Scott Snyder Courts Fear with Owls in "Batman"

Mon, January 16th, 2012 at 5:58am PST

Comic Books
Jeffrey Renaud, Staff Writer
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Scott Snyder and the Court of Owls have plenty more in store for "Batman" in the coming months

Studies indicate 21 million Americans suffer from friggatriskaidekaphobia, otherwise known as the fear of Friday the 13th. Scott Snyder is obviously not one of them. After immersing himself in Gotham City's underground for the final year of "Detective Comics," Volume 1 in 2011, Snyder has taken to the city's skyline since the dawn of the New 52 in the pages of "Batman," Volume 2.

While Bruce Wayne has spent his share of time pummeling on rooftops and plummeting from terraces in the first four issues of the new series -- drawn majestically by Greg Capullo -- the real mystery is unfolding on the 13th floor of the buildings constructed by the Wayne family over Gotham's 400-year history, because that's where the villainous secret society, the Court of Owls plots its treachery and hides its assassins, like the Talon.

Last week, DC Comics announced that beginning with "Batman" #8 in April, the series will expand from 32 pages to 40 pages while the price rises from $2.99 to $3.99. The page-count increase allows Snyder to team with his "American Vampire" co-creator, artist Rafael Albuquerque and up-and-coming writer James Tynion IV to tell the secret origin of the Court of Owls as "Batman" and most of DC's other Bat-books race in the Bat mobile towards this summer's crossover event, "Night of the Owls."

CBR News connected with Snyder, who shared details about the back-ups, including how part of the story will be told from the point of view of Jarvis Pennyworth, Alfred's father, as well as some other bat-bits of information, including which Robins will play a role in "Batman" in the months ahead, which ones are off the table for the time being and how long readers should expect to wait to see some of Batman's classic rogues again in the Caped Crusader's self-titled series.

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CBR News: Did you conceive the Court of Owls specifically for the launch of the New 52 or would you have told this story with Batman regardless?

Scott Snyder: No, I actually started thinking about this story back when I was on "Detective Comics." I was about halfway through my run when I started really putting it together as the next thing I wanted to do. I approached Mike Marts -- this was maybe three or four months before there was a New 52 -- and I told him I was really interested in this story that would pit Bruce against this historical enemy of Gotham. I wanted to use the symbol of the owl because of both the mythological baggage that it would bring to the Bat Universe and also because I felt like it was just a genuinely and objectively creepy symbol we could get behind for new fans also.

Snyder and Capullo's Court of Owls story kicks into high gear in this week's "Batman" #5

I told him the story, such as it was then, and he liked it and asked me, why don't I switch with Tony Daniel, because Bruce was going to come back and be in "Batman" and they weren't sure if Dick was going to be in "Detective" or not. So I switched with Tony -- he was excited to go over to "Detective" -- and a couple of months later, they were like, oh, and it's going to be "Batman" #1, which created a whole new level of anxiety and terror.

Luckily for me, at the end of the day, I'm very fortunate because a lot of people that I know had less time to prepare stories for things. Not that they were any way rushed, but it's just that I happened to be working on this story for a while before there was a New 52. So, back to your original question, yes, I would have been telling this story whether there was a New 52 or not.

I haven't done my research of the animal kingdom, so I have to ask -- are owls and bats natural enemies?

Yes, they are. Bats aren't incredibly high on the menu for owls, but barn owls and other types of owls, like great horned owls, will kill everything, from rabbits to bats. Bats never really prey on owls, so owls are a natural predator of the bat.

Also, I like owls because, physiologically, they are so creepy -- the way they just sit and watch and they're so silent. Even how they hide in plain sight half the time and assume you can't see them. Almost by force of will, they make themselves nearly invisible to you because they believe so hard that you can't see them, even when they are right in front of you. In a way, there is just something incredible about them and something that, symbolically, could have been in Gotham a long time. An organization that uses that as a symbol from the beginning of Gotham seems appropriate.

Reading your first issue, I thought you had actually cast Joker as Batman's sidekick for a minute, which would definitely have brought some shock value to the new series. Quickly we see it's actually Dick using a disguise, so I have to ask, why was it important to launch the new series with a brand new villain, or in this case a secret society of villains, as opposed to one of Batman's classic rogues like Joker or Ra's al Ghul?

That was kind of the idea with that opening. I wanted to show that Batman's enemies are deadly. Those rogues are going to come back in big ways in "Batman" in the not too distant future, I promise, but whether this story happened in the New 52 or not, the idea was to simply say, these are the villains that Bruce is familiar with, and that the villains, that no matter how deadly and how difficult they are to overcome, he's beaten them before and he's familiar with them. There's almost a sense of home, in a kind of pathological way, to the villains of Arkham for Bruce. They represent different things that he sees in himself. He knows how to defeat them for that reason because they're almost extensions of him. To me, this was sort of saying, "I can narrate over my bone-crunching beating of everybody in Arkham because I don't even need to be worried about them anymore." Bruce can narrate to you and talk to you about Gotham even as he's kneeing Killer Croc in the stomach and nailing Scarecrow with his stuff. That was the idea, to say, "Here are the rogues. We love them. They're part of the mythology -- but we want to introduce a villain that's scary to Bruce in a different kind of way for this story."

As a creator, is that liberating to not have to tell -- right off the bat -- the best Joker story ever? Or the best Penguin story ever?

I was excited about it because it was intensely personal to me. The villain is something that is my interpretation of Bruce's Achilles' heel -- his confidence in his familiarity of the city, as its protector and its only legend and its savior. That sense of a villain that was built out of this thing is what I, personally, find most heroic and most vulnerable about Bruce, so I thought it was a great way to start for me because I feel at home in that territory. Meaning, I understand why that villain is scary. Honestly, when you're dealing with iconic characters like Batman, I feel that you have to almost approach it as fan fiction, or it's paralyzingly intimidating.

It's about figuring out what I think would make the best Batman story, if I was reading it and writing it and was the only audience for it and proceeding that way.

Snyder's "American Vampire" partner, artist Rafael Albuquerque, joins him in the back-pages of "Batman

I love the language and the dialogue the Talon employs to taunt Batman, phrases like, "You've been sentenced to die." There is an incredible sense of entitlement. Does this calculated style of dialogue play into the type of villain or villains Bruce is facing with the Court of Owls?

Yes, that's exactly where it's going. Actually, it's going there in the next issue, "Batman" #5, which I honestly believe is our best issue -- I would put my reputation on that claim. If you read one "Batman" issue, read #5. It really begins the Court of Owls' attack. This is where they descend from the branches. This is their real first strike at the heart of Gotham and Batman and all of his allies. It's very much going to expand into that kind of a terrible nightmare for Batman, where they're showing him over and over and over and over in this next issue, how little he is to Gotham's history and how big they are and that they've been there from the start. They've influenced the shape of Gotham, politically, architecturally, socially -- all of these kinds of things, and what is he? He's been around what? Whether he's been around five years or 70 years, it doesn't matter, because it's a speck in the timeframe of a 400-year old city. It's belonged to them and it always will. That's what they're saying to him.

It's very much like that, so, yes, the language that they use and the rituals, the very idea of them -- you've seen the pictures, you've seen the labyrinth that's he caught in -- they have a love of all these antiquities. In that way, they have this almost epic and historical element to the way they talk, to the things they employ against Batman. If you're running a labyrinth, there's bound to be a Minotaur in there. The way they meet, the way they congregate, the way they call themselves the Court, all from antiquity. All of those things are part of this mythology we are trying to build around them. That's really about a kind of claim that they're making that not only have they been there a long time but they've been there since the beginning. Gotham has been entirely shaped by them. The totem of the owl versus the totem of the bat is at the core of Gotham, at the bedrock of Gotham, both literally and figuratively.

In the first, or maybe second issue, Alfred talks about Athenian owls and the symbols those coins adorned. Athenian owls date back thousands of years. Is it safe to say the reach and history of the Court of Owls goes even further back and reaches further around the globe than the past 400 years of Gotham City?

Well, I don't want to spoil it but I do want to say that their history is very long and dark. You'll see how far they claim to be there -- from the very, very beginnings of Gotham. And you'll see how they show this to Bruce. Or how they make that argument and try to prove that to him. But in terms of how far their actually reach goes globally, that's stuff that we're excited to explore even further down the line.

The Talon, the militant arm of the Court of Owls, is an exciting new villain to be added to Batman's infamous rogues gallery. How did you go about creating an adversary that could live up to the level of his predecessors like Ra's al Ghul, the Joker and Bane?

That's a good question. For me, it's the mystery that makes him really scary to Bruce -- the unsolvable quality, not knowing what's underneath the mask. Everything about him is enigmatic. How did he survive the fall from the top of a skyscraper? Why does he have some kind of healing factor? Why he's stronger than he should be? Why his pulse is slower? Why he seems colder to the touch? All of these things are adding up to Bruce to form a question mark. He doesn't know why the Talon claims to have killed Waynes in the past when no Waynes have died, except for his parents, in the last 100 years.

Bruce is the world's greatest detective. You confound him and that's terrifying to him. That why, for me at least, personally, the character is frightening. And what I'm really hoping to do, honestly, is create behind him a whole organization of mystery that in some ways becomes much more frightening than he is. He really is just the claw of this organization. Bruce will fight him very, very hard, very soon. And that will begin in "Batman" #5. But even if he takes the Talon down, or if he dies at the Talon's hands, there is so much more behind the Talon.

The Court of Owls' history gets fleshed out in "Batman" #8

I don't want to give anything away, but we've released the cover to "Batman" #8, and on that cover, there seems to be a lot of them attacking Bruce on the roof of Wayne Manor. It's building towards this thing that's much bigger than the Talon. The idea is that the Talon himself is supposed to represent a lot of the mysteries that are frightening to Bruce about the Court of Owls existing, like the fact that they shouldn't be there. All of these things that seem to be impossibilities -- how could they be there and Bruce not know about them? How could they be there for hundreds of years and have these assassins and how could those assassins been hidden in Wayne buildings? Who is the Court? How could Bruce not know which one of his parents' friends was in that group, or of his own business associates? Where are they? All of these mysteries you try and wrap around the symbol of the owl and the Court, so even if the Talon gets taken down, it's a hydra for Bruce. It will always be there as a kind of terrifying secret society in Gotham.

You've mentioned a number of times that the Court of Owls and its breadth and reach will keep growing and growing and growing. To that end, DC gave you some extra pages by way of a back-up feature to flesh that out. Was that your idea?

Those kind of decisions, like back-up features, are made very high-up. That stuff comes down to us that there's going to be a back-up. And what happened with "Batman" was, I learned there was going to be a back-up. They asked me if I wanted to write it or I wanted someone else to write it because I was busy with my stuff. My feeling was that back-ups are these things that are underused creative forums a lot of the time. I love getting a second feature. It's another comic, but it's also a lot of fun when the writer of the feature himself does the back-up and it sort of overlaps or correlates with the main feature, giving you two sides to the same story. I love those sorts of things. I had so much fun doing that on "Detective," and I'm so possessive, I guess, of this material. [Laughs] The Owls' material, it's so exciting to me personally and so close to my heart, I just volunteered. I said I'd write them. I had plenty of story to put in there.

The first four back-ups, which I'm excited to be writing with my friend James Tynion IV, who I met while teaching at Sarah Lawrence College maybe four or five years and have read his stuff ever since, will be drawn by Rafael Albuquerque. The first of those four will be the shot that begins the war in Gotham, between the Court of Owls and the Bat Family. You'll really see the scope of their attack on Gotham and what they're planning. Then, "Batman" #9-11, those three issues are going to be a story that's self-contained and is really about the Court of Owls' history with the Wayne family and offers some very big revelations about why there is a conflict between them, what that conflict did to the family. It will be told through the point of view of Alfred's father, Jarvis Pennyworth. It will tell secrets about Alfred and the Pennyworth family, as well. It's going to be called "The Fall of the House of Wayne." I couldn't be more excited to be telling it and doing it with Rafael and James. It's going to be a blast. I really can't wait for people to see it.

And this, of course, is all leading towards "Night of the Owls," the big Bat-event slated for later this year.

Yes. I was basically writing the "Court of the Owls" story, and I realized that there was a point in the story where the attack on Gotham was such that the other members of the Bat Family would have to at least be addressed in "Batman." This all begins in "Batman" #9.

What I did was ask the other writers if they wanted to use an element of the "Court of the Owls" story in their books, without giving too much away. They were welcome to use it however they wanted, and if they didn't, that was totally fine, too. We didn't want to interrupt anybody's stories, so some books, like "Detective," are not going to be a part of the "Night of the Owls" event because Tony is having so much fun with his story and we'd interrupt it. Same with "Batwoman."

Rafael Albuquerque's concept sketch of Bruce/Batman

Some books are just going to keep on going as they are, while other books, where the writer decided they thought they could use some material from "Night of the Owls" to just further or do something within the story they were telling, or tell a short story in a way that would fit the series that they were writing, those series will tie-in. "All Star Western," "Birds of Prey," "Batgirl," "Nightwing," "Batman and Robin," "Red Hood" and "Dark Knight" -- we're really excited to be including all of those books in the crossover. But they will all be self-contained, too, just to be clear. Meaning, you could read "Batman" and none of the other books and it will not affect your reading experience when it comes to the narrative in "Batman." You will not need to go and read "Nightwing" to understand "Batman." And you really shouldn't have to read "Batman" to understand what's happening in any of these other books. So if you are enjoying "Batgirl" or "Nightwing" or "Batman and Robin," you can read all of those books singularly and not need to come over and read "Batman" in order for it to make sense.

Dick's definitely played a role in this storyline already, and Damian and Tim appeared in a brief cameo. Will we see more of the Robins, old and new, in the "Court of the Owls" story?

Dick plays a very big part in it. You're going to see Tim play a part in it. You're going to see Damian play a part in it. You're going to see Jason play a part in it. All of the Robins, other than Steph, are in it, and that's just because DC has future plans for some characters in the Bat Universe, like Stephanie and Cass, so they want to keep them off the table for these stories right now. But there's some exciting plans for them too.

Before we let you go, can you look even further into the future and tease what's ahead? You're building this new world for Batman and a new secret society of supervillains with the Court of Owls, but what about his classic rogues? Are we going to see the usual suspects like Joker and the Penguin in the "Night of Owls" or perhaps in the months that follow?

You'll see some of the rogues pop up in some of the other Bat-books sooner than you think, and in some really fun ways. But in terms of the "Court of Owls" story, I really wanted to make it about Bruce and Gotham. There won't be any of the familiar rogues in "Batman" until it this arc ends, but once it's over, there are some very, very big plans for some of the some of the rogues, very quickly. I promise. Don't think they're off the table or out of the picture, because they're not. We're going to tell some extremely big rogue stories as soon as this thing's done.

"Batman" #5 by Scott Snyder and featuring art by Greg Capullo is scheduled for release on Wednesday, January 18

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TAGS:  dc comics, batman, greg capullo, court of owls, scott snyder, rafael albuquerque, james tynion iv

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