TR Interview: Beware the Batman Producers Mitch Watson and Glen Murakami
We’ve been skeptical of Beware the Batman here at TR. Early imagery depicting Alfred as an action hero seemed off, as did the apparent notion that every villain appeared to be based on an animal of some kind. Then they showed us some footage, and it didn’t look quite so bad. Now that has debuted this past weekend, we went straight to the producers for the scoop on what you will and won’t see in these new animated adventures.
Luke Y. Thompson: I’ll start with you, Glen, because I notice that you have tons of credits on previous Batman animated iterations. How do you do a different take, while still remaining faithful to the character?
Glen Murakami: I think we just sat there and looked at everything – you know, you kind of look at everything of Batman, and then you try to pick out the aspects that you want to focus on, and that’s kind of what we did on Beware the Batman. We said a lot of this has already been done before, and these takes on the character have been done before – let’s go in a different direction.
LYT: Do you feel like public opinion is sort of coming over to it? I feel like when the first image came out and it looked like he was going to be fighting with Alfred as his gun-toting sidekick, there was some skepticism, but now that the footage came out, people are really turning around and seeing the potential of this. Do you get that sense?
GM: Honestly, I have kind of made a rule that I don’t want to read anything. Just for my own sanity. Honestly, everything I’ve ever worked on, it’s been the case where whatever is shown in the beginning, everyone hates it. And then, when the show is done, everyone says “Why did they cancel it? We loved that show!” Everything I’ve ever worked on, it’s been the same thing. And it’s a lot of back-handed compliment, you know. “I thought that show was going to suck, but I loved it!” OK, thanks.
LYT: It looks like, in the clip that I saw, Batman fighting solo. Is Alfred going to be in more of a sidekick role, firing guns and stuff?
GM: No, that was for a promotional piece, to make the show exciting and dynamic for the promotional piece. And when you do something like that, everyone goes, “Wow, that’s it.” From that one single image, that’s what the show is going to be. So it’s always nice that everyone knows more about what we’re making than what we’re making. [laughs]
LYT: How did you guys settle on Katana as a sort of partner/sidekick for this show?
GM: She’s part of the Batman canon universe, and it’s a character that hadn’t really been seen before, so we decided to bring her forward and bring her into the dynamic, and just add a different element to the line-up than you’ve seen before.
LYT: When you talk about going into the more obscure villains in the Batman roster, did you have to strain to do that, or were there a lot already that you felt hadn’t gotten their due?
GM: I mean, there are tons of Batman villains that haven’t gotten their due! But you’re trying to look for iconic character types that sort of track or make sense. So yeah, in some ways that can be difficult, because maybe their back story is too involved, or they’re just too layered or complex, or there are many reasons. There are tons of characters we could have used. I don’t know; that’s difficult to answer.
LYT: I’ve read where you guys have said you’re not planning to take on the Joker anytime soon. But do you want to do new takes on some of the second-tier villains, like the level of a Mad Hatter or something?
GM: Yeah, we’ve talked about it.
Mitch Watson: I’m just going to jump in, even though you’re asking Glen questions. [all laugh]Yeah, in fact, I think we even talked about Mad Hatter, but yes, absolutely, at some point. And in fact, there might even be some characters or villains that are considered more mainstream-type villains. It’s already been out there I think publicized that Ra’s al Ghul [ he pronounces it “Raysh”] makes an appearance. I think people will be surprised, quite honestly. I’m not going to give anything away, but like I said – don’t think you know everything we have planned just yet!
LYT: So you’re going with the classic animated pronunciation of his name rather than the Nolan movie pronunciation of “Rahs”?
MW: Good question! Yeah…
GM: I was told that was the pronunciation from DC years ago…
MW: …that’s what DC said the pronunciation was.
GM: …so that’s the pronunciation I’ve always used.
LYT: So the show will take that one.
GM: That’s the way I pronounce it.
MW: I think that’s how we are pronouncing it on the show, right?
MW: Because we worked on it, and then the final word came down from DC, this is how you’re supposed to say it!
GM: Yeah, I was always told that it wasn’t “Raysh”, it was “Rahs.”
LYT: It was “Rahs”?
GM: That’s the pronunciation I was always told.
MW: But I just said “Raysh” al Ghul.
LYT: He just said “Raysh.” Mitch just said “Raysh.”
MW: I just said “Raysh.”
GM: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah!! “Raysh” al Ghul. Not “Rahs.”
LYT: Mitch, I…
GM: From the book. I think that might have even come from Denny O’Neal, or something like that, I think. I might be getting that wrong, but I thought that…
MW: Glen, he’s trying to ask me a question now! [laughs]
LYT: It was more of a compliment, really. I noticed that you worked on Duckman, and I think that show does not get nearly the credit it deserves.
MW: Thank you, sir! And I would agree with you! [laughs]Yeah, Duckman is one of those – I’ve worked on a couple of shows where at the time, it’s struggle, struggle, struggle to get anyone to pay attention to it, and now – I don’t even know how many years it’s been out, at least 10 years – if I walk around with my crew jacket on, people will stop me and go, “Oh my god, I love that show!” And I’ll say, “Well, you should have loved it while it was on the air!” We could have used it. But thank you, very much.
LYT: I did love it while it was on the air, and now I flip through the channels and I see about 15 different shows that seem like they were influenced by it.
MW: You know, a lot of – yeah, I think maybe that was one of the issues with it, it was a different sort of – it wasn’t The Simpsons, it wasn’t – I think Family Guy was around then, the early version of Family Guy – it wasn’t like those shows. It was very odd, and he was not the most likeable character in the world, so, yeah – it was a fun show though, a lot of fun. Tim Curry – it was a lot of fun to work, it was a blast, that show, to work on.
LYT: What’s the transition like, from shows like Duckman and God, the Devil and Bob to going to kids’ shows? Do you have to edit yourself a lot or is it fairly simple?
MW: No, it’s not really hard at all. The fun thing about doing this show for me has been the fact that this is not a comedy at all. It’s straight-ahead – it’s a straight-up action show. There are comedic elements, but it’s definitely a straight-up action show, and a lot of what I’ve done in the past is either just comedy, or comedy with action in it. It’s fun, as they say, to flex those other muscles. It’s hard to sit down to write every day and to be funny. That’s not the easiest thing to do! That’s not to say that action is easier to do, but sometimes it’s just easier to kick ass. [laughs]Just to blow something up, you know?
It is fun, and quite honestly, you can tell different stories in this world, so to answer your question, it wasn’t hard for me at all, simply because I like this stuff. I’m a big – I mean, I’ve read comic books forever, but I’m also a big – I love action movies, love horror movies too, quite honestly – so I really like all that stuff. I tend to not like actually a lot of sitcoms and those kinds of comedy shows. So it was great fun for me to do. And it’s fun to work with dudes like Glen and a lot of the other guys that worked on the show, because these guys were and are steeped in the whole mythology of comic books, far more so than me when I started, and so it was neat to learn from them and stuff. It was a good experience for me all around.
LYT: Question for both of you guys: What are some of your favorite Batman story lines, without spoiling particular plots in the show – if you were to point to previous Batman story lines that would give a sense of the tone of the show, what would some of those classic story lines for you be?
GM: From our version of the show?
LYT: From the comic books. Which comic book story lines are some of your favorites, and might give us a sense of the tone of the show?
GM: I don’t think it’s kind of similar to what’s been done in the comics. I mean, the direction that we’ve gone in – you know what I mean? I don’t think I can kind of point to these comic book stories and go “Yeah, yeah, yeah – this is what the inspiration for the show was.”
LYT: In that case, some of your existing favorites, then. Some of the story lines that you’ve been fans of in the comics in the past.
GM: Oh, geez. I don’t know if I can…
MW: Obviously I was a fan of the Grant Morrison ones, which we pulled several characters out of. For some reason, I can only think of some of the newer ones. I really like the Court of Owls story line that they recently did. I can’t think of any older ones specifically, unfortunately. I know for me it was more about a vibe that I wanted to take from those older comic books, which was sort of darker. Going through, we were doing the research for the show – every decade had a certain vibe to it and tonality. The ’50s were just more morally what was going on in the country at that time, which was good – Batman was sort of a detective, but he was also morally good, and then that started changing in the ’60s and got a little darker.
Then the ’70s stuff got really psychologically dark – that’s where you start to see him – I’m trying to remember a specific comic, dang it! I can’t remember it right now, but it was, we were reading a couple of them where suddenly there was all kinds of heavy, heavy stuff going on psychologically with the characters and violence. It wasn’t just about superheroes and villains anymore; it was about horrible things happening to people. Then the ’80s started to pull back on that a little bit, and then the ’90s were weird! [laughs]Then it started to sort of come around again in the 2000s.
So I guess like Glen said, I can’t specify a particular comic; I can just specify the tone that I took from each year as we were doing the research.
GM: Yeah, I mean, I was a big fan of the Marshall Rogers Batman – that was the first time I had seen Batman done in sort of a darker way that I thought was really cool, but I wouldn’t say that impacted on the show. I mean, I know that there are certain Batman artists that I feel like i really like the way they drew Batman and everything, but I don’t know that I can say, “Yeah, yeah – that story reflects the tone of what the show is.”
LYT: In every modern version of Batman, at least since the Michael Keaton version, Bruce Wayne has done a slightly raspier voice when he gets in the costume, and Christian Bale has kind of exaggerated that to the point where everyone kind of mocked it. Are you guys doing anything like that for him, or is that something that Bale has kind of made a no-no?
MW: I would say no. One of the things we did do, and that we worked on with Anthony Ruivivar, who plays Batman is we said that there are three versions of Batman. There’s the public Bruce Wayne, the private Bruce Wayne, and then Batman himself. As you get closer to Batman, there’s an aspect in the character that we play in the show a lot, which is that he’s constantly trying to perfect himself. And that goes all the way from, he does these sort of, you’re going to see in a bunch of episodes, he’s into “body hacking,” which they call it now, which is trying to perfect the way he eats food, and perfect his body in such a way that it extends all the way to how he uses language.
So one of the things that we said to Anthony was, when he’s the private Bruce Wayne, he’s trying to be very specific with what he’s saying, and almost a little bit more closed off, and then when he’s Batman, it’s all about, it’s an economy of words. And the reason he’s doing that is simply because he’s trying to find a way to express what he needs to in the shortest amount of time possible, because he wants to spend the time, basically, out there on the streets, and he doesn’t have time to explain himself. So that was how we played with him, in terms of that. We didn’t go for the dark, deep – the gravelly voice, or whatever. Anthony has a great voice to start with; we didn’t really have to mess with it that much.
LYT: Are there toys in the works yet?
LYT: Have you seen them, and will they be cool?
GM: I think someone said “This show doesn’t have a toy line; let’s have a toy line.” So there are toys in the works. I’ve seen the photo – it’s online, and it’s cool! It looks like the show.
LYT: What is that like for you guys, seeing these creations coming into actual three dimensions as opposed to virtual three dimensions?
MW: I’ll let Glen speak more to this, because he’s going to have more to say on it than me. Honestly, for me, just seeing the show, when it was starting to come – when it was fully lit and I saw that first episode – that was really, for me, where I had my socks blown off. And I’ll just say that and go ahead and talk about the toys.
GM: No, no! I think the scary thing is that that stuff’s in my head, so I don’t think I necessarily need it in 3 dimensions to make it real. I think that’s something that I’m always kind of thinking about or working on. I don’t think I need it tangible to make it seem more real.
MW: I just want the free toy, quite honestly! That was one of my other favorite aspects of working on the show was to be able to go to DC and get free toys!
LYT: That’s cool that they give them to you free. I spoke to the kid who was in Iron Man 3, and they didn’t give him any free toys.
MW: You have to know who to talk to. You have to know the guy with the key to the room.
LYT: Final question for you guys: Previous Batman animated shows have done animated features, whether Mask of the Phantasm in theaters or several on direct-to-video or DVD – are you guys planning any feature-length episodes, or maybe that will be broadcast as three-parters and then released as features later?
GM: There are no current plans.
MW: Yeah, there are no current plans for this, although there are a couple of episodes that are longer than just one episode. I know of no plans to release them that way, but actually, it’s pretty early for them to even think of that – they usually don’t make those decisions for a while.
Beware the Batman airs Saturdays at 10 a.m. on Cartoon Network.