‘They Sure Don’t Make Straight Jackets Like They Used To’
Mark Hamill was already a superstar before the show’s arrival. As Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, he helped the Rebel army defeat the evil Empire in the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy. So, when fans first heard the voice of the Joker on ‘B:TAS,’ they were surprised to learn that Hamill was the one bringing the crazed clown to life, considering the Joker sounded nothing like Luke Skywalker.
Interestingly enough, Hamill wasn’t originally cast as the Joker. Hamill was brought in to provide the voice of GothCorp CEO Ferris Boyle in the ‘Heart of Ice,’ episode – a fan favorite. The Joker was going to be voiced by another actor famous for playing a crazy clown, Tim Curry. During recording, Curry came down with bronchitis – and rumor was the executives thought Curry’s Joker was a little too creepy – so they asked Hamill if he’d be interested.
“Mark has a lot of fans for his Joker because he’s amazing at it, and I do wish they could see him in the studio because he practically devours the microphone,” Conway said. “His face becomes so rubber that, it’s extraordinary. He becomes wildly animated, he’s sweating profusely, he’s all over the microphone. It’s amazing to watch. He really embodies Joker when he’s doing it.
“And you would NEVER, I think, anticipate that kind of actor being the same actor who did Luke Skywalker. That was the only thing I’d ever seen him do when I first met him. And that was a very, kind of, white bread, you know, young hero role. I mean, he was good, but it was a character that didn’t have a lot of color because it wasn’t written that way. It was kind of a traditional, young hero. Mark is a much more complicated actor than that. It was really fun to work with him.”
‘Perchance to Dream’
Just as having the right cast is important for the success of a show, so is having the right scripts.
During the first season of ‘B:TAS,’ horror writer Joe Lansdale, along with Laren Bright and Michael Reaves, were brought in to write ‘Perchance to Dream,’ considered now one of the best episodes of the entire series and one that is near and dear to Conroy. In fact, Conroy has said ‘Perchance to Dream’ was his favorite episode of the show.
“From an actor’s point of view, I did so many different voices in it and they all had to be believably related,” Conroy said. “There was the young Bruce Wayne, the old Bruce Wayne, Batman, Bruce Wayne drugged, and I did (Thomas) Wayne, the father.”
Conroy said that Romano allowed him to record the different takes on the characters in real time.
“I did the scenes back and forth, which was a blast,” Conroy said. “It’s like acting with yourself, and it was a lot of fun to record.”
Outside of the actor’s view, Conroy gushed over the look of the episode, and just how well written the episode was from start to finish.
“And the visuals! A lot of it’s in black and white, so there’s a real film noir look to it,” Conroy said. “It’s a very interesting story. There’s a lot about it that I think is a very sophisticated story. That’s a fun thing about (the show) is the fact that it transcends audiences, it appeals to mature audiences as much as adolescents. And I think ‘Perchance to Dream’ is one of those episodes that really has a broad appeal. It’s a very adult story.”
‘That’s Right, Puddin’’
Paul Dini, a master writer who penned some of the greatest episodes of the show, created one of the most popular DC Comics characters to date … by accident.
Originally written as a throwaway character for the episode ‘Joker’s Favor,’ Dini decided it might be nice for the Joker to have a sidekick. And just like that, Harley Quinn was born. It wasn’t until much later that a romance between Joker and Harley would emerge (as well as a more-than-hinted-at fling between Harley and Poison Ivy).
Arleen Sorkin was cast to play Harley initially, but after a while, Sorkin passed the mallet to a new voice actor – Tara Strong. Strong has been a major part of the DC Animated Universe ever since, providing the voice not only for Harley, but for Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, Huntress, and Vicky Vale. She’s also lent her voice to more than 1,000 other animated characters in different shows and movies throughout her career.
I recently had an opportunity to talk with her about “all of the voices” in her head.
“Stepping into Harley, I mean, I can’t even describe it,” Strong said. “It was such a huge, huge honor. And I love Arleen and I’ve worked alongside of her. She gave a really sweet interview about passing on the gauntlet. If it weren’t for her, we wouldn’t have Harley. I have to be so grateful to her.
“When I came in for the first session, they said, ‘OK, we don’t want you to do an impression of her.’ But I said if it didn’t sound anything like her, the fans would be disappointed, so what if I just tap into her essence and put my own little spin on it? I tried it and they all went, ‘That’s the voice. We love that.’ I was just hoping the fans would approve. I just want the fans to be happy. I’m sure there are some people who aren’t happy, but I’m happy for the happy people. It’s just so much fun to do.”
Strong has voiced Harley not only on the small screen, but in animated films and video games. Most recently, she teamed up with Conroy and Hamill to do voices for the ‘LEGO DC Super-Villains’ video game.
‘… I AM BATMAN!’
‘B:TAS’ just hit another major milestone – all of the episodes of the series, along with two movies, ‘Mask of the Phantasm’ and ‘Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero’ were digitally remastered and released as part of a limited edition Blu-ray set. There were going to initially be 30,000 sets made, but because the demand was so high, Warner Bros., decided to up that number to 70,000. I have a feeling even that won’t be enough.
It’s not difficult to understand, once you’ve watched the show, why it’s so incredibly popular. The campy schtick of the ’60s was washed away and replaced by something richer and deeper. Each character had depth. For every serious episode, there were laugh-out-loud funny ones. As for the serious tone, Timm, Dini, Romano, and everyone associated with the show realized it was OK to broach serious subjects with children and young teenagers, something unheard of up until that point.
The writing, the acting, the direction in which they decided to go, it all fits together to make ‘B:TAS’ one of the greatest animated shows of all time. I could continue to wax poetic about the cultural significance of the show and how it influenced folks such as Kevin Smith, Grant Morrison, and other popular writers, suffice it to say that in order to truly appreciate it, you need to watch it. Multiple times. Now that it’s available on Blu-ray (which comes with a digital download so you can carry the show anywhere), dive into the dirty undergrowth of Gotham and watch Batman in action.