Matt Ryan and Jason O’Mara Shed Some Light on Justice League Dark [NYCC 2016]
Next year, Warner Bros. Animation and DC Comics are bringing a little darkness to the DC Animated Universe. After focusing so long on the likes of Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman and other household names, the mystical side of the DCU will finally get its due in Justice League Dark. Inspired by the New 52 comic of the same name, the upcoming direct-to-video feature stars Constantine, Zatanna, Deadman, Etrigan and Swamp Thing as they aid Batman (of course) in ridding Gotham of some demonic forces.
We caught up with stars Matt Ryan, reprising his live action role of John Constantine, and Jason O'Mara, the DCAU's resident Batman, as well as supervising producer James Tucker and character designer Phil Bourassa, to talk about Justice League Dark at New York Comic Con.
First and foremost, Batman will be back at the center of things. You can't have a DC animated movie without Batman being in the fold. The character sells, so it makes sense that he's been the focal point of the DCAU since it rebooted. In that time though, Jason O'Mara has been the steady hand guiding the ship as Bruce Wayne. Though the cape and cowl are the same as most other Batmen you've encountered over the years, O'Mara believes his Batman is just a bit different from his predecessors.
"This is a very specific Batman with a very specific backstory," Jason O'Mara said. "This is a Batman had this strange night with Talia, whose child was unbeknownst to him born. To me this Batman is very specific, and doesn't exist in any of the other universes. I love Kevin Conroy's Batman, but I wouldn't be able to play him. I don't know that guy. I love Ben Affleck's Batman, but he's not my Batman. To me, it's very specific and means a lot to me as I was able to bring my own experiences as a father. I think that's maybe the singular thing that distinguishes this version from all the others."
Joining him on this adventure is John Constantine, who many of you might remember as recently having his own TV show. That Constantine is back again, as Matt Ryan has reprised the role for this animated movie. It wasn't too hard to convince Ryan to come back to the trenchcoat either.
"He's one of the best literary characters of the 21st century," Matt Ryan said. "He's such a great character to play. I thoroughly enjoyed playing him on the TV show and on Arrow, so to get to do him on this project was a great thing. To have him interacting with characters we didn't get to see on the show like Zatanna, Batman and Swamp Thing --- all of which he has very different relationships with --- that was a great thing to explore."
If you were worried Ryan's Constantine might have to be altered for the format, the actor assured us the core of the Hellblazer would remain intact.
"The DNA of the character has remained the same through all the incarnations," Ryan said. "Obviously the Hellblazer stuff was a lot darker than the New 52 stuff, but I think I brought my Constantine to the table to try and tell the story with the situations we were in. I'd used whatever knowledge I'd obtained from reading the comics to implement that into his interactions with the Justice League Dark characters, who I hadn't interacted with in the live action show --- Zatanna and Swamp Thing, who are both great. It's a shame we never got to do a scene with me naked on the actual show because I would have liked to have shown the tattoo on my ass."
As for working with such a ragtag band of miscreants, O'Mara admits it's not ideal for Batman. Being the strategist he is though, using the best tools for the job is all part of the plan... even if he doesn't always agree (or believe in) the methodology of Zatanna or Deadman.
"It's not an ideal situation, but he knows he doesn't have any other choice," O'Mara said. "Even though it doesn't make sense to him intellectually, he's smart enough to know this is something he can't begin to comprehend. I don't think he even wants to comprehend it. This film is dark. At the beginning a woman throws her newborn baby over a balcony because she thinks it's a demon. Thankfully Batman is there to save the day, but that's the kind of thing he wants to prevent from happening, and he'll go to any length to do that. He's going to be dealing with fairly spicy characters, but that just goes with the territory as far as this story is concerned."
It might seem like the DCAU is fast-forwarding through years of comic continuity to tell its stories, and to a degree that's true. With so few chances to progress this world, the DCAU skips around a little bit to tell the best stories possible for that format. It wasn't that long ago that this animated universe had its Justice League formed, and if it seems like a mystical branch being added on is happening rather quickly, that's because the nature of home video dictates it to shake out that way.
"If this were a TV series, we'd probably be more step-by-step, but because we only have two titles per year, there's a gap between time," James Tucker said. "When you see Justice League Dark, you'll notice the Justice League has grown since the last movie. There's things where the audience will have to fill in the gaps, but we're working our way up to widening the universe. Because we don't have a lot of time we have to leapfrog a little bit. The ultimate goal is to go into every corner of the DC Universe. It's what I wanted to do with Brave and the Bold. We broke all the rules there and threw Batman into every time period. We can't quite be that cavalier on this end."
Being a bit outside the normal box was a treat for Phil Bourassa however. After having worked almost exclusively in the realm of spandex and armor, getting to step into a more magical realm with characters like those in Justice League Dark was a much needed change of pace.
"It's been a lot of fun, actually," Phil Bourassa said. "The characters that we feature in Justice League Dark are inherently more fun than drawing the Justice League. I love drawing the Justice League, but it's really hard. No matter what you do, you're going to piss someone off. Characters like Superman and Wonder Woman have incredibly small strike zones. They have to be perfect. All the Justice League adhere to that archetype. All the dudes are just an iteration on the Superman archetype, so they all have similar physiques and all that. You can push within a range, like Cyborg and other characters, but the Justice League Dark characters have almost as much room to play as the villains. They're monsters and freaks and they're bizarre. They lend themselves to a wide range of interpretations.
"There's a million ways to draw Metallo or Brainiac or Mr. Freeze. There's a lot of room to play with that. These characters are the same way, but they just happen to be heroic. There's a much more varied range of silhouettes, so when you see them as a group it's much more dynamic inherently."
While the DC animated movies may play things a little tighter than the likes of Batman: Brave and the Bold, it still takes some liberties with the characters you know from the comic pages. It was the Flashpoint Paradox after all that ignited this new animated universe alongside the publishing arm's New 52 universe. Though DC Comics has already moved on beyond that incarnation, the DCAU is still chugging along, telling its stories in its own way. And there are still plenty of classic DC comics to delve into.
"We're doing Judas Contract in continuity because no one really wanted to do it as a period piece in the '80s," Tucker said. "Since we've got a Titans line-up, that felt like the perfect thing to adapt. Hopefully we'll do more Titans arcs. I want to do the Starfire arc, where she goes back to Tamaran. Some of the Batman stories make more sense for us to do than as standalone films. Court of Owls made sense for us to tie into our continuity, and the same with some we're thinking about like Hush or Long Halloween. If I can find a way to fold them into our continuity without violating the actual story too much, I'll try to take those on."
Justice League Dark will be available digitally, on-demand and on Blu-ray in 2017.