One of the stranger growth areas for DC Comics‘ Batman of late has been his status as an iconic LEGO figure. And now, beyond his multiple toys sets, a series of hit video games and an upcoming big screen spinoff of “The LEGO Movie,” the mini Dark Knight is moving into some new comedic territory tonight on Cartoon Network.
This evening, the cable channel will air “LEGO DC Comics: Batman: Be-Leaguered” — the first fully-original animated project starring the LEGO versions of the hero and his DC compatriots. Produced by “Young Justice” director Brandon Vietti, the special tells the story of how Batman first joined the Justice League in the LEGO milieu, a fresh take that remains unconnected with the previous video game stories or the hero’s big screen “LEGO Movie” incarnation.
CBR News spoke with Vietti about the birth of the project, and the producer explained what makes LEGO a solid fit for the DC Universe, how Khary Payton’s comedic Cyborg makes the perfect foil for the straight-laced Batman of Troy Baker and where the LEGO Justice League could go next.
CBR News: Brandon, correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe this is the first LEGO Batman special that’s a fully original animated release, right?
Brandon Vietti: Yes. This is an entirely new take on the DC Universe in LEGO style. It’s not connected with the video games, and it’s not connected with “The LEGO Movie.”
Visually speaking, there’s quite a bit different in this special from either of those projects, starting with the more classic grey and blue Batman costume. What was the goal in terms building this new world as a representation of the DCU?
The genesis of this really was that Warner Bros. and LEGO got together and wanted to make a little story to celebrate Batman’s 75 years. We wanted to tell the story of how Batman came to join the Justice League in a LEGO universe. The origin of Batman joining the League may be a little different here than most comic fans know it to be, so we’ve created a little bit of what you might call an Elseworlds tale, and in that we tell what I think is a great story that really celebrates Batman for all of the cool things fans love about him.
The one thing that all of the LEGO Batman projects share in common is a more humorous tone. Was there a certain kind of humor or a level at which you needed the jokes to operate to make this successful?
Absolutely. First of all, the great thing about LEGO is that there’s so much charm built into it. Just the design of the mini fig characters just has so much charm and comedy built into it. But then exploring the DC Universe with LEGO bricks adds a whole new element of comedy that you can’t really explore in any other way. That was a great starting point. We watched a lot of LEGO movies and a lot of comedy takes on the DCU that we’ve made here at Warner Bros. Animation, and we picked things we liked from both and kind of smashed them together. I think we tried to input some new ideas that we had for how to tell comedic stories in the DC Universe, and we just started — no pun intended — building and building this project, and it kind of made a new character all its own.
Any time you try to approach the DC Universe from a comedy angle, it’s a little nerve-wracking. It’s very hard. I think a lot of the hardcore comic fans are used to playing the DCU very straight, but we’ve done our best to represent our characters in the way that people know and love them. We’ve been true to the characters at their core, and we’ve found a comedy angle in presenting them in a LEGO format.
You’re also bringing along some voice talent to get the job done — notably including Khary Payton as Cyborg, who is very well known for his comedic take on that character from “Teen Titans Go!” How did the voices behind the parts help make this tone work?
Our Batman is Troy Baker, who is also the voice of Batman for the LEGO video games, so fans of those games will appreciate seeing him reprise his role here. And he’s great. The thing I love about his Batman is that he still plays it straight. Batman is never a quipster or a jokester. He is a straight man, and Troy Baker absolutely understands that, through and through. He knows how to make him a straight man that can have a lot of fun.
That works perfectly with Khary Payton’s Cyborg. His Cyborg is known for being very off the wall — it’s a broad, fun character, and he’s bringing all his great Cyborg-isms into this role of LEGO Cyborg. We’ve given him a slightly new angle from past animated versions. Here Cyborg is the newest member of the Justice League team, and we play him as a young, energetic, super enthusiastic rookie on the team. I think that gave Khary a little something extra to work with, and it makes for great chemistry between him and Batman.
You’ve also got a mix of DC characters here that maybe folks won’t expect. The League is anchored by the likes of Superman and Wonder Woman, but it seems like the Flash plays an important role, and Captain Cold is a big villain. This kind of pushes Batman out of the Gotham City environs we’re used to seeing him in. Is that a source of the story and the comedy in the special?
Yeah. Definitely. It’s a global adventure that takes Batman out of Gotham. We definitely have fun with that in the story, and it’s a big part of the story so I don’t want to give too much of that away. But that was definitely something we wanted to explore. To celebrate who Batman is and why he’s so great, taking him out of his comfort zone of Gotham City was a way to explore all those things.
So this is a half-hour special that starts its own world, as you said. Does this leave the door open for more stories in this universe moving forward?
I think this is a story that feels like the beginning of something, sure. We do tell the story of Batman joining the Justice League, and certainly once that happens, you can’t wait to find out what happens next. You’re naturally going to want to see more stories after this one concludes. Hopefully, we’ll have the chance to make more in the future.
There is a little extra content already for this special including some “outtakes” that have been popping up online. Is this all set for a DVD release at some point?
The bloopers! Yeah, we actually worked real closely with LEGO on making some of those bloopers for this project, and as I’ve seen them so far, Cartoon Network has been using them to promote “Batman Be-Leaguerd.” As this point, I’m not sure how else this will be distributed, but you can find all that online through Cartoon Network.
And what’s next for you? You’ve had a wide range of projects at Warner Bros. Animation from “Young Justice” to Scooby-Doo meeting WWE wrestlers. Do you know what your next major project will be?
I definitely do, but I can’t really comment on any of it. I’ve been super lucky to land at the projects I’ve landed on at Warner Bros. I’ve been here about eleven years consecutively, and I’ve really enjoyed working with the DC Universe. Every time we work on a new story that brings a new angle on the DCU, it’s fun to dive in and find new takes on familiar characters. I never get tired of it. And LEGO was such an amazing experience to find yet another way in. It’s such a funny and fun way to see all my favorite characters — a challenge, yet fun at the same time. And I wish I could tell you more about what I’m working on next, but I just can’t share it at this time.
“LEGO DC Comics: Batman: Beleaguered” airs tonight at 6:00 p.m. E/P on Cartoon Network.
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