|Backstage - Interviews - James Tucker
To commemorate the Batman: The Brave and The Bold series finale episode "Mitefall!," The World's Finest caught up with Producer James Tucker to both discuss the final episode and also look back at the impact the series has left behind. The following
questions are a mix of those asked by The World's Finest staffers and fans.
The World's Finest: Can you break down your last day of production on Batman: The Brave and The Bold? What kind of things needed to get finished up, etc., before production was officially completed on all 65 episodes??
James Tucker: There are many last days really in production for me because, as a producer, we’re usually the first ones involved in a series from the very beginning and the last ones to finish after all the rest of the departments have moved onto other projects. So the last six months on a show is a long series of good-byes to each part of the crew including writers, actors, story boarders, designers, background layout, prop design, color styling and background paint, editing, music, and sound mixing and many more areas that I don’t have room to list. It’s pretty lonely actually because I’m sort of the last man standing. I give the final approvals on every facet of the production so by the time I’m finally finished and we’re ready to deliver the last show to the network, everyone I’ve worked with over the length of all three seasons has moved onto other series and have been gone for weeks or even many months.
WF: When the first images of this show were released, there was a bit of a vocal outcry from Batman fans, citing this as just a 'kiddie Batman show.' Now, as the final episode airs, many of those same fans are upset to see it come to a close. Is there something both fans and perhaps creative folk working on these cartoons can take from all of this? Perhaps not basing something on just a single image or two released?
JT: Well, sure, in a perfect world fans would give a show a chance to air and base their criticisms on what the show actually is rather than a hastily put together promotional image that usually bears no real relation to what the show ultimately will look like visually or tonally. I’ve been burned a couple of times by this process of being prejudged before the show gets on the air. But I’m in good company because it seems fans by and large derive entertainment from being able to vent and dump on shows they haven’t seen. And I include myself in that past time, so I really can’t judge. I’ve been on enough series where this is the standard course of action, and those of us who make this stuff know going in that we’ll get dumped on but we also know that if we do our jobs well, by the end, the fans that stuck with us and gave us a chance will be sorry to see us go when the end inevitably comes. I’ve learned not to pay much attention to it or take it too personally and that’s what I advise folks on my crews to do. As I said, I was lucky because I didn’t have to defend this show or feel put upon because almost from the beginning we had fans in our corner.
WF: And now - to dive right into the fan-submitted questions! If you could pick your top episodes, which would they be and why?
JT: "Legends of the Dark Mite!" - I think this was the episode that really showed the fans what this series was about and it also just well executed. Its funny, action-packed, and a real celebration of Batman fandom personified by Bat-Mite as the ultimate Batman fan boy. Also it was a pleasure to have Paul Reubens come into voice Bat-Mite.
"Terror on Dinosaur Island!" - This was the first episode we produced that had all the key ingredients in the right proportions: Heart, Humor and Heroism. It’s also the episode where all the technical aspects of the show came together: The animation was fluid, the color styling was amazing in both the characters and backgrounds, and the scoring really set the jazzy musical direction of the series. The fact that it was only our third episode was amazing to me. I was assuming our growing pains would last a lot longer but this episode became the one for a while was a template for the rest of the series.
"Deep Cover for Batman!/Game Over for Owlman!" - I really enjoyed the first part because we got to showcase The Red Hood on this parallel world as a hero and also show the Joker’s origin from a different angle. His own ‘Road Less Travelled’, I guess. The action choreography is stellar and who doesn’t love evil twin episodes? Also, anyone who accused us of being too ‘kiddie’ probably hasn’t seen this episode because for the most part, it’s pretty ‘dark’.
The second part I really enjoy because it’s just firing on all cylinders mainly with the introduction of our version of the Joker, which was heavily influenced by the Golden and Silver age comic book versions of the character. I think the pacing of this episode is great. There aren’t any dull patches at all and it builds to a true bat-fight in the finale in the best Adam West series tradition. I thought Jeff Bennett did a great job over the course of the series as the Joker and was letter perfect to the tone we were going for.
"Aquaman’s Outrageous Adventure!" - I love this one from beginning to end. From the somber teaser with Enemy Ace that we chose not to score musically at all, to the main story that is just an Aquaman tour de force, this is one of our best episodes as far as pacing, action and humor. It is also at its core, a story about how Aquaman has always been a family man. It really humanizes his character. Also we made sure to show him at his most powerful in a desert setting to shut down the ‘Aquaman is weak out of water’ haters.
"The Super Batman of Planet X!" - This episode really appeals to my goofy inner child. I always feel like I should be watching it with a bowl of cereal. It’s just a really fun romp. Basically it’s ‘What if Batman got super powers?’ story with very little subtext. What you see is what you get here, but what you get is great storytelling, great voice work, great production values and great music. I really think my crew got robbed because several of them put this episode up for Emmy and/or Annie consideration. The look of this episode is amazing. I love the Silver Age energy of the design and feel of this episode. Also, we were able to get Kevin Conroy to come in and do the strangest Batman to ever exist in comics, the Batman of Zur En Arrh and he nailed it of course. The only regret is that we weren’t able to get both Diedrich Bader and Kevin Conroy in the same studio because Kevin was in New York at the time. That would have been a major photo op!
"Battle of the Superheroes!" - In this episode we finally got to introduce Superman officially to the series and I thought the resulting episode was worth the wait. There are a ton of Superman-centric Easter eggs in it and it was a real love letter to the Silver Age Eisenhower era of Superman. Well animated and entertaining.
"The Criss Cross Conspiracy!" - This is probably more of a guilty pleasure than a true favorite because it focused on one of the most controversial characters in Batman’s mythos: the original Silver Age era Batwoman. I really wanted to use the Kathy Kane version of Batwoman but the powers that were didn’t like that idea because the current Kate Kane Batwoman was a different, though no less controversial, version, so I christened our version Katrina Moldoff after the Silver Age Batman artist, Shelly Moldoff. I liked the idea of Batwoman rebelling against the chauvinistic treatment she got from Batman (in the 50’s comics particularly) so I envisioned a revenge story of sorts that owes more than a little to the infamous Star Trek episode “Turnabout Intruder” mixed with a little ‘Mildred Pierce’ thrown in for good measure. I asked the composers to score the episode with Max Steiner in mind and they really delivered. Diedrich really got into the challenge of voicing Katrina in Batman’s body and gave a great vocal performance, as did Vanessa Marshall as Batwoman.
"Mayhem of the Music Meister!" - Wow, there’s so much already written about this one that I don’t really need to go into detail. It was a huge challenge and the fates and the hard work of everyone involved resulted in it being the high point for this series.
"The Last Patrol!" - Love the Doom Patrol. Got to do a story with them and also adapt a classic DP story where they die on camera. Good times…
"Night of the Batmen!" - This was an episode adapted from an issue of the comic book version of the series. I really enjoyed the concept of Batman’s friends taking over his Gotham duties and impersonating him while he recovers from a near fatal injury. Zany is the word that comes to mind. Most comic book stories tend to be too insider-y even for our show but this story was pretty straightforward and was really easy to adapt to the format of the series. This is one of those episodes that we probably would have never done in the first or even second season but was perfect for our third, and more Meta, season.
"The Mask of Matches Malone!"- I really enjoyed that this was basically a Batman episode where Batman isn’t really in it because he’s lost his memory and thinks he’s Matches Malone. The whole episode is very Guys and Dolls and even has a big splashy musical number that Michael Jelenic wrote and is probably the best song of all the ones we’ve included in the series. I also like the pacing of the episode. It really moves and keeps you guessing. There’s also an old school gangster movie feel to it that I like a lot.
WF: Do you have any favorite pieces of music from the series, out of all of the work done by Dynamic Music Partners? Or any particular favorite songs in Music Meister episode?
JT: Wow, that’s probably the hardest question to answer because I loved so much of the music they did for the series. I mentioned the score from "Terror on Dinosaur Island!" as being a defining one that set the tone for the whole series but there’s not an episode that doesn’t have some bit of music I really love. The music at the end of "Game Over for Owlman!" used during the big fight is one of my favorites because it reminded me of the Nelson Riddle/Neal Hefti bat-fight music from the ’66 TV series. We used it again in the big fight finale in "Triumvirate of Terror!" The whole score to "The Super Batman of Planet X!" I listen to often, especially the music used in the montage when Batman is showing off his newly acquired super powers. That same music was used in the ‘Dark Superman’ montage in "Battle of the Superheroes." And all of the songs we did for the show are so hummable to me and that of course is mainly because of the great work of Kris, Mike and Lolita [of Dynamic Music Partners]. They’re just ridiculously talented and the fact that we could just bring them a song scribbled on some notebook paper and they could make it into something worth listening to always amaze me. Besides the 'Birds of Prey’ song, ‘The Ballad of Batman’ is my favorite song of the series and ‘Death Trap’ and ‘Drive Us Bats’ are probably my favorite from "The Mayhem of the Music Meister!" episode.
WF: As a semi-follow-up, were there any further Music Meister stories you would've liked to tell had the show continued, or was Music Meister a one-time deal?
JT: We toyed around with bringing him back but never locked down a real story that really had to be told. I think it was best that we left the audience wanting more of him.
WF: As a semi-follow-up, a lot of voice actors pulled double duty in certain episodes as the series went on, in a departure from how things were done in the days of Justice League Unlimited. Can you please explain the thinking that went into this, and the challenges of casting someone to play multiple roles in the same episode (or stretch of episodes)?
JT: Because the only constant character was Batman and Diedrich Bader was our only real regular actor, everyone else was either a semi regular or a guest star, it necessitated coming up with a core of actors we could count on to deliver the goods and who were truly versatile. Stunt casting a show like this just wasn’t feasible nor am I a big fan of stunt casting in general if I can avoid it. With stunt casting, more often than not, you’re getting someone who hasn’t done a lot of voice over work and probably only does their own voice. This show required actors who could do multiple voices and are mentally quick on their feet. It also required actors capable of comedic timing and skill at doing ADR. So Andrea Romano and I agreed that we would cast a troupe of revolving actors to tackle the majority of the roles on the show and I think it worked really well for the series. It made for a very pleasurable working environment because voice actors as a whole tend to be really cool down to earth and professional people.
WF: On a related note, was Julie Newmar meant to have played a villain, in addition to the role of Martha Wayne? Which villainous role were you planning on allocating to her if true?
JT: Primarily, At the recording, I realized that we had Poison Ivy in the episode, and Julie had only done Martha Wayne so we hastily wrote some dialogue for Julie to record as Poison Ivy. It was fine but by the time it came to ADR “Chill of the Night” we knew we were going to feature Poison Ivy in the teaser to the “Mask of Matches Malone” and the characterization of her in that was a lot different than what Julie had done at the recording originally. She kind of gave Poison Ivy a really tough, not very seductive voice. So ultimately we got Jennifer Hale to record the Poison Ivy voice to more closely match what Vanessa Marshall ultimately ended up doing in “Mask of Matches Malone” episode.
WF: Some of the wacky episodes, such as "Bat-Mite Presents: Batman's Strangest Cases!” proved to be a rousing success. How difficult was it to produce the out-of-left-field episodes such as "Mitefall!" and the aforementioned episode?
JT: There were challenges in all of the episodes that featured Bat-Mite because his episodes tended to be more out there, zany and required more work because he’s magic and is constantly creating havoc by making things appear and disappear and warping reality. “Batman’s Strangest Cases” had so many different parts to it with the Mad Magazine teaser with the CGIed comic book cover opening to reveal the comic book pages, to the Bat-Manga section and it’s different color palette to the Scooby-Doo recreation. Plus we decided to have Bat-mite’s study be done photo realistically so we actually had to find pictures or take them of all the stuff you see in his study that he narrates from. This series in general required a lot more work than other shows I’ve worked on because we had the stand alone teaser that was usually set in a totally different setting than the rest of the episode, plus each episode would be located in a different local, city, or planet that required different style colors, and models. This was a huge show to do but luckily I had a very talented crew doing the heavy lifting.
WF: Are there any standout moments from the voice recording sessions that you could share with us, please? Any really funny moments?
JT: The sessions that stand out the most are the ones with the actors I grew up watching on television, so of course the sessions where Adam West, Julie Newmar, Paul Reubens and Tim Conway got to come in were amazing. The recording of ‘Chill of the Night’ was huge because the cast was amazing and there was a lot of press associated with it. Julie Newmar reminded me of old school Hollywood because she dressed like a movies star even though it was just to do voice over work. Tippy Hedren voicing Hippolyta was another fun recording session because she came in and everyone recognized her but Kevin Michael Richardson who was voicing Lex Luthor in our series and sitting next to her. Anyway, we start rehearsing and it suddenly dawns on him who she is and he starts shouting “The Birds! The Birds!” It was pretty funny. Any session where Kevin and John DiMaggio were working together was bound to be hilarious with a lot of adlibs we’d never get away with airing. It was always a joy to work with our regulars who did voices on the show.
WF: Whose idea was it to change the ending for "Shadow of the Bat!" so that it was all a dream? Did a member of the crew decide that it was the appropriate way to go, or did Cartoon Network mandate that the episode needed to end that way?
JT: I made that call. Originally all the events in the story were to have actually happened, Batman had indeed been turned into a vampire, and everything you saw on screen had happened. However, once the show came back from being animated and was edited, the third act and the ending really felt really anti-climactic to me. Up until the very end, the atmosphere of horror, dark comedy and dread had been effectively established, but in the original ending had the sun simply come up and everyone gets cured. It felt off to me that the sun wouldn’t destroy the vampires rather than be the cause of them being cured. Granted, technically they were synthetic vampires, but I really felt that final image of the JLI on fire had to be in the context of them being incinerated by the sun rather than being cured and the only way to do that was in the context of it all being a fever dream that Batman was having. So I made the call to re-stage the ending where the audience doesn’t know Batman’s dreamt the whole thing until the very end, whereas originally the audience would have known from the middle of the third act that all the JLI had to do was wait for the sun to come up to be cured.
Also another reason I wanted to go the fever dream route was that then we could really lay on the sound efx, like the sickening crunching sound Batman makes when he’s biting Black Mask, and really go to town on all the really scary horror music we used. My concern was, if Batman was doing all this stuff for real in the story, then there was the potential for Broadcast Standard to request we pull back on the bells and whistles that would really make the episode horrific even though the script and board were approved. It has been known to happen in the past. This is all very subjective stuff on my part and Michael Jelenic disagreed with me on the revision. I think if we’d had a longer format to tell the story and a longer time for the resolution, then the original version would have been fine, but because this episode is really packed with every vampire movie gag, we just ran out of time to set up a resolution that didn’t feel rushed. As it is, I view the epilogue as a homage to the old horror movie, ‘Mark of the Vampire’ where at the end we find out the vampires in the story were just actors. I don’t think the final solution was perfect by any means, and given how off the wall this season was, I wished we had just ended the episode with them all burning up on the bridge of the satellite! Roll credits! Then next week everyone’s back to normal. Now that would have been a true horror movie ending. I recommend to the fans that truly hate the ending to turn the episode off right before the final scene with Batman recovering in the sick bay.
WF: Did you have any plans for other Batman villains, like Hugo Strange and the Mad Hatter that you couldn't see through because of the show ending at 65 episodes? Another episode, featuring the Trinity meeting Aquaman, was also apparently being considered - what would we have seen there if it went through? Would you reveal why the Justice League originally disbanded?
JT: There weren’t any firm plans to use Hugo Strange except for that cameo in “Knights of Tomorrow” that I recall but in “The Vile and the Villainous”, instead of the Weeper, the original idea was to use Mad Hatter as the over-the-hill villain that Joker helps. I vetoed that because The Weeper seemed a better counterpoint to The Joker in the context of the story and also I’d remembered that they’d teamed up in the comics before. I really couldn’t envision The Mad Hatter being that much older than Joker as the story required. It would have been nice to see the Mad Hatter in a teaser though but he was in several cameo parts throughout the series.
There were never any real plans to address the reason the original Justice League disbanded. It really didn’t seem all that important once we’d set up the new JLI. Not everything in a series needs a follow-up or that dreaded word, ‘closure.' I did have an idea for an episode about how Aquaman was a bit envious of the friendship that Batman has with Superman and Wonder Woman but that didn’t get very far and seemed moot after exploring somewhat similar plot points in “Night of the Batmen.”
WF: One theme I noticed among these fan submitted questions is about relationships. Would we have seen more of Black Canary and Green Arrow as a couple? A follow-up on Vixen after B'Wanna's death? Gardner and Ice?
JT: There wasn’t really any real interest in further exploring those relationships in any depth. That really wasn’t what our show was about. We wanted to be fairly continuity-lite for this series. In these cases, I’d rather let the fans imagine what is going on with those characters, and not use screen time for it.
WF: Many, many fans sent in this question: What's the fate of "The Mask of Matches Malone?" Will Cartoon Network ever air this episode? Will it be part of the DVD releases?
JT: I don’t really know. My hope is that whatever happens, it will be on the box set of episodes when the time comes for them to be released. At this point, that’s probably the best case scenario.
WF: As we wrap this up, details on the next animated Batman series have already appeared. What words of advice do you have to the creative team of the next Batman cartoon? What was your pitch for the next Batman cartoon like?
JT: Well, my old co-worker and friend, Glen Murakami is producing the new series and it couldn’t be in better hands. I don’t need to give him any advice because he went through the prejudging before on two series of his own already, Teen Titans and the Ben 10 reboot. I think I’ll wait to talk about our unused pitch for a later date, needless to say, it was going to be very different than Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
WF: In the pantheon of Batman cartoons, where would you place yours? What type of legacy do you hope it leaves behind?
JT: Batman as a creation is so much bigger than the shows, movies or comics that are produced featuring him. He’s just one of those characters that resonates with the public no matter what the first incarnation is they see him in. There are kids who are six years old now for whom this show will be the first thing they’ll think of when they think of Batman and they’ll argue with people when they’re in their 30’s and 40’s about how this show was the best version no matter what’s being done with the character in the future. That’s just the way it goes. For me, it’s enough that for the 22 minutes that folks were watching the show, we entertained them and their families. That’s a pretty good legacy to me.
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