On May 3, Warner Bros. Animation will release DC Showcase: Constantine - The House of Mystery, a new collection of short movies that also includes Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth!, Blue Beetle, and The Losers. Produced by Rick Morales (Mortal Kombat Legends, Injustice), these shorts boast an incredible array of talent both in terms of the creatives and phenomenal A-List cast members.
The Blue Beetle short pays homage to classic cartoons like Spider-Man and Scooby-Doo and is presented as a lost episode from an old TV series. It's a premise that works perfectly, and a unique team-up with The Question sees Ted Kord facing one of the biggest, weirdest mysteries of his career.
While Jeremy Adams wrote Blue Beetle's story outline (you can find our interview with him here), Jennifer Keene (That 70s Show) was enlisted to write the script, adding dialogue and jokes that make this DC Showcase short a truly hilarious ride for fans. When we spoke to Jennifer earlier this week, she took us behind the scenes of her approach to telling such a unique DC Universe story.
We also get some insights into how Jennifer's previous projects prepared her for Blue Beetle, the writer's hopes to see this concept revisited as a TV series, and the specifics behind her approach to characters like Captain Atom and Nightshade. Jennifer even reflects on her time writing Green Lantern: The Animated Series, and her hopes it could be revived after a premature cancellation.
Firstly, I feel like I have to ask - how much fun was it to get to write a theme tune for Blue Beetle?
This has been one of my favourite projects to do, but the theme song was Jim Krieg and Jeremy Adams. They did all the heavy lifting and then I came in to write the jokes and all that fun stuff. Jim wrote the theme song for the short and then Rick [Morales] wanted a better one [Laughs]. I’m not sure if he wrote it or if he had someone else do it, but they wrote a different theme song and Jim has been mad ever since! [Laughs]
I know you have a comedic background with Phineas and Ferb and That 70s Show, so was that something they really wanted you to focus on while writing the script for Blue Beetle?
Yes, Jim definitely hired me as a comedy writer. That’s how he knows me. He had hired me to punch up a couple of his features, and then I worked for him on the Green Lantern animated series. He wanted that show to be a comedy which was why he hired me and he’d sometimes say we were getting notes saying it was too jokey or funny and I’d say, ‘Well, I can tone it down, Jim,’ and he’d say, ‘No, no no! More jokes! Make it funnier!’ [Laughs]
As a writer, what would you say the most exciting challenges in having to write that retro-style dialogue were with telling this story?
I went and read a lot of the old comic books because Jeremy is a huge Blue Beetle fan. I didn’t really know that much about him or The Question, but I had some reference books with all the comics from the 60s and I was familiar with the Spider-Man cartoon. Whenever you’re writing any show, whether it’s a sitcom or a short like this, you have to emulate the tone and the voices and style of that series. It was the same skillset applied here, just watching the more obscure Spider-Man series and delving into the old comic books.
The Question is such a fun presence here, but what did you enjoy most about the fun, bizarre dynamic he shares with Blue Beetle?
The fun of that was knowing how he and the Blue Beetle were going to be in conflict and why Ted Kord would hate him [Laughs] and what he would run up against. That was what I leaned into. ‘How are they going to fight? How is The Question going to piss off the Blue Beetle and how will that be funny?’ That’s all you really need to think about and that was fun.
In terms of the villain and supporting characters, what led to you focusing on Doctor Spectro, Captain Atom, and Nightshade? Was it a learning experience having to do your research on them too?
It was definitely a learning experience. I really didn’t know anything about them. I have a book here that is just a compilation of comic books with the Charlton Comics from the 60s that I needed to read and figure out. I didn’t know what Nightshade’s origin story was or Captain Atom’s, so I read about them, figured out who they were, and focused on what was funny about them. What’s funny about them and them being under the spell of Doctor Spectro? It’s always enjoyable when you get to dig deep and learn about things you didn’t know about before. That’s one of my favourite parts of any project.
Whenever I interview anyone about these animated projects, they always have to look back years because of how long they take to make. What was it like to wait so long to see the finished project and watch someone like Matt Lanter bring this character you’ve written to life?
It’s great because animation is such a collaboration between the writer and the artist and then also the actors. You want to see what sort of funny stuff they’re going to bring to it that you didn’t even know was there. It’s always a surprise and the longer you wait to see it, the bigger the surprise is. This one took…I think we did it about two years ago? I’d forgotten a lot about it, to be honest [Laughs]. It was like a lost episode even to me!
At the point you were writing, were you aware of who was playing these characters so you could write with them in mind?
No, I didn’t know who was going to be cast. I just knew how Jim wanted it to sound and that it should have a vintage feel and be like a lost episode we’ve found on a shelf somewhere in the archives. I wrote to that and knew whoever they cast would understand the tone and take it even deeper.
You write this script from a story outline by Jeremy Adams, so can you talk about what that process was like for you creatively speaking?
Well, I’ll tell you, it’s a lot easier when someone else has done all the hard work already and written this great story. Jeremy wrote the outline and I met with him and Jim once. I read the outline and we talked about the story, how they’d got to where they were with that, and then wrote the first draft according to that. You then get notes two or three times over the course of the project and things change and they have to veer away from the original outline because maybe once you script it, something doesn’t work and you have to figure out how to change it. That was really down to me and the notes because Jeremy wasn’t really participating beyond that first meeting.
Did you find your experience in television helped prepare you to tell this story, especially as the short - which tells a very specific story - plays out in a similar amount of time?
It did. I’ve worked on Phineas & Ferb and Big City Greens and those are eleven-minute episodes, so you learn how to take a story and distil it down to its essence. It’s always fun to do and a cool challenge. I remember in high school doing that unit on the short story and they’d talk about how Edgar Allen Poe invented the short story and how it’s all about the ending. They’d talk about economy and say there should be nothing in there that doesn’t forward the story. That training from high school came into play when I had to start writing in shorter forms, but it’s a fun challenge.
I’m guessing it must have been challenging to squeeze a mystery into this story here too?
It is, but again, you have to be very economical. Thank God Jeremy had already answered most of the questions of the mystery, so I could focus on dialogue, jokes, and things like that.
You were obviously part of a huge Disney franchise in Phineas and Ferb, so between that and the DC Universe, what does it mean to you to have been able to lend your talents to these iconic worlds? Do you feel the pressure of delivering on fan expectations or do you try to focus on the story you need to tell?
The latter. You focus on the story because if you start worrying about how people are going to receive it, that will get in your way of the storytelling. You have to trust in the process, the outline that’s there, yourself, and just know that you’ve gotten to this point for a reason. You’re able to tell these stories and you’re doing to do that well and do them justice. You don’t want to betray the original material in any way, that’s for sure. That comes from research and immersing yourself in these worlds. Then, it’s all there for you.
I really enjoyed Green Lantern: The Animated Series and thought it was far too short-lived - were you disappointed to see the show end so prematurely?
Oh, yes, we were all so disappointed. Oh my Gosh. It got such great reviews and was so well-received, I didn’t see that cancellation coming. When it did, it was such a bummer. I would love for it to come back and would love them to revive it. That was such a fun show too because I got to go to the recording sessions. A lot of the times, the actors will record their lines individually, but that one we did like a radio show where all the actors were together at once. We got to pitch jokes on the floor and see how they were landing in the recording session. That was really fun and would love to see it come back.
I know they’re making a new Green Lantern animated film this year, but do you think he is a hard character to crack or was coming out in the negative reception to the live-action movie detrimental?
I do think it was the shadow of the film. The film just didn’t do well. I blame the movie!
Looking to the future, if you get the chance to return to this particular iteration of Blue Beetle, do you have any thoughts on what stories you’d like to tell next with this character, whether it be in another short or a series?
I would love to do an animated series. That would be fantastic and so much fun. One thing I’d like to do is explore more of the obscure heroes who could fight alongside him like Captain Atom and Nightshade. Particularly some of the female superheroes. I always like to tell their stories and see them in more shows. That’s something we could potentially do. If it was a series, we would definitely do that.
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ALSO READ: Interview With Blue Beetle Story Creator Jeremy Adams
DC Showcase: Constantine - The House of Mystery arrives on Digital & Blu-ray on May 3.