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Braver, Bolder Batman

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No one is more surprised at how much I love "Batman: the Brave and the Bold," Cartoon Network's super fun cartoon series that currently airs on Friday nights, than I am. To me, Batman cartoons begin and end with "Batman: the Animated Series," and Kevin Conroy is the one true Batman. But my first Batman was Adam West, and I will always have a soft spot for the old 60s TV show. Plus, I'm a sucker for cute, funny superhero stories. That must be why I have so quickly come to adore the series, not to mention the fact that it is extremely excellent.

That's why it was such a treat to go to the "Batman: Brave and the Bold" panel at New York Comic Con. In attendance were producers James Tucker and Michael Jelenic, who also wrote the script for the Wonder Woman animated feature, DC Comics Creative Director Ivan Cohen, actor Phil Morris, who voiced both Jonah Hex and Fox in episode 11, and writer and story editor Todd Casey. It was a fun group, with many interesting things to say about the development of the show. It's clear that they are enthusiastic about the show and having as good a time making it as we are watching it. They also premiered the penultimate episode of the season, which airs this Friday, February 27th, and is completely awesome.

Following the episode was a Q&A with the audience, where they gave out comics in exchange for questions (not that the audience really needed an incentive). promised more female characters next season, specifically appearances by Black Canary and Huntress. They also said that next season we would see the Outsiders become more like their comic book versions, and there would be great exploration of Batman as a character, building on what we saw in the Red Tornado and Terrible Trio episodes. Finally, in response to a question about what kind of villains we could expect to see in the future, we were assured that "[Batman] has no villain too lame for us to use."

After the jump is a transcript of the moderated portion of the panel, as well as a brief review of the episode.

Q: What was the thinking behind this specific version of Batman?

Tucker: We needed more toys. Actually, [Warner Bros. Animation executive] came to me at the end of Legion of Super Heroes and said "There's another Batman movie coming out, we need another Batman show. But, it's gotta be different than anything that's come before." And I just said No, I don't want to do it. He said "What about if it's 'Brave and the Bold'?" and I said "Oh, that's different. That's a whole nother animal." So I knew I could make it more fun, embrace a lot of the comic book-isms that we all know well when we read comic books that doesn't really translate well to other mediums. I said "Screw it, it'll translate." I decided I wanted to do a fun throwback Batman show with a lot of action and humor. I pulled Michael in, and we figured out how to make it work and not have you guys hate it. I hope we've been successful.

Q: The design of the show is a unique, vibrant look. How did you decide what direction to go visually?

Tucker: The idea was to draw a show that looked like the show I thought I was seeing when I was a little kid. When I was watching Superfriends as a little kid, it looked like Fantasia to me. It looked like the best animated thing ever. Of course we know it wasn't, but, I wanted [Brave and the Bold] to look like I thought [Superfriends] looked when I was five years old. So we went back to old-school, simplified, fifties-look for the characters. A lot of the versions of the heroes we use are some of their earlier versions. We mixed it up, but I wanted a cleaner line to make it look hammy like an old-school fifties comic. The lines are a lot thicker. In most animation, the drawings you see on the screen are just the "dead" pencil line. For this I wanted it to look like someone took a brush and inked it. For the most part the studios have managed to achieve that.

Q: How much of these stories are based on Brave and the Bold comic stories, and how do you adapt them?

Jelenic: They're not really based on any specific stories, but the covers were our inspiration. If you've seen the Plastic Man episode, gorillas riding a pterodactyl stealing a boat -- you can see that on the whole cover. But that's what we're going for. Absurdity, but everybody in the show takes it very, very serious. Anything that's fun. I grew up in the eighties -- many years after James grew up -- everything about TV in the eighties was fun. The A-team and Alf, those are what I grew up watching. So that sort of influence as far as entertainment for this specific show. James and I were coming off a pretty dark season of Legion and we decided to go in the totally opposite direction and do something that made us laugh.

Q: What was DC comics role in putting this together? How does the relationship between DC and Warner Brothers work?

Cohen: It's pretty hostile. We don't really get along. James and I have a long standing hostility. No no, it's been great for us. We love to have Batman on tv, we'd be fools not to. The chance to have characters that people don't really know, who don't read our comics, was incredibly exciting. Having Blue Beetle be on the show! More people saw that episode with Blue Beetle than people have ever read a comic called Blue Beetle, and it's just opened up a whole world for us. Generally our role has been: "Are you sure you want that one? Really?" And then they convince us, and pretty much every time they've been right. We didn't think you'd make B'wana Beast work. He combines animals together!

I was at the office the other day -- and we pretty much only read comic books -- and I was reading an old issue of Brave and the Bold that we reprinted, with Batman and the Atom. And Batman is dead, and the Atom shrinks down, and goes inside his body, and operates Batman's body like a machine, so he can solve his last case. And somehow, that revives Batman, so Batman's fine. He's cool. And the episode you guys did is so much better than that. Thank you for not sticking to much to the original.

Tucker: Those original Brave and the Bolds are pretty out there. I did want to do that story with having him manipulate Batman like a puppet.

Cohen: Creepy!

Q: How do you decide which version of the character you're going to use?

Tucker: It was more about what kind of role they served more than anything else. We needed a young neophyte character who wasn't Robin. So Blue Beetle made sense. He's a great character, I love him, I love his book. When it came to Atom, the kind of character we wanted for this show had to bounce off our wacky Aquaman.

Cohen: Best Aquaman ever.

Tucker: The thing is, Ray Palmer is kind of locked in to most comic book fans who read comic books constantly. Ryan is still forming, he hasn't been around as much, so it made more sense to use him, to make him more nebbishy. Because in my own head, Ray Palmer is Ray Palmer. Better to use someone who I'm not, in my own comic book geekiness, locked in to in one way.

Q: Phil, tell us about your Jonah Hex and your involvement on the show.

Morris: Obviously I'm a rank and file member of comic book groups and I read comic books a lot. This particular series for me is a lot of fun because it's such broad strokes. It's not as dark and foreboding as the Batman that we know, the Kevin Conroy Batman. The guys have done a great job of bringing characters like Jonah Hex and Manta that aren't so mainstream back to the light, and we can have a fun time of it. As a voice actor, it's a lot of fun because Jonah's a very tongue-in-cheek, real character. He doesn't get the whole Batman costume thing; Batman to him seems almost kind of foppish. So the way he deals with that is a way in which most people don't really see Batman being dealt with. If he's gonna have a partner, he doesn't want it to be silly, and Batman, to this hardcore western guy, is a little silly. I gotta give a shout out to the great Andrea Romano who couldn't be with us today, because with her, between these guys and what they do and her, without that, we don't really have a clue. They fill in a lot of blanks for us. As adept as I might be at reading a lot of comic books, and the knowledge that I have, their take on it is their take, they've been living with it. As an actor, it behooves me to listen to their take. Even though I'm bringing this voice to them, they have the rudder in the water and they know where they want to go. People like Andrea, who's a genius at directing us crazy actors, gives us that template from which we can work and then jump off of. It's always a great joy to work for her and the guys because they're great playmates, and that's what you want.

Q: An adult can really enjoy this show, it's not infantile at all. What's the challenge of writing this show not just for kids, but for adults too?

Casey: I think when I first started writing it, it took me a while to get used to the idea of how fun this show can be at times. I tend to gravitate to storylines that are a little more serious, and darker. I wrote the Jonah Hex stuff, and I think the way that Jonah Hex looks at Batman is sort of the way I was looking at the show at first: "This is kind of ridiculous! Get serious!" Then the more I got in to it, the more I realized that this is really funny. Aquaman is hilarious. Now that I see the episodes come back, I look at Aquaman, Atom, and Batman and I'm like "I wish I'd wrote that one!" So if you see any episodes that are depressing, that's my fault. But once I saw footage come back, I started writing more towards the funny side of things. Michael was great trying to steer me in the proper direction as far as how the characters relate to Batman, which is what makes the episodes fun. They all have a unique perspective of how they see him, how they interact. That was the challenge.

Jelenic: It's supposed to be geared towards kids, but like anybody who works on any show, you try to write something that makes you laugh. That's what guided James and I. Aquaman sorted started off a little bit more serious, but every joke we built and pushed -- even John DiMaggio, who voices Aquaman, the first time he did it, he played it kind of straight. And that wasn't quite what I had in my head. If you watch the first episode, he's kind of broad, but when you get to the Atom episode, he's so much broader. It makes me laugh. I know some people think it's a little too silly, but that's what's guiding us. What makes us laugh, but what's still respectful to the character. As silly as Aquaman is, he still is, after Batman, the greatest hero on the show because he's afraid of nothing. We have a great Aquaman episode coming up where he's depressed in the next episode.

Q: Aquaman is the breakout star of this show. Did you have any idea that was gonna happen when you started?

Tucker: Originally, it wasn't my idea to make him that broad. Sam Register [Executive Vice President, Creative Affairs at Warner Bros. Animation] said "Don't make him the scary King Arthur guy. He's gotta be different than that. You know, make him like Hercules or something." And at first I thought he was crazy, but then I thought of Steve Reeves -- the old gladiator guy? -- who just looked pompous. That gave me a visual. Most of my ideas about characters comes from a visual. Then I can figure out what the personality is. So I started drawing this pompous looking guy, and then I put the Aquaman suit and the beard on him. And I thought "Wow, that could work!" So we started writing out the stories and stuff and it came fast, it didn't take that long to nail him. The first script had a lot more fish puns in it, that didn't make the final show, thank God. But sometimes you have to overshoot the character to hit the target down the road.

Jelenic: The one key thing with his character as James and Sam described Aquaman is that he's the guy who would hug you. Just knowing there's a superhero that hugs Batman was all I needed to go off on.

Tucker: The other thing about Aquaman is, he doesn't know that people thought he was lame. He's never seen Superfriends. In his own mind, he's a hero, that's his job, that's what he does, and he loves it. Once we realized that he's not ashamed of himself, we decided not to be, and it made writing him so much fun. It opened him up, and every time he shows up, it opens up a bunch of opportunities. I think he needs his own series now. [I could not agree more, -- Laura]

After that, we got to see episode 12, "Deep Cover for Batman!" [spoilers follow] The episode features Batman going under cover as Owlman in the Injustice Syndicate (according to James Tucker, the Crime Syndicate is being saved for something else, which I can only hope is their own animated feature) and teaming up with Red Hood. It's a much less lighthearted episode than anything else we have seen in the series before, but it remains completely all ages, and isn't completely devoid of humor. As a matter of fact, this episode features my favorite line from the whole series so far, and while "It's like looking through a funhouse mirror...of EVIL," probably owes its hilarity to the delivery, I assure you it got a big chuckle out of everyone in the audience.

I think the "Deep Cover for Batman" will be especially fun for anyone who has no familiarity with the comics. I would love to see the reaction of a little kid who isn't expecting it, when he or she realizes who the Red Hood is. Seeing evil versions of the characters we've been enjoying all season was pretty cool, and Scarlet Scarab was especially amusing, in a creepy sort of way. My one disappointment was that evil Aquaman had no lines. That just seems like a huge missed opportunity.

Now, enjoy Phil Morris giving us a little bit of his Jonah Hex...

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