Making Batman Braver & Bolder

After a landmark year at the box office, Batman breaks back onto the small screen this month, albeit with a little more BIFF! BAM! and POW! Eschewing the ultra-gritty themes of “The Dark Knight” for a more kid-friendly take on the caped crusader, “Batman: The Brave & The Bold” debuts on Cartoon Network on November 14 at 8:00 pm EST/PST and teams Batman with a laundry list of fan favorite and cult characters from DC Comics’ pantheon, including Plastic Man and Metamorpho.

“I’m calling in a big, Saturday morning bowl of cereal. It definitely harkens back to simpler times,” producer James Tucker told CBR News.

Tucker, whose DC animated credentials stretch back to 1997’s “The New Batman Adventures” and whose most recent credit was as producer on the fan hit “Legion of Super-Heroes,” explained the more light-hearted tenor of “Brave & The Bold” wasn’t just struck upon as a youthful alternative to Christian Bale’s PG-13 growl, but as a way of keeping Batman interesting and relevant in his fourth animated incarnation in the past 15 years.

“The whole idea every new time Batman comes around is how to do a different thing,” Tucker said. “My thought going into this series wasn’t another ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ because I really wouldn’t have been interested in doing that. I worked with [‘Batman: TAS’ executive producer] Bruce Timm for 12 years. To me, ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ is hallowed ground. That’s not something I wanted to follow or to be in the shadow of, but this is such a different flavor. [‘The Brave & The Bold’ is] not trying to be dark or sophisticated.”

For the specific mix of elements that make “Brave & The Bold” what it is, Tucker kick-started the production process by returning to his roots as a character designer and storyboard artist — drawing multiple versions of DC Characters until he struck upon the Dick Sprang-inspired look that has carried the show forward. “Finding the tone of the show came through trial and error,” the producer said. “I was finishing ‘Legion’ and I went from that show right into developing this. And when you’re developing, you have to throw a lot of stuff at the wall to see what sticks. The idea is not perfectly in your head. For some people it might be, but not me. I have to draw a lot. I killed a lot of trees coming up with the ideas for this show. Ultimately, I wanted a show that had humor but where the action was exciting. I basically wanted to take the energy of the Teen Titans cartoon and put it on top of an old comic book. You have the dynamic action of anime with character designs that are simplified and look like they’re hand inked and lifted out of a ‘50s comic book.”

Striking that new chord in just the right way involved offering a lineup of characters fans had not yet seen in an animated venue, and adding a humorous note to a lead hero who’s often known for his straight-laced attitude. “The flavor of ‘Batman: The Brave & The Bold’ is Batman on everyone else’s turf,” Tucker said. “It’s Batman in outer space. Batman under the sea. Batman in another dimension. Batman in the past. Batman in the future. So it was pretty much Batman fitting into any environment and still being cool. It’s a lot more fantasy-based than the more gritty, realistic versions of Batman that have come before.”

One thing viewers have seen before is Batman interacting with other DC mainstays like Superman and Green Lantern, and although Tucker admitted there was a heavy interest in including some of those heavies in “Brave & The Bold,” he said the little heroes further down the list opened up bigger and better possibilities. “The problem with those A-list characters is that they pull focus from Batman. The idea behind this show is that ‘Yeah, it’s a team-up show, but the team ups have to bring out some element of Batman’s personality that we haven’t seen,’” he said. “A character equated to an environment Batman’s in, which means that if it’s Aquaman, he’s probably going to be in Atlantis dealing with something. The new Blue Beetle has a space flavor, so that puts us in outer space. The Demon means we’re doing a more supernatural story. And I think the secondary characters tend to be a bit more interesting because there are things we don’t know about them. Everyone knows about Superman. Everyone thinks they know about Wonder Woman, and eventually we’ll get to those characters, but we wanted this to be a show where it wasn’t a by the numbers episode every time.”

Part of taking that by-the-numbers feel out of the show included taking the most well known members of Batman’s supporting cast out -- for the most part. “It’s not that we won’t have some of those more familiar elements, but we wanted to make those an event when we saw them — not just go, ‘Oh, there’s Commissioner Gordon again. There’s Alfred again. There’s Robin.’ We wanted to do those stories and give them more impact when they happen so people wouldn’t take it for granted that they would be on the show,” Tucker explained.

What viewers will be getting in place of a regular cast is twice the amount of guest stars per episode thanks to the program’s unique formatting. “[In each episode] there’s a teaser — the teaser is a stand-alone, mini-episode of Batman teaming up with a character,” Tucker explained. “Then we’ll run the main title, and after the main title, that’s the main episode. And the main episode has nothing to do with the teaser for the most part. Some have a little trickle over, but for the most part the teasers are little three-minute episodes in and of themselves.

“That keeps the audience guessing about what’s coming after the main title, and it also lets us shine a light on some lesser known DC characters who might not require a full episode. It makes the pace of the show a lot quicker than the ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ stories or even the ‘Justice League’ stories. I’m having a blast with it because it’s unlike any show I’ve ever worked on, and it’s unlike anything that’s been on the air for a while.”

Another major difference from past iteration of Batman’s mythos is the comedy element that plays a role in “The Brave & The Bold,” although Tucker was quick to note that such elements never stole the focus from the action and adventure meat and potatoes. “The humor that’s there doesn’t overpower the story,” he said. “I’m all for Adam West’s Batman. I have a lot of fondness for that show, but this show isn’t trying to mimic that. This show is a lot more straight than that. There’s humor in it, but it’s more high action adventure. To me, this is more of what a kid who was watching that Adam West show saw, not a sophisticated adult who caught all the campy inside stuff. The six-year-old who watched Adam West and took everything deadly seriously. That’s the idea behind this show.”

And while the fun, youth-oriented nature of “Batman: The Brave & The Bold” adds to its uniqueness, it also keeps the episodes of the series more standalone without reliance on long-term continuity. After working on the long-term dramatic serial that worked its way from “Batman: The Animated Series” to “Justice League Unlimited” over 12 years, Tucker relished the opportunity to loosen up on plotlines for a more “done-in-one” approach.

“With ‘Brave & The Bold’ we’re just starting from scratch. There’s no connection to any of those earlier shows,” Tucker confirmed. “The show itself is simple. I equate it to a ‘60s ‘Space Ghost’ show where there wasn’t any continuity from episode to episode. You didn’t have to see anything else to enjoy the episode you were watching. It was more episodic that way. But, we do have a group of characters that we do repeat. So Blue Beetle reappears, and every time he reappears, we learn more about him and his relationship with Batman. The same with Aquaman and The Outsiders and Green Arrow — they’re kind of our core group of characters that reappear, but between them we have these one off characters and fan favorites. There are certain characters that don’t require more than one or two appearances.”

To unpack all the new twists and turns held within “Batman: The Brave & The Bold,” CBR will be rolling out more interviews with the entire creative staff between now and the November 14 premier, continuing next with director Ben Jones. But while his entire crew rushes to wrap their first season for its impending debut, James Tucker closed his talk with CBR by waxing poetic on the future of Batman’s animated ambitions.

“I feel sorry for whoever does the next Batman cartoon because we’re running out of things to pull from, but I’m sure they’ll find some interesting twist,” laughed the producer. “Maybe the pendulum will swing back towards the grittier stuff. But I think now it’s a great time for fans with the DVDs, the reruns of the old shows and ‘The Dark Knight’ being such a success, there’s so much room for different interpretations of Batman. And I think they’re all valid as long as they’re done with integrity.”

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