Suffice it to say that Bruce Timm had a busy weekend at New York Comic Con. Among other things, the legendary producer was on hand not only to celebrate the anniversaries of ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ and Warner’s line of DC Universe animated films but also to help promote the upcoming release of the animated adaptation of ‘Gotham by Gaslight’. You may have already seen our first conversation with Timm, which dealt with the ‘Batman’ anniversary, now join us for another!
Does it feel like you’ve been working on these animated films for ten years?
Oh, it’s gone by in the blink of an eye. You get older, the years go by faster. “Oh my God, it’s October again? It was just Christmas!” It sucks. So yeah, ten of those. It goes by really, really quick. I was amazed when this set was announced and they told me it had been ten years. I was like “What?!” I thought it had been like five. But then you start thinking about it and it’s like “No, no, it’s ten years.” It’s crazy
So after ten years, is it time now to start digging into the Jack Kirby catalogue with the Fourth World, New Gods, Kamandi, etc.?
What do you think the answer is to this?
Well, I’d like to see it!
[laughs] Then yes. From now on all it’s going to be is Jack Kirby. All day long. OMAC and the Forever People, Dingbats of Danger Street…
Oh, wow, awesome! [laughs]
But realistically, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Justice League… They’re the ones that test the best. You know, it’d be great if we lived in a different reality where we could do a Creeper movie or a Question movie or whatever, but…
Unless Batman visits the Question.
I mean, that’s what we try to do. Especially when we do a Justice League movie, we’ll try to take the opportunity to focus on characters who aren’t Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, so that we kind of do get to scratch some itches that we don’t often get to.
Are there plans for more original stories as opposed to adaptations?
Yeah, I think there’s always going to be a mix of both original stories and adaptations. We’re constantly looking at things that pre-exist and asking “Yeah, what do the fans want? What do they really want to see? What are the ones that are constantly in our exit polls with that people say they want to see us do.” But at the same time, we’re constantly talking amongst ourselves and saying “Oh yeah, you know what we haven’t done yet?” Or “Here’s a character we haven’t really focused on yet that we could do in terms of a Justice League movie or a Batman movie or whatever.”
What about alternate universe stories like ‘Gods and Monsters’?
In terms of alternate universe-type stuff, the only thing that I can confirm that’s already been announced is ‘Batman: Gotham by Gaslight’ which is the original Elseworlds story. I think a lot depends on how that one does sales-wise. Honestly, ‘Gods and Monsters’ did okay, it wasn’t great. So nobody’s banging down the door to see ‘Gods and Monsters 2’. I’ve had a lot of interest from fans, they seem to really like it, but not with their checkbook they didn’t. But ‘Gods and Monsters’ was really exciting. It allowed us to go with a very different genre, to do more of a horror movie/period piece thing. It was a lot of fun to try out different shades, getting to use Batman but different shades of Batman. So hopefully there might be something along those lines again. Vote with your paycheck! Or with your “one click” button.
When you start a new film – obviously each of the films has a different cast, different voices for Batman, a few of which have been recurring – how does that affect your approach, depending on who you have in the role? Or does it change your approach?
I don’t think it really does change our approach. Fortunately, we’ve had just a really awesome group of actors to play Batman over the years. Kevin Conroy is usually right at the top of our wishlist, and sometimes for marketing reasons they want us to go a different way. And this time Bruce Greenwood, who we’ve also worked with before, was right at the top of our list.
Where there any unique challenges with adapting this material, as compared to some of the other DC movies?
Purely technically, the original comic is a bit short for a feature length film, so we had to expand it in a way that still felt organic to the story. We ended up with something that’s not an exact adaptation of the comic, even though it does touch a lot of the same motifs and story points. But it’s been expanded. Fortunately, what that gave us the opportunity to do was to include supporting parts from characters within the Batman mythos, characters like Harvey Dent or Harvey Bullock, Selina Kyle and Leslie Thompkins, who weren’t in the original graphic novel but we found good kind of story bits for each of them in a Victorian setting. So they don’t have exactly the same backstories, which was a lot of fun for us. I’m probably dating myself really badly, but when I was a kid one of the shows I used to watch all the time was ‘Gilligan’s Island’. You may have heard of it. [laughs] And one of the things that they would often do is these fantasy episodes where Gilligan would get hit on the head or something and he’d have this weird dream, and all of the characters in the supporting cast would be in the dream, like they were all pirates one time, and there was another specifically where they were in Victorian thing where the Professor was Sherlock Holmes and Gilligan himself was like Jekyll and Hyde and Mary Ann was Eliza Doolittle. That’s kind of what it’s like to do these things. It’s like “Okay, what would Harvey Bullock or Selina Kyle be like in the world?” So that was a lot of fun for us.
With all the options you have with in-continuity DC Universe stuff, was the decision to do this more along the lines of fan service or behind the scenes, you guys pushing to do something that’s actually Elseworlds?
You know, ever since we’ve started this line of movies, we’ve had this big long list of famous comics and stuff that would be of interest to the fans as well as to us. ‘Gotham by Gaslight’ was something that’s been on the list – at the top of the list – since, like, forever. And we would raise it as a possible movie off and on. And sometimes it’d be like “Oh, well, you know, it’s not exactly…” It’s quite a bit different from a typical Batman or Justice League movie because of the time period, so there was a bit of resistance to it in the past. Fortunately, this time we raised it and the home video people said “Yeah, let’s go for it. Now’s a good time to try it.” So I’m really glad we did because I think it opens the door for a lot more. It’s just… There’s nothing wrong with superhero movies. I love superhero movies, and I could do Batman and Superman stories forever and ever, but it’s nice to have a bit of a change of pace, you know? It gets us out of modern day Metropolis and Gotham City, and spandex and muscle suits. So hopefully this movie will do really, really well and that’ll hopefully open the door to doing other movies that are kind of in the same vein.
Speaking of which, Jim Krieg described this as very much a detective story. With all the different interpretations of Batman over the years, how do you see him in this? Is he more human or more the stoic, badass type?
In this particular movie, I think he’s a lot more human than we normally portray him. I have a tendency to kind of treat Batman a little bit distant because I think just of who he is. Personally, my own feelings about Batman are that he is a bit remote, a bit removed from people because of what happened in Crime Alley and his whole persona. I tend to think that Batman is the real person and Bruce Wayne is the mask. But in this one, because it has a completely different feel, and something that we did key in on in the original design that Mike Mignola came up with for the comic is that you can actually see his eyes through his mask. He’s got kind of an old school aviator’s kind of mask, and you can actually see his human eyes instead of those white, spooky slits. And that kind of informed how we treated his character, where he’s a little bit more human. He’s a little bit younger, a little bit more idealistic than he normally is. Also because the movie has a little bit of an old school feel to it, in terms of it’s a little bit more like a horror movie from the thirties or forties. Or even like sixties, with the Hammer films. He feels a little bit more like… I want to say he’s like Don Diego in ‘Zorro’. He’s a little bit more of a classical movie hero. So I think that was something that was subliminally influencing us in this movie. It’s a different take on Batman, he’s not quite as spooky and inhuman as we normally portray him.
Jim was also talking a bit about the research that everybody was doing for period details and things like that. In that process, was there anything that you came across that was like “Oh my God, we have to have this!” Anything that really sparked your imagination?
Did he tell you about the car?
Okay! [laughs] Alright, so, we talked about giving Batman some… We didn’t fully embrace the steampunk aesthetic. We actually tried to stay a little bit more real world with it. There’s a little bit of fudging the dates in terms of technology. For instance, there’s a big airship battle in this story, which is a little bit technically anachronistic. But hey, it’s an alternate timeline! But we did think about things like “Okay, well Batman always has all these gadgets.” So we definitely gave him a steam-powered grapple gun, and he does end up having a steam-powered bike. And at one point we were talking about giving him a car. And to be historically accurate, there is one of the very early cars from like the late nineteenth century that was this… I don’t remember which brand it was, I want to say it was Daimler? But Jim mentioned this historical, early prototype vehicle, he said “Oh yeah, it’d be cool if Bruce Wayne owned that, if he was one of the early owners of that car!” And I said “Yeah, that could be cool.” And I looked it up online and went “There’s no way he’s going to show up driving that thing, because it looks so stupid!” [laughs] It was like, I was thinking in my head “Yeah, maybe it’ll look cool!” And no. It looks ridiculous. It’s got like a bit boiler on it, it does not look cool. It looks like an onion on wheels. It’s awful! A horse and buggy will be just fine for Bruce Wayne!
A lot of your career has been Batman. For you personally, what does Batman mean?
“What does Batman mean?” I don’t know! That’s a tough one! “Batman means love, Batman means…” [laughs] I don’t know. He means a lot of things to me. I mean, he was my very first superhero when I was a kid. He was my gateway to comics and superheroes. I was just the right age for the Adam West show when it came on. I was young enough to not realize it was a comedy, so I took it really seriously. I thought the costume was just the coolest thing I’d ever seen. And honestly, I still think Batman does have the coolest costume in comics. But he’s just… I don’t know. You know, all these years, people ask what it is about Batman and I’m just like “I don’t know, he looks cool.” He’s got a good origin story. He’s got the world’s best rogue’s gallery. He’s got a great supporting cast. He’s got all of this stuff and there’s no weak links, you know?
‘Gotham by Gaslight’ stars Jennifer Carpenter and Bruce Greenwood. The film is due for release in 2018, though a specific date has yet to be confirmed. In the meantime, the DC Universe 10th Anniversary Collection, a box set including the thirty DC Universe Animated Original Movies released to date will be available on blu-ray on November 7th, 2017.
Be sure to check back with ScienceFiction.com for more on upcoming DC animated features as it becomes available!