Justice League Dark received a focus panel on the Main Stage of New York Comic Con 2016 late Saturday afternoon, with a familiar balance of creative and vocal talent in attendance: character designer Phil Bourassa, director Jay Oliva, producer James Tucker, Matt Ryan (Constantine) and Jason O’Mara (Batman). The panel was moderated by publicist Gary Miereanu.
On track for release in “early 2017,” Justice League Dark is billed as a supernatural horror mystery mixed in with the superhero action DC Animation fans have come to expect – “Superhero stuff with a lot of magic spells,” in the words of James Tucker. The first of four clips from the film shown to the audience reinforces that summary, with the conventional Justice League considering a string of crimes committed by normally upstanding and law-abiding citizens, prompting speculation from Wonder Woman and Superman that there is a magical cause at work. However Batman plays the role of skeptic, telling his fellow heroes that they need to spend more time in the streets rather than flying over them. As Bruce Wayne, however, he’s forced to confront the issue when his room has the name of John Constantine etched all over it as he emerges from the shower, leading into the opening credits and the meat of the film where Batman and Constantine must work with such characters as Zatanna, Deadman, Jason Blood / Etrigan and Swamp Thing to solve the mystery of these supernatural crimes.
After this clip the panel took a moment to acknowledge the presence of some Leaguers not seen previously in this movie continuity: Hawkman, Green Lantern John Stewart and Martian Manhunter. In the view of both James Tucker and Phil Bourassa the time skips between each animated movie create opportunities to introduce new characters “organically” without much need to get deep into backstory, since these characters are already established and familiar to fans invested in the Justice League. After that Mr. Bourassa was asked about the challenges he faced as a designer this time, but for him the project was more of a fun opportunity since there’s more “freedom and latitude” to work with the “darker” and more mystical characters compared to the iconic and “Godlike” heroes and the expectations people have for them.
The second clip shown involves a pack of hapless demons after Constantine getting trashed by Etrigan after Constantine manages to force his transformation. As they are sent back to where they came from one insists that Constantine’s soul will be theirs, prompting a derisive “get in line, you putz” remark from Constantine. After that Jay Oliva was asked about his approach for creating the action of the film with sorcery involved, prompting Oliva to note his love for Final Fantasy and Fullmetal Alchemist. Mr. Oliva looked to them and his favorite video games for inspiration and put his own twist on what he liked to create something new, and he tried to represent magic differently with styles and colors unique to different characters and the demons in the film.
On the acting side, Matt Ryan explained that Constantine has a “precarious relationship” with every other character on the team and found voicing Constantine to be a different experience from performing in live action since he was alone in the recording booth. Even so, he had nothing but praise for the staff at the recording studio, and professed to have a great time as he found it to be a “freeing” experience. Ryan also found it challenging to perform Constantine’s spells, which are “not easy to get your mouth around.” For his part, O’Mara responded to a question about his role and performance as Batman over time to remark that Batman has developed as he’s dealt with “family baggage” that other iterations of the character haven’t had.
With this a third clip was played for the audience, where Constantine, Batman, Zatanna and Deadman set out to meet a friend of Constantine’s. The group encounters a group of “shrouds,” effectively spirits taking after the Grim Reaper, who confront Constantine before taking notice of Batman and remarking on how it’s “most vexing” that he’s cheated them so many times. Ultimately the Shrouds back off and Constantine’s friend emerges from the house, flabbergasted at the company he’s keeping.
After this, the panel returned to further commentary. One of Jason O’Mara’s favorite parts in the movie is a moment where Deadman tries to possess Batman, demanding a situation where Mr. O’Mara had to mimic Nicholas Turturro’s performance of Deadman with Batman’s voice. Mr. Bourassa was asked about his favorite characters to draw, prompting him to name Etrigan as a character that was recognizable to fans of the Jack Kirby or Bruce Timm version but still a case where “we still did our own thing.” Mr. Bourassa also enjoyed Constantine and found the live-action show a perfect reference, while for him Swamp Thing was an “artist’s playground” on account of the many shapes he can take. With that the audience was shown the fourth and final clip of the day, where Constantine’s group enters a swamp to find the creature. Constantine lights a cigarette and turns a pile of burning ashes into a raft to float over a murky pond, trying to provoke Swamp Thing into coming out. Sure enough the creature begins to emerge, at which point the clip abruptly ended to the consternation of the audience. Fans will have to wait longer for a detailed reveal!
With that, the panel turned to Q&A with the audience. Jason O’Mara was asked about his favorite Batman animated movie, prompting to name Batman vs Robin or Batman: Bad Blood because of “the dynamics playing out between him and the actual and surrogate family he’s at the center of.” For Mr. O’Mara all this runs counter to the idea of Batman as a loner, while Damian as Robin and the father / son relationship between him and Batman makes for a stronger connection than elsewhere.
Matt Ryan was asked about what he brought from his live action performance as Constantine to the film, to which he answered that he considered his performance the same in a different context. Jay Oliva was asked about why Justice League Dark was done since it involves an unconventional team, prompting Mr. Oliva to note that he’s approached for projects and doesn’t pick and choose what he works on. When he did get offered the work he saw it as an opportunity “to stretch my legs and do something in the horror genre.” On the subject of the relationship between Constantine and Zatanna, Mr. Oliva divulged that the pair have a history and “one of my favorite dynamics,” while Ryan chimed in that their shared history was of an emotional nature. Another question asked Mr. O’Mara about who he’d like to play if he had his pick, prompting him to name the Riddler since “I like it when he’s just bonkers and scarily crazy” while the Joker is “the great all-time” but also covered by Mark Hamill.
On a final point beyond the scope of Justice League Dark, one fan asked about the possibility of further DC Animated movies focused on such things as the Teen Titans, Wonder Woman, and stories from the “New 52” era of DC Comics. James Tucker was positive on this point, acknowledging that another Teen Titans project has already been greenlit (namely The Judas Project). As for Wonder Woman, Tucker offered hope to fans by saying “we discussed with Warner Home Video, and they definitely have Wonder Woman on their radar in some form or fashion.”