Batman Beyond fans rejoice! A remastered edition of the original series now available on digital platforms and will be released on Blu-ray in a box set, containing a slick exclusive metallic Terry McGinnis Batman Funko pop, on October 29th.
New York Comic Con brought back the cast and production team of Batman Beyond, including with actors Kevin Conroy, Will Friedle, Lauren Tom, director James Tucker, casting director, Andrea Romano, and writer-producer, Alan Burnett, to discuss their experiences with the show, and it’s legacy within the DCU, as well as pop culture in general.
I find this to be particularly exciting as this is one of those shows that should be getting more a lot more attention due to the impact that it’s left in the Batman Legacy, as well as pushing creative and thought-provoking boundaries that animation and comic fans weren’t really exploring at that time en masse. For example, the show revived a well-established concept and brought it into a new world that was essentially created from scratch.
The show also questioned what “Batman” really was as a character and proved that you can revisit a story through a different lens to create a new vision and new themes to explore, while also preserving (and adapting) the legacy and history of the characters.
Batman Beyond was one of the first shows to really challenge my preconceived notions on what art was, especially with animation and superheroes. Initially, when the show was released, I wasn’t fond of the idea of having a Batman separate from Bruce Wayne. My teenage angst questioned how could Batman not be Bruce Wayne?! Well, the showed answered. And it answered very well.
This reporter was able to sit in the press room, prior to the panel, and listen to co-creator and writer-producer, Alan Burnett (of Hanna-Barbera, Disney, and DC fame), discuss the impetus behind Batman Beyond.
“We felt a very big responsibility to make a show that Batman fans could really sneer at. So, we took our time to get things right and we always felt like we were taking a chance, but it always felt good when we were making it,” said Burnett. “So, when the show finally got on television and the fans liked it, we were relieved then and happy. And the characters appear in other shows and it had its own comic book. And really, he [Terry McGinnis] seems to be a part of the Batman legend.”
Burnett continued to discuss his writing experiences with the show, such as how he did not really on writing bibles through the production, and a specific type of a writing trope to avoid in television. The video of the interview is available at the bottom of the article.
The Workprint asked Burnett if the show was inspired by any specific piece of literature or art form in it’s creation, to which he replied: “Can’t say there was. We weren’t thinking about [anything specific], we were thinking about the kid who wants to become a part of a samurai group and just sitting outside the doorway waiting for the master to accept him. That was sort our image in the beginning, but it wasn’t based on any stories, we just made it up as we went along, we really did.”
It’s always fascinating to see different approaches to the creation of a complex show that contains so many elements from an artistic perspective. For example, James Tucker, Emmy Award Winning Director for the Batman Beyond episode “Egg Baby,” as well as his work in Justice League and Batman: The Brave the Bold, provided what influenced the production team that he was working within during the creation of the show.
“Terry [has] more in common with Spider-Man 2099, he owes a lot to that comic book. Even though its weird, we were thinking of Spider-Man during the show, but we weren’t thinking of that Spider-Man , which would have been a natural Spider-Man to think of but there’s a lot of similarities but not once did we look at that comic book and go, it’s so weird, Classic Spider-Man was our template” stated Tucker.
However, storytelling was not the only aspect of what made Batman Beyond such a fantastic show. In order to ensure that there was chemistry between the actors, as well as the production team, famed casting director, Andrea Romano, shed some light on her process that lead to her choices in her career. Romano is known for her work on Batman The Animated Series, Animaniacs, Tiny Toons, Avatar the Last Air Bender, The Legend of Korra, and SpongeBob to name a few.
“I think of casting like a party…who do I want to invite? Who’s going to have fun together? Who’s going to bring something to the party? Not just sit there and take, do the job and leave,” said Romano.
Being able to recognize creative talent and work ethic is an important balance to work towards to, which Andrea Romano has clearly mastered and is reflected in her reputation.
In response to a question on Friedle’s casting, Romano elaborated on her techniques and what she did with Will Friedle, after immediately knowing that she was going to cast him.
“That’s the number one thing I needed was a good actor. Kevin [Conroy] was already established. We already knew he was going to play Bruce Wayne. I had to get an actor as good as Kevin,” said Romano.
“So, I’ve already seen his [Friedle] on-camera acting and then brought him in to audition by himself, I just gave him a copy that had just his words, and it was strong and good, and he followed my direction, she continued. “Then I auditioned Will with Kevin together in a room, is a fun call back, to make sure that they had some sort of energy together.”
Will Friedle, famously know for his role as Terry McGinnis and work in Kim Possible and childhood masterpiece Boy Meets World, talked about how much of a guiding hand that Andrea Romano was towards him, especially since this was his first voice-over acting job for this type of production.
Friedle recounts “It was my first animated series so I just jumping into that role was a little crazy and sitting next to Kevin Conroy, and when we did Return of the Joker, sitting between Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill was a little daunting. But when you got somebody like Andrea Romano at the wheel, it made everything a hell of a lot better.”
The Workprint was able to get further insight into the acting process from Kevin Conroy, the voice of Bruce Wayne and Batman from, pretty much, the DC Universe and the upcoming cross-over episodes for the CW’s Arrow-verse “Crisis on Infinite Earth.” Conroy divulged his perspective on what is it like playing the same character from starting with vocal performances to live-action television.
“When you do a voice performance, voice acting is acting. People always think that it’s somehow different from acting, it’s not. It’s acting. You’re portraying a full character, you’re creating a full character, but you only have your voice to tell the full story,” he said.
Conroy continued: “To be suddenly doing this on camera, you then have to be aware of the cameraman and the lightening. There’s a physicality to it. When you’re in a sound booth, you can just live in your own imagination. There’s a liberation to it because no one is watching you.”
Kevin Conroy then shared anecdotes on his experiences of his first time auditioning for Batman and how he approached it as an acting exercise when he realized that he was not familiar with the overall corpus of Batman literature.
He also discussed working with both Andrea Romano and Will Friedle, and how they both had enough chemistry with each other to the point where it positively impacted the production of Batman Beyond. Conroy recalled that both he and Will were the “constants” of the show and that they had a shared responsibility to newcomers by “putting them at ease and make everyone realize that it was ok to screw up.” Both anecdotes are discussed more in detail in the video located at the bottom of this article.
Conroy placed importance on research and professional decorum when approaching a production like Batman Beyond. Most people tend to forget that Conroy came from a theatrical background as a graduate of Juilliard School, where he once roomed with the legendary Robin Williams.
The Workprint asked Conroy about what he picked up from his experiences as a graduate of Juilliard and being Robin Williams’ friend that he still carries with him in his performances today.
“Batman is a Shakespearean character, and that’s why I think it was so fateful to get it, you know. That’s absolutely what trained me to do it,” stated Conroy.
He carried on: “And Robin [Williams], he taught me to be, I was always jealous of his ability to make a fool of himself, to risk all, to dare to fail. I always heard that phrase, Dare to Fail. You can’t be great unless your willing to fail. But I never was able to do so. I was always with my Catholic upbringing, too scared to fail. I wanted to be the good boy. Robin taught me you don’t always have to be perfect. You can dare to fail. And that’s what I learned from Robin.”
Batman Beyond, with its dark storytelling, fantastic animation, and high-quality cast and production crew, is a modern example of an animation series daring to fail. All the writers, producers, directors, and actors took a risk to create something new and unique, something daring that would challenge both audiences and artists, as well as leave a long-lasting and pertinent impact on the legacy of Batman.