Robot Chicken‘s eighth season premieres this Sunday on Adult Swim, but this week, on October 18th, we’ll get to see the show’s third gag-laden, cape-wearing DC Comics special. Given the amazing full title of Robot Chicken DC Comics Special III: Magical Friendship, the half-hour explores what makes Batman and Superman such good friends, but also what makes them the least likely friends in history. Oh, and they tackle the Crisis on Several Earths in the final 15 minutes, with Adam West and Burt Ward showing up as themselves for good measure…those Robot Chicken guys sure know how to cover stuff quickly.
Nerdist sat down at DC Comics headquarters with Robot Chicken‘s creator-writers Seth Green and Matt Senreich, as well as DC’s chief of entertainment, co-writer on the special, and overall smart dude, Geoff Johns about why the third time is definitely the charm.
Nerdist: At what point during the brainstorming for this special did you say, “you know what? We should tackle the Crisis?”
Seth Green: Yeah, so it was like a week in; we had written a bunch of jokes. We knew it was [going to be about] Batman and Superman, and then I left the room for half an hour, and when I came back, they were like, “Crisis.” And I was like, “That’s brilliant.”
Matt Senreich: We have to get bigger!
SG: Yeah. And then we said, “How far into the multiverse can we go? What can we actually tap … who can we touch?” We immediately said it was 60s Batman. And then it became about– can we get them to do it? Will they come and do it? And when they said yes it was like … none of us could even believe that happened.
N: And I love it because Burt Ward sort of gets to be the rogue badass in it.
SG: Hell yes.
N: That was such a funny idea.
SG: And there was a point where Robin became Nightwing. And just didn’t take any shit, you know what I mean? So we wanted Burt Ward to have that chance.
MS: This is his version of Nightwing. The car probably has a license plate that says “Nightwing.”
N: In all of these DC specials, you’ve sort of poked fun at everybody in the universe, but this one has fun with Robin and Green Arrow. Is that something you do from the outset, say which heroes or villains are going to get it the worst?
Geoff Johns: It doesn’t work like that.
SG: Yeah, Geoff and I, when we started talking about it originally, we knew we wanted it to be the Superman/Batman friendship, and then we were talking about, “who are these characters? What makes them different? Why do they like and dislike each other?” And once you get into the heart, there’s only one subtle difference between the two. Batman thinks he’s the greatest detective in the world. Superman thinks he’s the greatest, most powerful person in the world. They both think they’re the greatest at what they do, so how does that contradict? What makes them butt heads with each other? Why don’t they just mutually respect each other all the time? That just evolves the jokes from there.
GJ: We have the comics out there and who’s who and everything. Some of the writers know the characters really well, some don’t, so we just go through it and write sketches to go with ideas on anybody. Then we start to cull it down. Sometimes we’ll list characters on the board and be like, Swamp Thing and like Red Lantern or whatever. We try and come up with stuff, and sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. It’s really organic.
N: The Crisis section of the episode is only about the second half of the episode, and since that’s such a huge comic book even, did you have to pick and choose and fight for what made it in the final edit?
MS: We cut a lot. A LOT.
GJ: It was really long.
SG: There were over 30 pages from the document cut, and there was still 20 minutes from the animatic cut.
Nerdist: Oh wow.
GJ: We could actually do a sequel to this. Like “Crisis Part II.”
SG: That’s the thing that always happens. In the first special, the second special, and again in the third special we had to cut almost 20 minutes out. It was enough material to do a whole other thing, but when we set out to do the next thing, we were like, “All right, nothing from that. Let’s just do this.”
MS: It gets cut for a reason. You put the best stuff on screen; that’s what it boils down to.
SG: Well, there’s stuff that gets cut for time too that you don’t want to lose, but you’ve got to make the time.
N: Was there a particularly nerdy reference that had to get cut that really broke your heart?
SG: Well, nothing quite like that.
GJ: Sometimes characters get cut that you’d like to see make an appearance.
SG: There was a really good sketch that got cut that was all Nathan [Fillion] as Green Lantern, and the Ring was almost out of power. And so he’s trying to make it to the Watchtower before the Ring ran out of power, and we treat it like a cell phone powering down, where he can’t make any calls, and he’s trying to boost power from one place to another, and then it’s like all of his guidance systems are off and now he’s just drifting. And it conserves power by him removing his suit and so now he’s naked, and he’s just like floating past the watch tower and he’s missing it, he’s off course from it, and he sees Manhunter in the window, and he’s just waving like “Hey, Hal!”
N: One of the best things in the episode is Adam West’s Batman getting to beat up the Arkham Asylum universe villains. What was it like to work with Adam and Burt Ward for this?
SG: I got to work with Adam a bunch on Family Guy and he’s been awesome, he’s just fearless, he goes for it, and for Burt, I think it was cool for him to get to re-inhabit this character that historically has taken a lot of shit and he gets to be awesome. It’s like, I don’t know, that’s kind of our thing, whether it’s Jar Jar Binks or 60s Robin, we love those heroes, and we want them to be awesome, you know what I mean? We want to show them being as awesome as we believe they are.
You can see ’60s Batman and Robin, along with literally dozens more DC heroes and villains when Robot Chicken’s DC Comics Special III: Magical Friendship airs this Sunday, October 18th, at midnight on Adult Swim.
Images: Adult Swim/DC Comics
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. Follow him on Twitter!