For many fans, Bruce Timm is largely responsible for shaping their ideas of the DC universe. Thanks to his work as producer on the classic Batman: The Animated Series, as well as Superman, Batman Beyond, Justice League Unlimited, and the highly underrated Green Lantern: The Animated Series, Timm created the audiovisual touchstones for a generation of DC fans. For many, these series are the definitive versions of the DC heroes, and many elements from the various Timm-produced series (such as the character of Harley Quinn) have worked their way into the comics themselves and other media. Now Timm is returning to the DC Universe with Justice League: Gods and Monsters Chronicles, an all-new take on the Justice League that’s never been seen before. We got to chat with Timm about the genesis of Justice League: Gods and Monsters Chronicles, which premieres today on Machinima, and just what the future holds for the new series.
Nerdist: After supervising the DC animated films since Superman: Doomsday all the way through to The Dark Knight Returns in 2012, you took a bit of a break from them. Justice League: Gods and Monsters Chronicles marks your return, and it’s maybe the most different of all the DC projects you’ve ever been involved in. How did it all come about?
Bruce Timm: It started with Sam Register, and he asked me about any ideas for a possible new Justice League cartoon. He just said, “Well, if you have any ideas, think about it, then get back to me.” So I kind of had that suggestion percolating in the back of my head. “New Justice League? What does that mean? What would you do different? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But if I were to do something new, what would that be?
Then around that same time, DC Comics was doing their New 52 reboot and then, somewhere in the back of my weird brain, I was thinking about how when they brought back the Flash and Green Lantern in the Silver Age, they basically threw out everything about those characters from the Golden Age — all they kept was the name and the gimmick. They gave them all new costumes, and their powers worked differently, and they gave them new alter egos. And I thought, “Well, that would be really exciting, if you took that same kind of idea and applied it to the big three (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.)” And I knew they would never do that in the New 52, because it was just too extreme, but I thought…well, maybe that would be fresh and different for a Justice League cartoon.
So then I pitched the idea to my boss, and he loved the idea, specifically the takes on the characters I came up with; he thought it was really cool, but didn’t think we could make it work as a series. However, as a one-off movie, we could probably do it. So we pitched it to home video, then prepped it, and we were off to the races.
N: After the end of Justice League Unlimited in 2006, you began producing Warner Brothers’ DCU animated movies, but the design work on those was mostly done by other artists. The designs in Gods and Monsters are very much your specific style, which we haven’t seen since the end of JLU. Why did you decide to go with the classic look for the new versions of these characters?
BT: It wasn’t actually my first idea. I think it was Sam Register’s idea; that was one way we could market this thing, to cash in on whatever “geek value” my name has, so it could say “Bruce Timm’s Justice League” and that meant that it should look like my style. I’m kinda lazy — I’m perfectly happy to let other artists do all the design work for me, but at the same time it was kind of fun to revisit that style that hasn’t really been seen in a 2D Cartoon since Justice League Unlimited went off the air. So it’s something old and still something different.
N: So far in all the previews we’ve seen, we’re getting some pretty radical re-dos of the DC Trinity, but what about the other members of the League? Are we going to see new versions of them as Easter eggs, or maybe somewhere down then line?
BT: Not in the movie, and not in the first three episodes, but the second season of the webisodes is going to be all about new characters. In addition to the established ones, there’s going to be probably between five to ten all-new versions of the established DC heroes.
N: Of the three new versions of the DC Trinity that you came up with seemingly from scratch, which surprised you by just how much they differed from the original version?
BT: It’s weird, because they’re not completely from scratch. I mean, I could have done that, and that was an idea I toyed with a little bit, but at the same time I didn’t want to make it seem completely random, like we were starting the whole DC universe from scratch. You could almost just slap those (superhero) names on anybody, but it doesn’t really mean anything unless it’s connected to the regular DC Universe. It’s not a complete reboot from the ground up; it’s more like a tangent, like an alternate timeline. It needs to be grounded in something, otherwise it’s just random.
Superman was the first character I came up with right out of the gate and then, when thinking of the original story, I thought if I make him the son of Zod, not the son of Jor-El, that’s a completely different animal, a totally different character right out of the gate. That set the template for the rest of the show — every established character has to undergo that treatment. We don’t want any of the characters to be exactly the same as in the regular DCU. Some of them are close — like the Lois Lane of this universe is also a reporter — but the intriguing thing about her is that she and Superman kind of hate each other’s guts in this world. He’s such an arrogant bastard, and she built her career on bashing him. She’s the J. Jonah Jameson of this world, saying this guy who everyone thinks is a hero, he’s actually kind of a dick. To me that was fun way to go with her. And there is Luthor, who is still a scientist doing scientisty things, but he’s not quite the same.
N: So we have a Lois Lane and a Lex Luthor in this universe. What about other versions of Kal-El, Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince? They might not be Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman in this world, but are they out there in some other form?
BT: Here’s the thing; Kal-El was never even conceived, so he doesn’t exist. Literally he does not exist in this universe. But Bruce Wayne? I figure Bruce Wayne, he and his family stayed home that night instead of going to the movies, so they never got gunned down in Crime Alley. So whatever he became, it’s not Batman. Theoretically, he may live in this universe somewhere. We may deal with that, we may not. I don’t know yet.
N: In this universe, Kirk Langstrom is Batman, whereas in the classic DCU he is the scientist who becomes Man-Bat. In fact, the original episode of Batman: The Animated Series is “On Leather Wings”, which focused on him. Were there any old ideas for his character that you decided to pull out of your back pocket and repurpose for him in this new iteration?
BT: To be honest, it just comes down to the fact that way back when we were doing Batman: The Animated Series, we had an idea that was inspired by a storyline from the comics, where we were going to turn Batman into a vampire for a short period of time. But Fox Kids was like, “No way, you’re not doing that.” This is still several years before Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and they were absolutely saying, “No, you can’t do vampires on children’s television.” So I always had that idea in the back of my head, the notion of Batman embracing his “bat-side” and becoming a vampire. Somehow or another it became Kirk Langstrom, but instead of becoming Man-Bat, he became a vampire-bat man. It seemed to be a pretty good fit, and it’s a totally different character with a totally different life experience from Bruce Wayne. He’s not a silver spoon baby, he didn’t grow up wealthy, and he’s kind of a nebbish scientist guy who becomes this superhero.
N: Now, I have to ask this question for all the hardcore fans out there; it’s been almost ten years since Justice League Unlimited went off the air, ending an entire animated universe that started back in ’92 with Batman. But the demand for that particular version of the DCU has never gone away…will we ever see the classic animated continuity again? Because with this new alternate version of the Justice League you’ve created, it would be kind of cool to see them fight it out with the classics.
BT: Hmmmm…well, that’s probably not gonna happen…but you know, I may say that now and maybe I’ll change my mind later. You know, anything is possible. Up until last year, when we did that Batman Beyond short for Batman’s 75th anniversary, before that I would have said we’re probably never going to do another episode of Batman Beyond, and we did. So you never know — anything is possible.
N: One last question: Have you given any thought as to the number or letter assigned to your alternate Earth, in classic DC style?
BT: (laughs) I hadn’t thought of that! Do they still do that in the comics?
N: Oh yeah. The DC Multiverse is back, along with all it’s designated numbers and what not. Earth-1, Earth-2, Earth-X, etc.
BT: I thought they all consolidated into one universe…but then, they always change their mind about that. I don’t know, I’m going to have to talk to DC about that then and see what’s available!
Justice League: Gods and Monsters Chronicles Episode 1 is available now.