Tagged: Kevin Conroy

Ed Catto: It’s A Bat, Bat, Bat, Bat, Bat World

I’m a big fan of Batman. Always have been. Just this past weekend my wonderful Great Aunt Margaret reminded me that I proudly wore a bat-cape as a young boy. Don’t worry, I think I outgrew that by the time I was 22. These days, I let my Batman fan-ness show through with things like my Bat-article in this year’s Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, which focuses on the top Legend of the Dark Knight Batman stories. Jim Steranko provided a gorgeous Batman cover, so it’s a great honor.

But as my interest in comics has broadened, the focus on Batman, per se, has been pushed aside. There are plenty of fans to take my place. Batman attracts a lot of fans. It’s fine by me if it’s time for other fans to step up to the forefront. And it’s just as well. So many of today’s Batman stories, like the Christian Bale Batman movies or Playstation’s Arkham Asylum mythology, just aren’t my cup of tea.

And I know that at some point, there will be a special comic debuting or a reprint published that appeals to my vision of Batman. Recently I was surprised. I ended up having real Batman day.

This particular day started with catching a bit of HBO’s documentary, Starring Adam West. It showcases the actor, as you probably guessed. I only saw 20 minutes in the middle (I’d like to see more later) but there seems to be a healthy focus on Adam West’s role as Batman. The part I saw showed how he was invited to a Texas town and was honored as TV’s Batman.

There was a bit where someone announces him as the first Batman. Adam interrupts to correct him. The announcer adjusts and then refers to him as “the second Batman.” Many longtime fans, like those who read this column, know that two other actors starred as Batman in movie serials and three others voiced Batman in the long-running The Adventures of Superman radio show. It’s obvious that Adam knew that too. Instead of delivering a history lesson, Adam just offers the phrase “the Classic Batman” to the interviewer as a compromise. He’s clever and gracious, as he was throughout the documentary.

Later that very same day, the newest direct-to-DVD animated feature from Warner Bros. was scheduled for a special showing in movie theaters across America. It was one of those Fathom Events where they show something special in a movie theater on a slow movie night – usually a Monday or a Tuesday. My talented friends in the New York Metropolitan Opera, Gloria and Dana Watson, tell me that these Fathom showings have greatly expanded the Met’s audiences.

This animated adventure, Batman and Harley Quinn, heralds the return of creator Bruce Timm. It revisits the Bat-version of Batman: The Animated Series. This Emmy-award winning series has been celebrating its 25 anniversary this year. The recent San Diego Comic-Con found many opportunities to celebrate this ground-breathing series, with panels the famous souvenir book, and even debuting this animated feature.

While my Batman ’66 memories are firmly rooted in my childhood, Batman: The Animated Series reminds me of a totally different time in my life. For me, it’s more of a “young dad” thing. I clearly remember watching the debut episode one Saturday morning with my daughter Cassie. She was always a good sport, putting up with her crazy dad’s interests. I tried to tell her how the female characters from that first episode (Catwoman and Red Claw) were just like Disney heroines, but she was smart enough –even then – not to buy it. But she’d sit with me and we enjoyed so many episodes together.

I’m not sure if I am really a Harley Quinn fan. I’ve been pruning my comic collection and it was pretty easy to part with many Harley comics. But Batman and Harley Quinn offers a nuanced view of the character. Sure, she’s a nut, but this “episode” takes time to show many sides of the character. She can be sympathetic, clever, manipulative, annoying, frustrated and a showboat. And somehow, all these various aspects mix together to create a believable character.

The vocal talents shine in this feature. Kevin Conroy, for many the ‘real’ voice of Batman, is familiar but offers a few surprises along the way. Notable is Paget Brewster. You know her from her many TV appearances, and she brings something new to the villainous Poison Ivy.

It was kick to watch Batman in a theater with a bunch of fans. Batman & Harley Quinn offers plenty of insider jokes to long time Batman and DC fans, and we all laughed together.

Usually, I dive into select comics for my Batman fix. But It was a surprisingly enjoyable day to spend a little time with an old buddy: starting with the HBO documentary and then watching a cartoon… on a big screen. What a year for Geek Culture and Batman fans.

 

Ed Catto: Elasticity of Geek Culture

Every college freshman learns about price elasticity in Economics 101. Price elasticity simply means that consumers will be more accepting of price changes for some products than for others. And as I’ve been watching the CW’s new Riverdale television series, I’m translating this economic concept to Geek Culture. Specifically, I’m mesmerized how some fans embrace changes to pop culture properties with a Geek Culture Elasticity and others just can’t embrace changes.

Long-time Archie fans – he is, after all, celebrating his 75th anniversary this year – are wrapping their heads around this latest television incarnation. The new Riverdale show is a steamy and creepy manifestation of beloved characters that ostensibly represent Americana. Unlike their traditional comic counterparts, these versions of the characters were driven by dark and base motivations that are a part of real people (albeit gorgeous and glamorous versions of real people).

I really liked the show. But then again – I like Gotham and that’s not really like the traditional Batman comic books, and I like the current Silver Surfer comics, and they aren’t like the traditional Silver Surfer comic books either.

We should be used to twisted versions of the Archie gang by now. Long ago, the publisher realized the characters had great elasticity and created Lil’ Archie, miniature versions of the teenagers. More recently, the various Archie comics have been boldly publishing non-traditional versions of their characters in series like Afterlife With Archie (the zombie version), The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (creepy Gaimen-esque witch stories) and Life with Archie (The Archie gang grows up and becomes thirtysomething).

The entire line of Archie comics was recently refreshed with Mark Waid’s new Archie series. Jughead, Adam Hughes’ Betty and Veronica and the new Josie and Pussycats soon followed. Long-time Archie writer (for former Marvel editor-in-chief) Tom DeFalco just started up Reggie and Me in the same universe.

There have always been twisted Archie versions percolating about. One of my favorite stories in recent years was Brubaker and Phillip’s The Last of the Innocent series from 2011. Doppelgangers of Archie and his gang were thrust into their very own crime noir story. It was deliciously wicked.

But taking a step back and looking at the entire Geek Culture landscape, it’s easy to see that while some fans welcome changes, others are furious.

Kelly Thompson is the writer of Marvel’s new Hawkeye series, and has some thoughts about fan outrage that illustrates some fans’ In-elasticity when it comes to beloved to icons. In the Marvel Comics mythology, the original Hawkeye, Clint Barton, has been very comfortable with sharing his heroic mantle with a young upstart, Kate Bishop. And this new series puts Kate center stage as Hawkeye.

Thompson recently told a story on Graphic Policy’s BlogTalkRadio about how one fan was outraged that “Hawkeye wasn’t a dude anymore.” And this fan claimed to be the greatest Hawkeye fan, which seems incongruous when you realize that Kate Bishop has been Hawkeye in the ongoing comics universe for over a decade.

It’s easy for some fans to shake their fists in rage when creators, or corporations, change or alter their characters. And it’s just as easy for other fans to embrace new takes on old characters, like a female Captain Marvel or a black Captain America.

It’s not just the lunkheads who have trouble with changes. That’s too simplistic an analysis.

The proof is in the sales numbers. Many retailers, as well as fans, feel that Marvel has pushed the pendulum of change too far, and these wide swings have resulted in softer sales. The Marvel heroes might not have the Geek Elasticity that senior management had planned on.

Longtime fans tend to take change in stride. They are confident that any character reboot will eventually bounce back. They don’t get upset when Captain America is revealed to be an evil double agent because they’d seen it before and they know that the status quo will eventually bounce back.

I am also impressed how Geek Culture can easily keep track of all the different versions of their favorite characters.

For example, Flash fans know the Flash’s pre-Crisis mythology, his post Crisis-mythology, his new 52 mythology, his television mythology and his Rebirth mythology. And if you don’t know what all those terms means – don’t worry. You may be better off.

A big character like Batman can support many versions.
Batman is dark and brooding and in the movies, while his television is young and growing while his comic book self, ostensibly his true self is… well, I guess that changes a lot too.

Pop Culture today gets more complicated than ever, some versions, like the video game mythologies offer another take on the characters. The popular Batman: Arkham video game series, by Rocksteady has created its own darker version of Batman and his villains. Developers Rock Steady and WB Games Montreal has cleverly invited longtime Batman contributors like Paul Dini and Kevin Conroy to lend their creative talents to these efforts, further blurring the lines.

You know, it’s always been this way. Back in the in the 30s and the 40s a big hero had two competing mythologies that were both tops in their respective media.

  • The Shadow of the pulp novels was a mysterious crime fighter, with dark mysterious history, many identities and an intricate organization full of nuanced operatives.
  • The radio adventures of the character featured a ubiquitous millionaire playboy, who was often quite bumbling and less-than-competent. And when he assumed the identity of the Shadow, he became invisible.
  • The Shadow Comics confused things even more. In those comics he looked like the pulp version of the Shadow, but became invisible like the radio version. And then the comics introduced new characters not in the pulps or the radio show. Most memorable was Valda Rune. She was an enthralling femme fatale. I hope either Dynamite Entertainment or pulpmaster Will Murray will revive her very soon!

But nobody seemed to have an issue with enjoying two, or three, versions of a top heroic character like the Shadow. Maybe fans were more comfortable with the Elasticity of Pop Culture Icons back then. Or maybe they were better at just keeping it all in perspective.

And when it comes to the Archie, Veronica and gang in Riverdale…hey, who really knows who they are in high school?

Tweeks: Batman Killing Joke SDCC Interviews

Okay, first off — Warning! This Batman movie is not for kids! Batman: The Killing Joke is the first- R-Rated DC original animated movie ever. It’s based on the comic created by Alan Moore & is known for being particularly disturbing and dark. This is what sets up The Joker as the baddest villain in Gotham. You know how Batgirl ended up in a wheelchair and then became Oracle — well this is how she ended up paralyzed.

Batman: Killing Joke had it’s debut at Comic-Con and Maddy was there to interview the voice of Batman himself (Kevin Conroy), Ray Wise (yes! THAT Ray Wise!) who voices Commissioner Gordon, and writer Brian Azzarello (who not only adapted the one-shot to the script, but added additional material to the story to give Barbara Gordon a story arc).

Dennis O’Neil: The Sound of the Bat

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I was on my way to meet the voice of Batman when I lost my mirror. I’m pretty sure the culprit was from New Jersey and so I’d like to blame Chris Christie but the Jersey governor really had nothing to do with it. Maybe next time.

We were in Manhattan, on busy 34th Street, in the midst of dense crosstown traffic creeping along, barely moving. Suddenly something struck the car, only about a foot from the driver’s head. Since I was that driver, the matter was of some concern to me. What had happened was, a truck had inched into my lane and hit my driver’s side mirror and there I was, looking injured and forlorn, and there, too, was the truck driver, a youngish dude in work clothes, blaming me. If you know me, you know that refusing to cop to a fault is not in my catalogue of questionable behavior, so believe me when I tell you that I am pretty damn sure that it was not my fault, thank you very much, but the east bound lane of a street rife with vehicles in the middle of the afternoon didn’t seem like a good venue for a debate and anyway, he was back in his truck pretty quickly, creeping east, so I would have been debating his tail pipe and, finally, going a distance to avoid any sort of confrontation is in my catalogue of questionable behavior. (Is writing very long sentences questionable behavior? You decide.) I got out and briefly inspected the damage.

I got back behind the wheel and saw a parking lot a block away. We weren’t late, not yet, but we were getting close, but the parking lot could be our friend in need. Just zip in there, grab a ticket and hurry to my destination. Then a police officer came from the curb and knocked on my window. I rolled it down and started to explain the broken mirror. But the mirror wasn’t the problem; intent on getting to the parking lot

I had forgotten to rebuckle my seat belt. That omission was going to cost me the better part of a benjamiin. And I remembered some of the reasons I no longer lived in Manhattan.

But we finally reached our destination, a recording studio, and I finally met Batman… well, actually, Batman’s voice. Kevin Conroy has been doing the voice work for the various animated versions of Batman for almost 25 years, so yes, I’d certainly heard him, but I’d never seen him. Soon, I was sitting next to him in a sound booth, both of us wearing microphones, watching an animated movie on a monitor and talking about it. No script, no rehearsal, just looking at the flick and commenting on what we saw. When the movie was released on DVD, what Kevin and I said would be an optional soundtrack. Strange gig. But a nice one. Kevin was pleasant and friendly and so were the techie guys. I’d do it again in a hot second, though I might ask to negotiate the broken mirror. I could live without attention from the officer, too.

PS: The Arts and Leisure section of the New York Times dated July 31 had a nice story about Kevin Conroy and Batman, which is where I got the idea for what you’ve just read. Maybe there’s some way you could check it out?

 

The Point Radio: KILLING JOKE’s 30 Year Trip To Animation

In the wake of Comic Con, so many fans were talking about just one thing – BATMAN:THE KILLING JOKE and the new R rated DVD release. Cast members Kevin Conroy,Tara Strong & Ray Wise join us to talk about their respect for the classic story and how it was transformed from page to screen.

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Marc Alan Fishman: The Voice of an Entire Universe

Let’s just get this out of the way now: Amongst we ComicMixers, the esteemed (and far prettier) Emily S. Whitten is a bigger and better fan of voice actors than I shall ever be. With that being said… aren’t voice actors amazing?

You see, in between bouts of crippling sinusitis and binge-watching Breaking Bad like I was addicted to meth, I opted to catch John DiMaggio’s documentary I Know That Voice. A fantastic little flick dedicated in celebration of a continually (mostly) unsung hero of the animated world: the voice performer. With interviews from some – if not most – of the current tribe of working actors and actresses who lend their larynx to the cartoons of the day, I simply must recommend watching it yourself soon if you haven’t already.

Andrea RomanoBut that recommendation is not my singular premise of the week, kiddos. For you see, it was that fine feature that finds me floundering on someone who I particularly find perhaps even more incredible than the aforementioned performers – Andrea Romano, voice director.

A quick scan of her Wikipedia bio proved to me why she’s such a favorite of mine – Batman aside, which we’ll get to soon enough. After three years serving in LaLa land, Andrea landed the voice director role for a little show by the name of Duck Tales. For those not in the know, the best I could say is this: Duck Tales still holds up today, and puts plenty of what passes as entertainment now to shame. If you think Adventure Time doesn’t owe a debt of gratitude to Duck Tales, then you probably think dub step is real music. But I digress.

Duck Tales aside from wondrous writing – some episodes were adapted from classic Carl Barks stories – became a staple to my generation due, in part, to the strong direction in the vocal booth. For someone to be able to help her cadre of pros (and yes, we know Disney don’t fudge ’round when it comes to a good voice… save for Mickey, ha Ha!) produce pathos, angst, fear, pride, and greed in between daring adventures and slapstick? Well, it helped a show about anthropomorphic ducks and dogs going on worldly (and time-travely) jaunts feel like a show that could care less it was about ducks and dogs.

To wax poetic about every line-item in her IMDb profile would be a waste. Suffice to say, Ms. Romano’s resume is the tops. But the devil is in the details, there. Because no matter what else she was help produce in her tenure, Andrea Romano’s magnum opus lay across her impermeable casting and direction of the animated Bruce Timm DCU.

Close your eyes. Imagine Batman and the Joker trading a bit of banter before a major battle. If you’re not hearing Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, I feel mildly sorry for you. Personal preferences aside, when Bruce Timm’s critically acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series debuted… it was not only the unmistakable visual identity of the show that captivated the world.

The casting was an unheard of coup. Legends of the stage and screen joined well-vetted voice-acting professionals to layer a soundscape that perfected the art of matching an animated presence to realistic voice. I take nothing away from other casts, and cartoons mind you. But I beg for someone to compare the sheer volume of wins Ms. Romano chalks in her column, if by the DCU alone.

Even when facing a recasting, like Superman (heard of him?), Andrea cemented her mettle with me. Tim Daly’s Superman, as originally cast, brought so much to the role. As cast and written, Daly was innocent, untested, strong, but jovial. But by the time we reached George Newbern’s brogue come Justice League: Unlimited, the character had changed. Andrea’s selection delivered one of the most potent speeches ever uttered over celluloid. When through gritted teeth we heard “I live in a world made of cardboard…” in the finale of the series (and the animated DCU-ala-Timm) we heard a Superman that shunted away from his once prentice prose… that was still wholly made of his former self.

Beyond the most recognizable faces she brilliantly cast, Andrea Romano even nailed the minor roles. Take the casting of B-movie mainstay Jeffery Combs as the kooky Question. As a Vic Sage fan since forever, I can’t get Combs’ odd gravelly whisper out of my mind’s ear when I read him. Or take perhaps the hilarious casting of Fred Savage and Jason Hervey as Hawk and Dove, respectively. A wink and a nod to those of us who once grew up with the Arnold brothers of Wonder Years fame, but correctly recast; with the more nasal Hervey cast as the lesser Dove to the now meatier range of Savage. Even when taken out of our times, Romano matched the bravado necessary for Sargent Rock himself with the Hunter, Fred Dryer. I could go on (like the perfectly cocky Tom Everett Scott as Booster Gold, ahem), but my point has been made. And damn it all, I haven’t even gotten to the villains!

As my son begins to gain interest in the animated adventures of his favorite heroes, I’ll be perplexed to find him a definitive Captain America, or Iron Man. Luckily for me, he knows Superman and Batman. So, for the while, I’m well covered.

 

The Point Radio: Kevin Conroy On Keeping BATMAN Fresh

BATMAN ASSAULT ON ARKHAM is the newest direct-to-DVD DC feature with a lot of familiar parts including Kevin Conroy reprising his Batman role, and telling us how he manages to always keep it fresh. Plus, comedian John Lehr goes from Geico caveman to western funny man in the Hulu series QUICK DRAW, and talks about how improv is a huge part of the show.

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REVIEW: Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics

Necessary Evil-SuperVillains of DC ComicsThere are times one wonders what synergies truly exist between parent company Warner Bros and DC Entertainment. Normally, the studio cherry-picks properties it wants from its subsidiary and rarely does DC get something in return. However, as the company planned its mammoth villain-centric fall publishing plans, they managed to corral the studio into helping create and market the just released Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics. The 99-minute documentary features sound and fury but its significance is obscured.

Watching it, I kept wondering who this was being marketed to since casual fans of the movies, television shows, or video games lack the context to comprehend much of what the host of talking heads had to say. Even current readers of the New 52 might be confused by the various iterations of the villains as they have appeared through the years.

With Christopher Lee trying, and not entirely succeeding, at using his marvelous voice to lend gravitas to the overwrought script, we are taken through a series of thematic chapters exploring the nature of villainy. What is entirely lacking is any sort of historic context to put things into perspective.

At first, larger-than-life heroes evolved from their pulp ancestors to tackle four-color criminal masterminds, corrupt government officials, and the occasional mad scientist. Heck, Superman didn’t really meet a serious threat until the Ultra-Humanite at the beginning of his second year. At least Bob Kane was faster to have Batman deal with the Mad Monk and Hugo Strange in his inaugural year. The Golden Age of comics saw a plethora of heroes and heroines arrive without as much thought being put into their opponents resulting in a mere handful of worthy adversaries being revived through the years.

The exception is Batman, where Bill Finger clearly recognized the need for a bizarre rogues gallery, much as Dick Tracy had his grotesque villains in his newspaper strip. It really wasn’t the Silver Age of the late 1950s before other heroes were given a significantly interesting collection of villains demonstrating an evolutionary leap in the sophistication of the premises and storytelling.

GroupYou wouldn’t really know any of this from the documentary which focused more than 99% of its art from the last half-decade or so and all its talk was a jumble so we’d go from someone discussing a theme to someone else discussing a specific bad guy and his ever-changing motivation. In listening to co-publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee, one would think every story has to feature a good versus evil confrontation and each adventure has to end with the hero paying some price for the victory. Such cookie cutter thinking may be one reason why the New 52 has been struggling to maintain readers, prompting its accelerating churn of titles.

The past is represented by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, with a dollop of Paul Levitz while writers Scott Snyder and Marc Guggenheim seem to be the modern era. Then we hear from Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras and Editorial Director Bobbie Chase, neither of whom shows a personal opinion about the modern day bad guys. The Hollywood connection is represented by Man of Steel‘s Zack Snyder, Superman: The Movie’s Richard Donner and future Justice League Dark  director Guillermo del Toro (although Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan or David Goyer would have been nice). Animation is covered by Paul Dini, Alan Burnett, and Andrea Romano and their contributions are interesting. We even have vocal performers Kevin Conroy, Clancy Brown, Kevin Shinick and Scott Porter on hand to lend their thoughts. The most passionate of the bunch with some of the best lines is DC’s Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns. Second to him is psychiatrist Andrea Letamendi, who brings  fresh perspective and a fan girl’s point of view. (It’s also hard to accept the speakers discussing Captain Marvel’s foes when they keep mistakenly calling the Big Red Cheese by Shazam — I know it’s  a legal issue, but still…)

The tedious enterprise ends with what is essentially a commercial for the Forever Evil event now being released. Overall, this was an interesting attempt to make noise for the entire line but it was such a mishmash of comments, name dropping, and the like that one wonders what its really trying to say.

The disc is lovely to look at thanks to the colorful high definition artwork and clips from comics, animation, and live-action productions. This Blu-ray does not come with any extras which is a missed opportunity.

Mike Gold: Beware The Batman – I Call Him Sid

Gold Art 130731O.K. I’ll admit it upfront. I was kind of wrong. I was all prepared to hate Beware The Batman, the new DC Nation animated series.

There are a whole lot of reasons for this. First, I like my Batman to have a forehead. Second, the teevee bastards cancelled Young Justice, which I really enjoyed. So did my adult daughter and, from time to time, either or both of our cats. It was a family experience. Third, the CG is clunky and lame, lacking the grace of the Green Lantern series. Fourth, Lt. James Gordon is as big as the Incredible Hulk and almost as old as dirt. If he didn’t make captain before he got Reed Richards’ hair, he’d counting the days to his pension.

Next-to-last, do we really need a fourth Batman animated series? They did it right the first time, they did it wrong the second time, and the third one was surprisingly entertaining. How many times can you go to the well before you hire Jim Carrey and Arnold Schwarzenegger?

But, most of all, head over heals of all, what they did to Alfred Pennyworth shouldn’t have been done to… oh, say… the Joker. He’s an entirely different character. A military super-Seal MI-6 type, roughly fourteen feet tall, no mustache – indeed, no hair at all, and a chin so pronounced he looks like the illegitimate son of Jay Leno and Bruce Campbell. Simply put, he’s not Alfred. I would have been happier if they called him Sid.

But I dutifully had my TiVo watch the first three episodes and I sat down to watch the first. Maybe it was a case of diminished expectations, but I mostly sorta liked Beware The Batman. I found myself going from the first to the second to the third, and then setting up a season pass for the rest.

Once I got past the stuff about Sid calling himself Alfred, the writing is quite good. Paring Katana with Bats as a de facto Robin works. The whole Task Force Batman thing (my phrase, not theirs) works better here than in the comics. They decided to focus on underused villains that have been mostly unused on television, which is a very smart move. In fact, I’m in favor of any Batman series that doesn’t feature the Joker in the early weeks. Make ‘em work for it. The relationship between Sid and Bruce is solid and convincing, and Bruce doesn’t come off as a douchebag.

As is true with virtually all Warner Bros. projects, the voice work is impeccable. Yes, I miss Kevin Conroy in the lead – he’s had the job longer than any single Batman actor, and that includes Matt Crowley (Google, chillun). But as always, voice casting director Andrea Romano rules.

None of this makes up for what they’re calling Alfred and I call Sid. This is an abomination – but not quite a dealkiller. For a while, in the comics they established Alfred was involved in the World War II French freedom fighter movement with Mlle. Marie, and that worked for me because he was still Alfred – reasonably athletic, extremely clever, and highly effective. They got past this when his World War II service would have defined him as older than Methuselah.

When all is said and done, Beware The Batman is an entertaining show.

But when I watch it, I still think “Oh. You mean Sid.”

WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON: More Betta Emily S. Whitten!!!

THURSDAY MORNING: Dennis O’Neil

THURSDAY AFTERNOON: Martin Pasko