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BACKSTAGE - INTERVIEW WITH WRITER BOB GOODMAN

A name familiar to long-time fans of the DC Animated Universe titles, such as Batman Beyond and The Zeta Project, writer Bob Goodman returns to Gotham City as writer behind the two-part Batman: The Dark Knight Returns animated adaptation. The Warehouse 13 writer sat down with The World's Finest to discuss the animated feature Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part Two, currently available to own on home video and through digital outlets, along with other projects he'd like to tackle and upcoming works. Continue below for more.

The World's Finest: Let's jump right into this! One of the things I noticed right away when watching “Part Two” is how this version of Superman seems a bit lighter as opposed to Frank Miller's rather sharp and ‘lapdog’-ish take on the Man of Steel in the original book. Was there a conscious effort to go a little easier on Superman with this adaptation?

Bob Goodman: For the most part, I’d say our portrayal of Superman is very close to Frank's -- we kept his dialogue and what he does in the movie very true to the books. He's "sold out" in a way Batman refuses to -- he's made a deal with an illegitimate authority, and is doing whatever he's told by that authority in exchange for getting to go about his business. In my mind when working on the script, I likened it to working for the mob -- thus the line I added for Bruce after he says they're both criminals: "Only difference is you have a boss."

But on the other hand, I do love writing Superman, and did my best to treat both characters as fully-rounded and empathetic in their points of view. So maybe that balanced attitude came across in some subtle ways. Plus Mark Valley did an awesome job breathing life and humanity into Superman's character. And Jay Oliva, the director, handled Superman with the awe and grandeur that we're used to seeing from the Man of Steel -- the war scenes in Corto Maltese are powerhouse, and the final fight between Superman and Batman is seriously f'in bad-ass -- most of the credit for which goes to Jay and his incredible storyboard artists.

WF: To carry on from the first question, pretty much everything involving the Joker is dark, violent, and just shocking. In fact, I’d say that he’s possibly a bit more twisted than the book itself (and the lack of narration adds to his unpredictability). What was it like to write a rendition of the Joker where he could basically do everything he couldn’t do on television? Easier? Harder?

BG: It was fantastic. All of the heroes and villains in the original books are the most extreme, grotesque versions of themselves. Superman is the ultimate boy scout, Batman is the ultimate vigilante, and Joker is the ultimate insane mass-murderer. It's rare that a writer gets to explore characters so far at the edges of human behavior, get into their heads and find justification and realism in such extreme actions -- so it's just a blast, and selfishly, a great exercise.

And yes, it’s always a lot of fun to have the shackles off, and get to do things with these characters that we can’t do on “kids’ TV.”

WF: There are some shockingly violent moments in these two animated films. Is there ever any worry that, even though you’re just adapting the material, that it may be too intense for a PG-13 movie?

BG: I mostly stay out of any discussions of rating -- that's a marketing concern. I asked Alan Burnett early on what my marching orders were -- where the boundaries were, what I was and wasn't allowed to do -- and his answer was pretty much "go for it." Anything was allowed. Bruce Timm has talked about them worrying they might slip over into an "R" rating -- and how he and Jay self-edited out of concern for that -- reducing the number times Joker stabs Batman from seven to four, like that -- but I'm happy to say I had the freedom to write what I wrote, and let others worry about it from there.

I should add though, that I'm never really writing just any violence, with no limits and for no reason. Everything in the story, be it violence or comedy or expressions of love, are in service to the story and the characters -- so there's always a self-limiter in place. Hopefully, nothing's gratuitous, it's all there for a reason.

WF: What keys did you want to make sure you hit when writing out the final battle between Batman and Superman?

BG: This was a really interesting fight to write, not at all like the dynamics of your usual fight scene. Neither of the two guys fighting really wants to kill the other... Superman's obviously holding back, especially at first, and trying to talk Batman out of fighting him -- and Batman is really just putting on a show to a) sell the idea that he wants to kill Superman and b) last long enough to justify the heart attack... and yet the fight we end up with is about as brutal and mean-spirited as any you'll ever see. Batman knows he doesn't have to hold back -- and let's face it, he has plenty of anger and contempt to take out on Superman at the moment. And by the end of it, Superman is tossing Batman around and busting bones too.

As for specific beats to hit, like everywhere else I followed Frank's lead and then filled in the gaps. So if you watch the fight, you'll see the key moments shown in panels in the book -- Batman using the sonar weapon first... then electrocuting Superman... Superman breaking Batman's ribs... etc. And I really have to give enormous props here to Jay and his storyboard team -- guys like Adam van Wyck, who did an incredible job filling the fight out and creating some truly kick ass action.

WF: When it’s boiled down, you basically wrote a 2 ½ hour movie. What kind of advantages and disadvantages did you come across when working on this project?

BG: It was a rare treat for me to get to work in this long a format -- most of my writing has been for TV, in either half-hours or hours. Obviously there was the challenge of making this work as both two individual standalone movies and one single long one -- plus the original books are so dense with material, that we still had to cut things out to make them fit into two movies. But I can't think of a single "disadvantage." I loved the experience and hope I get the opportunity to write in long forms like this plenty more.

WF: Additionally, do you think we’ll ever see an edition of this movie with both parts connected together? Would that work, or does the cliffhanger for Part One make this a bit difficult? Did you write this adaptation as a single movie or a two-part entity?

BG: I wrote it to work both ways, and personally, I hope people watch both parts together, with just a brief intermission between them. That would be my recommended viewing method. I can't speak for the studio’s plans, but I hope (and assume) they’ll release both as a single disc. It's funny, my biggest concern about literally cutting the two together is that I so love the handling of the titles on them -- that smash cut to the main title and Chris Drake's awesome music at the end of Part 1, and the slow fade-up of TV commentators’ voices over the logo cards at the top of Part 2 –- that it would be a shame to lose those.

WF: Do you have any moments in particular that you’re proud of, from either Part One or Part Two?

BG:Honestly, I’m proud of the whole thing -- both whole things. I know it sounds like I’m dodging the question, but it’s true. Since I was starting with such great source material, my job was largely shaping the structure -- the pacing and flow, the ups and downs, and the connection of ideas from one part of the story to another. So when I think about what I personally pat myself on the back for, it’s that stuff -- the stuff that’s largely invisible to the viewer. And everyone involved did such a great job -- the cast, the crew, Jay, Andrea... that I’m thrilled with how it all turned out.

But I will share a specific detail about one scene... not that it’s the moment in the movies I’m most proud of or anything, but your question did make me think of it. People often ask how a writer doing an adaptation manages to stay true to the source material, yet also infuse their own personal mark -- and this is a good example: The original books included a scene while Carrie was “self-training” to become Robin, where she sticks a lit firecracker in the back pocket of a guy running a three-card-monte scam. For a host of reasons I won’t get into, I wanted to change the scene to something else. But I did want to stay true to the ideas* of the scene -- the slice of New York City life in the ‘80s, the whimsy and innocence in Carrie’s early attempt at being a costumed heroine, etc. I remembered something my dad really did during that time (we lived in New York City in the 80’s, so I know the world Frank was writing about) -- he jumped between a purse snatcher and his intended victim, thwarting the crime. Obviously it was something we were all proud of him for doing -- and we also thought he was nuts to have done it. So I wrote a scene about Carrie doing that instead, creating the backdrop of the dangerous street that a couple from “uptown” had come down to, to check out a restaurant. Hopefully it captures the same feel and story function of the scene I changed... but also includes a new element that’s very personal to me.

WF: I imagine adapting Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is a pretty big event for your television and film career ... but is there any other comic story you’d like to take a swing at bringing to the small (or big) screen?

BG: Sadly, Watchmen is done.

WF: Also, what are your thoughts on these adaptations in general? Some fans argue that these animated adaptations are unnecessary given that there’s already an ideal or preferred version in print. What kind of benefits do fans get from these adaptations?

BG: I think these adaptations are awesome. I don’t have to tell you how often we’ve all dreamed about, and talked about, a Dark Knight Returns movie over the years, and I can’t count the number of people who’ve told me it meant so much to them to finally see it happen. The same goes for Batman: Year One, All-Star Superman, etc, etc. And look -- with folks at the helm like Alan Burnett, Bruce Timm, Andrea Romano, James Tucker, Lauren Montgomery, Jay Oliva – you know the quality is always gonna be the absolute best. That said, I also really like when they do an original story, and I think some of their best ones have been the stories they created from whole cloth. Green Lantern: First Flight and Wonder Woman were both fantastic, for example.

WF: To wrap things up on the Dark Knight front, can you tell us why fans should rush out to pick up Part Two if they haven't already?

BG: Well, if someone’s reading this far into this interview, I certainly hope it’s because they’re a fan of the original books, and they liked what we did with Part One. So if that’s you, reader out there, you won’t be disappointed with Part Two. Part Two is where all the most kick-ass stuff comes in -- Batman’s climactic showdowns with both the Joker and with Superman. How could you stop now?

...And if you’ve read this far into the interview and you haven’t read the original books... um... spoiler alert.

WF: Any teasers you can share on your next DC Universe Animated Original Movie Superman: Unbound? How close will it stick to the source material and what can we expect from it?

BG: Well, let’s talk about that movie when it comes out... but I will say that it’s more of an expansion of the source material than The Dark Knight Returns, was, building a bigger story off the inspiration provided by an awesome-and-thrilling-but-pretty-short one. You can expect plenty of killer action -- as always -- great direction by James Tucker... and at least one jaw-dropping, “they couldn’t do that on Saturday morning” moment that even I was surprised by when I saw it. ...How’s that for a teaser?

WF: It's awesome! Thanks for taking the time to do this, Bob,!

BG: Thank you, James! Always a pleasure!

"Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part Two" is currently available to own on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital from Warner Home Video.


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