The Bruce Timm Spotlight Panel at this year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego began in earnest with the presentation of the 2013 Inkpot Award being handed to the legendary animator. The Inkpots recognize individuals for their contributions and accomplishments to comic books, science fiction/fantasy, film and televisions. With Timm’s extensive resume, it’s easy to see why he is this year’s recipient. The presentation was a genuine surprise to Timm as much as it was to the audience. His words upon acceptance of the award: “Nice. Cool!”
Following these opening pleasantries, Timm chiefly addressed all of the hubbub regarding the Internet chatter that he was no longer working at Warner Brothers. Talk of his departure from the studio stemmed from the announcement at this year’s WonderCon that he would no longer produce the line of Warner Brothers’ direct-to-DVD animated movies. “It’s absolutely not true. I’m still at Warner Brothers, and still happy to be there. This is my 24th year there, which is mind-boggling.
“Somehow, that information translated to ‘OMG! Bruce Timm leaves Warner Brothers; Bruce Timm going to Marvel; Bruce Timm doing this and that.'”
Even several months removed from the announcement, Timm is still approached by confused fans. “To this day, fans still come up to me asking, ‘So now that you’re retired…’ and I’m like, ‘Dude, I’m not retired!'”
From there, Timm discussed the various projects that he is working on — some of which are DC Comics-related, while others are not. One project is a 75-years of Superman animated short with “Man of Steel” director Zack Snyder and the movie’s storyboard artist, Jay Oliva. “It basically starts with Siegel and Shuster, and ends with Henry Cavill, with stops in between of animated versions of Curt Swan, Wayne Boring, George Reeves, Christopher Reeve and all this other stuff.” Timm described the project as a bit of a nightmare because it is such a labor-intensive effort, but said he is enjoying the work.
Also in the pipeline is a Batman animated short for the DC Nation block on Cartoon Network. Timm recounted the night of the premiere of the “The Dark Knight Returns Part 2” at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills, and a reporter asked him what was his favorite version of Batman he had done. Timm’s answer was, of course, “Batman: The Animated Series.”
“But even there, there were commercial restrictions or whatever. ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ is not exactly the version of Batman that I’d do, and I thought there are certain things about Batman that I couldn’t do as a series, but I could do them as a short,” Timm said. “It’s hard to do an ongoing series with a main character who is a cipher, but I can definitely do that in a short. If I can set it in 1939, I can also do it in black and white.”
One of Timm’s non-DC projects is a pilot for an original series that has already been shot, but he shied away from offering further details since he and his collaborators have yet to shop the project around at studios.
As this took only a quarter of the spotlight’s alloted time, Timm left the rest of the panel as an open forum for questions and answers. At the tail end of the Q&A the animation legend talked of a treasury-sized anthology involving “Savage Dragon” creator Erik Larsen and a number of other comic creators. He revealed that while he has completed his eight-page story, there are other contributions that have yet to be completed and said he hopes the anthology will see release next year.
Asked by a fan if there are any DC characters or stories he has adapted over the years but didn’t feel he did justice to Timm joked, “So you’re asking what was [sic] our failures?” Following the initial tongue and cheek answer, Timm mentioned there are probably little things here or there that the various teams he’s worked with might wish they had done differently or further explored. One example Timm gave was not being able to devote enough time to Dick Grayson when they had redesigned the original “Batman: The Animated Series” into “The New Batman Adventures”, in which Grayson transitioned not just into Nightwing, but also as a grown man striking it out on his own.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to do a whole lot with that character. He was in only three or four episodes of that run. We had plans to do more with him, but that series got cut short.”
Regarding DC’s New 52 reboot of Harley Quinn, a character he co-created with “Batman: The Animated Series” showrunner Paul Dini, Timm stressed that since he and Dini do not own the character he’s fine with whatever DC decides to do with the her. “I haven’t read any of the New 52 to get immersed in all of it, and they can do whatever they want with her. It’s nice that they send me Harley toys.” Then he joked and mimed receiving a package of toys, “Oh, Harley’s different now — I can’t let my daughter play with that!” jokingly referring to some of Harley’s more risque costume changes.
On the subject of his time working on “Freakazoid,” Timm thought the direction the show eventually took, skewering toward comedy with action-adventure overtones — as opposed to his original vision of an action-adventure show with comedic overtones — was the best course of action. “In, retrospect, what they ended up doing with the show was a better concept than what we originally pitched,” Timm said. “Then they just got more and more comedic, and it probably was for the best.”
A fan asked about the many strong female characters that had been developed over the years through the various DC animated programs, and whether or not Timm and his collaborators were very conscious of it. To Timm, it was more of an organic occurrence. “We didn’t have an overt feminist agenda, but we did want to give as broad an overview of the world, and of the scope of the show, and that goes beyond having strong roles for just women, but for women minority characters, and others.” Timm explained as an example the creation of Officer Renee Montoya, and citing a conversation that he had with Paul Dini and another writer on the show about who to include in Batman’s supporting cast beyond the usual suspects such as Alfred and Commissionor Gordon. Their line of thinking was to find a character that had an interesting point of a point of view, and it just turned out that a Hispanic female is what they found to be most compelling. “We wanted a cop character who was someone who was a street-level cop, as opposed to Commissioner Gordon, who was more administrative,” Timm said. “We thought it was a great idea. Hispanics and Latinos are definitely underrepresented in media, and definitely in cartoons, especially back in 1992.”
Of the other female characters introduced in the show, Timm addressed them more generally saying, “We just tried our best to make sure they had as much emotional depth and attention that we were giving to the male characters.”
About halfway through the hour, a cosplayer dressed as Beetlejuice came to the mic to ask Timm what he thought of the recent Batman and Superman films. “I liked chunks of the Batman movies, and ‘The Dark Knight’ was my favorite. It was the most successful in term of checking off boxes in my own nerd column.” Timm also revealed that he enjoyed “Man of Steel” and that it blew him away. Working for Warner Brothers, Timm was able to see an advance screening on the studio lot and had a feeling the film’s reception would spark debate, but not to the extent that it has.
“I didn’t realize to what vehemence that both sides would argue their cases on the internet, and that’s been interesting to watch,” Timm said. “Almost none of these superhero movies are 100% the way I would make those movies, myself, but at the same time, this [“Man of Steel”] is still a valid take on the character. Even though the movie was a darker tone than what you’re used to seeing in a Superman movie, I didn’t think it was glum or depressing, and I didn’t think he did anything to violate the spirit of Superman.”
When asked by a fan how Timm is able to strike a balance between artistic satisfaction more commercial, Timm felt these two aspects don’t need to be polar opposites. “The big difference with ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ is that we focused on stories first, and then the toys followed suit,” Timm said. “Whereas shows like ‘G.I. Joe’ and ‘Masters of the Universe,’ the shows were envisioned as properties first, and the stories came second.”
Timm further noted that he and the other producers understood that the success of “Batman: The Animated Series” was dependent on the success of its toy sales and knew they had to play nice and work together with the toy companies. “Frankly, we were looking forward to having ‘Batman’ toys. Early on, when we had meetings with Kenner, we talked about what we envisioned the series to be, and how we can help them out. We’ve had great relationships with most of the toy companies we’ve worked with. It’s a matter of taking something from the toy company and having fun with it.”
Later on, Timm talked about continuity and the increasing complexity of the all of the DC animated programs. “We weren’t counting on our audiences growing up. The shows are always aimed at kids, at 6-11 year-olds,” Timm explained. “So we could not take for granted that our main audience was going to be guys in their 20s, 30s and 40s.” Thus, the creative team avoided continuity in the first season on “Justice League,” thinking to themselves, “These are six-year-olds who have never seen an episode of ‘Batman: The Animated Series’, ‘Batman Beyond’ or ‘Superman’; we gotta keep this continuity free, and then we thought — ‘what the heck, continuity is fun.'”
Asked if he has ever been approached to direct a live-action Batman film, Timm deadpanned, “I did, but I turned them down.” As the crowd let out a collective gasp, the wisecracking animator concluded, “They weren’t gonna give me enough money.”
If he ever had the opportunity to develop an animated program for Marvel, Timm said it would star Shang-Chi and Luke Cage in a style in the same vein as Quentin Tarantino. “It’d be ‘Enter the Dragon’ meets ‘Shaft.'”
Other highlights of the panel consisted of Timm remarking about how he felt that “Green Lantern: The Animated Series” was very underrated, and that although there isn’t any timetable for a Blu-Ray release of “Batman: The Animated Series” it will probably happen eventually. Moreover, Timm was always a Marvel guy growing up, but that Batman was always his favorite comic book character.