With Batman: Brave and the Bold about to end its original run (*sniff*), the Shrine thought it'd be a perfect time to talk to Producer Michael Jelenic, who was heavily involved in the development of the show's take on Aquaman, which has helped propel the character to new heights of fame.
The Aquaman Shrine: [Batman: Brave and the Bold Producer] James Tucker told me you're a big Aquaman fan. Did you read Aquaman comics growing up? Was there a particular favorite version of the character that really hooked you, either in the comics or on cartoons?
Michael Jelenic: When James said I was a big fan of Aquaman he was probably referring to our version of the character! The truth is, coming into the show I was less than an expert on the DC Universe. Outside of Batman I hadn't read a whole lot of comics, including those with Aquaman. What I was aware of was that he was increasingly becoming a pop culture punch line. So while I wanted him to be a funny character, I didn't want the comedy coming from how lame his powers were or how useless he was on land. That's why we went in the opposite direction and made him the show's greatest hero after Batman.
TAS: Can you tell us how Aquaman's Brave and Bold persona came about? Its so very different than the one in the comics!
MJ: From the beginning our Executive Producer, Sam Register, told us that he didn't want a grim Aquaman. He even insisted this version have both his hands. Based on this direction, James came up with that great design. Coincidentally, the design looked exactly like a former coworker of mine known for his over the top personality. Whenever this guy spoke he sounded like John O'Hurley at the Renaissance Faire. I though this would be a great starting point when we were building the character. Writers Joseph Kuhr and Matt Wayne also help flesh out the character and added their own twists in the first two episodes. But of course voice actor John DiMaggio is the one who really deserves credit for defining the role.
TAS: Aquaman is definitely one of the co-stars of the series, both on the show and in the merchandising. How did this come about? Did the show consciously decide to feature him so prominently?
MJ: The general concept of the show, that there would be a revolving cast of characters for Batman to team up with each week, was a little worrisome to our toy partner, Mattel. Kids tend to only buy action figures of reoccurring characters and here we were saying there wouldn't be any. Our compromise was to feature a core group of toyetic heroes on a semi-regular basis. Aquaman, along with Blue Beetle, Plastic Man, Red Tornado, Green Arrow, and the Outsiders were the characters we decided to build around. They were chosen because they could each bring out a different aspect of Batman’s personality (mentor, rival, role model). Obviously some of these characters connected with the audience better than others--Aquaman in particular, which is why he ended up showing up so much.
TAS: Are there characters from the DCU you wanted to work into the show before it started, either in starring or cameo parts?
MJ: The only thing I wanted to do from the beginning was a Superdickery episode, but since we couldn't use Superman it looked like that would never happen. Fortunately, the situation changed and we were able to make one of my favorite episodes of the series.
TAS: Any you never got around to?
MJ: Not really. But I'm sure there’s a bizarre character out there that when I come across I'll angrily call up James and ask why he was never mentioned to me!
TAS: Episodes like "Aquaman's Outrageous Adventure" seem almost like pilots for the character to be in his own series. Were there any of the B&B co-tars that you thought/think could headline their own show, on a creative level at least?
MJ: We actually designed the JLI in such a way that if we were to somehow get more episodes of Brave and the Bold it would have been rebranded into a "Batman and the JLI" team show. The new show would have less of a revolving cast and focus more on the sitcomy relationships between the JLI on the Watchtower.
TAS: In an interview with the Shrine, James mentioned you and he having a…discussion about the Batman/Enemy Ace opener, and whether Bats should wear an aviator scarf or not (it would appear you won that one!). It seems to me the show definitely got funnier and more, um, outrageous as it went on. Was this something that came naturally, as you got more familiar with the characters?
MJ: I think it was less about becoming more familiar with the characters and more that we saw that the audience wasn’t turned off by some of our sillier antics. Before the show aired we were ready for people to hate our lighthearted take on the famously grim and gritty vigilante. Once we saw that people "got" what we were trying to do, I think that gave us the freedom to take even more chances.
And I have to say the great thing about working with James is that where a lot of other producers would have probably vetoed my weird ideas, he'd want to make them even weirder. When I pitched him the idea of doing a "three camera" Aquaman sitcom, instead of saying "no" (which is what I was expecting), he pushed things even further and put in that great theme song. A lot of the credit for the tone of the show should also go Director Ben Jones. He could take the stuff we came up with and somehow make it work while both pushing the humor and keeping the characters cool.
TAS: Any gags that didn't make it in because they were deemed "too inside"? Some of the jokes on the show were so specific (Bat-Mite reading Who's Who, for instance) I couldn't believe I was seeing them on TV!
MJ: The more "inside" the better! Our only rule was that an episode as a whole had to work for a non-comic book audience. As long as that criterion was met no one was ever worried about something being too obscure. I think one of the things our crew enjoyed most about working on the show was be able to throw in these references since often they held a special place in their nerd hearts.
In fact, the last episode of the series is so inside there are jokes that only James, Ben, and I will probably get. (For instance, we had our real boss, Sam Register, to do the voice of the network exec who cancels the show). No one else will probably think that's funny, but it amuses us.
TAS: Do you have particular favorite B&B episodes?
MJ: Maybe it's a coincidence, but all my favorite episodes seem to feature Aquaman. At the top of my list I'd put "Journey to the Center of the Bat!", "Aquaman’s Outrageous Adventure", "Mayhem of the Music Meister", and "Mitefall". One of the non-Aquaman episodes I like a lot is "Battle of the Super Heroes."
TAS: Now that B&B is wrapping up, what are you working on next?
MJ: I've been working on the new Thundercats series. Tonally, it's about as far away as you can get from Brave and the Bold. And while I'm having a great time on this new show I definitely find myself missing Batman and Aquaman.
I absolutely love(d) Batman: Brave and the Bold, and am really sad its going away. But rest assured the Shrine will be savoring each and every remaining episode, whether they star Aquaman or not!
Thanks for the interview Michael, and thanks for the great show!