James Tucker worked with producer Bruce Timm as a character designer on Superman: The Animated Series and quickly moved up to storyboard artist. His first directing effort was on the Batman Beyond episode The Eggbaby, which garnered a Daytime Emmy Award for Animation. He is currently working as the producer of Batman: The Brave and the Bold. He spoke with the members of the TV Critics Association last week about his series.
You worked on the original Batman series with Bruce Timm. This series of Batman is a little lighter than the darker Batman that we’ve seen over the years. So why so dark, and then why so light?
Basically, anytime you are doing Batman it seems like you are reacting against whatever the last guy did. So the last guy was Bruce Timm, and he did a very serious, dark, honest, very realistic, gritty take on Batman. The Batman I came into the world knowing was Adam West, a lighter, more accessible Batman.
I think, for a kid, that’s the Batman you want to introduce. You don’t want the very grim, serious guy. So I thought it was time to bring that guy back, yet not make fun of the character. And I always say the show I was doing was the show I thought I was watching when I was six years old back in the sixties.
When you are a kid, watching Adam West, you don’t think of all the comedy and all of the goofy stuff. You really believe in it. So I wanted to play that version of the character, honest and straight, but yet have something in it for the adults: humor, inside jokes, just excitement, but also something all of the families can watch.
You did a musical episode. You can’t get lighter than that.
Right. That’s the other thing. I just said, ‘Well, what shouldn’t you do with Batman? And let’s do that.’
There are some characters that haven’t been out of the library in many years. There’s a guy named the Ten-Eyed Man. There’s a reason why he’s still in the library. How deep did you dig? And being a fan, how much fun was that for you?
DC Comics has been around since the ‘30s, and through all of those eras, they came up with a lot of strange characters that may have worked for the era they were created in. So the idea was, okay, let’s use that character. Normally, on other shows, you’d say, ‘Oh, let’s take that character and then grit them up and make them avenging, try to make them harder and tougher.’
Aquaman is one of those characters that has become a joke. Our solution on the other shows was to make him this tough guy who is always angry. So, on The Brave and the Bold, we said, ‘Let’s take Aquaman and let him be Aquaman.’ And he’s not ashamed of it. He likes being Aquaman. He doesn’t think he’s goofy, yet that makes him even goofier. He’s been a real breakout character for the show.
DC has a lot of great characters, and they are, I’d say, kid-safe because they are fantasy characters, and it goes against the whole idea of making superheroes realistic, which kind of makes them even more ludicrous if you think about it. If you try to make them exist in the real world, they’d fall apart.
What are the essential things that you have to keep about Batman, because it’s not just a guy in a blue cape. What are the things that you need to maintain, and if you don’t do them right, it stops being what it’s supposed to be?
For Batman, it’s basically the attitude. He has a job to do. He’s very serious about this job. And you can take his origin, the murder of his parents, and you can go a lot of different ways. So our Batman has kind of moved on from that, but he knows he’s got a job to do.
So he’s not this tormented guy in need of psychological help and Prozac. He’s just he guy who has gotten his life on track. So if you keep him basically focused and sincere, the costume kind of sells it.
Will there be more episodes like Music Meister? And I know it was critically acclaimed but what did the fans think?
They loved it. They ate it up like pudding. We were shocked, actually. We premiered it last Comic-Con, actually, and I don’t think it had been seen anywhere, because sometimes it airs overseas first. We didn’t really know what we had until we showed it to the Comic-Con audience.
I think it was the first time any panel I’ve been on, and I’ve been at Comic-Con for 10 years, where it got a standing ovation. So they totally got it. I knew I had made it when I saw people walking around in Music Meister costumes. It was received a lot better than I had even imagined it would be. Yeah, there will be more musical numbers this season.
Has Neil Patrick Harris, who voiced the character, committed to coming back to the role or to the project?
No, the character himself isn’t coming back. We are just going to have other characters singing … for no reason!