Batman Beyond celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, and I had a chance to sit down with the cast and crew as they took a walk down memory lane at this year’s Comic-Con International, better known as SDCC. I had the opportunity to speak with James Tucker, Bob Goodman, Stan Berkowitz, Glen Murakami, Kevin Conroy, and Will Friedle. Even though each cast and crew member only had around four to five minutes, they made the most of it and shared some surprising details in the process.
But Why Tho?: Who is your favorite Batman Beyond favorite villain?
James Tucker, director: It was Inque. She was just…you know…I doodled it on a piece of paper, I wrote the name. We were all in the room together when Bruce Timm just said: “We need villains.” That’s literally all he said-nothing was off the table. It was me, Shane Glines, Glen (Murakami)…Bruce would come in and out because he was trying to get the scripts ready…He trusted a lot of what we were doing. Normally that wouldn’t be my function as a storyboard artist. I’d done designs, but basically, at that point anyone who could draw and had an idea-their input was welcome. I did Big Time, most of the Jokerz, Mister Fixx.
But Why Tho?: How did The Zeta Project come to fruition?
Bob Goodman, writer: I keep getting asked that question…When I wrote the “Zeta” episode, nothing was on my mind other than a one-off. In fact, my original pitch for that episode-I included that he got destroyed at the end. I was thinking about the sort of classic James Whale Universal monster movie structure where something or someone shows up and you think it’s a monster and then you come to sympathize with them-they’re not the monsters, the humans are. And then the monster you’ve come to care for gets destroyed anyway.
So that was the story I was going to tell, and Stan Berkowitz said “No! Let him live in the end.” And he kind of talked me into it, and I’m glad he did. While the show was in pre-production, we had an Emmys, I was at a bar with Alan Burnett, and we were pretty loosened up. And I said “Zeta, the thing I just did, that could be its own series!” I pitched him a little bit and he said “Sounds great! On Monday morning, pitch it to the studio.” So I did!
But Why Tho?: You wrote the episode that introduced Shriek. How did he come into being?
Stan Berkowitz, writer: Shriek was created by Glen…Essentially, he drew a picture of what Shriek would look like and tossed it on the writer’s desk, and said: “Here’s a guy who does something involving sound.” Then we had to figure out what his background is, and what he did…I loved writing for Shriek.
The bit where (Shriek cuts off the sound while fighting Terry) I thought…the animators I work with are really good, and can far outdo anything I can do as a writer. What can they do about sound? We hadn’t really experimented with that very much. I loved the way it worked out. And by the way? That’s accurate. Most of the stuff we do, at best, is pseudoscientific, and worst, B.S. Sound suppression…the system listens to the wave and instantly creates a counter wave…That was twenty years ago, and now it’s found in many automobiles.
But Why Tho?: How was the process of designing the show? Did you pull from any other comics while in the development process?
Glen Murakami, producer: I liked creating the universe, the world…just the overall tone and feel of the show…It was like, “Here’s everything we did before” and “Here’s a completely different style. I don’t think we were going “It’s an Elseworlds” but I think we were building off the continuity of Batman: The Animated Series.
But Why Tho?: You’ve voiced Batman for nearly close to three decades now. What, if anything, has changed during that time?
Kevin Conroy, the voice of Bruce Wayne/Batman: The trick has really been to keep it consistent. To not have it change dramatically and only deepen it. People grew up on the character. People know that voice. When you’re the voice of an animated character, you live in people’s heads…it’s a very intimate relationship. I have people come up to me all the time and say “You’re the voice I hear when I read the comic books-you’re the narration of Batman!” If I wasn’t going to be true to that, if I was going to change it somehow, they’d nail me in a heartbeat. They’d hear it in a minute. So the trick has really been to stay consistent, but keep it fresh. And I think my background as a theater actor when you have to do a show eight times a week per year-you learn how to keep things fresh. It’s part of the job…There is no audience more passionate for a character than the Batman audience.
But Why Tho?: How has the character of Terry McGinnis resonated with you, and the fans, over the years?
Will Friedle, the voice of Terry McGinnis: I think the thing that resonated with most of the fans with Terry was that he was the everyman. He wasn’t a billionaire, he was just a kid in high school who managed to be trained by Batman. He didn’t go to the League of Shadows…He was trained and he was a guy and he could have been anyone watching Batman Beyond, which I think resonated with a lot of people. Me…again it was my first animated series so everything related to Batman Beyond is special to me. The character, himself…I have trouble divorcing myself from this character because I threw myself into him wholeheartedly and as Terry was learning to be Batman, I was learning to be a voiceover actor and as Bruce was teaching Terry, Kevin was teaching me. It’s all intertwined in my life.
Batman Beyond: The Complete Series will be released October 29th on Blu Ray.
Collier “CJ” Jennings is a freelance reporter and film critic living in Seattle. He uses his love of comics and film/TV to craft reviews and essays on genre projects. He is also a host on Into the Spider-Cast.