Meets His Maker
An Interview with Bruce Timm
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.
been waiting for?
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.
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.
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.
McCaw: Are you really nervous? You’re Bruce
Timm: I’m a little nervous.
McCaw: Why should you be nervous?
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.
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.
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.
nervous? You're Bruce Timm.
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
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.
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.”
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.”
they were saying, yeah, they really wanted to push the envelope.
They really wanted to push the adult content.
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
not that, he’s not Superman.
a challenge for everybody concerned. There was a lot of
internal discussion between us, between DC Comics and Warner
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?
Timm: He’s a great character. He’s
a challenge. He presents different challenges than 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.
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
isn't a spoiler...
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.
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?
Timm: The obvious answer is Ultimate Avengers.
To a degree. The answer is yes and no.
McCaw: You’re going to be better than Ultimate
Timm: That’s not for me to say. That’s
for some other people to express their opinion. Or not.
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.
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
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.
McCaw: Was this project something you came to them
with, or did they come to you?
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.
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.
McCaw: I’ll assume that you’re not
finished – at least, I hope you’re not finished
– with the DC Universe.
Timm: Oh, no.
McCaw: I’m going to go out on a limb and
say you’re going to do quite well tonight.
Timm: I think it’s going to do well.
McCaw: What’s your dream project?
I’d heard rumors years ago that you were interested
in doing the New Gods saga…
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.
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.
McCaw: Is there one that in your gut you really
wish you could take a shot?
Timm: No, not really. There’s a bunch of
McCaw: I’ve heard you say you really wish
you could have done the Phantom Stranger in Justice League…
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.
McCaw: Is there anything in your career that you
think was kind of undone?
Timm: That’s a weird question.
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?
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
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.