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JLU / The Batman Today's Date:

Comic-Con 2005: The Warner Animation Panel

Last week, Justice League Unlimited ended its second/fourth season with an episode called "Epilogue." As Goodson aptly points out, it seemed like Bruce Timm's final word on Batman, the future Batman and quite possibly the Justice League in animated form.

But you might also notice that sixty-five years passed in between the epilogue and the previous episode, "Divided We Fall." Thankfully for fans, we've got a new season coming, and at Comic-Con 2005 the creators took looks both backward and forward.

In a panel showcasing two of Warner Animation's superhero shows (Krypto the Superdog apparently serves as red-headed step-child, even as it molds little fanboys), the studio pulled out several stops to give fans what they wanted - saving Teen Titans for a live show all its own on Saturday. Unfortunately, I was caught napping. Literally.

There would be no sleeping through Friday's presentation. Timm started things out by introducing "Divided We Fall," facetiously saying that "nobody had seen it," despite its prevalence on the internet. Blame the Canadians, who for some reason do not have their JLU seasons divided into two like we do. Of course, the crowd loved it, as this episode brought all of the season's plotlines to a rousing finish.

When the lights came back on, the questions began. One fan asked Timm the awkward question, "which show is your favorite?" He fought back the urge to say He-Man (with Paul Dini, Timm did signings of the MOTU DVD) and went with a heartfelt answer of Justice League Unlimited. He admitted, though, that he usually finds his current assignment to be his favorite.

Surprisingly, the exception would be the underrated Superman: The Animated Series. While working on it, he didn't think that much of it, but now he looks back and sees it as being more impressive.

All the panelists were asked which characters they enjoyed the most. Dwayne McDuffie answered without a thought: Hawkgirl. Then he added Chronos, since the animated version was just a random guy swept up in villainy. With tongue firmly in cheek, story editor Shaun McLaughlin piped up, "B'wana Beast. For obvious reasons."

A fan lamented the loss of Blue Beetle for the show, but events in DC Comics made it pretty clear why the publisher would not allow his use, even as fellow Charlton heroes Captain Atom and The Question took major roles this season. No one would comment on who else DC refused them the rights to use, though someone darkly joked, "we weren't planning on using Sue Dibny."

Later, though, Timm did expand a bit and explained that because of both Batman Begins and The Batman, DC had asked that they leave most of Batman's rogues' gallery alone. Perhaps because of the strange continuity issue between the Timm-verse and Teen Titans, Nightwing, too, was off-limits (he has appeared on Teen Titans).

However, the panelists did tease the audience with who they would be using. Next season, Stargirl will get some focus. Though she has made several appearances this year, she has yet to really take centerstage. The Hawkgirl/Green Lantern/Vixen triangle will heat up when Shayera meets a young archaeologist named Carter Hall. Yes, this announcement sent murmurs of appreciation throughout the room.

One episode will also focus on the Seven Soldiers of Victory, though it must be a slightly different line-up than the comics, as none of the possible seventh soldiers have made an appearance: Speedy, Stuff or Wing. No way are they going to use Wing.

Making a second appearance after a long absence, the Legion of Super-Heroes will visit the 21st Century Timmverse. Not mentioned at the panel but confirmed by anonymous sources, this episode will serve as a backdoor pilot, though Timm is not involved in the proposed Legion series.

To make sure we stayed on the edge of our seats, Warner showed just a minute of the beginning of next season. A possibly insane (or still Brainiac-possessed) Lex Luthor escapes from prison. Leading the police on a wild chase and telling his "imaginary friend" to shut up, Luthor hits a dead end. Up against a wall, Luthor suddenly finds himself pulled through by a disembodied hand.

That hand belongs to one of the comics' League's oldest foes: The Key. The two ride a Keycycle to a conveniently nearby swamp, where Gorilla Grodd steps forward to make Lex an offer he cannot refuse. With the click of a remote control, a familiar cheesy shape rises out of the swamps, looking kind of like Black Manta's helmet turned into a super-villains' clubhouse.

Yep. Next season the Justice League will face the Legion of Doom. Only they're apparently unlimited, too.

The panel members shifted downstairs to do signings at the Mattel Pavilion, while Warner Animation brought in The Batman team.

Though the cast of Justice League Unlimited remained faceless this year (would no one give Phil LaMarr a ride?), Warner brought out two of The Batman's most popular voice actors, Kevin Michael Richardson and Tom Kenney. They joined such behind-the-scenes guys as designer/producer Jeff Matsuda and new writer Duane Capizzi.

The focus of the segment was to really get everyone hyped for the upcoming home video release The Batman vs. Dracula, but they did have some things to offer about the show itself. Most specifically, a montage clip that introduces a new player in Gotham City: Batgirl.

Yes, Batgirl will appear before Robin, a choice the producers defended by pointing out that they had already introduced Jim Gordon. Why not add in Barbara now? When asked if Harley Quinn would appear, however, Capizzi danced nimbly around the question. It took sixty years for her to appear in comics. Left unspoken was, of course, that the character actually first appeared in Bruce Timm and Paul Dini's Batman: The Animated Series, a show that The Batman struggles mightily to make us forget.

The voice actors have an even harder job, as Mark Hamill's Joker in particular has become almost iconic. Richardson does his version as a sort of "Jiminy Glick meets Hannibal Lecter," and his efforts have been rewarded with an Emmy. Tom Kenny shared an anecdote about landing his role as the Penguin. After being repeatedly told not to do Burgess Meredith, he auditioned with the voice anyway. Of course the casting director loved it, and now Oswald Cobblepot sounds somewhere between Meredith and Popeye.

It also slipped out that Warner is planning a direct-to-video Superman animated movie, that Capizzi has scripted. Meant to tie-in to the Superman Returns theatrical release, it will send the Last Son of Krypton on, in Capizzi's words, "a 12 labors of Hercules kind of thing."

The announcement seemed more an accident than an intended part of the presentation, as we got no glimpse of this project at all. All anyone would say was that they were revising Bruce Timm's designs, but not whether or not the new look would be more in line with Matsuda's vision.

Everything came to a close with the first act of The Batman vs. Dracula. Peter Stormare voices the dread vampire, and as I noted earlier in my convention reports, this piece looks much darker than the regular series. The little ones might not want to watch, as Dracula does indeed suck people dry and bring them back to unlife.

You, however, may want to watch, as this segment flowed beautifully between The Penguin fleeing Dracula and the Batman chasing the Joker. This show may finally be coming into its own.

Derek McCaw


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