Michael Lehri of ComingSoon spoke to DC Showcase: Constantine – Mystery House supervising producer Rick Morales on the new Blu-ray release featuring four DC Showcase shorts.
Along with the brand new short film «Konstantin», Showcase DC – Constantine: Mystery House there are also three other shorts in the form Kamandi: The last boy on Earth!, Losersand blue beetle. All three have appeared in past DC Universe Movies collections as special features, so they’re not entirely new to fans who might be big fans of the DC animated movie world.
Michael Lehrie: Each of the four shorts has a completely different art style, and many of them are reminiscent of homages to cartoons of the past. What has led to such a diverse selection of styles?
Rick MoralesA: I think it had to do with the material itself and its origins. So with Kamandi it was obvious to me that if we were going to do this, it had to be [Jack] Kirby. I just don’t have any other reason to do it. I like to work in different styles. If you look at everything I’ve done from Lego to scooby doo to Mortal Kombatyou can’t say that there is one style that Rick Morales does. I’m just everywhere. I love being a chameleon, trying new things and trying to make things work and maybe things don’t work, but I just love the challenge.
So basically it was the stories that defined the look of these things, but for something like the Blue Beetle for example, it’s such an homage and it’s so designed to feel like it’s an old off-the-shelf pilot that was lost in the 60s or something. It looked special. It just wasn’t there. And strangely enough, all of them in some way became historical works. And so I think it affected both their appearance and animation style. Just trying to separate myself from what James Tucker did.
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The Blue Beetle short is an homage to classic comic book cartoons like ’60s Spider-Man and the like. He also has a sense of humor, and this humor is sometimes aimed at the format itself. What was the balance between making sure it parodies some of the imagery of that era without turning it into a sneaky mockery of that animated era that many people have a lot of reverence for?
MoralesA: We don’t do this to make fun of it. We do it because we liked it, because we grew up with it, and these things still make up a large part of my household. My 2 year old son knows the Spider-Man theme song. He heard it because we watch these cartoons. All this is done out of love and a kind of reverence for this material. But we also learned the conditions under which they worked, and why these things were the way they are, and why errors popped up.
I remember when we were in a meeting and it was being discussed, and when I came up with the idea of using different styles, they thought it was great. They are also fans of this business. But they said, «We’ll have to shorten your schedule and give you two weeks to sort things out.» They joked, but that was the reality. [Back then,] they did their best to meet deadlines and worked very quickly. So we approached it this way.
But animation studios are so savvy now, and the artists we work with are so used to doing things a certain way, that when you say to them like, “No, that looks too good” or “The acting is too good. You have to limit it.» Throws them up a bit. So I sympathized with our director because it’s one of the first things he’s ever directed. And I tell him to fight his instincts before doing this. When he came back and looked at the material, he understood it and came up with some great jokes.
So are there hidden «mistakes»?
Morales: Yeah. If you look at Blue Beetle, you’ll notice obvious reuse of parts, poor scene transitions, and incorrect character colors. It’s all just a little homage to the things you saw in Spider-Man where you obviously could see that the only thing that moves on this character is his arm because the arm is a slightly different color than the rest of his body. We only repainted the Blue Beetle model for one or two shots in the series so we could swap it around so it was intentionally colored the wrong way. These things were a lot of fun to plan.
CONNECTED: DC Showcase Interview: Director Milo Neuman Discusses ‘Blue Beetle’ And ‘The Losers’
In this respect, it’s similar to Cuphead, where Studio MDHR deliberately made mistakes to pay homage to old cartoons. «Losers» is not the most famous objects of the District of Columbia. What is so special about this group, and also that it takes place on Dinosaur Island, that made you want to give them their own featurette?
MoralesA: I think they are all pretty intriguing characters. I’ve always been a fan of Sarge, but I think it was Jim who came up with the idea to make The Losers. The Losers weren’t always associated with Dinosaur Island. They had an old comic that was about them in the war and all that. And they certainly had more adventures there, but for me The New Frontier, a book by Darwin Cooke, was perhaps my first exposure to The Losers. So I immediately recognize that Dinosaur Island is really related to the Losers, and for me it’s because of what Darwin did with this stuff.
Although we didn’t make it a direct tribute to his art, because we The New Frontier and it was like his style. I just didn’t want to go there with it, but that’s what fired me up, was this connection, like what was done to them with Dinosaur Island and all that. So that got me excited. And these are soldiers fighting dinosaurs. [laughs] I’m always for it.
Kamandi is a little different and has a different style, and he plays with Superman mythology and the DC Universe. What did you find interesting about the post-apocalyptic setting and the place after superheroes?
Morales: It always seemed to me that Kamandi was created specifically for animation. This book is about building the world. Kirby just unleashes his creativity and then planet of the apes parallels I’m a big fan of those movies or at least the first few. [laughs]
This gives you the opportunity to play around with some of these things. There are so many cool things in this world of Kamandi. And we tried to pack as much as we could while still maintaining coherence, which is difficult for a short film. For me, what makes such situations funny is the suggestion to ask what happened here? What disaster has turned this place into this? Why is he the last real boy on earth? What happened to all superheroes?
I think to some extent the appeal of this material is what it evokes in you as a reader or viewer. I always feel like some of the best fight scenes I’ve ever seen in comics are fights that you don’t actually see. This leaves me more to the imagination. And whatever you come up with in your head will always be better and more complete, at least for you, than what you could ever actually be shown. In my opinion, what’s interesting about this type of post-apocalyptic tales is that you’re spinning around in your head about how this could have happened.