For Alan Burnett, one of the writers of Warner Home Video’s DC Universe Original Animated Movie “Green Lantern: Emerald Knights,” the Friday night screening at WonderCon was a big thrill for one important reason: Mogo, the Green Lantern planet. “I wanted people to laugh,” he said of the intentionally humorous vignette. “It’s hard to tell if [the jokes work] when you’re looking at it on your computer screen without an audience. I was very pleased.” The producer, who also wrote the feature’s wrap-around story, spoke with CBR News last Saturday about the movie, the DC Universe Animated direct-to-video line and his love of film.
“Emerald Knights” began as a discussion between the DCU Animated group, Warner Home Video and DC Comics about one of the previous direct-to-video releases, “Batman: Gotham Knights.” That title, released around the same time as Christopher Nolan’s feature film “The Dark Knight,” told several slightly interconnected stories directed by various talents from the world of anime. With the “Green Lantern” feature film in the works, Burnett recalled, “it was decided that we wanted to do something like it [and tell] short stories.” Instead of replicating the “Gotham Knights” formula, Burnett, along with producer Bruce Timm and DC Entertainment Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns, assembled a roster of writers with strong ties to “Green Lantern” to adapt stories from the pages of the comics.
“It was put together carefully in that we started with a story that was the origin of the Green Lanterns, then we went to a story about how they get trained and then into a story about their personal lives,” he said. “We went to the story of Mogo for some fun, then we went into a story that sort of leads us toward ‘Blackest Night.’ There’s a progression in all of this.” The stories fell to live-action “Green Lantern” writers Marc Guggenheim and Michael Green, “Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors” writer Peter Tomasi, DC Comics Executive Editor Eddie Berganza, writer/artist Dave Gibbons — the first person to draw Mogo — and Johns himself. In addition to writing the framing story with staff writer Todd Casey, Burnett also coordinated all of the individual scripts.
“I went after these writers because I wanted to hear their voices, so I didn’t try to fool around with them too much and I didn’t have to,” he said of managing the pieces of the puzzle, referring to the job as “massaging.” He continued, “As [the scripts] come in, you want to make sure they’re not too long or too short for what you need page-wise.”
When not actively writing one of the DCU animated features (his credits include “Justice League: The New Frontier” and “Superman/Batman: Public Enemies”), Burnett supervises the writing of other projects in the line, a role that has had its up and downs in the tough video market. “The recession came around the same time as the ‘Wonder Woman’ DTV that we did,” he said, recalling how the project underperformed. Subsequent releases fared better, however, and Burnett is optimistic for the future. “We’re coming out of that, and I think it’s reflected in the sales.”
Serving the line’s two chief consumer bases, fans and mothers, is also an ongoing challenge. “I’m not sure what the statistics are, but I’m sure over half the people who purchase our DTVs have read the comic [it’s based on] or are familiar with comics,” he said. While the fans would like more mature storylines, there is always a concern those themes could be off-putting to mothers who buy the DTVs for their kids. While the team has to strike that balance in an entertaining way, Burnett noted they also have to do it in 70 minutes. “‘All Star Superman’ is an example of a story that’s 12 issues and had to come down to about [the equivalent of] five issues in the end.” He credited the late Dwayne McDuffie for making the story work within their format constraints.
The run-time issue also sank plans for “The Judas Contract,” an adaptation of the landmark “New Teen Titans” story that was announced when the line launched in 2007. “The problem with ‘The Judas Contract’ is that it’s a long story,” he explained. “When you start boiling it down, it’s difficult to get a satisfying story.” Expanding on his desire to eventually adapt the classic story, Burnett expressed his hopes for the line to eventually expand to include a miniseries format. “If we do, then ‘The Judas Contract’ will be high on the list of projects to go to. It’s a very involved story and it really needs that [extra] time.”
“Green Lantern: Emerald Knights” arrives on home video on June 7
EDITOR’S NOTE: The original version of this story cited the interview was with Stan Berkowitz, which was incorrect. Alan Burnett was interviewed for this article. CBR regrets the error.