When you are the guys at Robot Chicken and you have done one mega-successful DC Comics special already, what do you do for an encore? Another one – this time focusing on the bad guys.
Robot Chicken DC Comics Special II: Villains in Paradise premieres this Sunday, April 6 at 11:30 p.m. on Adult Swim, and this time co-creators Seth Green and Matthew Seinreich, along with their merry troupe of Stoopid Buddy Stoodios collaborators and a slew of celebrity guests, follow through on something all comic book fans know is true: the villains are always more fun. “Before we even finished the first (DC Comics Special), we were sitting around with Geoff (Johns, DC Chief Creative Officer) and we were like, ‘Let’s do this again, man. This is great,’” recalls Green.
Seinreich concurs: “Once we started seeing how the villains were played in the first special and how they popped out as the standout characters, we knew we wanted to focus on them for the second special.”
What makes the show so damn funny is that putting the villains through the Robot Chicken grinder shows just how petty and small-minded these alleged criminal masterminds are. “We love to apply like really basic human behavior to super extraordinary characters,” says Seinreich, with Green adding, “Yeah, they’re not always plotting to take over the world. Sometimes they’re just looking for better parking.”
Among the special’s laugh-out-loud moments are Sinestro’s attempts to get a tan on the beach and Lex Luthor’s reinvention as a pop star. Returning as Luthor is acclaimed British actor Alfred Molina, who’s played a live-action nemesis (Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2) in addition to his two turns as the stop-motion Luthor.
“I remember just saying to Seth, ‘Any time you want me to come in and do this again I’d love to do it because it was such fun,’” recalls Molina. “There’s something really wonderful about being able to just hang out with a bunch of guys who are just having fun with what they’re doing. There’s an energy that you often don’t get in any other context. Just their wacky sort of take on everything, making that whole episode about how all these supervillains behave when they’re all were around each other and what they do in their down time — I just thought that was a funny idea and it just tickled me.”
Molina says he always relishes the chance to portray an evildoer. “I used to make this joke that playing the villain was a legitimate opportunity to choose scenery and overact,” muses the actor. “I think the real answer is that there is a great opportunity to create something very, very personally unique. Heroes in stories, in general, in whatever format, movies, books, whatever, have to satisfy a certain number of criteria. They’re not always the same ones but there has to be some morality, they have to be decent in someway, they have to be honest, you know, they have to fulfill certain expectations. The villain has no such restrictions.”
In addition to Molina, Green (who plays Batman, Robin, Aquaman and numerous others as usual) and Seinreich (Penguin, Scarecrow, Clayface), the cast includes Zac Efron as Superboy, Nathan Fillion as Green Lantern, Alex Borstein as Wonder Woman, Breckin Meyer as Superman, Clancy Brown as Gorilla Grodd, Giovanni Ribisi as the Joker, Zeb Wells as Sinestro, Tara Strong as Harley Quinn and numerous others. The list of villains ranges from such iconic figures as Luthor, Sinestro and Captain Cold to Mr. Banjo. Wait, who?
“(Mr. Banjo) was a Shazam/Captain Marvel villain from the 1940s,” explains co-writer and co-executive producer Tom Root, who for some reason is a fan of this super-obscure character. “He was around during the World War II stories. And in fact he would spy in the United States, and then using his banjo, he’d send information via Morse code melodies to the Axis powers. This was presented as a superpower, by the way. He’s just a really funny looking character who doesn’t really belong there.”
“When we sat down in the conference room with DC for the first special, they came in with piles of hardcover books and reference materials,” says Douglas Goldstein, also a co-writer and executive producer. “’They were like, ‘Here’s everything, if you just want to flip through for inspiration. There were characters in there that were truly products of their times, that once times moved on, you’d be like, ‘Whoa, what the hell was that?’ So if you go through all those books, there are a lot of people we know and love, and a lot of people where you’re like, ‘Did they really have a character named Mr. Banjo?’ And then it’s like, how can you not just run with that?”
Not only did the gang have the vast trove of DC characters to delve through in creating the show, but Green and Seinreich say that the comic book giant was very chill about what the show could and could not do. “The good thing about having Geoff Johns in the room was like, I mean we have the person who says yes or no right there. The only limitation we really had at the start was they said it has to be (rated) TV14,” says Green. “Once you have that you know exactly what your boundaries are and you can play within that. And again it’s the limitations only enhance what you come up with.” Adds Seinreich: “I thought we pushed those boundaries pretty hard anyway.”
With a second DC Comics special ready for launch, not to mention three previous Star Wars specials, the question is whether Green and Seinreich have other pop culture icons they want to give extra time and space to. “We don’t really have a wish list,” says Seinreich. Green agrees, adding, “It’s about who you want to play with. Playing with George Lucas is something we wanted to do. Geoff Johns coming to us and saying, ‘Do you want to play?’ — I mean, Geoff and I go way back. We wrote our first television pilot together. So when he got the job at DC he’s like, ‘We should work together again.’ I’m like, ‘Yes we should.’ We know people at all the different places. If one of them wants to come and play, they’ll tell us and we’ll be like, “That sounds fun” because we want to work with those people.”
“It’s the supporting characters that make it really funny,” says Seinreich. “The reason DC works so well is because it’s such a broad universe. There’s tons to explore from. Star Wars is the same way. There’s not a lot of properties that lend themselves to that wide a group of characters that you’re actually going to have fun with.”
Robot Chicken DC Comics Special II: Villains in Paradise also serves the gateway to the show’s seventh season, which premieres the following Sunday, April 13th, also at 11:30 p.m. “We don’t think about how long it’s been happening and rarely pat ourselves on the back for the accomplishment,” says Seinreich about the series’ longevity. “We’re very much in the mind of ‘Let’s make a great show.’ This is a huge opportunity to consistently be able to make something this silly with our favorite toys and properties with all of our friends. And then bring on people that we want to meet or bring on people that want to play with us. And just get to have this ridiculous like clubhouse workshop that’s a show and a job for all of us. That’s bananas.”