Judd Winick has returned to Gotham City with a vengeance.
The award-winning cartoonist has successfully transitioned one of his benchmark storylines from comic book pages to animated film with the upcoming release of BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD, the latest entry in the popular series of DC Universe Animated Original Movies. It hits stores on July 27, 2010.
Winick has scripted such titles as Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, The Trials of Shazam, Green Arrow and The Outsiders for DC Comics. He also was the creator and executive producer of Cartoon Networkís animated series, The Life and Times of Juniper Lee.
He is currently developing live action television and animation, writing the new bi-weekly comic title for DC Comics Justice League: Generation Lost as well as the monthly Power Girl.
In 2005, Winick presented his Red Hood storyline in the Batman comics and it was met with tremendous sales alongside powerful waves of controversy. He has evolved that story into the script for the all-new DC Universe film, BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD. In celebration of the filmís July 27 street date, DC Comics will distribute a six-issue mini-series, RED HOOD: THE LOST DAYS Written by Winick and drawn by Pablo Raimondi, the mini-series offers greater insight into the back story of the title character.
Winick is thrilled with the way his words have transitioned from comic/graphic novel to screenplay to animated film in the form of BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD, and is only too happy to talk about the end result. Following the 3 new images from the film, check out a short Q&A with the writer...
QUESTION: What was the greatest challenge in taking your graphic novel to script format?
JUDD WINICK: I had to take two years of story and boil it down to 75 minutes of film, and thatís a challenge and liberating at the same time. It forces one to cut out all the fat and get to the heart of it. Itís about making a movie. And for those who know anything about movies, itís about putting one foot in front of the other, building from one scene to the next to the next and so on. There are no cul-de-sacs or crossovers Ė itís all about getting the story to its essence.
Q: Were you disappointed with what you needed to cut out?
JW: Actually, I was thrilled about what went in. Iím really, really happy that the emotional core of the story is still there. We donít really get to tell stories like this in animation. The opera of it all is usually reserved for live action. This story is about characters actually emoting and dealing with horrible situations. Animation usually gets just the action and the visualization, and not the characters actually feeling anything. So it was nice we got to do that.
Q: Can you describe the gratification of watching your words come to animated life?
JW: Itís great. And I donít mean to take anything away from writing for comics, as this is just a different form of story telling. One of the fun parts of writing for film is that it allows you the freedom for your characters to just shut up and fight. We canít do that in comics Ė there always has to be some banter or internal monologue. More importantly, itís gratifying to see the words and action come to life in all the ways film affords Ė through incredibly talented actors giving the words all that emotional impact; and to see the characters actually fight and run and yell and shout and cry. They become living, breathing beings. Thatís a very exhilarating experience for a writer.
Q: Do the voices of Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, Neil Patrick Harris and John DiMaggio match what you had in your head while writing the dialogue?
JW: Iíve been writing these characters for years, and itís remarkable the job those actors did. Greenwood is about as Batman as you can get Ė which is exactly what you want. You donít want to be surprised Ė as soon as he speaks, you want to say to yourself, ďThatís Batman.Ē Nightwing is exactly as Iíve had him in my head Ė Neil Patrick Harris couldnít possibly do it better. Iíd like to do an entire feature with Bruce Greenwood as Batman and Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing.
Red Hood is funny for me because I thought Iíd written this character in this incarnation more than anyone else, but I had no clue what heíd really sound like. And yet, when Jensen speaks, thatís the right tone and timbre. As far as The Joker, that is one of the truly great characters that I think needs to be left up to interpretation. Thereís only been a handful of people who have created The Joker Ė Mark Hamill set the standard for animation, then youíve got Jack (Nicholson) and Heath Ledger. But John (DiMaggio) has such versatility, he could go anywhere with it, and he made it totally his own. He really gives a very big and gruff and masculine performance, so deep and throaty and bass. Heís wonderfully scary and really gets the job done.
Wade Williams as Black Mask absolutely cracks me up. Heís like a lion. Honestly, what came out in the animation came directly out of his performance. Wade made him into a caged animal who might go off at any second. Heís constantly roaring, which is an entirely different take than I anticipated and thatís awesome. Thatís an actor making decisions and making it his own and really hitting the mark.
Q: Executive Producer Bruce Timm says your pitch was unorthodox in that it was over the phone and yet was absolutely perfect and completely sold him. Howíd you pull that off?
JW: Iíd given a rougher pitch to Gregory Noveck (DC Comicsís Senior Vice President of Creative Affairs) and he loved it, but we had to pitch it to the gang. The schedule worked out that I had to be in San Francisco, and they had to be in Burbank. Thatís not the ideal way to pitch, especially for me Ė I like to jump around a lot, shout a lot, wave my hands and be theatrical. Thatís especially true for this pitch because itís a very emotional script. I kind of sold the idea in the first five minutes of the pitch, which was essentially describing the first five minutes of the movie.
I thought this would be a cool animated feature, but to really tell this story, we had to find a way to show Robin dying. We had to get the history in quickly to start the movie with that emotional smack. So Iím on my head set, going through this scene, talking about Batman barreling down the street of Sarajevo, The Joker beating Robin to death,. Iím banging my hands on the desk, yelling as loud as I can, and by the time I said ďFade to black, cue to opening credits,Ē it was just dead quiet on the other end of the line. I said, ďIs everybody still there?Ē And they said, ďYeah, that was awesome.Ē Done. Sold.
Q: How did you first enter The Batcave as a fan?
JW: Like many people of my age, Iím sure I was reading the comics but I remember watching the TV series more Ė and not really liking it. It didnít quite feel right. I know I enjoyed it more like watching SUPER FRIENDS, but I really gravitated toward the comics more than anything. The series wasnít dark enough. It didnít have the edge I wanted in my Batman. Ultimately, the TV show gave me a sense of what I didnít want Batman to be, even back then.
Q: Do you feel BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD fits into Batmanís current live-action film tone?
JW: Iíd say Christopher Nolanís THE DARK KNIGHT was sort of the catalyst. After seeing that film, it got my juices going thinking that we could do something like that with a Red Hood arc. At the time, I didnít even know what Warner Premiere was working on. It all started with a quick email to Gregory (Noveck) asking if they were looking for any more Batman features. Comics and film present very specific camps for the characters and the stories. Animation should be its own genre that straddles between the two that can give comic fans the product their hoping to see, and provide a new vision for the fans who only know these characters in the most mainstream way.
BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD will be available on July 27, 2010. Visit the official site at BATMANREDHOOD.COM for more details. BOF will be covering this movie extensively, so stay tuned!