Greetings again! Welcome to part two of our exclusive interview with Scott Devine about Necessary Evil, the new documentary from DC Entertainment about the villains of DC Comics. You can read part one here and check out the full audio below.
Viking: Obviously, there are numerous villains that are covered in this documentary. What are some of them and in particular do you have any favorites?
Scott: Well, that was one of the first challenges we came across when we decided to do the project. When you’re talking about the super-villains of DC comics there are literally hundreds if not thousands of villains over the 75 years of DC comics. No way we could possibly cover them all. I don’t even think if we had the full time we could even list them all. So what we did was come up with a list of who we consider to be the top several dozen villains. What we did was we talked to Geoff Johns,and all the creative people at DC comics and asked who do you feel are the primary villains? We came up with a couple tiers. We had the main bad guys, we had ones that we felt were second tier ones, and then below them. We just came up with a really nice number and we then tried to include as many as possible given the time constraints. So in the project itself I think we talk about at least 55-60 villains. That said, there is artwork in there of a few dozen villains, some fleeting references, some Easter eggs. So some people who love certain villains are gonna be like “Oh great! That villain’s in there!” But they might see some of them and wonder “who’s that” that we might not even talk about. So, some people might see that and look at a new villain.
The one downside is that, and I knew this was gonna happen, is that everyone has their favorite villain, and someone out there is gonna have a villain they love that didn’t make into the final version of the doc or is not one of the ones we talked about. And it does not mean that we don’t love those villains. It just means that we could not do them all and we had to make choices. Some really great villains ended up on the editing room floor. One thing I will say in regards to favorite villains is DCcomics.com is showing what we call Necessary Extras. Every week for eleven weeks they’ve been showing a deleted scene from the documentary. Certain villains only appear in these deleted scenes because we literally just couldn’t put them in we had so much. They hit the editing room floor, these were little gems we had we wished that fans could see. DC comics said let’s use them as kind of a teaser for the fans. So if you go to DCcomics.com and look for Necessary Extras you’ll see some villains that don’t appear in the documentary. So check em out.
Viking: I saw some of those and they themselves were really interesting, especially the one about Superboy Prime.
Scott: Superboy Prime is near and dear to my heart. I had a real thrill when Geoff Johns and I were talking and I mentioned Superboy Prime and he got as excited as I did. The reason I like Superboy Prime is I’m a huge fan of the original Crisis on Infinite Earths from 1985. So yeah, there are some great villains there. You asked me about my favorite villains, and one of my personal favorites is actually the big baddy from Crisis on Infinite Earths, which is a character called the Anti-Monitor. He is this giant being who basically wants to destroy the multiverse. It basically takes the combined might of all the heroes from all the various dimensions and the villains to try to defeat this character. He’s literally death incarnate. A really great character.
And of course if you ask for other villains who are favorites, I’m a classic fan of the Joker. Even as a little kid I loved the Joker. This person who was just chaos personified. I was always a fan of him and of course Lex Luthor, the man who could stand up to the Man of Steel. So I do like the classics but there are a couple of other sleeper villains I enjoy, like Black Manta. You know I figure I really like Black Manta because of the Superfriends. He had the really cool voice and the big helmet, its just “yeah, this is a bad guy!”
Viking: He did have a very, very cool look. I agree. You know, since you bring up Black Manta, I saw somewhere that you are in fact an unapologetic Aquaman fan.
Scott: Yes, I am a very unapologetic Aquaman fan. I think as a little kid I was a big swimmer, blonde hair and I was like, here’s a DC superhero, blonde hair, a swimmer, he controls fish and he was a member of the Superfriends. Not a well appreciated member of the Superfriends, but I am a fan of the character. I think some of the takes that have been done on the character, some don’t work as well as others but I really enjoy the take that Geoff Johns has done with the relaunch of the character for the New 52. So I will stand proud and say yes, I am a fan of Aquaman.
Viking: Now what is it about the new take that sets Aquaman apart and separates him from say, the Superfriends.
Scott: Well, with the new take I think its getting back to what makes this character interesting. He is an incredibly strong character. He’s a guy who can withstand the pressures of the ocean. He’s a king, he is The Lord of Atlantis, this is a monarch. He’s a warrior so he has to look out for the well-being of his citizens. So he really is a character with a lot of strong personality traits. With the new take, they tried to bring him on land and it’s funny that within the comic itself there are a couple of characters joking. So they see Aquaman flip a van like its nothing, sort of saying “I’m someone you should pay attention to.” And again, Geoff Johns is just phenomenal with his writing, he does really well at developing characters, great dialogue, interesting story-lines and so he’s done a very good take with Aquaman in the New 52.
Viking: Excellent. To get back to the documentary a little bit, looking at the IMDB page, there’s just a massive cast associated with this thing. How did you get these guys together and when you’re talking with them, what sort themes did you explore as you’re talking about all these different villains?
Scott: Just like we had to decide which super-villains to include in the documentary, we had to decide the same thing. Which people do you get to talk about them, which experts? Because there are hundreds of people we could have included in the doc. So again, we sat down, we put a list of names together, we talked to the great people at DC comics, at DC Entertainment and Warner Bros and said who do you think would be a good representation? So we looked for writers, artists, new ones, legendary ones. We looked for filmmakers, actors, people who played the characters, people who did the voices for animations. I have strong ties to DC’s animated titles as i worked on the special features for all the DC animated series, Batman animated, Superman animated, Justice League animated. Then we also looked for people you wouldn’t normally get. We got psychiatrists, people who know about the psychology of superheroes, people like Travis Langley, Andrea Letamendi who are experts on superheroes in general. So we got them all together and we saw who was available, who we could interview. And in the final project we had, I believe 40 interview subjects appear in this hundred minute documentary, which is great. The other challenge is that there is so much good stuff that ended up on the editing room floor but tried to take the best of what we could. We were thrilled to get this cast of characters.
As for the themes, you sit down with them and everyone loves the villains, everyone loves the bad guys. And we were sort of exploring, what makes the bad guys so interesting? Why do we like the bad guys? We want them to be defeated at the end of the day but so often they’re as interesting and well developed as the heroes. We talked about the idea that good and bad is not so black and white that everything seems to be living in a little bit of a hazy shade of grey. Because basically everyone agrees that there is no villain out there that actually thinks they are a bad guy. They don’t look in the mirror every morning and think “Wow, I am so incredibly evil,” and twirl their mustaches. No, in their mind they’re doing right. The ends justify their means. So we explore those kinds of things. Now what makes a villain interesting, where does morality lie? Can heroes walk the line? Can a hero kill and still be considered a hero? All these kinds of themes which there are not straight forward answers for and leaves a lot open to interpretation.
Viking: Those kinds of questions certainly have given us some of the most interesting stories out there. While I do have certain reservations about going certain ways I do have to admit that stories like Identity Crisis do make for phenomenal stories that I’m glad we have. Stories that allow these characters to be explored in a new way that does make you really question some things about what you would do in a certain situation.
Scott: Absolutely. Jim Lee, in one of the Necessary Extras talks about what’s known as the “must/can’t” situation. Where you have the idea of whether or not you would kill one person to save a thousand. “I can’t do this but I must if I want to succeed.” Those kinds of arguments are late night pizza discussions where you’re going “would you kill one person to save a million or does the act of killing one person make you a bad guy?” So it’s all open to interpretation and discussion. It’s just great subject matter. And when you talk about books like Identity Crisis, that book really pushed the limits. And sometime you have to push the limits to see how far you can take characters. You’ll never know the boundaries unless you push the boundaries. So that was a really interesting take in the idea of them mind-wiping a villain and then mind-wiping one of their own. I’m not going to give it away but if you haven’t read Identity Crisis, I highly recommend you pick it up. It’s one of those books where you reach a certain point and you’re like “Oh my gosh I can’t believe they did that.”
Viking: Exactly. That was pretty much my reaction. I won’t give it away either but I will echo that, if you have not picked that one up, get it.
Now, what we were just talking about gets to the way villains in general have been portrayed over the years. Most of the villains, especially coming to mind is the Batman rogues gallery, were more or less highly eccentric bank robbers. And that obviously has changed a bit over the years. Why do you think that is and what are some of the villains you think have changed the most over that amount of time?
Scott: Batman presents an interesting study in rogues galleries. That character I think has the most diverse rogues gallery in all of comics. Because Batman can go up against a common street thug, a jewel thief but can also go up against super-powered villains, aliens, gods. Batman seems to find a way to beat them all, He’ll take down a thug who’s trying to knock over a liquor store and then the next issue he’s going head to head against Darkseid, who is a New God and he still seems to win. The thing about Batman’s villains and the way they’ve evolved. if you think back to when comics first came out, actually Batman’s villains were pretty dark in the very beginning, if you look at the first few years. But then the industry had to lighten up and everyone will bemoan the arrival of the Comics Code Authority in the 1950’s which basically neutered comics. The bad guys couldn’t be so bad. That’s why they became kind of jokey. They did these puzzle kind of crimes. The Joker stopped killing people, instead jumping around on a giant po-go stick and in the Joker-mobile. Fortunately, we started getting back in the 1970’s and we started getting darker in the 1980’s and ’90″s where you started bringing out the dark elements of the characters. I think part of it is that the readership has matured. If you look at the age of your average comic book readers now, it’s a bit more elevated than it used to be. So now the Comics Code Authority is long gone. It didn’t officially disappear until a few years ago but the industry had pretty much ignored it for the last 15 years or so. But it allows you to have these characters that are darker.
You ask about characters that have changed. You do get a lot of characters that do get reinvented. That’s one of the wonderful things about comics is you can do new takes on villains. So you can get a character like Calendar Man. Lame name for a villain! When he was first created he was running around in a costume that had dates on it, literally wearing a calendar on his back. And then if you look at what’s been done with the character in The Long Halloween series they made him more like a kind of Hannibal Lector type character where he’s a very enigmatic character. In the Arkham City video game you stumble upon him and it’s really just a cameo, he’s just sitting in a cell rattling off dates and it is just uber-creepy. So yeah you have characters that can become darker as time goes on. Characters like Hugo Strange get a little darker, people like that. They’re constantly being reinvented and some of the these takes are really, really good. And that’s one of the wonderful things about comics. A writer will come along and say “I’d like to do this kind of take on this character. And if it works, great you go with that and it becomes part of the mythos. Let me give you one other character that’s changed recently in the Batman mythos. Ventriloquist was a character who had a dummy on his lap who was a gangster who mispronounced certain letters. They offed that character and brought in a new one, a female Ventriloquist who’s even darker and creepier than the original. Lot’s of great characters. I’ll take another example, a new take on a villain. What does done with the Joker in the New 52. He literally had his face removed by his own desire. He basically strapped his face back on in the Death of the Family story-line. Really dark and creepy stuff.