Batwheels Team Wants to Keep Batman Cool and Let New Team Shine

Fans recently had the chance to meet the adorable cast of Batwheels, which made its debut on Cartoon Network's Cartoonito and HBO Max earlier this month with Secret Origin of the Batwheels. Batwheels will soon launch into its debut season with the first seven episodes on October 17th as part of Cartoonito's preschool block at 9 AM, and ahead of the debut, I had the chance to sit down and speak with Co-Executive Producer Michael G. Stern and Supervising Producer Simon J. Smith all about the series, including how it balances the stories of the Batwheels and characters like Batman, Robin, and Batgirl, what inspired the vehicle designs, and if any other characters from the DC Universe will make an appearance.

Batwheels shifts the focus from Batman to this world within a world of delightful talking vehicles, but Batman is still a major part of the show, and finding the balance between keeping Batman a part of it while also introducing fans to these new characters became one of the key challenges.

"Oh, I think if you start at the beginning, what we were tasked with doing was to create a show that works for a really young audience but also somehow keeps the bare similitude of Batman, keeps Batman cool, in a way. So that right away is a challenge and you start thinking, 'Well how do we then connect it to a young audience?' Well, what we can do is keep Batman cool over here, and then over here we can create a bunch of new characters that our young audience can see the show through their headlights, so to speak," Stern said. "And suddenly when we did that, when we paired the superheroes and cars together, it was, of course, match made in heaven. Why hadn't we thought of that before?"

(Photo: Cartoon Network)

"So the biggest challenge around it is still the biggest challenge we have, whether it's design, or with the acting, or with the scripts. No matter what we're doing, the challenge is always, how do we keep Batman cool and honor that character, but yet also make this work for a young audience," Stern said. "We're always working to make it a big tent show that works for all of that."

"Yeah. I think the biggest challenges, design-wise, were how do you make a really cool Batmobile that Batman can get inside of, drive around and utilize at his disposal in saving the city, but at the same time make it an incredibly appealing character that everybody's going to fall in love with," Smith said. "Those are the two goals and those are the two challenges of the series. How do you make these vehicles really great characters you want to be with, but at the same time be functioning cool vehicles for Batman?"

Each of the vehicles has an aesthetic that feels authentic to the Bat family with a blend of sleekness and charm, and especially in Bam's case, you can definitely feel some classic Batman movie vibes coming through.

"I think both Michael and I have gravitated towards the '89 Batmobile because it's so iconic. But to be honest, it was really about marrying these two words, legitimacy and fun. How do we get the legitimate with the design but have as much fun with the character as possible, and then have accessibility to the character," Smith said. "And we actually did almost parallel sets of designs. We had a realistic car designer do something you could actually build, something a factory would build, and then some other designs on pushing the characters in a cartoony way. And then our vendor in Paris, Superprod, married those two together in a perfect way, so you get this great combination of, it's a really cool car but it's a really great character to be with."

(Photo: Cartoon Network)

Batman is delightfully played by Ethan Hawke, but the rest of the Bat family and Batman's Rogues also have amazing talent attached and have a big role to play in the series. Finding a balance between highlighting the human cast while keeping the Batwheels in the spotlight was fundamental to making the show work, and they experimented with the formula and mix as they went along.

"Absolutely. I think in the beginning we did a lot of experimenting because as you could imagine, the worry was well if you put Batman in your show, are the kids going to even care about the vehicle characters? They're just going to want to follow Batman in his adventures. So it was on us to make those vehicle characters compelling, relatable, aspirational characters for a young audience," Stern said. "And thankfully, I think we really succeeded."

"We did some testing that showed that the little ones love the Batwheels just as much as Batman. So the goal was to get that balance. But early on we tried scripts that had no human characters. We tried scripts that had lots of them we tried and ultimately, you zero in on what your balance is," Stern said. "But these stories, the stories of Batwheels are generally told through the Batwheels themselves. The human characters including Batman are really important figures, but the stories are what these kids are going through, and that's what makes it relatable for a young audience."

(Photo: Cartoon Network)

Now, all of the Batwheels are delightful in their own right and feature lovely designs, but Buff, who is a Monster Truck, immediately became my favorite. He was added in a bit later in the process, but it seems all the effort paid off.

"Yeah. Buff was always an important character because he felt like the one that wasn't there yet. He felt like something new where we could try something different for the bat world and make that work, so he's definitely something that required a little extra thought that came in," Stern said. "Batman's always had his Batmobile. He's had his planes. He's had different kinds of motorcycles, those kinds of things. But never before, to our knowledge, and those of you out there who may prove us wrong, to our knowledge, there hasn't been a Bat monster truck yet. So he definitely came in late."

While most of the characters are in the Batman realm, there is one character that made a jump from Metropolis. "The one villain where we strayed away from the Batman universe and borrowed a little from Superman was Toyman because we just thought kids and toys. He was just a perfect fit. We had to put that together. That was the one part I think where we strayed beyond the normal, Rogue's Gallery," Stern said.

(Photo: Cartoon Network)

"Yeah. And I think the other favorite of mine is Bat Computer played by SungWon Cho. He's fantastic, and the characters came out of nowhere really, and Michael did a brilliant job of writing him, and his performance is so good, and everybody had fun playing with the Bat Computer when they animated him," Smith said.

So, what can the team tease about the full season? While they didn't reveal any direct spoilers, they did allude that some other characters from DC might be showing up. They also revealed that the show looks to capture the twists and turns that Batman stories are famous for while still creating something perfect for a younger audience.

"I think you can expect a lot of wonderful characters from the Batman universe and even some from the greater DC universe making an appearance. I'm not going to say who. Let's keep it a surprise, Stern said.

"We have some special things that are really amazing and we have lots of twists and turns. Our approach to Batwheels was why is it that the youngest audience doesn't get to experience superhero movies and shows the way everyone else does? So we give them twists, we give them turns. We give them things. We give them a cool Batman. We give them things that they normally wouldn't be able to have for whatever reason. This audience gets underestimated, And they're just young. If you really want someone to fall in love with your character like Batman, present him as who he is, and that was really key to this whole series," Stern said.

(Photo: Cartoon Network)

"Well I think it's really about me trying to give you what you want but not in the way you expect it. That's the goal, and so there's lots of really great surprises coming up, and I think we try to keep you on your toes, as it were saying. Without saying, it's really hard doing this stuff, isn't it, to keep you on your toes about what might be happening, and what's going to happen, and how things are connected. Little areas of Gotham you might not have seen before, or characters you've thought about but not really seen before. So that's the sort of thing we're doing, is trying to give you what you want but not in the way you expect it," Smith said.

"And what you'll see is our take, but the Batman's version of the DC Universe, it's a little more vehicle-leaning. Gotham City has a few more ramps, and tunnels, and jumps, and bridges, and it's a little brighter and more colorful. So it's our own thing. It's our own part of the DC multiverse," Stern said. "So when the character arrives from somewhere in the DC universe, they usually do it driving a vehicle, or they are a vehicle themselves, so it's just our own twist on it.

As someone who wants a toy like pronto, especially one of Buff, I had to ask if some toys were coming. While they stayed vague, Michael did say "Keep your eyes open", which is enough to give me some hope.

Batwheels rolls onto TV screens starting on Monday, October 17th. The first seven episodes will premiere on Cartoon Network's Cartoonito preschool block at 9 AM, and then will stream the next day on Tuesday, October 18th on the Cartoonito hub on HBO Max.

Are you excited for Batwheels? Let us know in the comments or as always you can talk all things DC and Batman with me on Twitter @MattAguilarCB!