I grew up in the early 90’s watching “Batman: The Animated Series” religiously. Along with the Tim Burton movies, it was a good time to be a kid who loved Batman. The movies went downhill until 2005, but the animated series was about as solid as you could ask a superhero franchise geared towards kids to be. So when the producers of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight wanted to make an anime inspired bridge between the two films, I thought “What a fantastic idea.” When I found out that the talent who made the animated series was going to be in charge of the stories, things just kept sounding better.
At Wizard World 2008, I was among a few other press people who got to sit down and talk with some of the masters behind Batman: Gotham Knight– writers Brian Azzarello, Alan Burnett, Josh Olson, Greg Rucka, composer Chris Drake, DC Comics’ Greg Novak, and Executive Producer Bruce Timm. I found out a lot about the process of making the film. As some of you may know, the writing was handled stateside and the animation was done by several of Japan’s finest anime directors, so the whole process was not as hands on as you may think. Actually, it was more of a Postal Service-like approach where the writers would write, send it out, and not see one moment of the runtime until it was complete.
It sounds like everyone was approached to do the film by Bruce Timm, whose had a long-standing relationship with some of the people involved (like Alan Burnett) and some who he’s never worked with before (like Oscar-nominated writer Josh Olson, A History of Violence). “It was a true honor to be approached by Bruce Timm,” said segment score composer Chris Drake, “and I tried to be cool, but I just freaked out.”
“I had just been nominated for the Oscar when I got the call,” said Olson “and I jumped on it. My agent screamed ‘What are you doing! It’s straight-to-DVD.’ But you can‘t turn down Batman.”
“Writing about Bruce Wayne was something interesting” said Brian Azzarello, writer of segment “Working Through Pain.” “Batman doesn’t interest me. I wanted to write about Bruce Wayne traveling the world, learning martial arts and medicine. My story takes place in India where Bruce is learning how to manage pain. He’s someone who has not moved beyond a certain point in his life. He won’t let his past go. That struggle was more inspiring to write about than a detective story.” Azzarello is also the author of Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, so he’s not averse to bucking the trend and taking on a familiar story from a different angle.
When you see the film you’ll notice that Brian’s take on Batman is just one of 6 totally unique visions of the hero. Olson’s story revolves around three kids telling about a run-in with Batman and how each kid saw him. Greg Rucka wrote his story from the perspective of the Gotham Police who Batman makes nervous. They see a guy in a suit that their boss (Jim Gordon) trusts fully, and this is understandably upsetting to them. “I love writing about how heroes appear to the man-on-the-street. I mean, Batman is scary, but he’s not scary when you’re sitting in the Batcave with him. Conversely, he’s terrifying when you can’t see him at all. So there’s a legitimate issue of trust. People don’t know if he’s a killer. It’s a city knee-deep in bodies and violence, so we forget that he’s not a “hero” to everyone–not in Chris Nolan’s Gotham.”
Alan Burnett came in after the project had begun, when they realized they needed someone to write the ending. Burnett, a long-time Batman writer who started with “The Super Friends,” brought the idea “How about Deadshot,” to the table. “We haven’t been able to do him in the TV shows because he’s just a pure assassin. Everyone said ‘yes.’ It’s refreshing to write for an assassin, especially since Christopher Nolan set up this world rooted in reality, so an assassin was someone we could mold into that Gotham.”
So, it’s nice to know that Gotham Knight is not going to be the television show. This movie is not necessarily meant for kids. It’s very much in the same vain, tonally, as Batman Begins. The question arose as to whether or not these would all just be segments about Gotham City or if it’s weaved into some type of story. “I was concerned about the stories connecting,” said Bruce Timm. “My preference would be to not link them, but fortunately and unfortunately there is a through-line. Like in the Animatrix, some of it is just out there, whereas these are all Batman-centric stories in one way or another. I would’ve liked to give the Japanese free reign.”
“We want to make sure we put up stories–Batman stories–people would want to see,” offered Greg Novak. “There was an idea early on to create a story about the Wayne’s coming to Gotham 150 years ago. But that was scrapped because we didn’t feel it would be right to send these animators a story and tell them they DON’T get to draw Batman.”
I asked Bruce Timm how it felt to see his iconic, square-jawed, white-eyed Batman (from the animated series) changed. “I was looking forward to seeing how others would interpret Batman,” Timm said. “Especially anime directors. In Japan their heroes are very different from Western heroes. Anime is constantly evolving, there isn’t a traditional style. Some pieces came back to us and looked very realistic and some had the wide-eyed, thin-lipped approach that most people in the west recognize as anime. In the end, we liked that (the directors) went far away from what we’ve seen in Batman. He’s such a versatile character.”
Like most press roundtable interviews, they were very optimistic and enthusiasm about the film. You get that everywhere, that’s just part of the business. But with Batman: Gotham Knight we all saw these men who were truly dedicated to bringing out the best possible stories. They were all satisfied with what came back from Japan.
When Greg Rucka first saw the finished project, he said the experience was “trippy.” He went on to explain that seeing it at Wizard World for the premiere makes him nervous, but the experience paid dividends already just by getting to work with Bruce Timm and have Kevin Conroy speak his dialogue.
Oh, yeah. Kevin Conroy (who does the animated Batman) voices Batman in this film, not Christian Bale. That was a decision made early-on when Bale was busy. Timm decided that if they couldn’t get Bale, it wouldn’t be worth it to get Michal Caine as Alfred, Gary Oldman as Gordon, and so on. But the decision is wise, and you’ll see that Conroy pulls it off. Besides, like Rucka said, Conroy is “a man we’ve associated with Batman for so long.”
Bruce Timm said he has a favorite segment but won’t reveal which. He was a sneaky man in the interview. He said that he got his first glimpse at the upcoming Wonder Woman movie (which is apparently going to be super violent), but alluded to a giant announcement that he could not hint about. Let the speculations begin.
Greg Novak offered “what’s great about the film is how six people can see it and each have a different favorite.”
Musical composer Drake said this is his first time seeing his work with an audience, and believed that the Wizard World crowd would “lose their shit.” I have a review forthcoming for Batman: Gotham Knight, and yeah, people lost their shit indeed. You will, too.
Batman: Gotham Knight will be available on DVD July 8th.