Bruce Timm is the man responsible for making most of your favorite DC Comics superheroes come to life in animated form. And now he is the man responsible for un-making them -- or, at least, radically altering them -- in the alternate universe of Machinima's upcoming animated series Justice League: Gods and Monsters Chronicles.
While he wasn't the first to give voice and motion to heroes such as Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, the animator and writer is behind some of the most iconic, modern classic versions of them. Instrumental in the creation and character development for Batman: The Animated Series, The New Batman Adventures, Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, Timm is one of the super powers behind the DC Animated Universe.
Now, with Gods and Monsters, Timm gets to play rough with the characters we know and love. In this world, the Justice League is an unforgiving force. Instead of kinder, gentler heroes, Superman is the son of General Zod (voiced by Benjamin Bratt), Wonder Woman is a New God (voiced by Tamara Taylor), and Batman is the vampire Kirk Langstrom (voiced by Michael C. Hall).
The animated three-part series Chronicles, hosted on the online video platform Machinima, will debut this June and tie in to a direct-to-DVD home movie from Warner Home Video. But Machinima and Warner Bros. have already ordered a second season of Chronicles for 2016.
And you can bet that Timm is not holding back with his heroes. In the following conversation, he reveals his thoughts on the "no killing" rule of superheroes and opens up about his thoughts on our first glimpse at Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn -- a character he co-created with Paul Dini, and who receives her first live-action film treatment in the Suicide Squad.
What is the appeal to you of playing with morally ambiguous or villainous versions of familiar heroes?
That's the tricky thing about it. They're not ... morally ambiguous is probably the best way to describe them. They're not really bad guys. They definitely don't act in the same chaste manner the traditional Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman do. Part of that comes from a personal thing of my own. This goes back a long ways, but there seems to be this weird, unwritten rule that heroes who wear spandex are never allowed to kill people. I frankly just don't get that. I understand when comics were marketed strictly for children, from the 1940s onward, Batman had to throw his gun away, and Superman wasn't allowed to kill anymore. But you go to an Indiana Jones movie or James Bond movie, and it's OK for Indiana Jones to kill somebody. But heaven forbid Superman should break Zod's neck. Everybody goes, "Oh my God! Superman would never do that!"
There is this idea that there is always another option aside from lethal force with our superheroes.
To me, that just seems crazy. You don't want to treat the characters too realistically, because each is a fantasy character, but at the same time, if one of our superheroes is out doing his job and he sees an innocent about to get killed and lethal force is his only option, he not only has the right but, sometimes, the duty to do so. You'd ask no less of a cop. The whole Man of Steel thing amused me to no end, that people were freaking out about that online. With these characters, it's not just about them being badass and willing to kill people; it's to explore what they'd be like if they weren't Bruce Wayne, Kal-El and Princess Diana.
Wonder Woman is from New Genesis, not Themyscira; Superman is the son of Zod; Batman is a vampire. How else are these characters different in Gods and Monsters?
Well, the origin is an important part of it. The original Batman's origin is all about Crime Alley and about his parents getting gunned down when he was 8 years old. This guy doesn't have that kind of drive. It is more about, he becomes a vampire, but still thinks of himself as a good guy but doesn't want to go out and kill innocent people. He figures, if he has to feed on people to survive, he will feed on criminals, since they don't deserve to live.
That is such a Dexter concept, and you have Michael C. Hall playing him!
I know, right? It was perfect! But that opens a whole moral quagmire. He is only going to kill criminals, but he isn't giving them a fair trial. So, does he only kill criminals he catches in the act? It is something we'll explore a lot of in the comic-book miniseries that's a spinoff of the movie [written by J. M. DeMatteis and Timm].
Since Diana is coming from New Genesis, does that mean we'll see Darkseid? Is he the Big Bad of this series?
[Laughs] That's a tricky question. You will see Darkseid, but I won't say who the Big Bads are. That is too big of a spoiler for the movie. But it's not Darkseid. He is in the movie, and is a big part of her origin story. Beyond that, I can't say too much.
We saw Harley getting bitten by Batman, and she looks a little funky and stitched together as a result.
That was just me having fun with Harley. It has amused me over the years when people say, "What do you think of this new Harley in the comics? She is really skanky." I just say whatever. I have taken my liberties with traditional characters who have originated in the comics, and twisted them around. So, to me, it's fair game for DC Comics to take a character I created and do whatever the heck they want. Some of the versions of the character, I look at them -- especially some of the videogame versions or nastier-looking toys -- and think, "Uggh, what was appealing about Harley is all gone." But, sometimes, they come up with something really good. The current comic Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti are doing is great. But for the Gods and Monsters short, our ultra-nasty skanky version is my tongue-in-cheek version of the nastiest versions we sometimes see in the media.
We have seen the live-action Harley, so what do you think of Margot Robbie as her in Suicide Squad?
It is so funny, because I just literally saw the first image that was released. I have only seen the one photo. I like what I've seen so far. I think she was good casting when I first heard about it, then was a little worried they were going to go too far with it. But that one shot looked pretty good, and she still looks pretty cute.
If Superman is not raised by the Kents, and is the son of Zod, will we see a character more willing to unleash his full power?
What is interesting to me is the fact he has to balance his own instincts more than the original Superman. The original had the benefit of coming from really good parents in Krypton and being discovered by really good parents on Earth in Kansas. In this version, his dad is Zod, so he already has a genetic strike against him. When he lands on Earth, his parents are a Mexican couple who discover him in the middle of the desert in like Arizona. They're a God-fearing couple, but they're second-class citizens, and exposed to bigotry and hardship the Kents never were. You have a super-powered kid with anger issues who thinks he can make things right because he's stronger. His dad says he can't, because America is a land of opportunity with good American values. But he thinks America is kind of bulls***. That's who this guy is. What's he like when he grows up and doesn't have dad around to tell him what to do anymore? It adds an element of unpredictability to him.
Finally, we know we're going to see a live-action Green Lantern again, and a generation of kids grew up with John Stewart voiced by Phil LaMarr as their Green Lantern. Is that who you'd like to see on the big screen?
I don't get a vote, but ... sure! I would say yeah.