After fans were given the opportunity to watch the complete Batman: Gotham Knight animated DVD on Saturday night at Wizard World Chicago, a group of the creators behind the project answered questions from fans.
Set for a July 8 release in a two-disc DVD set, Gotham Knight is a collection of six animated stories within the Batman Begins universe by writers from animation, the Batman feature film and comics. Designed to function in the same way as the Animatrix DVD did for The Matrix movies, the animated segments take place between the Batman Begins and The Dark Knight feature films.
On the panel were:
- Josh Olson, writer of the "Have I Got a Story For You" segment
- Alan Burnett, writer of the segment titled, "Deadshot"
- Bruce Timm, Executive Producer on the project
- Gregory Noveck, DC's Senior Vice President of Creative Affairs
- Brian Azzarello, writer of the segment titled, "Working Through Pain"
- Greg Rucka, writer of the "Crossfire" animated segment
Writers of the other two segments, Jordan Goldberg ("Field Test") and David Goyer ("In Darkness Dwells"), could not attend the panel, Noveck said, because a Dark Knight press junket was taking place on the same weekend.
The crowd was fired up and very responsive to the panelists throughout the evening, having cheered frequently during the film presentation and during the introduction of creators.
Noveck hosted the panel, often reminding the audience of the DVD's release date. He said every writer that DC contacted to do a story for the DVD said yes, which is rare. And he pointed out that DC listened to fans and had Kevin Conroy do the voice of Batman, which elicited cheers from the audience.
"We actually did try to get the movie cast. We could not make the schedules work," Timm said, since the Dark Knight movie was filming at the same time. "We never even got the chance to talk money, which we probably would not have been able to afford any of those guys. But they're just literally so busy. The day Christian Bale wrapped on Dark Knight, he was off shooting a different movie on a different continent. So it just wasn't going to happen."
However, a later fan at the microphone said, "For my money, I think anytime Batman is ever animated, it should be Kevin Conroy no matter what actor is playing him. Whether it's a TV serial or an ad for cereal -- any animated Batman should be Kevin Conroy."
When the panel was opened to questions from the audience, one question from a young fan elicited a surprise answer. The panel was asked what the next DC Universe animated DVD would be, Bruce Timm answered the question while Noveck concurrently said "We can't tell you."
"It's going to be Wonder Woman," Timm said.
After he realized Noveck had said he couldn't tell, Timm quickly said, "I take that back. It's not going to be Wonder Woman."
A fan asked about how difficult it might have been for the animators to work with Warner Bros. and how protective they were of the film franchise. Timm said it wasn't difficult, although it was very different from his experience working with animators directly, as this project was given to Japanese animation houses to create.
"We're usually hands-on every step of the way, all throughout the every aspect of production," Timm said. "Here, we got the ball rolling by preparing the scripts and agreeing on the general direction of the movie, then we basically handed it off to a bunch of people. It's really like handing your child over to a babysitter. You really don't know what's going to happen."
"Or handing over your billion dollar franchise," Noveck said to laughs.
"But then when the character designs and the backgrounds designs and storyboards came in, we looked over them, and it was like, OK, well this isn't really my movie even through I'm executive producer on it," Timm said. "But I didn't really want to give them notes 'cause I don't want to make it homogenized like my other projects. I don't want to use my vision; it needs to be their vision. So it was very odd. And my job description in this movie was to not give notes. So it was weird.
"And sometimes, I'd see something in post-production and think, hmmm, I don't know if that works or not, but I'm just going to cross my fingers and hope that it does," he continued. "And it did."
Timm said there weren't any concerns from the movie people about the villains who were used. "They wanted us to keep it as grounded and as continuous with the Nolan-verse as we could," Timm said. "Killer Croc had a tail, and the Christopher Nolan camp said mmm.... we don't want to do that.
"They wanted us to keep the laws of physics in mind," Timm said.
One audience member asked if there were elements of the Batman animated series in the music. Timm said no. "I actually made a point of telling all the different composers to not use any of our themes from any of our previous shows," Timm said. "There is kind of a default superheroic orchestral sound that I think may have struck a chord and made it sound like it. But believe me, there's not any of Shirley Walker's original Batman theme in there."
Someone asked if elements of this will be touched upon in the upcoming film like the Animatrix did. Noveck said there are elements that play into the film. "You'll have to figure out what they are," he said.
Someone pointed out that Gotham General Hospital looked different in the animated movie than in the feature film.
"I don't know if you noticed, but his costume wasn't quite the same either," Rucka pointed out to laughs. "It's called style!"
Timm said they didn't want to tie the animators' hands down. Commissioner Gordon had to look like Commissioner Gordon, but they didn't want every single element to have to follow exactly -- just in spirit.
Olson talked about how he didn't really have visuals in mind for "Have I Got a Story for You" because he wanted to trust the animators to interpret the various characters and special effects. When Noveck pointed out that he'd never written Batman before and asked if he enjoyed it, Olson said, "Absolutely! That's why I did it!"
"Have I Got a Story For You" was a tale about Batman that was told from the point of view of four kids sitting around in a skateboard park, sharing stories about what it was like when they saw Batman in action. One young kid asked for an explanation of the segment and the fact that Batman appeared in different forms.
"It's from their point of view," Olson said of the story. "There's a great movie I recommend by Akira Kurosawa called Rashomon. It's the one of the great movies to deal with that question. Everyone sees everything different.
"Your recollection, in fact, of this exchange we're having right now will be very different from mine tomorrow -- because you'll be hungover," he joked.
Another fan asked if the story was an interpretation of a similar story in the animated “Legends of the Dark Knight.” Olson said there was actually more than one story like that in the comics, including a back-up story in Detective Comics that he believed was written by Denny O'Neill. "My feeling is, once is original, the second time you're kind of stealing and the third time, you're kind of creating a genre," he said to laughs. "But each one of them has been something different."
He said he hadn't actually seen the “Legends of the Dark Knight” story, although he had read the earlier comic book back-up story in Detective Comics when he was a kid. "I thought, if I'm going to do it, you have to do something to make it unique," he said. "What I brought to it, despite the fact that it's the same story that you're seeing in different chapters, is my nod to Chris Nolan, who made a film I love called Memento, because I tell the story backwards. Which you don't always get the first time you see it, but if you watch it again."
Noveck admitted that the success of the Animatrix was behind their ability to create this movie. But he also said that Batman was always a character they wanted to use for their direct-to-DVD animation program -- in fact it was the first one that was conceived. They just had to find the right format and time slot for it.
"We thought the Animatrix worked, so maybe we could do some type of collage style with Batman. That's how the conversation started," Noveck said. "And actually, part of the reason we started with the story that Josh wrote was that we talked about, 'Let's see Batman through a prism; let's see Batman from many different points of view, many different artistic interpretations. So it made a lot of sense to have the first story be something that sort of sets the theme and the premise for the whole piece."
Burnett, who had written for various animated Batman series and movies, said he enjoyed getting back to the characters.
Someone asked how much the writers of the different segments worked together. Timm said they worked together on certain elements, but also separately, as you can tell from the different voices.
"There was a thread that was put in there after the fact," Burnett said of the parts of the story that ran through several of the segments. "And if you pay real close attention, you might be able to see that. My feeling is it doesn't really matter. The whole thing has this arc to it in a way, with the police being a little unsure of Batman, and by the end, they're working with him. And I personally like the form. I don't care if it connects at all. I would love to see more prisms of Batman, looking at him through different eyes and different writers and scripts. I like the short form. I hope we do that again. It's just terrific."
Rucka's Crossfire story featured Crispus Allen, the comics character he created in Detective Comics, and a character named Anna Ramirez. "There were a couple people who liked seeing Cris and... Anna," Rucka said to applause.
"There's a reason for that," Noveck said, referring to why Crispus Allen's partner was Anna and not the character that comic book readers would expect, Renee Montoya, who was his partner in the Gotham Central comic Rucka wrote with Ed Brubaker. "You'll understand in a couple weeks."
A fan later directly asked about Montoya's absence. "See the movie," Rucka said.
Another member of the audience asked what it was like for Rucka to write Crispus Allen in an animated movie as opposed to writing him for comics. "Although now you're writing him as a pasty ghost," the questioner said, referring to how Crispus Allen is now The Spectre and Rucka is writing Final Crisis: Revelation about him.
"Now I'm writing God's bouncer. There's a difference," Rucka said to laughs. "I remember when I wrote the draft. I as in a hotel room in New York, actually. I had come to meet with DC. I hadn't written Cris in about a year. And as you say, I tried to remember the feeling and say, 'Oh yeah, that's him again.'" And sort of get the snap to his voice. It was actually a lot of fun because when you write a screenplay, you don't have to stop yourself to write panel descriptions in between sentences. It was kind of nice. It felt quite comfortable."
Noveck pointed out that none of the writers of the film had written for animation before, although he wasn't sure if Goyer and Goldberg had.
"These are all great writers, but the one thing we talked about at the beginning was because we were working with Japanese filmmakers, we wanted to offer them as much latitude with the action and as much opportunity as we could to have fun with it. The one thing we talked about was maybe minimizing the amount of action description and blocking," Timm said.
Azzarello, who is known for his dry, sarcastic wit, was asked by Noveck about how he added an element to Batman's background story in "Working Through Pain," a psychological story that showed Bruce Wayne learning to endure pain. "It's actually autobiographical," the writer joked without breaking a smile.
Probably the most psychological story in the movie, "Working Through Pain" had a very symbolic ending that blew the fans away -- one of them asking about all the symbolic imagery. "Symbolically, it means Batman can't let go of all that pain," Azzarello said.
Rucka pointed out that one of the threads that runs from one story to another is related to a gun being thrown in a storm drain in an earlier segment, and "Working Through Pain" picks up on that.
Another fan asked about the woman in "Working Through Pain" talks about the philosophy of pain. Azzarello said he'd read up on the subject. "I didn't make it up," he said to laughs. The fan asked if "pain" was a hobby of his. "Hobby? It's a way of life," Azzarello deadpanned. "No more questions for me. It hurts."
A fan asked, if the writers had no 90-minute limit, what comic story would they like to see adapted?
After a silence, Azzarello said, 100 Bullets to cheers from the audience.
"No, honestly, we're going to do more of these," Noveck said. "The more we hear from you guys as to what you want to see, that's what we'll make."
"100 Bullets!" a fan yelled, followed by several other fans also yelling 100 Bullets.
Other people yelled Dark Knight Returns, Batman: No Man's Land and other titles. The fan at the microphone said he would like to see All-Star Superman and Sinestro Corps War. Noveck said there was a chance for one of those.
Another fan said Captain Carrot. "Done. I love Captain Carrot," Noveck said.
Knightfall was later suggested, and Noveck said that they had discussed the story. But structurally, it was similar to Superman: Doomsday, and they didn't want to repeat the same concept right away. "For now, we have other stories we want to tell," he said.
An audience member suggested doing a match-up between Wonder Woman and 100 Bullets. Rucka said that would be "really fast," then held up his wrists and moved them as if blocking bullets like Wonder Woman.
Someone asked about whether there would be anymore Batman cartoons. Timm said there is a Batman cartoon coming in the fall called Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
"It is definitely geared a little younger, but I think it's a lot of fun," Noveck said. "And I think it's a slight tonal shift while still being true to the character."
Another fan asked, "Who is your favorite Batman villain and why?"
Azzarello: "I don't have a favorite one. I like them all. It depends on who I'm writing at the time. When I was writing Joker, I liked writing Joker. But then when I did a little Two-Face, it was like, oh my gosh, there's so much stuff to talk about with this character. Or Croc, it seemed like that character has such potential if you do him right. It just depends on who I'm working on."
Rucka: Harvey and Poison Ivy.
Noveck: "I'm going to throw everyone and say my favorite Batman villain is the gun."
Someone asked whether fans would see the New Teen Titans Judas Contract being an animated direct to DVD release. "Maybe," Noveck said.
After being asked how the villains were chosen, Noveck said there was a plan not to put any villains in the movies at first, but that evolved into a few being included depending on what writers suggested. They knew all along that they didn't want to use Joker, because the interpretation in the movie was coming next.
"And to be truthful, we didn't really want to necessarily," Timm said. "We wanted to use some villains who weren't as exposed."
An audience member suggested the return of Mark Hamill as the voice of the Joker and the audience cheered.
At the end of the panel, those in attendance received a small Batman: Gotham Knight flashlight.