The Bruce Timm Interview
by Jim Harvey
The Bruce Timm Interview: The Original, Uncut Version
by Jim Harvey
Bruce Timm is no stranger to returning to the characters he loves most: Batman and Superman. He has revisited them time and time again. Always presenting them in the best possible light and giving us possibly the best rendition of these iconic characters.
With the series finale of Justice League aired in the US and coming soon to DVD, and the follow up, Justice League Unlimited, set to begin airing in August in the States, it seems that the Animated Universe that Timm has created may be coming to a close. With new shows such as Teen Titans (of which Timm is an executive producer) and The Batman, the old DCAU is coming to a close to usher in a new era of shows and movies.
This is the third interview The World's Finest has conducted with Bruce Timm (Interview #1 | Interview #2), so sit back, enjoy, scroll down and begin reading!
Cartoons are notorious for keeping characters stuck in time. However, over the course of Batman, you had characters age and change as the series progressed, i.e. Dick Grayson. Why did you decide to take this route?
It's not so much that we wanted the characters to age, it's just that when we re-booted "Batman" for TNBA, we'd re-thought our position on Robin, and decided we'd like to have him be a kid, rather than a young adult; having Dick "grow up" slightly to become Nightwing, and leaving a space open to introduce Tim Drake as the new Robin just seemed to be the simplest solution. I have to say I was pretty pleased with the results, overall. I liked the goofy, feisty "Kid Robin" MUCH more than the twenty-something Robin, who always struck me as "neither fish nor fowl." Also, I thought the disillusioned, somewhat bitter Dick/Nightwing himself was much more interesting as a character in TNBA. Two birds, one stone (no pun intended).
How did you feel about Paul Williams being recast as The Penguin in the recent "Mystery of Batwoman" DTV? The recasting, as I'm sure you saw, became somewhat of a controversy throughout the WF fan community and I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the recasting, the character, and/or the movie itself.
Well, I probably wouldn't have re-cast the Penguin myself, as I always thought Paul was PERFECT for the part. Also, I've been a fan of his songwriting for decades, especially his "Phantom of the Paradise" score and songs, so the fan-boy/geek in me was always delighted to be working with him. But I wasn't involved in MOTB in any way, so it wasn't my decision to make. David Ogden Stiers was fine as a replacement, he's a terrific actor and a swell guy, but it IS a bit weird to not hear Paul's voice coming out of Pengy's mouth. Then again, I've been guilty of "un-necessarily" re-casting parts myself, for various reasons, so I stand by Alan Burnett's right to re-cast as he saw fit.
Viewers have noticed that several of this season's episodes are continuing storylines from the Superman series, such as Brainiac's "phase two" of his plan and the reappearance of Mercy Graves. Was this intentional or something that just came up in production? Expand and explain.
It just happened. We intentionally avoided using STAS and BTAS supporting cast members for the first season of JL, because we wanted to make JL stand on its own as much as possible. Same with Darkseid, in a way; he's so specifically a Superman baddie; we didn't want his presence to overpower the other characters. By the time we started season 2, we thought he would be a great way to kick-off the new season, and incidentally, start re-introducing elements of the previous series as well. Expect more continuity-ties in the future.
It's apparent that several of your versions of Justice League characters draw heavily from their classic roots (The Manhunters, The Shade, and Dr. Destiny being prime examples). This considered, why did the creative team decide to emphasize Eclipso's modern elements over his Silver Age ones? Is there a fondness for silver-age characters over modern day interpretations? Why?
Six of one. Some characters can be adapted pretty closely to their comics' counterparts, some need to be drastically re-thought/re-imagined. Eclipso was one of those characters that we felt needed to be updated somewhat in order for modern audiences to take them seriously as a convincing threat to the assembled JL. If we ever do bring him/it back, I'd like to do something that honors his Silver Age version a bit more. I like "Eclipsed" a lot, but I do kind of regret that he became little more than a vengeful spirit-thing. We'll see...
It seems to me that the creative team has been slipping quite a bit of political commentary into the current batch of episodes; examples include a cameo by George W. Bush and the call for a "unilateral defensive strike" against Doomsday in "A Better World," Despero's call to Jihad in "Hearts and Minds," and military operatives on a mission to overthrow a Middle Eastern dictator in "Eclipsed." Any comments?
It's not so much that we were deliberately trying to inject "political commentary" into the show; it's just that we're constantly on the look-out for story hooks or springboards, and we just happened to find some juicy ones in current events. In the case of "A Better World," the story became much more timely AFTER the story had been written; months later, while the show was in post-production, it was right around the time Mr. Bush was rattling his saber at Iraq, just before the U.S. actually invaded. Not that it was really all that similar to whatever President Luthor was seemingly up to in "ABW," but as we were putting that show together, we seemed to find haunting echoes of Lex in Mr. Bush's stubborn insistence on going to war with Iraq, against the better judgment of the U.N., etc. It was eerie. Also, Justice Lord Superman's lockdown on Lois' freedom of speech had interesting parallels with what was going on in the world post-9-11, where, for instance, anyone who publicly disagreed with the President was labeled "un-patriotic." But it's not an overtly political episode, for all of that. Its "message" is pretty basic: "democracy isn't perfect, but it's better than the alternative."
"Hearts And Minds" is, admittedly, fairly heavily influenced by real-world events, specifically recent events in the Middle East. For example, there is an overt echo of the Taliban in the scene where Despero's acolytes are ready to murder a citizen for possessing books. But even there, we were very careful to make sure that the show wouldn't come off as a slam against Muslims. Islam, as I understand it, is actually a very tolerant religion, as organized religions go. However, religious EXTREMISTS, of ANY denomination or faith, who use their faith as an excuse to hate and demonize those who disagree with them, or are different from them, can be very scary. So, again, the messages (there are two) of the story are very basic, and hard to argue with: one, "beware of false prophets" and two, "hate is bad, love is good."
The real-world element in "Eclipsed" -- i.e., the hunt for the Bin Laden-like guy -- is basically window-dressing, an attempt to add verisimilitude to something that is, at its core, a pretty far-fetched fantasy romp; nothing remotely political about it, at all.
There seems to be an infusion of sex appeal into this season's Justice League episodes, from some quick innuendo to the developing relationship between Green Lantern and Hawkgirl. Any thoughts? Is this done to add a mature angle, or do you think it's a natural progression for the animated series? Why?
We've always tried to find that middle ground between "adult" entertainment and "kid-friendly" elements. Sometimes we've walked right up to that line and possibly have stepped over it a tiny bit, but it's all relative. I admit we pushed the boundaries of the Y-7 rating several times in season 2, in terms of "adult" content, but it's NOTHING compared to what goes on in primetime "family hour" shows like "Friends," say. For the most part, I would roughly equate the level of "sex appeal" stuff in JL to the kinds of things the old STAR TREK show might have gotten away with. And that was 30-some-odd years ago.
As for the GL/HG romance, that's just us experimenting with the form. JL is the first show that I've worked on where we deliberately plotted out a long-term story/character arc. Previous shows, from BTAS to BATMAN BEYOND were much more episodic, with self-contained, "stand-alone" episodes the general rule. We had fun letting their story develop gradually over the course of two seasons; leading up to the big (ahem) climax in "Starcrossed." And, I'd have to say I think the whole thing was tastefully done even their first kiss in "Wild Cards," while certainly "passionate," wasn't at all "dirty" or "inappropriate."
*Can you provide any information on the second season finale "Starcrossed"? Rumors have been ripping through the net, some supposedly really close to the actual plot. Sites such as CBR have mentioned the finale will involve a full-blown invasion by some familiar looking aliens. What are your thoughts on the finale, and can you provide any information?
Well, obviously, this is kind of "old news," especially since the episode has by now aired in every market OTHER than North America. But I still don't want to spoil it too much, so I'll keep this brief. As I mentioned in the previous answer, "Starcrossed" is, in part, the culmination of the GL/HG storyline. In fact, we had the basic set-up for "Starcrossed" in mind before we ever even wrote "Secret Origins," we knew long ago what this story would be. Also, when the time came to actually write the episode, we didn't know whether or not we were going to be picked up for a third season, so we felt it would be a good opportunity to "go out with a bang," and really shake things up. Obviously, I'm too close to it for any kind of objectivity, but I do think it's one of the best "long-form" stories we've ever done. It's comparable to "The Savage Time" in terms of sheer spectacle, but it's in a completely different class altogether when it comes to character-driven, emotional drama. The events of "Starcrossed" PROFOUNDLY affect the JL, and directly lead to the re-formatted JLU in season 3. Again, objectivity aside, I'm as proud of it as just about any other show I've ever worked on.
What are your thoughts on situations such as when the internet and message board communities can spoil surprises or reveal plot points and situations meant to be kept under wraps?
Well, it's a drag, honestly. Some people just can't wait to see the show to find out what happens, and when there's a will, there's a way. I do understand the impulse, I get that way myself sometimes, but it's still frustrating. But, y'know, what are you gonna do?
And what about the rumors concerning a direct-to-video film? Can you confirm any of these? And if you can, could you provide some insight into these upcoming projects?
Well, there IS a JL DTV in the works....kind of. What happened was, the Home Video division commissioned us to write a JL DTV, right around the time we were gearing up for season 3. Dwayne McDuffie and I came up with the story, Dwayne wrote a terrific script, I designed loads of new characters, we started story-boarding, Andrea Romano had assembled a KILLER cast, and we were just getting ready to record it, and then Home Video slammed on the brakes, and it was put on the shelf for the time being. This is a GOOD thing, really! The original plan was to do the DTV and season 3 concurrently, but, long story short: we would have been stretched WAY to thin. JLU is a difficult enough show to do by itself, without having to prep a feature-length movie at the same time. Home Video is still interested in making it, apparently, so hopefully it'll happen.
Based on the fact that you've provided cover art for the series, I'm assuming you're keeping up to speed on the BATMAN ADVENTURES series. The series portrays a "JL" version Batman in a solo setting. Not only that, but the series has made some significant changes to the status quo. Does this series have any impact on the Justice League series?
None whatsoever. While I admire the work that Ty, Dan, and Rich have done, I can't be beholden to it, I just can't, it'll tie my hands creatively too much.
Any comments on the direction the Batman Adventures series has taken with the character, and the comics' series itself?
It's been a great run, some of the best DCAU comics EVER, and that's saying something. Shame it's coming to a close.....
Can we expect more contributions from you on the animated comic? If so, what?
Well, when you originally asked this question, my answer might have been "maybe." But, knowing what we all know now, I guess the answer has to be "not bloody likely."
*-This interview was conducted between the months of November and May, hence the delay on some questions. By the time this interview was completed (6/12/04), "Starcrossed" had aired and much more about Justice League Unlimited had been revealed.