Few understand how much superhero entertainment has changed over the past 25 years quite like animation producer Bruce Timm.
In the early 1990s, Timm was a part of the creative team behind “Batman: The Animated Series,” considered by many fans to be the standard in comic book cartoons. It created a generation of followers of the Warner Bros. Animation brand, which later released “Superman: The Animated Series” and “Justice League.”
Warner Bros. and DC Comics’s animation golden age in the ’90s received a huge assist from a now unheard-of lack of competition.
“There’s [now] tons of live-action superhero shows on TV and in the movies,” Timm told The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs while in Washington for the DC Comics event “DC in D.C.” “On a promotional level, it’s just harder to carve out a little bit of airtime in the bandwidth because there’s so much noise and other stuff for people’s attention.”
Timm spends most of his time now producing projects for WB/DC’s popular straight-to-home-video animated movies. “DC in D.C.” last week included the premiere of the latest one, “Batman: Gotham by Gaslight,” based on the late 1980s Elseworlds tale from DC Comics that sees a Victorian-era Batman go up against Jack the Ripper. (It will be available digitally Jan. 23 and on Blu-ray Feb. 6.)
Compared with movies, “when you actually do a TV series it’s a lot more like guerrilla warfare in that you have to rush and crank a show out. You get it shipped overseas. It comes back, you get it edited, you stick it on the air, and you’re moving on to your next episode. And you get into kind of a rhythm,” Timm said. “With the [animated] movies you get a little bit more time to finesse things, but they both scratch different itches. I’d definitely do another series someday if the right project came along.”
Timm says there is a misconception that working in animated universes means you’re limited only by your imagination. He says even movies at WB/DC have budgets that limit the amount of backgrounds and locations designed and the characters created. But he does enjoy the freedom of being able to produce one-shot adventures that don’t have the pressure of becoming franchise starters that the live-action DC Comics movies have.
“You can’t do something that’s that quirky and unique” in live-action, Timm said referring to projects like “Batman: Gotham by Gaslight. “So yeah, we definitely have a little more license, a little more freedom, to play around with different tones and different styles than they do in the live-action movies, for sure.”
Last year, fans enjoyed a reunion of sorts with Timm and the “Batman: The Animated Series” universe when he co-produced “Batman and Harley Quinn,” an animated movie made in the “BTAS” style that brought back the voice talents of Kevin Conroy (Batman) and Loren Lester (Nightwing). The film served as a chance to take advantage of Harley Quinn’s higher profile after Margot Robbie’s performance as the character in WB/DC’s “Suicide Squad” movie, and to give her a chance to shine once again in the animated world where she made her debut. As fun of a reconnection as it was for Timm, he doesn’t plan on making visits to the “BTAS” world frequently.
“I don’t have a burning desire to go back and make more ‘BTAS’ style stuff. I mean, it was fun this one time. . . . I hate to have to compete with the memory of the work I did 25 years ago,” Timm said. “There’s a lot of people . . . who revere ‘Batman: The Animated Series,’ and anything I do now, people are automatically going to compare it to not just the actual show but to their memory of that show. The way that show made them feel back 25 years ago when they were 13. So, it’s really, really tough. . . . Whether I’d go back and do it again, maybe. We’ll see.”
For now, Timm is enjoying having the entire DC Comics library at his disposal for inspiration for future adventures, noting that WB/DC’s next animated feature could be based on a classic, such as “Batman: Gotham by Gaslight,” or it could be something new from DC’s currently successful “Rebirth” reboot on the company’s comic publishing side.
“I’m hoping [‘Gotham by Gaslight’] does really well. There’s several other Elseworlds-type titles that we would love to do if this movie is a success,” Timm said. “We pull stuff from the current comics all the time. If they come up with an idea that we think will work for us in animation, we’ll be happy to steal it.”