Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman for millions of fans, warmed up the audience by inviting everyone to join him in saying the three lines he’s been repeating for more than two decades: “I am vengeance. I am the night. I am Batman!”
“Assault on Arkham” is set in the world of the “Arkham Asylum” and “Arkham City” video games and centers around a newly assembled Suicide Squad as they attempt to infiltrate Arkham Asylum without attracting the attention of Batman. Following the screening, panel moderator Victor Lucas introduced screenwriter Heath Corson, dialogue director Andrea Romano, director Jay Oliva, Producer James Tucker, and voice actors John DiMaggio (King Shark), Troy Baker (The Joker), Matthew Gray Gubler (The Riddler), and Kevin Conroy.
Lucas began by asking Corson was it was like to adapt a movie out of the Arkham video game series.
“One of the best things about that is that I’m able to tell my wife that I’m playing video games and I can’t stop because it’s really for work,” Corson replied. “One of the big challenges with this script was that the ‘Arkham’ world is really grounded. So if you take a group like the Suicide Squad, you want to make sure that whoever you’re putting into it has to fit in the ‘Arkham’ world.”
On the film’s distinctive new art direction, Oliva and Tucker explained how they adapted the style of the characters to match the look of the video games.
“We worked very closely to the Warner Bros. games,” Oliva said. “We took Batman’s design, for example — we did our design for him, and then we designed everybody off of him.”
“There were certain characters that weren’t in the games yet, like King Shark and Killer Frost,” Tucker added. “ur designer, Jon Suzuki, took on the challenge of creating character models that would fit into the video game, even though they weren’t in there yet.”
Oliva also confirmed a bit of an Easter egg in the movie’s closing scene. The building that houses Amanda Waller’s office is Nakatomi Plaza, a building that his father designed for the movie, “Die Hard.”
Lucas then asked Romano what it was like to mix the cast of Batman veterans like Kevin Conroy with adding primetime starts like Gubler, Neal McDonough (Deadshot) and Giancarlo Esposito (Black Spider).
“They’re all such fine actors and I’m so proud to work with them whenever I can,” said Romano. “They’re really embraced by this community. Everybody likes working together and having fun.”
For Gubler, who has past voice experience as Jimmy Olson in “All-Star Superman,” it was an exciting time to play The Riddler. “It was such an absolute honor,” he said. “To be on this stage with these people and truly the greatest fans in the universe is a dream come true. I’ve always, my entire life, wanted to be a maniacal super villain. I can’t express how exciting this is for me.”
While Gubler enjoys his first time out as an unrepentant evildoer, Conroy continues to enjoy his role as Batman after 21 years.
“It feels like only yesterday,” Conroy said, recalling his television tint as the Dark Knight. “It’s a lot of fun to do. I love playing the character. The challenge is to keep it fresh and to keep it present and urgent and not let it get stale. And the fans are the best fans.”
DiMaggio, on the other hand, has been swimming in roles for popular DC characters — notably as Aquaman in “Batman The Brave and the Bold,” and now King Shark.
“What’s up with you and fish?” asked Lucas.
“I just realized that,” DiMaggio answered. “I don’t know. I guess I’m just a fishy guy. That’s really funny that you brought up Jabberjaw. I remember Jabberjaw… That would have made for a really strange King Shark right there.”
For Baker, who has the most gaming experience, Lucas asked what were the major differences between acting for a game and acting for an animated movie.
“One thing with the game, you’ve got sometimes ten, fifteen, twenty hours to tell a story,” said Baker. “With this, it’s pacing. You’ve got, like, an hour and twenty minutes. It’s a pretty short wick that you’ve got to get through a lot of content.
“One thing that’s so great, and I’ve said this to Andrea before, when you sit down in that booth and you’re across the glass from her, you’re in a realm where trust is everything,” Baker continued. “You have to trust your fellow actors, trust your directors, trust your writers, and then you see, that’s the person that’s literally been the custodian of this franchise for two decades.”
Baker also took a moment to give a shout out to the people translating the movie for the hearing impaired in the audience.
“Your performance was like way better than any of ours, so thank you, guys,” said Baker.
Going back to the movie, Lucas commented on the amount of violent and risque content in the animated feature.
“This is not ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ on Saturdays,” Lucas said. “This is for adults, this movie. Was there anything that was too much?”
“Apparently not,” Tucker replied. “We were as shocked as anyone when they let us get away with some of this stuff. We thought, we’re dealing with super villains and amoral people, so the only way to do it honestly was to let them be bad. So we let them be real bad.”
With some of the cast having just seen the movie for the fist time, Lucas asked what they thought of the finished product.
“I was amazed at how violent it was,” Conroy said. “It’s exciting to see. Especially since, in the animated series we had such constraints on what we could do. It’s interesting to see these really insane people, so dangerous. It’s incredibly dangerous. It brings it to a whole new level.”
“It was so thrilling I had goosebumps for 60 minutes of it,” Gubler added. “What struck me was the animation. Primarily, the horrifying dead eyes of the Joker, which complimented your [Troy Baker’s] incredible performance so well. It made him truly frightening. It was wonderful.”
“The thing that stuck out to me — This is the first time that you’re actually kind of rooting for the villains,” Baker noted. “You spend the most time with the Suicide Squad, and that’s kind of interesting. Batman just kind of comes in and messes up their plans, and that’s kind of cool.”
“I enjoy the adult themes in these cartoons,” said DiMaggio. “You can get away with a whole lot. You can do that. The jokes work better in the scenes, and I really appreciate that. And who doesn’t love cartoon boobies?”
“When they’re as good as these guys, it’s pretty much slating and getting out of their way,” Romano said in response to a question of what it was like working with the cast. “It’s now gotten to the point where we’ve done enough of these, and we’ve worked together enough, that there’s a shorthand of language.”
Lucas asked Oliva how it feels to see the “Arkham” branch of the Batman franchise become successful as a property.
“I think it’s just Batman. Everyone involved with the property and this movie and the video games, we all love Batman. I just want to give a shout out to my crew. My storyboard artists, my designers, they’re all there,” said Oliva. “It’s funny what Andrea was saying about casting to a part — it’s the same thing with my artists.”
Early in 2015, DC will release “Justice League: Throne of Atlantis,” a movie that tells the origin story of Aquaman. This movie will be followed by “Batman vs. Robin,” which features the first animated appearance of The Court of Owls.
Finally, those attending next year’s SDCC will be privy to the world premiere of “Justice League: Gods and Monsters,” an original Justice League story produced by Bruce Timm.
“Batman: Assault on Arkham” lands in stores and digital download August 12.