In 2008, writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank reintroduced Brainiac in a five-part “Action Comics” tale simply called “Brainiac.” It reintroduced the bottled city of Kandor and re-imagined Brainiac in a brawnier, more alien form. The aftermath of the story set the stage for Superman comics for years to come.
Now, it is the latest story adapted in Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment’s line of direct-to-video animated movies set in the DC Universe, “Superman:Unbound” featuring Matt Bomer and Molly C. Quinn as the voices of the Superman and Supergirl. The actors, along with voice director Andrea Romano and writer Bob Goodman, stopped by WonderCon in Anaheim over the weekend to discuss the film, taking on iconic characters and adapting Johns and Frank’s story.
In Bomer’s case, voicing Superman is the culmination of a long casting process. The actor nearly played the part in two separate live-action outings — the aborted J.J. Abrams penned “Superman Flyby” and the upcoming “Man of Steel.” The actor also cheerfully pointed out that he “got to play him in a Japanese car commercial.” While “Unbound” is his first full outing as the Man of Steel, he noted, “It ties into my life and career pretty heavily. It afforded my career so many opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise.” To voice him in an animated feature was a no-brainer for the actor. “I was in really good hands with this creative team, especially Andrea Romano.”
“Matt is such a good actor,” said Romano. “We found out he was a fan of our work in the various DC projects and that’s always a step in the right direction.” She said key elements to his performance were the sensitivity and vulnerable quality in his voice. “You have to have the idea that he could be in love with Lois Lane. That he’s not afraid to extend that much emotion. Matt had that.” This particular storyline, with Brainiac threatening everything and everyone Superman loves, was a great match for Bomer’s voice.
With the original story as a strong foundation, writer Bob Goodman’s chief role was finding more of it to animate. “There’s just not a full story of movie [in the book],” he said. Since a straight adaptation would not be possible, Goodman likened the comics to a highway Johns and Gary Frank paved. “It was an opportunity to drive on the highway and find the interesting stops along the way.” Advancing a previously unseen thread in Clark and Lois’ relationship and a brief sojourn to Kandor are some of the roadside attractions Goodman found.
In the case of Kandor, Superman gets the opportunity to meet some of its citizens. “The movie gives him an opportunity to see what living on Krypton would’ve been like,” said Goodman. The scenes play on the immigrant tale contained in the larger context of Superman as a symbol of hope. “He’s about our anxiety as a species about technology and the future,” he said. According to the writer, the villains take on the fear of those advancements, while Superman personifies the hope of progress.
“It’s a particular challenge when you’re playing a role like this. It’s been so iconic for me since I was four or five years-old,” said Bomer of actually taking on the part. “Inevitably, you have in the back of your head all the different interpretations from the comics to the films to the cartoons and TV series.” He chose to focus on the Superman he saw in the script itself. “In this particular version, he’s a very mature Superman. As usual, he has a lot on his plate, but he has this very paternal instinct toward Supergirl. And he has a very protective instinct with Lois, because he fears their relationship could endanger her.”
Superman’s relationship to these two women shares equal weight with the external threat from Brainiac. Romano had to consider the casting of the roles very carefully. “The character of Supergirl is so great, because she’s always learning,” she said of Supergirl. “Think about the average fifteen or sixteen year-old girl. She’s just having a hard time dealing with what’s going on in life. Now, she has superpowers. She’s got a lot to learn.”
“I felt very similar to her, to be honest. She’s very headstrong,” said Quinn. “She doesn’t need anybody to tell her how to get [things] done.” That quality became a point of connection, but she also had some help from her three young nieces. “I’ll have them play stuff, like, ‘If you were punching through a building, what sound would you make?'” She jokingly referred to it as cheating as they are not entirely aware of what she does for a living. “The four year-old [and I] were watching a ‘Winx Club’ episode and she sees my character, Bloom, on screen and says, ‘That’s you.’ I said, ‘yeah.’ She says, ‘How are you here?” Her seven year-old niece gets it and loves Supergirl.
Quinn, a co-star on “Castle” came to the project because of the existing relationship between Romano and “Castle” star Nathan Fillion. “Working with Nathan, I’m not afraid to call him up and ask how is so-and-so to work with,” she explained.
Fillion also recommended fellow “Castle” star Stana Katic for Lois, which helped Romano’s task. “Lois is a tough character to cast. She had to be strong, but there’s got to be a soft vulnerability to her,” she said.
Lois and Supergirl share a particularly touching scene in the film, which was another dividend of Goodman’s search for more material. “The women of these properties are such strong women, but they don’t always get as much service as they deserve,” he explained. “Lois is the strongest character in this story and I love writing her. Getting to do scenes with just the women and what their lives are like is [a gift].”
Goodman called the final script “a collaboration” despite never meeting Johns. “My job is to get into the guy’s head and I feel like I was working with him the whole time and honoring his intent.”
“Superman: Unbound” arrives on home video May 7th.