One of the most requested adaptations from DC Universe Animated Original Movies was Frank Miller’s “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns,” but when the project was announced, fans might have been moderately concerned the voice talents of Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hammil as The Joker were not involved. Following September 2012’s release of “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1,” fans seem pleased with the adaptation as evidenced by a packed IGN Theater at New York Comic Con. Peter Weller played an older Batman, Michael Emerson voiced The Joker, Ariel Winter (“Modern Family”) lent her talents as Robin and several other voice actors from the film all came together at the event thanks to renowned voice talent coordinator, Andrea Romano.
To energize NYCC fans for the release of “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 2,” Warner Bros. Animation showed off a trailer for the upcoming “LEGO: Batman” movie, featuring Joker and Lex Luthor teaming up to use the Deconstructor to literally take their opponents apart one brick at a time. Their opponents are Batman and Robin and the Justice League, which includes Martian Manhunter, Flash, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Cyborg. Penguin, Captain Boomerang and Harley Quinn also made appearances in the brief clip.
Producer Bruce Timm and Romano were introduced to the crowd prior to the trailer for “Part 2.” The iconic fight between Batman and Superman was featured prominently in the video but fans also were treated to glimpses of Robin, the Joker and a handful of more generic villains and gangs.
Timm addressed the question on why the decision was made to break “The Dark Knight Rises” into two separate installments, saying it made the process easier. “In the case of ‘The Dark Knight’ if they had said it had to be all one episode it would have been a non-starter,” Timm explained, adding the story needed to be two parts, back-to-back. “It made our job easier — we were able to add in a lot more of the source material.”
Romano stated the film featured 33 voice actors and many of them did three voices. “It was a ridiculous responsibility,” she said. “I filled the movie with my friends.” Romano added she did not hire any voice actors who performed in other starring roles in previous projects.
The conversation turned to casting Michael Emerson as The Joker, an actor who had never done voice work before. “I was such a huge fan of his character on ‘Lost,'” Romano said. She eventually met him at Comic-Con International in San Diego and asked if he’d be interested. Later when the role of the Joker came up, she thought of him right away.
Both Timm and Roman praised director and “Dark Knight Returns” fan Jay Oliva, who not only handled action in the film well but also helped add to the story. “His enthusiasm was contagious,” said Romano.
Audience members saw how Oliva handles action firsthand when shown a scene where Batman glides from the Bat-copter, working his way through a series of G.C.P.D. officers. The clip also featured a score by Christopher Drake who exclusively used synthesizers made in the 80s to create the film’s soundtrack.
Superman’s fight with Batman featured heavily in the trailer and the film itself, so Romano and Timm discussed actor Mark Valley who voiced both Superman and Clark Kent.
“Superman can be very unlikable if you’re not careful,” Romano said. “Valley managed to make him a great character.” Timm added Valley actually put glasses on when he was voicing Superman in the sound booth to better get into character.
The next clip featured a scene from the comic book where Batman approaches a mutant gang, giving them a rousing speech about not using guns because they’re “loud and clumsy,” before getting to the popular line, “Tonight, we are the law. Tonight, I am the law.”
Another clip revealed comedian and late night talk show host Conan O’Brien cast as T.V. host David Endocrine. The Joker finds himself on Endocrine’s talk show before killing the touchy-feely psychologist and threatening to murder everyone in the room. Romano said one of the most difficult things in voice acting is laughing on call but O’Brien nailed it on the first take.
Fielding questions from the audience, Timm said aspects of Grant Morrison’s “Batman” stories may make their way into future animated movies and confirmed the Boy Scouts will appear in “Dark Knight Returns Part 2.” Another unique character from the comic book shows up in the film — the woman with swastikas on her breasts. Timm commented on how showing a man smoking something automatically gets an R-rating, but not swastika tattooed breasts.
Timm touched on removing the narration from the comic, noting it works really well in the sequential format but not on screen. He noted it was a difficult cut to make because “some of Frank’s best writing is in there.” Speaking of Miller, Timm and Romano said they have not heard word from the legendary creator if he’s seen or liked the film.
Potential animated projects were brought up by the audience including “Kingdom Come” and “Batman: Knightfall,” but there are not plans for either of those at the moment.
After explaining how daunting the “Dark Knight Returns” adaptation was and how well the actors pulled off some of the stranger slang spoken by the mutants, both Timm and Romano addressed the key to depicting Batman in this story. “It’s most important to not get lost in the darkness — it’s ultimately a story about redemption,” Timm said. Romano added, “I think it’s about redemption but it also carried the message people can change.”
Before closing out the panel, a few more announcements regarding upcoming movies were made. In addition to “LEGO Batman The Movie” and “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 2,” DC Universe Animation also has plans for “Superman: Unbound” in mid-2013. The movie will focus on the Brainiac story written by Geoff Johns in the pages of “Action Comics.” Additionally, “Justice League: Flashpoint” is in the works, based on Johns’ Flash-based crossover which led directly into DC Comics’ New 52.