Yes….it’s time to share some pictures from this year’s SDCC 2009. There is a common theme here but I will let you figure it out.
Exploding out of Comic-Con International: San Diego today, the news that Marvel Comics has acquired the rights to super-hero Marvelman from creator Mick Anglo and his representatives, making the world-renowned character a big part of the House of Ideas.
“It is an honor to work with Mick Anglo to bring his creation to a larger audience than ever before,” said Dan Buckley, CEO & Publisher, Print, Animation & Digital Media, Marvel Entertainment Inc. “Fans are in for something special as they discover just what makes Marvelman such an important character in comic book history.”
Originally created in 1954 by Mick Anglo and appearing in some of the most celebrated comic stories of all time, MarvelMan is Micky Moran, a young reporter gifted with the power to save the world by simply uttering the word “kimota”!
“I did not think it would ever happen,” said Mick Anglo. “It’s a wonderful thing to see my creation finally back.”
Marvel has indicated more big Marvelman news will follow after the San Diego Comic Con (SDCC). I loved this series when Alan Moore put his spin on this character. Below is some quick background info on this character.
Marvelman (in Warrior)
In March 1982, a new British monthly black-and-white anthology comic was launched called Warrior. Until issue #21 (August 1984), it featured a new, darker version of Marvelman, written by Alan Moore, illustrated by Garry Leach and Alan Davis, and lettered by Annie Parkhouse. Warrior also published a Marvelman Special collecting Mick Anglo stories within a frame story by Moore. The “Marvel” trademark was now owned by Marvel Comics, who objected to its use it the series’ title. Warrior’s legal troubles led to the character being licensed to an American publisher: first to Pacific Comics, and after Pacific’s collapse, to Eclipse Comics. They would reprint the series as Miracleman and then continue it.
Moore had been fascinated by the notion of a grown-up Michael Moran and this was the Moran presented in the first issue: married, plagued by migraines, having dreams of flying, and unable to remember the word that had such significance in his dreams. In his initial run of Marvelman stories, Moore touches on many themes of his later work, including the superhero as a source of terror, the sympathetic villain, and exploring the mythology of an established fictional character.
Moran is working as a freelance reporter when he gets caught up in a terrorist raid on a newly built atomic power plant. Fortuitously seeing the word “atomic” backwards when being carried past a door with the word written on glass, he remembers the word “Kimota”, Marvelman is reborn and saves the day. As Marvelman, Moran remembers his early life as a superhero, but comic books are the only evidence, and his wife Liz finds his recollections of the adventures ridiculous. Moran later discovers that Johnny Bates (Kid Marvelman), not only also survived, but lived on with his superpowers intact. Bates, however, was corrupted by his power and is now a sociopath. After a brutal confrontation, Kid Marvelman says his magic word (“Marvelman”) by mistake and reverts to his alter-ego, the 13-year-old Johnny Bates. The boy, innocent but aware of the evil he committed as Kid Marvelman, mentally recoils in shock and reverts into a catatonic state.
With the aid of renegade British Secret Service agent Evelyn Cream, and after a short fight with a new British superhero called Big Ben, Marvelman makes his way to a top secret military bunker. There he discovers remains of an alien spacecraft, and two non-human skeletons fused together. Marvelman views a file that reveals his entire experience as a superhero was a simulation as part of a military research project, codename “Project Zarathustra”, attempting to enhance the human body using the alien technology. Moran and the other subjects had been kept unconscious, their minds fed with stories and villains plucked from comic books by the researchers, for fear of what they could do if they awoke. As their enhanced minds fought the enforced dreaming, those administrating the project grew fearful of what would happen if they awoke. As a result, it was decided that the project was to be terminated, and so were Marvelman and his two companions: in a final, real adventure they were sent into a trap where a nuclear device was meant to annihilate them. Moran survived, his memory erased, and Young Miracleman died. In the meantime, it is revealed that Liz has conceived a child with Marvelman, which has the potential of being the first naturally-born superhuman on Earth.
The series stopped (incomplete) in issue #21 of Warrior, just after Moran meets his dream-world arch-nemesis Dr. Gargunza (loosely based on Dr. Sivana). In “reality” Gargunza was the scientific genius behind the experiment that created Marvelman. Gargunza, after working as a geneticist for the Nazis, had been recruited by the British after World War II. Unable to keep pace with the U.S. and Soviet nuclear arms race, the British had backed Gargunza to use genetics to develop a new superweapon. By coincidence, an alien spacecraft crashed in the U.K. in 1947 and Gargunza was able to reverse-engineer enough technology to create the first Marvelmen. The alien technology, and thus the Marvelman project, consisted of giving someone a second body, which was stored in an extradimensional pocket of space when not in use; when a special word was spoken the two bodies switched place in space and the mind was transferred as well. After the cancellation of the project, Gargunza escaped to South America where he developed bio-technology weapons such as “Marveldog”. It is revealed that Gargunza has a deeper purpose: after the death of his mother, he has a mortality complex, and intends that the child of Marvelman will act as the host of his own consciousness.
Name Change to Miracleman
In August 1985, Eclipse began reprinting the Marvelman stories from Warrior, colorized, re-sized, and published under their own title. However, they were renamed and re-lettered throughout as Miracleman, due to pressure from Marvel Comics. Issues 1-6 reprinted all the Warrior content, after which Eclipse began publishing all-new Miracleman stories from Moore and new artist Chuck Beckum (aka Chuck Austen), soon replaced by Rick Veitch and then John Totleben.
Moore wrote the series through Issue 16.
The new Miracleman material widened the story’s scope and continued to build in intensity. Moran’s daughter was born in issue 9 (which became somewhat controversial due to a highly graphic birth scene, based on medical illustrations of the process); two races of aliens, one called Warpsmiths, the other called Qys (who were behind the original body-swapping technology) came to Earth; Miraclewoman emerged; and certain native super-humans were revealed to already be living on Earth, such as Firedrake.
It was with the return of Kid Miracleman in issue 15 (“Nemesis”) that Moore wrote at his darkest. Now out of his catatonia, the small, spindly boy has been repeatedly beaten by several older bullies at his group home. When one of them goes so far as to rape him, Johnny’s desperation leads him to transform into Kid Miracleman. Slaughtering his attackers, Bates unleashes a murderous vengeful holocaust on London while Miracleman, Miraclewoman, and their allies are in outer space.
The gory excess of Kid Miracleman’s rampage and that of the battle which followed when Miracleman and his allies return to discover the carnage is highly disturbing, featuring a degree of violence not previously seen in superhero battles. John Totleben’s detailed apocalyptic renderings are still acclaimed today (by the few who possess a copy of the book). Depicted are people running from a rain of severed hands and feet, skins hung up on clothes lines, corpses impaled on the hands of Big Ben, the Tower Bridge in ruin, mounds of severed heads, heads on pikes, cars full of people plummeting to earth, mutilated children wandering screaming through the streets, and countless dead bodies.
When the Miracles discover what is happening, they and their alien allies collectively challenge Bates. Bates, however, has had many years more experience using his powers than any except Miraclewoman, and is unrestrained by reason or compassion in his use of them. The battle goes poorly, with none of them able to stop Bates. It is only when one of the Warpsmiths, Aza Chorn, realizes that they cannot go through Bates’ personal force field, and instead teleports some wreckage inside the force field — *into* the body of Kid Miracleman, that he is forced by pain to transform back to his mortal form. His rampage is stopped, but Bates kills Aza Chorn as his last act. Unwilling to risk another chance for repeating this horror, Miracleman quietly kills Johnny Bates, knowing that it is the only way to be certain it will never happen again. The heart of London, however, has been destroyed, 40,000 people are dead, the Warpsmith Aza Chorn lies dead, and the world now knows that gods walk among them.
Moore’s last issue, number 16 (“Olympus”) ends with an unsettling depiction of Miracleman’s apotheosis, as he and his superhuman allies bring the entire planet under their totalitarian control. Miracleman and his companions, explicitly compared to gods, now rule the planet as they see fit, though they are ineffectively opposed by groups such as an alliance of Christian and Islamic fundamentalists. The “age of miracles” is ostensibly benevolent, but in scenes such as the final conversation between Miracleman and Liz, Moore suggests that Miracleman has lost his humanity and that his utopia is ultimately harmful to humankind. This ending contrasts with that of the simultaneously conceived serial V for Vendetta, in which the “hero” destroys a dystopian society. Lance Parkin’s book on Moore argues that the two endings, read together, demonstrate the writer’s refusal of “easy” Utopian/dystopian answers (the ending also contrasts with the conclusion of Moore’s Promethea, in which an “apocalypse” of expanded human consciousness heals rather than destroys the world).
The notion of bringing superhero fiction into the real world—having immensely powerful characters use their power to make drastic changes to global politics—has become an extremely popular theme in recent “mature” superhero fiction, such as Rising Stars, Squadron Supreme, The Authority, Kingdom Come and Moore’s own Watchmen.
A glimpse of how Moore originally meant the story to continue is presented in Warrior issue 4 (also called the Warrior Summer Special), which features Marvelman and Aza Chorn gathering energy for the final battle with Kid Marvelman. This story has never been reprinted in any shape or form since then, so it remains an obscure yet highly discussed piece of comic history.
Miracleman: The Neil Gaiman years
Writer Neil Gaiman picked up the series at #17, and developed it further in the 1990s, working with artist Mark Buckingham. He planned three books, consisting of six issues each; they would be titled “The Golden Age”, “The Silver Age” and “The Dark Age”.
The first part, “The Golden Age”, showed the world some years later: a utopia gradually being transformed by alien technologies, and benignly ruled by Miracleman and other parahumans, though he has nagging doubts about whether he has done the right thing by taking power. Gaiman’s focus in “The Golden Age” is less the heroes themselves than the people who live in this new world, including a lonely man who becomes one of Miraclewoman’s lovers; a former spy (whose tale recalls J.G. Ballard’s short story War Fever); and a robot duplicate of Andy Warhol.
Eclipse followed up “The Golden Age” by publishing the standalone, three-issue mini-series Miracleman: Apocrypha, written and illustrated by a variety of other creators, with framing pages by Gaiman and Buckingham. These stories did not form part of the main narrative, but instead further fleshed out the world of “The Golden Age”.
Two issues of “The Silver Age” appeared, but issue #24 was the last to see print. Issue 25 was completed (apart from colouring) but due to the collapse of Eclipse it has never seen light. #23 and #24 saw the resurrection of Young Miracleman and would describe the beginnings of trouble in Miracleman’s idyllic world, and #25 would have reintroduced Kid Miracleman. A few pages of issue #25 can be read at various sites online, and in George Khoury’s book Kimota! The Miracleman Companion. “The Dark Age” would have seen the full return of the character of Kid Miracleman and completed the story once and for all.
During this period, Miracleman was a featured character in the mini-series Total Eclipse, written by Marv Wolfman and penciled by Bo Hampton, with pencil assists by James Ritchey III and Mark Pacella (among others), and inks by Rick Bryant.
A short story by Gaiman and Mark Buckingham (entitled “Screaming”) appeared in Total Eclipse #4, where it technically comprised Gaiman’s first published Miracleman story. This story was reprinted in issue #21 and in “The Golden Age” trade paperback.
Because of all the legal wranglings….there are very few toys based on this great character. We do have this action figure at http://www.cmdstore.com:
I watch Harry Potter movies for one thing….Emma Watson.
Yep, she’s over 18 (no more jailbait), in case you were wondering. On top of that, she’s coming to America starting next year as an incoming freshman at Brown University. Oh to be a freshman at Brown University.
Pics are from this month’s Teen Vogue:
Looking to buy Harry Potter action figures to complete your personal toy collection. Check out www.cmdstore.com for all your Harry Potter toys.
aRTICLE BY ROB SALEM - TELEVISION COLUMNIST
SAN DIEGO–Who, you might well ask, is Russell T. Davies?
That would be Doctor Who, the enduring English genre icon, who thrives not merely by virtue of his imagined ability to regenerate himself but by Davies’ actual ability to do so on his behalf.
The time-travelling, global and galactic disaster-averting Doctor has been a television touchstone since the early 1960s, through several generations of fantasy fandom. But eventually the years caught up with him, and by the end of the last millennium he had become a pop-cultural anachronism, even to those who had grown up adoring him.
One of those fans was Davies, a former scriptwriter for British children’s television, later the creator of such provocative adult fare as the internationally acclaimed gay dramedy Queer as Folk.
It was an unlikely merging of these disparate sensibilities that informed Davies’ 2005 reinvention of the Doctor, and indeed his entire Who-niverse, additionally spinning the flagging franchise off into Torchwood, a darker and much more daring variation, and The Sarah Jane Adventures, which successfully re-engaged the original Who’s youthful fan base.
The reborn Doctor Who, initially co-produced by the CBC, was an instant hit, almost equally at home and abroad. All of this seems to culminate this week, with tonight’s North American debut (Space at 9 p.m.) of the first of four Doctor Who TV movies, following a week of nightly instalments of the Torchwood miniseries, Children of Earth, all of the aforementioned written and produced by you know Who.
Essentially, it’s “Russell T. Davies Week” here in North America. Davies likes the sound of that.
“I’ll get on to BBC America,” he laughs. “But I doubt they’ll go for it.”
He’ll find no argument here at the annual San Diego Comic-Con, the world’s largest and most influential pop-culture geekfest, where legions of ardent American admirers lined up for hours for their first opportunity to shake the hand of the man through Whom the legend lives on.
“This is certainly a first for me,” Davies acknowledges. “I usually try to avoid any contact with fans whatsoever.”
Who has the time? For the last few years, Davies has been doing triple duty on Who, Sarah Jane and Torchwood – the latter has not yet been picked up for another BBC season, though the unprecedented ratings there of the Torchwood miniseries would seem to make that more than likely.
“That was one of the greatest surprises of my entire professional life,” Davies marvels. “I mean, I hoped it would do well. I was proud of it. But to see it peaking the ratings every night, that was amazing. It was a blockbuster. None of us anticipated that.”
Anyone who’s been watching Torchwood: Children of Earth here this week will immediately understand. “Dark” does not even begin to cover it, even for a series so defined by apocalyptic ennui, of living on the precarious edge of all hell breaking loose. This is a show that thinks nothing of arbitrarily killing off beloved regular characters – and not just science-fiction dead, but really, really, not-a-dream-sequence, no-cloning-or-alternate-universe, not-ever-coming-back dead.
This relentless internal cleansing, as those who watched now know, continued into the Torchwood mini, though compared to much of what else transpired it could be considered comic relief. Screaming children being dragged out of their homes by armed soldiers, herded into buses to be bartered to invading alien drug addicts …
All this from a guy who used to write kiddie shows. Unresolved issues, perhaps?
“You may have a point,” Davies cheerily allows. “But we all have different moods. Nice men can be bleak, and even the bleak man can have a laugh.
“You know, if I’m talking to you it’s one voice. If I’m talking to my grandmother, it’s another voice. If I talk to a 5-year-old boy, I’ll use another voice …”
In that latter case, likely as not, Davies would have the poor little bugger dragged off to his doom by homeland storm troopers.
“Actually, there is a serious point to be made, even though it’s a fantasy show,” Davies insists. “Soldiers burning houses, taking people away to be murdered … these things happen regularly, we see that on our television. It could be happening in Africa, it could be happening in Bosnia, it could be happening 40 years ago …
“You know, the older I get, the more I realize how close things like World War II really are. I mean, I was born in the ’60s, and it felt like that was 100 years ago.”
Perhaps ironically, tonight’s Doctor Who movie, the more ominously entitled Planet of Death, is actually just a ripping good yarn in the new/old Who tradition: funny, fantastic, exciting, exhilarating … no children in jeopardy, no horrible death (okay, maybe one, but it’s no one we care about).
“It’s just a great big laugh,” assures Davies, “a jewel thief, a housewife, giant metal stingrays, a flying bus …”
The jewel thief who tops that list will be a familiar face even to North American audiences – the former reborn Bionic Woman, Michelle Ryan, the latest in a long line of potential Who travelling “companions,” following last season’s guesting arc by the award-winning star of her own self-titled sketch show, Catherine Tate.
Whether or not Ryan returns after tonight, Davies won’t say. On the other hand, he happily confirms that Tate is definitely coming back. Also scheduled to come on board the Doctor’s TARDIS is Lindsay Duncan, perhaps best known here for Rome.
“Very prestigious,” Davies boasts, adding that the lineup of interested actors only starts there. “After five years of Doctor Who, you should see my mobile phone … it’s mad, and extraordinary. Everyone wants to get involved.”
Everyone, that is, but Davies and his Doctor, the 10th and among the most popular, David Tennant, who have both now left the show behind as it begins shooting its sixth season up in Wales.
The keys to the TARDIS have been handed to fan-favourite writer/producer Steven Moffat and his new Doctor, 26-year-old Matt Smith.
“I spent five years literally working every weekend, every holiday … never really had a day off,” Davies explains. “That’s enough Doctor Who for the moment. There’s a new team. Time to move on.”
He’s hoping for a chance to write and produce some “straight” drama – something that doesn’t require flitting about through time and space.
“I think that’s naturally next,” he says. “I’ve had a brilliant time in science fiction land, but you know, I’d kind of like to flex those (other) muscles.”
But never say never – a particularly fluid concept when one is used to dealing with a Time Lord. “I could never turn my back on it,” he concedes. “I love it too much.”
There is still Torchwood, its fate hanging in the balance. “I do hope we can keep that going,” Davies affirms. “It’s not commissioned yet … I really hope it will come back in some shape or form.
“But we’re in the middle of a £2 billion deficit with the BBC, so now is not perhaps the best time.”
But then, as much for Davies as The Doctor, time has never really been an issue. “It certainly never stopped me before.”
TIME LORD TIMELINE
Doctor Who first airs on BBC television. The Doctor travels (often with one or more companions) in a craft known as the TARDIS, the exterior of which appears as a blue 1950s police box. (TARDIS stands for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space.) William Hartnell portrays the first Doctor.
The original (and memorable) theme music is composed by Ron Grainer and realized by electronic musician Delia Derbyshire at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
The Doctor’s greatest adversaries (and audience favourite), the Daleks, are introduced in this first year, but their catchphrase, “Exterminate!”, is not uttered until 1964.
Faced with the departure of Hartnell due to poor health, writers create the plot device of the Doctor’s ability to regenerate his body when near death. Now a major element of the series, this allows for the recasting of the lead actor when the need arises. Patrick Troughton assumes the role of the Second Doctor.
Jon Pertwee becomes the Third Doctor.
One of the best-loved companions of the Doctor is introduced: feisty investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith (played by Elizabeth Sladen). Sarah Jane later reappears in the series in 2006 and gets her own spinoff, The Sarah Jane Adventures, in 2007.
When Pertwee announces plans to resume his stage career, Tom Baker takes over the role, portraying the Doctor for seven seasons, making him the longest-serving actor in the part. With his trademark long, striped scarf, Baker is often regarded as the most popular of the Doctor incarnations.
The Doctor Who serial “The Deadly Assassin” reveals that a Time Lord can regenerate 12 times, for a total of 13 incarnations (though one Time Lord, the Master, has been able to circumvent this).
The robotic dog K9 is introduced as a companion to Baker’s Doctor. Extremely popular with the audience, K9 is years later dismissed in the Guardian newspaper as “an annoyance on every level.”
Peter Davison, best known for his role as Tristan in the television version of James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small, portrays the fifth incarnation of the Doctor. At age 29, Davison is the youngest actor to play the role.
Colin Baker (no relation to Tom) becomes the sixth Doctor. Baker had previously appeared on the show in 1983 as the character Commander Maxil.
Sylvester McCoy takes over the role and becomes the seventh Doctor.
The song “Doctorin’ the TARDIS” by the Timelords (later known as The KLF) reaches No. 1 on the British charts. The song samples the Doctor Who theme and Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll (Part 2).”
Due to falling viewer numbers, the BBC suspends production and effectively cancels the series.
The Doctor Who television movie premieres as an attempt to revive production of the series. Co-produced by the BBC, Universal Television and the Fox network, it is a ratings success in the U.K., but does not fare well in the United States and no series is picked up. The movie introduces Paul McGann as the eighth Doctor in his only television appearance. Controversy arises among series fans when the eighth Doctor describes himself as “half-human.”
Doctor Who successfully relaunches on the BBC, with development money contributed by the CBC (which is credited as co-producer). Christopher Eccleston becomes the ninth Doctor and former pop singer Billie Piper plays the Doctor’s companion Rose Tyler.
Soon after its premiere, Eccleston announces he will not be returning for another season. David Tennant is cast as the 10th Doctor. Tennant’s Doctor becomes one of the most popular incarnations. In 2006, readers of Doctor Who Magazine name Tennant the “Best Doctor” over perennial favourite Tom Baker.
The Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood premieres. Torchwood (an anagram of Doctor Who) focuses on the activities of the fictional Torchwood Institute, which deals mainly with extraterrestrial activities. The Institute is led by Captain John Harkness (played by John Barrowman) who appeared on Doctor Who in 2005.
Matt Smith is unveiled as the 11th Doctor. At 26, Smith will be the youngest person to portray the Doctor. His series will air in 2010.
Fans of the Doctor Who action figures will be pleased to hear that the show’s spin-off, Torchwood, will soon be getting its own line of figures from Character Options Toys. They’ll be previewed at the San Diego Comic Con and we’ll let you know when they’re available elsewhere. For now, here’s a look and some more info from TV Over Mind:
Torchwood and Doctor Who fans have a lot to be excited about regarding next week’s Comic-Con 2009 in San Diego – and it just got even better for collectors. Underground Toys has just released images of their four exclusive new action figures, which will be available firstly at Comic-Con and then only at select online retailers following the event. If you’re an action figure collector like myself, you won’t want to miss these great new additions.
The first two selections are part of Character Options’ classic figure series. The first is the First Doctor (William Hartnell) with a Dalek Invasion of Earth ‘Black’ Dalek two-pack, harkening back to Doctor Who’s first broadcast in November 1963. Both color and black and white editions will be available, keeping in the spirit of the original black-and-white television broadcast. The second is the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton), featured here with a Cybermen two-pack representing those found in the September 1967 episode ‘Tomb of the Cybermen’. This figure also has both color and black-and-white variants available. Both the First and Second Doctor exclusives have a SRP of $40.
Underground will also offer a Sixth Doctor variant figure, featuring Colin Baker’s incarnation in the alternative blue coat most visibly used in the BBC’s ‘Real Time’ webcast. This more muted, less frivolous design is a favorite among many fans, and this figure has an SRP of $20.
For Torchwood fans like myself, you’ll be thrilled to hear that a limited edition Captain Jack Harkness figure will also be offered at the convention. This figure, specially packaged for the upcoming Children of Earth miniseries, is a variant of the one released in the first wave of Torchwood figures. It features Jack in his dark blue alternative wardrobe, and is individually hand-numbered. This variant carries an SRP of $20.
All these figures will be available exclusively at the Underground Toys booth at Comic-Con (#3949), and later at select online retailers not yet known at press time.
It’s not often that Hasbro brings us a human figure from the Transformers Universe, but here’s a look at the human/robot pair up from Michael Bay’s film franchise:
Now in a 2-pack, the Bumblebee and Sam Witwicky figures interact with each other and you can keep your Sam on Bumblebee’s shoulder in robot mode, or switch to a vehicle to put Sam in the driver’s seat. It’s an awesome set for fans of the film.
Dr. Horrible brought Neil Patrick back to the world of Geek following his appearance in the Harold & Kumar franchise, but it seems that he’s definitely here to stay as he takes on the role of Gotham City’s Music Meister on Batman: The Brave and the Bold. In a show that captures not only the coolness of Batman but the fun and retro whimsy, it seems like there can finally be a musical outing for the caped crusader that won’t seem awkward or misplaced. We hope.
John Burlingame has the info:
Ready for a superhero musical? Usually the answer is, no, no we’re not. There’s been only one superhero musical of note: “It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman,” which didn’t last four months on Broadway in 1966.
Admittedly, $40 million is being spent on “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” coming to Broadway next year. But even with Bono and the Edge doing the music, that’s a creative crapshoot, as conventional Music Meister in the grips of Batman wisdom has always been that it’s enough trouble persuading audiences to believe in flying crime-fighters wearing colorful tights, much less breaking into song.
Still, the producers of “Batman: The Brave and the Bold,” the animated series that airs Friday nights on the Cartoon Network, are confident enough in the first Batman musical — titled “Mayhem of the Music Meister!” — which they’re unveiling to fans Friday at Comic-Con International in San Diego before its airing when the series returns for its second season in the fall.
In this most lighthearted take on the Caped Crusader since the Adam West series of the 1960s, “How I Met Your Mother” star (and upcoming Emmy host) Neil Patrick Harris voices the villain the Music Meister.
“It was always in the back of my mind that a musical would be a fun thing to do,” says James Tucker, producer of the series. A musical theater fan, he enlisted his co-producer Michael Jelenic to collaborate. Together, they came up with what Tucker calls “a bare-bones framework of a plot to hang the songs on. We didn’t want to do ‘Les Miserables’ or ‘Sweeney Todd.’”
Batman, along with fellow heroes Green Arrow, Aquaman and Black Canary, and villains Gorilla Grodd, Black Manta and Clock King are powerless to resist the voice of the Music Meister, who naturally plans to control the world. Over five songs that occupy 18 of the show’s 22 minutes, the plot is revealed and foiled, along with a love-story subplot that fans of the DC comics will recognize and maybe even find touching.
This all started in July of last year, when Tucker and Jelenic met with “Batman” composers Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion and Kristopher Carter (all of whom won 2001 Emmys for scoring an earlier animated series, “Batman Beyond”). It would be up to the trio — who together have scored hundreds of Warner Bros. superhero cartoons dating to 1991 — to make it all work musically.
Ritmanis, who had the most experience working on musicals, acknowledges that she was “a little gun-shy,” knowing Music Meister belting that they had only three months to do what often takes a year of writing and rewriting. Yet, she says, “for us to be in on the beginning phase was thrilling, because usually we come in at the very end,” providing underscore that punches up the action dramatically or quietly supports the dialogue.
“They knew what they wanted the songs to do,” McCuistion adds. All three composers were impressed that the producers were following musical theater tradition in using songs to move the story forward. Tucker and Jelenic — neither of whom had any songwriting experience — went off to write lyrics, which the composers later set to music within specific musical styles.
Says Jelenic, “When we conceived a musical, we didn’t necessarily want to wink at the audience. We wanted it to stand on its own — yet some of the lyrics are really absurd.” He hopes it works for audiences on multiple levels.
The opening song, which introduces the Music Meister, needed to be part “Guys and Dolls,” part Stephen Sondheim, McCuistion said. Ritmanis got to write the big ballad “If Only,” in which several characters yearn for their imagined soul mates.
The biggest challenge was the finale, which Tucker says demanded “a big, over-the-top, Busby Berkeley feel,” yet at the same time, Carter adds, needed to function as a grand “tango of death.” There is also a rock number and a funny patter song in which all the villains complain about Batman.
Harris was everyone’s first choice as the villain, since he had done voices for “Justice League” and “Spider-Man,” and proved his musical mettle onstage in such productions as “Rent” and “Assassins.” Tucker saw him in “Sweeney Todd” at the Ahmanson Theatre in 1999 and remembered how good he was.
“Eighty-five percent of this episode is music,” says casting and voice director Andrea Romano, “so we Music Meister jumpsuited needed somebody who was going to be able to handle this quickly and easily. Neil just flew through his session. It really was a perfect marriage of role and actor.”
Luckily, most of the other regulars were talented singers, notably Grey DeLisle (Black Canary) and James Arnold Taylor (Green Arrow). Diedrich Bader, who regularly voices Batman, stepped aside for Jeff Bennett to sing in the final number.
Tucker thinks this concept would never have worked on the earlier Warner Bros. comic book shows, many of which he worked on as designer, storyboard artist and director. All were too serious in tone. “Brave and the Bold” was just different enough.
“We wanted to free up Batman to be fun again,” he says. “This show has been so wild and out of the box that we can do a musical and no one will question it at all.” The studio even agreed to hire a 28-piece orchestra, similar to that granted to the composers of “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” but nowadays considered a luxury in children’s animation, which is usually scored with synthesizers and samplers.
Could the Music Meister return in another Batman musical? Ritmanis answers with a smile: “I have an idea that maybe he could return on Broadway.”