that, somebody who is not in and of himself a superhero, but by benefit of what he puts on, can enhance his abilities. We’re looking upon it as a futuristic thing. If that technology exists 40 or 50 years into the future—even if Batman was still the young, vital Bruce Wayne—he would probably take advantage of that technology. He always has taken advantage of the cutting edge of technology.

“That's one of the things that as a kid always bugged me. He was called Batman, and yet he couldn’t really fly. I thought, he’s called Batman, he should fly. We were able to make that happen.

“When [Bruce Timm] showed [the batsuit] to me, I said, ‘That is cool. It is sleek, it is built to move, it is very dramatic.’ I thought it was great.”

When the producers first started talking about BATMAN BEYOND, Timm wasn’t sure if he actually wanted to do the series or not. “We’d gotten a lot of good publicity from people saying that our show was really true [to the Batman spirit] and true to the character, more so even than the movies,” commented Timm. “People were saying, ‘You’re the guys who do Batman right.’ After that, I didn't want to go down in history as the guy who then came along and screwed everything up.

“I went and talked to Glen. The minute I said it was set in a futuristic Gotham City, he said, ‘I’m in, let’s do it!’ So that was what turned me around. I could have gone either way on it, but as soon as I found out that Glen was excited, then I realized that we could do something with it. So I said, ‘Okay, fine, you get to design it.’”

Murakami decided that for the look of the futuristic Gotham City, they should simply expand on what they had already started with the animated SUPERMAN and BATMAN series, with their art deco look. “Pretty much, we just wanted to make everything bigger and larger,” Murakami said. “It’s hard to describe the city. The description on the first series was dark deco, so it was important to keep the city dark and scary, but at the same lime make it look futuristic.”

According to Timm, the designers had an edict from Jean MacCurdy to lighten up on the darkness a bit because there was a concern about the original show being too dark. Recalled Timm, “She said, ‘OK, you can set it at night, and it can have mood and mystery, but it can’t be depressing and it can't be too dark.’ So the first thing we thought of was going back to BLADE RUNNER with all the neon. We decided we were going to splash neon all over the place with giant neon billboards and foreign language lettering all over the cities. It would be evocative but be colorful at the same time.”

“Because of animation, there’s a problem with the amount of detail,” noted Murakami. “Making it look futuristic, making it look larger but without a lot of detail, it is very difficult to give the scale and the size of the city. That’s a challenge.”

“I’m not sure we ever did completely accomplish that,” added Timm. “That was the first thing when the show first premiered. People said, ‘Oh, it looks like Japanese animation,’ or, ‘It looks like BLADE RUNNER.’ No matter how hard you try to get away from BLADE RUNNER, everybody has this idea embedded in their psyche about what a futuristic, metropolitan city is going to look like, so we kind of ended up doing that after all.”

According to Murakami, the new Gotham City has Aztec touches, and “it still has elements of art deco in it, but it’s different than AKIRA or BLADE RUNNER. It’s hard to describe it, but everyone wants to compare it to BLADE RUNNER and it’s different than that.”

The designers tried hard not to do BLADE RUNNER because said Timm, “That’s the first thing that everybody does when they do futuristic movie or TV, they get out all the Syd Mead books, and we purposefully did not do that. Let’s not do Syd Mead.”

Instead, said Murakami, “We looked backwards at China, South America, and the Aztec pyramids and ziggurats. We always looked at [comic book artist Jack] Kirby from the very beginning. Kirby has always been an influence.”

One thing the designers definitely wanted to avoid was any hint of a retro-future. Said Timm. “We tried to avoid any kind of retro-elements at all. That’s one of the reasons why we didn’t want to do any kind of art deco, because we’ve done it, and it’s also been done a lot. There’s been a whole renaissance in deco design, and futuristic deco, even in FIFTH ELEMENT and movies like that. Flying taxicabs, but they look like old Chevys. We really wanted to avoid that as much as possible, simply because it’s been done. It was really hard to come up with vehicle designs that didn't look like ’57 Chevys with jet engines on them, things like that. It was kind of a challenge.”

If the challenges presented were not hard enough, the team was involved simultaneously with finishing up the BATMAN/SUPERMAN ADVENTURES. Explained Timm, “When we first developed this show, we didn’t have any development time. After I left that meeting with Jamie back in November, I said, ‘OK, so I’ll guess we’ll develop this, when should we talk further about this?’

“He said, ‘No, we’re not talking about this any further. You’ve got a go as of today.’ I’m like, ‘Oh my god, you’re kidding.’ He said, ‘No, we want it for next fall.’

“Literally, we hit the ground running. We were making the show up as we were doing it. I think the show actually came out pretty good.”

Among the design influences that Murakami cites are Mr. X and Hugh Ferris, the latter an early twentieth-century architect who designed industrial complexes and skyscrapers. “Ferris is moody, very deco, and was a major influence on our first BATMAN show,” said Timm. “I think the only thing we went back to Hugh Ferris for on this series was the scale.

“That was one thing we really wanted to do on the show, we’re always making the city bigger. Gotham City is like New York to the 10th power. Well, this new Gotham City is like the old Gotham City to the 10th power. We’re always trying to increase the scale. One of the things we tried to concentrate on is that it is a multilevel city, everything is just built up. Glen came up with the idea for the first episode of having a subway car that goes vertically rather than horizontally. The city is so high that you literally have to take a subway to get up to the next level. Things like that we were doing to try to make the show unique to itself.”
 

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19. Designing Batman Beyond

By Dennis Fischer (AnimeFantastique #4, Winter 1999)

I did about ten different designs before I came up with the one we finally settled on. I had one that was a lot more RoboCop-looking, there was a lot more tech stuff over it.
I kinda want to see what this rejected Robo-Cop design is. Unless it is out there already? Be funny if it was reused later on like the prototype in Disappearing Inque or the AU Batman in Savage Time.
 

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I kinda want to see what this rejected Robo-Cop design is. Unless it is out there already? Be funny if it was reused later on like the prototype in Disappearing Inque or the AU Batman in Savage Time.
It's also kind of funny in light of the Robobat Batman from the comics :p.
 

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20. Batman Beyond: Influences & Evil

By Dennis Fischer (AnimeFantastique #4, Winter 1999)

While BATMAN BEYOND positions itself as a bold, new glimpse into the world of the Dark Knight, it cannot entirely escape comparisons with the past. Like the oversized artifacts that Bill Finger used to decorate the Batcave, some influences stand out like sore thumbs, while others are far more subtle. Though BATMAN BEYOND owes a debt to the past, it does not content itself with simple rehashes of what’s gone before. Rather, it tries to take past characters and concepts into interesting, original directions.

Noted producer Paul Dini, “The thing that worked so well for the old BATMAN [series] was the psychological motivation. When you have villains that are defined by their psychological quirks—in the old series, that would have been the Riddler and Two-Face—those characters always work well. We look and see how we can apply that to our contemporary rogues gallery.

“Blight is a good example. On the outside, be appears to be the smiling, benevolent face of corporate America, but inside you see be is dark and twisted and toxic. He can barely keep it in any longer.

“When you start thinking about the characters like that, then they begin to take on a little bit of a twisted psychological resonance. Apart from being characters, they become the personification of a deeper psychological manifestation. Those characters are always fun to write. You’re personifying a psychological quirk.”

One of the quirkiest and most popular of the Batman characters was the Joker (brilliantly voiced by STAR WARS’ Mark Hamill). BATMAN BEYOND pays homage to the Joker’s influence by having his larger-than-life criminal activities and style serve as the inspiration for a futuristic gang of cycle punks. The Jokerz first appear in the pilot episode, harassing and shaking down subway passengers, riding motorcycles, and threatening Terry McGinnis outside a rock club. They are readily identifiable by their clown make-up, purple clothes, and dubious taste in humor.

Commented producer-designer Bruce Timm, “Glen [Murakami] and I were actually against the idea because of how much we were trying not to do things like that, but at the same time we realized that it made sense. Again, it’s a science fiction extrapolation of kids who wear Charles Manson T-shirts. Kids in our present day will do that, they’ll think, ‘Charles Manson was a psycho-killer, so he’s cool.’ In Batman’s futuristic world, it’s the same sort of thing. The Joker is long since gone, dead and buried or whatever happened to him. So they pattern their whole look on the Joker.

“There is a precedent for that in things like AKIRA and THE WARRIORS. We tried to make them kind of a joke; we didn’t want to take them too seriously. They are like any gang: they are scary, but they’re pretty pathetic.

While the two-bit punk approach did have its uses—especially in helping to position former Batman Bruce Wayne in his Brave New World (“We’re the Jokerz, man!” shrieks one punk; “Sure you are,” sneers the guy who knows these kids would have been piranha bait for the real article)—it also had its problems. Said Timm, “We have an episode [in the new season] where Batman and Ten from the Royal Flush gang are on the run from these Jokerz, and because we [originally] set [the Jokerz] up to be such losers and buffoons, we had to work hard to make them a serious threat. They had to be scarier than another group of gangsters that they were caught in the middle of. We had to pull all kinds of weird tricks to do that, but it worked.”

What tricks were those? “First of all,” said Timm, “we increased the number of [gang members]—there’s like a hundred Jokerz here. Then there’s this crowd of them outside of the hideout, and they’re doing a modern-day version of a cock fight. They’ve got a Splicer guy on a leash and they’re baiting him and doing all sorts of horrible things…It’s a kids’ show, but we tried to make them more menacing.”

Another interesting variant is Inque, who is the new show’s version of Clayface, the shapeshifting creep who can mold his features into any configuration. Her flying oil-slick tentacles also seem inspired by a Japanese anime staple: the tentacled demon. Commented Timm, “Yeah, she’s kind of our version of Clayface. She’s a shapeshifter, but her powers work differently from Clayface’s, her motivation is different, her look is different. Whereas Clayface was a walking mudpile, she’s a living oil slick. We handed that to the writers and said come up with a character based on this drawing.”

One of the main characters of the first season was corporate exec Derek Powers, who often came on like Lex Luthor with a shock of white hair. Noted Dini, “That’s what you come up with when you create these corporate characters. They all tend to be cut from the same cloth. We don’t want to repeat ourselves directly. Derek isn’t quite as high tech as Luthor was, but he’s probably a bit more overtly evil. Lex, for all his faults and his evil nature, had a degree of honor to him that Powers just doesn’t have.”

On the other hand, the robot in “Gotham Golem” seems to owe more to anime, particularly the useful robots of the PATLABOR series. Timm, though, disagreed: “Not PATLABOR per se. I hope you quote me accurately on this—I’ve taken a lot of heat over the years for saying I don’t really like Japanese animation. That’s not really true. I actually like a lot of Japanese animation, but I’m not so into it as some other people are. A lot of people in our crew are really, really into it.

“It's like Sturgeon’s law: 90 percent of everything is crap. That kind of applies to everything, even Japanese animation. I can appreciate the artistry in movies like AKIRA and even GHOST IN THE SHELL, even though I find GHOST a little bit tedious. Glen and I are big Miyazaki fans. Love all of Miyazaki’s movies.”

Regarding the PATLABOR movies, Timm admitted that he and Murakami have seen them. “They are interesting, but they are almost a little bit too realistic for what we’re doing. It’s almost like HILL STREET BLUES meets ROBOCOP kind of stuff.”

Noted Murakami, “[The Japanese] style of animation is different. We try to take as much influence from them as we can. It’s like anything, like the BATMAN property: we take as much of it as we can, and the rest of it we throw out. So it is with Japanese animation.

“There are differences between how we make cartoons and how the Japanese make cartoons. I don’t think people see the difference. Sometimes when we say something about Japanese animation, it is more from a technical level or the cost level. I don’t think people realize that with AKIRA, the quality level [is not typical for Japanese animation].”

To clarify these differences, Timm noted that the Japanese animation style was created, “because they were doing them so low budget. They came up with all those interesting cheats. They rendered characters that don’t really move a lot, but they just slide the background behind them slightly. The eyes move and maybe the hair moves or something. [For example], GHOST IN THE SHELL, the whole movie is that way. It’s really detailed drawings, but they don’t really move a whole lot. That’s fine, we appreciate the aesthetic of that, but that’s not what we do. We went the opposite way. We probably have similar budgets, but audiences expect more movement, more excitement.

“Not only that, but when we first started, literally, we were told to make it a full animation show. We weren’t allowed to make it limited animation. We’d probably have done more limited animation if we bad been allowed to. When we first started the show back in 1991, that was literally an edict from the studio: make this high-end, full animation, none of this cheap TV animation stuff. Knowing that we were going to have so much full animation, we came up with a really simplistic style that’s more design-oriented but less detail-oriented, if that makes sense.”

In other words, there is a lot movement in the BATMAN BEYOND episodes than in typical Japanese anime, with characters swinging their whole bodies in every direction. However, the characters themselves are not given the meticulous detail one associates with the anime style, where the design captures the attention more than the movement (often little more than moving lips on a static background).

Another element that speaks of an outside influence are the CGI newscasters, with their see-through heads and stylized smiling mouths . Their punchy, happy-news approach reflects the Media-Break approach in Paul Verhoeven’s ROBOCOP, which proved a quick, effective way of conveying exposition.

“You know, I don’t know if they were [influenced by ROBOCOP] or not,” said writer-producer Alan Burnett. “We’ve done a lot of stuff where we’ve seen other elements in other science fiction and stuff that we weren’t cognizant of. People have been saying that the Jokerz were a remnant of the gangs in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and AKIRA, and we were just making a gang.”

As Paul Dini admitted, “You can look upon a lot of our villains as having their origin in the older villains. The character called Spellbinder comes from the same family as the Mad Hatter. We’ve only really featured one of the old villains, Mr. Freeze, [though] Bane [had a cameo appearance] in his old, old age…which isn’t all that good for him. That’s all you’ll ever see of him.

“Ra’s Al Ghul is there somewhere, and we haven’t dealt with him yet, though we have a couple of ideas that we’ll hold back on until we figure out what we want to do for sure,” Dini noted. “For the most part, we’re going to hit new villains in this series and not have resurrections going on.”

Of course, some of the correlations are not so direct. In “Dead Man's Hand,” McGinnis falls for bad girl Melanie, who is part of the criminal, Royal Flush family gang. His attraction to her reminds Bruce Wayne of his own attraction to bad girl Selena Kyle, better known as Catwoman, and this connection gives resonance to Terry’s own muddled feelings for this new woman in his life.

“Inspiration comes from all over," said Dini. “Sometimes the artists will come up with a cool drawing of a bad guy, and we say, “That’s great. We’ve got to find a place for that in there.’ One of the artists came up with this drawing of a woman carrying a scimitar sword. I thought, Boy, she’s great! She would make a perfect assassin-type character. So we worked her into the story as an assassin.

“We have a character coming up in the second season who has tattoos all over his body, and yet be has a cybernetic spine. He looks like a high tech hunter, so we’re putting him as someone who is stalking Batman as the ultimate quarry. A cool drawing will spark an idea. Sometimes we read something in the paper and say if we can just take that into the realm of a cartoon, we can get a new villain out of that.”
 

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21. Last Laughs: Dealing in Dark Knights of Yesterday & Tomorrow, Animated Ace Bruce Timm Faces the Return of the Joker

By Pat Jankiewicz (Starlog #282, Jan. 2001)

Bruce Timm likes bats. But the enthusiastic producer-director has good reason to like them. He’s in charge of the animated Batman empire and designed the unique look and characters for Batman: The Animated Series and the animated Superman. And while he still has bats in his pipeline, Timm stepped away from those classic heroes and instead vaulted into the future with Batman Beyond. Essentially Batman: The Next Generation, the show deals with an elderly Bruce Wayne combating crime in a tech-noir Gotham City, passing the costumed capers on to a teenage colleague.

Now, in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Timm and longtime collaborators Alan Burnett and Paul Dini reveal what happened to Batman’s greatest foe, the Clown Prince of Crime, during his diabolical golden years. Here’s a hint: He’s not building birdhouses or playing shuffleboard! The Joker celebrates retirement age with a reign of terror in the futuristic Gotham City, and only the new and former Batman can stop him. It’s all part of a direct-to-video animated movie, due out December 12 on VHS and DVD from Warner Home Video.

“I love the Joker,” Timm states, “and this film gave us a chance to bring him back in an interesting way. I don’t want to divulge anything important, but you will find out what happened to Robin. Did we kill him? I can’t say, because the whole movie revolves around that! What happened to Robin is the heart of Return of the Joker.

“The movie is definitely harder-hitting than the TV series. It sports a dark tone, [punctuated by] several specific acts of—I don’t want to say violence, but action. It’s different; Batman doesn’t have sex in this movie, which he did in Mask of the Phantasm, but we tried to make the action scenes as ballsy as possible. We were aiming for John Woo and James Bond [in style]. This has some of our most amazing choreographed action, especially in the opening.

Return of the Joker links the ‘classic’ Batman series to Batman Beyond,” Timm says coyly. “Curt Geda is the director and Paul Dini, Glen Murakami and I came up with the story. Paul wrote the script. I’m really happy with the film.”

Cruel Jokes

Some things haven’t changed. Mark Hamill, for example, returns to again laugh it up as the Joker. “We always enjoy working with Mark because he’s a wild card. This is the classic Joker, but he has been reconfigured for the Batman Beyond world, so he's leaner and meaner. We decided to play him more sinister than larger-than-life,” the producer relates. “A little of that larger-than-life quality goes a long way and too much of it dilutes his menace. During the recording, I asked Mark to change his Joker voice and pull back. It doesn’t take much to get Mark going right to the top. He balked at first, but I kept saying, ‘Think Hannibal Lecter.’ He did, and though Mark prefers his regular Joker voice, we were thrilled with what he was doing.”

Since time changes all men, even Gotham's notorious killer clown sports a new look. '”The Joker is one character who I never felt we quite nailed in any of our previous versions,” Timm admits. “In our original series, he looks pretty lumpy; his clothes are too baggy and he’s too rounded. When we did the redesign for the Batman/Superman Adventures, we went the opposite way and made him simplified and angular.

“I got rid of the extra line on his lips, so he didn’t have red lips anymore, and I gave him black dot eyes. It looked good on paper, but didn’t really translate on screen very well. That was the thing the fans complained about the most: redesigning Joker, and I must agree with them,” he concedes. “That graphic design didn’t work, so for Return of the Joker, I redesigned the Joker yet again.”

As Timm recalls, the laughing man owes this overhaul to a few other classic antagonists: “One day, I was sitting in my office with Glen and [storyboard/character artist] James Tucker, talking about the Joker. We were also reading Thomas Harris’ Hannibal and talking up the Joker and Hannibal Lecter. I was drawing as we talked and fused Joker and Hannibal Lecter together, giving him slicked-back hair and crimson eyes. I put him in a black jumpsuit [and drew him in] creepy postures. Something about it worked; he looked a little like Hannibal Lecter, Dr. Caligari and the Frankenstein Monster. I specifically gave him Boris Karloff Frankenstein hands, with those strangler fingers and black nail polish.

“Glen was looking over my shoulder and said. ‘That’s it! Don’t do any more.’ I said, ‘He looks cool and scary, but he doesn’t really have a Joker motif, except for his white face and grin.’ I was going to give him a clown motif like a big lapel or shoes, but Glen said, ‘No. Just look at him, he’s a scary mime!’”

Old Bruce Wayne, a grumpy recluse whose Dark Knight days are long behind him, makes another fascinating character. Especially for Timm, who designed several versions of the grim curmudgeon. “He’s considerably toned down from my first design,” notes the producer. “My original design of Old Bruce Wayne looked like Uncle Creepy. He was bald, with a nice big scar across his face and liver spots. He was older and had seen some bad times. Bob Daly, then head of Time Warner, specifically requested that Bruce Wayne look a little more distinguished. He said, ‘I don’t mind him being old, but Cary Grant old, not Boris Karloff old!’ Which was fine, we toned him down. I just took my Bruce Wayne design and put 50 years on him.”

Despite the design change, the voice stayed the same, mostly. “I love Kevin Conroy doing that Bruce-Wayne-in-his-twilight years voice. Kevin wasn’t too thrilled with the development [of Batman as an old man], just because he has been playing the animated Batman for a long time and now we have Will Friedle as Batman Mach II. Kevin is not an old man; he’s in his early 40s, but seeing him and Will together in the room definitely helps their chemistry on screen. There’s a little bit of that—not friction, but the tension of Kevin’s character feeling replaced. They are friendly now, though.

“We always say that Kevin is the one irreplaceable person on the show. If we had to [recast Batman] for some reason, we could find someone acceptable, but they wouldn’t nail it like Kevin does. He brings a lot to that character,” adds Timm. “Even though he’s not Batman [on Batman Beyond], as Bruce Wayne he gives the show a lot of heart.”

Timm’s design for tomorrow's Knight is impressive; the hero’s metallic, high-flying bodysuit is both fresh and retro. “Designing Batman Beyond was fun. You know, 90 percent of any art is problem solving, how to best get your idea across,” he says. “His look had to be true to Batman. You had to be able to look at it and say, ‘OK, that’s Batman!’ At the same time, it had to be futuristic. The one thing I didn’t want to do was tech it out too much and have it look like ‘Robo-Batman,’ with a bunch of crap all over him. I also had to keep in mind the rule we’ve established while doing these shows: Keep it simple.

“I decided the bat ears had to stay, so he could have that silhouette, something identifiable as Batman, as well as the scallops on his hands and a futuristic version of his utility belt, which looks very anime. The cape is also great on Batman. It’s part of him. But having worked on all these shows, I know the cape is a pain in the butt and it doesn’t animate well,” Timm laughs. “Sometimes it looks like a hunk of cardboard strapped to his back. I gave him retractable wings to keep the bat wing motif. I wanted to keep him similar to Batman, but different, so he would be immediately identifiable as Batman Beyond. I also slimmed him down to look like a teenager. His face mask is from the Italian comic Diabolik, and I gave him heels. Superman and Batman basically run around in socks, just for simplicity. On Batman Beyond, he wears these pointy Beatle boots.”

Super Friends

This season on Kids’ WB offers a collection of new and old faces. “There’s a new character called Big Time [voiced by Stephen Baldwin],” Timm notes. “He’s like Two-Face in that he was a friend of Terry’s from before he became Batman, and has a horrible accident that turns him into a supervillain.”

An older Man of Steel flies onto Batman Beyond this season, alongside the Justice League. “Superman will appear older, but he won’t have the Alex Ross/Kingdom Come look,” Timm reveals. “He will be silver at the temples, Reed Richards style. There are currently no plans to do more episodes of Superman, but that could change. We say never. At one point, I never thought we would go back to Batman, so anything’s possible!

“We're bringing Talia back for an episode,” Timm says of Ra’s Al Ghul’s hot-blooded daughter. “That doesn’t necessarily mean you'll see Ra’s, because Talia’s so bad on her own.” Although originally voiced by Supergirl’s Helen Slater, “Talia will be voiced by Olivia Hussey, who does a great job and played her in the last go-round.”

As for other classic Bat-foes, Timm is doubtful. “We don’t plan on bringing Mr. Freeze back, because we pretty much wrapped him up on Batman Beyond. We keep doing apocalyptic stories with him, and every time we do, I think it's over. but then somebody else comes up with another story! I love the character, but we don’t want to wear out his welcome and keep repeating the same stories over and over.

“Even though we felt his story concluded and we made a conscious decision not to use Paxton Powers anymore, I like that character too and find him interesting. He’s a fey Lex Luthor type who seemed insane even before he got turned into a supervillain. Sherman Howard did a great job with the voice: he almost played our Lex Luthor on Superman before we heard Clancy Brown. What’s stranger than fiction is Sherman actually played Lex Luthor on the Superboy [live-action TV] series.”

As for the super-powered criminal family known as the Royal Flush Gang, “I love them! They’re neat characters. I didn’t read many comics as a kid. but I remember I had a comic with an ad for JLA in the back. It showed the Royal Flush Gang marching down the street carrying Batman over their heads. That image always stuck with me,” Timm says. “The actors who play them are fun. It was cool to have George Lazenby around. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of my favorite movies of all time.

“'The problem is that once you get a character right, the temptation is to bring them back, and you don’t want to just repeat things. With the Royal Flush Gang we have a tendency to repeat the stories we’ve already done with them. They return this season, too. It’s a good episode [“King’s Ransom”], not a great one. You always want the storyline to be worthy of the characters. Man-Bat’s just a monster and there wasn’t that much we could do with him, which is why that character came to an abrupt stop right away. You can do much more interesting things with the Royal Flush Gang, because of all their different personalities.”

Dark Knights

Although Timm was born in Oklahoma, his destiny in the entertainment biz was established at an early age. “We moved out to California when I was very young. I was pretty much raised in the Valley and got into animation after wanting to draw comics—my first love,” he admits. “I was aware enough of my own failings to realize that I wasn’t good enough to draw comics, but I watched these really horrible cartoons and thought, ‘My drawings are at least that good.’ We lived near the Filmation Studios, an animation studio. I applied there and a year later. I applied again and was hired. I always liked animation and watched cartoons, but it wasn’t a passion of mine—I didn’t study it, nor was it a career choice or a goal I set for myself, like drawing comic books.”

Getting to helm Batman was a dream come true for the animator, however. “My first hard-core exposure to superheroes was the old Adam West Batman show. The people at DC wish I would stop saying this, but I wasn’t a DC Comics fan as a kid—I always gravitated more toward Marvel. The only DC character I really adored was Batman, because of Adam West. When he was on our show [animated Batman’s “The Grey Ghost”], I just blathered at him, ‘Oh Adam, it’s a thrill to meet you, I’m a big fan; you’re the reason I got into this.’ I’m sure he was thinking, ‘Who is this guy?’”

Timm’s animated adventures have seemingly been adapted to the big screen as well; the live-action Batman and Robin movie is suggested by some to be a very sloppy adaptation of the series’ Emmy-winning “Heart of Ice.” “I did not see the movie,” Timm states firmly. “I haven’t seen it to this day, because I heard nothing but bad things about it and life is too short! I did hear they took a lot from our episode.”

But perhaps the live-action adaptations are looking up. Plans are now underway for a live-action Batman Beyond movie, to be directed by Remember the Titans helmer Boaz Yakin. “To be honest with you, I don’t know much about it,” Timm shrugs. “They’ve just started talking about it, so I don’t know if they’ll be using our designs or not. I really don’t know what they’re planning to do, or even if they are going to be close to the series. I can’t comment, because anything I say would be total conjecture.”

Incredibly, Bruce Timm now can’t bear to watch the classic early episodes of his animated Batman, because they look too crude to him. “That’s true,” he states. “I understand why people really love those old shows, but when I look at them, I just can’t. We started doing that show 10 years ago, and in that time, my style and tastes have changed. There are certain episodes I’m not disappointed by, but overall, I watch one of my favorite first season episodes and I’m horrified by how the characters look, the slow pacing and the directorial choices made back then. On the bright side, they were quite revolutionary, like nothing else on at the time. Not out of hubris, but I think the shows I’m doing now are better.”
 

Yojimbo

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I chuckled at the quote of Bruce Timm prefacing ROTJ with 'Batman doesn't have sex in this one.'

Huh, didn't know he was from Oklahoma originally. Always thought he was a Californian.
 

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22. Justice League: Superman, Batman & Their Super Friends Get Animated for the 21st Century

By Pat Jankiewicz (Starlog #294, Jan. 2002)

Things are looking pretty grim for Earth. Shapeshifting aliens have infiltrated the highest levels of government across the globe. Giant extraterrestrial war machines have landed in Metropolis, obliterated the armed forces and even blown up the Daily Planet globe. And to make matters worse, Superman is nowhere to be found! Mankind’s last hope lies with a loose collective of solo superheroes: Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl, Martian Manhunter and, despite his earlier disappearance. Superman. Together, they form the fabled Justice League.

Debuting November 17 on Cartoon Network, Justice League marks the first time these DC Comics heroes have assembled for animated adventure since the carefree days of Super Friends. Unlike in that series, however, this Justice League has more important matters to consider than hanging out with the Wonder Twins. And the mystery man bringing them all together this time around is Bruce Timm, the hip. likable creative force and design ace behind Batman: The Animated Series, Superman and Batman Beyond.

Super Friends

After swearing never to do it, Timm is now producing Justice League and putting his pair of caped crusaders alongside the most powerful characters in the DC Universe. “I went on record many times saying I would never, ever do Justice League,” Timm laughs. “All I can say is be careful what you promise!”

And then there’s the big question every comic book reader has asked since the all-star crime-fighting team first assembled in 1960: “If you have Superman, why do you need a Justice League?”

“Well...” Timm hedges, “that’s the real trick, isn’t it? If you have Superman, plus all these other super-powered characters, that means you have to have really super-powered villains fighting them! It's not like Batman, where you can have a whole action scene with Batman fighting five gangsters in a warehouse. Everything is on a much grander scale. We have to come up with world-shattering menaces for them to fight. It has been a challenge.

“I want all of the characters to be unique unto themselves, not just be Super Friends. It’s the first time I’ve dealt with a really strong, multi-character ensemble, and I want to make sure it’s a group—that they're not all the same character wearing different costumes. In the [writer] Gardner Fox era of 1960s Justice League comics, the characters were all pretty interchangeable. Except for their powers and costumes, they were all the same. We wanted to make sure our Justice League were personalities who wouldn’t be palsy-walsy all the time. We always use the Star Trek example, and this show is more like classic Star Trek than The Next Generation. The characters come into conflict with each other: they’re not bickering all the time, but they’re not all on the same page either.”

Thanks to that, the team “will have no leader. Early on, we agreed we didn’t want one character being the leader of the Justice League. You might think that we would obviously make Superman the leader, because in comics he’s the king of superheroes, but we really fought against making him the guy ordering everybody around. There is no Captain Kirk on the show because we have a team of seven Captain Kirks! Dramatically, it’s more interesting that way. There will be times when Wonder Woman takes charge, or Green Lantern. It’s constantly shifting.”

This Justice League of America has dropped “of America” from its title. “That’s a tricky one to answer, especially these days,” he notes. “It’s almost jingoistic. We’re not really changing the group’s name, but there is a precedent. To cite Alan Moore, in an issue of Swamp Thing where the Floronic Man takes over the world: That’s when the government called in the Justice League. That sounds more serious and believable than saying ‘the Justice League of America.’ There’s nothing wrong with calling them that, but it’s kind of corny, and we make a point early on in episode one, when Superman says: ‘I want to safeguard the entire world, not just America!’ We want these guys to be protectors of the entire planet.”

Besides the League’s assortment of superhumans, viewers will meet the red-eyed alien hero J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter. “He’s an alien, but not cool and logical.” Timm explains. “J’onn’s not a Mr. Spock-type at all. He’s softspoken and doesn’t seem very emotional, but J’onn has a big heart. You’ll see in later episodes that he's a really nice guy. Even though he’s an alien, he’s the most human of them all. It’s an interesting characterization, and we’re really lucky to have found Carl [Alias] Lumbly to play him: he was our first choice. The minute we got Carl in there and he opened his mouth to say J’onn J’onzz dialogue, we said. ‘That’s it. We don't have to look any further!’ Carl brings so many understated shadings to his performance; he’s terrific. The first thing I remember Carl in was The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, and he played an alien in that, too!”

It wouldn’t be the Justice League, though, without a member of the Green Lantern Corps. “I really love the John Stewart Green Lantern,” Timm grins. “People wonder why we didn’t go with Kyle Rayner or Guy Gardner, but when they see what we’ve done with him, I honestly think they’ll agree he’s the most interesting Green Lantern they’ve ever seen. He’s a terrific character. I had Samuel L. Jackson in mind for this Green Lantern. I didn’t think we could get anywhere near him, but that's the kind of character I wanted. Phil LaMarr played Micron on our Justice League Unlimited episode of Batman Beyond, but I didn’t think he could play the John Stewart Green Lantern because I had never heard anything from Phil that sounded like that, so I was skeptical about him. The minute he started reading Green Lantern’s lines, though, he put on this gruff military voice and it was dead-on. We found our Green Lantern.”

For membership privileges, “We decided to use only ‘classic’ Justice League characters, rather than the more offbeat later members. So there’s no Blue Beetle or Booster Gold, no Guy Gardner. We wanted to stick with ‘the Big Seven.’ We felt that the Hawk family family needed to be involved, but we didn’t want too many characters running around. Having seven lead heroes is just a pain! We didn’t want to have both Hawkman and Hawkgirl, and I always loved the Hawkgirl design...” Timm confesses. “When I was a kid and read my first Hawkman comic. I liked Hawkman fine, but I had a huge crush on Hawkgirl! Her design and helmet shape were better, and she’s a girl, so she’s sexier. I thought it wouldn't hurt to have another female in the group besides Wonder Woman.

“We wanted to make sure those two had completely different personalities,” Timm notes. “I wanted to make Hawkgirl more down-to-Earth than Wonder Woman. The comparison we always use is: ‘If Wonder Woman is a supermodel, Hawkgirl is the girl next door.’ One is gorgeous, statuesque, serene and unapproachable, while Hawkgirl, despite being from another planet, is very human. She fits in better than Wonder Woman because she’s like one of the guys.

Rich Fogel, my writer-producer, said, ‘Her name is Hawkgirl, so there has to be something hawk-like about her!’ He came up with this idea that she’s sweet and cuddly, but the minute she goes into battle, she takes no prisoners! She’s from Thanagar, a warlike planet, so she’s really aggressive. This stuns the rest of the Justice League, who are more ‘goody two-shoes.’ Hawkgirl is like Dr. Jekyll and Wolverine. In episodes four and five, she really comes into her own.”

Brave & the Bold

With Wonder Woman, Timm officially puts his mark on the last of comics’ original “Big Three” (the others are Superman and Batman). With her golden lasso, star-spangled shorts and knee-high boots, the world’s first and best known superheroine finally gets the Warners toon treatment. “There was no special trick to designing Wonder Woman,” Timm observes. “Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at designing female characters. She’s pretty straightforward. There wasn’t any previous comics version that I used as a template, but I tried to simplify some of the details on her costume for animation purposes. She’s your typical Bruce Timm gal, a little taller and broader in the shoulders, but what you would expect.”

As far as her personality, Timm reveals, “What we keyed in with Wonder Woman is that she’s a Princess and from a completely different culture. In a weird way, she’s more of a fish out of water than the rest of the League. In the first episode, we introduce her to man’s world. That really forms her whole personality and how she deals with this culture that's radically different from the one in which she was raised.”

The Amazon, voiced by actress Susan Eisenberg, is “not haughty or imperious, but she is a Princess and is used to being treated with a certain amount of deference. She doesn’t quite get that from the League, so Wonder Woman is a little taken aback by that. It makes for interesting conflicts.”

Her mother also appears in several episodes. “Hippolyta is a good character and Susan [Dharma & Greg] Sullivan plays her with great acting chops, but I don’t want to overuse that aspect of Wonder Woman. I want to explore different facets of Wonder Woman’s personality. The two Wonder Woman story arcs we’ve done this season probably had too much to do with her Amazon past. They’re both good stories, but we’ve put a moratorium on Hippolyta and the Amazons for the time being.”

One of Wonder Woman’s most memorable comics opponents shows up—complete with a Timm makeover. '”We definitely have the Cheetah [voiced by Sheryl Lee Ralph],” he enthuses. “My Cheetah is a really radical interpretation. She’s not just a gal in a catsuit anymore; she’s half-woman/half-cheetah—a biological fusion—and looks different from the original comic book version.”

The League will face many other heinous heavy hitters. “I don’t have a favorite villain; I like all of them for various reasons. We have Gorilla Grodd [Powers Boothe], Mongul [Eric Roberts] and Felix Faust [Robert Englund] in the first season. [Green Lantern villainess] Star Sapphire [Olivia d’Abo] also makes her appearance in the Injustice Gang.”

Of course, you can’t have super-villains assemble without demented criminal mastermind Lex Luthor. “He’s in one of the story arcs—our big Injustice Gang/Legion of Doom episode," Timm reveals. “He starts out being the Luthor from our old Superman show [again voiced by that series’ Clancy Brown], but he takes a big fall. From that moment on, he becomes a renegade mad scientist, more like the early comics version of Luthor. We’ll probably be doing more with him, but we didn’t want to repeat any of our villains. If we get picked up, Lex Luthor will definitely be back in Season Two.”

Those looking for Gotham City evildoers will be disappointed. “To make the show unique, we decided not to go back to the Batman rogues’ gallery just yet. That’s the same reason we’re not doing anything with Darkseid and the whole Apokolips thing...yet. We’ve done that, so it would be too easy. The only Batman villain appearing in Justice League is the Joker; he’s in the Injustice Gang. The writers have pitched Poison Ivy stories, but I don’t want to do them yet. I want to try something different for as long as we can, before we go back to the Batman well.”

The League’s first TV villain, Senator Carter, is surprisingly sophisticated. He’s an alien posing as a heroic American astronaut/politician, and looks suspiciously like actor Lee Majors. “That’s really funny—I’m amazed you noticed that,” the producer chuckles. “We intended for him to look like [Majors’ character] Steve Austin, but I didn’t think it came across on screen, so I’m pleased you noticed. That character is an in-joke upon an in-joke. He’s the first man on Mars, so his name is ‘J. Allen Carter,’ like John Carter of Mars. We went down a list of famous movie astronauts and thought it would be neat if he looked like Steve Austin. He has Steve’s hair and his features look a little like Lee Majors.”

World’s Finest

With monsters and robots to fight, where does poor Batman fit in? A dark mask and Batarang may stop normal bad guys—who are, after all. a cowardly and superstitious lot—but they aren’t really effective in scaring off alien invasions. “That has always been one of the big challenges,” Timm sighs. “How do you put Batman in amongst all these super-powered characters and have him hold his own? They’re fighting larger-than-life villains, so how do you keep Batman from being the guy who sits on the sidelines saying, “Hawkgirl, you do that, and Flash, you do this’? I think we’ve solved it, though. Batman is the darkest of all the characters, but we’ve integrated him into the group dynamic and played up his technical expertise so he won’t really be too much of an outsider.

“[Artist-co-producer] Glen Murakami came up with a cool idea: ‘What if Batman is the Reed Richards of the group?’ The guy who supplies all their hardware and technology. We play him as Reed Richards/Tony Stark combined with the Batman we all know and love. It’s a slightly different interpretation of Batman, but he still hangs in the shadows. For some episodes, we put Batman in situations you haven’t seen him in before. In one, he and Green Lantern are at the North Pole, trying to stop a radioactive device from melting the polar ice caps. I like seeing him in different environments.”

This League’s satellite headquarters has actually been built by Batman. “It made sense to us,” Timm remarks. “We figured, ‘Who else would have the technology—and the money—to build such a thing?’”

The Man of Steel and the Dark Knight both sport new looks in Justice League. With his lined face and grey-tinted hair, Superman looks like the classic Curt Swan design. “That wasn’t our intention,” says Timm. “When Glen, [artist/co-producer] James Tucker and I started talking about the show, I pushed to just use the old Superman model from our Superman show. I thought it was fine and would blend in with the other characters. James felt Superman looked too ‘baby-faced’ in that, and argued we should make Superman more mature. I went along: it’s not a bad way to go with him.”

To toughen up the Kryptonian, “We chiseled his features off a bit more and toned down his pompadour. Ultimately, the effect may make him look more like the Curt Swan version, but that wasn’t our intent. The grey is a highlight. We wanted to jazz up his design, so we put that comic book highlight in his hair. That doesn’t indicate he has gray hair, it’s just to give him visual oomph. We decided to change Superman and Batman for this show because we wanted their designs to be a little different from what had been seen previously. The Justice League Batman design is three different things: it’s halfway between our original Batman: The Animated Series model and our more stylized look for The Batman/Superman Adventures, with a half-step between classic Batman and Batman Beyond. His ears are longer, they stick out further from his head and he has heels on his boots. We just messed around with the model.”

Keeping the Last Son of Krypton’s voice the same was more difficult. “When we started
Justice League, [animated Superman voice actor] Tim Daly was in the middle of doing The Fugitive [TV show]. In fact, even toward the end of Superman, Tim was so busy doing on-camera gigs that it was a challenge getting him into the recording studio,” Timm explains. “It was easier recasting the part, and George Newbern does a great job as Superman. I’m thrilled with our entire cast on Justice League.”

The Outsiders

While Superman has a new voice, Kevin Conroy reprises his longtime toon role as Batman. “You know, as long as Kevin is willing—and he seems to be—he will always be my Batman,” Timm declares. “I cannot imagine replacing Kevin as Batman, but I think he was always conflicted about playing old Bruce Wayne on Batman Beyond. He thought it was a fun acting challenge, but I also think he felt, ‘Who’s this young kid trying to be Batman?’—which helped the on-screen dynamic between old Bruce Wayne and Terry McGinnis. On Justice League the Joker is still Mark Hamill, who also does the voice of Solomon Grundy.”

Befitting its source material, the series has plenty of action. In the pilot, the Justice League seems to have no code against killing aliens: evil E.T.s are melted and blown up at will. “Cartoon Network has been a total dream to work with. They’ve pulled us back a few times when we may have gone too far in terms of pushing the envelope on action, but these are mean, nasty aliens!” Timm laughs. “They’re weird shapeshifters, so who knows if they’re actually dead? It felt right for the story, but everything is a balancing act. There’s an ongoing internal debate with us: How adult do we want the show to be? The first three-parter aside, we’ve made a strong effort to tone down some of the more adult-themed stuff. Batman Beyond is as far as we want to go within the superhero genre, in terms of making things really dark and intense. There have been situations in the scripts where I’ve felt we were being too ironic or cynical, a bit too adult.

“On a fundamental level, you can only take these characters so seriously before it starts becoming a joke. I’m a big fan of Alan Moore and I think Watchmen is a great novel, but we certainly didn’t want to do that. We want a show that appeals to all audiences at the same time. Without being too preachy or namby-pamby about it, we want to make these characters people you can root for. We want to keep the cynicism and adult nature in check. Kids get exposed to that stuff at an early age anyway, so we thought if we could keep them with that innocent sense of wonder a little longer, that’s a good thing.”

Viewers can also expect to see Metamorpho, the Element Man (voiced by Tom Sizemore), his girlfriend Sapphire and her millionaire father. Simon Stagg. “Metamorpho will not become a League member,” Timm states. “We have many superhero guest stars from the DC Universe, but the League’s main core will remain the big seven. Metamorpho is a great character, but he’s not going to be a regular. Neither will Aquaman, although we plan on bringing him back.”

One can't help but suspect that Aquaman is being blacklisted from this League for his participation in the Super Friends cartoon. “Aquaman didn't make the cut, and yeah, that probably goes back to Super Friends,” Timm concedes. “It became a joke. Aquaman saying, ‘There’s no water here on the Moon, so what am I doing here?’ Our interpretation of Aquaman is that he’s the King and protector of Atlantis, so it doesn’t make sense for him to go out and fight evil with these other guys. It’s outside his jurisdiction.

“We’ve changed Aquaman a bit from the Superman episode we did with him. We've stuck with the old Aquaman design and made him a little tougher and meaner—because we didn’t like how they had reinvented him with the long hair and hook in the comics. We thought there was something cool about him having long hair and a beard, like Neptune. Even the hook kind of makes sense, but we put our own spin on why he looks that way. Now he’s like King Conan of the sea, a barbarian king—definitely not standard League material. The Aquaman two-parter of Justice League is a favorite of mine.”

And what about a return of the futuristic League seen in Batman Beyond, the Justice League Unlimited, headed by an older, wiser Superman? “That had occurred to me. It’s definitely a possibility, but we haven’t talked about it yet. We are trying to limit the number of alternate-universe and time-travel stories, because it’s the first season and that’s the first temptation to do—but we might do something with the future League.

Justice League is a great show,” Bruce Timm promises. “I know we won’t be able to please everybody, because everyone has a favorite Justice League, be it the Gardner Fox, Keith Giffen or Grant Morrison eras. But we’re pulling bits and pieces from all those different eras. I'm happy with what we’ve done with all the characters, and I think viewers will be, too.”
 
Last edited:

Yojimbo

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Timm must have meant Wayne Brady played Micron or maybe LaMarr auditioned for Micron?
 

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Even Homer nodded!

Incidentally, the third-to-last paragraph of the original article (about Aquaman's design) is garbled and slightly confusing. I toyed with inserting clarification but decided to let it stand.
 

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23. The Wizard Q&A: Bruce Timm

As Justice League Unlimited resumes its third season, the revolutionary writer, animator, and producer talks tension within the Legion of Doom, why Geoff Johns wrote an episode, and what’s up with the JLU movie.

By Kiel Phegley (Wizard 173, March 2006)

Bruce Timm knows how to build a league of the world’s greatest heroes. Besides pulling obscure and underground characters from every corner of the DC Comics Universe for Cartoon Network’s Justice League Unlimited, the animation producer assembled a crack team of animators, directors, designers and writers to create the show. The result is a league of creative talent combining veteran cartoon creators like Butch Lukic and Dan Riba with top comics talent, including Darwyn Cooke and Jim Steranko. And while fans remain glued to the tube with each new episode, the man behind it all barely has time to enjoy his team’s creative triumphs.

"Justice League Unlimited is like having two full-time jobs,” laughs Timm, who at 45 has had more than his share of time in the animation trenches. Before JLU came along, Timm spent years as an animator and character designer, bouncing between studios and jobs until 1992 when he pitched what would become Batman: The Animated Series to Warner Bros.

The show burst onto weekday mornings as an unqualified success and led to six separate DC animated adaptations (all within the same universe). Most importantly, the story quality and content has remained consistent from Batman all the way through JLU, though the mastermind behind it all may see things differently.

Justice League was so different than anything else we’d done before. Everything else was so smaller scale,” recalls Timm of the first year of production for DC’s greatest team. “There was a pretty big learning curve from the other shows we’d done, and I always thought the first season of Justice League was kind of our shake down cruise.”

Wizard caught up with animation’s Superman at his L.A. office in the rev up for the completion of JLU season three (check your local listings). In the midst of a heavy schedule, Timm weighs in on a few of our burning questions.

The first few seasons of Justice League featured longer arcs. Was it a harder when you didn’t know how much to fit in?

For it to be true, Justice League had to be really big and really epic, and if you had seven major heroes then you’ve got to have major villains for them to fight, so the small mystery plots we’d had in the previous shows just weren't going to cut it. And also, we had so many characters in the show that we needed to give them a little elbow room, so we came up with the idea of having the stories be two-parters so we’d have enough story to tell so that each character could have some significant screen time.

In Justice League Unlimited, there’s more synergy between what you’re doing and what DC is publishing. Was that intentional?

It’s really weird. People are going to find it hard to believe, but it’s a major coincidence. The storyline we did last season with the Cadmus arc thematically mirrors what’s going on with Identity Crisis, but of course, what they’re doing is much darker. At one point, we’d even talked about Batman breaking off from the League—kind of like he’s done in the comics—but we figured that was taking the story into a place we didn’t want to go.

What can you tell us about this season’s larger arc involving the Legion of Doom?

The weirdest thing about this new season is that it focuses on the villains more than the heroes. We hit the ground running saying, “Okay. We’ve got this super-sized Justice League. Now let’s get this super-sized Legion of Doom.” And there’s definitely some Survivor-style politics happening inside the Legion of Doom. Gorilla Grodd has got Lex Luthor there against his will, and their agendas are different. They’re supervillains anyways; they’re not the most trustworthy guys on the planet. So there’s going to be some weird reversals and sparks flying at the Legion of Doom Headquarters.

What else will be resolved this season?

The most obvious thing happening is that we’ve still got the Green Lantern/Hawkgirl/Vixen triangle out there. And it’s actually a square now that we’ve got Hawkman thrown into the mix. That’s going to get resolved sometime this season. And that’s about all I can tell you.

Denny O'Neill, Warren Ellis, Gail Simone and now, Geoff Johns have written episodes for you.

The most obvious Geoff Johns-inspired thing we’ve done is the “stalker” aspect of Hawkman, which is the one thing we really looked at in the comics and said, “That’s the most interesting new thing that he’s doing with Hawkman: the fact that he’s convinced he’s reincarnated and that Hawkgirl is his reincarnated love.” We wholeheartedly pinched that for that first Hawkman episode, and then when we came around to doing the sequel, we thought, “Hey! Why not go to the source?” And Geoff is a really big fan of the show. We’re big fans of his. He lives right here in town. Why not bring him on and see if he wants to work on the sequel episode? So he did, and it all came out groovy.

What is one character you’d never use in Justice League Unlimited and why, and one character you’ve always wanted to use, but have never been able to?

For a long time, people were talking about Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. They’d say, “Let Sandman show up!” But what are we going to do with him? How does that work in a Justice League story? He’s not a superhero—he’s the lead singer of The Cure! [Laughs] But now, it’s not even an issue. The whole Vertigo universe is closed off for us, which has not really been a problem.

We really would have liked to use Blue Beetle, especially when we did that Booster Gold episode. The rights weren’t available. We wanted to do a Phantom Stranger story, but we couldn’t do that. We wanted to do the Spectre, and we couldn’t use him. Those were the main ones. But it’s fine. It’s not like we don’t have a zillion other characters we can’t use.

Fans have been clamoring for a direct-to-video Justice League movie. Any word on that?

We actually did develop a script for a direct-to-video Justice League movie, but it got cancelled at the last minute. There's always talk about doing more long-form stuff for direct-to-video. That’s a whole untapped market. We’ll see.

*******************************************************************************************************************

Unlimited Timm: Presenting the extended Wizard Q&A with Bruce Timm [Published online only]

The name Bruce Timm is synonymous with great DC superhero cartoons, starting in 1992 with Batman: The Animated Series and continuing to Justice League Unlimited today. Wizard caught up with the animator, writer and producer to talk about his career, how he got involved with a Batman animated series and what his favorite episodes are.

WIZARD: I’m really pumped that I got to talk to you. Batman: The Animated Series premiered when I was in the 5th grade, so I jumped right on at the start and have been watching all the shows as they’ve progressed.

TIMM: Cool. You’re making me feel very old. [Laughs]

Growing up, were you a cartoon kid or a comics kid? How did that stimuli affect you as a reader or viewer, and how did they reflect on you when you went into formal art training?

God, that’s a loaded question. Well, I wasn’t a huge cartoon fan. I mean, I watched cartoons, but I wasn’t an aficionado or anything. But I was a huge superhero fan, and I was into comics and superhero stuff from a very early age, and I kind of got into the whole cartoon thing through that door. I was planning on being a comic book artist when I grew up, but when I was working on my comic book art, I kind of knew that I wasn’t good enough yet to draw comics for a living.

First I moved out here to the San Fernando Valley, and there was an animation studio right downtown in the heart of it called Filmation Studios. And so the next best thing to drawing comics was drawing superheroes in the cartoons. They actually weren’t superheroes, but you know. So I got my foot in the door that way, and then if kind of snowballed into my career.

So what exactly was your background as far as training? Did you take illustration classes, or were you mostly self-taught?

I’m almost completely self-taught. I never actually went to art school or anything like that. I took some life drawing classes at an art center later on, but I never actually went to formal art school or anything. I should have, but I didn’t.

Hindsight is 20/20.

Yeah, well you know, to this day, I still can’t draw perspective to save my life. I have to fake everything.

You said you worked for Filmation, and I see you also worked for Don Bluth for a while. What was it like starting out? Were you given painting cels and backgrounds or were you doing design work up front? How did you work your way up?

I kind of bounced around between a lot of different studios: Filmation, Don Bluth and Marvel Productions. I ended up doing a little bit of everything back then. I did a little bit of character designs and some backgrounds and vehicle design and layout, which is kind of in between storyboard and animation. I did some storyboards, too. It was kind of the nature of the business. I jumped around and did a bunch of different things and learned a lot of different animation skills along the way.

You met Paul Dini when you both worked on Beanie and Cecil for DiC, then worked together on Tiny Toons for Warners. What clicked between you two?

Well, we both had similar interests and similar tastes in terms of cartoons and comics, and we both had a deep abiding love for the history and lore of the characters. So we were very much simpatico in that respect and our fundamental background with the characters. We had similar takes in what we wanted to do with them. It was a real happy blend.

Why did you guys decided to put Batman together first? Was it because the movies were real popular? Was it the specific style? I always got the impression that a lot of the visuals from the show were inspired by the Fleischer Brothers Superman cartoons. Why combine that style with Batman?

Well, it was really pure luck that we got Batman. Because of the first Batman movie being such a big hit, there was talk of spinning that off into a cartoon. And even though I’d been doing funny animal cartoons for a while with Mighty Mouse and Tiny Toons and Beanie and Cecil, superheroes were always my first love. So when the possibility of doing a Batman cartoon came along, I just caught fire and whipped off a bunch of Batman designs that I thought a Batman cartoon could look like. So I went to my boss Jean MacCurdy, and she dug them. And a few months down the road, when there was a real possibility that the Batman cartoon was going to be made, she hooked me up with Eric Radomski who was a background painter on Tiny Toons, and it was a combination of my character designs and Eric’s background style that kind of really meshed well together. And Jean was the one who mentioned the Superman cartoons as a possible source of inspiration. And of course, we loved those cartoons as well, but our first initial instinct was to not go that way. But she strongly suggested that we push the show in that direction, and it was a good idea. Then we went to Warners, and that was it.

Well, the show is obviously a more sophisticated take on the character than had been seen in mass media for a long time other than the movies. You guys really seemed to get to the core of what worked in the comics and let people see him in the way the comic fans had always seen him. So when you guys were working on that, was it…did you think to yourself, “We’re really doing something different! People are going to be blown away!”? Or was it just that you were so involved doing it as it should be done and as fans would do it that the fact that it was so big came as a shock to you?

It sounds really egotistical, but we kind of knew it would be a big splash. For one thing, Batman was really, really hot back then. We figured that even if the show was pure crap, the show would get a lot of attention because it was a Batman cartoon. Period. Even if it had been crap on ice it would probably have done well in the ratings. But we knew we were doing something really different with it in terms of the standards of TV cartoons. We knew we were doing something that was ultra-stylized and at the same time really respectful of the comics. And also at the same time, it was just a really entertaining show in its own right. So we kind of knew the show would…I mean, we would have had to really screw it up bad to not have made a big splash. We kind of expected it would do well.

Did you have problems when you brought it to the network censors?

Oh, sure. In the quote unquote “children’s animation arena,” there’s always going to be issues of the broadcast standards acceptability and, “Is this appropriate for kids?” All that stuff. But fortunately for us, thank God for the Tim Burton movie because it was so extremely darker than anybody had seen Batman before in any kind of mass media that it really gave us a precedent to point to and say, “Hey, look! That was a big, dark Batman movie, and it was the number one movie last year. That was one of the reasons why Fox even bought the show in the first place, because of the movie. At the same time, they were very much aware that we were pushing the envelope in terms of adult content in children’s programming. So there was a bit of back and forth. There were points when they’d say, “You absolutely cannot do that.” But at the same time they were very good in terms of allowing us to stay true to the character, and really kind of push the boundaries as far as we did. So there were tough times, but they were for the most part very supportive.

So what are some of your favorite episodes from Batman: The Animated Series?

There were so many because we did 65 in that first batch, and I don’t even remember how many more. But, oh God! There’s so many! The very first episode is still one of my favorites, “On Leather Wings,” the Man-Bat episode. That was kind of our Batman manifesto. We wanted to come right out of the gates and say, “This is what our show’s going to be. It’s not Adam West, and it’s not Filmation. It’s not Hanna Barbera. It’s gritty, moody, balls-out action Batman.” For our first time out of the gate, I think it’s a really successful episode, and I still think it’s one of our better episodes from that entire run.

Yeah. It’s extremely creepy in parts.

Yeah. It was really well done, and it kind of gelled. We had the combination of the stripped-down storytelling, and the moody background stylings and Shirley Walker’s amazing music. The stellar vocal cast. The stars were in alignment. So that’s one. And the Mr. Freeze episode “Heart of Ice” is still a fave. And there are bits and pieces from certain episodes that I really love. Not complete episodes that stand out to me.

But there are those moments that come through. Well, I don’t want to take you through all the different iterations and style changes and network changes you’ve done, but when you guys were working on this, and you moved and changed the style while making the Superman show, what made you think, “We’re going to change things but keep continuity?” It could have been easy to start all over.

In between the two Batman shows we did the Superman show, which was stylistically a little different than Batman. It was a little bit more angular style, and a lot of that came from some character designers we had hired in the meantime, specifically Shane Glines and James Tucker. We brought a little bit more graphic look to the show than we had on Batman, and it was really working very well in the finished product. The Superman show was, if anything, consistently animated, and the more stripped-down character designs really seemed to fit well with animation. And the thing is by the time we were into Superman, we were really into doing that show, and so when the subject of going and revisiting Batman came up, at first it was like, “That’s yesterday’s news. Why would we want to go back and do more Batman now that we’re doing Superman?”

But then I started thinking about the design aspect of it, and thinking, “Okay, well, if I had Batman to do over again, what would I change?” And what I would change was the fact that I had Shane Glines and James Tucker working for me. [Laughs] And Glen Murikami had a big influence in that, and his style got a lot more graphic along the way, too. So like I did with the original Batman, I just basically sat down and started drawing and thought, “Superman was more graphic. What if we went even more graphic and more angular?”

I did a couple of pages’ worth of really super graphic designs of Batman, Joker, and Bruce Wayne. And it was like, “Well that’s interesting! It would be kind of cool to do Batman like that.” It would be an improvement on the old show. So that’s what we did. People always think that change is bad. They always do. People are digging something if you go and throw a monkey wrench in it. They immediately dislike it because it’s different.

By changing the show and making it fresh, that was actually one of the things that The WB was excited about. They didn’t just want more Batman: The Animated Series. They wanted to freshen it up. So part of their brief for us was to freshen up the show. And we wanted to do it anyhow, but we do want to keep it in continuity. There’s no reason to throw out 65 episodes that for the most part worked very well. And Kevin Conroy? You’re not going to find a better Batman voice than Kevin Conroy.

I don’t think I’ll ever think of anybody ever again as Batman except Kevin Conroy. The way he’s played the character has just been quintessential.

Yeah, so that wasn’t even a discussion. We just knew we were going to carry on our continuity. Even though a lot of the characters looked drastically different than they did in the previous show, for the most part we just figured they were the same character, and we didn’t want to go into the whole big explanation of why Penguin suddenly doesn’t have webbed fingers anymore. It’s being drawn by a different artist now. It’s like John Romita drew the last issue, now Carlos Meglia’s drawing it.

Did that make it easy to go on and do different versions like Batman Beyond and Justice League? Once you’d broken the mold, did you figure, “We can only carry over what we want and cut the fat?”

Well, we get bored if we do something for too long. And it’s not just that we get bored, but when you’re doing a new show, you don’t want to just do what you did last time. You always want to change what you did up a bit and freshen it up. Each show has its own quirks. Batman was one thing, and Superman was a little bit different, and The New Batman Adventures was a little bit more different. And when we did Batman Beyond, we had to change the styling of the show and the color pallet. Every show is somewhat unique stylistically.

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And that's all for this thread. My thanks to everyone who read, commented, and liked the articles posted during the past 23+ weeks. Special thanks go out to Yojimbo for his help and for keeping the links in the first post updated. If anyone discovers any articles that should be here, drop me a line. Otherwise, thanks again and see you elsewhere on the forum.
 

b.t.

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Even Homer nodded!

Incidentally, the third-to-last paragraph of the original article (about Aquaman's design) is garbled and slightly confusing. I toyed with inserting clarification but decided to let it stand.
I’m sure that was my fault, not Pat’s. What I was probably trying to say was that on the Superman show, we had followed the old, “classic” Aquaman design from the comics, but made him tougher and meaner. And we weren’t crazy about the modern (Peter David Era) design, with the hook, the long hair and beard. But then, later, we decided there WAS something about the more modern design we liked after all, and used that as our starting point for the JL Aquaman design.
 

b.t.

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Timm must have meant Wayne Brady played Micron or maybe LaMarr auditioned for Micron?
oh dear. I had kinda hoped that egregious faux pas would stay buried in the back pages of forgotten fan mags. How could I have gotten Wayne Brady and Phil Lamar mixed up? Seeing as how the two actors don’t look ANYTHING alike? Here’s how:

I wasn’t actually at the “Call Pt. 1” session when Brady recorded his lines as Micron. We had recorded the bulk of that show with the whole cast, but Brady wasn’t available that day so Andrea recorded him separately later. (Or maybe a different actor had originally been scheduled to play the part but had to bail at the last minute and Andrea replaced the first guy with Brady at a later date. That actually seems more like what happened. But it was decades ago and I can’t swear to it. In any case...)

For whatever reason, I couldn’t make it to that pick-up session, so I never met the gentleman. I was vaguely aware that he was a black actor / comedian, mostly known for sketch / improv comedy. But I’m pretty sure I’d never seen him in anything at the time we recorded “The Call”, so I didn’t even know what he looked like. Upon hearing his V.O. performance, I made a parenthetical mental note that his accent was “Ethnically Neutral”, meaning you couldn’t tell if he was African-American or Caucasian (or Latino or Indian or Asian or whatever) just by hearing his voice. My shorthand mental profile for him was something like “Black Actor, Neutral Accent, Sketch / Improv, Superhero”.

After working with Phil Lamar on the first season of JL, my shorthand mental profile for him was roughly similar (Phil’s natural “default” accent is likewise very “Neutral”, doesn’t sound at all like his accent when playing John Stewart or Static or Steel, and he of course was a featured player on MAD TV for several seasons). So at some point, my brain obviously conflated the two actors into one.

Years later, I was watching Wayne Brady on an episode of 30 ROCK, and casually thought to myself, “He’s very good, I should get him to do a voice on one of my shows someday”. And some time after that I happened to re-read that interview and realized I HAD already used him as a Voice Actor, and to my horror, I’d mixed up the two actors. In PRINT, yet!

So there you have it. Mea Culpa.
 

Yojimbo

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I wasn’t actually at the “Call Pt. 1” session when Brady recorded his lines as Micron. We had recorded the bulk of that show with the whole cast, but Brady wasn’t available that day so Andrea recorded him separately later. (Or maybe a different actor had originally been scheduled to play the part but had to bail at the last minute and Andrea replaced the first guy with Brady at a later date. That actually seems more like what happened. But it was decades ago and I can’t swear to it. In any case...)
It could certainly be possible. It wasn't until last month when I learned Diane Pershing was not Poison Ivy's original voice actor (still wondering who that was) - something like the VA couldn't make it/or it was not working out, Pershing was there for a small role, and Ms. Romano asked her to read for Ivy. And the rest is history. So maybe Brady could have been at recording for something else, the original VA was out and Romano asked Brady to read for Micron.
 

b.t.

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It could certainly be possible. It wasn't until last month when I learned Diane Pershing was not Poison Ivy's original voice actor (still wondering who that was) - something like the VA couldn't make it/or it was not working out, Pershing was there for a small role, and Ms. Romano asked her to read for Ivy. And the rest is history. So maybe Brady could have been at recording for something else, the original VA was out and Romano asked Brady to read for Micron.
That did happen several times over the years. An actor just wasn’t working out — a suitable replacement was right there in the room — during a break, Andrea would discreetly ask them to stay after class — we’d finish recording with the first actor so as not to embarrass them in front of the other actors — and after everyone else had left, we’d record the replacement. That was how Victor Rivers ended up as Hro Talak in “Starcrossed”, for instance.

But in this case, I was at the main recording session with the rest of the cast and would certainly have stuck around afterward for the pick-up session. My memory is that NO ONE was there at the initial session to play Micron. (And if Wayne Brady was at the initial recording, my entire alibi is shot to hell :) )

But OMG, I’d completely forgotten that Dianne wasn’t our ”first” Poison Ivy! Here’s the scoop: it was a rare instance of one of Andrea’s “Outside The Box” ideas not bearing fruit. Singer Melissa Manchester (“Midnight Blue”, “You Should Hear How She Talks About You”) was Ivy at the initial record. We had been talking about Ivy‘s voice having a “film noir / femme fatale“ quality. Andrea had heard from Ms. Manchester’s agent that she was interested in doing voice acting, and she thought her voice had a sultry quality that fit the “film noir” bill — and we were both fans of her music — and so we gave it a shot. Her voice DID have a lovely, mid-range, “smoky” sound, but acting-wise she just wasn’t quite what we wanted. And Dianne was there, she knocked it out of the park, and Bob’s your uncle.
 
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