The DC Nation panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego, showcasing Cartoon Network and Warner Brothers Animation’s animated block of DC Comics superhero shows and shorts, began with a bang and a surprise guest moderator: filmmaker Kevin Smith.
“When I was a young whippersnapper, and I’m talking when I was a kid in my early twenties, we would dream about programs like this,” Smith quipped to the audience’s delight. He then went on to praise DC Nation and previous DC superhero shows like “Batman: The Animated Series” and “Justice League.”
“DC Nation is the fulfillment of a promise they made to me and a bunch of people as kids when we opened those books to take you on journeys of imagination,” Smith said.
The audience was then treated to a sizzle reel of the DC Nation offerings including the DC Nation Shorts, a series of animated shorts tackling DC characters like Animal Man and Amethyst, Princess Of Gemworld, and current ongoing shows like the CG “Green Lantern: The Animated Series” and the traditionally-animated “Young Justice.” The crowd then cheered as they got sneak peaks at upcoming episodes of “Green Lantern,” the new DC Nation “Justice League Of Animals” short and a glimpse at the Batmobile for DC and Warner Brothers’ latest addition to the line-up, “Beware The Batman.”
Smith followed up by introducing the panelists, Warner Brothers Animation director of series and shorts Jeff Prezenkowski, “Beware The Batman” producers Mitch Watson and Glen Murakami (also the man behind the original “Teen Titans”), and the new “Teen Titans Go!” producers Michael Jelenic and Aaron Horvath. Watson and Murakami kicked the panel off by speaking about the upcoming “Beware The Batman,” showing off character and villain concept art.
“We worked on different versions for about a year…because we had one that was too dark and one that was a little bit different,” Watson said. “Finally, Glen had the idea, ‘What if we deal with something where we’re not seeing any villains that we’ve seen before — we’re not going to show the Joker or the Penguin or the Riddler or any of those guys — we’re going to the DC Comics and we’re going to pull out characters.'”
In order to make the show stand out from all the various animated incarnations of Batman over the years, the two told the audience they decided to set the series early in Batman’s history, about five years after he took up the cape and cowl. “We’re going to turn it all the way back to the very beginning when he was a detective and make him more a Sherlock Holmes kind of guy who is deeply affected by what happened to his parents and because of that he has a pathological need to solve crime,” Watson said.
“I suggested we do a proactive Batman who is trying to deal with his demons rather than just sitting in the dark in the cave,” Murakami added.
Flipping through slides, Murakami and Watson discussed how they build sculptures and real life models of the props and characters before creating them inside the computer for the CG animated show. The two also explained they wanted to show a different side of the Batman and the series’ rogues gallery, which includes bad guys like Professor Pyg and Toad.
“We broke Bruce into three characters, basically. There’s the public Bruce Wayne that the world sees that we modeled after Richard Branson,” Watson explained, saying that in their show, Wayne Industries does not manufacture weapons and is a much beloved public entity. “There’s the private Bruce Wayne — that Bruce Wayne is really only ever seen by Alfred, and is more introspective. That’s the one who struggles with the fact that, because of his upbringing, he can’t have a conversation without looking over somebody’s shoulder to see if there’s a crime being committed. Because he can never turn that part off, it was either go nuts or find a release valve, so his release valve is Batman.”
The two have also taken Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred Pennyworth, in a completely new direction, depicting the iconic character as a more blue-collar, working-class Brit than upper-class valet.
“We went back into the DC stuff, and what we saw is that he had been former MI-6, he had a military background, so we said, what if Alfred, instead of being the aristocratic guy we’re used to, was, back in his 30s, a badass? What if he was James Bond, what if he was Sean Connery?” Watson said. “He’s now in his 60s, but he still wants to kick ass.”
Rounding out the cast and helping Batman on his adventures is a new face for television, the sword-wielding female crime fighter Katana. The producers also revealed that the voice talent for Batman is Anthony Ruivivar, Katana plays by Sumalee Montano and J.B. Blanc will voice Alfred.
The panel then turned over to Jelenic and Horvath who showed off slides from the new eleven-minute episodes of “Teen Titans Go!” featuring both the superhero cast of the original “Teen Titans” animated series and the original “Teen Titans” voice cast.
“They’ve been waiting for six years for this reunion to happen,” Jelenic said. “We’re going to stay true to these characters and the way they were portrayed but…it’s all comedy. The whole ‘Teen Titans’ catalogue was comedy, but we’re taking those bits and stretching them out.”
Going through pictures of Beast Boy, Raven, Cyborg and the rooms in the Titans Tower, Horvath and Jelenic explained that while honoring the look of the first “Teen Titans” series, they plan to put their own spin on the animation.
“The characters have such a strong visual identity that we wanted to keep a lot of what Glen did, but find a middle ground between the DC Nation Shorts,” Horvath said. “These guys are a little more adorable, so they can be funny, but if they want to do something cool, they can still look cool.”
Labeling themselves as fans of the first “Teen Titans,” Jelenic told Smith and the audience they wanted the show to be different from the original. “The idea is to do something different but still be respectful to those characters.”
Throwing the floor open to audience questions, the first came from a “Batman Beyond” fan who wanted to know if viewers would get to see Terry or the other characters from the Beyond Universe popping up in DC Nation.
“We haven’t done anything yet, but we definitely want to do something because it’s well-regarded. We love it, you guys love it and we think DC Nation is the right space for it,” Prezenkowski said as the audience applauded.
An original “Teen Titans” series fan wanted to know why they were doing a new show when there was much left unanswered in the original series.
“Well, we want to ruin the original series,” Jelenic joked.
“I was under the impression that all the questions were answered. Is that not the case?” Horvath asked as the audience laughed. Jelenic then explained that the new show evolved out of fan response to the Teen Titans DC Nation Shorts and promised it will be hilarious.
An audience member who loved the “Animal Man” DC Nation Shorts wanted to know if there were plans to collect all the shorts online or on DVD.
“I don’t know if we’re going to collect them soon,” Prezenkowski said, adding that many of the shorts are already available online.
To the next audience member to the microphone, Prezenkowski said that the character Saint Walker would be returning to the “Green Lantern” TV show. He also told a “Young Justice” fan that there would be “interesting things” coming down the pipeline for Miss Martian.
Another original “Teen Titans” series fan wanted to know if Murakami wanted to one day do a live-action superhero show.
“Sure,” Murakami said, looking directly at Prezenkowski as the audience laughed.
The next audience member wanted to know if “Teen Titans Go!” would add more characters to the Titans line-up or have cameos of other heroes.
“Yes,” Jelenic said, adding that at this point they would try to bring back characters introduced in the original show, such as Slade Wilson.
Murakami told the audience they did not have any plans for “Beware The Batman” and “Green Lantern” to cross over, saying he liked the idea of DC Nation being a diverse group of animated shows. Prezenkowski stated to the next questioner that they were still waiting to see if the “ThunderCats” TV show would be picked up for another season or not.
The father of a twelve-year-old son with Aspergers asked on behalf of his son about the ending of “Batman: The Brave And The Bold,” which included footage for a Batgirl CGI show that never materialized.
“Batgirl was basically some CGI footage that Lauren Montgomery had done up for a potential DTV movie, so we spent tons of money to make this beautiful piece of six minute animation that nobody had anything to do with it, so I thought it would be funny to throw it into our show. Suddenly, it’s our most expensive episode, ever,” Jelenic answered.
The last question came from a Batman fan who wanted to know if Batgirl or Robin would show up in “Beware The Batman.” Watson explained that there was no Robin but Barbara Gordon would make an appearance.
“She’s this precocious daughter of Lieutenant Gordon who’s really into computers,” Watson said. “When she sees Katana in action in a particular episode it’s the first inkling where she starts to go, ‘Wow, girls can do this too,’ and we start to build her story.”
DC Nation airs Saturday mornings from 10:00 to 11:00 ET/PT on Cartoon Network.