DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Animation are set to release “Batman: Bad Blood” in 2016, launching Robin, Nightwing and new members of the Bat-family to Gotham City’s defense following the apparent death of the Dark Knight. Director Jay Oliva, Producer James Tucker, and Character Designer Phil Bourassa spoke with reporters at New York Comic Con about the latest chapter in their animated universe before debuting the footage from the film to an appreciative panel.
“Robin is still in the monastery, to kind of learn to cope with his feelings, and Batman is doing his thing, kicking ass and taking names throughout Gotham,” Oliva said, explaining that “Bad Blood” picks up immediately following the events of “Batman vs. Robin.” “But what happens is, he runs into an altercation and supposedly dies. The rest of the Bat-family gets together to investigate what happened. Within this time, the Heretic comes in and tries to make a move on Gotham. The difference between him and other mob bosses is, his group is all supervillains. He brings in Hellhound, the Electrocutioner, the Calculator. So you get our Bat-family running into the Heretic, and as the story goes, you get to find out what happened to Batman.”
Though the original Dark Knight has been taken off the board several times in comics — notably in Grant Morrison’s “Batman RIP” epic and the current storyline by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo — Oliva emphasized that “Bad Blood” is a completely new story. “I know James Tucker really wanted to do a Bat-family story, and in order to really focus on them, you have to get rid of Batman in some way,” he explained. “We found a good storyline to get him onto the sidelines so we can focus on Nightwing, Damian, Batwoman, Batwing.”
Even so, Batman is in the new movie “a good amount.” “Jason [O’Mara]’s sessions were kind of short — I know people said he wasn’t really in ‘Assault on Arkham’ enough; he’s in [‘Bad Blood’] more than that.”
There is someone, though, who will not be making an appearance in “Bad Blood” — despite the film’s title, Taylor Swift is nowhere to be found. “What’s funny is, originally this was called ‘Bat-family’ or something — we always have working titles. Somewhere along the way, it went through marketing, they changed it to ‘Bad Blood.’ This was before the Taylor Swift song,” Oliva said. “But then that happened and I wondered, is Taylor Swift on a Warner Bros. label? Because that would be cool if we could get her! But, no.”
As to whether he feels the animated features compete with live-action films such as the upcoming “Batman v. Superman,” Oliva said he’s not worried — especially since he does storyboards for the theatrical films, as well. “I don’t mind competing with myself,” he said, explaining that the divisions handling different media are granted the autonomy to follow their own path. “The nice thing about DC is, we are pretty much left to our own devices. The film guys do their thing, the TV guys do their thing, we are left to do our own thing. We don’t have executives from the features telling us we can’t do this because we are planning on using these characters. Which is great, because the only people who are policing us are ourselves. It allows us to open up the whole DC universe to any story. If we come up with a really good Booster Gold story, guess what? Booster Gold is going to be in it. We don’t have to worry that Booster Gold is going to be in ‘The Flash’ or ‘Arrow.'”
Tucker, too, enjoys the freedom within his division, especially now that DC Animation has shifted from adaptations of comics into its own continuity. Original features, he said, “leave us open to tell a story in our own way.”
“Even our adaptations are fairly loose adaptations, but you’re hamstrung if the source material isn’t great,” he continued. “Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s good for a movie. Not every comic book that people love or that I love breaks down into a good movie experience. So with this, we just took a little bit from here and a little bit from there and made our own thing. It’s a bit more fun, more liberating. I always say, as long as we keep the characters true to what they are in the comic, it’s just another comic book story. There’s nothing being violated by coming up with a new story. Every movie builds on what came before, so maybe one day we’ll have enough for our own ‘Crisis’ — I don’t know. We try to layer these things so that there can be a big crossover movie down the line.”
There is a project Tucker would love to do that he hasn’t been able to pull together. “I still want to do an Elseworlds DVD. Like ‘Gotham Knight’ was, except with different stories,” he said. “‘Gotham Knight’ was one story with different styles; I want to do different stories with different styles, shorts and one movie.” As to the hypothetical lineup, Tucker has some ideas. “‘Gotham by Gaslight,’ if it could be shrunk. I want to go back and do ‘Flashpoint Batman: Knight of Vengeance’ — I really want to get that story out. We almost did that as a short to put in front of ‘Flashpoint.’ It would have only been about ten minutes, but we couldn’t get the money together. That’s my wish list. And then, maybe, ‘Red Rain.'”
Tucker described “Bad Blood” as “a little more street level” than the recent “Justice League: Throne of Atlantis.” “‘Throne’ had a lot of heart to it, Aquaman finding his roots. On that level, there is a similarity to it. It’s Batman, so of course it’s darker. I’d say of the Batman movies we’ve done, it has the most heart, but there’s action, too. There’s a little bit of a detective story. The title ‘Bad Blood’ has two meanings — it’s kind of bloody, and it’s about family. And it’s family on both sides — the villains are tied in a familial way, and the heroes are tied, not literally family, but they’re family because of their connection.”
Asked whether Batgirl appears, and if she would reflect the recent popular redesign, Tucker said “we are aware of the redesign” and the animation would reflect it “if DC keeps it.” “Our lead time is much longer [than the comics], so sometimes they’ll do something and we’ll take it on visually, and by the time the movie comes out, they’ll have changed it already. She’s in battle armor now, or something. And it’ll make us look like we’re behind the times. What can you do?”
Character designer Phil Bourassa did get the opportunity to design the animated version of Batwoman, and in this case kept her look “almost one-to-one” with the comic. “Her look in the comics is so cool. It’s striking and it’s simple. Any time there’s a case like that, where it just looks amazing in the comics, unless there’s a real story reason not to do it, we’re going to do that,” Bourassa said. “Batwing, they haven’t really hit the look in the comics. I haven’t seen a Batwing design where I thought, ‘that is the look,’ so we kind of did our own thing with that. We’re always going to be faithful when it’s a great look, but every now and then, we help them out a little bit.”
Bourassa also got to do some work on the villains of “Bad Blood,” and in fact supplemented what was called for in the screenplay. “The script didn’t have a lot of the henchmen in it, but we wanted to add a bit of visual spice to [the movie],” he said. “If anything, we went there, we did a lot of characters you almost never see in animation — those were really fun to draw.” Bourassa specifically mentioned Killer Moth, saying, “If we were doing straight Silver Age, we’d just draw him like [the comics],” he said, noting the reference images he had made the villain look like he was “wearing pajamas.”
Asked about design challenges, Bourassa said the main problem comes “when there’s a nebulous relationship between the name and the powers and the look in the comics, when they don’t really gel.” “If you have a strong theme, it’s not hard to redesign.”
Spinning out of this, Bourassa was asked how he might approach designing Ace the Bathound for animation. “I’d draw a Great Dane and put a grey and blue suit on him. Because it’s so Silver Age, it’s such a Silver Age concept,” he said. And Batcow? “Yeeeeah. I don’t know if he’s going to be showing up any time. I don’t think I would give it a whole heck of a lot of thought. I wouldn’t dig down deep to find the soul of Batcow.”
“Batman: Bad Blood” arrives on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download in early 2016.