How do you take characters - some of whom have been around for 60 years - and make a cartoon that satisfies millions of viewers?
That's just what Bruce Timm, producer/creator of Cartoon Network's hit "Justice League" cartoon, has done. The show - starring Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and Hawkgirl from DC Comics - debuted Nov. 17 with impressive ratings and critical acclaim. (It airs Monday nights, with repeats on Fridays and a wide-screen version on Sundays.)
Timm, who has won numerous awards for "Batman: The Animated Series," "Superman" and "Batman Beyond," took time for a lengthy interview with The Captain. Today, in Part Two, he explains his take on the World's Greatest Heroes.
Captain Comics: What's Superman's role?
Bruce Timm: We wanted to fight the temptation to make Superman the leader and the inspiration for everybody. Certainly in the pilot he's the one who gets the League going, and he is sort of the king of the superhero world just by his iconic status.
There actually is no leader of the Justice League. We don't really have a rotating leader like in The Avengers or something. They're all just individuals who decide to team up ... it's actually a loose conglomeration of characters.
Superman is tricky, as we did 52 episodes of his own series so we didn't feel there was a need to concentrate on him so much - at least in the first season. We felt it was more important to concentrate on characters we haven't done a whole lot with yet, to establish them more firmly. At the same time he's in a lot of the shows; we wanted to make sure he wasn't just the guy who shows up and saves the day all the time.
CC: Is Martian Manhunter the heart and conscience of the team, as he is in the comics?
BT: He is, he is. The whole show is evolving and characters do things we didn't expect them to. That's kind of the fun of a show like this. But yes, he is the heart and soul of the Justice League.
He's interesting, because he's an alien but in a lot of respects the most humane and soulful of them. It's a weird dichotomy ... he's also very, very quiet. He may come off as cold and mysterious but he wears his heart on his sleeve.
CC: Snapper Carr was a goofy teen sidekick for the League in the '60s, but not a lot has been done with him in recent decades. It was a surprise to see him as a recurring character - a TV news reporter, of all things. What inspired you to bring him in?
BT: We've always felt the need for a news reporter on the shows, just for expository reasons to explain what's going on. (Story Editor/Co-producer) Rich Fogel came up with the idea of making him Snapper Carr. Any time we can refer to the comics we try to - we always try to find that balance between die-hard fans like ourselves and to a mainstream audience who may never have read a comic in their life.
CC: You don't have to have read comics to enjoy the show?
BT: Absolutely not. Not if we've done our jobs right. In a way I think a mainstream audience (will) have an easier time with our show. I think a lot of our criticism will come from comic-book fans, just because they know these characters and have known them for a long time and have set ideas about how these characters should be done. Somebody who comes into the show cold will take things at face value.
Whenever we can we try to refer to the actual inspiration in the comics. Sometimes we'll re-invent a character; if we don't like the design of a character, we'll mess around with it. But we're all die-hard comic-book geeks here.
CC: Did you bone up on old Justice League comics before you got started?
BT: Oh, sure. But we went beyond just the Justice League (to) any group book. We read "Fantastic Four" and "Avengers" and "Doom Patrol" and "Teen Titans," just because we'd never done a group show before, so we wanted to take a look at what our predecessors had done. And just try to figure out how to do a show that has ... revolving-door lead characters. And some off-trail stuff, like "Star Trek."
"Star Trek" was a big inspiration for us. ... In terms of how the characters interact, we refer to the original "Star Trek" as our model. As opposed to "Star Trek: The Next Generation," where the characters were more, more ..."
BT: And bland (laughs). You know, the original "Star Trek" had divergent personalities that would come in (conflict).
CC: "Next Generation" was more like "Super Friends," in that the cast never had disagreements. "Justice League" definitely isn't "Super Friends," where the characters were boring and often seemed to forget they even had super-powers.
BT: Y'know, a lot of that was the restrictions of the time. Back then, they had really strict Standards & Practices, and the characters weren't even allowed to make a fist, much less throw a punch. The shows were pretty blah and bland, but it's hard to know where to lay the blame.
CC: Getting back to the characters, Wonder Woman seems haughtier on the show than in the comics.
BT: We wanted to make sure each character is unique to themselves, and we definitely wanted to make sure that Hawkgirl and Wonder Woman were as different as night and day, even though they're both warrior women. So the idea that we came up with is that Wonder Woman is the supermodel and Hawkgirl is the girl next door.
CC: If the girl next door had a wicked mace that she really enjoyed using.
BT: (Laughs) Right. Wonder Woman comes from a really secluded background, and she's practically royalty and she's used to being treated with a certain amount of deference and respect. It's not that she's haughty; she just has difficulty assimilating.
CC: What brought about the decision to make Green Lantern a military man?
BT: Going right from the beginning we felt we should have one strong African-American character. And we didn't want to create a new one, like "Black Falcon" or something, that would be an obvious token character.
From the comics, there was the John Stewart character that was created in (1971), so there was a precedent there. And for a short period of time in the '80s he was the main Green Lantern, and I always liked that character, so that was kind of an obvious choice.
That was the starting point. And (to) make him unique, and thinking about the Green Lantern Corps as a quasi-military group or organization, we thought that would be a cool way to go with him, to play up the military aspects of his character.
CC: In the comics, members of the Green Lantern Corps couldn't affect the color yellow. Will that hold in the cartoon?
BT: It's implied. We don't spell it out, but there are a number of places (where) if he gets taken out by gas, for instance, it'll be yellow.
CC: Is he powered down for the show?
BT: It's not that he's powered down. Again, it's going with his military personality - he's a no-nonsense kinda guy, so early on we thought it would be silly for him to be making big, green boxing gloves. He basically uses (the ring) as a weapon. He uses it as a laser beam and a shield. And that's about it.
CC: Is "Justice League" a character-driven show?
BT: We try to be. This show isn't as dark, as angst-driven as our previous shows. But there's a surprising amount of soul-searching. ... This show is much more action-oriented than any show we've ever done before, but we'd never want to do a story that's just an excuse for a lot of action. If the characters don't experience something in the story, then it's just a videogame.
CC: What about The Flash, the Fastest Man Alive? He seems like little more than a prankster in the pilot episode.
BT: If you stick with the show, you'll see other shades of his character.
CC: But it'll happen very fast.
BT: (Laughs) Right!
(Andrew "Captain Comics" Smith, who wants to be the Fastest Typist Alive, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on his message board, http://www.eboards4all.com/07422. Please include a city/state of residence.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com)