JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA
Bruce Timm on the Justice League's New Attitude
By Heidi Macdonald
They say all good things take time, and that's definitely true in the case of the Cartoon Network's JUSTICE LEAGUE animated show. By the time the second season debuts this fall, it will have been almost two years since the first episode aired. However, hang on just a little while longer: in July, a 2-part episode entitled: "Twilight" will air, featuring the return of one of the biggest villains of all.
Who that is, and much more, are revealed in the following interview with producer Bruce Timm. Acclaimed for his groundbreaking designs on BATMAN, SUPERMAN and BATMAN BEYOND, Timm is the driving force behind the hugely successful JUSTICE LEAGUE cartoon. But neither Timm nor the rest of the crew are taking it easy: season two lets out all the stops.
THE PULSE: What was the biggest difference between the first and second seasons?
TIMM: We viewed the first season as a shakedown cruise. We knew going in that this was going to be the most difficult show we'd ever done, since it had such complexity, both with the characters and the stories. We knew it would have the most adventure and the most action, and that we had to work out how to get that all in.
THE PULSE: So what's the second season like?
TIMM: New and improved. We're so close to it's hard to be objective about it, but out of all the episodes we've gotten back so far, the shows are so much more improved over season one, it's almost like a brand new show. Don't get me wrong, I think we did a lot of really good shows the first season, but there was an overall kind of blandness about it. There was maybe a little too much reliance on "been there, done that" clichés, particularly in terms of the dialog. So we just made a real concerted effort in the second season to not let any of the scripts go until they were as shiny and polished as they could be. And I think it's really a big difference in the second season.
There's a lot more character development, there's a lot more twists and turns in the plots and the characters are used better in terms of the stories. I think all across the board the second seasons is going to rock big time.
THE PULSE: Any surprise guest's stars?
TIMM: Well, there aren't too many superhero guest stars in second season. We figured since we already have seven main characters any way, there are plenty of dramatic opportunities there to really let them shine. The only guest appearances in the second season are Dr Fate and Aquaman. Aquaman was one of the best shows in the first season so we thought we should bring him back.
Other than that we've got some retuning villains from the first season and some other villains that never appeared in any of our shows before and some villains who have appeared in our other shows who are appearing in JUSTICE LEAGUE. It's going to be a potpourri of new and exciting villains.
From season two
THE PULSE: You bring up a big point: with seven characters -- which is a lot for any show---how do you balance giving all those guys something to do?
TIMM: It's really hard, to the point where don't often use all seven of them in any given episode. We usually break it down into smaller teams. We've had some shows that had only three of them in it. A few shows by the nature of the story required us to have all seven in it. There's an episode where we had the Justice League vs. the Secret Society, which is the new, revamped Injustice Gang, and it was really important for that story to have all seven of them in it. As we're developing storylines we'll look at it. Sometimes so many things are happening already, an "A" plot, a "B" plot and even a "C" plot. So there's all these interesting things that have to happen, and to make time for it to happen we have to get rid of something. That's actually happened in the development of stories. Some of the stories we realized Green Lantern has nothing to contribute to the story, so we'll just leave him out of it. That's something we have to do with every story, figure out how to focus on something we really need to tell. THE PULSE: Every animation producer seems to have a different job description - what do you do exactly?
TIMM: I've kind of got my fingers in all the different pies starting with the writing. In the second season we had Rich Fogel, he's the head was the head of the story department, head story editor. Then we have Dwayne McDuffie and Stan Berkowitz, who are the in-house story editors. From the minute one of them would come up with an idea and develop it they would pitch it to myself and James Tucker, the other co-producer. We would kind of thrash the idea around a little bit and they would go ahead and write the script or the outline and we would thrash it around again. From that point on, I'm involved in every story. And I oversee the artistic angle of the show as well, with James' invaluable help. It's such a huge show, it takes all of us to contribute to make sure it all comes out okay. The directors direct the storyboarding process, but James and I go over it and give notes and tweak it. I also go over the models and supervise the character designs and props. When the show is shipped and comes back, I actually edit the show with the director and supervise the post production. So from beginning to end, I'm part of the process.
THE PULSE: Is it a little bit unusual for a producer to be as involved in as much of the story editing AND the design work as you are?
TIMM: I don't know that there is any typical animation producer role anymore. There used to be pretty set guidelines for what his responsibilities were, but that's really changed over the last five or ten years. It all depends on the individuals and how they run their shows. I'm a control freak so I like to be involved in every part of the process.
THE PULSE: Despite what you were saying about the problems, people seemed to find the show pretty entertaining.
TIMM: That was the thing, we literally made a conscious effort in the first year to see if we could make the show entertaining and maybe not as dark as some shows we've done in the past . The only problem is when we took out the dark edge we didn't really replace it with anything comparable. Again, we were trying to make the show maybe a little bit more family friendly but It just got a little bit bland. It was a good show, but there were some things that kept it from being great. .
THE PULSE: Any big character developments for the next season? What's happening with our crew?
TIMM: Without giving too much away because there are some interesting plot twists, in the first season we made a conscious effort to say we've got so much going on in the show we don't have time to spend with the characters in their off hours - and we still really don't. We're squeezing a two-hour movie into an hour block. But we are going to have a little bit more of their secret identity lives and definitely exploring more of their interpersonal dynamics. One of the most interesting things that happened last season was, there was a little throwaway bit that we did in the end of the Gorilla Grodd episode. Batman thought that Wonder Woman was buried under this rubble and he was frantically digging her out. She got out, looked down and saw his hands were all burned from digging her out of the rubble. And she kind of gave him this little peck on the check. It wasn't scripted. In the storyboard stage we said this would just be a nice little bit.
Well, the fans on the internet went CRAZY. They said, wow, what's going on between Batman and Wonder Woman? And we're thinking there's nothing going on between Batman and Wonder Woman.
THE PULSE: Aw come on, wouldn't it be fun if it were?
TIMM: That's what happened. We looked at it and said, well...you know... maybe there could be something going on between Batman and Wonder Woman. So we're going to toy with it a little bit. We don't go really deep into it, but there's definitely something kind of happening. It's just an interesting little extra spice to the mix.
THE PULSE: Oh boy, that will keep people talking for ages.
TIMM: Oh yeah. I don't want to hit it too hard because it's not a big huge romance or anything. It's just a way to keep it interesting. When we were talking before about balancing which characters go in which show, sometimes we have all seven characters in the show, but we can't have all of them at once, so we split them off into smaller groups and have them do different parts of the mission. In "Twilight" the episode that's going to air in July, in the original script the way the groups were paired off we had Wonder Woman teaming up with Jon Jones in part of the story. And then for a number of logistical reasons it wasn't quite working, and on a character level I realized those two characters don't really play off each other well, they're like brother and sister. When you get them together they get bland. But going back to Batman and Wonder Woman, when you get the Homecoming Queen and the badboy together, then suddenly you've got something. So we made that switch in that story and it really improved the story. So it's just a matter of finding the right mix of chemicals to get a reaction.
THE PULSE: How long does it take to create an episode?
TIMM: Start to finish it's about 8 months.
THE PULSE: That's a lot longer than live action TV. You get to test a lot of ideas, and it helps the story stand up to repeated viewings. Are there other things that you couldn't work out or couldn't fit?
TIMM: Yes and no. In a way the entire first season was that way. By the time the first couple of episodes started airing we were almost done with the pre-production on the first season. So by the time we realized there were some problems we had it was too late to fix them. There was almost nothing we could do. One of the things we had gotten the most critical hits for on the first season was that supposedly we de-powered Superman and made him a big wimp. It wasn't a conscious decision on our part -- it was literally because we had already done his own series and we had all these new characters to introduce and focus on. We felt Superman could take care of himself. We didn't feel like we needed to give him any special attention. But what happened was we fell into a rut of superman getting knocked down and then not getting back up. And it wasn't something we realized was happening until we started getting the episodes back and the fans on the internet started saying, "Hey, wait a minute, what, Superman can't take a punch anymore!?" And we're saying "Oh my God, they're right!" But by that time we only had 2 or 3 episodes left on the first season. We tried to fix it as quickly as we could.
THE PULSE: Well, he is a tough character.
TIMM: He's a tough character, yes. You don't want him to be too powerful but you don't want to make him too wimpy. The trap we fell into on JUSTICE LEAGUE was, again, we have seven of these guys. Whatever villains they go up against have to be big, powerful villains. So we used the easy trick of saying okay, the villain walks into the scene and takes Superman down with one punch. We automatically know that he's a bad guy and it's going to take the entire Justice League to take him down. We didn't handle that with enough finesse
THE PULSE: How did you solve that in the second season?
TIMM: We just really made sure that anytime he got knocked down that he got back up and whoever it was that knocked him down, Superman was eventually going to clean his clock, and not have somebody else come in and clean his clock for him. We made sure we kept him at full strength - believable full strength,, but made sure that it left room for the other Justice League guys to have something to do. It made our jobs harder, but ultimately it works better.
THE PULSE: Are any other characters that are easier or harder to work with?
TIMM: They're all hard! The Flash, I wish we could kill him off. He's so fast if he was just a little bit smarter, he wouldn't need a Justice League. Anytime anyone fired a gun at him, he could run across town to the police station, pick up a Kevlar vest, come back and let the bullet bounce off his chest. He's that fast. He could take down Galactus if he wanted to.
THE PULSE: Well, that would be a story!
TIMM: You've got to figure out a way. He's got to be fast, but you've got to be able to see him. You can't make him so fast that he doesn't need the Justice league. He's difficult to write action scenes for. Otherwise he's a fun character to play with. All the characters have their own strengths and weaknesses that can be difficult to work into a story.
THE PULSE: Well, that's why they call them the world's greatest heroes, they come in with this prima donna attitude in a way. You've mentioned the internet a few times. You pay attention to it, eh?
THE PULSE: Why?
TIMM: It's just interesting to get feedback from the audience. It's really the only way to get feedback other than just talking to people I meet in daily life. The internet is not exactly a realistic barometer for how well we're doing because the people who post on these internet sites, they're pretty hardcore. The general audience, the majority of people who watch the show aren't really comic book fans, they'll watch it because it's on and it's an entertaining show, but they don't know all the back story and history of the characters. They're a little bit easier to please than the fans on the internet. Fans on the internet have so many preconceived notions living with these characters their whole lives. The internet crowd is a tough audience.
THE PULSE: Obviously it gives you feedback, but do you ever think there's a danger in listening to the hardcore fanatics?
TIMM: Yes and no. Again, the range of opinions is so widely varied there is no "internet consensus." We try to read into it what we want to. We use it as a focus group. When their opinion coincides with ours, we say now we've got it. Some of the criticism we just let roll off our back, because some people you just can't please. For the most part, they've pointed stuff out to us we may not have thought up before. But sometimes we'll just agree to disagree with them. Joss Whedon has an interesting quote in an interview I read. He said you can't really give the fans what they want, because sometimes what they want is not going to be a good show. You kind of have to give them what they think they're gonna want. If you give them exactly what they want, a) it's going to be really predictable. And b) if you made a show strictly for comic book fans it would be so alienating to the rest of America. What happens in the comics is stuff we could never get away with in TV. Even in Comics Code approved comics, they're so out there and intense and adult. What works in a comic book, when you read it in a flat two-dimensional page it doesn't quite hit you with the same impact as if you saw it in live action in a filmed medium. (The criticism) is not just from the internet fans, I've got to point this out. It's also from people I just talk to, people I know in the industry. A lot of people were saying, yeah JUSTICE LEAGUE is a good show, but it's not quite as good as the shows you've done before. I heard that from a number of people. Alex Ross read me the riot act for almost an hour. At the same time, one of the interesting things about the second season is that after the first season was done and we started developing the second season, in between I really started reading a lot more current comics. I fell heavily under the sway of these British guys who were writing comics: Pete Milligan, Warren Ellis and Grant Morrison. Specifically, I had managed to miss it before, but I read the collection of THE AUTHORITY. I was reading that and Grant Morrison's NEW X-MEN and Pete Milligan's X-FORCE. Now, those are really extreme comics, the kind of stuff we could never get away with on our show. But there were certain elements that they all had in common. They had really, really, good dialog, and real surprise, shocking plot developments. Without going quite as adult as those comics, we wanted to try to apply some of those same principles to our show in the second season.
THE PULSE: Those three really did rewrite the superteam paradigm in many ways.
THE PULSE: What do you think of the JUSTICE LEAGUE toys?
TIMM: They're awesome! From what I understand they're scanned right off the full sized machetes that DC Direct did. They're miniature, articulated versions of those. And they're dead on. The miniatures look great. I think they're awesome.
THE PULSE: Sounds like you're pretty darned busy, but you dabble in comics every once in a while. Any plans for future dabblings?
TIMM: I love doing comics. I wish I had more time to do them, they take a lot out of me. When I leave here at night, I have to be a dad and husband and that doesn't leave me a whole lot of time to have a second career. There's a Harley and Ivy mini-series which I started back in 1996, which has been sitting around, half-completed for all these years. I finally finished inking that this year so that's going to be scheduled for late this year. So I've got that, and I'm doing some pin-ups and covers here and there. I hope to find time...some time. If I could just figure out away to get by without sleeping...
THE PULSE: Anything else we need to know about JUSTICE LEAGUE?
TIMM: Just be patient. It doesn't come out until October...except for "Twilight", which will be on in July. That's our big return of Darkseid show. We had a bunch of really good story arcs with Darkseid in the SUPERMAN show, and we thought now was time to bring him back to the Justice League, to see what other storylinescould explore with him. The SUPERMAN shows were pretty good stories. The last Darkseid story in particular had one of the coolest Darkseid climaxes ever, where Superman basically blew up Darkseid's head. We said, how do we top that? We'll leave that to the fans to decide whether we did or not. But it's a really good show, really strong and emotional. Right out of the gate the fans will notice with the show that it's definitely a different show from the first season. The characters are edgier, even the way they react to each other is different. The action scenes are bigger and more intense. There's some surprising plot twists. It rocks.