Ricky Church chats with Injustice screenwriter Ernie Altbacker…
Across DC’s vast multiverse of alternate stories on some of their most famous characters, one of the most recent is the hit video game Injustice featuring a Superman who has taken over the world to enforce a long-lasting peace in the wake of a devastating tragedy to him while Batman and a small resistance try stopping him. The game spawned a prequel comic detailing the events leading up to the game, chronicling the death of Lois Lane and the destruction of Metropolis and how Superman and Batman’s friendship was fractured and now a feature-length animated adaptation of the story has been released.
As Injustice hits Blu-ray shelves, we spoke with screenwriter Ernie Altbacker on putting his own spin on Tom Taylor’s prequel comic, the fractured friendship between Batman and Superman and comparing Injustice to a hugely popular Marvel event. Check out our interview below…
Ricky Church: Injustice is a pretty popular game and comic series. What made you want to adapt it into a film?
Ernie Altbacker: I just got a call that they want to adapt it as a film and since I was a big fan of the Tom Taylor comic book, I was really excited to get into it.
The film, as well as the game and comics, focuses on a version of Superman who slowly, not necessarily goes evil, but goes rogue after suffering a huge tragedy and decides to do what he thinks is right. What’s the appeal of a dark Superman story?
Well, I always considered Superman really tough to write because he’s a boy scout and he has no faults. He is the one that remained steadfast and true. There’s not a lot of arc in his character. A more conflicted character like Batman is a lot easier to write. In this case, you’re getting all the good stuff of Superman, but also boy, does he have an arc! I mean, his life is shattered and then he kills somebody which that’s totally against his code and losing the love of his life and his city sends him spiraling out of control to where his reaction is “I’ve got to save everybody and make sure nothing bad ever happens again.” Unfortunately, it’s like becoming a dictator. I think it’s a really cool arc. It comes from the best of places, but he becomes the worst Superman doing it.
Now you just mentioned Tom Taylor’s Injustice comic, which is a prequel to the video game. I find it interesting because most video game adaptations only have the game to go off of, but Injustice is a bit unique because there is Tom’s lengthy comic prequel. How did pulling from the comic affect your writing process for the script?
Some people, when they adapt, they’re like “I’m going to just do it through my own way.” They’re going to say “oh, it was boring scene every scene” or “you changed something!” I really liked the comic so I try to get everything that I like about the comic in there. But every change of format is really its own thing. Like the video game is one thing and it’s got some cutscenes and I used some of that material and then I would say it’s mostly based off of Tom Taylor’s comic book, the prequel to Injustice, but there’s a foot-and-a-half of material. It’s impossible to fit into 80 minutes. Impossible. So all of these stories are their own thing. Every time you adapt it to a different format, if this gets done in a more expensive format where it’s 10 episodes of 22 minutes or maybe 44 minutes of animated or a trilogy of live action movies, it will again be different. It won’t be the same as Tom Taylor’s comic book or the video game or this movie. Every time you change format or remake something it’s its own thing. So to compare them I think is futile.
Yeah, there are so many moments where I went “oh yeah, I remember that moment from Injustice: Year One,” but then you still took liberties to make something new for the audience, which I also appreciated because it caused for surprise.
Well, yeah, I hope there’s a lot more of you out there than people who don’t like change, but we’ll see!
One fun thing for me too was spotting the use of several of the game’s special moves and knockouts in the animation. When writing the script, did you have any kind of input into when Cyborg does this special move here or anything like that? Did you work with the animators at all on what to use?
You know what, that is all Rick [Morales, producer] and Matt [Peters, director]! Yeah, like to put in the signature moves, I didn’t mention that. I knew they would do it. I knew they would take stuff from the fighting game and use it. They’re that good that I didn’t have to mention it, but I mean, when I say I didn’t have to mention it I didn’t really think about it. These characters are fighting. I put something in the script and then they break it down and they make the fight a lot better. Like I’m not going to tell those guys how to do a fight! Like “here are the shots, here’s when the signature move comes in!” I don’t have to do that.
Now you mentioned how Superman is the one who’s always the boy scout and Batman is the darker one. It’s interesting that this movie flips their roles because now it’s Superman who is the dark one and doing whatever it takes to win and Batman being the one who wants the moral high ground. What are your thoughts on their relationship here? Oftentimes they’re the strongest of allies, but here they’re just on two divergent paths.
I think at a certain point someone said “You know what? This can be our Civil War.” Like the comic companies, Marvel and DC, sometimes they take their storylines or even like “we need a version of that character.” You can see it. I think at a certain point it’s like “Wow, this would be our Civil War. We can do a Civil War with this thing.” And who would the leaders be for the civil war? Well, it’s gotta be Batman and Superman, right? And wouldn’t it be cool if they switched positions? I would think that’s the way someone thought of that and went that direction and that’s in Tom Taylor’s book so I can only think that he was aware of it or thought of it or was asked to do it, to ask him to lead into it. That’s the cool thing about this story is that the superhero, best buddies, bros are now trying to kill each other, you know? How did we get there and who’s going to win?
Have you played the Injustice games? I’m guessing you have.
No, I had a little problem. So about 20 years ago I went cold turkey on video games. I seriously wasn’t getting anything done. There’s no games on my computer and I don’t have a console. But I did watch all the cut scenes! So it was I think three-and-a half or four-and-a-half hours of cutscenes and I thought “Hey, there’s some really cool stuff in here,” you know? Let’s put this in, but then you also have to read the foot-and-a-half of material! This was the biggest thing that I’ve ever attempted to adapt by far! By three or four times as big. More!
Was that intimidating at all? Like having to think “Oh, I have to adapt this hugely popular video game I haven’t played and a hugely popular comic book series into a movie.” What was your thought process going into that?
Usually I don’t get really nervous because Jim Krieg [producer] is there, he’s a buddy of mine and we both come at it from “Oh boy, isn’t this going to be fun! I wonder how the animators, what they’re going to come up with to make this look awesome.” Usually that stuff happens. I mean, Warner Bros. animated features, they’re really watchable. All of them. I watched the ones that I don’t do. I’m like, oh man, I can’t wait for this thing to come out!
Thank you to Ernie Altbacker for speaking with us!
SEE ALSO: Read our review of Injustice here
Injustice is now available to own on Blu-ray and digital.
Ricky Church – Follow me on Twitter for more movie news and nerd talk.