The animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold returns tonight on the Cartoon Network, with the Caped Crusader and friends teaming up to battle the starfishy, mind-controlling villain Starro the Conqueror. And if you’re not a longtime comic book fan, you may be wondering who the heck that is. That’s the best aspect about this wacky and watchable cartoon: Part of the fun is that it picks out the most obscure and forgotten heroes and villains from DC Comics and makes them cool, from Per Degaton and Crazy Quilt to Sportsmaster and Bronze Tiger. (Before the main plot, there’s always a short teaser allowing the cartoon to test out different characters.) Of course, Batman is the star of the show, a slightly warmer version of the Dark Knight voiced by Diedrich Bader, and he acts as a way in to a number of stories that are as entertaining as previous expansive cartoons such as Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited. I talked with producers James Tucker and Michael Jelenic about the rest of the show’s second season, so read below for what characters and guest stars will be appearing, their plans for the Justice League and how Bader is a perfect Batman for the ‘toon, as well as some news on the reboot of the 1980s cartoon Thundercats Jelenic is also working on. Plus, check out a clip from tonight’s episode, the first of a two-parter featuring the heroes’ struggles with Starro.
Photos courtesy of Warner Bros. TV
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Do these Starro episodes feature the most heroes running around so far?
Tucker: Starro invading the Earth is a huge event. We had three teasers that teased into the whole Starro two-parter. We had a lot of setup for this and people have to reacquaint themselves with the earlier episodes to get the whole impact. It was all leading up to Starro gradually taking over all these superheroes. Part 1 is the realization of that, because you see all the heroes with stars on their faces.
Starro really speaks to longtime comics readers. Is that a goal, to introduce him, B’wana Beast, Black Manta and all these other older characters to kids while also reintroducing them to older fans?
Tucker: With a show like this, you really do have to look for things that will top whatever you’ve already done. Starro was just the logical villain to go to. He’s appeared in other ways, but this was the most iconic way to show him, the way he invades. That sea of people wearing Starros on their faces, I don’t think we’ve really had in other show. The other thing is I wanted the show to be basically for comic book fans and their kids. The teenagers and twentysomethings are probably too jaded to watch the show, but if we can get the embryos to 6, and the guys who over 30, then that’s a good, sizable chunk of the audience. [Laughs] Plus, it’s a family show. We want families to watch. The Silver Age stuff was probably the most appropriate material, that adults could remember fondly from when they read comics or watched Super Friends, and it be new for kids but appropriate. It wasn’t anything too dark or scary.
Jelenic: The other thing is that James and I have worked on other Batman shows, and there’s constantly a Batman show on TV. We made a conscious decision to not tell the same Batman stories that everyone has seen over and over and over. A lot of these characters you see now have basically been ignored since the Silver Age comics. No one has told the definitive B’wana Beast story yet. We got an opportunity to do that. We could tell 15 Jokers stories, but they’re not going to be necessarily better than anything that was on Batman: The Animated Series. With some of these stranger characters, there’s nothing to top or tie us into what’s been done before. It gives us a lot of creative freedom to go to these ignored heroes.
I didn’t think I would like Diedrich as Batman at first, but he really grows on you. What about him appealed to you and how much has he grown into that character?
Tucker: When we first started this, I wanted someone who, while not mimicking Adam West, would generate that [same feeling]. When you see Adam West, no matter what part he’s playing, you smile. And he’s always been that way, even prior to his Batman years. He’s just an amiable kind of presence. And I knew I didn’t want at guy who emoted negativity. The thing about Diedrich, every movie he’s in, he’s always one of the best things about it. Even in the crappiest movie, it never sticks to him because of his persona. He’s a dad, he a family guy, he’s got a good-natured aura around him that applies to what we wanted this Batman to do. He is Bat-dad in a way – in this case, literally.
Jelenic: As wacky or comical as the show gets, he’s a comedic actor but as Batman, he takes the part very seriously. A lesser actor might want to be the one telling jokes or winking to the audience, but because he grounds that character and takes it seriously, it lets the rest of the show be wacky and out there and not lose anything. We’re telling superhero stories, and if you get too funny, the threat doesn’t mean anything anymore.
You have the Outsiders coming in soon. Will there be more and more groups appearing?
Tucker: Toward the end of the second season, 10 episodes from now, we’ll be doing our version of the Justice League. It’ll be based on the Justice League International, which lends itself to the tone of our show. Every episode’s going to be different. There’ll be episodes with a lot of guest stars, and then there’ll be smaller episodes where it’s just Batman and another guy. The next huge story after Starro probably will be that Justice League International story.
Of the upcoming episodes, any characters you’re really proud of getting in?
Jelenic: There are two episodes I’m looking forward to airing, starting with the Doom Patrol episode, which comes after Starro. That’s one of the strongest episodes we’ve ever done. It follows the spirit of the Doom Patrol from the comics. We captured pretty well these misfits fighting bizarre villains. We’ve even worked in that famous Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man.
Tucker: It’s a whole homage to Doom Patrol.
Jelenic: The great thing is we put in the most ridiculous-looking villains, and because the subject matter is pretty serious in this, you never think they’re as ridiculous as they are. You take them as serious foes. The other one is the JLI episode we do. We almost rebrand the show into a JLI-type of show. We take all the conventions of superhero teams and play around with those and your expectations, and it’s a pretty funny mix. We’ve got five or six characters that are featured, and each of them pop as characters. They’re all really strong and their interaction is a lot of fun. It’s super hard to pull off but we did. It’s another comic that we’re taking the spirit of and transforming it into animation.
Tucker: If I were to do a spinoff from Brave and the Bold, that would be it. I would love to do a JLI show. For me, Black Orchid is going to be in one of the teasers. That was kind of a geek dream for me because she’s such an obscure character. Old school fans will enjoy it.
Can you tell me who’s in your JLI?
Tucker: It’s Fire and Ice, the Jaime Reyes version of Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Guy Gardner, Martian Manhunter and Aquaman, because we just love Aquaman. At some point, most of those guys had been in the JLI. Later on, Captain Marvel will be in it.
The Neil Patrick Harris musical episode, featuring him singing as the Music Meister, captured a lot of mainstream attention. Do you have some more guest stars of note coming up?
Tucker: He’s already appeared once, but Adam West is always a joy to have on the show. And we have more episodes with Paul Reubens as Bat-Mite.
Jelenic: In Season 3, Ted McGinley will play a part. For us, that’s like huge. I’m a child of television as opposed to films, so Ted McGinley is Marlon Brando to me. He’s pretty great in it.
Tucker: We have a weird episode coming up, a Bat-Mite episode where Bat-Mite presents three forms of Batman. We divide the show into three segments, and one segment is Batman teaming up with Scooby-Doo. It’s not like a modern take on that – it’ll look and sound and feel exactly like it did in the ‘70s. The character designs are lifted directly from the ‘70s.
Jelenic: It’s not Batman teaming up with the current version of Scooby-Doo and Mystery Inc. Some people have been on the Internet saying that’s what it was, and its not that at all. It’s kind of in that Scooby tradition of how they would have Scooby teaming up with celebrities and stuff. There is a celebrity playing himself in that episode, who is also pretty cool in it. And Tim Conway’s doing a voice. For me, that’s huge. That was like meeting an icon from my childhood. I mean, The Apple Dumpling Gang, come on!
Many of the storylines can get pretty intense. You have an episode with the Flash villain Professor Zoom coming up, and anybody who’s read some Flash comics from way back knows he’s not the nicest guy ever. Do you have to balance what will be good for kids vs. not watering down things for the adults?
Jelenic: Well, this version of Professor Zoom was the version who was around for 15 years before Crisis on Infinite Earths. He’s not going around killing Flash’s wife or bathing in blood. It’s an age-appropriate version. This version of Professor Zoom could do that, he’s evil enough to, it’s just we’re not going to show that. He’s a pretty nasty customer in this, and he’s also voiced by John Wesley Shipp. That’s another star who’s got geek cred. He was really cool and does a great Professor Zoom. It’s like getting the evil version of Flash from the live-action show to play the evil Flash.
Michael, can you say anything about Thundercats? I know people are pretty geeked out for that.
Jelenic: It’s an interesting production that we’re doing because a lot of the actual production is going to happen in Japan. Normally, we do all the stuff over here, but we want to give it a real anime sort of feel so we’re using Studio 4°C in Japan. Everything they do is pretty awesome. It’ll be the combining of American storytelling and Japanese storytelling. It’s gonna be pretty epic, I’ll say that. Nothing’s been animated yet, but it’s looking promising and with the art, I think a lot of people are going to be excited when it starts coming out.
How close will it be to the show we grew up on?
Jelenic: I guess the word is “reimagining.” There are so many great aspects of that show that we’re going to take from and use, but in the end, it’s going to be different in the sense of how we interpret a lot of their mythology. It won’t be exactly the same, but at the same time, I don’t think fans are going to be disappointed by what we do. Not like, “I can’t believe they made these changes!” I think when they see some changes, they’ll go, “Oh, that makes sense.” Or they’ll say it’s the worst thing they’ve ever seen. [Laughs]