Toon Zone's "Brave & the Bold:" James Tucker, Michael Jelenic, & Linda M. Steiner
In conjunction with Warner Brothers Animation, Toon Zone got the chance to interview the talent behind the upcoming Batman: The Brave and the Bold TV series.
Over the years, James Tucker has grown from a storyboard artist on The New Batman Adventures to becoming one of the top producers at the studio, moving into the producer’s chair starting with the second season of Justice League and for both seasons of Legion of Super Heroes. He is now running his third show with Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
Linda M. Steiner is another veteran of Warner Brothers Animation, with producer credits on Justice League, Duck Dodgers, Krypto the Superdog, Legion of Superheroes, Teen Titans, and The Batman under her belt. Steiner can now add one more producer credit to her resume with Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
Story editor Michael Jelenic began his career at Warner Brothers Animation writing for The Batman, eventually moving up to story editor for that show. He has also written scripts for Jackie Chan Adventures, Ben 10, and Legion of Super Heroes, and was also the story editor for the Batman vs. Dracula animated movie. He is also currently working as the writer for the Wonder Woman direct-to-video movie.
Tucker and Jelenic will be at the San Diego Comic Con this year hosting a panel about The Brave and the Bold, but for those fans who aren’t able to make it to San Diego, Toon Zone News was able to interview this power trio over the phone about the new show.
TOON ZONE NEWS: The first question I have is one that you guys are probably answering a lot: “Why another Batman show?”
LINDA M. STEINER: I have to say, “Why not another Batman show?” There’s an appetite for Batman that you just can’t get enough of. Truly there’s always an audience for Batman.
JAMES TUCKER: Pragmatically, there’s a new movie coming out, and because the movie is going in a certain direction, consumer products needs something that’s a little more child friendly and a cartoon show filled the bill. The only thing that hasn’t been done with Batman has been Brave and the Bold. I think you’re going to get the darkest Batman you’ve ever seen in The Dark Knight movie, so this show is designed to appeal to the entry-level Batman fans — which are kids, whether we like it or not. It’s broad-based entertainment, but you need a cartoon that generates some toys, and Dark Knight is definitely skewed older. That’s the pragmatic reality of it.
TZN: Would you say that this show skews even younger than The Batman?
TUCKER: I don’t know, I think it’s probably about the exact level The Batman is, but it’s just visually different. I mean, The Batman was designed for 6 to 11, and this is designed for 6 to 11.
MICHAEL JELENIC: A lot of people are saying on the Internet that it’s geared towards pre-schoolers.
TUCKER: Bruce Timm was mis-quoted for that, by the way.
JELENIC: Yeah, that’s not the case. I mean, pre-schoolers could probably enjoy the show, but at the same time, I’m fairly confident that adults can find as much charm out of the show as, you know, as the 4-year olds.
TZN: Is there going to be larger story arc to the first season, or will it all be individual, stand-alone episodes?
TUCKER: There will be recurring characters that will have arcs that we pick up whenever they re-appear, but overall, there isn’t a broad, over-arching arc that’s going to dominate the first season. We kind of want to play with the toys and see how things work out before we decide on committing to a full, intense, chronological arc, as it were.
TZN: A lot of the design cues from the art we’ve seen so far seems to come from the Dick Sprang Batman comics. Is that where you’re going to be taking story cues from as well?
TUCKER: Our story cues come from the wealth of Batman history. It’s not just a particular era. The design cues are inspired by the Dick Sprang comics, but it’s not a literal translation of them. It’s got a little bit of Kirby, it’s got a little bit of Dick Sprang, a little Alex Toth, but the stories are going to encompass different aspects of the DC universe from old school stuff and newer things.
JELENIC: Stories basically take their cues usually from the villain that’s going to be in the episode or the hero that Batman’s going to be teamed up with. With Aquaman we’re going to do stories that you might have seen in Aquaman comics. Those are basically where we’re getting our cues from.
TZN: What other heroes are going to be appearing with Batman?
TUCKER: I can rattle off a few: Plastic Man, Jonah Hex, Deadman, Blue Beetle, Adam Strange, Kamandi…basically anybody DC will let us have (laughs). Black Canary, because I know people are going to wonder about if there are girls in the show. Huntress, Fire…
TUCKER: (laughs) Bat-hound. (Yes!! — ed) So, like I said, we’re taking our cue from the broad spectrum of Batman’s history, not just the last 10 years of it. There will be things for fans with a more intimate knowledge of Batman and his long history, and there will be stuff for fans who are coming new to the franchise.
TZN: Did you just say that Deadman is going to be appearing on the show?
TZN: On a show for kids 6 to 11?
TUCKER: Um…they know about dead. (all laugh)
JELENIC: The tone from episode to episode varies quite a bit. Some episodes are romps and rely more on humor, but we do have more than a few that are pretty serious and definitely skew older. I think the Deadman story is one of those. I think we have a pretty cool Green Lantern Corps story that skews older, so I think we have a little bit of everything, storywise. It’s not just to service the 6 to 11 crowd. And the humor is not goofy humor. I think people are going to watch the show, and the adults are going to appreciate the humor more than the kids. I think a lot of adults will tune into the show for the humor, while the kids will tune in for the visuals and the action.
TUCKER: And by humor, we mean there will be nods to comic book fans. There will be inside jokes, and…
JELENIC: Character relationships.
TUCKER: Yeah, and that’s mainly the difference is that Batman is almost like he was in the very early Batman the Animated Series, where he was a little bit more approachable. Through the years, he kind of got colder and colder and colder. His personality in this show hearkens back to kind of the way he was in the very first season of BTAS, where he was a little more…not friendly, but he wasn’t as shut off. Because I remember we did Justice League…or actually Gotham Adventures, and people were remarking that Batman had started to become very cold, and it was something that they didn’t like. So this is bringing Batman back to a more approachable, if you want to use the word, personality.
JELENIC: The different heroes all bring out a different aspect of Batman’s personality. So, with the heroes like Plastic Man, Batman may be a little firmer and more annoyed, and other heroes he’s more competitive with, so you get a pretty broad range of his personality. It’s not the same Batman that we’re completely familiar with.
TUCKER: I mean, another thing about this show is Batman is a part of it, but it’s not totally a Batman show. It is literally The Brave and the Bold. Batman is the constant, but the guest stars are featured prominently, and their stories will be the ones that we focus on as much as Batman’s. It’s truly a team show, a buddy movie every week type of thing. It’s not strictly just a Batman show, so I don’t even think that comparing it to the shows that have gone before is very relevant, because it’s Batman outside of his own environment. It’s how Batman deals with being in other people’s stages and other people’s environments.
TZN: In that case, will the villains will be a mix of Batman villains and villains from his guest stars?
TUCKER: Yeah, we have access to a certain range of DC villains, and any villain can show up. It’s not necessarily that we have to tie the villain to who the guest star hero is, so we’re mixing and matching and having fun with it. There will be a certain percentage of Batman villains showing up, but they won’t be the default villain for every show. This isn’t like The Batman season 5, because it was pretty much heroes and villains showing up to Gotham City and dealing with them on his turf. This is truly The Brave and the Bold, where Batman can show up anywhere. He can be in Atlantis, he can be in Timbuktu, he can be on another planet. It’s very open-ended. The thing I liked about the old Brave and the Bold comic is that the first page would start out, and you’d have to figure out where Batman was in the book at that point, or in the world. He wasn’t always just in Gotham City. So the idea of this show is really to translate the energy of the Brave and the Bold, where it can be Batman anywhere, anytime, any place, and it keeps you guessing. It’s very global and intergalactic and trans-dimensional, even.
JELENIC: And it also allows us to not retell the same stories we’ve seen in the last two series. Batman in Gotham tends to lead to certain types of stories, especially when you put him up with his usual rogue’s gallery, and we wanted to avoid that as much as possible and bring some fresh Batman stories and stuff that people haven’t seen or maybe wouldn’t expect to see Batman in. We have a pretty broad playground to put him in.
TZN: You just said that Plastic Man would be showing up. If I remember correctly, you wanted to use him for Justice League, but couldn’t. Is that true?
TUCKER: Yes, that’s true. Well, the deal was that we could only use him for a one-time appearance, and we just didn’t come up with a story that really would merit a one-time only thing, so it just never happened with Justice League. The thing with the heroes is that the rights issues change pretty much on a monthly basis (laughs), so if someone has an option out on a hero, then we can’t touch them, and that’s just the reality of the business. It’s not anything we can control, so we do what we can. So for Justice League, we couldn’t use him, or at least we didn’t want to use him under the conditions we were able to use him. Those conditions are not the same now, so we’re able to use him more.
TZN: The new Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle on the show has gotten a lot of attention. Was that something that you guys chose to do, or did DC say, “If you want to use Blue Beetle, you have to use the current one?”
TUCKER: It was a mutual agreement. Like I said, this Batman isn’t set in the 1950′s. It’s taking cues from the 50′s, but we’re able to use whatever different versions of the character that could suit the story. We wanted a neophyte character who Batman could take under his wing, and kind of school him. We didn’t want Robin because that’s been done, and everyone’s seen that. So, it was like, “Who’s the newest young superhero that would be appealing?” And we like this new Blue Beetle. Comic book fans are always on the fence about anything new, but I think this character has a lot of fans, and he’s a real strong character, so I had no problem using him.
TZN: Did you guys work with Keith Giffen and John Rogers, the guys who wrote the comic?
JELENIC: We took some cues from the comic, obviously, but we didn’t have any direct contact with those two.
TUCKER: Sometimes that seems like the logical step, but it’s not always …
TUCKER: Practical, or the time schedule doesn’t allow for it.
TZN: You just mentioned your reason why you’re not going to be using Robin on the show…
TUCKER: Oh, I meant for that role. I didn’t say that Robin won’t appear.
TZN: Oh, OK, because I was going to ask about two superhero names that I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere yet. One is Robin, and the other one is Superman. Are there any plans for either one to appear on the show?
TUCKER: Superman’s not slated to appear right now. If you look, history has a precedent for this because he didn’t appear in The Brave & the Bold hardly ever. Don’t quote me on this…well, you’ll quote me (laughs), but I think the last issue of the Brave and the Bold comic before it was restarted was the only issue where Superman appeared. So there is comic book precedent for that. The other reason is his rights are tied up right now, so we’re not using him. I don’t know that we would.
JELENIC: That story has been told so many different ways.
TUCKER: When we have a really good story to tell, we’ll go back to the well and see if we’ll be able to use him. The other thing about this show is that I didn’t want to go back and retread ground that we did in Justice League Unlimited, so the whole World’s Finest team is a kind of thing that I think we did a lot of and did really well. I wanted to dig deeper into the DC archives and also deal with characters we may have only did a little bit in Justice League and go a little deeper into them.
TZN: What about Robin, then?
TUCKER: He’ll appear. That’s pretty much all I want to say about that.
TZN: Moving on to casting, Diedrich Bader has been cast as Batman. This show is supposed to have a bit more humor than the earlier Batman shows. Did that drive your decision to cast someone who’s best known as a comedian as Batman?
TUCKER: Not really. Diedrich Bader is an actor, first and foremost. He’s not a stand-up comedian. He just happens to be known for comedies, but he’s capable of doing other things. He was just the best guy to audition.
JELENIC: And as far as the comedy goes, Batman really is our straight man in this series. He’s usually not the one we’re getting laughs from, especially never at his expense. He’s the Batman people know in that regard, so Diedrich is not cracking jokes or anything.
TUCKER: It’s not Adam West.
JELENIC: There is some humor coming from him. It’s usually sort of dry.
TUCKER: It’s more of his reactions.
JELENIC: Yeah, he’s reacting to something that Plastic Man does. That’s as far as we’re pushing comedy coming from Batman.
TUCKER: Tonally, for Toon Zone fans, the touchstones that this show is kind of like would be Michael’s “Team Penguin” episode of The Batman. The level of humor…when it gets to that level, is “Team Penguin.” Or, for me from Justice League, it’s “The Greatest Story Never Told,” it’s “This Little Piggy.” It’s not humor that takes advantage of the character or makes the character look bad. It’s maybe just having a sense of humor in the show, but it’s not a comedy. It’s not a comedy. I want to stress that. There’s humor in the show, and that’s the level we’re shooting for. It also gets very dark in other places.
TZN: Will Bruce Wayne appear very much in this show, or will it be focusing purely on Batman?
TUCKER: He is, in a way, and that’s all I’ll say about it (laughs). It’s a cool way, I think, but I don’t know if the fans will catch it right off the bat. But we’ll see.
TZN: All 3 of you have worked on solo-oriented shows and on team-based ensemble shows. Do you guys feel that there’s a big difference between producing those two different types of shows?
TUCKER: Well, sure. Practically, there’s just the sheer amount of stuff you have to do for a team show, as far as drawings, settings, the different backgrounds you have to generate. There’s more volume to the work you have to do to pull off on a team show than there is to a single character-type show.
TZN: Which one does Brave and the Bold feel more like?
JELENIC: This show is sort of not a team show, and it’s not a solo show either, because unlike most other shows that we’ve seen, there really isn’t a recurring cast for the most part. Batman is the only character that you’re going to see from episode to episode. We’re not really using Alfred or Gordon. We don’t have those characters around that he forms relationships with throughout the series, so we’re relying each week on having a pretty strong relationship between Batman and the guest star, and we have to come up with that for every episode. What’s the new relationship? And we have to start from scratch, usually, every episode. So that’s the challenge of this show.
TUCKER: It’s unlike any show I’ve ever worked on, because even with Justice League, which was a team show, it always generally started with the Watchtower. We don’t have a stock setting where we start from. Batman is always in the middle of wherever he’s at, and that setting is very rarely Gotham City. Gotham isn’t always in every episode in this series. It’s a different setting every week, so it’s a different challenge. I don’t think I’ve ever worked on any show just like this.
TZN: How do you three divide the labor for the show? Do you do it by episode, or by task or the job that needs to be done, or do you make it up as you go?
STEINER: James runs the show, really (laughs).
TUCKER: (laughs) Well, I’m basically the show runner, which means I kind of oversee all the aspects. Linda is the executive producer, so she facilitates the things between DC and the media and all that stuff. “Executive” says it right there, she handles “executive” duties. Michael is the story editor/producer so he deals with the writing, the scripts, and that aspect. I deal with the art, and I deal with (voice director) Andrea Romano, and basically everything else. It’s a 3-way split, but overall, I’m the guy that has to show up EVERY day (all laugh).
TZN: James, you’ve gone on record as being a pretty long-time comic book reader. What about Michael and Linda? Are you guys the same way, or did you fall into it from your work on the Warner Animation projects?
STEINER: I definitely fell into it more. I didn’t grow up a comic book fan, but (DC Comics Senior VP – Executive Editor) Dan Didio is my very best friend, and I learned through Dan how to understand comic books. I really just started following them about 11 years ago, just from working on these shows, and then became a fan.
JELENIC: I’m sort of in the same boat. My brother was a pretty big comic book fan, so I would sort of read some of his comics. Mainly, it was the Batman comics. I was not familiar with really the extended DC universe. Ever since The Batman, it’s like every day I come in and I learn about a new character that I had not known about. Especially on the Brave and the Bold, since we’re using such obscure characters, I’m getting a pretty good education on DC Comics’ world.
TUCKER: I prefer working with someone who doesn’t know the ins and outs of comics, because they bring different ideas that may not occur to me, because I’m just coming from comic books. The whole purpose of a show is not just to retread what is already in print. Nobody does comics like comic books, you know? You want something that translates to a broader audience and has entertainment value beyond just…not that there’s anything wrong with comics, but television and animation is a totally different medium. Only comics can do what comics do, so you need someone who has fresh eyes and can look at it from a different angle, so I don’t think it’s mandatory that my co-workers be as big comic book fans as I am.
TZN: Can you give an example of that?
TUCKER: It’s not a broad-based thing, it’s just…I’m going to have to be general because it happens so much that I couldn’t pick one place. You can get bogged down by the….
TUCKER: …yeah, mythology of comics, and that limits you somehow.
JELENIC: It’s kind of interesting, because I’ll come up with an idea or a take on a character, and a couple of months later, I’ll come across more of the history of the character, and I’ll say, “If had known that when I came up with the take, I probably wouldn’t have gone in that direction.” The direction is often just as valid, and I don’t try to destroy the background of the characters. I try to stay true to the characters. At the same time, the more I do all these things, I acquire a library of knowledge on the characters, so that all comes into play as we continue to develop them.
TZN: There still seems to be a general belief among the general population that cartoons are for kids. How do you feel about that?
TUCKER: Well, from a literal, pragmatic standpoint, they are. I used to think like, “Well, why is animation only for kids?” and when you actually get into animation, you realize how things are paid for and the actual mechanics it takes to get a cartoon on, and it IS for kids. Whether that’s a failing of the American system of television, it’s just that’s the way it is, and the way we make that a plus is that we make broad-based entertainment. So we don’t make it literally just for kids. There are shows that do that and they do well, but we always go into it with “What’s entertainment?” There was a time where entertainment was for adults and kids. You could watch a TV show and adults would enjoy it as much as the kid would, and the adult wouldn’t feel like he had to hide the kid away. No one’s calling The Munsters a child’s show, or The Addams Family a kid’s show, or even the original Batman. It’s not considered literally a kid’s show. So we go in thinking this is entertainment for a family, or for an adult and for a child, so if they’re both in the room, they should both be able to enjoy it, and that’s the way we operate when we do these things. Because you kind of have to. In order to make any money on these things, you can’t appeal to just a niche. That’s what the DVDs are for. That’s why they were created, to appeal to the finer points of fandom and for smaller market shares and things. For television, unil things change, that’s kind of what we have to work with. And I don’t think anything’s wrong with that.
I mean, I understand where the fans are coming from on that because before I got into animation and got into the ins and outs of it, I was just like everyone else, and always asked those questions and wondered why and railed against how stupid executives are as far as blah-blah-blah. The reality of it is that that’s the way it is right now, and there’s nothing wrong with it.
TZN: That being said, there are some fans, like me, who have been watching these DC superhero cartoons for 15 years. Some of the kids who grew up with this are now college graduates or have kids of their own now, and it always seems that no matter where the target demographic is for your shows, you always seem to pull in a pretty significant adult audience. How much does that affect what you do?
TUCKER: Again, there’s a pre-school audience and there’s a certain alchemy for making a good pre-school show, which is actually harder, I think, than making a broad-based entertainment show.
STEINER: Oh, definitely. Totally.
TUCKER: I mean, you have a whole list of challenges to do that. I don’t think I could do a pre-school show. but the history of television is based on shows that appeal to a broad base of people. If we talked about only skewing to adults, most of television wouldn’t be on the air. You have to pay for the show, you have to appeal to a broad base. But anyway, our whole standpoint at Warners is just to make a good show, and we don’t go out of our way to be especially dark, and we don’t go out of our way to be especially kid-ified. We just do what is entertainment. What is broad-based entertainment.
TZN: James, we spoke with you on Toon Zone about 3 years ago right at the end of Justice League Unlimited, and you had mentioned that your dream projects were either a Dick Tracy cartoon or a Wonder Woman cartoon.
TUCKER: Right. Well, we know Wonder Woman’s not happening! (laughs)
TZN: Did you take a crack at the direct-to-video when you knew about it?
TUCKER: You know, early on before there was a direction settled, Dwayne McDuffie, Bruce Timm, and I actually came up with a pitch. Given the direction that the DVD went, I’m glad they went the way they did. Actually, Michael is the writer on the Wonder Woman direct-to-video, and what I’ve seen so far is amazing. It’s going to blow your socks off.
TZN: Did you work with Michael on the Wonder Woman DVD at all?
TUCKER: No, we were doing Legion at the time, so I was working with him, but…
JELENIC: When I was developing some of the ideas of it, I would talk to James because James loves the character.
TUCKER: I would tell him, “Don’t do that! Don’t do this!” And he’d ignore me (laughs).
JELENIC: I know I took a couple of his ideas, and some of the things he suggested, and that definitely ended up in the screenplay, so he was pretty helpful to me.
TUCKER: I think it’s going to be pretty good. Since I didn’t get to do it, I’m glad it’s still something I want to watch.
TZN: Well, the question to all 3 of you guys is that the doors are open and the budgets are open. What are your dream projects that you would love to be able to do now?
TUCKER: Well, my life is Brave and the Bold right at this point. Actually, that would have been one of my dream projects because Brave and the Bold was one of the first Batman comics I ever read, so I’m saying this is it right now. I would love to do a Question show or a DVD. Wonder Woman would have been nice. Maybe a Wonder Woman series is in the offing if they get a movie done. Other than that, I’m kind of having the best of all worlds working on this show because any character I’ve ever enjoyed I’ve pretty much been able to use.
JELENIC: I don’t really care which characters. I find that each new character I come across, there’s something interesting about that character, and you find ways to make telling those stories enjoyable, so I’d be up for anything.
TZN: What is the one thing that’s happened so far that you really weren’t expecting or that you got really surprised by?
STEINER: Blue Beetle really popping has been a pleasant surprise for me. These guys were big believers in it, and he’s a great character. James directed that already and its a good surprise.
JELENIC: I would say for me, I’m pleasantly surprised at the quality of both the scripts and the art of the show. Both James and I had worked on previous Batman shows, and we both reached a point, “What else could we possibly do?” And with this show, I think we both took some major risks.
JELENIC: And I think the result is a show that’s completely different from the other 2 Batman shows that we’re familiar with. I think people are going to see that it stands on its own. It may take an episode for people to be comfortable with it. It’s a huge departure visually and story wise, but I think people will like it.
TUCKER: I think for me, our interpretation of Aquaman is a lot of fun. I know “fun” is a dirty word in fandom (laughs), but he’s a lot of fun. We honor the character, but we also open him up a little bit, and I think he’ll be a fan favorite, too.
JELENIC: He’s the best interpretatin of Aquaman EVER.
TUCKER: He’s voiced by John DiMaggio…Michael is being sarcastic, I think…
JELENIC: No! I love this character, I think he’s going to be the breakout character of the series.
TUCKER: The thing is that the show is a lot of fun, and like I said, “fun” has been a bad word for a long time with Batman, but I say “Have no fear.” If you love the Batman character, and if your knowledge of Batman goes beyond The Dark Knight Returns, then you’ll know what we’re doing and you’ll get the show and you’ll enjoy the show.
Toon Zone News would like give our thanks James Tucker, Linda M. Steiner, and Michael Jelenic for taking the time to speak with us, and also to James Finch and Annie Chen at Beck Media for making these interviews possible. Don’t forget to check out our other coverage of Batman: The Brave and the Bold: