A Sweet Re­turn

Animation Magazine - - Comic- Con -

cre­ator Re­becca Su­gar re­turns to her fan roots with her first show’s first solo panel at Comic-Con. By Tom McLean.

Comic-Con be­gan as a sim­ple gath­er­ing of fans cel­e­brat­ing the stuff they loved with each other. And it’s still true for Re­becca Su­gar, cre­ator of Cartoon Net­work’s Steven Uni­verse, whose enthusiasm for her show’s first solo panel at the mas­sive con­ven­tion makes the idea of get­ting to­gether with 125,000 of your clos­est fel­low fans ap­peal­ing, ex­cit­ing and even fun.

“I re­ally can’t wait to hear the kind of things people will ask about the show, be­cause we fill it with a lot of se­crets,” says Su­gar, a self-de­scribed “re­ally big fan” of car­toons who was nom­i­nated for two Em­mys as a sto­ry­board artist on Ad­ven­ture Time. “Some things I can’t an­swer, but I want to know what people are won­der­ing about.”

That enthusiasm is ap­pro­pri­ate for Steven Uni­verse, which de­buted in Novem­ber and has de­vel­oped a de­voted fan base as well as solid rat­ings hit and crit­i­cal ac­claim. The se­ries, about a boy who in­her­its a mag­i­cal gem from his mother and hangs out with a trio of war­rior women who sum­mon mag­i­cal weapons they use to de­fend the world from evil threats, is es­sen­tially “by fans for fans,” says Su­gar.

“As some­one who was such a fan, who went to Comic-Con in the past and traded comics with people and went to pan­els for car­toons, I know how much people are go­ing to pay at­ten­tion and how much lit­tle things are go­ing to mat­ter — be­cause they would have mat­tered to me,” says Su­gar.

Cast Mem­bers As­sem­ble!

At­ten­dees will see at least one first at the panel, which will be mod­er­ated New Jer- I can’t wait for people to see the episodes that are com­ing up be­cause they get re­ally good.”

The cast, lead by 16-year-old Zach Cal­li­son, has helped shape the show’s char­ac­ters to the point where per­form­ers and char­ac­ters are in­sep­a­ra­ble, Su­gar says. “Even when he’s play­ing Steven in a way that is silly or sort of com­i­cally in­no­cent or a lit­tle dumb, it can’t be di­vorced from the fact that Zach him­self is so sharp and smart that it al­ways feels like Ste-

He’s sur­vived the death of his par­ents, count­less vil­lain­ous schemes, the sci-fi craze of the 1950s and the campy 1960s, and nu­mer­ous grim and gritty fu­ture time­lines. But through it all, the caped cru­sader known as Bat­man has proven to be one of the most re­silient and en­dur­ingly pop­u­lar char­ac­ters in all of fic­tion.

Though he was born in the pages of the then-new medium known as the comic book, an­i­ma­tion has been a driv­ing force in Bat­man’s evo­lu­tion over the past 75 years. And no piece of an­i­ma­tion has proven more in­flu­en­tial than Bat­man: The An­i­mated Se­ries.

Cre­ated as a TV tie-in that could profit from the suc­cess of Tim Bur­ton’s 1989 Bat­man live-ac­tion fea­ture, Bat­man: The An­i­mated Se­ries’ 85 episodes ran from 1992 to 1998 and had a huge im­pact on fan­dom, an­i­ma­tion and the comic-book in­dus­try. In par­tic­u­lar, Eric Radom­ski’s deco-in­spired de­signs for Gotham City, the iconic char­ac­ter de­signs by Bruce Timm, a writ­ing team that in­cluded Paul Dini and a pitch-per­fect voice cast di­rected by An­drea Ro­mano all came to­gether to cre­ate an in­stant and last­ing clas­sic that still res­onates to­day in an­i­ma­tion and comic books.

“There was a real so­phis­ti­ca­tion and el­e­gance to that se­ries,” says Jim Lee, co-pub­lisher of DC Comics. “It cer­tainly ap­pealed to kids but had a depth that re­ally made it fas­ci­nat­ing and in­ter­est­ing to watch for adult fans. I think vis­ually, it was stylis­ti­cally stun­ning.”

Even the voice act­ing of that show has had a huge in­flu­ence and legacy more than 20 years af­ter it de­buted. “I’ve done pan­els with Kevin Con­roy, who does the voice of Bat­man, and it’s amaz­ing how much the au­di­ences con­nect to him,” Lee says. “He’s their Bat­man. He’s di­rectly plugged into their over­all psy­che and it’s amaz­ing to watch him work the crowd and bring Bat­man to life through his voice.”

She’s Quinn-tessen­tial

Per­haps the most last­ing con­tri­bu­tion was the cre­ation of the char­ac­ter Har­ley Quinn. An orig­i­nal char­ac­ter cre­ated as the Joker’s as­sis­tant, the char­ac­ter be­came hugely pop­u­lar among fans and since has been in­te­grated into al­most ev­ery ver­sion of the Bat­man mythos from comics to video games.

The in­flu­ence on comics was sig­nif­i­cant, with the show’s de­sign sense and use of col­ors and cos­tumes find­ing its way onto the printed page, says Lee.

DC En­ter­tain­ment and Warner Bros. are cel­e­brat­ing the 75th an­niver­sary of Bat­man with nu­mer­ous events, in-

Bat­man’s Se­cret Ori­gins

The comic-book page is where Bat­man has lived the vast ma­jor­ity of his fic­tional life.

Cre­ated by a young artist named Bob Kane and writer Bill Fin­ger, there was lit­tle about the first Bat­man story in De­tec­tive Comics #27, cover dated May 1939, that in­di­cated the birth of an en­dur­ing cul­tural icon. Bor­row­ing ideas from sources as di­verse as the sketch­books of Leonardo da Vinci and Zorro, Bat­man was but one of many cos­tumed he­roes that sprang up in the wake of Su­per­man’s suc­cess the year be­fore.

But sev­eral key el­e­ments to the char­ac­ter helped him stand out, says Lee, one of the most pop­u­lar su­per­hero comic-book artists of the past quar­ter century. “He’s a char­ac­ter that was cre­ated in tragic cir­cum­stances — and over­came them,” he says. “That as­pi­ra­tional-in­spi­ra­tional as­pect of Bat­man is some­thing I think all people can re­late to.”

He also stood out be­cause of the qual­ity of work Kane, Fin­ger and oth­ers put into the char­ac­ter and ex­pand­ing the mythos with the likes of Robin, the first kid side­kick in comics; the Joker, ar­guably comics’ great­est vil­lain; Cat­woman, a con­flicted thief and on-again off-again ro­man­tic in­ter­est; the Pen­guin, Hugo Strange, Mr. Freeze, the Rid­dler, TwoFace, Poi­son Ivy, Bane, and on and on.

Lee says it was im­por­tant that the char­ac­ter was al­lowed to evolve and adapt over the years. “We don’t want our char­ac­ters to be­come en­cased in am­ber, os­si­fied as it were,” says Lee. “It’s im­por­tant that Bat­man re­ally re­flects what’s go­ing on in so­ci­ety and that he feels very much of the here and now.”

Big Screen Am­bi­tions

The early tales from comics’ golden age were sim­ple, some­times dark and of­ten bizarre. But some­thing about Bat­man clicked with the kids who made up the comics read­ing pub­lic. The char­ac­ter — again, fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Su­per­man — ap­peared in a pair of Columbia Fea­tures se­ri­als: 1943’s Bat­man and 1949’s Bat­man and Robin. Nei­ther was es­pe­cially well re­ceived and the Caped Cru­sader would not re­turn to the screen un­til the now-clas­sic ABC se­ries that ran from 1966-69.

That se­ries blurred the lines be­tween live-ac­tion and an­i­ma­tion, both with its campy cartoon style of ac­tion, as well as an ac­tual an­i­mated open cred­its se­quence and the an­i­mated fight sound ef­fects that

de­fined the char­ac­ter — and comic-book char­ac­ters in gen­eral — in the minds of the gen­eral pub­lic for more than two decades. The fad burned brightly and fiz­zled out just as quickly; the back­lash from fans who took their comics and su­per­heroes se­ri­ously lasted for years.

The Dark Knight’s first proper an­i­ma­tion out­ings were fairly un­der­whelm­ing, start­ing in 1968 with Fil­ma­tion’s The Bat­man/Su­per­man Hour, later re-pack­aged as Bat­man with Robin the Boy Won­der; and the jug­ger­naut of 1970s and 1980s Satur­day-morn­ing TV, Su­per Friends.

A Mod­ern Makeover

But the mod­ern take on Bat­man per­fected by The An­i­mated Se­ries first showed up in the comics in the early 1970s, as writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams put the dark back into the Dark Knight. Lee says it was their ad­di­tions to the Bat­man mythos — no­tably the vil­lain Ra’s al Ghul and his daugh­ter, Talia, a com­pelling ro­man­tic in­ter­est for Bat­man — that made the char­ac­ter fresh and rel­e­vant again. “It just cre­ated an amaz­ing story and one that was wor­thy of the lore and leg­end of Bat­man,” says Lee.

That se­ri­ous ap­proach was fur­ther de­fined in an iconic late 1970s run in De­tec­tive Comics by writer Steve En­gle­hart and artist Mar­shall Rogers that rein­vig­o­rated the Joker and had a big in­flu­ence on the first Bur­ton fea­ture.

But if there’s a tale that truly de­fined the mod­ern Bat­man, it’s Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Re­turns. Pub­lished in 1986, the four-is­sue se­ries about an ag­ing Bruce Wayne who re­turns to the role of Bat­man at the hour of Gotham City’s great­est cri­sis has been a peren­nial best seller for DC and a land­mark in Amer­i­can comics.

Bat­man’s suc­cess over the past 25 years speaks to the power of the char­ac­ter. Af­ter Bur­ton’s Bat­man re­de­fined the def­i­ni­tion of block­buster for the movie busi­ness, there were sequels, Bat­man: The An­i­mated

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