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SDCC 2014: Batman 75th Anniversary Panel

Michael Moccio ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Executive Editor

Official Description: Throughout his 75-year history, the Dark Knight has become one of the most popular and widely recognized superheroes in the world. From comics to TV to movies to video games, the World’s Greatest Detective has permeated all entertainment mediums and beyond. Get a look at Batman’s rich history and what the future holds for this pop culture icon with industry titans Kevin Conroy, Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, Ralph Garman, Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, Peter Girardi, and some surprise guests!

John Cunningham came up and started introducing all the panelists, saying “we’re going to look at all the different iterations of Batman across media.” Each and every one of the panelist were introduced with a thunderous round of applause. Emerson alumnus Paul Dini was a personal favorite of us.

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Cunningham did some publicity and promo for all the swag at the DC Comics booth and walked us through different key moments of Batman’s history.

The first thing shown was Detective Comics #27, then Batman #1, and an assortment of villains.

Who is your favorite Batman villain and why?

Dini: The Joker, for obvious reasons. He’s the greatest and the perfect counterpart to Batman.

Garman: It’s the Riddler for me. He’s manic and amazing and energetic and sort of terrifying. I’ve always been a big Riddler fan.

Johns: I’ve always loved Croc. I feel like Killer Croc has more to explore and he’s the first Batman villain I ever bought.

Lee: Catwoman. I think she’s a great character and a great foil for Batman. He’s got this classic can’t/must. She’s a very sympathetic villain.

Girardi: Batman ’66 is my Batman, so those villains like Eggman and King Tut. Some people think it’s campy, but I was scared of those villains.

Timm: It depends on which iteration of Batman. I’ve never cared about the Riddler outside of Batman ’66. Catowoman is probably one of my favorites, but it’s hard to choose. There are just so many good villains.

Conroy: It’ll be Joker for me too. Working with Mark Hamil was just incredible. We brought out the best in each other. The two of us would just go crazy. And then I saw Heath Ledger and he was awesome! And now Troy Baker is the new Joker, and it’s just such a lesson on how different actors can approach a character and bring something new to it. They’re all different and they’re all so rich and interesting, but that character–for some reason–actors can bring a lot to it.

Dini: I think that’s the same for writer’s and artists, as well.

Conroy: And to watch Mark work… he practically eats the microphone–it’s scary! It overtakes him. It’s fun, but also a little scary.

The panelists then reminisced on the old live action Batman television series.

Next up is the publication of Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and when Tim Burton’s Batman movie appeared.

Can you recall the impression you had when you saw that Batman movie?

Lee: I remember everyone was wearing a Batman tee-shirts. There was a huge mania there and it was amazing to see. When we were talking about Batman ’66, there was a documentary about it and there was a mania that had taken hold, and I was unfamiliar with that. Every generation has experienced this “Bat-mania”. Everyone connects and comes into Batman at different points.

Johns: I was 16 and there was a big uproar of Michael Keaton being cast as Batman.

What about Batman: The Animated Series?

Timm talked about how many, many people have come up to him during the show, thanking him for their childhood. He respectfully asked people to stop doing that, because those people were 20 and reminded him how old he was.

Timm: It really touched a lot fo people.

Conroy: I remember when we first got the tapes back–six months after we started. We, the actors, we had been working from sketches and we didn’t have the vision. So Mark Hamil and I were in the studio together and we saw it on the screen–the light, the deep rich colors, and it was so dramatic. I turned around to Mark and said, “Did you have any idea this is what we were doing?” We had no idea how beautiful it was. It was so well written and well conceived that we got so many great actors to fill in those guest spots. Everyone wanted to be on this show.

Timm: It’s really interesting to look back on this show. There was such a spirit infused with all the artists, and I think every artists that did the storyboards had a take on Batman. These are guys who may never draw a Batman story, but they all had a passion for him. There’s this great sense of creativity when you have moments like Harvey Dent’s monologue and attention to character that goes beyond writing and voices of the characters.

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On the 75th Anniversary short:

Timm: The idea that I had was that I wanted to do Batman: The Animated Series as a real period piece. We modernized Batman, so it had a 40s look to it, while having computers and such. I could do a ’30s, nice period piece, in black and white. So I just came up with this little short story, but it incorporates a lot of my influence from BtAS.

Girardi: We learned a lot from doing the Superman 75th short. If we had 5 more years, we’d probably still be working on it.

They then showed the two 75th Batman anniversary shorts.

Timm then expanded on how Batman Beyond came to be, where they were asked to make a teenage Batman. Timm speculates they were trying to “Buffy-ize” Batman, since Buffy was a success at that time. They had no development on the show, so they were writing it on the fly.

Cunningham then asked Lee to talk about All-Star Batman and Robin.

Lee: When I started working, I wanted to work with people that inspired me. Dan Didio had contacted me and asked me to do Batman with Frank Miller. Frank said, “Why don’t we meet first?” I went and there were so many people, I turned around to Frank and said, “You don’t have to impress me. You had me at Goddamned Batman!” Dark Knight Returns was on another level of content and sophistication–it was very political, too. That really expressive art was something I had never seen before and that was the book that inspired me to become a professional.

What’s this like, watching Harley?

Timm: I’m just glad that when Paul first mentioned the idea to me at first I didn’t say no, because I was tempted to say no. I just went, “Really?” We put a lot of effort into playing up the Joker, and so I thought it could be a trap, but he wrote the episode and I liked the idea, the character, and the design. When we got the episode animated, I was like, “This is great.” We knew she was special. She showed up in lots of Paul’s scripts a lot from then on. I reluctantly went along with it, because I liked the character, but we had no idea.

Dini: She’s gone beyond the character that we put in the animated show to what she is in the New 52.  She has her own identity at this point. People ask me what do I think about the redesign, and I’m just glad the character still exists.

The panel then turned to Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

Timm: One of the great things about the character is that he’s extremely versatile. There are all kinds of different versions, so it’s not like any one version needs to dominate the entire spectrum of Batman. The Nolan films were great.

Johns: There was a writer on Batman a couple years ago that really wanted to kill the Joker. I disagreed and a year and a half later, Heath Ledger completely reinvented that character. I remember vividly that people doubted him. It’s hard to remember sometimes that Jack Nicholson played the Joker. There’s always interpretations–these characters are mythic and can be reinvented in so many different ways. If it’s not good, like so many other movies, it just doesn’t stick.

They then showed a trailer for Lego: Batman. It was just as cooky and fun as you would expect a Lego game to be. They revealed different costumes and iterations of the characters that would be available. Martian Manhunter, Plastic Man, Flash, and Superman were also shown playing, as well as Wonder Woman. There was some space combat featured including combat with the Bat-Rocketship.

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