DC Entertainment brought out their full force of animation heavyweights for this year's New York Comic Con as executive producer Bruce Timm, casting director Andrea Romano and Kevin Conroy, the iconic voice of multiple incarnations of the animated Batman, took the stage for an inside glimpse at the October 18-releasing animated film "Batman: Year One," a full showing of the accompanying "Catwoman" short and some exclusive early footage of the next DCU Animated project "Justice League: Doom." Moderated by Warner Home Video's Gary Miereanu, the panel took a look at the state of DC Universe Animated Original Movies in 2012. The panel kicked off a bit late, but what the it lacked in promptness, it more than made up for in surprises.
After Timm and Romano were introduced to uproarious applause from the entire room, Miereanu added a surprise guest in Eliza Dushku, who introduced a full screening of the "Catwoman" short. Directed by DC Animated Film staple Lauren Montgomery and written by fan-favorite scribe Paul Dini.
The short features surprisingly little dialogue, but is heavy on action and chase sequences with a lengthy pole-dancing scene in a strip club. Beginning with a cat running away from thugs and ending with Catwoman bounding off into the night, the short also introduces new villain Rough Cut, a diamond-toothed crime boss who finds himself tussling with Catwoman for his less-than-savory crimes. Voiced by John DiMaggio, Rough Cut provides a formidable opponent for the lithe thief who shows off both her acrobatic skill and prowess with a whip throughout the short.
"The amount of research that went into the first part of the segment was incredible," joked Miereanu.
According to Romano, the dialogue in the written script was sparse, and what was there was used to great effect. "It was really, really short -- it was about 10 pages of ADR. The initial recording session took about 15 minutes."
After another round of applause for "Catwoman," the panel moved on to "Batman: Year One," the animated adaptation of one of Bruce Timm's favorite comic stories.
"'Batman: Year One' is just about my favorite comic book of all time, one of them. When it first came out in the 80s, it just totally blew me away. I had never seen a Batman comic like that before, it was the first time anybody had ever crafted that level of reality to a superhero series. It was mind-blowing. When we came to do the animated version, I wanted to stay as faithful to it as possible in terms of staying true to the story and the dialogue and the characters, even though it's not really a superhero movie. It's more like a cop movie, because it's really more about Jim Gordon than it is about Bruce Wayne or Batman."
Timm mentioned that he wanted to create a different feel for this film to match the tone of the source material, from the style of animation down to the score. "Every step of the way, we wanted to make sure the performances we got were very naturalistic and cinematic. In animation, all the action scenes had to be grounded in reality.
"Even the score, when we sat down to talk with Chris Drake about the score, I said, 'I don't want it to sound like a Batman movie,'" Timm continued. "I don't want it to sound like Danny Elfman or Hans Zimmer. It needs to sound really different."
The film features voice work from "Breaking Bad's" Brian Cranston as Detective Jim Gordon and "Southland" actor Ben McKenzie as Batman.
"It was a joy to work with him," said Romano of Cranston. "Ben [McKenzie] had never done voice-over work before for animation. We talked about Ben, and I had known his work from 'Southland.' I had worked with one of his castmates, Regina King, on 'Boondocks.'
"He was absolutely a pleasure. He was so agreeable to our direction, what we had to give him, he had some ideas of his own. He's got that wonderful, youthful sound," Romano continued. "And yet there's this darkness that he brings to it, which is key for anybody that plays Batman."
The casting director also spoke at length about Dushku, who voices Catwoman both in the animated short and in the feature-length film. "Eliza, we had tried to get for a long time. When this project came up, we needed a Catwoman, and Eliza was available -- it was kind of a no-brainer."
As the panel transitioned away from "Batman: Year One," Miereanu had one last surprise for the audience. "We don't have Kevin Conroy as the voice of Batman here; he is the voice in 'Batman: Arkham City' and the voice in 'Justice League: Doom!'" the moderator told the assembled fans. "What the people over there don't realize is, he's sitting with them!" Conroy stood up from his seat in the audience and walked to the stage to a standing ovation from the crowd, a round of applause which grew to a roar as Conroy proclaimed, in his iconic Batman voice, "I am vengeance! I am the night! I am Batman!"
Inspired by the "JLA: Tower of Babel" storyline by Mark Waid and Bryan Hitch, the animated "Justice League: Doom" is directed by Lauren Montgomery and features the late Dwayne McDuffie's final script. Longtime fans of the DC Animated Universe will no doubt recognize a number of voice actors reprising their roles from "Justice League." Alongside Conroy as Batman is Tim Daly as Superman, Susan Eisenberg as Wonder Woman, Carl Lumby as J'onn J'onzz, Michael Rosenbaum as Flash (albiet, the Barry Allen version) and Alexis Denisof as Mirror Master. But the audience went crazy when they heard Nathan Fillion would be playing Green Lantern.
"It's like going to a family reunion that you hand-picked," said Romano.
The trailer featured the evil Vandal Savage (voiced by Phil Morris) voicing over scenes from the film, detailing his plan to form the Legion of Doom in order to destroy the Justice League. In a design style reminiscent of "Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths," the preview flashed through a number of characters, including Star Sapphire, Cheetah, Bane, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Mirror Master and the Royal Flush Gang.
Although most of the cast didn't have much trouble falling back into their roles, Timm mentioned that Michael Rosenbaum had a bit of trouble transitioning from playing Wally West in "Justice League" to Barry Allen in "Justice League: Doom."
"The only person who had any trouble at all was Michael," said Timm, "but only because he was used to playing the Wally West version of the Flash, this is actually the Barry Allen version of the Flash. He would do a line and say, 'Oh, no, that sounds too much like Wally. I'm going to make him sound more like a grown-up.'"
"The great thing about working with people that you've worked with for 20 years is that there's sort of a shorthand for working together," said Conroy of his return to the Batcave. "You know how each other works, you can jump right back in without getting to know new [things]. You're not getting to know new people. There's a lot of trust and so it's great to have that."
The panel shifted to talking about the central conceit of "Justice League: Doom," with Timm explaining the general overview of McDuffie's script. "It started from the comic 'Justice League: Tower of Babel,'" said Timm. "We liked the central idea -- Batman being the ultra-prepared dark boy scout in his own little paranoid way, if the Justice League is very, very powerful and if they ever went bad, someone needs to be around to stop them. So Batman comes up with a bunch of different contingency plans to take out the Justice League. Of course, those plans fall into the wrong hands."
After Romano quipped about Batman not hiding the files well enough, Timm responded as Batman, saying "Well, nobody's perfect. Damn that iPhone."
The panel then took some questions from the audience. While many of them included inquiries as to future projects like potential adaptations of Vertigo titles, revisiting past projects like "Batman Beyond" and Kevin Conroy's favorite episode ("Perchance to Dream"), one of the most intriguing questions came for Romano about why there has been such a diverse offering of actors voicing Batman over the years.
"If I had my way, Kevin would always be Batman," said Romano, as the audience cheered. "Which is not to say that I don't think all the other Batmen I have cast aren't wonderful. It's just that…he was my first Batman! I'm a freelance voice director. I'm hired by whomever, and they give me the directives. The first question I always ask is, 'Can I use Kevin as Batman? Can I use Mark Hamill as Joker?'"
Batman: Year One hits stores October 18