Alan Burnett Strikes With "The Batman"

Wed, November 28th, 2007 at 12:00am PST

TV/Film
Jeffrey Renaud, Staff Writer

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From the episode "The Metal Face of Comedy"
Emmy-award winning writer/producer Alan Burnett ("Batman: The Animated Series" and "Batman Beyond") has been scripting the animated adventures of the Dark Knight for more than 15 years. Midway through his fifth season as Executive Producer on the popular Kids' WB series "The Batman," Burnett has always worked under the assumption that everyone knows who Batman is, so there is no use in re-telling his origin every week. "I cater to a six to 11-year old audience that's pretty savvy about pop culture these days," explained Burnett, in speaking of his twenty-something Bruce Wayne. "Even if they are not reading the comic books, they know about the movie. And they have seen all the cartoons that have been made before 'The Batman' that have been playing all over the place as far back as 'Super Friends.'

"We've done episodes which touch upon his origin and we did the movie 'Batman: Mask of the Phantasm,' which told his origin, and many times we like to do some origin stories about villains because we find new ways to get into their lives that haven't been done before so they are a little more malleable to play around with.

"But no, we figure everybody knows about that walk down the alley just like everybody knows about Krypton's ship landing in the middle of America."

Everybody knows about the Justice League of America, too. That's why Burnett and the creative team of "The Batman" have been introducing DC Comics heavyweights this season, beginning with Superman in the season premiere and culminating with a two-part finale featuring many of the world's greatest heroes.

From the episode "The Metal Face of Comedy"
Burnett says scripting tales with members of the Justice League always proves advantageous.  "It was exciting [introducing the Justice League] because we knew it would be a lot of fun and we knew that there was a wealth of things that we could do right off the bat," explained Burnett. "So we weren't searching for the 10th story with Killer Croc. We actually had some fresh areas to deal with."

Burnett said when "The Batman" debuted in 2004, the notion never even crossed his mind that he would one day be playing with all of the toys in DCU's sandbox. "When we started, we had no idea how long the series was going to run," admitted Burnett. "Usually, series these days don't go beyond four seasons and this one is actually enjoying its fifth season, so that was actually a surprise for all of us. But there was a lot of interest from all parties, not only from Warner Bros. but from the fans themselves, to keep this thing going."

Burnett and the other writers actually tested the waters with a Martian Manhunter story to close out Season 4, which also included a brief introduction to Green Arrow, The Flash, Green Lantern and Hawkman, all in non-speaking parts.  

"With this Batman, we have brand new continuity so we have some freedom to develop a relationship with Superman and a relationship with Green Arrow and all of the rest," explained Burnett. "We are starting over. Our characters have their basic integrity from DC Comics that we don't want to stray from but we have some wiggle room to play with, which allows an ability to come up with some new characterizations for them, too."

From the episode "Ring Toss"
With Green Arrow and Flash-centric episodes already airing this season, the Green Lantern spotlight, "Ring Toss," is scheduled for air on December 8. Burnett said the creators never really considered anybody but Hal Jordan to wear the ring in "The Batman." "I like Kyle Rayner and I like Guy [Gardner] and I like John [Stewart]," remarked Burnett. "They each have their qualities that I like. But the idea here was that we were dealing with a young Batman so the young Green Lantern or the first Green Lantern was who we were going with.

"When we did the Flash episode, you didn't know who he was under that mask. I always thought it was Barry Allen, so that was our approach and that's why we went with Hal Jordan."

The veteran writer said it was sheer coincidence that Green Lantern would be introduced on "The Batman" the same year the character enjoyed such an incredible following in comics due to the success of the "Sinestro Corps War" storyline.  "That's just a fluke, just a coincidence," laughed Burnett. "But it worked out well because I wrote 'Tales of Sinestro Corps Presents: Cyborg Superman,' which was just one book out of a big story from Geoff Johns; an epic story, so I, strangely enough, got to do some homework for the comic book, which helped me get into the Green Lantern mode for doing this episode."

Providing the voice of Green Lantern is Dermot Mulroney, whose breakout movie role was 20 years ago in "Young Guns." His siblings Kieran and Michele Mulroney also co-wrote the screenplay for George Miller's live action "Justice League of America" film. "Dermot's the guy from 'My Best Friend's Wedding' with Julia Roberts. I think this is the first superhero he has voiced and only his second time working in animation," explained Burnett. "We also have Miguel Ferrer ("Twin Peaks," "Robocop") as Sinestro and the Penguin is in there too.

From the episode "Ring Toss"
"In the story, through a series of circumstances, the Penguin gets his hand on the ring," laughed Burnett. "That's going to be a lot of fun. There's a lot of good action in it. In fact, it's one big fight in this particular episode because everybody is after the ring."

On December 15, the last new episode of 2007 features Batman's long-time nemesis The Joker in "The Metal Face of Comedy." "Joker's great. Kevin Michael Richardson does the voice and he's one of the most inventive actors behind the mike that you will ever want to see," said Burnett. "The Joker is the perfect compliment to Batman. One's black and one's white. And it's great to have them in the same room fighting. We have a lot of fun with the Joker. The Joker, with his level of humor, you can come up with a lot of lines and a lot of situations that are off the wall but they make sense because the Joker is doing them.

"Alexx Van Dyne wrote the episode and it also features a role with Patton Oswalt," continued Burnett. "He plays a computer nerd who creates a digital Joker, but that's just the beginning.

"The Joker undergoes a lot of transformation in that one. But the interesting thing about the episode is that it will also feature Nightwing. And I don't want to say exactly how, but it's not a trip with him coming back from the future. You'll just have to see but you'll see it early on because, if I remember correctly, I think Nightwing is the first superhero you see in that episode."

Burnett provided CBR News with some spoiler-heavy synopses for the remaining five episodes of the 13-episode season: "In Episode 9, which will debut sometime after January 1, 2008, you'll see the Terrible Trio, which will also feature Professor Langstrom, the guy who was Man-Bat. It's also with Batgirl. It's sort of our Batgirl story because it takes place at her college.

From the episode "Ring Toss"
"After that, Episode 10 is going to be an episode with Hawkman and the Shadow Thief. Oh, and Black Mask returns for that one too. I describe that one as the Poseidon Adventure at 30,000 feet because it takes place in the air. Things get kind of wild.

"Episode 11 is with Wrath, a former one-shot Batman villain. In our version, he also has a partner named Scorn. As Wrath is sort of a darker side of Batman, Scorn is a darker side of Robin. I just saw a first cut of that episode today, which looked great. This is a difficult episode because not only does it have those two villains but it also has the Joker, the Ventriloquist, the Penguin and Killer Croc. So it's quite a smorgasbord.

"The last two episodes are a JLA two-parter."

Asked if the finale is being written as a series finale or a springboard to Season 6, Burnett replied, "We don't know yet. We'll see. It would be great but we'll see. I wish I could say definitely either way but you know, getting Season 5 was already a surprise for us."

Burnett, who just completed a six-episode arc on "Superman/Batman" for DC Comics, is also doing some writing for the publisher's "Justice League of America" right now. His first issue, writing the lead story, hits shelves January 16, 2008.

Burnett says he finds writing for the two different media rather similar. "The nice thing is I am writing for an older audience when I am writing for comic books. And it's nice to get into some adult situations and write some big words," laughed Burnett. "It [Justice League of America] has some violence that can get pretty gruesome. We are pushing the PG-13 as best we can."

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