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NYCC 2015: Roundtable Interviews With the Cast & Crew of “Justice League: Cosmic Clash”

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During New York Comic Con 2015, Toonzone News was able to attend the panel for LEGO DC Comics Super Heroes – Justice League: Cosmic Clash, which recently wrapped up production and is to be released in early 2016. Toonzone also had the opportunity to participate in a roundtable interview session with several members of the cast and crew: actors Phil LaMarr (Brainiac) and Troy Baker (Batman) took the time to discuss their performances and other aspects of their careers, while director Rick Morales, producer Brandon Vietti and writer Jim Krieg were on hand to discuss the upcoming movie, their creative process and much more. Read on for edited transcripts of the dialogue had with them all.


PHIL LAMARR

TOONZONE NEWS: During the panel, they were getting into how you are voicing different Brainiacs with different nuances. Can you elaborate on that?

PHIL LAMARR: Well it’s funny, because Brainiac is a machine and he’s mass-produced himself because he needs help. Main Brainiac is version 1.1 and they’re 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, and they are under him. Being Brainiac, he’s not a nice boss, and them being Brainiacs they’re not good employees. So he comes into the ship: “Oh, you’ve dented the ship again?” “Be quiet, just get it ready for me!” There’s all this sniping. There’s not really different personalities so much as there are different statues, but there are a couple of Brainiacs more disgruntled than the others.

Q: What is it like working with yourself in the movie?

LEGODC_CosmicClash2PHIL LAMARR: It’s fun, especially because the voices are the same and you just get to play with it.

Q: Based on what you’re doing here, you do it in one take?

PHIL LAMARR: Yeah, because the voices aren’t different – I used to work on Static Shock and Justice League, and there were some crossover episodes. John Stewart and the League guest-starred on Static Shock. That is very different because (in Stewart’s voice) John Stewart is down here (in Static’s voice) and Static is up here! So having to do the scenes where those two talk to each other, that we had to do a couple of times to make sure Static didn’t drift down. (In LEGO Brainiac’s voice) But because the Brainiacs are all the same, it’s simply a matter of saying the right line.

The funny thing is, this version of Brainiac is so unlike any other versions. In this one he’s far less organic, though it’s LEGO so everyone can fall apart and come back together, but he’s basically the uber-geek. “I am the collector!” Everything has to be shrink-wrapped and unopened, including the bottled city of Kandor.

Q: How is the fan appreciation for you as a Justice League alumni coming back to play Brainiac?

PHIL LAMARR: We’ll see. I think this is the first time people are finding out I’m doing it. I think there’s always a nice association, especially for people coming to this movie as DC fans. “Oh, he’s done DC before, OK good, we can trust him.” They’ve brought in a bunch of people. Khary Payton is re-playing Cyborg that he’s done in a lot of different iterations: Teen Titans, Teen Titans Go, Injustice. At this point Khary is the voice of Cyborg. I think people appreciate that, especially if it’s a character you’ve known for awhile. It’s weird when it changes. Corporations, on the other hand, may not appreciate it quite as much!

Q: What are things you’re reading or watching or listening to that you wish more people knew about?

PHIL LAMARR: Actually the [comic] book I’m absolutely in love with right now is not strictly a superhero book, it’s Lazarus, Greg Rucka’s dystopian future. It’s just so good, so textured and real. It feels so based in our reality, it’s a dystopian future that’s nothing like our world but it feels like it could have been. The original Mad Max had that feel but not too much, because if it’s too much like our world then it’s just depressing.

Q: What did you like when you were growing up?

PHIL LAMARR: I was a Batman fan straight up. Also as a kid, you can’t not love Spider-Man. Those were my two iconic things, which is funny. When I started doing Justice League I knew about Green Lantern but I was not a Green Lantern fan, and I think that actually helped because they were rebooting Green Lantern conceptually. So I wasn’t stuck with “but shouldn’t he be a fighter pilot! I think it’s kinda weird if he’s not a fighter pilot!”

Q: Were there stories you liked growing up?

PHIL LAMARR: Obviously for a Batman fan, the early Neal Adams run recaptured the darkness of Batman, even though he was still in the bright blue. He’s still got the bright yellow thing in the middle but you’re scared of him, aren’t you? That to me was so cool. That was the Batman I recognized from TV, but done in a way that was so much more powerful than I remember.

samuraiJackQ: What’s the latest word on Samurai Jack? I know you can’t say anything definitive but what’s the last you’ve heard?

PHIL LAMARR: I can’t say anything definitive because there isn’t anything definitive. I run into Genndy Tartakovsky every once in awhile, and he’s said, “I would really love to do a continuation of the Samurai Jack story as a 2D animated feature.” The thing is it just hasn’t come together yet, because movies take a lot longer to make.

TOONZONE NEWS: On a related point somewhat, in the last decade you did Jack and John Stewart and I wonder which role you found more interesting or challenging. John Stewart can be a stern man and have a range of emotions while Jack is a serene rock in the storm, so how do you compare those roles?

PHIL LAMARR: In the Samurai Jack sessions, it was all about restraint. As an actor you want to go and be vigorous but Genndy would say “one more, just less”. He’s swinging his sword, it doesn’t take him that much effort. He takes a hit, he doesn’t feel that much pain. We decided eventually he was like a young Asian Clint Eastwood. (in Jack’s voice) Everything that happens with the Samurai is restrained, which in some ways makes it harder. Less accent, less action, less breath, less everything. When you watch it you’re like “of course,” because there’s so much going on that’s so subtle: the music, the palette, the color in the background. If I was being all loud, it would clash with everything else being woven together. That show is literally a work of art.

Q: Do you have a favorite character?

PHIL LAMARR: I don’t know, that’s a tough question. It’s been spread out over time. John Stewart, I got to be on trial for murder and have a cosmic trial and be in love with a woman with wings. But with Samurai Jack, I got to be the embodiment of the most powerful warrior that could be. I got to play a Jedi! Do I pick one of those and not the others? No, I can’t.


TROY BAKER

Q: You’ve been voicing Batman for awhile now. I was wondering if the way you’re playing Batman now has changed from when you started?

TROY BAKER: The core of it, no, but as the story changes and they add in different characters you adapt a bit. We set one thing up in [the video game] LEGO Batman 2, then once we actually did the movies it expanded and grew. So I think that you get to see a bit more, but I don’t know that it actually changes. For me, when we talk about Batman joining the Justice League and pulling from the comics, we see how he’s distant and has a black box with everyone’s weakness in it. That’s not a funny thing, so the challenge for us is: how do we take that and make it funny? I don’t want to be too glib about this, but I think that’s a lesson in life. You can take the darkest thing in the world and find a way to make it funny. Humor is just tragedy plus time, if that makes any sense.

Q: What attracts you to superheroes?

TROY BAKER: My first foray into nerdom was through graphic novels. The first I bought was a pocket-sized Batman origin story, that got me into Batman. Even over the last few years I’ve gotten away from the usual, which a lot of people have. Stuff that Image and Boom have done, which isn’t your traditional superhero [comic]. We think about graphic novels and think Batman and Superman, but I think there’s a lot of good stories that can only be told in that medium and something is lost in translation when put into TV or film. That being said though, I’ve been really surprised with how good Arrow is. To be honest those were the characters I cared about the least. For them to be able take it and serialize it and make it great – Stephen Amell is great, first of all. Even with Daredevil, I was super hesitant to Charlie Cox, but it’s really good. For me, all I care about is being good.

LEGO DC Comics Super Heroes - Justice League: Attack of the Legion of DoomThe first time I ever heard Batman speak from a graphic novel standpoint in the animated series, I’d seen the movies and the 60s Batman with Adam West. But this was the first time that the same thing I saw [in the comics] was given a voice, and Kevin Conroy became my Batman. I was asked, “How does it feel that you could be someone’s introduction to the character?” I’m sure Kevin in the 90’s never thought about it, he was just doing a job. He famously tells the story he had no idea what the show would look like, what it was going to be really until they brought him in for a screening for it. And he just lost his footing, and he was like “I had no idea it was this, or I’d have done so many things differently!” And of course they ran for five years, and were able to build upon it.

Q: You’ve done work on animated movies like this and on the Telltale games. Is there a difference between working on those?

TROY BAKER: Telltale think of themselves and run themselves more like a network or movie studio. They know their mechanics and they’re simple and palatable for anybody, I know people who aren’t gamers that will play them. I play all Telltale games on my iPad, which the people at Telltale think is hilarious. I ask “when is this coming out?” and they’ll say “for you, it’ll be coming out a week later.” I don’t have the luxury of dragging my Playstation 4 or my Xbox onto a plane, but if I have a six hour flight from LA to New York I can play a kickass console game on my iPad. That series specifically has meant so much to me. Great characters, incredible writers, I’m a huge fan of Telltale Games. I played Jurassic Park – I’m not saying it was good, but I played it! I’d kill to have one more episode of the Back to the Future series, because to me that was the fourth movie. Of course, The Walking Dead, the Clementine moment was one of the best moments in gaming for me. That was before The Last of Us came out too. We just wrapped up the finale for that and we were almost in tears.

Q: I noticed you worked with Ashley Johnson on The Last of Us and then she showed up in Tales From the Borderlands.

TROY BAKER: They asked “who do we get for this?”, and me and Laura Bailey both were like “we’ve got to get Ashley.” They said “we’d love to get Ashley, [but] no way we can get her.” I’m like “let me text her real quick, I know she loves these games,” and Ashley was absolutely down to do it. And they ended up rewriting the character for Ashley! I think we’ve got such a team effort at making these games and these movies. It really comes down to a team effort: they trust us to bring our skill to these characters, and we trust that they’re going to write and put out something really good.

Q: I know you released an album a few months ago –

TROY BAKER: Almost a year ago to the day, because the first time I gave it out was around New York Comic Con.

Q: Have you thought about putting your music into your works now?

TROY BAKER: Of course I think about that, I think that would be super awesome. I always want to do something that’s appropriate. There’s people we work with all the time. There were guys from Arkham Knight that were like “let me hear one of your songs, maybe we can put it in there.” But it’d be kind of weird if Red Hood was singing in the middle of this! But I think that would be fun to do, and every once and awhile I tease myself by thinking about scoring stuff or writing something. And then I think about my friend Austin Wintory, who’s really good at doing that, and my ego gets put aside. If there were an opportunity to place some music, that’s the guy who really should do it. Austin did the soundtrack for Journey.

TOONZONE NEWS: Beyond the LEGO DC stuff, what’s next for you? Is there some project you’d like people to know about?

TROY BAKER: Of course. Uncharted 4 is coming out in March. The final episode of Tales from the Borderlands is coming October 20th. Cosmic Clash is coming out in March, so there’s some cool stuff on the horizon.

BatmanUnlimited_JokerQ: You mentioned being a big comic reader. Is there anything you’re reading you want people to know about?

TROY BAKER: I was a huge fan of Y: The Last Man. I think Brian K. Vaughan is an incredible writer, so I picked up Saga, and reading Saga made me miss Y so much. One of my favorite series is Irredeemable and Incorruptible. That to me was fascinating. It got weird in the middle, but the way they buttoned it up was incredible. It’s the one thing we always think about: what if Superman had a really bad day? Who Is Jake Ellis? is a one-and-done series.

Q: You recently did the Joker in Batman Unlimited. Is there any potential to continue with that?

TROY BAKER: Hopefully, because Roger [Craig Smith] does a great job, I love hearing Roger’s Batman. I hope they continue doing that. They’ve got their plate full right now, Warner Bros Animation has a lot going on. Anytime those guys want me to step in and – not substitute for Mark [Hamill], but I’m grateful to be thought of as a stand-in for Mark because to me he will always and forever be the Joker. If I was brought in to do my own version of the Joker I would need a lot of help, I don’t know how I’d do that.


RICK MORALES

Q: For doing a big Brainiac story, were there any specific comic stories you read to get inspired?

RICK MORALES: In my case no, but we’re very familiar with Brainiac from years of working on stuff and I think Jim and Brandon came up with a unique and funny take on the character.

Q: As you probably know the video game LEGO Batman 3 did a Brainiac story, and now you guys are doing a Brainiac story. What are similarities between what you’re doing and that?

RICK MORALES: We didn’t have any back and forth with them. We started working on this a year and a half ago, so it wasn’t a simultaneous thing with synergy.

Q: Getting into doing Batman, where did you start with your comic experience?

RICK MORALES: I think it was an issue of The Flash, but what got me into collecting comics was an issue of Uncanny X-Men. It was Jim Lee’s first issue, #248.

LegoDCCosmicClashTOONZONE NEWS: Before you directed things you were a storyboard artist for many projects. Do you think that’s good preparation for a director, and does that help inform you as you work with artists now?

RICK MORALES: Yeah. As a storyboard artist, you’re basically a mini-director. You get your script pages and you’re working in tandem with the director, but you get to work in your section of the film and really prep that and I think that’s the preparation you need to be a director. Generally speaking, directors in TV animation start out doing storyboards.

Q: With so many different versions of Batman and other superheroes, how hard is it to find elements good for a story for children?

RICK MORALES: I think Batman is a character that lends himself to so many different interpretations. There’s dark stuff, there’s The Brave and the Bold. In the course of his history he’s been so many things, and I think this is actually natural. We have a lot of respect for these characters. It’s taking these iconic changes and just tweaking it a bit, pushing it a bit further to find some comedy. Batman’s suspicious nature is something we keyed into for this take.

Q: Is there going to be a flashback scene to where the Waynes get murdered or de-bricked? *laughter*

RICK MORALES: I don’t think I should talk about that.

TOONZONE NEWS: Relating to the comedy of the LEGO films, it’s not the first time it’s come up. You’ve mentioned Brave and the Bold, and there’s Teen Titans Go. Do you see the approach to humor as different from those, or are you going for the same feel?

RICK MORALES: It’s definitely different. Brave and the Bold is a little more camp. This is lighter. LEGO has its own brand of humor. This stuff I think is faster paced and we try to include one gag after another as best we can. And just because you’re working with LEGO, you have to find some humor that pertains to brick building. The most challenging thing about making these is, “What can we do that involves brick building? What’s a gag we can come up with that hasn’t been done yet?”

Q: With your Brainiac and Batman having such overabundant personalities, how easy is it to provide direction and guide them through production? Or do they do it themselves, and you nudge them in a certain direction?

RICK MORALES: The voice actors come in pretty early in the process and at this point, these guys know the characters so well at this point that it’s easy. From a directing point of view, I have a great team of storyboard artists to work with here. It’s about guiding them to not go off character, to stay in the world we have. A lot of people want to do the Dark Knight Batman, so you want to rein them in to doing our Batman.

Q: One of the things people love about LEGO Justice League is that you find ways to use so many obscure DC characters. Are there any characters you’re excited about for this movie that you hadn’t been able to use?

RICK MORALES: No, I don’t think there’s anyone I’m chomping at the bit to get in that we haven’t used. But I was excited to do Brainiac in this movie because of the take we captured. At this point, I’ve been fortunate to have played with the DC characters that I wanted during the years.

The thing I want to get across is that we’re progressing. This one is bigger, wilder, and funnier than the last one. I think from the outside view it looks like a simple project because it’s LEGO, but it’s not. It’s a lot more difficult than you’d imagine it to me. There are so many different aspects for the action and comedy.

TOONZONE NEWS: What’s next for you?

RICK MORALES: I don’t know if I can say. *laughter*

TOONZONE NEWS: Not even the format of the project?

RICK MORALES: Well there will be more LEGO, I can say that.

Q: Is continuity something you think about with these characters, or is it more about making things bigger and funnier?

RICK MORALES: There’s definitely a continuity to these films, and we track character progression. If you start with the first one and work your way through this one, there are character relationship arcs that pay off and develop.


BRANDON VIETTI

Q: After so many LEGO movies, has there been an idea you wanted to put in from a famous scene or story that would be great but wouldn’t be appropriate?

BRANDON VIETTI: I can tell you about one of my favorite scenes from a Batman comic when I was younger. Batman used something called the vibrating palm technique. I was able to incorporate that into the last movie we did, Attack of the Legion of Doom, Batman goes head to head with Black Manga and uses it. Of course, it didn’t kill Black Manta, but it was pretty fun to see Batman take down somebody with the vibrating palm technique.

TOONZONE NEWS: Was there any deliberate intent in either direction for the Batman in The LEGO Movie to be similar to the LEGO Batman elsewhere, or did you try to not look at each other’s work?

BRANDON VIETTI: Actually, it just wasn’t possible. I think we started before anything had been released and before even a commercial had been seen for The LEGO Movie, so we had no idea what they were doing with their Batman. We had just set out to really start from scratch for our LEGO DC universe. There were these amazing video games I’d played through, and they had an awesome universe and their characters were portrayed in a certain way. But we wanted to have the freedom to tell different stories in different ways, and so we set out to just create our own Batman.

One of the ways we did that was with color, we stuck with the classic blue and gray costume. For the challenges of writing a comedic Batman, we were able to work back and forth with myself and Jim Krieg and Troy Baker, who brings a lot of comedy to the role. We learned a lot about how Batman can be funny by hearing Troy’s performance as Batman. All our voice actors are incredibly talented and have incredible comedy chops, and they’ve taught us quite a bit about how we can be funny with these characters in a way that’s still respectful to the characters. That’s something we try hard to do, make sure we’re laughing with the characters and not at them. It’s a very important distinction.

LEGO DC Comics Super Heroes - Justice League: Attack of the Legion of DoomQ: What challenge do you find in balancing the comedy of the movie with more serious aspects?

BRANDON VIETTI: I think we try to tell a story that has some personal value to the characters, and that becomes the structure of the story. We start with that, we make sure we’re telling a good character story with some weight emotionally. It’s the LEGO Universe so we’re expected to pack on tons of jokes, but you can’t have jokes for 72 minutes. There has to be a ebb and a flow.

Q: With more movies coming in, would you have ideas for actors to bring in for voicing new characters you’re introducing?

BRANDON VIETTI: That’s something we sit down and work out with our partners at LEGO and at DC, we get together at the beginning of a new project and discuss. It’s like playing toys as a kid with your friends, and you all have story ideas and it all mixes together. Jim and I started the universe with a starting point, we know the characters are growing together, so that becomes the backbone. Then as we meet with our partners, everybody brings their different ideas and we can stick it to that backbone. As we progress forward we like to introduce new characters, and discussions are had about who would be the best casting for those characters. I’ve been lucky to be in this business for awhile, and I’ve worked with a lot of amazing people. Jim has also worked with great people, and we sit down and talk about it. What are the comedy needs of this character? What personality traits do they have from the DC Universe? How are we going to spin that into some kind of comedy?

Q: Is there any direction you feel you’re trying to take your characters?

BRANDON VIETTI: Yes. I mean, we’ve not written ourselves into a corner, it’s still very early so there’s plenty to explore with the characters. There’s no limits right now, we have a lot of room to play with the characters.

TOONZONE NEWS: For this movie, are there smaller character stories fans can expect in this movie?

BRANDON VIETTI: There are a couple smaller character stories in this one. We’ve got another great story with Batman, we’ve been telling the story of how he’s joined the Justice League and his hesitancy to do that in the beginning. In this story we play that up further: how is he blending with the gang, how is he working with the Justice League?


JIM KRIEG

Q: Are there specific comic stories you’ve read to get into the Brainiac character?

JIM KRIEG: I’m a big Silver Age guy. I really like the way that Brainiac looks with the bald head with the jewels on it, and the shorts. *laughter* The collar and the briefs, and the European bathing trunks! And I just thought, “I get him,” and I’m so happy that’s the one Brandon and Rick turned into our Brainiac. Except with the characterization of Phil LaMarr, where he’s such a fantastic nerd and a real collector and an obsessive. He’s a fun take on the character.

Q: Since everyone in this project has a love for these characters, is there a time where there are clashes of nerd ideology?

JIM KRIEG: Oh yes, but that’s kind of the best part, being able to have these arguments and without being 12. Before you had the argument to have the argument, but now you’re on the clock. “Oh it’s 6:30, time to argue about Supergirl!”

TOONZONE NEWS: I know you’ve written both comedic and serious series before, and I wonder how you compare this to other comedy you’ve done?

JIM KRIEG: Thank you. There is a tone in LEGO, I would say it boils down to “adorable.” Even though it can be a little bit irreverent and a little bit smart, because they’re LEGO mini-figures telling these jokes you’re going “aaawww!” You’ve got to feel good about showing it to your kids, and I have kids. So there’s a correct tone and you want to get that. Even with something as dark as The Flashpoint Paradox, there are jokes in it. With the LEGO stories there are a lot of jokes, but there’s enough story and seriousness – the Earth is in jeopardy. The dials are just set differently.LEGO® DC Comics Super Heroes – Justice League: Attack of the Legion of Doom!

Q: Do you ever consult children?

JIM KRIEG: You know, LEGO is really great about that. When they do new brands, they test the heck out of it. We don’t have the time or money to test each thing with a group of kids, but I do take it to my kids and they are my harshest critics. They say it with love but there are things they want to see it, and there are jokes that they pitch that I try to sneak in. I don’t pay them for it but I’m paying for college, so I think that’s the price they pay!

Q: Since you’re writing with LEGO toys in mind, does LEGO give you toys to play with?

JIM KRIEG: We had a big meeting where they had made these Justice League toys, they were prototypes and one of a kind. The javelin, and the Brainiac ship with the tentacles and the skull. In the beginning we had to talk like grown-ups, but we were all just basically killing time until we could get up and go over to the table where the toys were so that we could play with them. I think that’s where the actual meeting really began. You might think it’s LEGO saying, “Sell these toys!” and it isn’t at all, it’s, “look at this toy, I want to write a story about this toy.” They don’t really have an agenda or a story they want to hear. At this point, I think we have a good relationship and trust and they know we can get the tone that they want.

Q: How much freedom do you actually have to write the story you want to write?

JIM KRIEG: You would think it would be very constrained because there are two global entities in the title of the piece, but it’s not. I would say we have more freedom doing these than they do in some of the other DTVs, where there’s an agenda of tone in terms of seriousness. With this, we can go in knowing it’s light-hearted and we don’t have to follow the same rules and the same backstories and the same characterizations. We can go off-book, they can be a little silly. So I don’t think there’s the onus of, “This has got to be done right, because it’s for kids and a gateway drug to bring kids in.” Frankly, little kids don’t read comics, they play with LEGO superheroes and that’s how they learn who these characters are and become interested in it so they’ll read graphic novels later.

GL_Ep25_01TOONZONE NEWS: I know you were a producer on Green Lantern: The Animated Series and more than a few fans regret that it didn’t get more time. Now that it’s in the rear view mirror, I wonder how you look back now and how it was received, and is there anything you can share about where you would have taken the show?

JIM KRIEG: Oh yeah. First of all, I have so much affection for that property, I’m so proud of everything we did. I’m always amazed and delighted by how the group of those fans have taken that show to heart. They still tweet, they still make Tumblr posts about it, they really care. To make something that people really care about, it’s an astonishing privilege. In terms of where the show would have gone, I will tell you we had the next 26 [episodes] planned out. I had it up on the board, we were bringing our bosses, we were ready to pitch exactly what was going to happen and we got, “there’s no toyline and it’s not going to happen.” All our rings went dark in that moment. But at least the episodes that exist are good.

TOONZONE NEWS: The note you ended on was interesting, with Razer and the blue ring. So I assume we wouldn’t have seen the last of Razer?

JIM KRIEG: Oh no, no no. That would be like cutting out Edward from Twilight.

Q: You describe yourself as a Silver Age fan. Are there any Silver Age characters you’d like to use in LEGO DC movies?

JIM KRIEG: I wouldn’t go too obscure. Frankly, the Legion of Superheroes is pushing the envelope. But I do have some [Jack] Kirby characters I’ll be busting out that you haven’t seen before.


Toonzone would like to thank Phil LaMarr, Troy Baker, Rick Morales, Brandon Vietti, and Jim Krieg for taking the time to talk with us, and to Warner Bros Home Entertainment PR superguy Gary Miereanu for arranging the roundtables. LEGO DC Comics Super Heroes – Justice League: Cosmic Clash will be released in 2016.