Bruce Timm's latest for DC Animation, Justice League: Gods and Monsters, debuts an all-new, all-different parallel universe with characters whose names are familiar but appearance, history, and motivation are anything but. The ambitious project, launching this summer, will include a direct-to-video animated film, and a series of shorts featuring the universe's individual characters of Wonder Woman, Superman, and Batman, followed by a full season animated series in 2016. A four-issue comic book series will also tie the world together with prequel stories.
After the series' Machinima Newfront event in New York this week, we spoke with Timm, the legendary DC animation veteran and one of the minds behind Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League Unlimited, and the DC animated universe affectionately known by fans as the "Timmverse." Below, Timm discusses this world's main differences, his affinity for parallel universes, and why they work so well with DC Characters.
Note: We ran a portion of this interview, featuring the Wonder Woman character's behind-the-scenes origins, earlier, but have included those questions here as well.
DC Comics obviously loves the concept of parallel worlds, which you'll explore in full with Gods and Monsters. What about these DC characters, these icons, works so well under different lenses?
Bruce Timm: I think that's part of the appeal of alternate universe stories in general, whether it's on Star Trek or at DC Comics or Marvel or wherever, is taking the character that you know and putting a twist on it that is hopefully not just a random twist, but says something about the core of that character. Whether you actually go all the way and make them into villains, or keep them as heroes, or somewhere in-between, it says something about the main concept of the character; whether it's the same person or costume or not: what makes Superman, Superman? Whether he's Kal-El or whoever?
I think of it in the same way that I think about the James Bond movies. To me, growing up in the 60s, Sean Connery is James Bond. Everything about those early movies is James Bond to me. Yet, when the Daniel Craig movies started coming out, I thought, "That's a radically different take on James Bond, but I kind of dig it, and it's still true to the character!" Now we're at the point of rumors that like, Idris Elba could play James Bond? I think, "Well that would be really weird when I think of Connery-Bond, but it would be kinda cool, too!"
When you started out with these specific takes on Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman, which one surprised you the most, whether it was with how much you liked it or the way they interacted?
BT: That's a tough question, because it's kind of "who's your favorite kid," you know? Which kid surprises me the most…I have to say, I do find the Superman character really interesting and compelling. The original version of the character is so pure, and there's nothing wrong with being pure, I actually really like the idea that the traditional Superman is kind of a Christ figure in a weird way – kind of a cross between Christ and King Arthur.
But his origin story is so good and so mythic, so taking that origin and just shifting it slightly, so he doesn't end up in Kansas, he ends up, his spaceship crashes in the Arizona desert, and he's discovered by a Mexican couple, instead of the WASP-y Protestant farmers. That immediately is something really different. How he's raised is a big part of who he is! Plus, this is a Kryptonian with the genetic material of General Zod in his body, so his nature is already saying, "Yeah, I could take over! I'm the biggest, the strongest, the baddest guy on this planet!"
To me, it's that whole nature versus nurture concept, and he's always struggling with that. You never know how he's going to end up. It's kind of tough to push the traditional Superman into a darker or weirder place without totally violating the character, but with this guy, we can do anything, so it's been a lot of fun.
But the Batman character and the Wonder Woman character, too, again, because they're not Bruce Wayne and Princess Diana – they're different characters and we can create these new iconic versions of them.
They said at the press conference that Wonder Woman sees the smallest shift in this parallel world, since she actually is the God of War in the comics now.
BT: That was actually a mistake, when they said that. She actually is, in our new version, not part of the Greek mythology at all. She's actually from New Genesis.
It's funny, because we originally were going to do that. When we were originally developing the character, instead of making her the daughter of Hippolyta and blessed by Hera, we were going to make her the daughter of Zeus. She would actually be the daughter of a god! Then the next day, the next day after our meeting, that was the new version of the character in the comics! (laughs) Damn you, Brian Azzarello!
So we had to shift gears again, and I'm glad we did.
I thought her armor looked a little like Jack Kirby's Fourth World…
BT: Actually, that's funny – I had actually designed that version of her before we even started talking about what to make her origin story. So it already had that Jack Kirby kind of idea in my head anyways. When we started talking about, "Oh, what if we get her out of Greek Mythology all together?" we had that drawing staring us in the face. I think it was Alan Burnett, my co-writer on the show who said, "Why don't we just make her one of the New Gods?" And here we are!
This take on Batman, obviously, we have seen a Vampire Batman before…
BT: Oh, tons of times!
Nightmare World, of course.
What can you still say about Batman's core character when you have him entrenched in this horror concept?
BT: The big change with him is that the Bruce Wayne version of Batman all goes back to Crime Alley. It all goes back to his parents getting mowed down. This guy, not so much: He has a completely different backstory: He's actually Kirk Langstrom, who traditionally is Man-Bat.
It's tricky, without getting into the spoilers of it, we did have to figure out – we came up with his origin story pretty easily, with how he became a vampire. But then we had to say, well, what makes him decide to fight crime? It started off just purely in practical terms. When he became a vampire and we wanted to keep him a sympathetic character, we had him think, "Well, if I have to feed on humans to survive, I will only feed on criminals, because they don't deserve to live anyway!" So he doesn't prey on innocent people, he only feeds on criminals, but even that has its own repercussions, because that immediately makes him Judge, Jury, and Executioner. They don't go on trial before he bites them! So that's an interesting dilemma right there. That's something we explore a little bit more in the comic book spin-off that's coming out in the weeks before the animation.
The DC Animation home video series have been doing very well, but have been very New 52-centric. Most of the TV series seem to be last one season before they're done…
What's it like knowing you have the sequel, the full season, ahead of this first season of Chronicles and the film even being released?
BT: It's pretty cool! It's actually really cool. The way it happened was, we were doing the movie. When Machinima heard about it, they came to us and said, "We'd like to do a series of shorts based on these new versions of the characters." So we did three shorts, one for each character, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman.
When that was done, they came almost right back to us and said, "Okay, now we'd like to do a full series, a 10-episode series of this." And that's just, wow, that's even cooler!
So that's what Season 2 will be, and it'll pick-up threads from both the shorts and the movie?
BT: Yeah, that's what Season 2 will be, and it'll follow-up on both. I can say that it would help to have seen the movie before watching Season 2.
Without specific spoilers, can you tease a particular twist or character interaction you're really excited for fans to see?
BT: Man, that's really tough. It's still early days yet [on the series], we're just working on the scripts for Season 2, so not a lot of it has been worked out yet. I don't want to say anything, they're all so good!
For instance, the Mary Marvel character they showed up there.
Awesome character design there, by the way.
BT: Thank you! My original idea for Mary Marvel was completely different. My co-writer on the show, Jim Krieg, came up with this completely different take on the character and it's so fun and so out there. I was like, "Aw, sh*t. I really love my version of the character, but his is better!"
But that visual, the Pam Grier-style visual is just part of it, I don't want to get into it too much more.
You're at about 25 years here with DC Animation – what keeps you around?
BT: Yeah, 25 years, just about. Well, this show is a godsend, because there does come a time when I'm working on the DTVs or another version of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, whoever, it does get hard to tell the same stories over and over and over again. It becomes hard to do something fresh and new – even with action sequences; every story you tell, Batman's gotta do something, Superman's gotta do something, and you go, well what hasn't he done already? We've done hundreds of hours of content with these characters!
So with this Gods and Monsters version of it, it does open up all kinds of new possibilities, and not just for Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, but for all these other DC characters. It's kicking over the table, coming up with different ideas for the characters. We can go different places with them, give them different villains, give them other heroes; it's just a breath of fresh air for me, personally.
At the same time, I just think there's a ton of vitality in the core concepts of these characters. This is not all I'm going to be doing with these characters from now on, I'm sure I'll be doing more traditional DC stuff, too.
Those characters are just pure, and primal, and mythic. I've been asked this question a zillion times and you'd think I'd have a better answer by now!
Are we going to get a Bruce Timm voice cameo in Gods and Monsters?
BT: Hmmm…probably. I'm sure I'll say "OOF!" or "AH!" or "LOOK OUT!" in there somewhere.
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