Toon Zone News Interviews the Brave and Bold James Tucker!
In our last interview with James Tucker, Batman: The Brave and the Bold was four months away from its debut on Cartoon Network! Now, just past the halfway point of the initial order of 26 episodes and a triumphant appearance at the 2009 New York Comic Con, we were able to sit down with Tucker again to talk about the first season of the show and what to look forward to in season 2! What new heroes will be appearing alongside Gotham City’s Caped Crusader? Who was the REAL inspiration for the gangster Babyface? And what’s all this we hear about a musical? Get Brave, get Bold, and read on!
TOON ZONE NEWS: Yeah, it was good seeing you too. Glad you were able to make it out there.
TUCKER: Yeah, barely. (Laughing) I was definitely not in the best of health that weekend. Major cold. But I made it through, and I thought the panel went well.
TZN: Was that the first time you’ve ever seen an episode of the show with a large audience?
TUCKER: You know, I think it was! It was really enlightening (laughs). You know, I kind of gathered that people liked the show, but I didn’t know if it was a guilty pleasure for people, but the crowd was so enthusiastic, I went, “Wow, these people are actually PROUD of liking this show!” (laughs) So that was cool. It was nice hearing that everyone got everything that we were trying to do as opposed to thinking it was just a one-trick pony. Everyone seemed to really appreciate all the effort we put into the show. That was really, really heartening.
TZN: Definitely. Now, I know you’ve been doing a lot of other interviews lately, so this is something that I’m beginning to ask people who are doing a lot of press: what question do you really want to never answer again for a while?
TUCKER: That’s a good question. I guess the whole, “Is it campy or not?” It’s not really a question, but people seem to think that somehow, this Batman is not as valid as the current feature film Batman. Even Batman the Animated Series is in its own world, too, but there are a lot of different Batmans. There’s a lot of ways to do Batman, and I hope that by now everyone understand what we’re doing. We’re actually honoring a large chunk of his history. The whole comparison to the Adam West show or finding “campiness” in the show is the inferred question that I hear a lot. “Why would you want to go back and do this?” Because this was cool at one point, and given the shows success, we have proven it can be cool again. That’s pretty much my answer.
TZN: Oh, good, because I wasn’t going to ask you that today.
TUCKER: (laughs). Well, I think you asked it a long time ago. You were one of the first to ask it, so I wasn’t tired of it at that point (laughter).
TZN: I’m a bit confused about the first season vs. the second season, and how “Mystery in Space!” is billed as the second season premiere. Was the show signed for two seasons?
TUCKER: Generally, you get an order of 26. How they make it a season is more on the network’s end than ours. We created 26 episodes when the show was picked up by Cartoon Network, but then their programming execs break them up into whatever works for their scheduling. They dictate what constitutes a “season.” It doesn’t affect our production because we’re going to complete the full order of 26 episodes. In fact, I just finished approving color on the 26th episode.
We did know that at mid-point in the 26 episode order, we wanted a two-parter. It was more of an idea that it was an event, not a season finale. You can’t assume anything. We just try to write the best stories possible. Some stories merit a two-parter, and the fans love the variety. On our end, we’re just making the best show we can.
TUCKER: Yeah, originally we were going to call them the Crime Syndicate. It was pretty much going to be the characters you saw, but we were just going to call them the Crime Syndicate. Because of other things going on, the stakeholders said, “Well, no, don’t call them the Crime Syndicate,” but we got to use Owl Man, which was the only one we needed anyway. It was fun to make up doppelgängers of the other Brave and the Bold characters anyway, and it actually helped tie the story together. It was a very similar situation to when we were doing “A Better World” on Justice League. Originally, they were going to be called the Crime Syndicate, and then we weren’t allowed to call them the Crime Syndicate. This shifted the whole story, and it ended up being much better. It didn’t hurt us then, and it certainly didn’t hurt us this time, either. But yeah, originally, we did want the Crime Syndicate name.
TZN: But not necessarily the Crime Syndicate characters, then?
TUCKER: No, that was never a consideration.
TZN: Are you ever planning to go back there and revisit that dark parallel world, or any of the others that had been suggested?
TUCKER: We haven’t talked about it yet. There are so many other things on our “To Do” list. Eventually, there’s a point when you run out of new ideas, and then you decide, “Oh, let’s go back to something we did before, but explore it a little further.” We haven’t reached that point yet but I wouldn’t rule it out down the line. It just depends on how many seasons we get (laughs).
TZN: The other big guest star in that two-parter was the Joker, of course. Visually, he seems a lot like the original Bob Kane Joker and the Dick Sprang Joker. Character-wise, did you have any specific versions of the Joker that you were thinking of and trying to bring to the screen?
TUCKER: Yeah, pretty much the Joker from his first story all the way into probably “The Laughing Fish,” I guess (laughs). The Joker we presented was pretty much who the Joker was for the longest time. He wasn’t the disturbed, quasi-ambiguous sexuality Joker that we have now (laughs). He wasn’t quite as disturbing. He was a little saner, if you will. Still crazy, but he wasn’t just doing arbitrary things or being out there. It was a different kind of Joker. More continental and a little more dapper. Suave. People rag on the Cesar Romero Joker, but he got more right than he got wrong, if you look at the comic books at the time. What he did was pretty much what the Joker was at the time. And he did it very well so we went back to that characterization, and what the comics were doing. His humor is more sophisticated in some ways, but then he is also more childish. He’s just not the giggling fiend or a total lunatic.
TZN: Not as sociopathic.
TUCKER: Exactly. He’s not a serial killer sociopath, but he’s still offs people. He offed the jewelry store guy, but he does it with a flair that doesn’t seem in vogue now. He’s old school Joker and that’s what I wanted. This was my favorite version of the Joker visually as well. And coincidentally, that’s easier to do in animation.
TZN: One of my favorite bits of that whole episode was at the very end, when Batman comes out and has, like, 8 different versions of Batman behind him.
TUCKER: Yeah, that was fun.
TUCKER: There were a few of these incarnations were things I specifically wanted to use from the comic books. The Solar Batman that people seem to be trying to figure out on the Internet was just a made-up Batman. I don’t know if that Batman exists in the comics. The other ones included one from the Elseworlds Batman which was a pirate and the other was from Red Rain. There was one based on a cowboy who was tied to Nighthawk from the comics, the old western version an old DC Western hero. There was Bat-Hulk from the 60’s. Most of them were based on comic book-based characters, or versions of Batman, except that one that I mentioned. It was a lot of fun. I’ve read on the Internet that people have thought it would be even cooler if it we had included the Batman Beyond Batman, and…
TZN: Batman the Animated Series Batman?
TZN: …yeah, but we’ve seen that. (laughter)
TUCKER: You took the words right out of my mouth. I will give the fans this: it was thought about before we nixed it. Why put ourselves in that position when we’re just out of the gate? You can do a homage down the line sometime, but this wasn’t the show for it. I appreciate that people have taken to this Batman. They have embraced him, and that’s good, so I don’t want to undermine that by bringing up the past too soon. I’ll always find ways to put little Easter Eggs in there for the fans, but I think it turned out better for it. I love the 2-parter. It is my favorite of the series so far, but we have good stuff coming up.
We’re going into reruns for this month in April. Our first new episode will be May 1st, and it’s called “Night of the Huntress.” It features Tara Strong as the Huntress. Will Friedle is going to be in it as Blue Beetle, and it’ll also have the return of Tom Kenny as Babyface. It’s pretty much my version of a Dick Tracy episode. Most people who know of me artistically, know that I’m really into the Dick Tracy style of art, which is kind of reflected in the show, so this is my version of gangsters. Batman and Dick Tracy have a lot in common, so this is me leaning more towards the Dick Tracy version of the gangsters who have weird faces and their names equal their appearance. It also features Ellen Greene as his wife, Mrs. Manface. She is a Tony nominated actress who was Audrey in the 1986 Little Shop of Horrors, and she also starred in Pushing Daisies. She does a great job as Babyface’s wife. Armin Shimmerman guest stars as the Calculator, and this is the first time that he has appeared in animated form. It’s a big, funny show! Lot of humor and it furthers Blue Beetle’s story. It’s pretty off the wall and will cause a lot of stir among people when they see it (laughs) and Huntress is great. I love Huntress in it.
TZN: At New York, somebody was saying that the Blue Beetle was going to discover girls in the upcoming episodes.
TUCKER: (laughs) Yeah, he kind of has a crush on the Huntress. To say the least.
TUCKER: (laughter) It’s pretty funny.
TUCKER: You know, when I first drew Babyface, it was just a doodle in my head. To be honest with you, I drew it because of one of our designers who has a blog, Mike Manley. He infamously coined the term “babymen” for some of the guys who were ragging on us when the show was first getting promoted. They hadn’t seen the show, but they already hated it. He wrote on his blog about how “The babymen don’t want anything different.” Around the office, we thought it was funny, because Mike is a freelancer and doesn’t work on site. He went off on his own and did that. It was a big stir in the office that week, because everyone was like, “Wow, the first bit of publicity we’re getting is hate mail from these people who haven’t seen the show yet!” and he made them really mad (laughs). As a result, I had “babymen” on my mind and as we were beating out stories, we needed to come up with a villain. I can’t remember who or why but we didn’t have the rights, so we decided to make one up. I just drew a baby, and it wasn’t intentional that it looks like Bruce, but as soon as he saw it, he was like, “Is that supposed to be me?” (laughs). If it was him, I’d have put a cigarette in his mouth (laughs). Regardless, I am aware of the resemblance. It wasn’t intentional, but I didn’t change it when I realized it did look like him.
TZN: Huntress is coming in the new episode, which ties to my next question: where are all the women on the show?
TUCKER: You know, here’s how it goes with these shows. The shows are motivated by a lot of things and the initial push for the show is doing a good show, but we also work with the toy companies. Anyone who collects toys and has tried to collect Justice League figures knows that the toy companies don’t get to the girl characters right away. So in these meetings and conversations, they want to focus on the boy toys, because that’s what sells first. And as you know little boys don’t quite get girls right away. Funny, but it seems to me that most boys who play video games pick the girl character to be when they’re doing Mortal Kombat or Tomb Raider, but that’s another story (laughs).
We are not intentionally avoiding women, but in serving the needs of all the masters that go into making these shows, some of the females didn’t get the focus they deserved. The great news is that several will appear in the second 13 episodes. A lot of it was not being able to get Wonder Woman, because she probably would have been my first one to do. Huntress and Black Canary are the first salvos in fighting that battle, if you will.
TZN: Can you talk about some of the other female superheroes who will be appearing? Fire’s already showed up.
TUCKER: Fire showed up, Black Canary is coming. Huntress. I am losing one more…
TZN: Are we going to see Power Girl?
TUCKER: Not this time around, though she’s in the comic book. We’re working on some other ones. Because of the unavailability of some of the more well-known female characters, I’m going to dig deeper for some other ones. We’re talking about Vixen and Zatanna, maybe. Any time we hit a wall or there’s a drawback to not being able to use one thing, we turn it into a plus and use someone else who we might not have thought of using. Someday, we might get to use those characters that we can’t use now, because that’s exactly what happened on Justice League.
TUCKER: Yeah, I like thinking of characters who people have written off and finding something about them that will reach people and make people go, “Oh – that’s cool!” You can stay true to a character and still make people like him who may have written him off because of badly preconceived perceptions.
TZN: Speaking of Aquaman, he’s the one who’s been the big breakout hero for the show. I see lots of people holding him up and saying, “The Brave and the Bold is how you take a character like Aquaman and make him cool.”
TUCKER: I’m an old-school DC fan, and the thing is that DC is not Marvel. There are things DC did very well, and in his heyday, Aquaman was one of them. He’s a great character you can be proud of, once you work with him and you find the personality. Who is he? What kind of person is he? And you play off of that. There’s heroes all over comicbook-dom who have lame powers (laughs). You know, it’s not really about the powers. Comic book characters aren’t video game characters. You don’t need to get points whenever you read a comic book about who blasted how many villains or blew up whatever. You read comics for the characters. Powers to me have always been secondary.
There’s a lot to like about Aquaman, and he likes himself. We started at that jumping off point rather than trying to turn him into something that he wasn’t. He works better by playing off Batman if he’s the jovial and happy hero as opposed to Batman’s darker brooding. We’re finding we have to adjust a lot of the characters because they’re going to team up with Batman. If they were just standing alone, the default mode would be to make them darker. That doesn’t really work when you already have a lead character that’s somewhat dark to begin with.
TZN: He’s been showing up a lot on the show. Do you worry about overusing characters?
TUCKER: Not Aquaman (laughs), but the way we structure our seasons is that we pick out four or five characters that we will use a little more because there’s a little more to explore with them as far as story arcs. For the first season of 26 episodes we picked Blue Beetle and Aquaman. Red Tornado has another appearance at some point and he’s appeared a couple of times already. So has Green Arrow. As we progress, we will bring back the guys who came in once or twice and their stories worked really well.
Initially, Aquaman and Blue Beetle were the ones we thought clicked the best, but that’s what the teasers at the beginning of each episode were designed to do. They are like, “OK, let’s put this character in the teaser and if it turns out well, we’ll bring him back for a full episode.” Some characters just don’t warrant that commitment. The fanboy in me wants to see whoever is in the teaser, and there may not be full story that can be built around them, but it’s still fun to have them in the teaser. I’m not worried about Aquaman being over-exposed and we’ve only scratched the surface with him. Rest assured that that this will not become The Batman and Aquaman Show, either. Although that might be fun (laughs).
TZN: You know, I think the solution to that is to give Aquaman his own show.
TUCKER: Hey, from your mouth to Cartoon Network’s ear! (laughs)
TZN: There’s been a lot of talk about the upcoming musical episode. What can you tell us about that?
TUCKER: Well, it’s a full-on musical, meaning it’s almost all completely sung. It will have Gorilla Grodd, Clock King and Black Manta in it, and Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Aquaman, since you mention him. And John DiMaggio who voices Aquaman is a beautiful singer by the way (laughs). And it’s going to be wall-to-wall music and a lot of fun. I can’t talk about the villain yet, so I’ll leave that alone for now. Michael Jelenic and I wrote the lyrics, and then our composers, Dynamic Music Partners, composed the music and did all the scoring. And the music sounds great so far. The show hasn’t been finished yet, but I’m convinced it’s going to be something really special. I think people are going to enjoy it a lot.
We kind of took our cues from Joss Whedon’s Buffy musical episode “One More Time with Feeling.” We’ve always wanted to put music into some of the episodes, and sometimes we’d just have a character sing here and there, but we’ve never done a full-on musical. When I was doing Legion with Michael Jelenic, we wanted to do an all music Legion episode. That would have really worked for the Legion, particularly that young romance angle. It’d be like West Side Story in space, but we never got around to it because we didn’t get that third season. But we wanted to do it, so let’s do it for Batman. I will say that the person who plays the villain is known for doing a lot of musicals and is currently enjoying great success on a top sitcom. He’s definitely got some fan and critical cred, so people won’t be surprised when they hear who’s doing it. This is going to be a big, splashy, over-the-top Busby Berkley meets MGM musical meets superheroes. It will be cool, but it won’t be corny.
TZN: Well, the whole show has been cool and not corny.
TUCKER: We can do both (laughter), as long as you do it with integrity.
TZN: If you could go back and redo one thing in the first season, what would it be?
TUCKER: I wouldn’t have had the teasers for the first two shows be connected to the second half of the show, because really the conceit was that the teaser was a total standalone, but those teasers do tie to the rest of the episodes. Eventually, we got on board with making the teasers strictly separated. I know they turned out fine, but to me, the bolder idea, pardon the pun, was to have the teasers be a short that’s separated from the show. It was hard to get to that place right off the bat, because people weren’t used to it, so we kind of fudged it and had the teaser kind of lead into the show more than we do now.
That’s it, really. I’m pretty happy with all the shows and the way they turned out. We didn’t know what we were going to get when we sent it off. I think the finished product speaks for itself. Everything went according to plan. We weren’t going to use any major Batman villains until the Joker showed up, and that was planned for the fans. There isn’t really anything that surprised me or didn’t really work. If you’d asked me about other series I’ve worked on in the past (which we won’t go into), I would have had loads of stuff to say (laughs), but that’s for another interview.
TZN: Do you know anything at all about DVDs?
TUCKER: I know that we are definitely doing what we call “soccer mom” editions. Each disk has four episodes and will be coming out some time in the near future. I don’t know any of the details, though.
TUCKER: You mean other than this? Oh, there is nothing else. This is a full-time, 24/7 gig. I’m finishing up the first season. I’m in this position where I’m in post-production, which means the show’s come back from animation and we’re doing the music and the sound effects, and redoing some of the voices. That’s what I’m doing on the later part of the first 26. We’re talking about development for a second next season, but that’s not confirmed yet. That keeps me so busy (laughs). This is my life right now, and I am looking forward to working on some other DC properties if it works out that way. There are lots of other characters that could be opened up into their own series, so I’m looking forward to that…whenever I get time (laughs). But right now, I’m just living in a Brave and the Bold world.
TZN: Sounds like a fun place to be. Cool!
TUCKER: Well, thanks, and tell all the fans on Toon Zone I really appreciate their comments, and I’m really glad that so many of them like the show. I’ve been…I won’t say shocked, but pleasantly surprised by their response.
Toon Zone News would like to thank James Tucker for taking the time to speak with us again, along with James Finch at Warner Bros. Worldwide Television Publicity for setting it up! Batman: The Brave and the Bold airs on Fridays on Cartoon Network at 8:30 PM (Eastern/Pacific), with new episodes beginning in May — check Cartoon Network’s official Brave and the Bold site for more info!