WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, available on digital HD now.
Producer James Tucker has been at the helm of the DC Animated Movie Universe since it launched with Justice League: War in 2014, part of a career with Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment that has stretched as far back as Superman: The Animated Series. With the DCAMU’s latest film, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, the shared universe comes to an end as the DC heroes mount a desperate last stand against Darkseid.
In an exclusive interview with CBR, Tucker detailed how the creative team brought the DCAMU to a close, reflected on its association with the New 52 era, and shared what he hopes the cinematic universe brought to the enduring DC Comics mythos.
So as the producer of the DC Animated Movie Universe since its launch in 2014, how does it feel to close it out with Apokolips War?
James Tucker: Well, it wasn’t my idea, I was told that we were ending it [laughs]. But, no, I knew about a year and half ago that the plan was to change things up because that’s the way things are done. Nothing lasts forever and I don’t think I’d last forever because making these things is hard. So, I knew it was coming, I just didn’t know when it was coming.
When we were greenlit for a Justice League Dark movie, I was going into it just thinking “Oh, we’re just making another Justice League Dark movie,” and I was looking forward to that because I really enjoyed the first one that we did and I love Constantine and all that. That coincided with word coming down from on high that “Oh, this is your last movie as far as this continuity so wrap it up.”
And I went “Well, it’s Justice League Dark at the end and that’s appropriate. I have occult elements I can put into this. When we left John Constantine, he was contemplating joining the Justice League.” So, I could kind of build from that kernel of what did I need for this movie to happen and who needed to be in it — which was basically everyone. It just kind of organically came together because I knew which threads I wanted to tie off, I knew which characters I needed to see that I couldn’t live without knowing what happened to them.
That’s kind of how we went about it; I’m the only person who keeps track of all of this because I’m the constant person on all the movies. I was basically the guy who goes “This has to happen because we set this up.” No one’s written all of them: There’s different writers, different directors, different people work on all of these and there’s very little carry-over as far as story. Ernie [Altbacker] has written a bunch, Mairghread [Scott] had written [Wonder Woman: Bloodlines], I knew the full scope of what in the continuity had to be addressed.
Ernie’s always wanted to kill Damian, he’s been trying to kill that kid since his first script, so we kind of gave him that. I didn’t have time to plan it out ahead of time, I had to do it in the moment because we had a finite amount of time to do it and I jumped in because I remembered the stuff we needed to do. Once we had the kernel of the idea of Superman having to redeem himself, the world and the two-year jump, it kind of helped set up the playing field for what we ended up doing.
As someone who’s worked with DC Entertainment since 1995 with Superman: The Animated Series, what character was rough for you to see go?
I would say the Titans as a group because I really, really wanted to do one more movie with them at least. It’s funny because, starting out, I was kind of limited to Batman and the Justice League as far as my choices, and then I slowly introduced elements that led to us doing a Teen Titans movie and led to us doing a Justice League Dark movie. And so the offshoots — Teen Titans, Justice League Dark and Suicide Squad — are my favorite things we’ve done in this whole arc.
I like all of it but those were the ones I could sink my teeth into because their characters have more sides to them. Justice League is fine but it’s kind of like a police procedural, like Law & Order: There’s the case and they have to show up and solve the problem. But with the Titans, Suicide Squad and Justice League Dark, the characters are so full of energy and they have different places they can go. So, I’m sorry we couldn’t do more Titans because I really liked the things we were doing with them and ways we were going.
Starting out, it seemed like you guys were all New 52, all the time, but then you got to adapt things like Batman: Hush and The Death of Superman. How was it expanding your scope?
Well, the thing was, really, the only two movies that were New 52-based were Justice League: War and Throne of Atlantis. Everything else we did was an adaptation, like you said, of a story that came before or it was an original thing. The only thing I would say is what we did was basically try to replicate the energy going on in comics, in general; with the New 52, the tone was a little more adult.
We kind of got tagged with the New 52 thing and I’ve kind of made peace with it. I’ve tried to fight against it because we didn’t really use that much. We used the New 52 as a jumping-off point just as Flashpoint created the New 52 in the comic continuity. But even our Throne of Atlantis was changed dramatically from the comic, and Son of Batman predated the New 52 — all our Batman stuff was already happening before the New 52.
And then, after the first couple of years, we were on our own path adapting things into that world and subtly changing the costumes so that, by the end, we were in a more traditional DC world which was the whole point of letting the characters evolve. The New 52 Justice League were more edgy and that’s interesting. They became more like the characters we knew. So, you had the arc of showing them in their raw form. None of them are trying to be on the team, and that’s interesting because all throughout their history in the comics, the Justice League is the most boring team you could have because — especially in their first iteration — they were basically the same personalities; they had none!
So, I think everyone who tackles the Justice League has a hard time trying to make the characters pop against each other on a universal level. We had some luck on the Justice League [DC Animated Universe] series but it was a struggle. Our first season wasn’t that great. It’s a hard nut to crack so it’s always going to be a little challenging.
What are you proud of being able to bring with this shared universe and what are you hoping to see with future DC adaptations?
As a whole, I think our movies show a wide range of the DC Comics style. There’s characters that hadn’t been in animation before, or live-action either. I think it kind of exposes people who aren’t comic-book fans to the wide range of characters who are out there and it gives them a taste of them.
We put Batwoman onscreen as she is, we didn’t change anything, and now she’s a live-action TV show. I don’t know if we were the main influence but it’s always good for a live-action thing to have an existing property out there that can be shown to them and say “Hey, this is what it could be.” And I think a lot of animation gets used that way, as inspiration for live-action things and comics. It kind of fuels it because animation is a unique thing in that it’s like comics and it’s like movies meshed together.
It’s hard to say what the lasting impact is because it hasn’t been over that long, so I don’t know. I had a lot of fun, I’m glad I was able to do certain things I wanted to do, like bring Batwoman to the screen. I did two Suicide Squad movies, even though only one is in continuity, and I had great fun on those. I love the Titans movies that we did and introducing Damian to fans and people who didn’t know him; the idea of Batman having a son and having a blood relation and the complicated nature that it brought Batman, and the arc of Damian as a character, I really enjoyed doing that. But time will tell what sticks [laughs].
Justice League Dark: Apokolips War stars Matt Ryan as John Constantine, Jerry O’Connell as Superman, Taissa Farmiga as Raven, Stuart Allan as Robin, Tony Todd as Darkseid, Jason O’Mara as Batman, Rosario Dawson as Wonder Woman, Shemar Moore as Cyborg, Christopher Gorham as the Flash, Rebecca Romijn as Lois Lane and Rainn Wilson as Lex Luthor. The film is available now digitally and on Blu-ray May 19.
Longtime DC Animated Movie Universe producer James Tucker talks about bringing the universe to a close with Justice League Dark: Apokolips War.