Some might think Lauren Montgomery gets all the great female superheroes because she’s the only female director in the DC Animated Universe. In fact, she’s one of the few women directors in the cartoon business, period. She doesn’t quite agree…or disagree.
“It may be,” Montgomery opines in an exclusive interview from her office, “but really it’s because I bitch and moan something awful about wanting to do female characters and not getting to do a lot of them. So if they know they have a project with a strong female character, they try to give it to me They know I’ll be much happier if I get a female character to work with once and a while. So it’s not a case of I’m a girl, so give me the girl characters. It’s more a case of I want to do the female characters, so they give them to me.”
Montgomery’s latest work is Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, released directly to DVD this month. Don’t let the title fool you. The movie is as much about Supergirl as it is about DC Comic’s World’s Finest. In fact, when you get down to it; Batman, Superman and the movie’s main villain, Darkseid, are really the only three main male characters. The rest of the film’s cast includes Wonder Woman, Big Barda, DC’s Harbinger as well as Granny Goodness and her Furies.
In other words, this movie is all about the girls, and Lauren Montgomery likes that. A lot.
“Actually, there’s a pretty large female cast in this movie. That’s in part because I really like girls!” Montgomery laughs. “We even go back to Themiscyra, Wonder Woman’s home island, so I go to play with a lot more women, too. It was a very female heavy movie, and that made me happy. “
“I feel I can do more with them, more acting and general things that you can’t do with the male characters in the DC universe. The women characters can be feminine, but also can be as tough as the male characters. If you get Superman or Batman, you can’t do things like having them show their soft sides. Even if you only have to do them standing, you find you have to be careful on how you pose them. I just enjoy that freedom I get with the women.”
One can really see in the interpretation of Supergirl (voiced by Summer Glau), who Montgomery portrays as another survivor of the explosion that destroyed Superman’s original home world, Krypton. Technically Kara Zor-El (Supergirl’s Kryptonian name) is technically his elder cousin, but due to the explosion of the planet causing a mechanical breakdown in her ship, she lands on Earth much later. Superman (Tim Daly) has already grown up and is well into being Earth’s mightiest mortal.
He’s also trying to do his best to help Supergirl adjust to life on our world, but his methods leave a lot to be desired to Batman and Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman (Susan Eisenberg) wants her to be trained and turned into a warrior like her sister Amazons. The Dark Knight (Kevin Conroy, as it should be) just thinks Supergirl is outright dangerous. Then again, Krypto doesn’t think much of her either.
Then there’s Darkseid (Andre Braugher). He has another angle, that of being the new captain of his all-female Furies, which used to be Big Barda’s (Julianne Grossman) job. So when Wonder Woman wins the argument as to who will help raise Supergirl, he stages a sneak attack on Themiscyra and kidnaps the Girl of Steel. Now it’s up to Batman, Barda, Wonder Woman and a very ticked off Superman to get her back. If that isn’t enough, the whole project had to be tied into the previous Superman/Batman effort, Public Enemies.
“Apocalypse is a sequel to Public Enemies in the same way the comics were sequel to one another,” Montgomery said. “So, they are stories that can tie into each other but at the same time we didn’t use the same character designs. I guess the best thing one could say is in the Superman/Batman series there will be kind of a continuous storyline, but not necessarily totally consistent. In a lot of other incarnations, Supergirl’s been toned down a lot. Here she’s a lot more fiery. She also has a bit of attitude.”
Actually, the real super heroics were performed by Montgomery, who not only directed this film, but also helped her fellow DCAU alumni on such productions as Batman: Under The Red Hood as a storyboard artist.
Luckily, there seems to be a truly communal spirit over at the studio. For instance, one of the people who gave her a hand on Apocalypse was her longtime partner and fellow director Sam Liu (they co-directed Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths).
“Sam actually did our character designs for this one,” says Montgomery. “He just naturally draws people thin and tall, a kind of Mike Turner style. So I asked for him and it worked out pretty well. Sam’s design of Granny Goodness made her one of the better looking versions of Granny ever done. She’s still creepy, still a monster, but almost pretty.”
She also admitted that if there was a problem, she could always call on the DCAU’s equivalent of the holy trinity, Bruce Timm, Andrea Romano and, in this case, especially Alan Burnett.
“We are in the same building, so I could see them if I needed them,” said Montgomery. “I think where they really helped me was with Harbinger. I didn’t really know much about her, and they filled her in for me. It saved me from trying to figure out if what I wanted to do with her was OK. I didn’t want to make her powers too much. Alan usually makes sure the script is strong. He usually works it over before he hands it to us. I mean Bruce, Alan and Andrea have been doing what they’ve been doing for so long, that’s why they are where they are. If we’re doing anything wrong, they’ll tell us.”
Still one major problem Montgomery had to address herself was with Darkseid.
“Darkseid was one of the biggest challenges,” she recalled. “One of the biggest problems is we don’t have in-house animation. We ship out to Korea. We have to constantly explain to them that he’s big and always moves slow. The animation doesn’t always come back that way.
“He’s very inexpressive, too. Then again, I’m very used to dealing with the inexpressive ones. I mean Superman doesn’t really have a huge range of expressions, and Batman has even less. It seemed that all the main male characters just kind of stand there and talk. That’s another reason I like to have the girls in there. They can do more. They don’t just stand there and spit their lines out.”
Not that Montgomery has much time to sit and reflect on her accomplishments. This fast rising star of the DCAU has, not one but, two more animated movies slated for 2011, Batman: Year One and Green Lantern: Emerald Knights.
“Green Lantern: Emerald Knights will probably come out after All-Star Superman (which is directed by Liu),” she states.”Of course, I’m also working on Batman: Year One. I already have another project, but that’s still a secret. I’ve hardly had time to realize it’s out. Everything is going so fast. We hardly have time to breathe these days. I mean Red Hood doesn’t seem that long ago. Then the DC Showcase special is coming and I can hardly wait. I’m a big fan of its director, Joaquim Dos Santos. I think it looks great. I won’t say that I do not like this kind of schedule, but find when you don’t get a break you burn out. I do need a little down time.”
Until then, fans will just have to wait to see what female characters she’ll get to play with her next two efforts.