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EXCLUSIVE! Mr. Beaks Gets the Lowdown on BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD from Producer James Tucker!

Beaks here...

While Christopher Nolan continues to push Batman in a deathly serious direction, Warner Bros. Animation has, thankfully, decided to lighten up on the ol' Caped Crusader. So if you've been waiting for a Batman movie or television series you can watch with, y'know, kids (but still enjoy yourself), might I recommend BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD? Based on the vintage team-up series that ran from 1955 to 1983 (it has been resurrected several times since, most recently in 2007 by Mark Waid), this iteration of the animated Batman promises to inject a little humor and a lot more fun into Gotham City. It's spearheaded by producer James Tucker (whose previous credits include BATMAN BEYOND, JUSTICE LEAGUE and LEGION OF SUPERHEROES), and it's set to debut on Cartoon Network in 2009. I'm hoping to make it to the Comic Con panel tomorrow (@ 10:00 AM in Room 6B), but, in the meantime, I'm happy to have had the opportunity to chat with Tucker and his new Batman (the voice of OFFICE SPACE's Diedrich Bader!). I'm also excited to share with you the first glimpses of the characters (including Plastic Man and Green Arrow), as well as a trailer (which I'll have embedded shortly). For now, here's James Tucker talking tone, story and character on THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD! Beaks: I talked to Diedrich on Friday, and he was great.
James Tucker: Yeah, he's a great guy.
Beaks: We're used to him doing comedy, and I know you're going for a lighter touch with this series, but why Diedrich for Batman?
Tucker: The Batman we're doing is kind of old school, and the thing about old school Batman was, even though we all know about his parents being murdered in an alley, he's kind of the flipside to the dark version of Batman who lets that pain dominate his life. The Batman we're doing has that pain, but instead of letting it pull him down, he's trying to make sure that never happens to anyone else. He's a very... decent guy. (Laughs) I guess that's the best word to describe him. He doesn't let his torment affect the way he treats other people. So I guess we needed a nice, decent, but strong person to play the part, someone whose decency would come through in their voice. We had auditions, and you get a lot of scary, whispery guys, and a lot of guys who hiss... they tap into that raging anger inside of them, but there's no humanity. There's no warmth. And Diedrich... was the only one we heard who clicked. We knew he was the one.
Beaks: I'm wondering if there's some sort of philosophy that's driving the evolution of the animated Batman for Warners, or is it more about gauging the zeitgeist and asking, "What kind of Batman do people want right now?"
Tucker: I think that aspect of the zeitgeist came after we decided on that direction. I can only speak for myself, but I've worked with Bruce Timm for twelve years, and I would never dare to follow his run or even the last Batman run with an uber-serious, dark, psychologically intense kind of Batman. It's been done. And it just worked out that this newest Batman film is the darkest interpretation of Batman I've ever seen in media. The only Batman I'm interested in is the one I grew up with, and the Batman I first learned about, that eventually led me into these darker incarnations, was... very straight and very much a hero. He was very cool, still, but not as psychologically tormented and unapproachable as Batman has become. That was the only Batman I would've been interested in working on because it hadn't been done in a long time, and it hadn't been done well in a long time either. I just think, especially with this new DARK KNIGHT movie... it's a really hard PG-13. Kids under sixteen or seventeen shouldn't be allowed anywhere near it. There's a new Batman fan born every hour, and it just seems a shame that there's nothing out there for them to see. So I think this is what will serve that niche. That wasn't the initial thought going in; I just didn't want to follow in the shadow of the most recent Batmans because... one would argue, and some are arguing, that it's too soon to have the Batman show. I totally agree with them. The difference is that [BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD] is a team show: it's Batman *and*... Batman happens to be in it, but it's more about him bouncing off the other characters; it's not just another Batman show. So those are the things that went through my mind when they approached me about doing it. And it turns out that it is in the zeitgeist. I think there is a need for a more approachable Batman. There's a need for an option. The kids right now don't have an option with this new movie. It's really too much for them.
Beaks: When I was growing up, you had the comic books and the uber-light TV version with Adam West. But when you talk about the Batman you grew up with, which artists and runs inspired you?
Tucker: BRAVE AND THE BOLD was the first Batman comic I ever read, so that's ironic. But my first exposure to Batman was, of course, Adam West and, then, the Filmation Batman. Those were very light, and I'm glad they were: they were the gateway drug into the harder stuff. (Laughs) It's the marijuana of superheroes. But then I picked up the comic books, and BRAVE AND THE BOLD looked like Neal Adams and Denny O'Neil, but when you read them they were really silly. That was my first comic book experience. Then I started reading the classic Neal Adams and Denny O'Neil stories, and I was like, "Wow, Batman's car is just like a Corvette! This isn't the Batman from the TV show, but it's still cool." Then you find out the darker themes, like the classic Denny O'Neil story "Appointment in Crime Alley". Things where you find out, "Wow, there's all this richness to the character!" It's kind of cool because, as you grow older... the themes that motivate Batman get deeper and deeper. But you can always go back to the more innocent Batman, and it still works. He's an amazing character, because there are so many entry points and things you can go back to. You can take him as dark as you want, or you can take him lighter, and he'll still work as long as he still has the villains, the gadgets, the intensity and the mission. Then there were the 100-page "Spectaculars", but they'd also reprint the other ones. And they were great! It was like, "I can see this new dark Batman, but this is where he came from!" You could see the evolution of the character. So the thing I'm doing is taking all of those elements, basically anything that happened pre-DARK KNIGHT RETURNS is fair game. Even up until the 1980s, there were runs where he was still the old school Batman... not as dark. The Mike Barr/Alan Davis run on Batman was kind of light, but it was still cool. There are all kinds of things to draw on, it's just that after DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, everything got pitch black. I think that also coincided with the market for comics getting older and older. So I think THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD serves as a nice entry level for kids. And it's still good! People who know their comic book history will find lots to enjoy in this show. We are all fans here, and some of us are real old school. There are going to be tons of easter eggs.
Beaks: One of the great things is that you get to bring in so many other characters from the DC Universe.
We're trying to dig a lot deeper than just "The Big Three". There are the first-tiers: Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Then the second tier: Green Lantern, Flash. We're going even deeper. JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED covered a lot of that, but a lot of them weren't given spotlights, so this is a chance to go even deeper and actually give some attention to some of the lower rung characters who are still kind of cool.
Beaks: What about your stable of villains?
Tucker: We're kind of using the old template of cartoons, where you had a few villains that reoccurred. But it's not going to be like G.I. JOE, where all you had was Cobra. (Laughs) There will be different people showing up. We're trying to use as many characters as DC will allow.
Beaks: Do you think you might wedge Superman in there at some point?
Tucker: Well, currently his rights are tied up or something. I'm not privy to all the information, but he's unavailable to us. But if I remember correctly, Superman didn't appear at all in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD until the very last issue. There is a comic book precedent for that. I don't miss him because Batman can hold his own with any hero in the DC Universe. But when you put Superman in there, suddenly there's a different type of story people want to see. Or it becomes more challenging. I hope someday we'll get to do that story, like the very last episode of the series. That would be appropriate. But right now, I'm not missing the chance to deal with him.
Beaks: Talking with Diedrich, he hinted at some of the voice talent, but there were a few names he wouldn't spill. Sounds like you've rounded up a very interesting voice cast.
Tucker: Well, Andrea Romano is the voice director, and she just has a pipeline to talent. Really unusual choices become available just because we have her on the project. There will definitely be some surprises. I can't go into who because I don't know how deep I can go. (Laughs)
Beaks: In terms of the humor, is it going to be quippy?
Tucker: Not quippy. At least, I don't think so. It's not trying to be campy like the BATMAN TV show really. No one makes fun of Batman. I think the humor comes more from the sense that Batman and all these heroes are basically acquaintances or friends. There's a sense of camaraderie amongst them. The humor comes from the relationships of the characters; it doesn't just come arbitrarily. When we say "humor", we just mean it's lighter. Batman doesn't always have a stick up his ass. (Laughs) He's someone they talk to. Each hero brings out a different aspect of him: some heroes he doesn't like, while some heroes he's really close to. This show is able to explore different aspects of Batman's personality through the prism of the other heroes. But I wouldn't say it's quippy. We have fun, and we don't ignore his history with the darkness and then the Adam West stuff. There are little nods to little points along Batman's history, and we have *decades* of history to draw upon.
Beaks: The only reason I brought up the idea of the humor was that Diedrich mentioned the openness of the table reads, where the actors could raise their hands and make line suggestions.
Tucker: Oh, yeah. That's the whole beauty of the system we have here [at Warner Bros.]: we have everyone in the same room together. It's really organic. I don't know how other shows do it, where people are just isolated. It's great to get that energy of the actors working with each other; it brings out the best in them. Someone like Tom Kenny, he should get a writing credit for some of the stuff he comes up with. He's great.
Beaks: Can you see what BRAVE AND THE BOLD might be building to? Do you know what the next phase is for the animated Batman?
Tucker: The intention is always to start out approachable. Then, once you develop characters and storylines, you can't help but get deeper - and that's when things get more intense. Once you care about the characters, and you've established a rapport with the audience, things tend to get more intense. I can already see that happening with our storyline. (Laughs) Which is fine. But I don't know where it's going to go. A lot of these stories are just one-offs. Maybe not "one-offs", but it's not like we're doing a big long arc, or anything. Every episode's a different character; Batman's the only constant. There are some characters who come back more than others, and we follow their stories each time they return; something's deepened about their character, or there's some more plot progression with their storyline. But it's not really arc-y. The other thing is that things kind of develop without you planning them. It's like, "Wow, I didn't know this was a story we could tell!" But there's no thought about where it's going to ultimately go; we're just trying to get through the first season. I just hope the response is good. Unlike the Adam West show, where nothing ever really developed, I think this show has the room to get into more serious territory. Each episode has a different tone to it: some are darker, some are lighter. Because each episode deals with another character, and Batman is on their turf or their environment, it opens up a whole wide array of stories that we couldn't tell if we were just in Gotham all the time.
Beaks: Just as long as my five-year-old nephew has a Batman he can watch.
Tucker: I think this is the one, then. And I think you can watch it with him. The whole goal is broad-based. Make it broad enough for people, but have things in it that make it cool for each age.
Beaks: Geez, James, it sounds like you're playing in the sandbox we all dreamt of playing in when we were kids.
Tucker: Yeah, I must've sacrificed the right goat or something. (Laughs) It's weird. I missed out on BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, but even that, as much as I loved it, it wasn't the Batman show that I envisioned. So, good or ill, this is it! (Laughs) It's been fun. It's been intense, but fun. And this is the year of Batman, evidently. It's a good time to be in the Batman world.

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