For a hero that's known for brooding alone in the shadows, Batman sure does attract a lot of heroes to his caped side. Following the universe set up in the animated features "Son of Batman" and "Batman vs. Robin," the new film "Batman: Bad Blood" reunites the Dark Knight with both Robin and Nightwing -- and adds two more branches to the family tree. The film marks the debut of Batwoman and Batwing, two characters that have so far only appeared on the printed page.
With Batman missing and presumed dead, it's up to Dick Grayson (as Batman), Robin and the new members of the extended Bat-Family to get to the bottom of his disappearance and save him from the clutches of the Heretic and Talia al Ghul. Following the New York City premiere of "Bad Blood" at the Paley Center, director Jay Oliva, character designer Phil Bourassa, and voice actors Sean Maher (Nightwing/Batman), Yvonne Strahovski (Batwoman) and Travis Willingham (the Heretic) discussed the film in specific, and where the DC animated universe is headed as a whole.
As he's currently the only DC hero with a solo animated franchise, Bourassa spoke about Batman's strength as an individual character. "I think most of the core Justice League characters can be the star of their own film; its just Batman's popularity has always been something that was undeniable," said Bourassa. "He has this rich world. One of the themes here is not just Batman himself, but also the supporting characters -- [who] are all capable of carrying a film by themselves."
In addition to the new heroes, Willingham was charged with introducing the Heretic to a film audience. "It was tricky for the Heretic because he hasn't been in animated form before, and his exposure in the comic world is rather limited," said Willingham of the Grant Morrison-created character. "I actually wasn't fully aware of who he was, so I had to get on the Internet and look up what I could find. I used that as a base point, so I had a history of where he was in the comics and how he might fit into this story."
Adapting some characters for animation proved to be more difficult for Bourassa than others, with Batwoman making the smoothest transition. "In this particular film, we had three characters that had never been animated before: Batwoman, Batwing and Heretic. It's always kinda cool when you get to be the first to introduce them into a new medium, but they're all different. Batwoman -- her look in the comics is very striking, elegant and it's already streamlined. You can do a one-to-one and bring it into animation as it exists on the page."
Of the voice actors present, Sean Maher was the veteran, with "Bad Blood" marking his third outing as Dick Grayson/Nightwing. "When I was approached to do this, I had no idea -- I thought I was going to be fired after the first movie I did, and the second movie I did," admitted Maher. "This was actually the first movie where I was like, 'Oh, I might be good at this.' I had a sense of ease and playfulness with this one that I didn't have with the others." Maher will return for a fourth go as Nightwing in the upcoming "Justice League vs. Teen Titans" film.
Even with so many features in his utility belt, Maher had to do something different as Dick Grayson this time around -- he had to create Grayson's Batman voice. "I was trying to make fun of [Batman voice actor] Jason [O'Mara] when I had to do Batman. We got to the first line where I had to do a Batman voice and I thought I was going to make everybody laugh and do the worst imitation ever and everyone's gonna laugh. And I did it, and they're like, 'We love it!' I was like, 'What?' So that's the voice you heard."
Strahovski, best known for being a live-action ass-kicker on shows like "Chuck" and "24: Live Another Day," lent her voice to the massively popular Batwoman. "It's a lot of pressure, I will say," said Strahovski. "When they first called and said, 'Would you voice Batwoman?' I was rather honored, actually, because it's the first time she's been animated. I jumped at the opportunity to do it. I mean, I didn't feel as much pressure then as I do now, in the room today, because there are obviously a lot of expectations. It's an iconic character, she's been around for a long time -- but in the [recording] room it was a lot of fun. I felt supported by the team who showed me the art and how it was going to pan out."
The film also features some of the most complex fight choreography to date in an animated DC feature. With a story featuring characters like Batman, Nightwing, Batwoman, Talia al Ghul and the Heretic, some intricate fight scenes are to be expected, and director Jay Oliva drew inspiration from two particular sources.
"When I read the script, I think about the different action sequences and kind of the different movies that I like to reference or things I want to see," said Oliva, who also works as a storyboard artist on DC's live-action films. "When I did 'Man of Steel,' I wanted to do 'Dragon Ball Z'; when I did this, I had just seen 'Winter Soldier' and thought it was fantastic, so I went to [producer] James Tucker and went, 'Hey, can we do 'The Raid: Redemption' and 'Winter Soldier' and kind of amp it up?'"
The feature film also includes the debut of another Bat-Family character -- and here's a spoiler alert for the next two paragraphs in case you're waiting for "Bad Blood's" Blu-ray release.
In the final shots of the film, we see the debut of the DC animated universe's Batgirl -- and she looks exactly like she does in the modern DC comics. "I think [the redesign] had just come out in the comics at the time and, you know, I'm kinda old school, so I wanted to do the classic look on her," said Bourassa. "But it made more sense for the story because that looks like -- basically, she's just starting to emulate Batman at this point. This is her debut. One of the cool things about that costume is that it looks like something you could actually make. It looks very practical. It doesn't look too superhero-y, if that makes sense. Somebody could totally cosplay that easily, just a leather jacket, boots and stuff like that."
"Originally this was called 'Bat-Family,' and James [Tucker] and I were talking, like, 'We should really put Barbara in at the end,'" added director Oliva. "When we thought about putting Batgirl in it, we were again discussing costumes and stuff, but like Phil said, the idea is that Batgirl -- this is her emergence. She's inspired by what she saw with both Batwoman and Batman and the Bat-Family, and now she comes in. So this is actually the basis of her if she does appear in future films; we can build off of her. This is her 1.0 costume, just like Batwing's costume is the 1.0 of the 'Batman Beyond' costume, which it will eventually become." The film also includes a hint towards the launch of the Justice League Watchtower.
The panel opened up to questions, with one audience member commending the filmmakers for not shying away from including a person of color (Batwing) and a lesbian (Batwoman) as leads in the film. "I didn't want [Batwoman's] sexual preference to be the reason why she's a hero," said Oliva. "I didn't want to sensationalize it at all, but I didn't want to put it under the rug, because that's her character. I like the fact that we do have a lead character of color, and we have someone who is a lesbian that people can watch and kids can watch and people can say, 'Hey, this is just another aspect of our world.'"
Oliva hopes to continue Batwoman's story, and he revealed a story that he someday hopes to adapt for the character. "I always wanted Yvonne to continue and do the Batwoman/Wonder Woman that was in her 'Batwoman' series," said Oliva. "I thought that was a really good storyline and would work with our continuity."
And Oliva isn't the only one that wants more of Strahovski's caped crusader. The actor herself said she'd be up for returning, and Oliva said producer James Tucker is ready for more too. "After he met her and saw her do the first couple lines, he was like, 'We gotta write more movies with her in it,'" said Oliva. "I'm hoping we can do that, as well as continue the 'Titans' line, because that's really one of the things we wanted to push for, and eventually do a Justice League, Titans and Bat-Family all-in-one."
"Batman: Bad Blood" is available digitally now and will be released on DVD and Blu-ray February 2.