Animation legend Bruce Timm, the man behind the iconic designs on "Batman: The Animated Series," "Justice League Unlimited" and numerous other DC Comics-based projects since the early 1990s, needs no introduction for most fans. At Comic-Con International in San Diego, Timm sat down with CBR TV's Albert Ching to discuss the new animated feature "Justice League: Gods and Monsters," perhaps his riskiest DC project to date.
"Gods and Monsters" reimagines DC's iconic trinity -- Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman -- but not in the sense of just reimagining their origins. These are entirely different people in the roles, tossing out everything fans know about the characters and creating a bold new vision of the DC Universe with characters who are far less heroic -- and possibly less likeable -- than their DC Comics counterparts. Timm discusses with CBR TV the project's origins, its expansion into Machnima shorts and comic books, as well as his animated future, whether we can expect a long form comic project from him, and the sudden explosion of Harley Quinn, a character he co-created with Paul Dini for "Batman: The Animated Series."
In the first part of their conversation, Timm explains how "Justice League: Gods and Monsters" came about, why the project creatively refreshed him when it comes to DC projects, and the unpredictability of telling stories with not at all familiar versions of these characters. He also talks about how the story has expanded beyond the movie and whether or not fans will get a chance to visit this new world again.
On the genesis of "Justice League: Gods and Monsters" and reimagining DC icons:
Bruce Timm: I had been doing the DTV [direct-to-video] movies for a while and was feeling a little bit stale maybe. And I had some original ideas that I developed as properties which we then pitched and then none of them sold so I had to go back to the movies. [Laughs] Somewhere in there, one of the things I was working on was I had a meeting with my boss, Sam Register, and he mentioned that they were thinking about redeveloping Justice League as an animated series and the only thing he knew for sure was that he didn't want it to be just a continuation of the old "Justice League" show. But he said, "Other than that, it can be anything, so think about it if you've got some ideas," or whatever.
Right around that same time, DC Comics was doing their New 52 reboot. I was starting to think about rebooting characters and stuff and I flashed back to the Silver Age of comics when they brought back the Flash and the Green Lantern. They basically took the Golden Age Flash and Green Lantern, kept the name, kept the powers and threw everything else out. New alter egos, new costumes, even their powers worked slightly differently. So I thought, "Wouldn't it be cool to use that same kind of methodology with the Big Three?" Normally you're not supposed to mess with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. I tried that in the past and they go, "Oh no, you gotta leave them alone. They gotta be traditional." So I came up with this alternate universe take on Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, I just had some rough ideas and told my boss, Sam, and he said, "Wow, that sounds really, really cool! It's probably not really a good idea for a series, for a TV series you'll still want it to be kind of traditional, but maybe it would be good as a DTV."
On the unpredictable nature of the story:
The thing that made it doubly interesting to me is the whole the thing is a little bit unpredictable. No matter what you do with Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, there's certain lines you can't cross with them. They're always gonna -- at a certain point you go, "They won't do that." But with these guys, you don't know what they're gonna do because they're not the characters that you know. To me that was really exciting, just to be able to explore the unpredictability-ness of it.
On whether there's worry over whether these versions of the characters will connect with fans:
We're all kind of cautiously optimistic it's gonna do well. The shorts have been received really well by people on YouTube and stuff, so. People seem to be interested in it so now we just wait and see what the [sales are like]. ... People get used to a certain thing and they go, "I really like that show," and then all of a sudden, now we're doing a different show and they go, "Nooooo!" So yeah, this is a completely different version of these characters and they're not really nice people, so there's that going into it, too. So it's like whether people will actually find them compelling anyways, or strangely likeable even though they do horrible things sometimes. That's gonna be the trick to see how people respond to them.
In part two, Timm tells CBR TV that despite working in animated features for several years, he still has the itch to do some serialized storytelling and hasn't ruled out working on a new animated series that allows him to stretch those different muscles. Given his work on the "Justice League: Gods and Monsters" comics and various short projects, the artist also comments on whether fans can expect a long form comic book project from him or whether he's firmly entrenched in animation.
On the draw of returning to an animated series:
It just works a different part of your brain. Especially since going back to when we did "Justice League Unlimited," that was the first show that I did that was serialized in nature. Everything else before that was all kind of like standalone episodes, but I really got into the whole serialized format. I love being able to tell long form stories, setting up something in Episode 1 that's going to pay off in Episode 13, and, you know, subplots and working with a large ensemble cast is always exciting.
On whether there is a longer comic book project in his future:
I would love to do a longer form comic, but unfortunately it's such a drain on my time and as I get older I'm a lot less fast than I used to be. I did a short Captain America story last year with Stan Lee, it was like only eight pages but it took me forever to draw and it's a really simple story. It doesn't even have a big cast or complicated backgrounds or anything, but it just was like pulling teeth to get that done. I have to do it in my spare time, and I've got this pretty demanding day job, so it's just tough. I would like to. I have all kinds of ideas for things to do in comics and every now and then I'll just be -- I come and go with my enthusiasm for comics sometimes. I'm like hitting the comic book store every Wednesday like everybody else, and then other times I'm like, "Eh, I'm kind of tired of comics, I'm gonna give it a break." Then I'll go back and I'll be like, "Wow! That's really exciting," or "That's really new." I'll discover some artist that I never noticed before and it gets my juices going so it makes me want to do comics, but it's just managing to find the time.
Wrapping up his conversation from the world famous CBR Floating Tiki Room, Timm talks about the biggest breakout star from "Batman: The Animated Series," Harley Quinn, and tries to discern why the character has gone from fan-favorite to A-lister across in the last few years. He also talks about the legacy of "Batman:TAS" and how gratifying it is to hear from fans about how the show affected them.
On Harley Quinn's recent explosion in comics and beyond:
It's really weird, and it's not like you can point to any one thing that caused it. It was kind of like she was always kind of popular, like you said, and it kind of just kept growing and growing and growing. Obviously I think the comic has a lot to do with it, but it's not just the comic. I started noticing it about three or four years ago that you just go to a convention and it's like, "Wow, there sure are a lot of Harley cosplayers." I know there was always a few, but now there's like, man, there's like a zillion different shades and varieties of -- oh, there's Steampunk Harley and there's Goth Lolita Harley and there's, you know, all kinds of different Harleys. It's like "Wow!" It's all over the place. I mean, it's cool, it's great, it's really gratifying, but it's a little surreal, it's like, "Why now? Why is this happening now?" But it's great, really, it's awesome.