In 2002, writer Jeph Loeb and artist (and future DC publisher) Jim Lee teamed up to craft "Hush," a 12-part storyline that has become a quintessential classic in the Batman canon. Now the epic tale has been turned into an action-packed animated film you can watch on DC Universe, bringing some of the comic’s best scenes to life. We recently had a chance to chat with screenwriter Ernie Altbacker and director Justin Copeland, and they gave us some great insights as to how the "Hush" storyline went from panel to screen. Here’s what they had to say...
On the Original Comic
Altbacker: “It's such a good piece by Jeff Loeb and Jim Lee. I was so happy to do it. It's so iconic. Those covers, the scenes, it’s great stuff so it's just a pleasure. I'd read it when it came out. When I first read it I was drawn to the Jim Lee art as a fan. That's what got me. 'Whoa, look at that comic! Look at that cover, Joker with that bang-gun. Look at Superman covered by Ivy's vines...’ When I got the assignment to do it then I really noticed Jeff Loeb's words and all the stuff he was setting up and trying to do. So I got to really read it twice and notice the two different things in different ways. It's fun stuff.”
On Getting the Job
Altbacker: "It was assigned to me, happily! I had been a fan of "Hush" when it came out, I thought it was incredible. When it fell to me, I was really pleased to get a shot at being a part of it.”
Copeland: “I was on ‘Reign of the Supermen’ at the time. I was the head of story and they called me into the office and said, 'Hey, I'm going to give you "Hush,"' and I'm like -- What?! Oh my God.”
On the Film's Script
Copeland: “By the time I got the script, I heard something from [producer] James Tucker that I'd never heard. He was like, 'The script is good.' And I was like, 'What, are you kidding me?' Normally he's like, 'We got to do a lot of work.' Because we do a lot of rewriting in the storyboard phase. But this one was really strong. It was a really strong script. There's a fight scene inside of a prison that you guys are going to like a lot. That was a lot of fun.”
Altbacker: “In the story there are a lot of red herrings, and I was like, 'What would happen if one of these red herrings was the way we go and we could totally fake out the fans?' And by making a couple of those choices some scenes fell out and it became a little bit easier to produce. It's a dozen-book series and you can't get [all] that in it with 75 or 80 minutes. It's impossible. We did have some streamlining to do, and that was the hard part of it.”
Copeland: “We have our own [animated] universe. When they told me I was going to direct this, I said, 'How is that going to fit? We have our own universe in the films. How are we going to make that fit? And everybody's read the comic, so how do you keep the story fresh and surprising when everybody's read it?' I think that you guys will be pleasantly surprised at how we handled that. It's really cool. It's one of my favorite scripts that we've had."
On Adapting the Original Comic
Altbacker: “I love the entire 'Batman: Hush' saga and as soon as they do the 10-episode version, I'll watch it. But we have to get it down to 75 minutes, and it turned out to be 80 minutes or so. We were going to have to lose things, so it was really hard. People were like, 'Oh, that's my favorite scene, we can't lose it...' But by changing a couple things, some scenes fell out and it enabled us to keep everything we loved about 'Hush' and the tone of it, but make it something that was animatable.”
Copeland: “We cut a lot of stuff out. We had to. That was one of the hardest parts. Geoffrey [Arend], who does the voice for Riddler, he's got some really great stuff that we couldn't keep. It comes down to does it tell the story or not. So, what we're seeing is the best of what he's done."
On Their Favorite Characters
Altbacker: “I really like Nightwing. If there is a character whose role may be slightly expanded a little bit, it was Nightwing. I thought he had a lot of great scenes in the comic with Batman and their relationship with him kind of saying, 'Hey, this is okay for you to be in this relationship. I really advise you to do it.' Batman is like, 'Shut up,' but he does listen. He respects Dick Grayson so it kind of shows his sway.”
Copeland: “I really liked Bruce Wayne's relationship with Tommy, his childhood friend. I thought that was interesting. The more human you can make Bruce Wayne, the more dramatic the story is going to be. Where does Batman end and where does Bruce begin? That's fuzzy. There are some scenes with Tommy that I think are really cool. There's also a scene at the end that James Tucker himself boarded that's fantastic. I had a blast doing that.”
Altbacker: “The characters were all so well thought out and portrayed in the comic that it wasn't like, 'Oh boy this is going to be a tough job.' There might have been some characters that weren't used as much but they probably got dropped in the slimming process. We had very good source material to use. I guess I had a little bit of trouble with Commissioner Gordon, trying to give him something different. But I think it turned out fantastic. Certainly the voice work was great.”
On the Villains
Copeland: ”The difficult part to incorporating the rogues gallery is you've got to give them their due. Riddler has to be Riddler and Poison Ivy has to be Poison Ivy. Joker, that scene was hard as heck. That one matched the comic book pretty good but you've got to bring Joker out. That's the difficult part, allowing these characters to be themselves.”
Altbacker: “That is one of the difficulties with this, is that it is a rogues' gallery so everybody kind of appears and then they get defeated and put on the shelf a little bit. I've been at this long enough to know that every scene and every sentence counts. So I'm like, 'I’ve only got one Harley scene, but it's a doozy. I cannot blow this. Oh, I've only got like one and a half Superman scenes, it's got to be fantastic. I've only got one Joker scene and this thing's got to be great,' Anthony Hopkins won the Oscar for Hannibal Lecter and he was only in the movie for like sixteen minutes, so I just picture these guys coming out, and I know they're going to give their A game for the scene and I’ve got to make sure that I can distill how they appeared in 'Hush' and give them something to work with.”
On the Animation
Copeland: ”Animation is hard as heck. I started as a comic book artist; and in comic books you got to know how to draw everything and tell a visual story shot by shot. It really came in handy, but kudos to my storyboard team. They're the ones that draw, they're the ones that bring this thing out. I have a huge ass team. That's how I did it. [Laughs.]”