A Sweet Return
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.”
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