|Backstage - Interviews - Michael Jelenic
To commemorate the Batman: The Brave and The Bold series finale episode "Mitefall!," The World's Finest caught up with Story Editor Michael Jelenic to both discuss the final episode and also look back at the impact the series has left behind.
The World's Finest:
First up, you worked side-by-side with James Tucker on Batman: The Brave and The Bold in a reportedly tight collaborative process. How was it working with Tucker and do you think you two complimented each other? What did you learn from him, and vice-versa?
Michael Jelenic: James and I had the benefit of first working together on the second season Legion of Super Heroes, so when we were asked to develop Batman: The Brave and The Bold we had already had gotten through that awkward phase of any new creative partnership where you wonder why you have to work with a guy who is trying to ruin all your best ideas. (True story: I actually left my first meeting with James saying I’d never work with the guy!) But from the start of Batman: The Brave and The Bold there was already a familiarity and trust established that allowed us to usually be on the same page.
Working with James is like having a second writer on the show. We pretty much came up with every premise together and he’d even help break these premises with me and the writer of the episode. One of things I’ve always appreciated about him is that he always gave me the freedom to pursue ideas I know most other producers would have thought were too “out there.” Even ideas he didn’t like, he usually let me do them if I nagged him long enough about them. Conversely, there would be stories that he pitched that I didn’t think sounded very promising. When this happened I told him to prove me wrong and beat the premise out himself. To his credit he usually would and sure enough there would be a story. This is how the Batwoman episode – an episode James was pushing for as early as season one - finally came about.
WF: Now, let's get to the standard retrospective question...What was your favorite episode and why? What made it (or perhaps...them?) stand out above the others?
MJ: "Journey into the Bat" might be my favorite episode. That’s not to say I think it’s one of our best or more ambitious episodes, but it tells a simple Silver Age type story and tells it well. From start to finish I’m always charmed by it. And the fact you find yourself caring for a single cell organism by the end has to count for something. RIP Platelet.
WF: This show quickly gained a reputation for being fresh, original, and a love letter to the storied history of Batman. How was the creative team for the show able to pull something like this off?
MJ: James, Ben Jones and the rest of the crew certainly deserve the credit for that. It’s really a combination of their combined encyclopedic knowledge the DC Universe and their ability to interpret its history in a tasteful manner for a modern audience. A show with a Silver Age slant like ours could have very easily become clownish.
WF: Were there any stories or characters you wish you had the opportunity to tell?
MJ: Not really. Although, I did really wanted to do a whole episode centered around Haunted Tank, but James wasn’t feeling it. I believe the character may have been a little too absurd for him to devote a main plot too. I on the other hand still think Haunted Tank could have been as popular as Aquaman.
WF: James Tucker says the idea behind "Mitefall" came from you. Care to explain your inspiration for this episode and how you think it holds up as a 'final episode?' Do you find it a fitting send-off for an series full of thrilling adventure and tongue-in-cheek fun (as Ambush Bug says)?
MJ: I came up with the idea of having an episode where “Batmite gets the show canceled” sometime during the second season. Originally we were told the show would end at episode 52 and I thought that would be great way to go out. But because there was a slim chance we might get more episodes, and the fact that I didn’t have much more to the idea than that gimmicky concept, I put it aside.
When we were picked up for another 13 episodes I revisited the premise more seriously. Since the episode was going to focus on Batmite making the show terrible in an effort to get it canceled, I figured using the “Jump the Shark” troupes would be the best way to structure the action. The other thing I wanted was to have Batmite give an oral history of the show and our experience working on it – from the initial fan reaction of the first released artwork to the typical criticism we read online to having him reminisce about some of our favorite episodes.
I knew this kind of episode would run the risk of becoming too self indulgent or narcissistic, and while it probably is both of those things, I really think it works well as a series sendoff. As a TV nerd I love that Ted McGinley and Henry Winkler star in an episode about Shark Jumping. I love Neon Super Street Bat-Luge makes an appearance because it’s been an inside joke around the studio ever since it was first proposed as a toy idea on the last Batman series I worked on. And I love that Batman gets a chance to say goodbye to all the kids out there.
One of my favorite things to do with Batman: The Brave and The Bold was to get you to care about patently absurd characters and situations. I think we do this successfully in “Mitefall.” What starts off as a series of meta in-jokes, hopefully leaves you a little choked up by the end.
Speaking of caring about the absurd, I think the teaser also works really well. Batman teaming up with Abe Lincoln was something I had been pitching over and over to James for months. He kept saying “no” because he didn’t think Batman would alter the time continuum by saving the President. I was like “who cares, it’s funny!” But James had an annoying thing about making sure we “stayed true to the character.” Finally, I came up with the button where Batman reveals that he’s not saving our Lincoln, rather he’s traveled to a parallel universe to save “a” Lincoln. When I pitched this ending he was suddenly like “okay, now it works.” And, of course, he was right. Although most of this is unsaid, there is something poignant about Batman finding a loophole in regards to time travel in order to save a childhood hero. It gives what could have been a purely wacky concept heart. You watch it and say “that was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen… and it’s so sweet too!”
I really think “Mitefall” is one of the best series finales ever! But the episode only works as well as it does because we were fortunate enough to have Ben Jones direct it. I’m pretty sure he’s the only guy in the world with the particular skill set that could have pulled off bringing it to life.
WF: How did you juggle the final season of this series while also starting up the new ThunderCats animated series. Was there difficulty in juggling the two?
MJ: It was very tough. I probably should have handed off Batman: The Brave and the Bold to another story editor, but I loved the show too much to abandon it at that point. Ultimately, I got behind on a few deadlines, which forced us to get creative when it came to finding stories. At one point we needed a story quickly but didn’t have the time to go through a normal development process, so James suggested we dig up a long dormant Paul Dini/Alan Burnett Brave and the Bold DTV script. I quickly handed it over to writer Steve Melching who saved the production by adapting that story in record time (and giving us that great Space Ghost teaser, too).
WF: Was it an easy transition to ThunderCats completely once Batman: The Brave and the Bold wrapped up? Was it... odd to be moving on to a new series so quickly, or is that just the nature of the business? What was the final day of production for the series like for you?
MJ: Transitioning to a new show is never easy. New shows have lots of unknowns, so you usually struggle for about six to eight episodes before figuring out what kind of show you’re doing. Plus there’s the stress of learning to work with a new set of creative people. But to be honest, moving to a new series quickly is really luxury – it means you have a job!
WF: Looking back, what do you hope the legacy of this series will be?
MJ: I hope we’ve been able to show that superheroes are still allowed to be “fun.” If there is any legacy for Batman: The Brave and The Bold I’d like to see its tone reflected more in the world of comics. Of course, we’ll probably have to wait until the kids who grew up on this show begin to work as writers and artist for DC Comics for that to happen.
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