Yesterday, Warner Bros. Animation released DC Showcase: Constantine - The House of Mystery, a new collection of short films that also includes Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth!, Blue Beetle, and The Losers. Produced by Rick Morales (Mortal Kombat Legends, Injustice), these shorts boast an incredible array of talent both in terms of the creatives and phenomenal A-List cast members.
In our final interview about the recent Blu-ray release, we speak to the man overseeing this corner of the DC Animated Universe, Supervising Producer Rick Morales. Between this and taking charge of the Mortal Kombat Legends Universe and Scooby-Doo, Rick is incredibly busy, but he took the time to take us through what led to Warner Bros. choosing to focus on these characters and stories.
We learn more about how Constantine - The House of Mystery ended up being an epilogue to Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, the challenges of adapting Jack Kirby's art style to animation, and how the team working on these ended up putting together a dream list of acting talent.
You can check out the full interview below, and make sure to scroll down to take a look at any of those you might have missed, including with Blue Beetle himself, Matt Lanter (The Clone Wars).
When it came to this round of DC Showcase shorts, which of these four sets of characters was the biggest priority for you in terms of putting them front and centre in their own movie?
I think the fact people aren’t familiar with them was kind of the point. We do so much Superman and Batman, of course, as people are such fans of those characters. That’s great, but DC has got a lot of unexplored material I think is worthwhile that I’d like to get in front of people. I’m a big Jack Kirby fan and Kamandi is one of those things that was always kicking around at Warner Bros., so when it was brought up that it was something we could do for this, I was like, ‘Oh yes, please, please! Let me take a crack at it.’ It was really a discussion with Jim Krieg and some of the other executives around here about how we would approach this. Jim already had an idea to do the epilogue to Apokolips War with the Constantine story, so that was baked in and we knew we were going to do a follow up with John and expand that universe.
For the others, we asked ourselves what we would have fun with and enjoy. Ted Kord/Blue Beetle has always been a personal favourite of mine since the JLI days, so I’d always jump at the chance to do anything with him. I’ve just always loved his interactions with Booster Gold and all that. Jim had an idea to do the Ted Kord Blue Beetle and as we started talking about the story, I threw it out there, ‘What if we did it as a homage to the 60s where it was made then as a pilot and put on a shelf and never really finished.’ Jim is a big fan of the Spider-Man show from that time, so I saw his eyes light up and that was it. We headed in that direction. We picked what we liked and what I thought fans might enjoy. These are characters I’d like to see get more exposure.
Kamandi honestly left my jaw on the floor with that Jack Kirby-style animation; how much of a challenge was it to adapt that and did you ever have any reservations about trying to bring such a legendary artist’s work to life?
[Laughs] I don’t know, maybe it’s just pure arrogance on my part, but I didn’t have any reservations about approaching it like that. I felt like if we were going to do Kamandi, it had to look like that and we had to do our damndest to make it look like a moving Jack Kirby cartoon. We had tonnes of reference for it, so I knew it was going to be a challenge to break down the way he approached anatomy and shading styles and the Jack Kirby-isms, so we had a lot of work to do. Luckily, I had someone I consider to be one of the best character designers in the business, Steven Choi, working with me to develop this. I did a few initial sketches of Kamandi trying to figure out how we would approach the black squiggles and all the stuff baked in his design, so I came up with a sense of how that might work and the ways we could simplify it, but then Steven took it and really brought it together. I think he did such a good job of getting all that stuff, even with the other characters. It felt to me that it looked like Jack Kirby and was as close as we could get it. We went from there.
You have some incredible actors here like Cameron Monaghan, Ming-Na Wen, and Matt Lanter, but when it comes to approaching them about these roles, is it a harder sell when they’re for characters not even a lot of hardcore DC fans will be familiar with?
It’s about telling them what the story will be and presenting them with the idea of what this is going to be and finding some interest on that level. Like you say, Kamandi and The Losers aren’t particularly well-known outside of hardcore comic fans. First of all, we’ve got a great voice director in Wes Gleason and he knows how to approach them in a way that can get their interest. It comes down to what we’re doing with them, how we approach the story, what the look is going to be, and as we generate interest that way, we get some really great talent on board.
Over the past few years, you’ve been overseeing both these DC Showcase shorts, that Mortal Kombat Legends Universe and, I believe, a lot of Scooby-Doo stories as well, so what has it been like for you, creatively speaking, to be part of these very different animated worlds?
[Laughs] It’s a very, very interesting experience. It’s hectic, but you know what, I love it all. There’s something in all of it that I just love. Scooby has got such a long tradition and is one of the most iconic cartoon characters in existence worldwide. Period. I’ve got young kids and I obviously can’t show them Mortal Kombat [Laughs] so I like to make stuff they and kids in their age group can watch. My first love, and the reason I even got into animation in the first place (and I didn’t think I’d get into animation as I was sure I’d be a superstar comic book artist like Jim Lee or Rob Liefeld), but I went down a different path and comic books were always my first love. To be able to work on the DC stuff and these characters is just such an honour. I feel so grateful to do it. With all the pandemic stuff, we went to working from home and I’ve got an office there and, occasionally, I’ll be at my desk and my kids will pop in and they’ll want to play in the middle of the day. I’ll say, ‘I’m working. I can’t play with you right now.’ My daughter says, ‘You’re not working. You’re drawing Batman!’ I responded, ‘Yeah, you’re right [Laughs], but it’s still work!’ It’s great.
I know you said it was always the plan to do an epilogue to Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, but with the DC Animated Universe moving on to movies like Superman: Man of Tomorrow and Batman: The Long Halloween, was it difficult to get the green light? And do you view this as the end of the era or something that leaves room to keep telling John Constantine’s story?
Oh, I definitely think there’s room to carry on the Constantine story. Without a doubt. And no, it wasn’t difficult to get the green light because it was part of the plan from a long time back. There was no fight to make Kamandi, The Losers, or Blue Beetle. It was all very natural and organic, and surprisingly easy to get these concepts pushed through. I would have thought it would be a lot more difficult to say, ‘I want to do a Blue Beetle thing that has very limited animation, is made to have mistakes, and mix it in mono.’ We did that actually, but I never thought we’d get someone to sign off on that and go for this. As soon as it came out of my mouth, they were like, ‘That’s great!’ I said, ‘It is? Okay!’ [Laughs] It happens like that sometimes.
Moving forward, is the hope that these DC Showcase shorts will become a regular occurrence? I’d love to see a compilation like this come out yearly and inform what we see in the movies.
I would love that. I think that would be a great way to go, bringing some of the characters to the fore who wouldn’t get this type of exposure. Yeah, although I try to look at these as standalone, I don’t want to get too excited about making Kamandi and then be let down knowing there wasn’t going to be a series to add to it [Laughs]. Certainly, in the back of my mind, there was a hope that people will respond to these or just one of them. You’re throwing something against the wall and seeing if it sticks, and in my perfect world, Kamandi would really stick and we would do a whole bunch more. I like the Showcase Shorts as a vehicle to explore different styles and show different characters to an audience that may not have seen them otherwise and, hopefully, it might inspire them to go out and check the Kamandi comic books out by Kirby and find out more about what was going on.
ALSO READ: Interview With Constantine - The House Of Mystery And Kamandi Director Matt Peters
ALSO READ: Interview With Blue Beetle And The Losers Director Milo Neuman
ALSO READ: Interview With Blue Beetle Story Creator Jeremy Adams
ALSO READ: Interview With Blue Beetle Scriptwriter Jennifer Keene
ALSO READ: Interview With The Losers Writer Tim Sheridan
ALSO READ: Interview With Kamandi: The Last Boy On Earth! Writer Paul Giacoppo
ALSO READ: Interview With Blue Beetle Voice Actor Matt Lanter
ALSO READ: Interview With Constantine - The House Of Mystery Writer Ernie Altbacker
DC Showcase: Constantine - The House of Mystery arrived on Digital & Blu-ray on May 3.