Saturday, July 26, 2014

SDCC: Batman 75th Anniversary Panel

DC Comics spent most of its weekend at Comic-Con International in San Diego celebrating the 75th anniversary of Batman, NOW we have the "Batman 75th Anniversary" panel.

Assembled on stage were a variety of creators who have worked with the character across media including actor Kevin Conroy, "Batman: The Animated Series" producers Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, "Batman '66 Meets The Green Hornet" writer Ralph Garman, DC CCO Geoff Johns, DC Co-Publisher Jim Lee and DC animation's Peter Girardi.

DC's John Cunningham introduced the panel and introduced the idea of the panel focusing on Batman in other media. Citing some of the cornerstones of the character's history, Cunningham asked the panelist which of the Bat Villains was their favorite. The Joker proved a popular choice.

"He's a perfect counterpart to Batman, and he's just outright crazy," said Dini while Garman pointed to the Riddler due to Frank Gorshin's manic and terrifying performance. Girardi also connected to the 1966 "Batman" TV show pointing to campy and crazy villains like Egghead. Geoff Johns said he loved Killer Croc as the first Bat villain he ever bought a comic with while Lee connected to Catwoman as a sympathetic villain. Bruce Timm said he loved them all, so why not go with a more obscure character like Bookworm. Timm joked that the idea of the Joker was always strange to him because of the mustache Caesar Romero had in the TV show. Conroy pointed towards Mark Hamill's version of the Joker as the definitive version of the character and one that made him better in the role of Batman  but he also said he was blown away by Heath Ledger's performance in "The Dark Knight."

The panel discussed the "Batman '66" series in more detail as Garman recalled his joy at watching the original crossover with Green Hornet. Timm said that as a kid, watching that crossover caused some "Who will win in a fight between Robin and Kato?" discussions that seem insane looking at who Bruce Lee and Burt Ward were, but such was the impact of that show.

Tim Burton's 1989 "Batman" film was discussed as an event that caused a seismic shift in how the Dark Knight was seen. The panel recalled how from the first release of the teaser poster to debates over whether Michael Keaton could take on the role of Batman everything about the build up to a second round of Batmania was unexpected.

That idea continued in the groundbreaking "Batman: The Animated Series" a few years later. Timm recalled saying, "All these crazy ideas we're messing around with is going to work" while watching the first footage coming back from the pilot. "And we thought it was going to be a successful show because there was a lot less media out there. But we didn't really expect how successful or how enduringly successful the show would be," Timm said.

Conroy said that when the actors finally saw what the cartoon would actually look like, he turned to Hammil and said, "Did you have a clue that this was what we were doing?" He credited the vision of the producers for attracting top voice talent to the show. "They got great guest actors in to do all the guest spots," the actor said, recalling a thank you ad the producers took out in "Variety" after the 100th episode that had a who's who of acting talent listed as being a part of the series.

Timm said he'd always wanted to do "The Animated Series" as a full on period piece "like set right in 1939 in the early era of Batman." The legendary Fleschier Studio cartoon versions of Superman were also a huge influence on the show, and Timm had a cut of one of those shorts in black and white in college that he loved. This past year, the director finally was able to meld all those ideas for "Strange Days" a recent short released for DC Nation that the panel then aired.

The panel then discussed "Batman Beyond"; the next major animated iteration of the character. Timm explained that the network executive at The WB requested the "Animated Series" creative team deliver them a show about "Teenage Batman." The creators cringed at the idea and kind of pitched the idea of a future Batman raising up an heir on the spot. The network was excited at the prospect while the producers thought it sounded terrible. But slowly, Timm, Dini, Alan Burnett and the rest of the crew started to think the science fiction angle of the show could work particularly as designer Glen Murakami. Timm said that when they got the greenlight at the same time they were making new Batman and Superman episodes, it's a wonder that "Beyond" turned into what it was considering their short production time.

The publishing side came back in again as Cunningham explained that among all the classic Batman trades in DC's backlist, Lee and Jeph Loeb's "Hush" has been a best seller for DC's recent "Batman Day." Meanwhile, more of Lee's work is getting brought back into shops with a massive Absolute Edition of Lee and Frank Miller's "All-Star Batman And Robin The Boy Wonder." Lee recalled that when he took the job of doing that series, Miller insisted he meet first...on the set of "Sin City." In the room when they met were Robert Rodriguez and the Weinstein Brothers. Lee said he looked at Millar and said, "Frank, you didn't need to impress me. You had me at 'Goddamn Batman.'" More seriously, Lee said that Miller's work recontextualizing the character in "The Dark Knight" is what made him want to be a comics professional.

Back on the animated side, Timm and Dini recalled their creation of Harley Quinn. Timm said that he was very happy now that he didn't just turn Dini's idea for a quirky, fun sidekick for the Joker. After the first episode with her came out, Dini started putting the character in more and more of his scripts. "Paul kept bringing her back in the show, and I let him because I liked here, but we had no idea it would turn into this," he said. For his part, Dini compared the long life of the character to the creation of Bugs Bunny a fun idea that was picked up by the collective creative community and carried forward.

In the wake of Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" film trilogy defining the character for a new generation, Timm responded to the idea of how someone would top that by saying that the great thing about Batman is that he's so versitile. The trick is to always make the next version of the character significantly different than the last. Johns recalled a Batman comics writer who wanted to kill the Joker thinking the character's stories had all been told, but then Heath Ledger came along and gave the character a new lease on life. "These characters are mythic, and they can be reinvented so many ways," Timm said.

Johns then talked about the next volume of he and Gary Frank's "Batman: Earth One" where the pair focused more on the inexperience of Bruce Wayne as Batman. Beyond introducing a new Killer Croc and complications on the personal front with the Riddler, the series will reveal that Martha Wayne's maiden name was Arkham making Bruce a child split between two halves of Gotham City's legacy. "There's a mythic quality to Gotham where in our version, the Waynes funded it, but the Arkham's designed and built it, so there's a little bit of insanity built in," he said.

Looking back at all the amazing things Batman has gone through, it leaves us all, including the writers and creative teams, excited for whats to come next for Batman. So the question now is: what's next? Stay tuned to Comic Frontline for more up to the hour updates on Batman and more! 

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All images are courtesy of DC Entertainment 

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