Burton Striking Like Black Lightning
Voicing veteran superhero in Superman/Batman:
As the voice of Black Lightning, LeVar Burton adds another
level of fanboy cache to a cast thick with legends of the
super hero genre in Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, the next
entry in the popular series of DC Universe animated original
with Andrea Romano and Bruce Timm
Public Enemies boasts a cast headed by the definitive voices
of its three central characters – Kevin Conroy (Batman),
Tim Daly (Superman) and Clancy Brown (Lex Luthor), the original
voices from the landmark Superman: The Animated Series and
Batman: The Animated Series.
is forever beloved by the sci-fi crowd for his memorable
performance as Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge in Star Trek:
The Next Generation and its feature film versions. However,
Burton has done far more than go “where no man has
a career that essentially launched with his breakthrough
performance in the landmark miniseries Roots, Burton has
garnered seven Emmy Awards, three Image Awards, a Peabody
as well as a Grammy, and in 1990 was permanently enshrined
as a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
the way, Burton has been a virtual fixture on television
screens – from his 176 episodes of Next Gen and 150
episodes of Reading Rainbow, to another 41 episodes of The
$10,000 Pyramid and 58 episodes as Kwame in Captain Planet
and the Planeteers. Along the way, he has also directed
several episodes of the last four Star Trek series (The
Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise),
appeared in feature films (most notably as Martin Luther
King, Jr. in Ali), and even spent some time in the recording
booth for Batman: The Animated Series, Gargoyles and Family
turn as Black Lightning brought him back to the recording
booth – and while he was there, he took the time to
discuss the joys of playing a super hero, his childhood
comic book memories on a military base in Germany, the importance
of reading, and the use of sci-fi as an inspiration for
our future. Here’s LeVar …
MIEREANU: Was it difficult to settle on
a voice for Black Lightning?
BURTON: I think everybody has a super hero that
lives inside of them, so I just went to that place, that
deep kind of super hero voice.
MIEREANU: What were your comic book habits
as a kid?
BURTON: I grew up, part time, in Germany. My father
was in the military, so we used to trade comic books for
entertainment. On Saturdays, you took your box with all
your comic books and you went around from apartment building
to apartment building, trading comic books with the other
American kids living on the base. Television was in German
(language), so we didn’t watch TV – we read
comics. But this was before black super heroes came around
– they didn’t start appearing until the '70s.
So it's mildly exciting for me to actually have a chance
to play a black super hero today.
MIEREANU: Choose one: Batman or Superman?
feels left out by Burton's opinion...
BURTON: When I was a kid, it was always Batman
over Superman. Batman had all the cool stuff, and he just
had a vibe. Superman was the All-American guy but, with
Batman, there’s a little something going on. Batman’s
history was a little edgier, and there was just something
really attractive to me about the cowl. Superman is all
out there, even though he does the Clark Kent thing, but
Batman keeps his identity hidden. He has this double life
that’s very sexy, very attractive for a kid. Not that
I didn’t like Superman – the whole kryptonite
thing is all well and good – but Batman was my guy.
MIEREANU: What makes comic books great
BURTON: People ask me all the time, because I did
Reading Rainbow on PBS for 25 years, “How
do I get my kids to read?” And I say, “Find
something that they’re passionate about.” If
it’s comic books that they want to read, then buy
them comic books, for goodness sakes. Comic books are good
literature and, like science fiction, they have a tendency
to really draw us toward that part of ourselves that imagines
that which we create.
one of those people that believes that there was some kid
back in the 1960s watching Star Trek, and he kept
seeing Captain Kirk pull out this communicator and flip
it open – and that kid grew up and became an engineer,
a designer of products, and we now have a device that is
more common than the toaster. How many flip phones do you
see on a daily basis?
which we imagine is what we tend to manifest in third dimension
– that’s what human beings do, we are manifesting
machines. The metaphor of a man who has an external electronic
device, something man-made that serves him and somehow serves
humanity, and that he becomes so aligned with that device,
with the power of that device, that at one point he can
discard it – I think that’s a real metaphor
for the human journey.
day we won’t need a transporter device to get from
one place to another. And it begins with the wheel and then
migrates through airplanes to some future technology that
we can’t produce yet but we can imagine. Imagination
is really the key part of the human journey, it’s
the key to the process of manifesting what our heart's desire
I was a kid, it was comic books that pointed me in that
direction and from comic books I went to science fiction
literature, which is still one of my most favorite genres
of literature to read. Don’t underestimate the power
of comics and what they represent for us and how they inform
us on the journey of being human – because it’s
powerful. It’s very powerful. They give us permission
to contemplate what’s possible. And in this world,
in this universe, there's nothing that is not possible.
If you can dream it, you can do it.
underestimate the power of comics..."
MIEREANU: Can you appreciate the passion
of the sci-fi fan?
BURTON: Oh yeah. Because I am one. When I was a
kid, I read a lot of science fiction books and it was rare
for me to see heroes of color in the pages of those novels.
Gene Roddenberry had a vision of the future, and Star
Trek was one that said to me, as a kid growing up in
Sacramento, California, “When the future comes, there’s
a place for you.”
said this many times, and Whoopi (Goldberg) feels the same
way – seeing Nichelle Nichols on the bridge of the
Enterprise meant that we are a part of the future. So I
was a huge fan of the original series and to have grown
up and become of that mythos, a part of that family, and
to represent people dealing with physical challenges, much
like what Nichelle Nichols represented for people like Whoopi
and myself, I can’t even begin to share with you what
that means to me. It was just beyond the beyond.
get Star Trek fans, I get science fiction fans
because, again, science fiction literature is that body
of literature that causes us to ask what I feel are two
of the most of the most powerful words – in sequence,
in language – “what if?” And that’s
an open door, that’s an open door to use your imagination
to dream and to dream the big dream.
actor, I dress up for a living and I get paid for it so,
to see a guy come to a convention in his costume that he’s
made – it’s a good thing, you know. This guy
isn’t out there beating his wife or kicking his dog,
he’s engaging in a healthy fantasy role-play. I think
too many grown ups forget how important that part of our
lives are, the ability to imagine and to dream. So it’s
MIEREANU: You’re Black Lightning
for this film. If you could play any super hero role, do
you have a role you covet?
BURTON: Well, I’ll start with Black Lightning.
That ain’t a bad place to start. I mean, come on,
if you’re going to play a super hero, why not play
the first real black super hero in the pantheon? I'm good
start with Black Lightning."
MIEREANU: Does voiceover work have any
special appeal for you?
BURTON: I love voiceovers because, and I’m
sure you hear this from actors all the time, but it’s
kind of pure acting. For many years on Next Gen,
I wore this visor over my eyes and one of the things that
I discovered was that it’s really difficult to communicate,
or it’s harder to communicate, when you can’t
see someone’s eyes.
result of playing Geordi, I really do recognize how important
the voice is – and what a facile tool for communication
the voice can be. When I was kid, we listened to radio a
lot for entertainment and I remember how vivid that was
for me. To this day, I listen to NPR and I love doing audio
books – because it’s like it’s pure storytelling.
It’s sitting around the fire and sharing stories,
really engaging your imagination.
as an actor, sitting in front of a microphone and creating
is just so much fun because it really does break it down
to its most pure and elemental level. It’s just you
and the voice and the character telling a story.
MIEREANU: Does it ever feel odd to be
acting all alone?
BURTON: Well, during the physical parts of the
voiceover, when you’re doing all the action scenes,
I think if you were an alien and dropped into a recording
studio and were observing a session, you would really wonder
about the sanity of the beings that you are observing. But
it’s fun and it feels a little silly, but that’s
what gets it done. When they’re in that mode, I think
actors are just big kids – and we like playing in
more information, images and updates, please visit the film’s
official website at www.SupermanBatmanDVD.com.