Justice Society: World War II Director Jeff Wamester Talks Helming the Epic Animated Movie
Sam Stone
Over 70 years since their creation and the Justice Society of America make their starring feature film debut in the new DC Universe Original Animated Movie Justice Society: World War II. Directed by Jeff Wamester, the film has The Flash accidentally run into the Speed Force and arrive in the 1940s, joining a team of Golden Age superheroes as they liberate Europe from the Axis Powers.
In an exclusive interview with CBR, Wamester spoke about making his own feature directorial debut with the project, what moments surprised him during the filmmaking process and how to best introduce the Justice Society to modern audiences while retaining the original spirit of the characters.
Jeff, you've done plenty of storyboard and design work but how was it getting the directorial reins for Justice Society: World War II?
Jeff Wamester: Great! It was always something I always wanted to do, and I enjoyed being able to have a lot more contribution to a whole movie rather than whatever part I'd have as a storyboard artist or doing revisions. It's been pretty exciting -- overwhelming but in a really good way. I've been able to learn a lot more and express that in the movie. I really enjoy it much more than I ever expected.
You did storyboards for Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, which was the whole DC Animated Movie Universe at that time. When you're doing a big ensemble piece like this, how do you make sure everyone gets their proper due in the story?
Wamester: For something like that for me, I always felt that was really important. I've done tons of shows where there's an ensemble and, depending on the script and stuff like that, you only have so much time that you can do that. But I was super excited that in this movie, we were able to actually have a throughline for each one of the characters that they had and went somewhere. Even though they're all intertwined, they had their own journey that they went on in the process. I've always felt that was really the heart of these movies.
What was it about Jeremy Adams and Meghan Fitzmartin's script that really spoke to you as you were planning out this film?
Wamester: It seems like the relationship between Hawkman and Black Canary, it was one of those things where, as we were going through, even the writers... we were working through it and what we thought it was at first became something way more than we had initially anticipated, and we were able to emphasize that there was a subtext between those two. It wasn't just that they're close but one has an idea of what their relationship was and the other had a different idea of what the relationship was. Being able to explore that was super exciting and something that we didn't expect to come out of it.
One of the things I love about the film is you have a sequence where you showcase each member of the team in action. I also love that, outside of The Flash's, you don't have a lot of overlapping power sets.
Wamester: When we looked at the film, we tried to create as much contrast between the characters because it gives them more of a dynamic feel. If you match a lot of the way characters do stuff, you don't let them shine, so being able to separate each one of those and the specific way that they handled stuff was inspired by their personalities but also by their powers and their history at DC and [show] what else can we bring to each one of these characters that we haven't seen before but not move out outside of who they are.
With that in mind, were there any Golden Age DC characters you would've loved to include that didn't make the cut?
Wamester: [Laughs] There's many! Personally, I love the challenge of being able to give them their own signature on this stuff, I think that's one of the joys of being a storyboard artist and director. You get a chance to do something like that where you define a character. We could list any number of [other characters] that I would've loved to have seen in it but the most exciting part of that is when we get something that we haven't seen before. It's really fun to find that.
Hourman was really fun because we've seen him before, really, and who he was through it. It was fun to treat him as there's this drug that he takes; it's not just that [it gives him] a superpower, it has more consequences than that. To be able to do that and the subtext of what that would produce was a blast. [Laughs] It was fun having to do stuff like rip tanks to pieces because it's almost like he's taking a Jekyll & Hyde potion.
How was it working with voice director Wes Gleason, producer Butch Lukic and the all-star cast you assembled?
Wamester: It's a really fun process because we haven't done any animation at that moment because we just finished the script and we're just touching on design. And we're trying to imagine the whole story in our heads, so it's really exciting, especially when they come in with these different takes on the same line. I think all of us were really happy pushing around and experimenting with that and also letting the actors do their thing, and we found some really cool stuff. There was one thing that we imagined and then stuff pops up out of nowhere that is way better.
Sometimes Wes comes in with an idea or Butch comes in with an idea and that kind of puts it in a different direction the other two didn't expect. It's super fun to work with talented actors and actresses and with Wes and Butch, who have a ton of experience doing this stuff. I really enjoyed the whole recording process. It was great!
The Justice Society is the first superhero team and this is the first time they've starred in an animated feature film. What did you want to preserve and what did you want to lend your own voice to in introducing them to modern audiences?
Wamester: I've been a comic book fan since I was six years old, and I think that was always in the back of my mind and Butch's mind of where we shouldn't go, like if we interpreted them in a completely new way. I think there was always an honest effort to show who the character was, who they are and where they've been because if you lose that, you kind of lose where the characters are coming from. It's been tested and tried thousands of times, and to lose that idea is always a mistake.
I think it wasn't a balancing act but it was always in the back of our minds from experiences we had being comic book fans almost our entire lives, so it was always there. The only part where it was hard, in terms of the balancing part, was just finding a new way without losing any respect for who the character was originally.
How was it having Barry Allen as your P.O.V. character for most of this?
Wamester: I think it was great, and it was also great in that he's kind of like the narrator through it. Not intentionally in a third-person view, but he was an avatar for the audience coming from the outside into this past world, which I think is great having this grounded point-of-view to the movie to enjoy that time period and those kinds of heroes from that time period and what they were borne from.
With this as your feature directorial debut, what are you most proud of looking back on the process of this finished movie now?
Wamester: I think the personal moments were my favorite parts. Some of the loss is pretty visceral which is always hard to pull off in animation where it still has that gut feeling; that still gets to me. I thought both death scenes at the end of the movie were pretty impactful, and I'm really proud of those.
What do you hope audiences walk away with after the movie?
Wamester: I hope they have some introduction to those classic characters, and I hope we see more of them in the future.
Produced by Warner Bros. Animation, DC and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Justice Society: World War II stars Stana Katic as Wonder Woman, Matt Bomer as The Flash, Elysia Rotaru as Black Canary, Chris Diamantopoulos as Steve Trevor, Omid Abtahi as Hawkman, Matthew Mercer as Hourman, Armen Taylor as Jay Garrick, Liam McIntyre as Aquaman, Ashleigh LaThrop as Iris West, Geoffrey Arend as Charles Halstead/Advisor, Keith Ferguson as Dr. Fate and Darin De Paul as Roosevelt. The film will be released digitally on April 27 and on 4K UHD and Blu-ray on May 11.