When CBR last spoke with “Batman: The Brave & The Bold” producer James Tucker, the animation veteran singled out episode directors Ben Jones, Michael Chang and Brandon Vietti as the backbone that will make the kid-focused team-up version of the Dark Knight work.
“I’ve been blessed with a terrific, terrific crew,” Tucker said. “Ben is an old school fanboy. He brings his love of all this stuff and the energy to all his shows. Michael Chang is from ‘Titans’ so he has that experience of that energetic, dynamic action and also the humor. Brandon Vietti is from ‘The Batman’ and numerous other action shows like ‘Jackie Chan Adventures,’ and he is a great student of cinema and film. He knows how to bring tone and atmosphere to the show. These three guys really are nailing this, and if the show’s a success, it will be in no small part to the energy and diversity they bring in as a set of directors.”
Continuing our coverage of “Batman: The Brave & The Bold” in advance of its November 14 premier on Cartoon Network (8:00 pm Eastern and Pacific), CBR caught up with the “old school fanboy” member of the directing trio in Ben Jones for a word on how his love of DC Comics translated into the series’ debut episode. “I first learned how to draw by trying to copy what Dick Dillin was doing in ‘Justice League,’” Jones recalled.
However, Jones’ experience as a reader of action comics didn’t translate into work in superhero cartoons so easily. “I started working on some Looney Tunes shorts they were doing back in the early ‘90s,” he explained. “It was all comedy stuff, so I ended up in this weird position at the beginning of ‘Teen Titans’ trying to convince Glen [Murakami] to hire me as a storyboard artist, but I had no experience doing superhero shows. But that was what got me drawing in the first place, so I found myself in the strange position of having to defend my history as a comic book fan, which is what got me drawing in the first place even though I had no experience in the animation end of drawing superheroes, no professional experience.”
A storyboard test earned Jones the “Titans” gig with work on “Justice League,” “Legion of Superheroes” and “Transformers Animated” to follow. And with a background in comedy animation, the more light-hearted escapades of Batman and the lesser-known superheroes of the DCU featured in “Brave & The Bold” proved a perfect fit for the director. “I like the lighter stuff,” he said. “I always like seeing new interpretations. I have all the previous versions [of Batman] on DVD already, so I don’t see the point in trying to rehash that. And there’s so much that hasn’t been done with it, so many versions of Batman that have been done in the comic books that haven’t had a chance to shine in animation.
“And as far as doing a darker Batman, I think you’re shooting yourself in the foot because you have to compete with the versions that have already been done right here at Warner Bros. It made sense to do something new because everybody had worked on the old stuff. Brandon was one of the ‘The Batman’ directors, and everybody had experience with some other version of Batman.”
Jones got the ball rolling on the series by directing the premier episode, "Rise of the Blue Beetle!" featuring the titular teen hero Jaime Reyes as well as the more classic 1960s version of Green Arrow in the episode’s teaser portion. “I was familiar with both,” Jones said of the characters. “I mostly knew that version of Green Arrow from ‘Justice League’ reprints as a kid, but I’d also been following the current ‘Blue Beetle’ comic just as a fan from when it started. So I was familiar with both of the characters. For the most part, it’s a generally Silver Age feel to the characters we use. With Blue Beetle, I think we had a bit of an aberration in that regard, but he’s turned into a pretty good character for Batman to interact with in that regard because he’s so green…not in the sense that Green Arrow is, but he’s such a rookie that he gives Batman someone to play off of.”
Jones noted that the second episode — “Terror on Dinosaur Island!" — would feature Justice Leaguer Fire in addition to Plastic Man, who lends himself to a bit more comedy than some other of the show’s guest stars. “If we have a lighter character, then we might have some more outlandish setups. Plastic Man would dictate a different setup than Kamandi, for example,” Jones explained. “In the case of Kamandi, we had a section where Batman visits Kamandi in his post-apocalyptic future so we tried to make that as much like the comic as we could. We pulled a lot of cues from Kirby’s original work.”
Aside from obscure heroes popping up in the show, Jones noted that the villains featured in “Brave & The Bold” would be of the more C-List variety, fitting with the show’s “hidden gems” outlook. “Obviously, there is Kite-Man who is one of [story editor] Michael Jelenic’s favorite characters and keeps popping up when you least expect him,” Jones revealed. “But we dig deep for a lot of the Batman villains that have been neglected since the ‘50s. We’ve got Zebra Man and Mr. Polka-Dot showing up. There’s also a lot of different villains from other DC families — a lot of Justice League villains. But we don’t do a lot with Batman’s first choices from the rogue’s gallery — the classic Joker, Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman kinds of characters. It’s just trying to find something new that people have been overlooking for a while.”
As the season moves along, Jones will rotate directing episodes with his fellow staffers, and while the format of the series makes for plenty of variety, for a longtime comic reader it also means that eventually his favorites will fall into Jones’ hands. “There was actually a Red Tornado story that I asked for that didn’t work out schedule-wise that Brandon got, and he did a great job on it. I can’t complain, but I’m a big Red Tornado fan. But we’ve got 26 episodes, so it turns out that everything falls out the way where I end up getting Red Tornado in an episode, and that satisfied that urge,” he said.
“I’m right in the middle of the Bat-Mite episode right now,” Jones continued. “I know there was a lot of debate on the internet about whether it was just Paul Dini kidding about whether we were doing it, but we are, and I’m really excited to see that. It’s not going to come back for a while, but it’s different even for us, so I’m really excited to see how it turns out.”
As for whether or not “Batman: The Brave & The Bold” will feature long-running plots and stories worked out by the team as a whole, Jones finished by saying that even though the single-episode story style is a major influence on the show, viewers who stick with “Batman: The Brave & The Bold” week in, week out will get some different kinds of continuity.
“There’s one two-parter, but aside from that, there’s not a long continuing arc for the story as a whole,” he said. “Individual guest stars — Blue Beetle most of all — when they return, they grow from their previous appearances as characters. There’s a little bit of personal character continuity, but there’s not a lot of overall story continuity. There’s a bit of an arc in the second season, but I don’t know how much I can say about that.”
Stay tuned to CBR for more interviews with the cast and crew of “Batman: The Brave & The Bold” in the coming days!