It was a big night — and knight — for Bat-fans on Friday as Warner Home Entertainment, Warner Premiere, DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Animation presented the world premiere of “Batman: Year One” at Comic-Con International in San Diego.
Warming up the crowd with a trailer for the upcoming video game “Batman: Arkham City,” Warner Home Video publicist Gary Miereanu introduced the many people responsible for the new animated feature. Not just the panelists, but also special audience members like producers Michael Ulsan and Alan Burnett, composer Christopher Drake, head of Warner Premiere Eva Davis and “Under the Red Hood” director Brandon Viette.
As with previous animated-premiere panels, Miereanu continued the Comic-Con tradition of using every opportunity available to remind the audience of the October 18 release date for the Blu-ray, DVD and on-demand download. After the introductions, it became time to screen the premiere. Or, as Miereanu said, “I’m tired of talking. I want to see the movie! Everybody with me?”
Several rounds of applause broke out throughout the film as the audience watched their favorite scenes from the classic story brought to animated life on the screen. Virtually every scene and every line of dialogue in the film was pulled directly from Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s award-winning graphic novel, with very little deviation.
Following the screening was a follow-up panel. Executive Producer Bruce Timm, directors Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery, casting/dialogue director Andrea Romano, and voice cast members Bryan Cranston (James Gordon), Ben McKenzie (Bruce Wayne/Batman) and Katee Sackhoff (Sarah Essen) came on stage to discuss the movie.
The first topic, presented by Miereanu, dealt with deciding what to keep and what not to keep from the graphic novel. “We tried to keep it as faithful to the comic as possible every step of the way,” said Timm. “Every time we had any type of creative decision, we just said, ‘Let’s look at the comic,’ and that’s what they did.” Miereanu asked how Timm made the film his own. His reply was simple: “We didn’t.”
Moving on to the cast, Romano explained that she had wanted to work with them for some time, but their schedules never allowed it until this project. “We were lucky enough to get this beautiful cast that was available to work at the same time, and it was just a joy,” Romano said.
Three-time Emmy winner Cranston relayed how he was hesitant about signing on to play James Gordon at first. Remembering the Commissioner Gordon from the Adam West Batman show, Cranston didn’t realize what his character would really be like until he got a script. “I read the script, and I loved it,” he said. “It was in-depth, it was compelling, and I was eager to see how it would turn out. I’d never read anything like this before.”
McKenzie had the opposite reaction when he found out he’d be portraying the young Bruce Wayne and Batman. “It’s very intimidating to play such an iconic character,” said McKenzie. “So many people have played the role so well.” Just as McKenzie played the rookie Batman, this was also his first time doing voice work. “It was really fun, and it was nice to do a slightly different spin on it in that he’s a young man and not quite sure what he’s doing — I bring that lack of confidence naturally,” he joked.
The panel took something of a turn for the blue when it came time for Katee Sackhoff to share. After a brief, if not random, discussion about the tightness of Bruce Wayne’s workout shorts in the movie, Miereanu asked what preparations Sackhoff made before playing the Sarah Essen character. “I went around and started dating married men,” Sackhoff joked, prompting Cranston to hold up his ringed hand.
The actress joked about pursuing husbands and then following up with questions from them and their wives for research purposes, to which Miereanu reminded everybody of the “Please be aware there may be people in the audience under 18” reminder on everybody’s name plate. “There should be a big panel outside saying ‘Please go away if you’re a child,'” Sackhoff said, to which Cranston added, “Talk about a Sackhoff.”
Trying to get the panel back to a PG rating, Miereanu asked Cranston about almost becoming an actual policeman instead of playing one. In college, Cranston originally majored in administration of justice. “What I realized while taking elective courses was that the girls in acting class were prettier than the ones in police science,” said Cranston. “A person’s entire future rested on the decision making and libido of an 18-year-old boy. Is that getting back to the PG?”
“No,” said Mieranu. “I’m getting railroaded like I never thought I would.”
“That’s what happens when you have nighttime panels,” said Sackhoff.
“Be thankful Eliza Dushku didn’t come,” said Miereanu.
Talking more about Dushku, who reprised her role as Catwoman for “Year One” after starring in “DC Showcase: Catwoman,” Romano shared how sorry she felt for Dushku when she had to spend so much time in the recording booth doing grunts and groans for her animated fight scenes. “We could have hired a different actress to do her ughs and unghs, but she was really good at it,” said Romano. “We should have done her dialogue first, though.”
Before the Q&A portion kicked off, Timm made some announcements about the upcoming animated features coming from DC. Next up will be “Justice League: Doom,” inspired by the “Tower of Babel” story from Mark Waid’s “JLA” run. “It’s really cool, and it’s coming out next year,” said Timm. Also coming up is “Superman vs. The Elite.” “It’s not world famous, but it’s a really well-regarded story.” Finally, for the big announcement for the panel, Timm announced that “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” will be adapted into an animated feature as a two-parter.
For the Q&A , Miereanu asked the audience to remain respectful, while acknowledging that “Respectful went out about 20 minutes ago.” The first question came from a young Booster Gold cosplayer who asked what each panelist’s favorite comic book character was, aside from Batman. For Romano, choosing a favorite character is like choosing a favorite child. “I will say one thing,” she said. “I would love to see a Nightwing story, and I want Neil Patrick Harris to do it.”
Timm couldn’t narrow his favorite down, while directors Liu and Montgomery picked Sandman and Aquaman, respectfully. Sackhoff paid respects to the other side of the comics divide with Daredevil villain Typhoid Mary. “I love Typhoid Mary,” she said. “I think there’s something about the comic book world and female villains. They’re sexy and dangerous and strong and feminine and intelligent. They’re not pigeonholed.”
The next question came from a Robin cosplayer, who asked why Tim Drake was taken out of the previous “Under the Red Hood” feature. “Ummmmmmmmm, don’t know,” answered Timm. “Probably time,” added Romano. Timm said that the decision was probably made by Judd Winick, who wrote the script. “And he’s not here, so we’ll never know.”
“I think I heard he wanted to remove it from the movie to piss off Robin,” joked Cranston.
The voice actors were asked aspect to doing the “Year One” feature was most appealing for them. “Honestly, it was the writing,” said Cranston. “I would not be sitting here now if I didn’t respond to the writing. It was really good, and I think it really translated beautifully on screen.”
“I have always been a fan of ‘Year One,'” said McKenzie. “It’s real, and it’s gritty, and it’s honest. You understand why the characters are doing what they’re doing.”
“I grew up stealing my brother’s Batman comic books, so when this came to my attention I just sort of jumped at it,” said Sackhoff.
When asked if there were difficulties in adapting the story from page to screen, Timm said that the process was actually fairly simple. “You know the beauty of doing films that are based on really good source material is that it’s all there,” said Timm. “When you work with really, really solid source material, all the problems are worked out for you.” He went on to say that they copied pages directly out of the book when creating the script and storyboards. “We were literally grabbing whole chunks of dialogue verbatim. It’s hard to take credit for any part of the story because it’s right there in Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s work.”
While most of the animated feature is lifted directly from the comic, there were some additions – specifically, an extended fight between the incognito Bruce Wayne and Selina. The feature turns what was a one-panel punch into a full blown battle between the two pre-vigilantes. “Especially in the fight thing, we had to make it a bit better,” said Liu. “We didn’t feel like fans would be unsatisfied with that.”
Timm recalled that he actually thought that the fight was in the book and was surprised when he looked back to see that it wasn’t. “Your memory kind of fills in the blanks,” he said. “So here it seemed entirely appropriate to play that thing out.”
The next question was directed at Romano and what she thought about working with the “Year One” cast as opposed to the original animated series cast. Romano explained that they were all good and that every experience was remarkable in their own way, but the panel was sidetracked by Cranston trying to withhold laughter at the smiling blue cosplayer next in line.
“This man has stood on stage accepting Emmys, and he can’t hold it together at Comic-Con,” said Miereanu.
The Guardian cosplayer made it to the mic and asked Timm what other characters may be on the table for animated features beyond Superman, Batman, the Justice League and Green Lantern. “Shout out your favorite character everybody, all at once,” responded Timm, inciting the audience to bombard him with hundreds of different names. “Got it. Thank you,” he replied.
Unfortunately for fans of “Kingdom Come,” Timm confirmed that was a story that would probably never make it to the small screen. When asked about continuing the “Year One” line with Batgirl, Timm was a little more optimistic. “I suppose we could sneak it in there,” he said. “I’d love to do it, personally.”
With “Dark Knight Returns” announced, the next audience member asked how they would be able to do the story justice without making it an R-rated film. “Your memory is playing you false,” said Timm. “It’s going to play very well animated, and I’d be very surprised if it got an R rating.”
Romano was asked if she was considering using voice-acting mainstays Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill to reprise their roles as Batman and Joker for “Dark Knight Returns.” “We always consider using Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill,” she replied.
For the last question, the panel was asked if another classic Batman story, “The Killing Joke,” was on the table to get the animated treatment. “‘The Killing Joke’ is something that has come up in discussion several times,” said Timm. “It’s not currently on our production schedule, but it’s not ruled out indefinitely.”