Given the widespread success of comic book superhero blockbusters, it might be tempting to think that superheroes can do no wrong for fans and casual moviegoers. But anyone who has paid close attention to fan reactions to major casting, costumes, or debut trailers knows that nothing can divide an audience like an 'updated' icon. And it's a phenomenon that isn't lost on the creators of modern superhero adaptations.
DC Entertainment boss Geoff Johns recently reminded those skeptical of the Supergirl pilot that The Flash faced similar criticism before becoming a hit, and it's easy to see that on film and TV, re-imagining and updating classic heroes is only going to become more prevalent. Justice League Unlimited creator Bruce Timm is set to drastically reinvent DC's super team in Justice League: Gods & Monsters, and while discussing the release, explained why skeptics will still tune in to see a new take - and if done right, will end up loving it all the same.
Timm is more entrenched in the highs and lows of fan excitement and scorn than most, turning once-outlandish twists on classic heroes into commonly accepted character traits. Not only is he re-imagining Superman as General Zod's son (and Batman as a vampire) in the new Gods & Monsters universe, but his own creation, Harley Quinn will soon be seen on the big screen in David Ayer's Suicide Squad.
Having gone on record saying he's excited to see what Margot Robbie does with the character, Timm admits that it's a case of the tables being turned - and that fans screaming 'heresy' are nothing new:
I’ve had some experience with this, with people being resistant to change. Back when we did the Justice League show, the first season, fans weren’t loving it. The second season they loved it. We fixed all the problems with the show. They were totally on board. And then we pulled the rug out from under them and changed the show completely. We added like 50-some odd new characters and called it Justice League Unlimited. No more two-part episodes. I knew the minute we did it that everybody was going to be freaking out. And I didn’t care.
I figured they were going to watch the show anyways just so they’d have something to bitch about. And then, ultimately, they’ll love the show. We did the same thing with Batman Beyond. When we first mentioned, “Oh yeah, we’re going to do a futuristic teenage Batman,” those are three words that nobody ever wanted to hear in the same sentence. Again, everybody was really skeptical. But they ultimately embraced the show.
I am as intrigued as anybody else [to see Suicide Squad's Harley Quinn]. But, at the same time, I try to be impartial because I know I have more invested in it. And again, I’ve been on the other end, too. I mean we’ve taken characters that, in the comics, were really different and did something different with them in the animated shows. So I know what it’s like to take a character that you think is one thing and you make it something else. Our version of Mr. Freeze was something that nobody had ever really done... that’s now become like the default setting for Mr. Freeze.
But with a character like Harley, I always just have to remind myself: “Yeah, you know, I’ve taken liberties with other characters, so more power to them. They can do with that character whatever they want." I just hope it’s good. That’s all I care about.
While Timm's work on Batman: The Animated Series and both Justice League and Unlimited are now seen as some of the greatest DC Comics adaptations to date, Batman Beyond is a perfect example that fan skepticism can not only be harmful or misinformed, but goes against the attitudes of comics proper. On the printed page - and now, beyond - Timm points out that it's alternate reality stories that prove the most popular with fans these days.
In the case of Beyond, becoming a compelling enough take to have fans wishing to see this non-canonical version of Bruce Wayne and Terry McGinnis adapted to live-action.
According to Timm, fans can get behind alternate or unconventional takes since the primary goal is a change of pace - and quite simply, "fun." That's a sentiment previously stated by legendary comics writer Brian Michael Bendis (that creators "don't care" about rude fans), with Josh Trank explaining that his choices for the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot were bound to shock older fans, but that a new generation needed something more than an identical re-telling.
Timm goes on to explain that the fan tendency - dismissing something before they can grow to love it - extends far beyond superhero film and TV:
Look at all the stuff about [James Bond actor] Daniel Craig. When they first announced Daniel Craig, people were freaking out that he had blonde hair. “Oh, no guy with blonde hair can be James Bond! James Bond has to have black hair.” I’m like, “Really?” But now they love him. People are always resistant to change initially. But, you know, as long as you stay true to the concept of the character, and I think you could easily argue that the Daniel Craig James Bond is… he’s James Bond.
Like I said, I’m so into this whole alternate universe thing - I’ve mentioned this before, but I like to keep saying it - there was some talk a while ago about Idris Elba playing James Bond once Daniel Craig is done, and I’m like: “You know, I’d be down with that.” I think that would be awesome to have a black James Bond. I think he’d be a super badass.
These debates aren't likely to end any time soon, whether in the realm of superheroes or beyond. But it's hard to disagree with Timm's assessment that the quality of a re-imagining or reboot matters infinitely more than fan approval beforehand. As he claims, people will tune in just to have an informed hatred for their beloved characters being 'blasphemed' - convince them soon enough that a new take doesn't replace existing ones, and every fan can walk away happy.
Do you think he has a point? Have you been happy to be proven wrong about an unorthodox reboot or update of a character? Share your thoughts in the comments, and stay tuned for more from our full interview.
From visionary producer and animator Bruce Timm (Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series), Justice League: Gods and Monsters Chronicles turns the DC Universe upside-down. In this dark, alternate world, telling the good guys from the bad guys is never easy: Superman is not the son of Jor-El, he’s the son of General Zod; Wonder Woman is not from peaceful Themyscira, but rather the warring nation of Ares; and Batman is more vampire-bat than man…and he’s not Bruce Wayne. It is unclear if our greatest heroes are here to protect us...or to rule us. Machinima has already announced a second season, which will come out in 2016.
Justice League: Gods & Monsters Chronicles launches on Machinima on June 8, 2015. The animated feature will go on sale July 28, 2015.