Bruce Timm has been working in DC animation for almost thirty years at this point, becoming one of the chief architects for entire generations of DC fans. His newest project, Superman: Red Son, takes the iconic superhero and explores what would have happened if he had landed in the Soviet Union instead of the United States.
During an interview with the Illuminerdi, Timm spoke about what attracted him to the story in the first place, and what other Elseworlds he’d like to bring to animation.
BRUCE TIMM ON SUPERMAN: RED SON
What drew you to this story?
Bruce Timm: I’ve always loved this comic, ever since it came out. It’s interesting, when it came out I was actually good friends with [original Superman: Red Son artists] Dave Johnson, he’d worked with me several times on my animated shows. So I actually got an early look at it and was like ‘wow, this looks amazing’, so when the comic came out… I’m a very visual guy, so I was really drawn to Dave’s visuals, the stuff Killian Plunkett did on the second half was amazing as well.
I loved that aspect of it, and when I read it’s a really compelling story. I really like those ‘what if” stories, like what if Superman had landed in Nevada instead of Kansas or if he landed in Ukraine and got adopted by Josef Stalin. That couldn’t be more different than the original Superman story and it followed all different pathways from there. This version of Batman is really interesting, this version of Lex and Lois is really interesting.
We’ve talked about doing it for years and years and years, and the home video department was really reluctant to do anything that was Elseworlds-like because they were afraid the audience would be confused. But then we did the Batman: Gotham by Gaslight movie a couple of years ago and that sold really well, so now they’re like ‘okay, so maybe this time you can do the Russian Superman story. So it was off to the races.
If you could adapt any other Elseworlds stories, which ones would they be?
Bruce Timm: There’s a few… there’s a Batman graphic novel/miniseries thing that Mike Mignola did with Troy Nixey. It’s the really Lovecraftian version of Batman that I think is really neat. I like Speeding Bullets, the one where Superman is a crime-beat reporter, like a film-noir crime story.
What has it been like to see the superhero genre transform and evolve over the years?
Bruce Timm: Crazy. If you told 13-year old me that there was going to be an Ant-Man movie, a big-budget spectacular Ant-Man movie with a sequel, I would have said ‘no way’. I love it, it’s awesome. It’s weird. The nerds have taken over.
What do you like most about this version of Superman as a character?
The thing I was immediately drawn to and what I think makes him interesting in this movie is the ambivalence of him. We struggled with that in the writing and even the performance with [Jason Issacs, who plays Superman], finding that sweet spot because he’s not the same Superman. He’s still likable in a way, and he’s still kind of an idealist, but he’s also an autocratic dictator. That’s the challenge. Even at the script stage, we went back and forth over how strong or how mean or how deadly should we make him. It was always trying to thread the needle.
Directed by DC Animation veteran Sam Liu, Superman: Red Son stars Jason Isaacs, Amy Acker, Diedrich Bader, Phil Morris, Phil LaMarr, Vanessa Marshall, Sasha Roiz, Roger Craig Smith, and Paul Williams. The film is now available digitally and will be released on home video March 17th.