It is no secret that the backbone of my love for anything DC stemmed from the DCAU. For those who played outside as a child or had a normal social life in high school, DCAU is shorthand for DC Animated Universe which started in 1992 with Batman: The Animated Series. For 12 years Bruce Timm lead the charge in creating a world where comic books came alive on screen and appealed not only to children who were glued to TV screens after school or Saturday mornings but also adults who were delighted to find their favorite characters in a cartoon that showcased a dark noir style.
While I remember watching episodes of B:TAS and Superman: The Animated Series it wasn’t until Batman Beyond that I became fully addicted to this universe. Much like all the earlier shows it was smart, funny, and ahead of the game in good storytelling but this time it was undergoing a riskier venture by creating a brand new world. Even when looking back on it today many say it was the darkest of all the DCAU shows because it featured a grim future and while Terry McGinnis was only a teenager he was faced with much more emotional turmoil than Bruce ever did. Hell, even the opening credits were severely lacking in pretty colors and happy music.
This was the first real step in creating a franchise for a wide audience. B:TAS and S:TAS were great in their own right, they were true comic book cartoons: episodes that resembled issues, familiar faces and costumes, and a very distinguishable line between good and bad. But Batman Beyond really changed the game because it used more mature themes to constantly remind us that heroes don’t stay young and pure forever.
Batman Beyond was officially put on hiatus to launch Justice League and when that show finally started I was hungry for it, starving even. I was 14 and completely unprepared for the long-lasting effects a Saturday morning cartoon would have on my life. Justice League and subsequently its sequel Justice League Unlimited, to me, are the epitome of what comic book cartoons should be. The show(s) were almost always accurate to the source material and actually had comic book writers penning a number of episodes. It balanced humor and action and inside jokes. It was damn near flawless.
The downfall wasn’t a matter of the stories becoming weak and the quality of the show dropping, but quite the opposite. Bruce Timm and the rest of his merry band of writers and animators started weaving an ongoing plot that was hinted at and poked at throughout the season but came crashing down at the end. It was phenomenal. The twist wasn’t convoluted or forced; it was eloquent and thought-provoking. I was in high school and I was blown away by the intricate narration and I would find out later that a lot of adults were too. The same adults that started watching for a laugh were at the edge of their seats forgetting it was a cartoon and losing themselves in the plot.
Unfortunately, by the end of first season of Justice League Unlimited Warner Bros./Cartoon Network execs felts that the stories were becoming too involved and too deep for a children’s show. They wanted something more light-hearted, something that didn’t make you have to think so hard. It was carelessly overlooked that children were still enjoying the show because it was full of superheroes while the adults were completely sucked in because of the plots. It was a golden time for fans but that is not the direction Warner Bros./Cartoon Network wanted for their programming, the ratings among 12+ were getting higher but for the 4-11 yr old demographic it was stagnant. The second season of JLU is still enjoyable to this day but it feels shallow somehow. Like overhearing your parents fighting but at dinner they pretend that everything is fine and dandy.
Since Justice League there have been a few shows aimed for a younger audience and deemed successful: Teen Titans, The Batman, and Batman: Brave & the Bold. But I never felt as connected to those as I did with JLU. Luckily Bruce Timm started pumping out straight-to-DVD animated movied based of popular storylines. Normally “straight-to-DVD” is a brand of shame but it became a lucrative and beloved part of the DC franchise. At a rate of about two features a year, these short movies were gaining momentum and acclaim with a broad audience.
When Young Justice first aired I was very intrigued because of the Timm-style animation even though Bruce’s name wasn’t attached to the project. I instantly fell in love, the young heroes were engaging and endearing. It felt like Justice League all over again. While the episodes weren’t based on individual stories from the comics it managed to take decades of canon and explain in understandable 22 minute blocks. Saying I was obsessed is the gravest of understatements. It didn’t take very long for the plot twists to start popping up and soon the show had the exact same feel as Justice League Unlimited.
So of course, like all good shows, it got cancelled and I was heartbroken but not surprised. It was cancelled for the exact same reasons JLU did. It was appealing to an older audience who appreciated the ongoing plot and story arches but it wasn’t getting enough attention from the younger viewers. Shortly after the announcement that Cartoon Network would air the remaining episodes that were already finished and even bigger tidal wave hit avid DCAU fans: Bruce Timm would be stepping down as supervising producer for all DC Original Animated Movies.
There has been speculation on what exactly Bruce Timm is working on since he is still very much employed by Warner Bros. Lots of hopeful fans are pulling for the rumor that he is developing a brand new Justice League series but I’m not entirely convinced. In 2014 the next straight-to-DVD movie will be an animated adaptation of Geoff Johns’ first run on New 52 Justice League. Bleh. I’m unimpressed. If they are hoping Bruce can start creating a show based on that version of the team then I’m apprehensive about how the joy from the Timm-verse will be reflected.
In my dream world Bruce Timm would be in charge of DC Entertainment. I feel like he has enough knowledge and admiration of the source material to adapt a live-action movie. If he were in charge of the movies we would have a Batman whose tortured soul is something we want to console instead of mock and a Superman that doesn’t need to kill first to know that it’s wrong. We would have a Wonder Woman. He would excel at showcasing the dynamics of a team without skimping on the flashy action scenes. It would be feel-good like Marvel’s The Avengers was! You could take your kids and your co-workers and still have fun. Plus, I bet Bruce Timm would do an outrageously good job working with a casting director that took more time at finding the perfect actor instead of a big name that would do a suitable job.
If all movie studios strive to make “Avengers money” off their blockbusters why aren’t they trying to accomplish what Kevin Feige set out to do? Why aren’t they trying to tell a good story without dumbing anything down to appeal to a more broad audience? I read thread on Reddit about how someone figured out why DC movies don’t work for them as much as Marvel ones do. She theorizes that since Warner Bros. doesn’t have any sense of loyalty or pride in the comic books they base their movies off of they keep trying to apologize for their superhero blockbuster. “Here’s the Batman movie you guys want but it’s not reaaaallly Batman! It’s, like, a cooler Batman.” Or “You guys love Superman, right? Well here’s a darker, grittier version of him that isn’t so wholesome because that’s totally lame!” Marvel Studios however doesn’t shy away from the silliness of comic books, in fact they are celebrating it. Their philosophy has been, “even if we have to tell a dark story, let’s not be sad about it—let’s give them something to hope for!” Marvel Studios isn’t trying to convince you that superheroes are normal people, they are telling you that being a superhero is being a SUPER HERO. You make the right choice because it’s the right thing to do. You save lives because they need to be saved. You fight until you can’t fight anymore because if you don’t then who will.
This got away from me and I apologize. What I’m trying to say is I think it’s very possible to make a Justice League movie that is full of action, well-written, and appeals to a general audience. I just don’t think Zack Snyder and David Goyer are going to tell that story. I nominate Bruce Timm, because his biggest mistake was making cartoons that adults loved too much and in my book that’s an admirable way to go down in history.