In anticipation of the release of DC animation’s first interactive film, Batman: Death in the Family, STARBURST caught up with director, writer, producer, and all-round DC veteran Brandon Vietti to discuss Jason Todd’s story, inviting fans to choose his path, and why this arc has stayed so important to Batman’s development.
STARBURST: Firstly, why did you want to revisit this particular story in the Batman canon?
Brandon Vietti: Well, I think this particular story is famous for putting the choice of killing Jason Todd in the hands of the fans and of the comic book readers. So when we decided to do an interactive story for Blu-ray and for DC animation, this was the obvious choice: to take this famous point in comic book history, and explore it in a new way, give our audience more options, more choices to make other than should Jason Todd live or die. You get to make a whole bunch of choices and see how those choices play out going down different paths, in hopefully, very unexpected but entertaining ways, while still maintaining the core of the character. I think that was the fun part of this project, to really study who Jason Todd is and to maintain that character, no matter what happens to him, no matter what choices he makes, for him to still be that same guy.
We take it that means this movie was always going to be an interactive one?
It was, yeah. Again, because of that story being rooted in putting the choice in the hands of the audience. This was just the obvious choice. And it was such great fortune that we had already sort of touched on that story in Under the Red Hood. That story is one which fans really like and gravitate towards. It was great to revisit parts of that story, and to go back to other stories that we didn’t quite get to tell the first time. You get some new and familiar plots, but you see them in brand new ways or see them go in different directions. It’s an interesting exploration of that Jason Todd story from different angles that our audience gets to participate in.
And what do you think that participatory element adds to viewers’ understanding of the story and their appreciation of Jason Todd?
I think it integrates them into the story more. And that's the goal of this, I think. I think it will draw you in more deeply when you get to make the choices for the character. I think that makes you relate to the character more because you participate in the paths that they take. But you also feel the results of your choices more deeply. I tried to make sure that with each choice you make, the outcomes are not necessarily what you expect they're going to be and you have to own that, because you drove the character in that direction. And those outcomes may be good, they may be bad. You just have to own it and feel that. I think that's an interesting way to take part in the story, it connects you to the character and immerses you in the story in a deeper way, which is a really appealing concept to me as a storyteller.
You mention connecting with the character but in 1988, when fans were asked to vote on Jason’s fate, that was partly because most fans had taken a dislike to him. Why do you think Jason Todd continues to be a divisive character amongst fans?
He’s of the Batman family, but a family member who turned to the dark side. I think that's a great story. Batman's universe and Batman's villains are very psychologically grounded, they're not always about big superpowers or anything. There's a complex psychology involved that makes them villains, and to have a character like Jason Todd, who came up under Batman's wings, so to speak, cross over to the dark side and become a murderer himself… but from his point of view, he’s doing it to further Batman’s goals, in a way he feels Batman might be falling short. So this story really challenges Batman at the core of who he is, challenges his methods and the shape his drive for justice takes. It’s a challenge to his heroism. And it's just a worst-case scenario for Batman, to have a family member that has gone so far astray, but still comes back to challenge him. That challenge of ideals is endlessly interesting.
You’ve done so much work with DC and with Batman in particular; what keeps you coming back for more?
Well, number one, I just love Batman. I’ve been a huge fan for a very long time. I also just love the DC Universe and its many characters, and how they’re very flexible. I've been very lucky to do a lot of different Batman shows with an incredible range of styles and tones, from Lego Batman to Batman: The Brave and the Bold, to this very dark and sophisticated Batman story that we're doing with Death in the Family and Under the Red Hood. And, you know, I love that no matter the tone you drop Batman into, whether it’s comedy or drama, he remains the same character at his core.
DC SHOWCASE BATMAN: DEATH IN THE FAMILY is coming October 13th to Digital and October 26th to Blu-ray.