Fans of Warner Bros. Animation and DC Comics have had some serious news to digest lately, with the surprise announcement that producer and supervisor of nearly all things DCU, Bruce Timm, would be stepping down from his post. Having overseen the groundbreaking Superman and Batman cartoons, Justice League Unlimited and standalone films, there was clearly more to the story than a simple resignation or reassignment.
Now further comments from Warner Bros. reassure fans that Timm’s time with the company is far from over, and his return to the spotlight is on the horizon. With it will come some “big” announcements, and the writing on the wall points to a brand new animated incarnation of the Justice League. Could Warner Bros. be planning for the future of their animated television, or something much, much larger?
We held off on reporting Bruce Timm’s relinquishing of the supervising producer role to James Tucker (as announced by VoicesFromKrypton) since it was clear the other shoe had yet to fall. As the man who had overseen anything to do with animated DC heroes or villains since any can remember, be it TV series or some of the best animated superhero movies to date, his tenure coming to an end without ceremony seemed odd.
James Tucker’s plan to use classic DC heroes to introduce more characters and tell original stories, not just adaptations, promises a big step forward for the studio – not to mention distinguishing his own strategy from that of Timm. Tucker further explained that the timing of his predecessor was appropriate – since Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns was a long time coming for Timm and the studio – Tucker believes that “[i]f he was going to make the break, that seemed like a good time.”
While the production of high quality animated feature films from DC and WB has never been better, all aspects of the studio haven’t fared so well. Following the cancellation of Green Lantern: The Animated Series and Young Justice, and the fact that Justice League Unlimited was, in many ways, the final entry in the animated universe Timm spawned with Batman: The Animated Series in the early ’90s, some signs that change was coming had been noted.
The weight of overseeing an entire universe of animated superhero action had taken a toll on Timm – a fact evident to any who saw him at industry events or conventions – but the last thing anyone expected was for WB to replace him without so much as a grand farewell.
We should confess that this announcement did give us pause, wondering if Warner Bros. and DC had finally decided to take our advice and put Timm to work on shaping a live-action movie universe. That’s certainly a long shot given the lack of any apparent progress on the Justice League movie front, but not the worst move the studios could make.
Luckily, it wasn’t long before Gary Miereanu, WB Animation’s publicist, took to Twitter to clarify the earlier reports of Timm’s departure from his supervisory role:
@martinmccallion Bruce Timm is stepping away from the DCU Animated Original Movies for a bit … but he’ll be back – in a very big way.
— Gary Miereanu (@SuperPRGuy) March 29, 2013
That tease proved not to be quite enough, as Mierneanu went on to explain that anyone who thought Timm’s relationship with the studio was severed was grossly misinformed:
RT #BruceTimm continues his amazing work at Warner Bros. He’s only taking a break from DCU films to develop more of the stuff you love.
— Gary Miereanu (@SuperPRGuy) March 30, 2013
@riaaanna Honestly, he never left. Green Lantern Animated series … The Flaming C … Dark Knight Returns. And something new and cool
— Gary Miereanu (@SuperPRGuy) March 30, 2013
In case anyone is unaware of what Miereanu is referring to as ‘The Flaming C,’ we’d point you all to to Conan O’Brien’s brief stint as Bruce Timm’s muse for the animated series Young Justice. And as fond as we are of the pair’s unconventional crime-fighter, we can’t help but think Timm’s “big” return will be focused on something a bit more substantial; despite our innermost wishes, most likely in the realm of animation.
According to a source of CBM‘s from within the WB offices in Burbank, that’s precisely the case, with Timm now planning the launch of a brand new Justice League TV series set within his existing universe.
It might seem like somewhat of an underwhelming reveal – the man famous for creating groundbreaking superhero cartoons is making another one – but with Timm formally taken off supervising animated features to do it, and other developments with some of DC’s most iconic characters, something more substantial might be in the works.
To be more specific, Warner Bros. could be putting their most trusted mind to the task of doing for their animated Justice League what the comics did over a year ago: help set the stage for a live-action shared universe.
We’ve been wondering for some time what WB and DC’s plans were for their animated division, beyond continuing to develop programming marketed for kids (and their comic book-loving parents). The full-length animated features continue to be must-see content for comic book fans, but how the studio’s success in animated storytelling would be translated to live-action, if ever, remained unclear.
The first sign that Marvel’s success at adapting their characters to film was being noticed by DC came with the launch of their ‘New 52’ company-wide reboot. The decision to start almost all of their heroes over from scratch (save for Batman and Green Lantern) was made for several reasons, but the updating and modernization of both origin stories and the costumes was clear. As were the ways it helped reflect past, and future live-action adaptations.
Superman’s suit became less like the one fans had known, and more an alien suit of armor, losing Kal-El’s signature red briefs in favor of a simple belt. In other words (as noted by Henry Cavill and co.), more in keeping with the version of the character that fans will get to know in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013).
A skeptic might say these changes in the comic books are intended to make dated heroes relevant for today’s audiences, not simply more suitable for big screen adaptation: we’d argue the two desires are one and the same. Although the overhauling and adjusting of beloved origin stories varies from character to character, there’s no mistaking that DC Comics is shifting their universe to be more in keeping with a movie-goer’s sensibilities, not just those of a comic book fan.
The strategy makes sense on its face: A movie fan enjoys the on screen portrayal of Superman or Batman (or Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, etc.), motivating them to make a trip to their neighborhood comic store, and the books with that character’s name bear a stronger similarity to the one they expect to see. Warner Bros. and DC Comics executives pat one another on the back, and the dollars roll in.
(Unfortunately, attempts to do this over at Marvel have seen little in the way of increased comic book sales. In fact, as Marvel’s superhero movies make more and more money, the publishing side of things sees less and less – though that’s likely a symptom of the ailing comic book industry as a whole.)
Without a live-action roster of superhero films or Justice League team-up like WB had originally planned, the potential for this cross-media marketing has yet to be truly demonstrated, but even if the two companies have their comic book and film road map in order, that still leaves the potentially biggest and most devoted market unaddressed: children watching television.
We’re not claiming that younger audiences aren’t already inundated with DC heroes of all ages, animation styles and quality, but anyone will tell you that DC animation just doesn’t get any better than Bruce Timm’s original Superman and Batman: The Animated Series. Whether in art style, plot structure, or even voice actors, most animated DC content the average TV audience takes in is still following on the heels of Timm in some way.
So with the prospects of a live-action Justice League failing to gain traction, why not ask the most trusted name at WB animation to remind the world why it worked in the first place? At the moment, DC’s current roster of heroes exists notably separate from the ones seen on television, in syndication, and in feature-length animated films. That’s a problem that has to be addressed sooner or later, and spotlighting ‘The New 52’ incarnation of the Justice League on a weekly basis could help build momentum and support for any live-action project.
Anyone who doubts non-canonical versions or alternate worlds confuse loyal fans need only look at the debates that spawn in any one of our articles concerning the League: Flash-fans who argue a comedic actor is needed for a live-action Wally West butt heads with those who believe Barry Allen, not West, will need to be introduced first, while Batman supporters continue to disagree as to whether Nolan’s version was the best ever seen or if it bore little resemblance to the comic book version. In many cases, the boldest and most progressive moves DC makes go unnoticed by the demographics they’re dealing with.
Simon Baz, the first Muslim, Arab-American Green Lantern (“Who..?”)
Nowhere is this clearer than with characters like Aquaman and Wonder Woman – characters made central to the latest incarnation of the Justice League, but who continue to draw negativity from the masses. DC’s Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns has worked tirelessly to re-imagine an Aquaman that is not only aware of society’s view of him as a walking joke, but is infuriated by it. Any comic book enthusiast knows that a live-action version of the new Aquaman would be deadly and lethal in combat, but TV and movie audiences have no idea and simply scoff at the idea.
The essential problem is that if Warner Bros. and DC Comics don’t want to have to cancel yet another Justice League movie before it begins, they’ll need public excitement and interest on their side. As it stands, some of the most promising characters (from a comic standpoint) are still weighed down by past incarnations or confusion over concurrent versions of the character.
As much as we’d recommend WB simply adapt Lauren Montgomery’s animated Wonder Woman movie into live-action and call it a day, that’s a sizable investment for a heroine modern audiences haven’t seen in the spotlight (not without embarrassing all involved, anyway). Yet the newest version of Diana established her as a strong, assertive, unromantic descendant of Greek gods – but again, what DC is trying to accomplish in the pages of comic books has no other medium through which to change public perception.
The way we see it: New Age, New 52, new animated series from Bruce Timm. Whether Timm is charged with injecting more of ‘The New 52’s style into the series being developed or not, the need for a more modern and updated take is obvious. Given his track record and talent that usually accompanies him, adapting comic storylines isn’t needed for compelling action, but don’t be surprised if Timm’s new cast of heroes at least look more like their updated counterparts than their predecessors.
A new series targeting children (and comic book fans who recognize good stories when they see them) brings them in along with their parents, and helps Warner Bros. attract bigger audiences in the process. Of course, there’s nothing that would prevent WB from creating an animated Justice League series for adults and younger viewers to run in The CW’s primetime, but we’ll place our money on the Saturday morning option. That being said, some recent story decisions made by DC’s writers would attract attention from an older crowd…
As critically acclaimed or grounded as some of Warner Bros. superhero films may be, a single film every three or four years can’t match the marketing of an ongoing television series – and that’s where DC has always had the edge. Bruce Timm helped them claim animation supremacy over Marvel decades ago, so now that the fight is truly heating up (and turning in Marvel’s favor), DC and WB will be missing an incredible opportunity by not making an aggressive move.
Bruce Timm stepping down as supervising producer for animated features certainly leads us to believe the studio knows what’s needed, and hopefully the reasons we’ve given make it clear what Warner Bros. could be up to. For now it’s speculation on our part, but if done right, a modern, intelligent and widely-appealing animated Justice League series is good news for any fan of cartoon, comics, and blockbuster films.
What would you most like to see from a brand new Bruce Timm series? More of the same, or something completely groundbreaking? If Timm is at work on a Justice League animated series for a new generation, which heroes do you hope to see make the cut? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.