With the upcoming release of the award-winning and quite legendary “Batman the Animated Series” complete series on Blu-ray, I got the chance at New York Comic Con this year to sit down once again and talk about the series, its legacy and some behind-the-scenes tidbits.
I would get the chance to sit down and talk with producers Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski as well as some amazing voice talent in Diane Pershing (Poison Ivy), Loren Lester (Robin), Tara Strong (Batgirl/Barbara Gordon) and the legendary voice of Batman/Bruce Wayne, Kevin Conroy himself.
First to our table was producer Eric Radomski who talked about how the cast and crew for “Batman the Animated Series” was and has always felt like family and how timeless the show is and how dedicated fans have been over the years. He also talked about how they tried to push the series as more mature and interesting than most kid’s shows of the time.
I asked Mr. Radomski about when he was going into working on a superhero show, if he felt lost and in unfamiliar territory not having a comic book background while working on “Batman the Animated Series”?
“Sure, absolutely. My only exposure specifically to Batman was the Adam West campy series that I grew up with and I wasn’t a big fan of it but you know, for the fun of it I got along with it but I didn’t follow it directly. Tim Burton’s interpretation of Batman was the first exposure to that incarnation of the character, the true incarnation of the character and it was, to me the drama of it and the pageantry and the epic quality to it really opened my eyes to what Batman was and subsequently to the comic book industry in general because I had no experience with it.
I only knew animation from what I grew up with in classic Warner Brothers and Looney Toons and some of the Disney films and to see what was done in the live action incarnation of the character and then to be introduced into this incredible world that I never delved into, it was terrific. I went in pretty blind from the beginning and a lot of the early discussions were characters going back and forth with writers and us and quickly trying to do my research and I have no idea what they’re talking about, but it was great. It was a great education and I follow it but not religiously as some but I’m certainly much more versed than I was 27 years ago.”
He also talked about how he first heard of the “Batman the Animated Series” project and how he became involved in it. With the success of “Tiny Toons” Warner Bros. was seeking to expand its animation studio and had a list of projects with open casting calls such as “The Griswolds”, “Gremlins” and a revival of Looney Toons shorts.
Following Eric Radomski was Loren Lester who started off voicing the Dick Grayson Robin and, as the series grew, eventually came to voice Dick Grayson’s other costumed alias in Nightwing.
Mr. Lester talked about how he became involved in “Batman the Animated Series” as he was constantly auditioning for new parts and as a fan of Batman was excited to have the opportunity but was doubtful that he would get the part and found out from his agent over an answering machine message that he was the new voice of Robin.
I brought up the fact that he was the first person to voice Dick Grayson as both Robin and Nightwing and asked if the studio or the producers had any varying tips when transitioning from Robin to Nightwing?
“No, in fact I just learned this from Bruce (Timm)…what I love about doing these panels is that I get to talk to Bruce and I learn things I never knew before and he said they had no plan to do Nightwing when Robin started and that was something that they thought of as they went along so no, there was no preparation for the transition.”
He also mentioned that while doing the show and for a while after the show ended, he had absolutely no idea that there was such a fanbase for “Batman the Animated Series” and that going to conventions and shows opened his eyes to how much the show is loved and cherished by so many people of all ages.
Next to the table was the lovely and talented Diane Pershing who provided the sexy and sultry voice of Poison Ivy on the show. Mrs. Pershing discussed her previous works as well as her lack of familiarity with Poison Ivy and how she was honored to be the first person to bring life to that character. She managed to try out for the role of Poison Ivy because whoever was auditioning for the part didn’t show up that day.
I asked her that having voiced one of the earliest concepts of a strong and powerful women in animation, if there were any particular fan moments where people came up to her and said your work with that character changed my life?
“I’ve been doing the comic cons about two years now since I had no idea that I had a fanbase so when I found out two years ago and started doing comic cons, these women would come up to me…grown women, middle-aged women, young women watching the second and third and fourth viewings…with tears running down their face because Poison Ivy taught them not to let men abuse them, not to let men run over them, mistreat them, to stand up for what they believe in. And I had no idea what kind of effect I had on them. Before I was going oh that’s nice, they’re fans isn’t that dear. Now I’m going oh my god because I am a mother and a grandmother and I have strong children and grandchildren and I taught them that and it’s just quite moving.”
She also touched upon the relationship that may or may not have been there between Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy and she mentioned that it’s there if you’re looking for it and not if you’re not. It’s open to the perspective of those that view it and that she is alright with that.
I asked her with all of the other cartoons and animated shows that she had worked on over the years, what made “Batman the Animated Series” so different from everything else?
“I thought that there was something with the dramatic darkness and the shadows and the fact that we didn’t go for the easy laughs and it was a serious, serious show treated like a grown up movie and I think it’s exceptional.”
Following up Diane Pershing, we got to sit down with one of the driving forces of the show and the man that made “Batman the Animated Series” as well as the subsequent series that followed it…Mr. Bruce Timm.
Mr. Timm talked about the longevity of Batman leading up to his 80th anniversary next year. He also talked about how he tried to keep the show grounded even when involving things like robots and over-the-top characters like Man-Bat and Killer Croc. He also discussed the unique art deco style of the show and his love of film noir and his reasons for setting the show in a somewhat time that never was.
He also discussed how “Batman the Animated Series” wasn’t serialized until they decided to do a retcon around the time of “Justice League” in order to tie all of the shows together in to one big saga. He cites the episode “Fearful Symmetry” in “Justice League Unlimited” as the episode that they decided could tie the Bruce Timm DC animated universe together.
Up next after Mr. Timm was the always lovely, funny and charming Tara Strong who has done voice work for just about every animated series out there in the past fifteen years including “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” and “Teen Titans” to name a couple.
I asked her how, since Harley Quinn (a character in which she would eventually go on to voice in other media) first appeared in in “Batman the Animated Series” and how she felt now about the popularity of the character that first appeared on the show.
“Well, I think that people really fell in love with Harley and Arleen Sorkin made that happen…she is such an extraordinary talent and her vocal range WAS Harley and it was just so adorable and endearing and I think a lot of people identified with someone who had such crazy love and would put up with such insanity for her man and I think people fell in love with her then and getting to play her later was such a huge honor. I put on my Twitter once a picture of Batgirl and Harley and I said you think you have an identity crisis and it’s so much fun to play both. If you asked me who I prefer I can’t answer. They’re really two sides of a coin…an extraordinary coin. They’re both such amazing characters and I love playing both of them. Batgirl is like my real moments to get deep and Harley is like my therapy where I can scream and be crazy.”
She also followed up that she believes that Harley has such a vulnerability to her but also a kickass side to her that attracts women to view Harley as a strong role model and icon. Most women can find a little piece of themselves in her.
As with the other cast members she talks about her experiences with fans at conventions and how they come up to her and tell her how much “Batman the Animated Series” effected and changed their lives. She also touched on social media and that she tries her best to use it for good causes and that she is very interactive with her fans and embraces all of them.
Last but surely not least we all got to discuss “Batman the Animated Series” with the man behind the mask and the voice…Kevin Conroy. For many fans my age, Mr. Conroy is THE voice of Batman. His approach to the dual roles of Bruce Wayne and Batman has been often imitated but never duplicated.
Mr. Conroy discussed his thought process on distinguishing the voices of Bruce Wayne and Batman. To him Batman was the true voice of who Bruce Wayne was at his core and with that concept he decided that he would play Bruce Wayne up as the soft-spoken cover up voice…the mask…and that while around anyone that knew his secret, he was always using his true/Batman voice.
He reiterated the notion that he had no idea of the cultural impact that “Batman the Animated Series” was having on that generation until he started getting recognized in public as the voice of Batman and then, when going to conventions he finally begun to realize how large and passionate the fan base truly was.
I asked Mr. Conroy that since he had a theatrical background before working on the show, how did that help him prepare for the role of an iconic character such as Batman?
“He’s such a theatrical character, I mean it was such perfect casting if you think about it. I was like, why are you casting me? I’ve never done and animated role…I had never even auditioned for an animated role and I thought how can I get this role? And as I dug my teeth into it and I approached the character I thought oh…this is perfect! They were absolutely right to cast a theater actor especially one with a classical background because this is Shakespeare. They’re doing high, high drama. Batman is Achilles, he’s Orestes, he’s Hamlet, you know what I mean? He’s got that BIIIIG dramatic arc to his character but he’s put in with the Joker at the opposite end and the absurdity are the villains that he’s surrounded by, but he’s absolutely a classic character. He’s a Homeric hero, absolutely.
I did a production called the Greeks at the Harbor Stage Company where I played Orestes for a whole arc of nine plays but I think of it often when doing Batman because Orestes is haunted by the furies, he descends into Hell, he comes back, he’s resurrected at the end and I think so often that this is a very Orestes-style journey that Bruce Wayne goes on. His furies are the memory of his parent’s murder. It haunts in his life, it’s transformed him. He’s definitely a classic character.”
Thank you to Gary Miereanu, DC and Warner Bros. Animation for organizing and setting up participation in the roundtable interviews.