SCOTT SNYDER PART II: MORRISONTASTIC
Three weeks ago, I began a conversation with Scott Snyder about his approach to writing and his plans for his upcoming run on "Detective Comics." We'd scheduled it as a two-part discussion, figuring that we'd spend some time talking about the influence of Grant Morrison in part two. Well, life got in the way (for both of us) a bit, and we had to delay our chat until this week.
But here it, is the continuation of my discussion with Scott Snyder. This time it's almost all about Grant Morrison, perhaps you've heard of him?
Tim Callahan: Let's not start with the obvious - Morrison's Batman - instead, let's talk early Morrison. What have you read, reread or otherwise reviewed lately from Morrison's oeuvre? What have you discovered or remembered?
Scott Snyder: Well the first Morrison book I ever read was "Arkham Asylum" with Dave McKean. I still have my original hardcover. That book, with the dual narrative, the re-imagined Joker, Arkham as a living place - it was a seminal read for me. Along with "Dark Knight Returns," "Killing Joke" and "Year One" - that constellation of comic books I go back to again and again. In some ways, Batman grew up as I grew up - I was just entering adolescence when all these amazing, dark, deeply affecting Batman stories came out.
But getting back on track, other Morrison books I've re-read in the past couple years are "New X-Men" (the Weapons Plus idea never gets old) and "All-Star Superman." I'm always amazed how Morrison manages to deepen and broaden the mythology of every character he works on. He's always true to the character, but he gets in there and adds so much. Peels back all these layers...
TC: Let's talk about Arkham a bit. Morrison apparently expected it to be drawn in a much more traditional superhero style, maybe something more along the lines of what Andy Kubert did on the "Batman and Son" arc all those years later. But instead of that kind of approach, DC put Dave McKean on the book, and it obviously changed a lot, visually. I don't know if you've seen it, but the Anniversary edition of Arkham has some of Morrison's own thumbnails - how he pictured the flow of the action - and if an artist had gone in a much more traditional direction like that, I wonder what the overall effect would have been. Would it have been weirder because the Jungian ideas were juxtaposed with comic booky artwork, or would it have lost a lot of its impact?
It's impossible to say, because we only know it the way it was ultimately illustrated by McKean, but what do you think about McKean's contribution to the book and what do you think about how the book might have been different - even with the same script - in the hands of, say, a Jim Aparo, or a Norm Breyfogle?
SS: That's interesting. I can imagine it as something more subversive that way - with someone more conventional on art - because on the one hand, the story is so dark and twisted, so seeing a narrative like the one Morrison wrote illustrated in familiar superhero ways could have been very jarring and exciting I guess. At the same time, McKean's art does the opposite; to my mind, it perfectly matches and even enhances the dark, disturbing story illustratively. The pairing is really symbiotic. With a more conventional artist, the book might have felt a little cerebral in its conception, with part of the point being that the story isn't what you normally get with a book that looks like this. To some extent, I think that's the tactic on "The Killing Joke," and it works really well - because that story reads like a conventional Batman story up to a point, and then it explodes into darkness. But "Arkham" is so twisted throughout, from the moment it starts, that I think it's a good thing that the script was given to McKean (I'm also just a huge McKean fan – "Black Orchid," "Mr. Punch," all that stuff).
TC: What's your take on his X-Men run overall? How do you think it holds up upon rereading? There was a lot of controversy about his depiction of Xorn/Magneto - did you have trouble with that stuff as a reader?
SS: I understand the criticism, but I think like a lot of his stuff, when you step away from the page-to-page characterization and plotting (which are often great anyway, but still), there's a huge amount to appreciate in the conceptual underpinnings and design and ideas to the run. The whole Weapons Plus idea alone makes the run amazing for me.
TC: I really love the stuff with Quentin Quire and the Xavier School in that run. Any of the issues drawn by Frank Quitely are genius, of course, but the whole "Riot at Xavier's" arc seems like the pinnacle of the run for me. It's taking the implicit X-Men concept to another extreme - outcasts as fashion, post-mutant mutants or something. I was at that panel in San Diego - covered it for CBR, actually – in which Grant Morrison talked with Stan Lee about comics. It was supposed to be some kind of Virgin Comics panel, but neither of them could say much about their Virgin projects (and Virgin shut down two weeks later), so they talked about writing comics and ideas and process, and Morrison talked about all the great subtext in the X-Men that Stan Lee put in there, and Lee pretty clearly didn't really know what Morrison was talking about, but he liked his enthusiasm.
SS: That sounds great. I wish I'd been there. Being on the panels with Morrison and then meeting him was a tremendous highlight of SDCC.
TC: So what other Morrison works have inspired you? What have you tried to learn from Morrison as a craftsman?
SS: I'm always trying to learn from him - I re-read his "Batman" all the time. "Son of Batman," "Black Glove" and "RIP" - I mean, I understand when people take issue with the twists and turns and strangeness of some of it all, but if you step back and look at all the ideas, the way Morrison is expanding the universe of Batman in a literal way - with Damian, the Man-Bat Army, Jezebel Jet, The Black Glove, Knight and Squire - and figuratively, expanding the mythology and history and symbolism by adding to the Wayne family history, drawing the cave itself back through pre-history, teasing Batman forward too, into the future with the glimpses of Damian in the cowl. Reading his run is like watching the Bat U expand and deepen right in front of you. And regardless, there's no arguing with "Batman and Robin" - that series is one of my favorites in the last few years - I love it.
TC: Morrison has mentioned digging into "The Batman Encyclopedia" and drawing upon some of the entries for inspiration - Barbatos came from one of those entries, and he didn't even realize that it came from Peter Milligan's "Dark Knight, Dark City" run. You are obviously impressed with Morrison's ability to expand and deepen the Bat-mythology, so presumably you'd like to do the same. How do you find inspiration for your Bat-run?
SS: I love how he does that - re-inventing everything form the zany like the Batman of Zur-en-arrh to Dr. Hurt and all that. For me, it's less about that, because I'm using Dick Grayson as Batman, and more about depicting a Gotham that adapts to its Batman. Meaning, Bruce's Batman has this deep vein of history and mythology with regard to Gotham. But Dick is new to the mantle, and so the fun is actually creating some new mythology for him - new villains, new locales, new feel. Know what I mean? For me, I'm definitely interested in pulling some characters from continuity - there will be some returning canon characters, one big one in particular - but I'm more interested in the new Gotham that Dick faces.
My personal take is that watching Dick as Batman fight all of Bruce's rogues could feel too repetitive or wheel-spinning. Seeing him face his own villains, both street and super, I think that's the real fun possibility with Dick as Batman - otherwise, what's the point of having him be Batman. That's something that blew me away about Batman and Robin, getting back to Morrison; the Circus of the Strange, Professor Pyg, the new Batmobile, I love how Dick's Batman is a whole different force.
TC: How does Dick's past as Robin and Nightwing factor in? He didn't really have many rogues of his own as Robin, but as Nightwing he did. Is that something you're mining at all, or do you want to create a sense of Dick-as-Batman as his own beast, with his own set of problems (and villains)?
SS: I thought about it a lot, and looked over his gallery, dead and alive, from Blockbuster to Tarantula and back, but honestly, those villains feel somewhat partial to his tenure as Nightwing to me. It'd be like writing Nightwing in Gotham or something. I love pulling emotional stuff from his time as Nightwing - his attachment to the police force because of his time on the Bludhaven PD, his relationship to Babs, his friendship with Tim and the Titans - I think I'm working with that stuff more than his Nightwing rogues gallery - his personal history rather than his actual antagonists if that makes sense?
TC: Sure, that makes sense. And, of course, since the villains wouldn't know it was Dick under the cowl, their rivalry would lose its impact anyway.
That brings up a question: has anyone in the DCU wondered where Nightwing has gone? Is that even something characters would have an awareness of? Is that even something that you feel you need to address - or need to ignore - as you're writing this version of Batman?
SS: It is something that crossed my mind, but my story is really going to be about Dick functioning as Batman with Bruce's blessing, so any mention of Nightwing on his part will be in the rear-view mirror pretty much.
TC: As we wrap this up, do you have any final thoughts you'd like to add?
SS: Just what a thrill it was to get to meet Morrison at SDCC. He came to the "American Vampire" booksellers' dinner and surprised us. Of course everyone was excited to meet him and talk to him, but he went out of his way to introduce himself to me and ask me about my ideas for Detective - he couldn't have been nicer. And the best part was how excited he was to talk about his ideas for Batman, too - he was so animated and eager, after all he's done already, he's still like a kid in a candy shop talking Batman. It's hugely inspiring to see. He's just getting warmed up!
In addition to writing WHEN WORDS COLLIDE for COMIC BOOK RESOURCES, Timothy Callahan is the author of "Grant Morrison: The Early Years" and editor of "Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes" anthology. More of his thoughts on comics can be seen regularly at the Geniusboy Firemelon blog.
Follow Tim on Twitter: TimCallahan