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Soundtrax: Episode 2021-10 Special Edition
December 6, 2021

Feature Interview:

  • Robert J. Kral’s Animated Superhero Music for DOOMSDAY, INJUSTICE, and More

    Interview by Randall D. Larson

Born in Adelaide, South Australia, Robert J. Kral moved to Los Angeles in 1991 where he attended the prestigious USC Scoring for Motion Pictures & TV Program. He is best known for scoring five seasons of the hit TV series ANGEL, as well as for his superhero scores for Warner Bros animation such as SUPERMAN DOOMSDAY, GREEN LANTERN: FIRST FLIGHT, SUPERMAN VS. THE ELITE, BATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM, JUSTICE LEAGUE: DARK, SUICIDE SQUAD: HELL TO PAY, and others. He is also well known for scoring the Scooby-Doo! TV series MYSTERY INCORPORATED and many other animated Scooby-Doo! features.

INJUSTICE is a 2021 animated superhero film directed by Matt Peters from a story by Ernie Altbacker. It stars Justin Hartley and Anson Mount as Superman and Batman, respectively. The film, set in a separate continuity from the main DC Universe, follows Superman’s descent into madness after being tricked by Joker into killing his pregnant wife Lois Lane and detonating a nuclear weapon that destroys Metropolis. The film adapts elements from both the Injustice video game and its prequel comic book series, primarily the Year One arc, but tells an original narrative which diverges from the source material.

In the following interview, Kral discusses in detail his journey into scoring INJUSTICE as well as many other animated heroic adventure films. ((Warning: There are numerous spoilers in our discussion of the INJUSTICE film and its score. We suggest watching the film before proceeding.))

Q: How did you get the job of scoring INJUSTICE?

Robert J. Kral: I’ve worked for producer/director Rick Morales for many years now. Initially, my scoring work for his projects were the Lego Scooby-Doo! projects such as HAUNTED HOLLYWOOD and BLOWOUT BEACH BASH. This lead to 2D animated productions such as CURSE OF THE 13TH GHOST and then a series of shorts including KAMANDI: THE LAST BOY ON EARTH and the forthcoming CONSTANTINE: THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY. I really enjoy how Rick and I work together; we just seem to simply be always on the same page and when he has ideas and suggestions they work with my style very well. To go back further, my first super hero project with Warner Bros was SUPERMAN DOOMSDAY in 2007 and my very first WB project was DUCK DODGERS back in 2003.

Watch the trailer for INJUSTICE:

Q: What were your initial conversations with the producers and directors about the kind of music they wanted for INJUSTICE?

Robert J. Kral: I worked for Rick Morales directly, whom I see as the project director, as he is the one guiding the score, meeting with me for spotting and giving notes on my music. He’s also present at the final mix as we go through making any last-minute adjustments. His credit is often as producer but my experience on these projects with him is I definitely see him as my director. For INJUSTICE we wanted to have it feel “real,” not corny or cartoonish, and delve into deeper emotions like how our quintessential hero crosses into dark territory, for his own reasons due to massive personal loss. On a smaller scale these are things we may deal with in our own lives, and I feel the music should connect us to all this. The events of the story are larger than life on the one hand, but on the other, they are very close to us and involve moral personal issues we may all face from time to time.

Q: What was your starting point in scoring this film?

Robert J. Kral: For many years now I’ve enjoyed approaching the scores in chronological order, that is to say I start at the beginning of the film and go through each scene in order to the end. This might sound obvious but there are many times in film scoring when a different approach could be preferred, like scoring all scenes with the same theme together, or working on the themes first and going from there, etc. For this one I really started before the beginning because Rick wanted new music for the DC animation logo, which features about 40 seconds of wonderful 3D style animation and is very dramatic. I really enjoyed scoring this as a starter setting for the movie itself, even though the logo is more an overall DC universe sequence not specific to this story. As INJUSTICE involves the Justice League and so many favorite characters, the logo felt to me like a wonderful introduction and really got us into the tone of what’s to follow. I did then prepare a short main theme that appears for the main title – heroic, but not too “victorious,” and then I dealt with each cue in order of the story.

We had established that we would use my Superman theme from DOOMSDAY, which I slightly modified here, and I very much enjoyed also modifying its presentation for a light orchestral joyous feel underscoring Superman discovering he and Lois are about to become parents. Other recurring themes are Lois’s theme (which is part of the main Superman theme), which first occurs when Superman realizes Lois is pregnant and later returns at very key moments in the story. The theme for Batman here was created in earlier films, used initially on GOTHAM KNIGHT and again in ASSAULT ON ARKHAM. There are new themes for Nightwing, Ra’s Al Guhl, and a mood/sound setting for Rama Kushna. Another musical aspect requiring planning for later is that Joker’s theme (a twisted piano motif with heavy effects and morphing sonics) was going to reappear later for Superman himself when he reveals just how insane his motives have become. This was Rick’s idea which I totally loved – the fact that Superman finds himself becoming the crazed villain that he once hated so much that he destroyed. This moment occurs in the final battle where even his supporters now realize he has gone too far.

Q: How far along in production were they when you came on board?  Did you begin with sketches or animatics, or had any final animation began to come in yet?

Robert J. Kral: On this project the animation was pretty much complete. I’ve worked on many projects where I started with animatics only, and others where I can clearly see extra layers of animation (especially the 3D animated projects). For this one to me it seemed fairly complete. Rick and I had our usual spotting sessions, this time over Zoom due to Covid, for each of the three acts, where we decide where music should be and what it should evoke. It’s pretty much wall to wall music but there were a lot of moods and themes to discuss, even though for the other themes I just presented them as I went along through the story.

Once I have a cue complete I upload it to a workspace online, where Rick can listen to it at his convenience, and make comments that are timestamped to the video locations. We seem to be very much on the same page as there are very few notes or adjustments made to the music from Rick. If a note is given, I’ll address it, re-record and re-upload and Rick can again make comments. This is using a great website facility called Hightail. It’s a great way of keeping track of notes, what has been approved or not, and re-watching cues again with time stamped comments. So in essence, as this is a MIDI only score production; rather than musical sketches, I simply launch right into the score with each cue in order and develop the material as we go along. Each cue is recorded as I’m composing and orchestrating in MIDI and uploaded as if it were a final version. Fortunately, most of the time it is!

Q: The storyline is certainly a big shift from the usual heroic superhero tale, calling for an array of shifting dramatic moments. How would you describe your scoring for the opening moments with Lois and Superman and what happens with The Joker soon after?

Robert J. Kral: Indeed there are huge moments of emotional impact as a result of some very unique events: Superman discovers Lois is pregnant, and is all excited about the prospect of becoming a father. His discovery is scored with a graceful version of Lois’ theme, followed by Superman’s theme but in a very light, almost playful fashion as he talks about bringing up a young child. The next hugely unique moment is when Joker and Harley are actually killing Jimmy Olsen and severely injuring Lois Lane; it’s brutal and bloody. We have Joker’s off-kilter theme during this; we’re going for genuine madness here. This leads to the next shocking moment later, where due to Joker’s trickery Superman believes he’s saving the world by forcing Doomsday into space, only to realize this isn’t Doomsday at all, but is actually Lois Lane, implanted with a bomb. I mean, how diabolical can this get? It’s truly horrific. The heroism turns into suspense and we have Lois’s theme as Superman realizes what’s going on. And of course if you know the story, this leads to Superman becoming so enraged he forces his way into Joker’s imprisonments and actually brutally kills him. We’ve had Joker’s theme building incessantly just before this, as Batman questions Joker, but here, rather than building to Batman or Joker losing it, Superman arrives and literally punches through him. The music goes into a kind of state a shock, holding, but as we push in on Superman we hear simplified but concerning hints of the Joker theme, as madness begins to set in, as our hero is now starting to go mad.

Q: How did musically treat the conflict between Superman and Batman and their respective allies?

Robert J. Kral: Initially this is very much underscore, meaning it isn’t overdone and is just meant to support the dialog and drama as it’s gradually becoming more apparent that a split in the League is necessary. We want to understand and feel for Superman’s perspective, even if it fairly swiftly becomes full of rage and he makes questionable decisions and demands. It’s not until the League officially splits that the music makes a very clear mark with this. It’s not a theme but it’s a clear demarcation that not all members of the league can any longer support Superman.

Q: How did you contrast your themes for the intense character conflicts in this score? Since there are a lot of characters on both sides of the conflict, I’m assuming you treated them as groups, with perhaps individual themes reserved for Superman and Batman who represent the primary conflict in the story?

Robert J. Kral: As Superman becomes more enraged and morally dubious, or even clearly a villain, he loses his theme. It’s underscored more darkly, a bit more disturbing. His theme is no longer used. In contrast, Batman retains his; there are even some more heroic uses of it as Batman springs into action and plans are begun to bring about necessary changes. Ra’s Al Guhl has a mood or theme used under his scenes as he talks with Robin etc. – a brooding darkness that gives off the feeling that he likely can’t be trusted. Themes are of course extremely important and can be adapted, but as a composer supporting the story its important as first priority to support the drama, rather than look for every opportunity to use a theme. As such, Wonder Woman is underscored even as she supports and in some ways nudges Superman’s direction. Harley and many other characters don’t really have their own themes here. Of course they could, but in this project only the most key characters have themes. There is something of a Justice League theme (first heard in the Main Titles, used later in the final battle etc.), and the other characters, as important as they are, are approached with underscore or concentrating on supporting and building the mood.

Q: What was your musical palette for the film? Were you able to use any live instruments – and if not how did you treat the digital samples to match the tonal drama of the events in the film?

Robert J. Kral: The palette for this film musically is orchestral, with synth bass and synth textures and pads where I wanted to add some additional colors. There are no live instruments for this project. It’s a matter of budget, and agreement. Once a live musician, even one, is used, the agreement with WB changes and extra contracts, budgeted funds, etc. are required. If the budget were higher I’d certainly love to use live brass and strings, and any unique solo instruments. The technology has come a very long way however, and its not difficult to conjure some real emotion from the latest sample libraries.

Q: As the storyline grows and the conflict intensifies, how did the music embody the sense of out-of-control-ness the situation is getting?

Robert J. Kral: Initially the out of control element is more subtle, as with the moment where Superman kills the Joker and we have hints of madness creeping in. During Superman’s speeches afterward, as he becomes gradually more tyrannical, the music grows darker but it’s still underscore; brooding and just a little unnerving. Some of the escalation isn’t necessarily steady every step of the way, as there are some accidental killings that take place that are very emotionally charged. Like when Superman accidentally kills Jonathan Kent; there’s just so much to all of this that the music definitely needs to recognize the other emotions happening amongst the carnage. It seems to me there is another overall theme to this story, and that’s when things happen beyond your control that can make you so angry and yet were accidents or terrible situations out of your control. It begs the question, what do you do? How do you react? Once the T-Bot surveillance drones are deployed by Superman, it becomes clearer that things are going too far. The score could have establish this musically, but instead there’s a powerful bit of musical tension and irony when Superman slaughters the Joker’s party crowd at a rave, and the music we hear is the incessant dance beat that they had preciously enjoyed in the warehouse. It’s completely clear that Superman has become an absolutely deadly and cold villain at this point. This eventually escalates to where Ra’s deploys Amazo in a small town, where his attack on innocent citizens is a clear case of the deadliness of oversimplifying rules. The situation is clearly out of control tyranny, and the music lets lose along with the situation leading to the final battles.

Q: How did you treat the deaths of some of the heroes on both sides?

Robert J. Kral: I’ve mentioned the death of Lois, and I do see her as one of the heroes. When Flash is killed by a trap set by the Joker, the set up is based on Joker’s madness theme that creates an eerie, horror movie type atmosphere. His death is brutal and the score keeps with a more horror feel for the shock of all this. Robin accidentally kills Night Wing, and the escalation here is more of the overall story becoming more out of control. It occurs during a large fight in Arkham but in the aftermath the music stays dark and in some ways “out of the way” ...we can naturally feel Batman’s anger at the situation, we can even feel Robin’s predicament, even though we are clearly against Robin’s recklessness. The seriousness of consequences here is so deadly and fraught with emotion. There are smaller swells in the music as Batman carries the body of Night Wing away and realizes he cannot redeem Robin, but there’s plenty of emotional space to just feel whatever we are feeling about all this. Score-wise, there’s a break in the music after this, with just the distant wind in the night in the next scene. This gives us a breather, leaving us with our emotions, followed by Batman beating his bloody hand by punching against a wall, eventually giving away to tears, in silence. Yes, I’m actually talking about a scene or two here with no music, as this is an essential choice in the overall scoring of the film. These breaks from music, the silence after this death, is extremely important as a decision not to score with music these following emotional scenes that leave us in the cold, a real aftermath experience where we aren’t told by music what to feel. All is becoming loss, there’s no score there to support you. It’s cold, it’s lonely.

When Superman becomes enraged in the Fortress of Solitude, having deflected an arrow from Green Arrow which strikes Jonathan Kent, the emotional build occurs over Batman and his team running to escape. It’s one of the highlight scenes of scoring for me, as it’s an action scene of Batman running, but uncharacteristically running away to escape with his team as Superman has become so deadly, but rather than active it’s sad and emotional. I really love that moment. Jonathan Kent begs that Superman forgive as the music settles as he dies. Yes, Jonathan is another of our heroes.

I’m playing the theme on solo harp as Superman feels the heartbeat of “his” baby, having gone down a road that was destroying everyone. This moment saves Superman. It’s Lois and it’s love that saves Superman.

Q: What musical moment(s) from INJUSTICE are you most pleased with, or feel were particularly rewarding to accomplish?

Robert J. Kral: I have so many favorite moments from this film, but my most favorite is the film’s last five minutes. We have an epic battle between Superman from Earth One and Injustice Superman from Earth 22. It’s a full-on action battle that leads to an emotional buildup as Injustice Superman accuses the other of holding back, as if to say that unleashed, unbridled anger is the correct way to go with things. This leads to him about to kill Superman, but then he hears a familiar voice from a loved one. Lois. She has been brought into this world from Earth 9 [whose Superman was lost in a battle against Brainiac). Her voice stops him. Not by shouting, but simply by speaking. There is no power like the power of hearing the voice of a loved one. The music clears and leads to a very tender and emotionally heart-wrenching moment when Lois places Superman’s hand on her tummy to hear the heartbeat of the child within. The music plays Superman’s theme delicately on solo harp. This is my favorite moment. I created this theme many, many years ago as a heroic but grounded theme, designed to not be too heroic, more “man” than “Super.” And now for me scoring these projects, about 13 years later, I’m playing the theme on solo harp as Superman feels the heartbeat of “his” baby, having gone down a road that was destroying everyone. This moment saves Superman. It’s Lois and it’s love that saves Superman. His theme emotionally builds as we come into a state of victory and plays over Batman finally giving a slight smile and giving in to love, and the resolution of this story.

Q: The Superman character has had a long musical legacy in feature films and animation; how did you work with Bruce Timm on your first Superman score, DOOMSDAY [2007], to establish the musical identity for his super-character in this score?

Robert J. Kral: Bruce Timm at the outset requested that the theme for SUPERMAN: DOOMSDAY not be like the John Williams theme. In fact Bruce felt my first version of the theme was too similar, so I went back and changed it completely. It’s a tricky thing because it still needs to feel and say “Superman” but it feels like re-inventing because we’ve become so accustomed to a certain feel and theme that works so well. So for version two I took a big step back and thought to myself “what is it about Superman and this story that I can bring into a theme that is this man but not what we’ve heard before?” I then realized that it would be appropriate, perhaps even best, if I focused more on the man of Superman and not so heavily on the “Super.” So I wrote a theme that serves to conjure the struggle he faces against Doomsday, that as powerful as he is he will literally face the battle of his very life and that there will be very real loss. The theme is still a heroic one, but has a definite angle or feel of struggle and heaviness and not just a fanfare that is only triumphant.

Listen to Robert J. Kral’s main theme from SUPERMAN: DOOMSDAY:

Q: The story of SUPERMAN: DOOMSDAY is a pretty dark one, in which we see our most-powerful superhero brought down by the Doomsday creature, and later to ultimately rise again in triumph. How did you treat the story across these very high and low emotional arcs, thematically and harmonically?

Robert J. Kral: The darkness you mention is something I was fully aware of from the start, as the very first scene I watched for auditioning was Superman’s sacrifice. Even the last straw for him that motivates him into the sacrifice is a very dark place I don’t think we went to in previous movies. While the main theme is mostly uplifting, there’s the second chord that it goes to at the beginning of the theme that just twists it a little into that darker place. It’s hard to describe in words, but that harmony is what takes you to that darker place, even though the theme above it is heroic. For the score, the story has so much emotion it was very inspiring for me as a composer to write and create moods out of the scenes. We knew we wanted to draw the audience in and have them profoundly affected by Superman’s death, for example. The comments I’m still reading on YouTube for this scene confirms that folks are truly moved by this scene in this film which is so wonderful to learn. The tenderness between Clark and Lois, the anger that explodes in the fights, the evil of the clone and import of the final battle, there is so much high emotion that it was a true thrill to score.

Q: When Lex Luthor creates a cloned Superman to serve as Metropolis’ hero in the absence of the real Superman, how did you musically contrast this faux hero with the music for the true Man of Steel?

Robert J. Kral: For the clone, his motif is a brass theme but it’s very different from that of Superman. You can, I feel, really hear the “humanity” in our hero’s theme in this movie. Full brass sections, lots of horns and strings supporting it. By contrast, the clone is often a solo trombone, which is still brass but a different, darker sound. At times with the clone’s motif I tried to make that trombone feel like it was biting, or jabbing at you like a dagger. It’s a much lower register, dark but still biting and hard-edged. The motif is developed in the final fight and gets a lot bigger, but it all starts with that smaller idea of this dark, sharp edged evil that like the clone himself, starts as an idea and develops into a full blown threat.

Q: What is your technique in scoring the action/battle scenes in a film like this? How have you accommodated the progressive thrust of action while allowing room for multiple crescendos and thematic references during the dissonance of heavy battle music?

Robert J. Kral: Because fights really do start off as a full blown attack, it’s tempting for a composer to go all-out from the start. But some of these fights last a very good number of minutes! SUPERMAN DOOMSDAY has very big, very violent, and very long fights so the challenge is to sound like it’s going “all-out” from the start (otherwise it’s weak) but leave lots of room for development and overall crescendo that has the climax of the fight (which might be 7 minutes later) sounding or at least feeling way bigger than the start. As such I need to be very aware of the overall scene, where it’s going, where it’s leading, and any changes within the scene that reveal a new direction or new level. I map it out in terms of those seconds, knowing how long I can develop one idea and then where it must change to recognize and support the new level in the story and scene. An earlier section then might return toward the end, but be more fully developed after other levels and ideas are presented, and this return can now sound more powerful even by it’s absence. Leitmotif becomes very useful here because throughout these long action scenes I can adapt the leitmotif of the hero or the villain and work it into the score, a bit like the way the classical composers would present motifs at the start of a symphony then weave them into a “development” section.

Q: I’m assuming these super-hero scores were done with digital orchestras, given budget realities, and I understand you used a product called Wallander Brass in this score (and others?). What was your technique in using samples such as this to create a very rich symphonic dynamic for the SUPERMAN: DOOMSDAY score?

Robert J. Kral: Yes, the budgets for the super hero scores I have done for WB animation were for MIDI scores only. My contract basically specifies this as hiring orchestras is significantly more expensive. As such I need to be sure I’m using the best sounds available to me, and this takes quite a lot of time and work in terms of ensuring the emotion is being expressed correctly. My strings of choice for example are LASS (Los Angeles Scoring Strings) and a big reason for this is the approach this library takes to divisi sections. Whilst having a big sample sound and just playing that on one track is fast and somewhat effective, it’s far more effective and emotionally powerful to lay down (play the MIDI in this case) in layers of divis sections like those found in LASS. It means there are groups of smaller instrument sections in the strings but layered with other groups all playing slightly differently, but all playing as expressively as possible. Combine them and it’s a far more realistic sound and when done well you can hear that emotion coming across. Likewise with Wallander Brass. I had just started using it at the time of scoring SUPERMAN: DOOMSDAY and it was a God-send. Finally the brass lines I could write (which in MIDI means you are also performing) were lyrically effective. I could express way more and have it come across way more than with my samples. This is partly why the evil clone gets a solo trombone at times, because with that library it worked so well and could go through such a wide range of emotion and color between soft and loud, mellow and bright. This makes the range of expression really come across so whether a solo brass instrument for the villain or sections of trumpets on the hero, the library really sang and soared (I know that’s a strong word but I really feel this way about it!), and gave me a more powerful sound than just using samples alone. Since then new sample libraries have come out but the playability and effectiveness of the Wallander modeled synth is still astounding and I still find it’s got the widest range of expression. This expressive range is getting better all the time in sample libraries and the realism now achievable is astounding. It’s a great time to be a MIDI composer!

Q: With GOTHAM KNIGHT (2008) you had an anthology-like series of short stories built around the concept being developed between BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT, with you, Kevin Manthei, and Christopher Drake each scoring two stories wholly independent of one another.  How were the story assignments handed out and what sort of direction were you given in how to treat them?

Robert J. Kral: Such a unique project! Because the anthology was created by different directors, the goal was not to crossover so much as to present different takes on Batman in a sense. Rather than jell the sound into one approach, the idea of us working separately was to bring new things to the table for each story, even though of course it is the same character and universe. We weren’t given a lot of direction, but we were given a lot of freedom! As composers, the three of us didn’t get together at any stage during the writing. Rather than a collaboration (which is what normally would definitely happen on a project with multiple composers) the idea was to go away separately and enjoy the differences that would result overall.

Listen to Robert J. Kral’s “Gun Attraction/Park Killing” cue from BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHT:

Q: With the musical approach to Batman so intrinsically defined by Danny Elfman, Elliot Goldenthal, Shirley Walker and others, what were your impressions as far as what you should do – or what you could do – to create a signature theme for Batman in the context of these short scores?

Robert J. Kral: I felt strongly, as much as I had a lot of freedom, to still maintain some of that Batman sound of Elfman especially. So I created a leitmotif/theme for him that’s big on the brass and fairly dark, but with a few of those types of chord changes that draw you into his heroism and character. I would come to use this theme again in the upcoming JUSTICE LEAGUE: DARK for some key Batman moments. Just as I have made use of Superman’s theme in SUPERMAN VS. THE ELITE, I feel that the return of themes that I know the audience has loved really creates powerful and meaningful moments.

Q: Your score for the “Deadshot” segment of GOTHAM KNIGHT gave you the chance to underscore some of the darkest moments of the origin of the Batman character. What was most challenging for you about scoring this episode?

Robert J. Kral: One of the bigger challenges was maintaining the ticking time clock in a sense of the villain over a longer period of time. Developing the drama and story elements whilst the threat of Deadshot is maintained over the train scene. An underlying threat stays throughout but there are shifts in the story and it’s really all leading to the confrontation in the tunnel with Batman. I do love these longer developments and with this one I tried to keep a lot of consistency over the course of the long sequence to have it feel like it was headed basically in one direction: Batman and Deadshot face to face in the tunnel. I really love this scene!

Q: You composed a striking main theme for Green Lantern in FIRST FLIGHT (2009) which really gave the character a strong powerhouse motif. What elements about the character helped you come up with the theme and how was it structured to give it flexibility throughout the score?

Robert J. Kral: There are 4 parts to the Main Theme in GREEN LANTERN, with the fifth element really being the underlying drums, which I wanted to be as powerful and driving as possible. Also a sixth element to this is the use of the synthesizers driving the energy and marking moments of the theme. An ordinary guy is thrust into this superhero world after gaining the ring – so I wanted those drums to take no time at all getting going with the adrenaline. The first part though is on synth and is the ring’s motif. It’s that light glassy, airy sound of three notes that is the affect, to me, of the ring calling the character, welcoming the character, summoning him in a way, and it reappears many times in the Main Title and across the movie. After this ring motif and the drums have been established, the first brass theme enters and here again I didn’t want a “traditional” fanfare, but something bold and striking. This sound and feel and theme suggests Hal is being summoned into this world, a working up or “manning up” of courage and importance of situations and challenges. A bit in the vein of Superman’s Doomsday theme, suggesting that courage is needed here as things are beginning to get serious. The harmonic changes during this section suggest brightness and confidence though, a forward propulsion that is very positive. The next section is a fanfare, more of a traditional superhero confidence theme, suggesting victory. The following section in the Main theme and End title is really Sinestro’s theme. The register is lower, darker in the trombones, but again like Superman’s clone, it’s biting and aggressive, kind of like attacking you with daggers at different angles. Marking the changes in moments of these themes are some synthesizer elements which add another color and feel, and bring it into it’s own unique space. All of this material, sound, and approach gave me a lot to work with for the rest of the score.

Listen to Robert J. Kral’s Main Title music from GREEN LANTERN: FIRST FLIGHT:

Q: You’ve said elsewhere that you treated this score in more of a science fiction mode, with more overt synthesis and electronics in the musical palette. Would you elaborate on how you accomplished this and gave the score a fresh dynamic while still leaving room for emotional moments of traditional heroism?

Robert J. Kral: That’s correct, as mentioned above with the main theme, the synths are an important element in this score. In the main title and some action scenes there are synths propelling the energy throughout underneath the main melodies. But synths are also responsible for Green Lantern’s “ring” motif and I can’t imagine the motif being any other sound. If it weren’t synth, the closest thing would be choir, but that to me is too “holy,” too “alleluia!” The synths are softer and simpler but still just as noble on that sound, as well as being other-worldly. Also during the fanfare section of the main theme, there is a more retro sounding synth. The executive producer wanted a hint of retro 60s or early 70s sci fi, perhaps a slight dash of DOCTOR WHO. What’s interesting about that main title is that you’ve got heroic brass and traditional orchestra, then these swooping synths that dive out in front for a few seconds, and before you know it you’re even hearing xylophone hammering out a few notes for a dash of James Bond (LIVE AND LET DIE) feel. The aim is this: normal guy thrust into super hero world across the galaxy, bold traditional orchestra, energy, James Bond, Dr Who, dark villain, hopeful nobleness, and the list goes on as I wrap it all into the main themes. This of course then lends itself to the rest of the score.

Q: How did you treat the villain(s) of the story, and were you able to interact their themes with that for Green Lantern through the arc of the story?

Robert J. Kral: A different register and color, similar to how I treated Superman’s clone by using darker brass but still very bighting and aggressive. The energy level is in some ways higher here, or at least a different feel with the synth usage and types of drumming. This set up became especially useful as Sinnestro’s evil becomes more and more apparent.

Q: You got to revisit your original Superman theme from SUPERMAN: DOOMSDAY in SUPERMAN VS THE ELITE (2012). How did you develop it into the semblance needed for the overall musical setting for this particular story?

Robert J. Kral: Bruce Timm approved my using the same theme for Superman here. This meant we could use the familiarity of it as a device itself. Just as a single note coming in from the orchestra right away has an affect on the audience during a scene, the return of a familiar theme has an affect that can be very powerful. It also means I can develop it further and treat it in different ways. The main title is darker than the one in DOOMSDAY, and there’s treatments of Superman’s theme here that whilst still being the same theme, it feels different as it’s now in a lower register with much heavier drums and darker harmony. In DOOMSDAY’s main title, Superman’s theme is much brighter and more hopeful, even with that twinge of darkness and challenge/humanity to it. In the ELITE main title, it remains dark, remains more in war mode but still suggesting nobility and positive power. Not until the end credits is a brighter version of the theme heard. The motif is used throughout the movie in many different ways.

Q: In this film Superman was up against a whole league of villains – how did you treat each of (or all of) them, thematically, and how did the themes interact during moments of action and battle?

Robert J. Kral: We come to learn about the elite by their personal stories in many scenes. Again there’s a lot of humanity, heartbreak, difficult childhoods and such. Elements used in more heartbreaking moments can come through later as sources of anger for example. The great thing about leitmotif is that it is an element of overall theme, short enough to adapt to different harmony and expressions musically. It’s really the spice added to overall action scene writing for example. The action and dramatic tension is there, but with leitmotif peppered in at the right moments it gives it that extra kick.

Q: With BATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM, it’s Batman who is pitted against a league of super-villains. Same question: how were the various villains from the Suicide Squad addressed musically in their confrontation with Batman – and what was unique about this particular ensemble of outlaws?

Robert J. Kral: The unique thing about BATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM is that the Suicide Squad is made up of very individually different villains that need to work together to pull off basically a heist, so we are kind of rooting for the bad guys. Their individuality of course comes out in the story and working together might not come easy to them! Musically the opening features a brief look at each villain in a montage where we wanted the music to be specific to each character. Typically a montage works better musically to keep one musical idea throughout to glue it all together, but we really wanted to mark up their different backgrounds so the style drastically changes for each character. Director’s Jay Oliva and James Tucker particularly enjoyed the wacked out carnival type music for Harley Quinn. She initially comes off as this crazy plaything especially with the music but this is contrasted with the end of her part of the montage with her biting off someone’s ear. Ouch! The music of course just remains playful! In their confrontation with Batman however, most of the time their individual styles of music that represented them in the montage falls away to the fact they are now a team, working together as the Suicide Squad. However there is one character whose style of music I created in this movie meshes with Batman’s theme and that is the Joker. He has an aggressive and gutsy attack/action theme that also features distortion and biting low synths and percussion which is used when he attacks Batman, but the Batman theme works over the top of all this as Batman escapes his madness and fury. By the way, this is the same Batman theme that was initially created when I worked on GOTHAM KNIGHT. The meshing with Joker’s theme elements gives the whole thing a new take and feel and I really love how this turned out.

Listen to the Robert J. Kral’s track “Criminal Montage” from BATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM:

Q: With so many composers writing scores for various DC superhero characters, most of them developing their own unique themes for specific characters (i.e., your Superman theme, Christopher Drake’s Superman theme for ALL STAR SUPERMAN, Kevin Kleisch’s from SUPERMAN UNBOUND, John Paesano’s from SUPERMAN/BATMAN APOCALYPSE, Shirley Walker’s from SUPERMAN: The Animated Series, etc.), was there ever thought given to sharing character themes between films of different composers, such as we’re beginning to see now with multiple characters from Marvel and DC sharing the same world from film to film?

Robert J. Kral: There’s not much if any talk between us composers during the production of these movies that I know of. Chris and I talk a lot, and I really enjoy that, but it’s never been about using my theme on his movie or vice versa. We have talked with each other about the requests to create new themes and how challenging this is. In my case I have used the same hero themes for Batman and Superman in my movies with those characters, and I’m hugely thankful to be able to. To me it’s a really effective thing to keep the same theme. There are times when WB likes to present a new take on something, in a sense. Just as GOTHAM KNIGHT was a collection of different directors and styles, a new movie might be a different presentation in that sense, for the sake of the characters – though you ask a very good question. I’d love to use my theme on more of these stories, and my Batman theme appears again during JUSTICE LEAGUE: DARK. When it kicks in it brings back other Batman memories and is effective in that way too. But what if I was asked to use a Drake theme, or Chris was asked to use a Kral theme? It gets a little personal as we as composers really pour our hearts into this, especially the themes.

Q: What have you found unique about scoring JUSTICE LEAGUE: DARK?

Robert J. Kral: I have thoroughly enjoyed scoring all of my WB films, but JUSTICE LEAGUE: DARK has become one of my big favorites. The story introduces us to many characters, many beloved by fans who haven’t seen these heroes on the screen before. Musically this is very different from my Batman, Green Lantern and Superman scores – there’s an 80s horror movie feel to some of it, and the main theme is driven by this. There are times when I literally combine 70s horror, orchestra and even dub step during this. There are moments unlike any of my other scores so I’m really excited about it. There’s a lot of emotional content too.

Q: What’s next for you – if you can say?

Robert J. Kral: The work is finished for the moment, but release-wise I have scored a series of shorts for DC/WB animation: KAMANDI: THE LAST BOY ON EARTH, THE LOSERS, BLUE BEETLE, and CONSTANTINE: THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY [coming May 2022]. I’m really proud of the results for all of these, and overall it’s a real showcase for me musically, as well of course being part of DC’s “SHOWCASE” series. They are being released as bonus material on various other films, then in 2022 will be released together in their own “SHOWCASE.” KAMANDI is a very PLANET OF THE APES, percussion-heavy score, and includes a use of the Superman theme. LOSERS takes place on an island filled with dinosaur attacks and some fun action material in the music. BLUE BEETLE is a retro look and feel with a jazzy score, something really different from me. CONSTANTINE: THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY is a horror type story with some of my favorite music in it, partially based from my material from JUSTICE LEAGUE: DARK.

Special thanks to Robert J. Kral for taking time out to answer these questions in detail! Listen to more of Kral’s film music on Spotify here, and on Apple Music, here.

For more information on the composer, see his website here

Listen to a suite from Robert J. Kral’s score for JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK:

Randall can be contacted at and followed on twitter at and