Television

Latest animated Batman series taps humor, music

Rick Bentley
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

BURBANK, Calif. — For the fifth time, Grey Delisle, Nika Futterman, Vanessa Marshall and Tara Strong get their cue to sing the line. It's only a few words but the directors behind the recording studio glass still aren't happy with the musical effort.

They try the line one more time.

"No one does it better. No ONE does it better than the birds of Prey."

The performance, on the Warner Bros. lot, is for the Cartoon Network animated series "Batman: The Brave and the Bold." The singers all voice characters in the series.

Caped crimefighter Batman has been the subject of many animated efforts, going as far back as "The Batman/Superman Hour" in 1968. This latest animated series distinguishes itself through humor, offbeat musical episodes and by using the entire catalog of DC Comics characters.

"Basically, anytime you are doing 'Batman' it seems like you are reacting against whatever the last guy did. So the last guy was Bruce Timm, and he did a very, serious, dark, honest, very realistic, gritty take on Batman," says James Tucker, "The Brave and Bold" supervising producer and lead character designer. "The Batman I came into the world knowing was Adam West, and so it was a different Batman, a lighter, more accessible Batman.

"When you are a kid, watching Adam West, you don't think of all of the comedy and all of the goofy stuff. You really believe in it. So I wanted to play that version of the character, honest and straight, but yet have something in it for the adults: humor, inside jokes, just excitement. But also something all of the family can watch."

The first thing he did was hire comedian Deidrich Bader to voice Batman. The actor, best known for his work on "The Drew Carey Show," was shocked when he was called in to audition.

He saw it as a sign this Batman was going to change the whole perspective on the way animation has treated the character.

The recording session for the musical episode takes hours longer than a normal. The voice actors don't complain — after all they're doing something original.

Vanessa Marshall, voice of Poison Ivy, says that voice talents always try to bring something new to each job and this musical number certainly helps them achieve that.

Last year's musical episode, "Mayhem of the Music Meister," that featured the singing talents of Neil Patrick Harris, was nominated for an Emmy in the Outstanding Music Composition for a Series (Original Dramatic Score) category. It lost to "24."

That meant their TV peers liked the work. The fans agreed.

"They loved it. They ate it up like pudding," says Tucker. "We were shocked, actually. We didn't really know what we had until we showed it to the Comic-Con audience. I think it was the first time any panel I've been on — I've been at Comic-Con for 10 years — where it was a standing ovation. So they totally got it. I knew I had made it well when I saw people walking around as the Music Meister."

The fans have also responded to the way the animated series has showcased so many DC characters. There's been the usual suspects of Aquaman, Robin and Flash. The musical episode includes Two Face (James Remar), Black Canary (Delisle), Catwoman (Futterman). Poison Ivy (Marshall) and Huntress (Strong).

Tucker has also pushed beyond the popular characters and featured such DC heroes as Plastic Man, Adam Strange, B'wana Beast, Deadman and the Metal Men.

It's all part of Tucker's plan to get away from the dark and brooding Batman that's become the norm in recent feature films and animated shows. He wants Batman to feel more accessible.

"I always imagined the show would be a family viewing kind of experience, which you don't really have that much these days, except for maybe 'American Idol' and a couple sitcoms," Tucker says. "A lot of 'Batman,' even 'Batman: The Animated Series,' there are a lot of people I know who wouldn't let their kids watch it at a certain age.

"I said, 'Well, I don't want that.' Everyone needs 'Batman,' even the newborns. So I wanted to make something that even they could watch and Mom is not going, 'Oh, don't look at that.'"

———

BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD

7 p.m. ET Fridays

Cartoon Network

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