ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham co-director Sam Liu about the gothic Batman story and implementing Lovecraftian themes into DC.
“Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham is a 1920s-based tale that finds explorer Bruce Wayne accidentally unleashing an ancient evil, expediting his return to Gotham City after a two-decade hiatus,” reads the film’s synopsis. “The logic/science-driven Batman must battle Lovecraftian supernatural forces threatening the sheer existence of Gotham, along the way being aided and confronted by reimagined versions of his well-known allies and enemies, including Green Arrow, Ra’s al Ghul, Mr. Freeze , Killer Croc, Two-Face, James Gordon, and Bruce’s beloved wards. Prepare for a mystical, often terrifying Batman adventure unlike any other.”
Tyler Treese: I was curious about your own experience with Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham. How did you come to know the comic miniseries?
Sam Liu: I have to be honest with you that I haven’t read a comic on my own that’s not job-related for at least the last couple of decades. The way I was introduced to this, right, is because I was interested in doing a horror/gothic horror. I was playing a video game that I just loved conceptually, visually, and all that kind of stuff. I think I was with Bruce Timm and we were wrapping up Spirit of the Dragon or something like that, and I was asking him, “I’m really interested in this kind of thing. I’ve been playing this game — is there anything like that in our library?” He was just like, “Oh, what about The Doom That Came to Gotham?”
And I was like, “Oh, I’ve never read that or heard of it.” So I talked to Jim [Krieg] about it and we got a copy from Mike Carlin and he was like, “Yeah, we can totally do that.” So that’s when I was introduced to it and when I read it, and the parallels between things and the core of the plot of it and the themes of it felt like old-time gothic literature to me that I was like, “Ah, I think this something would be awesome to me.” So that’s how I was introduced and how this thing all started.
It really speaks to the depth of Batman’s history and what DC’s done that you can just want to go in one direction with Batman and they have the perfect source material somewhere within that catalog. You’ve worked with Batman quite a few times now, so what does it mean for you to keep continuing this legacy of one of the most iconic characters?
It’s a pleasure, obviously, and it’s one of the reasons why I love doing this job and why I try to stay working on DC characters. On the other hand, there’s a certain point where you’ve told so many stories of Batman in his traditional setting and as the traditional character that it gets a little bit boring, I suppose? [Laugh.] It’s kind of refreshing to do alternate it takes on him because your brain starts working in a different way and there’s a little bit more of a puzzle to figure out. It’s like that thing, right? There’s a thing that you want as a passion job, but then at some point it becomes just a job, and you’re always trying to figure out ways to stimulate the passion again.
What I love about this Batman is that he left Gotham early, so it’s such a different thing for him to return to this city that’s so synonymous with him. What did you find most interesting about this version of Batman that isn’t that typical defender of Gotham?
That’s a good question, because even when telling the story, we were trying to figure out how long he’s had the costume. Was he being Batman, but in Europe? The other thing was, because of the changes that we made with the Robins, it made sense for us and was ultimately the deciding factor that he would probably find his Robins abroad, right? Because it’s not like he’s just in America and Gotham, you know? That’s where he would pick up Jason Todd and stuff like that, though he would’ve been Tim from the source material. So I think having a group of people that are not from quote, unquote Gotham in America was interesting.
You’ve done so much great work in the past and I loved Wonder Woman: Bloodlines. I know James Gunn mentioned wanting to see more Wonder Woman in animation, so I was curious if that’s something you’re interested in. Would you like to do more work with Wonder Woman front and center?
Yeah, I would always love to work on Wonder Woman. I thought that even in the past, but again, I’m not sure I’m probably the most qualified for it, you know? I would love to work on Wonder Woman. I think that would be an amazing thing to happen.
I saw that you worked on Godzilla: The Series. That was a long time ago, but what stood out about that experience? It was based off the American film, so how was that?
That was interesting, especially because of some experience that I was having at the time. At the time, I was offered a job on Batman Beyond as a character designer, as they didn’t have positions for storyboarding and I was too young, I think, in my career for them to take me as a director seriously. But I had to make a decision of Batman Beyond, which, as it is now, is this classic thing, right? But at the time it was a young Batman that’s not Bruce Wayne in the future, or Godzilla, which was going to be — supposedly at the time — this huge franchise that they were going to do, right? Ultimately, I got into animation because I was a fan of Bruce Timm because of Batman: The Animated Series. That was the only reason why I thought — because again, I didn’t study as an animator, I studied as an illustrator — but I was super addicted to Batman: The Animated Series.
So this is a weird decision in my life, but one of the things that I loved about Sony was, because it was more business than creative, they let us experiment. They let us basically do our thing, right? There was a lot of learning I did, which was great on one hand, because there were enough veterans that would tell you kind of how it was done, but you were allowed to basically modify stories, take chances, and visually try things out. So it was a hard experience because of how the environment was run, but creatively, I think I was very lucky in that sense.
I love the Lovecraftian elements in this movie. What did you like most about blending that type of fantasy and wild creatures and magic with the established superheroes?
I think that was probably the thing that excited me the most. it’s very different, because the whole Lovecraftian thing … it’s very black-and-white, right? There is no real complexity to the Elder Gods, right? They’re these understandable things. If you look at them for too long or sometimes if you just look at them, you go insane. That’s, that’s the whole Lovecraft thing. Something that was in production who was a huge, huge Lovecraft fan and he knew a ton of stuff about it, so we bounced a lot of stuff off of him. Even things like motivation — what’s the motivation of these creatures? Stuff like that.
Even Penguin in the beginning, right? At first, we ended with Penguin watching them sail off, and the storyboard had him smile. At first we were just kind of like, “Is that right or is that not right?” So we went back to the Lovecraft thing. It’s not like Penguin is really conscious anymore, right? He’s evolved into this thing that has no ambition. If he smiles, it makes him seem like his master plan is working, right, which is typically what you do. But again, he’s just this zombie now, because that’s what you become.
I think the modern thing is the villains have to have a certain master plan psychology kind of a thing, but these things … they don’t really, right? It’s not like the religious, element of good and evil, right? We are ants to them. There’s no master plan of trying to turn us a different way or have this agenda or these smaller agendas, right? These things are just beyond us and much bigger than us, and we are just ants in their way, basically.