Stan Berkowitz, writer of the animated adaptation of DC: The New Frontier, talked to Warner Home Video about adapting Jeph Loeb’s Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. The animated feature is due out September 29.
QUESTION: Why was this story right for you?
STAN BERKOWITZ: I love the political aspect of it. In the comic book that Jeph Loeb wrote, it was assumed that everyone knew the backstory to how Luthor got elected President. But we needed the movie to show an audience, who might not be familiar with the comics, exactly what would have to happen for Luthor to be elected. I sort of envisioned Luthor ascending to the Presidency somewhere around 2012. I didn’t quite predict the catastrophe we’d be seeing in 2008. But I figured that something bad would happen, and then Democrats would be elected in 2008, they wouldn’t be able to solve the problem and, in 2012, a tough, Ross Perot-style third party bid would be the one who’d be elected.
It was kind of fun for me to envision the political atmosphere that would have to take place in order for that to happen. And I also had a wonderful time going with Jeph’s depiction of Luthor’s descent into insanity – always keeping in mind that Clancy Brown would be enacting the dialogue. It was just great to write that.
QUESTION: Superman/Batman: Pubic Enemies follows Justice League: The New Frontier as your second DC Universe film adaptation of a classic DC Comics graphic novel/com series. Are there specific challenges to adapting a well-known story?
STAN BERKOWITZ: Each adaptation is different, and presents different challenges. In New Frontier, the challenge was compressing all the material into a coherent 75-minute story. In Public Enemies, the challenge was making the thematic concerns concrete because the comic author had the luxury of a narrator to talk about the themes. And when we did the screenplay, we had to show the themes in action, having things happen to illustrate those themes.
For Public Enemies, there was also the issue of credibility. We were concerned that if a person who vaguely knows Superman and Batman grabs this off the shelf and sees Lex Luthor as President, he might think, “hey, what’s going on here?” It might just put them off, or make them think this was an alternate world story. And that’s not how it’s advertised. The other credibility issue is that in the comic, Luthor believes that the meteor is coming to Earth because of Superman. As a reader, I could not get past the fact that the public buys Luthor’s explanation. I didn’t believe an audience watching this as an animated production would buy Luthor’s explanation. So Alan (Burnett) and Bruce (Timm) and I had to figure out an alternate way for Luthor to frame Superman. I think it worked very well.
QUESTION: What makes Lex Luthor such a great villain?
STAN BERKOWITZ: I think anytime you do a story, you have to ask yourself, “What does the villain want?” And the more complex the villain, the more unusual a thing it is that he wants – and, thus, the better the story will be. In Luthor’s case, he’s like Salieri to Superman’s Mozart. Salieri would have been the era’s greatest composer had it not been for Mozart, and Salieri knows this. In the same vein, Luthor would have been the leading light of our generation except for Superman, and there’s nothing that he can do about it. He’s cast into the shadows, and that’s why he has that pathological hatred of Superman.