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Superman Meets His Maker
An Interview with Bruce Timm

What you've been waiting for?
In ten minutes, Bruce Timm would face 6,000 fans eager to see the world premiere of Superman: Doomsday, the first of Warner Home Videos "DC Universe" projects.

Clearly, it had been a long hour or so of grilling from press, also anxious to talk to the man who has done more to successfully put DC's characters into the mainstream than any other. A heavy mantle to lay upon him? Not really. Because of Bruce Timm, you can go into a Target and buy a set of Green Lantern Corps figures. You kids today don't know what it's like to only have the Super Friends to play with.

So the man was exhausted before he'd begun that night, and after years of seeing him at conventions and trying to arrange a sit-down, I was this close. And I thought, nah, they're not going to bring me over. He's almost on.

Instead, the publicist, Courtney Jacobs, did bring me over to face Timm, and the first thing I heard him say was how nervous he was about this evening. As you read his responses, you may notice that Timm is tremendously self-effacing and extremely humble. Grateful for the appreciation he gets, I get the sense that he'd really rather just be able to stay at his drawing table and do the work.

Derek McCaw: Are you really nervous? You’re Bruce Timm.

Bruce Timm: I’m a little nervous.

Derek McCaw: Why should you be nervous?

Bruce Timm: I can never take the fan audience for granted. Every time I’ve done something new, the fans have not liked it at first, because it wasn’t exactly what I had done before.

When I did Batman, they loved Batman, but when I did Superman, they said, “oh, it’s not as good as Batman.” Then when I did Batman Beyond they said, “oh, this isn’t nearly as good as Batman. It’s not as good as Superman.” When I did Justice League, boy, they hated Justice League when it first came out.

Why be nervous? You're Bruce Timm.
I think they’re predisposed to like the direction of this movie, the fact that it’s aimed directly at them and not at children. But at the same time, they’re coming to the table with all these preconceived notions of what they expect it to be. They’re expecting it to be this big epic violent movie.

It is violent, but I don’t know if it’s violent enough for them, or adult enough for them, or maybe it’s too adult or maybe it’s too violent. I mean, I don’t know.

Derek McCaw: When you got on this project, what kind of mandates were there? Is it adult, is it for family – some think it’s not for kids at all.

Bruce Timm: It was a learning process as we went through it. Literally, the home video people at one point even said “oh, we’d be happy if it was R Rated.”

And I went, “first of all, no, you really wouldn’t. Even if you say that now, by the time this movie’s done, you’re not going to want an R Rated Superman movie. Nobody wants an R Rated Superman movie.”

But they were saying, yeah, they really wanted to push the envelope. They really wanted to push the adult content.

It’s tricky because Superman as a character doesn’t really lend himself to the darker treatment. It’s like Batman, I could do a PG-13, even R Rated Batman movie no problem. But Superman? You can’t really just make him the Punisher. So you have to find a way to incorporate darker, more adult elements into the movie but at the same time he still has to stay the big blue boy scout, because that’s who he is.

If he’s not that, he’s not Superman.

It was a challenge for everybody concerned. There was a lot of internal discussion between us, between DC Comics and Warner Home Video.

Derek McCaw: After watching enough of the extras on the DVDs of your shows, it’s clear that you’ve always found Superman the hardest character to get into. So why come back to this? What is it about Superman that makes him important, or still interesting, to get you to take a shot at this?

Bruce Timm: He’s a great character. He’s a challenge. He presents different challenges than Batman does.

Batman, it’s – I have arguments with people about this all the time—Batman is instantly cooler than Superman. By modern standards, by twenty-first century standards, Batman is dark and mysterious, he’s sexy and Superman is kind of old-fashioned. So that’s the challenge.

Hope this isn't a spoiler...
But at the same time, he’s a really super iconic character. I like the fact that deep down inside, he’s a decent guy. He’s never going to become the Punisher. You never have to worry about him. He may lose his temper a little bit, but the bottom line is he was raised by God-fearing people in the heartland of America, so he’s solidly moral.

Like I said, that presents a challenge. That could get boring if you don’t do it right. It was a fun challenge in this movie to try to find darker shades to the story but still keep him pure. We wanted to see how far we could push him and the world, to age it up.

Derek McCaw: What has changed? You certainly pushed these boundaries with Mask of the Phantasm years and years ago. You did things like Sub-Zero, then Return of the Joker famously went out with an unrated version. What has changed that allows you to do Superman: Doomsday now?

Bruce Timm: The obvious answer is Ultimate Avengers. To a degree. The answer is yes and no.

Derek McCaw: You’re going to be better than Ultimate Avengers, right?

Bruce Timm: That’s not for me to say. That’s for some other people to express their opinion. Or not.

This whole line of doing more adult-oriented, more fan-based DVDs based on the DC characters, that’s actually something we’ve pushing for three or four years with the home video people. They were very very intrigued by the idea, they really liked the idea, but at the same time they were very cautious. Nobody had done anything like that yet.

Even Return of the Joker, it didn’t sell very well. Whether you want to blame that on the movie itself or the marketing or whatever, the bottom line is that it didn’t sell very well. So they were nervous. They didn’t know for sure if there would be a big enough audience out there to make it viable to do adult superhero cartoons.

It’s probably not a coincidence that we got our green light about a week after Ultimate Avengers streeted and sold hundreds of thousands of units in its first week. That was a pretty good signpost to the home video people that yep, there’s an audience out there.

Derek McCaw: Was this project something you came to them with, or did they come to you?

Bruce Timm: I was actually one of the last people pulled into this process. I’d known that my boss had been pitching what was at the time known as “the DC Dozen.” He’d been pitching that to the home video people for years, but nothing had ever really gotten going on it. We didn’t even have scripts or development art or anything.

It was literally that I was pulled in, they said we really want to do this, the home video people are behind it this time, would you be interested in doing it? I said hell yeah.

Derek McCaw: I’ll assume that you’re not finished – at least, I hope you’re not finished – with the DC Universe.

Bruce Timm: Oh, no.

Derek McCaw: I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’re going to do quite well tonight.

Bruce Timm: I think it’s going to do well.

Derek McCaw: What’s your dream project? I’d heard rumors years ago that you were interested in doing the New Gods saga…

Bruce Timm: I’d definitely be interested in doing the New Gods. Again, knowing the marketplace, I’m not sure the marketplace is ready for it yet. I’m not sure those characters have enough marquee value yet.

What I’m hoping is that Superman and New Frontier and the next four or five other ones that we do will sell really, really well. Once we start running out of the top-tier characters, we can start going for the lesser-known ones. That really depends on the fan reaction.

Derek McCaw: Is there one that in your gut you really wish you could take a shot?

Bruce Timm: No, not really. There’s a bunch of them.

Derek McCaw: I’ve heard you say you really wish you could have done the Phantom Stranger in Justice League…

Bruce Timm: Right. I’m not sure he’s a movie, though. Maybe he is, but I’d have to look at it and really think about it.

Derek McCaw: Is there anything in your career that you think was kind of undone?

Bruce Timm: That’s a weird question.

Derek McCaw: What I mean is, you’ve said that fans have had bad reactions to stuff, Batman Beyond was sort of forced upon you and turned out to be a great thing. Did you feel any interference here on Superman: Doomsday? Were there outside forces correcting you?

Bruce Timm: Everyone’s got an opinion. It’s all open for discussion or argument. It’s always that way. It’s usual. This production was relatively smooth sailing.

...and then Bruce had to go face the fans. As to how the movie is, I'm waiting to find out, too. But I'm still betting I won't be disappointed.

Derek McCaw

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