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NYCC2010: The DCU First Look Panel

On Friday night the IGN theater at the Javits Center was packed full for the DC Universe First Look panel, which proved to be a great show for the fans in attendance. Gary Miereanu of Warner Home Animation played host at the podium throughout the panel for executive producer Bruce Timm and Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam writer Michael Jelenic, who both took the stage to great applause. Over the course of an hour, Timm and Jelenic presented the crowd with several clips from the new Superman/Shazam short, due out on November 9th, as well as the DTV film All Star Superman, due for early next spring.

When asked to discuss the origins of the Superman/Shazam project, Timm explained that they knew they wanted to do a longer short film for a character who hadn’t seen much attention in animation, and that it would be either a Superman or Batman team up. The panel was asked how the short would differentiate from the take on Captain Marvel presented in Justice League. Jelenic remarked that it was decided up front that the two characters would not battle each other, going on to explain that the short would be an origin story for Captain Marvel that includes Superman. After these remarks the first of three clips were played for the audience, featuring the short’s first showdown between Superman and the villain Black Adam. Adam is after Captain Marvel’s alter ego Billy Batson, who at this early point is just an unsuspecting kid that doesn’t know why the villain is after him or what his destiny has in store for him. Superman saves Billy from capture and battles Adam, who proves a formidable match for the hero thanks to magical attacks complementing his super strength. Despite Black Adam’s apparent advantage though, Superman retaliates with heat vision and manages to give as good as he gets throughout the bone-crunching action scene.

After this clip, it was explained that the short’s story is essentially a battle for the heart and soul of Billy Batson. Superman is, of course, the heroic ideal that Billy could aspire to emulate with his abilities, while Black Adam is a malevolent menace that Billy could also become if he’s led astray. This brought the panel to the topic of another important character: the wizard Shazam, who according to Timm ended up being voiced by James Garner at the recommendation of veteran director Joaquim Dos Santos. The second clip shown depicted Shazam speaking to Billy, who has been brought to him in some manner of magical cave. Shazam tells Billy about how he has been chosen to become a hero, in essence both a successor and a response to Black Adam—Shazam’s “greatest mistake.” Originally Adam was chosen to be a protector millennia ago, only to give in to the seven vices of man and become imprisoned by Shazam after going rogue. In contrast, Shazam has deemed Billy a uniquely pure individual, and tells Billy that he is already a protector of his own heart when Billy expresses doubt that he’s capable of protecting anything. Upon empowering Billy, Shazam instructs the boy to call on him once he is in need of aid, at which point Billy is whisked back to his city as Shazam collapses the cave around himself as an act of penance.

Before the third clip played Jelenic observed an ongoing debate among Captain Marvel fans: whether he becomes a mature adult when he transforms or whether he is essentially a child in a man’s body. Jelenic commented that he believes the short essentially “straddled the line” on this, at which point Timm quipped that the adult interpretation was the case. Apparent jesting aside, the third clip showed Billy back in the city facing Black Adam and an unconscious Superman. Billy flees Adam’s pursuit and shouts for Shazam to help him, which of course means that lightning strikes and Billy becomes Captain Marvel for the first time. As you’d expect Captain Marvel takes the fight to Black Adam, sending him flying and dodging his retaliation with ease while he joyfully discovers his newfound strength and speed as well as his ability to fly. The clip ends on a moment of comic relief that is simply too good to spoil.

The panel then moved on to the topic of All Star Superman. Timm noted that Dwayne McDuffie took on the task of adapting Grant Morrison’s well-known take on the Man of Steel and spoke highly of the project, going so far as to say that he considers this the best DTV film they’ve done yet. Timm acknowledged that the comic is his favorite, calling it a “cool take” on Superman as he was in the Silver Age that was “corny in a weird kind of way,” but also a “genuine” Superman story. Timm empathized that their desire was to do a straightforward and faithful adaptation, avoiding any changes that would alter the tone of the story at all. The first movie clip for the film turned out to be its first few minutes, and it hits the ground running. A manned space vessel exploring the sun comes under attack from one of the people on board, who turns out to be a genetically engineered monster that we learn is being controlled remotely by Lex Luthor. Even worse, it is designed to self-destruct. Superman is able to rescue the ship from disaster, manifesting a remarkable and unexpected ability in the process by extending his “bioelectric field” around the entire ship and pulling it away from the sun to safety. Amidst all this, there were also moments involving Luthor himself and the staff of the Daily Planet. Luthor himself is as menacing as he has been in any other iteration, going so far as to violently attack a military official that confronts him on what he’s up to. Even a newcomer at least knows from the trailer that a major plot point in this story is Superman ending up with only a short time to live, and here we unsurprisingly learn that the entire crisis is a set-up from Luthor as he comments that while he ages, Superman does not…a fact that someone needs to “fix.” As for other characters, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olson look quite different here. Jimmy is tall and thinner than he ever was in the DCAU, whereas Lois is graced with long brown hair and a stunning youthful look. The cutaways to the Daily Planet office do have a purpose, as the chief reveals a scoop that he believes is certain to put Luthor behind bars for good.

Timm offered further remarks about adapting comic stories for a DCU direct-to-video project, stating that All Star Superman was actually first considered for a DTV adaptation years ago. However, at the time there were concerns about successfully adapting the comic’s episodic structure. Their primary concern for an adaptation has been to find good comics and then to “honor them, do them justice.” Fortunately, Dwayne McDuffie took the initiative the second time around and produced an outline for a film adaptation on his own. Timm declared that the narrative was done so well that he didn’t miss the details from the comic that were cut out, going on to say that even Grant Morrison was “amazed” by what McDuffie came up with. In fact, Timm even referred to an adaptation of an unspecified scene where Morrison actually commented “God, I wish I had done it that way.” Miereanu asked Timm about the strengths of director Sam Liu, prompting Timm to remark that he is “…very conscientious and detail oriented and he thinks in some big picture ways.” Some amusing comments were also made about the challenge of adapting the artwork for animation; Timm declared that unless they’re done in just the right way people end up looking like a “bag of mashed potatoes”!

Amidst these remarks, second and third clips from the film were played for the audience. The second depicted Superman simultaneously arm wrestling two characters, Samson and Atlas, over the right to be with Lois Lane, who is wearing a “Superwoman costume” and apparently possesses temporary superpowers that Superman bestowed upon her as a gift. Superman defeats the pair in a big way without even trying, proceeding to fly Lois to the moon and kiss her against the backdrop of the Earth. That particular moment is incredibly well done and simply breathtaking to behold, to the point that I consider this clip the highlight of the entire panel. The third clip was a much more dire affair, wherein Lex Luthor baits the Parasite in prison and ends up causing a riot without having to even lift a finger himself. As if that weren’t bad enough, Clark Kent is stuck in that very prison along with Luthor while Parasite proceeds to feed on the helpless prison guards.

Before the final All Star Superman clip played, the panel opened up for a Q&A session. Timm deferred a question about his favorite DCU film besides All Star Superman, although he did remark that he considered Wonder Woman and Batman: Under the Red Hood to be good. In response to a question about the chances of an R-rated film, it was revealed that such a project was very close to being greenlighted only for the idea to be dropped at the last moment. On a related note the panel also recalled that Wonder Woman initially had to have content cut since it was so violent that it received a R rating at first. That said, Timm did remark that the chance to make such a thing could still happen someday. When asked about animation that they enjoy watching, Timm remarked that he didn’t get the chance to see much but that he did like what little he’s seen of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, which Jelenic produces. For his part, Jelenic acknowledged Avatar: The Last Airbender as an inspiration that he is looking to for the upcoming reboot for Thundercats on Cartoon Network. On two separate questions about possible future adaptations, the panel acknowledged that The Sandman had been discussed as a possibility for a future animated film while Batman: Hush was also possible, although it’s not slated for adaptation at this time. In contrast, Crisis on Infinite Earths and Kingdom Come were shot down as possibilities. In the case of Crisis, Timm observed that the story was too big with too many characters to be pulled off successfully, whereas with the latter he believed that it was not currently possible for 2D animation to do justice to the art of Alex Ross.

On the subject of Lois’ casting in All Star Superman, Timm answered that she was cast for a “younger quality” and that voice talent from the past would likely return in the future. On the matter of Batman Beyond, Timm wasn’t so sure whether a DCU film or even a Showcase short was a sure thing, though he did express that he wants to do something more with it. Finally, it was confirmed that Green Lantern: Emerald Knights would arrive in June 2011 after All Star Superman while Batman: Year One would come about a year from now in Fall 2011. Furthermore, fans can expect to hear casting news for Batman: Year One very soon.

The panel ended with the last All Star Superman video, which was easily the most epic of the lot. Here, Superman leaves his Fortress of Solitude to face a galactic threat known as Solaris on what he believes will be his final mission. This massive entity has some sort of deal struck with Luthor and managed to turn the sun red, but Superman goes to battle in a special space suit accompanied by a small army of his sentient robots. As his allies wage an epic battle all around him and his suit begins to wear away due to the heat of the sun, Superman prepares to strike Solaris with a mighty blow…..and then the video stopped playing.

Return to Toonzone New York Comic Con/New York Anime Fest 2010 Coverage Round-up.

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