You haven’t fully appreciated a superpowered adventure until you’ve seen a crowd of heroes and villains perform a beachside adaptation of Grease’s “Summer Nights.” This Sunday, viewers nationwide can experience that and more, via Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken DC Comics Special II: Villains in Paradise, a bizarre and irreverent romp through the world of DC’s superheroes and baddies, featuring guest voice performances from Zac Efron as Superboy, Giovanni Ribisi as the Joker, and, perhaps most entrancing of them all, the venerable Alfred Molina as Lex Luthor. Vulture talked to Robot Chicken creators Seth Green and Matthew Senreich, as well as DC chief creative officer Geoff Johns, about Batman voices, Beppo the Super-Monkey, and Superboy’s awful fashion sense. Plus, we have an exclusive clip from the show! Roll clip!
Let’s talk about “Sexx Luthor,” Lex Luthor’s hair-metal band, and their catchy little tune about picking up hot chicks.
Seth Green: It was just one of those things where it grew. Once we had the lyrics, we wrote the song, then we had Alfred’s performance of it. The animator made the dance incredible. We wanted it, we weren’t sure it would actually work, but it exceeded all of my fantasies.
Wait, that’s actually Alfred Molina singing “Oh baby baby, with that ass so sweet” and so on? You didn’t bring in a ringer for the song?
Matthew Senreich: Oh yeah.
Green: Oh, yeah, man — he fucking crushes it!
Was he your favorite bit of celebrity casting for the special? It’s a competitive field, what with Nathan Fillion doing Green Lantern, and all the rest.
Green: One of the best investments we made was Alfred Molina. That was such a pie-in-the-sky ask, and nobody thought he’d do it, because he’s such an amazingly accomplished actor. And then he just crushed as Lex Luthor! It’s awesome!
Geoff Johns: In the second special, Luthor’s such a massive part of it, and he dances and yells.
Senreich: Another pie-in-the-sky was to get Paul Reubens to do the Riddler. It’s unfortunate, because a lot of the Riddler stuff got cut for time.
Green: The other thing we did was, in the first special, I played Gorilla Grodd for, like, one or two lines. But in the second special, it started shaping up that Grodd would be kind of a critical character with an arc, so we went out to Clancy Brown, because Clancy’s so awesome. We wanted Grodd to be sort of funny, but have gravity, and go through the emotional journey that Grodd goes through.
Senreich: I think the weirdest thing was getting Zac Efron to play Superboy. We had him for our Star Wars special and he’s just this down-to-earth, fun guy. He comes and wants to play with us. He’s totally game; you can throw a curveball at him. And he can sing! So Superboy, it just elevated the whole thing for us.
Johns: I think Zac might be my favorite interpretation of that character of all time. Just that whole attitude.
Can I just say: Thank you for picking the early-’90s version of Superboy, with his legendarily awful costume.
Johns: Oh yeah, that thigh belt is classic.
Don’t forget the leather jacket.
Green: And the sunglasses, too! It’s like, take your fucking sunnies off, dude! He’s just like, “Nope, not gonna.”
What DC villains didn’t make the cut for the special?
Johns: Mister Mind, who’s a super-intelligent worm from outer space. He did not make the cut, unfortunately.
Senreich: We really tried to get a Red Lantern thing in. We had, like, eight Red Lantern sketches. One of them almost got in at the last minute, but it was a little too racy.
Green: It was a game-time cut. The thing about Robot Chicken is, eventually it becomes about how much time you have for the total thing. You wind up having to shave seconds in several places, so lots of stuff gets cut. Oh, and he’s not a villain, but Beppo the Super-Monkey, we had to cut.
You cut a bit about Beppo the Super-Monkey, Superman’s pet chimp? What was it?
Senreich: He wrote the great American novel.
Green: It’s a gag about — you know that axiom, “If a thousand monkeys were at a thousand typewriters, eventually one of them would crack the greatest novel of all time”? It was like that, but with Beppo the Super-Monkey.
There’s a long scene where Green Lantern is flying Batman around in a green bubble and this really ridiculous easy-listening folk song plays. What was the origin of that?
Green: It’s like a Jim Croce thing. Just a lot of feelings. Christopher Cross. It’s meant to be —
Senreich: That actually came from one of the writers in our writers’ room, a guy named Hugh Davidson.
Green: If you’re familiar with Robot Chicken, he wrote that sketch in our Star Wars special where the Wampa is trying to get gas after his one arm has been removed by Luke Skywalker.
Senreich: He’s kind of a writer from the non-geek world, trying to understand geek things.
Green: He always applies really basic human emotion and relatable circumstances to these grand characters.
Senreich: So like, he had his guitar there —
Green: No, but like, it started with the fact that Batman doesn’t have superpowers! Every time he’s with the other members of the Justice League, he gets carried by somebody or piggybacked by somebody. And he’s gotta just be, like, over it.
Senreich: Again, Hugh had that song in his head, and the rest is history.
Green: We thought we were gonna cut it, because it’s really long. We had a hard time in the overall episode with leaving in a three-minute, slow-paced emotional journey.
Senreich: But it was worth it!
Seth, how do you prepare your Batman voice?
Green: Ahhhh, I guess I … don’t? Sometimes I’ll listen to other Batman bits I’ve done that people liked. There’s no, like, root thing.
Senreich: That was Seth just pitching in the room while doing that voice. It started in the early seasons of Robot Chicken, and we all just loved that voice.
Green: It was because of Christian Bale! I loved that super-gritted-up, borderline-stuffed-nose thing. But yeah, Batman is not something I prepare for.