Bruce Timm Talks Justice League: Gods and Monsters, Suicide Squad’s Harley Quinn and More

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Producer and animator Bruce Timm has had a colossal effect on the DCU over the past twenty years. Having been one of the driving forces behind “Batman: The Animated Series,” “Batman Beyond,” and so many more, his legacy continues to be felt and praised by fans. The latest DCU creation from Timm will debut this summer in the form of Justice League: Gods and Monsters, an animated film with very different versions of the DC “Trinity.” Before that debuts on DVD and Blu-ray July 28, though, a web series titled “Justice League: Gods and Monsters Chronicles” will debut three episodes online giving fans a sneak peek at this startling new world. We spoke with Timm about the creation of the project, among other things, which you can read below along with the first episode of “Chronicles.”

SuperHeroHype: How did Justice League: Gods & Monsters come about? Was it an original idea you came up with or did they pitch it to you?

Bruce Timm: It was something that I kind of thought of. It kind of started on two things that were happening kind of parallel, at the same time. I’d been having a talk with my boss, Sam Register, about the possibility of doing a new animated series of the Justice League, and he said, “The only thing we don’t want to do, is we don’t want to just go back and make more Justice League exactly like the show that we did almost ten years ago. We want to do something fresh and different with it. I don’t know what that means, but think about it,” and I said “Okay, I’ll think about it.” So I was thinking, a different version of the Justice League, what do you do that’s different? And around that same time, DC Comics was doing the New 52 reboot and when I first heard about that I thought, wow, that’s really intriguing, I wonder what they’re going to do with the characters. That made me start to think about the silver age versions of The Flash and Green Lantern, and how when they brought them back they kept the name and the gimmick of the golden age versions of those characters and threw everything else out. They had new costumes, their powers worked differently, they had new alter egos, and I thought that was the most successful reboots in the history of comics and I thought wouldn’t it be exciting if they did that with the entire line of DC Comics. I knew they weren’t going to do that because you can’t, that’s just too huge a financial gamble. It made me start thinking though, if I was going to “reimagine Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman,” the three biggest, most important characters in the DC Universe, what would they be? So I didn’t want to throw everything out so I want to keep it at least tangentally related to the in-continuity DCU.

So Superman is from Krypton like the traditional Superman, but I thought, wow, okay, if his dad was not Jor-El, if his dad was Zod, that changes everything. Bang, everything’s different. That works, what about Batman? So Bruce Wayne’s parents stayed home and watched TV that night, they didn’t go out and get gun downed in crime alley, so Bruce Wayne never became Batman. So who is Batman? I was thinking, well back in the old days of “Batman: The Animated Series,” several times I tried to do “Batman as a vampire” stories, and every time got shot down. The world was not ready for it. This was in pre-Buffy days. Vampires were not allowed on children’s television back then. I remembered that and thought “Batman as a vampire would be kind of cool,” and then again, trying to keep it somewhat related to the established DCU I remembered the Kirk Langstrom character, who in the traditional DCU is Man-Bat. So I said instead of Man-Bat, he’s a vampire Batman. For Wonder Woman we kind of went around and around on her for a while. WE tried to stick close to the Greek mythology origin of it, and for one reason or another it just wasn’t working. It wasn’t different enough from the established version of the character, and believe it or not I had already drawn a version of her that looked like a Jack Kirby character, she looked like she could have been in a Thor comic or something. Then Alan Burnett, who wrote the movie and developed the web series with me, said “She could be one of the New Gods,” I said “Ah! Of course! That’s completely different!” So we kept asking, what do she have to be? The name Wonder Woman, if she’s not from Greek mythology and is not related to that, what is it about her that makes her Wonder Woman? The only thing that really matters is that she’s a woman, and that she’s super strong and a warrior, everything else can be different, so when he mentioned the New Gods I thought, yeah, that’s fresh and new.

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SHH: When you’re developing these alternate versions, and you kind of touched on it, is there ever a point where you say ‘maybe this is too far from the base’ or did you say ‘let’s go crazy?’

Timm: It’s weird, a lot of the characters that we’ve been coming up with specifically for the webseries, there’s no hard and fast rules about how close to the established DCU we want to be or how different we want to be. Some of the characters they really are like the silver age Flash or Green Lantern where they have the same name and everything else is different. Some of them are not as radically different as their established counterparts. For instance it’s already been leaked that Harley Quinn is going to be in the web series, and she’s not radically different than the Harley from the comics or from our animated stuff. She’s kind of an extreme version of Harley, but she’s not a ground up reboot. Some of the characters that will show up in the web series will have the same name but are otherwise completely unrelated to their traditional counterparts. In developing this, when I’m working with other writers or with our liaisons with DC comics, they’ll be throwing out ideas and I’ll know what feels right to me. Sometimes they’ll throw out an idea and I’ll say “Eh, it’s not different enough,” or “That’s so different that it just feels random.” Like I said there’s no hard or fast rules, I’m kind of winging it a little bit.

SHH: Having seen the first episode of the digital series, it becomes quickly apparent how dark this world is, was that always the intention or did it ever have it another way?

Timm: Well, here’s the thing, I tend to not actually think of the entire series as being extra dark. That particular episode is, and it was by design, because we knew if these were going to air before the movie came out so we really wanted to make a statement with each one of them. Each one of these shorts is designed to smack you upside the head and say, “This is a really different version of these characters.” So the Batman episode, Batman as a character his world is darker and shadowier anyways so we kind of just went for it. We went into serial killer territory, which we haven’t done a lot of before and the twist is the serial killer is Harley Quinn. I’ll be honest with you, that’s the darkest episode of the three. I tend to think of the show as more, I like to say it’s dealing with a little bit more with “adult subject matter,” not just dark subject matter. Sometimes it is dark, but it’s not dark for dark’s sake. Whatever the story lends itself too. The Batman short is the darkest of the three existing shorts, and for season two there will probably be darkish moments. It’s really a matter of me, it’s a little bit freeing. I’ve had the great fortune of working on these direct-to-video movies for the last couple years as well, which of course are PG-13. It’s kind of liberating after working for fifteen some odd years doing shows strictly for television which are marketed directly towards kids, so there’s things just in terms of language or whatever that we’ve always had to pull back on, and I’ve always been fine with it, but being able to go a little bit beyond that is frankly, kind of nice. At the same time I try to police myself. I try not to get gory for gory’s sake. Even the Batman episode, it’s dark in comparison, but it’s not like Saw or torture porn. It’s all relative.

SHH: Was there anything you learned from your time developing Batman Beyond that helped you in shaping another alternate version of the DCU?

Timm: You know, I hadn’t actually thought about it in those terms, but yeah, kind of in a way, because what we did in “Batman Beyond,” one of the rules we established early on, we didn’t want to just reuse all the existing Batman versions. Oh, there’s a future Joker, future Poison Ivy, future Two-Face, but at the same time we wanted to come up with character that seemed like Batman villains, not like Superman villains or like Spider-Man villains. So that was an interesting challenge, to make characters that felt right for the universe. We ultimately did go back and do a futuristic Joker story, but we wanted to challenge ourselves, we wanted to not just take an easy path to everything. To a degree we do have a similar self-imposted mandate on these new shows, again, the whole point is if you have carte blanche to create new characters and go new places, it really behooves us to do different things with them and really put as much of a spin on the existing characters as much as we can. So it’s somewhat similar to “Batman Beyond.”

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SHH: Where do the stories that you’re telling in the web series fit into this? Were there things you came up with and thought you’d never have time to tell and then all of a sudden you have that opportnity?

Timm: To a degree that’s actually one of the great things about the second season of the web series is that because the episodes are so short, it frees us up to do a lot of different stories that if they were 22 minute episodes or another movie we wouldn’t have had the time to go off on all these weird tangents, but because the episodes are so short each one is such a smaller investment in both time and money we can do a completely different version of Mary Marvel. That’s one of the great things about this format.

SHH: Are we getting a new version of Mary Marvel?

Timm: Oh yeah, you’re getting a new version of Mary Marvel, and of Steel.

SHH: Now, I know this is way off topic, but I’ve seen some sketches online that you’ve done of Red Sonja.

Timm: Okay.

SHH: I want to know who I’d have to kill to see you do an animated Red Sonja.

Timm: Well, you got me, I have no idea. Maybe DC will buy her one of these days and I’ll be able to do it.

SHH: I know you’ve spoken some about these photos from the set of the Suicide Squad movie with Harley Quinn, was it a bummer for you to see she had the baseball bat and not the mallet?

Timm: No, not at all. If this movie had come out say four or five years ago I might have been a little bit more precious of “my version” of Harley, but since then there have been all these other bizarre variations on both her costume and even her persnality and her weaponry and stuff in both the comics and video games. So I’m kind of used to it by now, and I’ve kind of “made my peace” with it. I still prefer, frankly, “my classic version” of Harley, but I like a lot of the other versions of Harley as well. I think sometimes they go a little too far and there’s nothing left appealing, but when I saw the photos of Margot Robbie I thought she looks more like the up-to-date Harley rather than the classic Harley, but at least she still looks appealing and cute, not as heroine-gothic as some other versions I’ve seen. So yeah, not at all. Baseball bat? Fine, whatever. Actually I don’t know how inspired the movie people are by this, but one of the versions of Harley that I like the most in the current comics is what Amanda (Conner) and Jimmy (Palmiotti) are doing. I like that she’s punk-roller derby Harley, so to me the baseball bat totally works with that.

SHH: I know you have season two of “Gods and Monsters” coming up, but is there anything else cooking in the DC kitchen for you right now?

Timm: I’ve got too much on my plate. Besides “Gods and Monsters,“ I have another DTV movie that will be coming out next year, which I cannot talk about unfortunately, but it’s really exciting. Beyond that there’s another DTV possible that we’re just now starting to talk about that I just might do, so yeah, I got lots of stuff on my plate.