Awkward Superheroes Trying to Get Along: James Tucker, Jay Oliva and Phil Bourassa Talk ‘Batman: Bad Blood’
There's another new Batman animated movie on the horizon from DC and Warner Bros. Animation. Shocking, I know. Due to arrive in 2016, Batman: Bad Blood centers around the disappearance of Batman himself, and features Nightwing, Damian Wayne and other members for the Bat-family searching for their mentor. Though it sounds like it draws a little inspiration from events surrounding "Batman RIP" and Batman, Inc., Bad Blood is another the DC Animated Universe's original tales. More importantly, it finally introduces some much-needed diversity into the animated Bat-family with additions of Batwoman and Batwing.
At New York Comic Con, the creative team and some of the cast gathered to talk about the film. We were on hand for the round table session with director Jay Oliva, character designer Phil Bourassa and the DC animated feature supervising producer, James Tucker to talk about the film, and the importance of getting new blood beyond the traditional heroes into these direct-to-video features.
Q: How did you want to tackle this story?
James Tucker: We had this idea that Batman is the central spoke in the wheel of characters, and the premise of this movie is, what if Batman were gone? How do those characters deal with each other when they're used to having Batman there as a referee. It's kind of like when you have friends, and there's one common guy who's friends with everyone, but when that guy is gone it's really awkward. That's basically the movie, awkward superheroes trying to get along.
One of the things I said when I took over the line was that I wanted to introduce more side characters. I love the DC universe. I love the niche characters, the C-listers. I love the Batman family, and I knew that if we were going to do a line of Batman movies, i wanted to expand beyond what we've seen in animation.
Two of the most recent additions were Batwing and Batwoman, both of which are very interesting characters we haven't seen in the animated Batman universe up until now. We've seen different Batgirls, different Robins, and we already had Damian and Nightwing, but I wanted to expand. Those two seem to be good additions to the line. For fans who are used to seeing the same characters over and over again, I wanted to give them something fresh.
Q: Was there any specific comic inspiration for this story?
JT: We read all the Batwing and Batwoman comics to get a feel for who they are. We did use Batwoman's backstory pretty much, and most of Batwing's, but there's nothing that we strictly adapted. There's a little bit of the end of Batman, Inc. in this, but very loosely.
Q: Which of the characters were you most excited to bring in?
JT: Batwoman. I really pushed for her, and it was really hard because a lot of people who weren't familiar with her didn't understand how she was different from Batgirl or why she was special. Personality wise, they didn't understand it, and they tried to make it all about her being a woman. She has a distinct personality that works a certain way with Batman. The fact that she's a lesbian is secondary; that's just spice on top of her cake. I wanted to bring her in as a fully-developed person, not just someone who's made up of a bunch of adjectives.
I knew Batwing would be a good addition because he's more of a Tron version of Batman. He's more techno, and we don't get that in the Batman world. Visually, i wanted them to pop against the other characters.
Q: Is Batwoman's sexuality covered in the movie at all?
JT: Yes. Tastefully of course, but yes.
Q: With Batwoman, she's a great character and it's great to have characters with different sexualities represented. How was it working with DC to get Batwoman into the animated film?
Jay Oliva: Early on in the script, it was almost billboarding the fact that Batwoman was a lesbian. For me, I didn't feel right about that. Your sexual preference should be like what your favorite color is. Doesn't mean it's wrong, doesn't mean it's right; that's just your preference.
For the film, we do touch upon it, but we don't make it seem like anyone is offended by it. That's just her character. As a director, I wanted to make it seem like it was absolutely normal, and not to billboard it as some kind of statement. I wanted to make her feel like a real person.
There's a scene later on in the film where Batwoman's on the phone with Dick, and he's exercising like crazy, and she's just having cereal in front of the TV. I wanted her to feel real and likable since this is the first time we see her. I wanted the audience to like her and fall in love with her, and see that she's a total badass.
Q: Were there any changes you wanted or needed to make to these designs when bringing Batwoman and Batwing into the film?
Phil Bourassa: Batwoman is like 1:1. That costume is striking and it looks really good in the comics, and it's simple enough to adapt to animation. Batwing was trickier because he's had several looks and we weren't in love with any of them. We took stuff where we could, but his design is unique to our movies.
Q: Which character was your favorite to design?
PB: The rogues gallery and the henchmen. There's more room to play since they haven't been drawn and designed and re-designed ad infinitum for ages. They were a lot of fun. A lot weren't in the script either. We felt like we needed to add a good rogues gallery, but one different from the traditional Batman rogues gallery that we all love that have been done a lot. We got to add lesser-known characters like Killer Moth, Firefly, and Hellhound. I had to look up a lot of these guys in my Who's Who. With those characters we wanted to add some visual flavor and diversity, and that was a lot of fun.
ComicsAlliance: In these films, you've stayed relatively tight-knit, particularly in the Batman stories. Now you're expanding the cast to be more diverse and different from the typical DC animated stars. How important is it to continue to diversify and expand this line beyond the standard heroes?
JT: I think it's important, just for fans in general. I've been going to these cons for years and years, and I've seen how diverse the crowd is. There are a lot of different types of people who are into this stuff, and there's a lot of different people in the world. Comics have to represent that too or it's going to whither up and die. You can't constantly do Barbara Gordon as Batgirl. You've got to do a Cassie Cain sometimes.
The way I think of it is, it's all about a legacy. Ted Kord doesn't negate Jaime Reyes, they actually belong together. If you watched Batman: The Brave and the Bold, they all existed together and one fed off the other. It wasn't like one negated the other. There's room for all kinds of different types of characters and legacies of a hero.
I just want to keep it fresh. I'm a comic book reader, and I get bored. Comics recycle plots all the time. They put a different spin on it, but it's the same plot. We wanted to open that up, and we didn't want to do that with the DVDs.
CA: What aspects of the design do you look forward to digging into since we've seen these characters and worlds so many times before?
PB: Any time I get a character, like a third stringer, and we give him a meaty role, that's always fun. It's almost like low-hanging fruit. They haven't been thought out in a design context, so it's a chance to shine a light on how cool these lesser-known characters are. That's really fun for me.
It's fun to look at the generational leaps. Some of these characters have been around for 50 years or longer, and to see how they were drawn in different eras is neat; to wonder how would we do this now but keep it thematically consistent with the way the character has been depicted is really cool. I understand they have a sentimental value, but a lot of the designs are corny and dated at times. To be able to keep the charm but get rid of that dated-ness is something that's always fun.
Q: Are there any obscure characters you'd like to push to be in the next movie?
PB: I have a take on the Fourth World characters that I would love to do. I got to just taste it a little when I designed the Forever People for Young Justice, but I got a take on that whole world that I would love to do. If we gotta throw Superman man in there to be like, "It's a Superman movie but he's on New Genesis," then that's it.
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