As viewers of Cartoon Network's "Batman: The Brave & The Bold" have already discovered, the animated series grants equal opportunity for comedic and serious interpretations of DC Comics' classic characters with its team-up format. Past episodes pulled in all sorts of disparate, kid-friendly elements including Arthurian legend, giant clock-shaped death traps, attack-minded Christmas toys and jelly-shaped space aliens. With this week's "Mystery in Space" episode airing on Friday the 13th, the show marks the third appearance of a character who embodies that mix of jokes and justice: Aquaman.
While the King of Atlantis remains one of DC's more dramatic and at times even Shakespearian heroes, Aquaman also routinely finds himself the butt of pop culture jokes revolving around his supposedly lame superpower of "talking to fish." But celebrated comedy voice actor John DiMaggio - who not coincidentally plays the sea king in the episode - holds a different opinion on the matter.
"People like to give him a lot of crap and say, 'Superman can move the earth. Superman's the strongest.' But the earth is 75% water! I'm the king of Atlantis...bring it! Come on down in the water. I've got a hammerhead shark for your ass. Let's go," laughed DiMaggio in conversation with CBR News.
Speaking with his signature gruff voice -- best known for bringing alcoholic robot Bender to life in Matt Groening and David X. Cohen's "Futurama" -- DiMaggio explained that for his part in Batman's latest animated foray, he had to work hard to keep Aquaman's on screen silliness in check. "They wanted him to be a very broad character. The way the show is drawn - the way it looks and feels - has got that '50s and '60s look to it. Just the way it's done is so broad, and the way he's drawn is with this T-shape. He's huge! He's bigger than Batman! Put them side-by-side, and he's taller."
To reconcile the comedic elements the producers' looked for and the dynamic action and cartoon stylings fans expect, DiMaggio relied on his own talents and those of his straight man - Diedrich Bader as Batman - to reign in Aquaman's somewhat pompous attitude. "I don't think he's really showing off. I think it's pretty interesting," DiMaggio explained. "Aquaman is quite proud of himself. Nobody wants to hear about his stories, and that's a running bit within the shows. It's very ridiculous. But I think that their banter helps the comedy. It brings in the lighter side of the superheroism. Batman takes all of Aquaman's pompous comments and storytelling and bravado with a grain of salt because he knows he's the king of Atlantis. But it gives Batman a chance to go, 'Oh, boy...' every once in a while."
If it sounds like DiMaggio's enjoying his time on "The Brave & The Bold," that's because it's true. "It's a fun gig. It's Aquaman!" he said. "It's a really great cast. Diedrich Bader is really great as Batman. Tom Kenny is a great Plastic Man, and there's a whole bunch of really good people coming up. A lot of these people I've worked with before, and there's a lot of good voiceover people on the show. And Andrea Romano who has won multiple, multiple Emmys for her work in cartoons is the voice director. It's pretty stacked."
Bringing to life a hero and also making him funny remains his greatest challenge in the vocal booth. "It's a lot harder doing comedy. It's a lot harder to make something funny than it is to make it not funny. It's REAL easy to make something not funny, you know?" said DiMaggio, who also voices villain Gorilla Grodd on the series. "You make sure you stay within the realms of what you outlined for yourself before and make sure it sticks. It's kind of weird. It's not like the choices are that all over the place. It's pretty specific where you stick to the script and know what you did vocally the last time you were in the studio. It's a lot tighter than you might think. And you get to do more within that."
DiMaggio's last episode saw Aquaman teaming up (and shrinking down) with the Atom to save Batman from a poison delivered by the monster Chemo and his bodiless boss, the Brain. "Remember 'Innerspace?' Basically, that's what happens," DiMaggio laughed. Although Friday's show involves a more outer space bent, as "Mystery in Space," unsurprisingly, takes the caped crusader and his royal friend across the stars to Rann -Â home of Adam Strange!
U.S. viewers can tune in at 8:00 PM Eastern and Pacific on Cartoon Network.