We’re all looking at Batman v Superman with a heady mix of anticipation and dread, as DC tries to bridge the gap between them and the Marvel cinematic universe in one fell swoop. Over in the direct-to-video department, however, things are much less nail-biting, with multiple DC Animated titles released each year and widespread fan satisfaction with the results. This week sees the release of the latest – and one of the better – entries in the series, Batman vs. Robin. Collider sat down to speak with the filmmakers responsible, during which time they revealed a few meaty tidbits about the line and how it’s put together that should be of interest to DC universe fans.
Sales Drives Characters
Okay, so this one isn’t entirely surprising, but the producers were quite candid about how it works. The reason the line has focused so heavily on Batman and the Justice League is simple. “Those titles sell,” producer James Tucker explained. “And so we cater to the audiences wishes. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to do other titles. By their numbers, the Wonder Woman animated feature didn’t do well. And they know it should have. It was wellreceived and well-made. Creatively, we really hit it out of the park. And when fans hear people on our end call it a ‘failure,’ they think that means we think it was a bad movie. It’s a terrific movie. But by the studio’s numbers from the way they have to do things, Wonder Woman didn’t perform the way they wanted. But they’ve also said – and I’ve seen from internal memos – that that’s something they want to fix.”
So how do they do that? Live-action movies play into that of course – and if Gal Gadot knocks ‘em dead in Batman v. Superman, we may see a lot more Wonder Woman in the future. But as Tucker explained, it also falls on them to make their lesser known characters available to a wider audience.
“Comic book fans will come out for Metamorpho, but my mother’s not one of them,” he laughed. “So we have to showcase those characters in a way that fans who didn’t know them can see them and start liking them. And it can be done. Iron Man was a second-tier Marvel character – at best – until Robert Downey. Now everybody knows who he is. He’s one of their biggest names. We’re very aware of that potential. So if we can do, say, a great Justice League movie and Metamorpho’s in it, suddenly people like my mother get very interested in Metamorpho and we have the leeway to make a stand-alone movie.”
There’s More than Grit Separating DC from Marvel
Much has been made of DC’s “no jokes” mantra and the overall seriousness with which they take their figures, as opposed to Marvel which takes a somewhat more playful approach. But Tucker was quick to point out another distinction between the two comic book behemoths.
While praising the competition to the stars, he also stressed that – because Marvel’s characters are newer – they’re also locked into certain personality traits. “Those times when Marvel has stumbled is usually when they’ve messed up the personality of the characters,” he explains. “You get Steve Rogers wrong and it all falls apart. One of the reasons they nailed The Avengers and Winter Soldier was because they nailed Steve Rogers as a character. It’s a bit of a tightrope act.
“DC has a longer history and they’ve catered to different age groups over that time. And that gives us more room to play. Before Denny O’Neil took over Batman in the 70s, no one knew what the heck was going on in Bruce Wayne’s head. That gives us more flexibility to play with alternative ideas, and the fans tend to be more forgiving if we present an alternate take on the characters. That pays dividends with the animated movies because we can really explore different aspects of these characters.”
Four of DC Animated Features Form a Series… and It’s Leading to Something
At least four of the movies: — Justice League: War, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis, Son of Batman and Batman vs. Robin – all share the same universe. (Jason O’Mara voices the Caped Crusader in all 4.) Granted, DC feels perfectly comfortable hopping into variant timelines (Assault on Arkham, released in the midst of all those efforts, is set in the separate timeline of the Arkham video games), but they seem committed to the notion of running the majority of them into a single shared universe. Director Jay Olvia confided as much during the Q&A.
“My boss came in and said, ‘we’re gonna shake up the line,’ and that’s where the New 52-inspired stuff came in. We’re not limited to it, but the first two movies – basically War and Atlantis are based on the new 52.” Oliva was cryptic on where it’s all going, or whether it’s building to some kind of an Avengers-esque show-stopper…though he certainly dropped a few hints on its development.
“We’ve got two storylines going on in this continuity. We have the Justice League storylines, which are bigger and have that Avengers feeling and then we have smaller titled, which we want to be more personal and intimate. The Justice League series needs to be big and epic. You have too many characters in there to made that personal connection.
“We’re going to explore a lot of the elements on Grant Morrison’s run on Batman. Not a direct adaptation, but with strong threads of those elements. The exact picture is going to depend on how well we do. There was a time when the videos weren’t selling terrifically well. But The Dark Knight Returns did really well. Flashpoint Paradox did really well. We went from one a year to three or four a year. The exact picture is going to fit into that schedule and we want something that’s going to make people excited.”
Big-Name Actors Have Shown an Interest
And by “big name,” we don’t just mean big stars. “When I worked on Batman v. Superman, I asked Henry Cavill about playing Superman in one of our movies,” Oliva confided. “I asked him about a potential Red Son and he got really excited.”
There’s a huge amount of caveats in that statement, which he himself is quick to point out. “We only have a window of about three weeks to work with our voice actors, and if you’re an actor in demand, that can be really tough. Ben Affleck would be great to do Batman and he’s in love with the character. But God it’s hard to get Ben.” Ben maybe. But Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher or Gal Gadot may be less out of reach. It certainly raises some intriguing possibilities.
Is ‘Gods and Monsters’ the Start of a Trend?
We certainly don’t want to bandy about idle rumors. The question here in involved ideal, pie-in-the-sky projects that Oliva would like to do. Yet with all the buzz recently over DC Animated’s upcoming Gods and Monsters video, and the general talk about DC’s multiverse gives rise to an intriguing possibility: an extended line of Elseworlds movies.
“I’d love to do Gotham by Gaslight,” Oliva mused about dream projects. “I always wanted to do Superman: Red Son, that would be a fun one. And it would be fantastic to do Kingdom Come, though we Kingdom Come he’d have to a have a much higher budget, and a much wider scope.”
There aren’t many DC fans who would disagree. Keep an eye on Gods and Monsters sales folks. We might someday look back on it as the start of something.
The Hardest Character to Cast? Still Batman
Andrea Romano, the legendary voice director who has handled all of the DCU animated features, didn’t hesitate when asked about her biggest challenges character-wise. “Batman,” she smiled. “It’s still Batman. He’s so well-known and everyone has their own opinion of how he should sound. Kevin Conroy was our Batman for so many years, and we came to depend on him.
“I think the first time we had to replace him was the hardest, when the brass came down and said, ‘we want to go with someone new.’ I think it was for New Frontier, where we went with Jeremy [Sisto]. He was just what we needed but it was a tough process. Then they wanted another one for the next movie and another one, and so on. Every time it’s hard. Luckily, there are 180,000 members of the Screen Actors Guild, so we can find someone.”
Despite those challenges, she still has an escape route, at least where the Caped Crusader is concerned. “Even today, whenever they hand me a new movie project with Batman, my first question is, ‘Can we use Kevin?’
Jon Hamm: Superhero
At the very top of Romano’s wish list for actors she wants to use for these movies is one guy whose current gig is coming to an end.
“Jon Hamm,” she said instantly. “Mad Men is ending. I want him. I just love his range. He can do comedy, he can do drama. When I heard him on Archer, I was so sad that I was not the first animation voice director to get him, but it made me happy that he was doing voices for animation. I’ll find something that he’s available for and we’ll get him at some point.”
And who would the once and former Don Draper be right for in the DC universe? The first two that came to my mind were Lex Luthor and Two-Face, but Romano’s thoughts went much wider. “He could do a hero and he could do a villain equally as well. He could be the Joker, and he could make that Joker his own. He could do Green Arrow, he could be a Green Lantern. He might be a little too old to play the Flash, but he’s definitely got that sarcasm, that playfulness.”
Hey Jon, you got a fan!
DC’s efforts in this arena have definitely set a standard that Marvel’s animated projects would do well to follow. It’s nice to know that the people at the heart of it still have a few tricks up their sleeve. And no matter what happens in the live-action movie world, someone out there has got DC lovers’ backs. It’s enough to sleep a little sounder at night… and isn’t that what superheroes are for?
For more on Batman vs Robin, here’s my review.