Bruce Timm on Going Dark, "Realistic" for 'Justice League: Gods and Monsters'

The animation legend talks taking iconic characters in an unfamiliar direction: "They don't really answer to anybody."
Warner Bros.

Bruce Timm is reimagining what can be done with a superhero cartoon.

Timm, one of the minds behind the 90s classic Batman: The Animated Series, is unleashing Justice League: Gods and Monsters Chronicles, which puts a somewhat sinister spin on classic characters.

Batman (Michael C. Hall) is no longer Bruce Wayne. He's Kirk Langstrom (AKA Man-Bat in the comics). Superman is now the son of the villainous General Zod, and Wonder Woman (Tamara Taylor) is from the warring nation of Ares.

It's unclear if these heroes are Earth's protectors or its would-be rulers.

Three episodes — one focusing on each character — begin rolling out Monday (see the first episode below), and will be  followed by a feature film, available for purchase on home video July 28. Machinima has already announced a second season.

In a chat with The Hollywood Reporter, Timm delves into the early days of the project and the big challenges it presented.

Are these guys good or bad?

Maybe somewhere in between. A lot of people think of them as being bad. Maybe they come off that way. Maybe inevitably they would have to be, compared to the standard versions of them. One of my favorite comics of the recent past was Warren EllisThe Authority, which I think was a hugely influential comic in terms of just how anyone treats superhero teams anymore. He took these archetypal characters and treated them in a realistic, real-world idea. "If superheroes existed, what would they be like?" And one of his answers was, "Well, they'd kind of be assholes. They'd be super powerful. They don't really answer to anybody, and they have a nebulous relationship with the government. The government kind of tolerates them and is also kind of afraid of them." That was something that influenced us a lot with Gods and Monsters. The fact that they are a bit rougher around the edges than the traditional versions of these characters makes for good conflict. 

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How did you come up with this idea?

I thought about the Silver Age Green Lantern and Flash, and how in those cases they basically took the name and the gimmick of the Golden Age characters and threw everything else out. They gave them new costumes, new alter egos. Even their powers worked in different ways. And so I started thinking, "If I did that radical of a revamp on the big three — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman — what would that be like?" I went back to the moment of conception of Superman, and if he is the son of Zod instead of the son of Jor-El, that's a major game changer. Moving on to Batman, I thought "I don't want him to be Bruce Wayne." Bruce Wayne technically exists in this universe, where as Kal-El doesn't (he was never conceived). The only thing I know about Bruce Wayne and his parents is that they didn't go to the movies that night and get murdered in Crime Alley. Bruce Wayne is not Batman.

I remember reading somewhere that Bob Kane described Batman as being half Dracula and half Zoro. I always liked that idea. I thought, "What if he was 100 percent Dracula?" So remembering the Kurt Langstrom character from the comics, the Man-Bat was always one of my favorite Batman villains. Instead of becoming Man-Bat he becomes Batman.

How did you come up with the new version of Wonder Woman?

At one point we were thinking, "What if Jack Kirby designed Olympus back in 1966?" It was going to be a Marvelized, Thor version of Olympus. Wonder Woman was going to be the daughter of Zeus. She was going to have this really contentious relationship with her father, just like Thor and Odin. Zeus was going to be this huge asshole. Literally after we came up with that idea they announced the lineup of The New 52. Sure enough, Brian Azzarello turned Wonder Woman into the daughter of Zeus. So it was like, "OK, suddenly that's not good enough anymore." So we had to through that all out. I had done a design of her that was kind of Jack Kirby style anyway, and [co-producer] Alan Burnett looked at that design and said, "Wow, she almost looks like she could be one of the new gods." And I went, "Oh, it was staring us right in the face." So that's who she became.

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You have such a great track record with these characters. How does the creative freedom you are given compare to 20 years ago?

It's definitely easier. But I don't have the golden ticket. Thank God I've had a certain amount of success over the years and I've had a certain amount of a reputation and a track record. It definitely helps. It's not like I can go in anywhere and say, "Hey, I want to do this. And you're going to pay me to do it." It doesn't work that way. Gods and Monsters was initially envisioned as an animated TV series, and everybody who heard the pitch liked the idea a lot, but didn't think it was appropriate for a kids' television show. And they were right. 

We'll get three shorts before the actual movie is released. What was the genesis of that decision?

We realized they were going to air before the movie, and it would be a really good way to bombard the audience with how different these characters are. Each short was designed to showcase the differences between these characters and the canonical versions of them. Each short will focus on one of the main three characters. The movie features those three characters. The movie starts with Superman's origin on Krypton, and then it jumps forward into the future and they are basically already a working unit as the Justice League.

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