The cast and crew of the forthcoming “Justice League Dark” animated feature united this past weekend at NYCC to discuss the dark new corners of the universe they’re exploring with this project headlined by Batman, Constantine, Zatanna, Deadman, The Demon and Swamp Thing.
Batman voice actor Jason O’Mara, who’s played the role in multiple animated features, made the rounds along with Constantine voice actor Matt Ryan — who, of course, starred in the 2014-2015 “Constantine” TV seires — producer James Tucker, director Jay Oliva and character designer Phil Bourassa to discuss the team brought together by the Justice League to handle supernatural threats.
For Oliva, the job was a dream come true, especially after a long period trying to get a Swamp Thing film off the ground. Between Alec Holland’s involvement, the feature’s general concept and the possibility of bringing Ryan in as Constantine, Oliva’s excitement was clear.
“At the time I think Guillermo del Toro had said he wanted to do ‘Justice League Dark,'” Oliva said. “They’d announced it, but we hadn’t heard anything so I thought, ‘You know what? Let me just try to do my version of what I want to see in the live action version.’ I’m hoping that [current ‘Dark’ big screen director] Doug [Liman] will give me a call.'”
“‘Justice League Dark’ is an opportunity to expose our fans to these characters we haven’t put in these videos up until now,” Tucker explained. “We went with the ‘Justice League Dark’ comic book which has all the occult superheroes who form a loose alliance to take on threats that the main Justice League can’t handle. In this case, Deadman recruits Batman and John Constantine and Zatanna and The Demon to take on a mysterious force of evil.”
Tucker added that he wanted to get back to introducing audiences to more characters outside of the main Justice League lineup, which is how ‘Dark’ came about. “Hopefully if it sells well, we’ll keep doing more of these,” Tucker told reporters. “That’s the goal of using the main headliners to jump-start other franchises.”
After nailing down the story, it was a matter of bringing the vice cast together. Given the lineup, Ryan’s name quickly popped up, though at the time of recording the producers didn’t know that “Constantine” would be cancelled. “I love the character to much,” Ryan said. “I felt that there is so much to explore with him. But with a character like this I just feel lucky enough to have gotten to play him. I don’t think you can take ownership of a character like that.”
This version of John Constantine, according to both Tucker and Ryan, fits right in with the version previously seen, but with very different characters to bounce off of. “What was really interesting was seeing him in this context, interacting with these characters, characters which we didn’t get to explore in the TV show, like Zatanna, Deadman, Batman,” Ryan said.
For his part, O’Mara slid right into his latest outing as Batman. “In ‘Justice League Dark’ there’s plenty of room for glib comments,” he said. “He thinks this magic and supernatural stuff is just a load of nonsense and isn’t afraid to let Constantine know, which riles up Constantine and they have this rivalry going.”
However, the Dark Knight won’t necessarily be the focal point, even though he’s an important character. “Batman’s present in this movie, but he doesn’t say an awful lot,” O’Mara said. “He’s sort of a watcher. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say, he’s the audiences eyes and ears. He sees what’s happening, but he doesn’t always talk about it, so there wasn’t a huge amount of dialogue even though he’s ever-present.”
As the regular character designer on DC’s shared continuity animated features going back to “Flashpoint” and “Justice League: War,” Bourassa was no stranger when it came to Batman. He designed Constantine based on his TV look, but took a few different paths with the others.
“They’re all pretty iconic looking,” he said. “Maybe Etrigan [is the most different]. He has the same physicality as the Kirby [design]. Silhouette-wise, it’s very similar to that, but he doesn’t have the trappings of the Kirby design. His costume looks like it would be from the dark ages, it’s a little more armor-y. It’s not as costume-y as the superhero version that Kirby did.”
Swamp Thing also required a variety of potential interpretations. “He’s great because [with] the monster-y characters, there’s so much potential to interpret it,” Bourassa said. “It doesn’t have to be one specific thing. There’s a range within which it’s more recognizable, but I did maybe 10 to 12 concept drawings of him not because I was having a hard time locking it down, but because I was having so much fun with it. Ultimately I got one that I really liked and that’s the one we used.”
Many readers will wonder how much this film lives up to its name. “For ‘Dark,’ I wanted to make it a horror film,” Oliva said. “I had a chance to do something I’d never had a chance to do before, to push it.”
Ryan has seen the finished product and added, “It’s darker than I thought, man. There’s a good few swear words in there and a little bit of blood and guts and stuff. It’s pretty much all action with a horror element to it. For me, the funnest thing is the relationships between the characters. That’s the ultimate thing that was the most fun for me anyway.”
“It’s as dark as I wanted it to be,” Tucker said. “It’s a horror film. I want it to scare people. I’ve done two other movies that had R [ratings] before I had to re-cut them, so I’m not a good guy to gauge what’s dark. I just make the movie I want to see.”
“Justice League Dark” — also starring the voice talents of Camilla Luddington as Zatanna, Nicholas Turturro as Deadman and Ray Chase as The Demon — debuts sometime in 2017.
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