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Bruce Timm & Glen Murakami
"Strangely enough, as time has gone by and we've moved along and redesigned the characters and everything, I find the old episodes really hard to watch."
Emru Townsend: Do you see any possibilities for other series that would be animated and yet a bit more serious? Serious doesn't have to be more grim, but just... like Batman was--where you can have action/adventure but have to not necessarily talk down. There was Invasion America, but that was kind of iffy. And Gargoyles was pretty good, but that got subverted toward the end.

Bruce Timm: Yeah, that whole premise of Gargoyles was kind of namby-pamby anyway, with all that Celtic fantasy crap.

Batman has been enduring for a good seven years now, but I wonder, do you see it happening outside that whole franchise.

BT: Well, we do have a couple of things in development that we're working on, and I don't want to say anything about them at this point because I don't want to jinx them or get people's hopes up. But yeah, we're definitely--we're kind of in this business to make reasonably adult cartoons for a general audience. It would be really hard to go backwards now and to do a "kiddie" show. We've been so spoiled by our Batman and Superman experience, it would be really hard to go backwards, as it were.

If you could ever make that fabled Justice League of America cartoon, which every other comic book fan wishes you would make--

BT: You know, I don't really understand why they want that so badly. I mean, I guess I kinda do, but...

Glen Murakami: It's really hard to do.

BT: It's a hard show to do.

You realize it's partially your fault! I mean, you've successfully put out Batman, you've got Superman, you've done Green Lantern, the Flash--you haven't done Wonder Woman or Hawkman, but you've done them so well.

BT: There's a [number of] reasons we're not going to do The Justice League. There's a real big legal reason, actually. For a while there, we weren't even allowed to even think about it, because of that live-action pilot they made a could of years ago. I'm not sure, that may even still be in effect, so there may be a legal reason why we can't do it. But just from a creative standpoint, it's really hard to have that many characters in a 22-minute show and give them all something interesting to do. We found that even on Batman, that it was hard to have Robin, and Batgirl, and Batman all in the same episode. Just staging a fight scene is really difficult, to keep them all busy. You can't ever have Robin just get knocked out, because then you think, oh, why wasn't Batgirl there to help him?

Right. You've got to choreograph the whole thing.

BT: When you have a show like The Justice League, where you've got not just Batman and Batgirl and Robin, but you've got Superman, and Green Lantern, and the Flash, and all these people who have really extra super powers, and [you're trying] to come up with things for them to do every episode, and to come up with opponents that are strong enough for them to figure logically, it's kind of a hassle. That alone is enough to make me think I don't want to go there.

Not only that, but by having that many main characters in a 22-minute show, it's hard to focus personality-wise on any one character. The beauty of a show like Batman is that you can really get into that one character, into his personality.

I'm not saying it couldn't be done well. I just have no desire to do it.

If you could do a DC superhero, if they said you were free to do any DC superhero you wanted, make a series out of it, what would you do? This is a question for both of you.

BT: Going back to my earlier response, there are a couple of DC characters we're talking about developing for series, and I don’t want to tip it off, I don’t want to jinx it, I don’t want to get rumors started. You're going to have to wait and see.

Keep me in suspense, why don't you?

BT: Yeah, sorry.

Instead of the future, let's go back to the past a little bit. What's your favorite episode that you've worked on?

BT: It's so hard to say. There's so many various reasons. Most of my favorites are recent ones.

GM: "Over the Edge".

BT: "Over the Edge" is a really good episode. It has probably the strongest story, and the hardest emotional punch. And it's beautifully animated. It doesn't hit a sour note all the way through.

GM: The Royal Flush Gang.

BT: The Royal Flush Gang episode of Batman Beyond ["Dead Man's Hand"] is really good. The Curaré episode ["A Touch of Curaré"], the one that just aired here over the weekend, that's a very strong episode.

From the very first series, about the only one that I have any fondness for at all is--well, there's two of them. There's the first Mr. Freeze show ["Heart of Ice"] and the very first episode, the Man-Bat show ["On Leather Wings"]. But other than that, they all kind of blur together. Strangely enough, as time has gone by and we've moved along and redesigned the characters and everything, I find the old episodes really hard to watch. I find them really slow, and I find the animation really clunky and the designs are kinda fat and chubby, and...

GM: We're hard to please.

BT: Yeah. Even episodes that used to be my favorites, like "Robin's Reckoning", I went back and watched it recently, and I went, oh my God, I can't believe I used to love that episode. I can't stand it anymore. So I've kind of been holding off watching the Man-Bat episode again because I don't want to be disappointed. That's because it was the first episode we worked on. First loves die hard, and all that crap.

It's interesting that anyone who I ask, be it fan or animator--Paul Dini as well--all say "Heart of Ice" as a favorite.

BT: Yeah. That's a good one. That's a real strong episode. Again, haven't watched in a couple of years, I'm kind of afraid to. [laughs] Yeah, that one was one of my favorites.

Glen, how about you?

GM: "Heart of Ice", "Over the Edge", "Holiday Knights"... a lot of the early ones I haven't watched in years, so... "World's Finest"... We're so busy moving forward we don't have time to look back.

Well, when it comes to creating them, what are the stories you like working on? What is it that drives them? Bruce, from the sound of it, it sounds more like the interplay between the characters.

BT: I'm a sucker for emotional stories, those are always my favorite. Any show that can make me cry at the end of it usually gets a thumbs-up from me. But like I said though, the Curaré episode that was just on, that show is not a really emotional show, it's just a relentless hard-driving machine. It's just a really exciting episode, so I love the action ones too. That's why I go back to "Over the Edge", because it's got all that real heart-rending melodrama stuff in it.

That's the ultimate, when you can combine the two, if you can combine the really emotional stuff with the great action, that's my favorite stuff.

GM: It's hard for me to enjoy anything because I'm too close to everything. Sometimes I'm jealous of people when they talk about "Mad Love" or some of the [other] cartoons, because I experience it while working on everything, so it doesn't have that newness.

You don't have that distance.

BT: Right.

Of course, if you could just do a crossover with Buffy the Vampire Slayer you'd be in.

BT: [laughs] Funny you should say that...

I'm going to pretend I didn't even say that. Okay, one more favorites question. Favorite characters?

BT: Favorite characters.

Yeah, I know it's a tough one.

BT: It is a tough one.

First person that comes to mind.

BT: Mr. Freeze has always been one of our favorite characters, to the point that every time the writers try to bring him back, Glen and I--especially being huge Mr. Freeze fans, we'll be merciless with our notes on the Mr. Freeze shows, just because we love the character so much, we don’t ever want him to become just another stock villain. So every time we bring him back, we want to make absolutely sure that every story he's in is really special.

So Mr. Freeze is a favorite...

GM: Batgirl.

BT: Batgirl is a great character, I love Batgirl.

I love the new Robin. Strangely enough, that's one of the reasons why I don't like the old series as much. I never really cared much for the Dick Grayson Robin. It's not that he was a bad character, but Robin works better as a kid, rather than almost adult, as a young man. It's much better to have a kid Robin, I think. For some reason he just plays off of Batman better that way. I love the Tim Drake Robin. Actually, I like the Nightwing character, too. As soon as we split Robin up into two characters, suddenly he became interesting.

I think it's the same thing the comic creators found over the years. As Robin gets more adult, there's less of a point of him being with Batman.

BT: Well, exactly. Absolutely, absolutely.

A lot of the stuff keeps coming back to the new show. I like Terry's girlfriend a lot, Dana. Terry himself is a great character, to me just lives and breathes. A lot of that is due to the actor, Will Friedle, he's just so wonderful in that part. He's just totally believable. And Kevin [Conroy]'s Bruce Wayne, too. I love the old man Bruce Wayne. That's one of the reasons why I'm digging the show so much, is getting to do something new with the character, but still staying true to the legend of Bruce Wayne/Batman.

It's strange, because Batman Beyond really should be about Terry, but in some ways Bruce is still the focus.

BT: No, I don't think so. I think Terry's the focus. Let's put it this way: we're trying to make Terry the focus. Sometimes Bruce has a tendency to overshadow, but we're trying to downplay Bruce to a degree, for a number of reasons. Bruce will always be there, but he isn't Luke Skywalker anymore, he's Obi-Wan Kenobi.

In the last couple of episodes, I found that even though Terry's the hero, in, for instance, the "A Touch of Curaré" one, a lot of what drove the episode, what set events in motion, to some degree, was Barbara's relationship with Bruce. If you look at the "Shriek" episode, to some degree that was also about Bruce. They attacked through Bruce, and of course the focus [is really on Bruce]. And there was that lovely comment at the end, where he says "Bruce isn't what I call myself when I'm thinking." So yeah, sometimes it seems as if it's still about him.

BT: Well, he's a pretty interesting character, you know. It's hard to downplay him sometimes. One of the reasons we're going to try to focus a little bit more on Terry and a little bit less on Bruce is purely commercial: teenage kids are watching the show, and with the focus groups we've done with the series, as well as our own instincts, I think kids are much more interested in Terry than in Bruce Wayne. I love that Bruce Wayne character, and he will always be there, but we are really going to try to concentrate on Terry, because it's his show now. You'll see a little bit more of what I'm talking about in the second season.

Closing question: how does it feel to have expanded so much on such a mythic character, one of the icons of American art?

BT: Relieved. I'm relieved that it's a hit, and that most people seem to like it. When we first got this gig, I was quite nervous about it. We've had a reputation over the years of being the guys who did Batman right, and I didn’t want to end my career with Batman being the guy who screwed up the whole franchise.

I'm just relieved that it really worked. When we first got the first episode back in-house, we were all excited about it. Amongst ourselves, we knew that it was a great show, but again, you can never really tell how objective you're being about it, because you're so close to it. But we felt that it was working, and we were just hoping that it would catch on with other people as well, so... just relief.

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A Critical Eye exclusive (September 17, 1999)