The Bravest & Boldest: Wil Wheaton

While comedic actor Diedrich Bader's take on the Dark Knight may be the only recurring character on Cartoon Network's slam bang action series "Batman: The Brave & The Bold," the team-up show remains littered with guest stars both in the form of classic DC Comics superheroes and voice actors familiar to longtime comics and animation fans. CBR News takes a look at the animated Batman's compatriots for the next two weeks, starting with geek icon Wil Wheaton, who plays Silver Age Blue Beetle Ted Kord in this Friday's ominously titled episode "Fall of the Blue Beetle."

For comics fans who wonder aloud how the kid-friendly show reconciles Ted Kord's grisly comic book death alongside the inclusion of 21st Century model Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes, Wheaton explained that such details are thankfully ignored. "This episode is a really wonderful episode about Jaime coming to terms with what it means to be the Blue Beetle," Wheaton told CBR. "If you read John Rogers' 'Blue Beetle' comics, the first twelve issues are all about Jaime coming to terms with what it means to have this power and how he interacts with the Scarab and trying to figure out why it chose him. A lot of that is brought into this show and this episode. It's a lot less about who Ted is than it really is about who Jaime is and his journey and struggle to figure out why he has been given this incredible ability. If you're watching this with your nit-pickers guide to Batman continuity, I would encourage you to go find something else to do."

Self-described as "a lifelong comics fan," Wheaton is perhaps best known in acting circles as the man who once played teenage "Star Trek: The Next Generation" character Wesley Crusher, although today the actor carries a strong writing career, espousing on all things in geek culture from his blog and numerous books. Comics being a regular part of his geek-centric diet helped Wheaton prepare to play Kord in more ways than one.

"I started out like most kids, reading Donald Duck comics and Gold Key comics, and sometime around the mid '80s I stumbled onto the more grown up superhero comics," the actor said. "It was really in the late '80s when a combination of 'Watchmen,' 'Dark Knight Returns' and 'Sandman' that pulled me into the comic book world, and I've never really achieved escape velocity from that. Over the years, I've had the weekly habit where I'm going in every Wednesday and pulling out weekly books, but married life and family life and a general lack of free time has whittled me down to where the only books that I read in single issue format are 'Batman,' 'Cassanova,' 'Doktor Sleepless' and a couple like that."

Wheaton's take on Ted Kord appears mostly in flashback throughout the "Fall of the Blue Beetle" episode, although he teased that a mysterious figure in the modern era has Reyes thinking Kord still lives. In any event, the actor knew exactly where to look when building his voice performance. "The way that I approached creating this character, because of course I know Blue Beetle and the history of Blue Beetle, [was to look at] my first Blue Beetle -- the super wise-cracking Blue Beetle that was in 'Justice League' in the late '80s," Wheaton explained. "I really know who this guy is and his commitment to justice. His confidence and his refusal to take things seriously, so I just portrayed him the way I remembered reading him in the comics. There are some scenes where Jaime encounters who he thinks is the same Blue Beetle. [Recording] that was kind of fun because I got to be a mentor to him and kind of embrace this character that had been put together for us."

Playing the part of the younger Beetle is a voice well known to DC animation fans: former "Batman Beyond" star Will Friedle. And much like the connection between their onscreen counterparts, the two actors behind the Blue Beetles had their own secret origin as a pair. "[Friedle] hosted a show on Nickelodeon a million years ago, and I was on that," recalled Wheaton. "I was in New York to promote something and ended up going on the show. I remember when I walked in to record 'Fall of the Blue Beetle,' there was a moment where I looked at him and said, 'God, you look familiar!' He had changed so much because he was really a little kid, like ten, when we did the show together, and he recognized and remembered me even though I've got a beard now. And it was, 'Wait! You're the...' So when we record the show and we're not actually recording lines, we're sort of filling in the last 20 years."

Recording scenes also allowed the cast to geek out now and again, much to the chagrin of their Cartoon Network bosses. "In the first scene where you see me as Ted Kord, I'm walking down this warehouse district with Batman, and when we were doing our recording for it, I said to Will, 'You know, this looks like the old "Super Friends" cartoon. It has that color pallet of it and that geometry.' As we were talking, we forget there are microphones right in front of us, and its like we're talking to the eight people on the other side of the glass. Then [executive producer] James Tucker - who rarely talks - asked what we were talking about, and I said, 'We were just talking about how this looked like the old "Super Friends" cartoons I watched in the '70s. Is that on purpose?' And James just pumped his fist in the air and told us how excited he was. He had done that deliberately, giving it that flashback look, and wasn't sure people were going to get it."

"As much as I've loved all the dark Batman series we've had for so long, I love the 1950s style retro look of the show," Wheaton said of "The Brave and the Bold." "I have loved Batman forever. My original introduction to Batman was, of course, the Adam West series. And I'm a little embarrassed at how crazy obsessed I was - what's the Trekkie equivalent of a Batman fan? That was me for the original Tim Burton movie. And I really, really loved all of those comic books.

"But when I had my own kids, as much as I loved Batman - Batman was a little too dark for them. You could kind of show them 'Superman' and some other comics, but 'Batman' was a little too heavy. What I really love about 'Brave & The Bold' and what really excited me about 'Brave & The Bold' is that we have this Batman that is still true to who Batman is and is still true to the DC Universe, but it's just not as dark. Diedrich Bader and I were discussing this when we were working on my episode. He has a five-year-old kid and was really excited that here's a Batman that a five-year-old can watch. And it's not watered down. It's just approached from a slightly different angle."

For fans interested in immersing themselves in more of his work, Wil Wheaton has plenty on tap for 2009 as both writer and actor. "I am working on a bunch of fiction in the beginning of 2009. I'm working on two different comics-related projects, and one of them is more likely to happen than the other," he said. "I am working on a collection of science fiction short stories, and I am also working on a really cool zombie story, because everybody has to write a zombie story. For animation, I am still doing 'Ben 10: Alien Force,' which is also on Cartoon Network, playing Dark Star. I don't know if I'll be coming back to do more Batman, but I'm certainly open to it if the opportunity presents itself."

"Fall of the Blue Beetle" airs this Friday, January 23 on Cartoon Network at 8:00PM Eastern and Pacific. And be sure to check back to CBR News later this week for an interview with modern Blue Beetle Will Friedle!

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