[SPOILER WARNING: The following story contains spoilers for "Batman" #15, on sale now.]
Writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo are killing it on "Batman." And that's no joke. The dynamic duo's best-selling series exploded on the scene as a key cog in DC Comics' New 52 relaunch in 2011 with the epic, year-long "Court of Owls" story.
But that wasn't enough to satisfy Snyder and Capullo. 2012 marked the triumphant (and terrifying) return of The Joker to Gotham in the current arc, "Death of the Family", with the story also permeating the pages of most of the Bat-books, including Top 40 sellers "Detective Comics," "Batman and Robin" and "Batgirl."
Following the release of "Batman" #15 this week, CBR News connected with "Death of the Family" mastermind Scott Snyder for another installment of THE BAT SIGNAL, our ongoing exploration of the Dark Knight's world.
From the darkening abyss that is Arkham Asylum, Snyder shares his thoughts on the importance of Alfred Pennyworth to Batman's entire universe, how The Joker's calling card found its way into the Batcave and why inviting all your sidekicks to a special celebration may not be the best idea for Bruce Wayne.
Snyder also revealed how long he and Capullo plan to stay on "Batman" and why the time was right for him to stand down as the writer of "Swamp Thing."
CBR News: I want to start by going back to a great sequence from "Batman" #14, which leads directly into the events of "Batman" #15. With Alfred being abducted by The Joker (to act as a servant for a special celebration) for the first time in his life, Bruce laments that without him, he is truly and undeniably alone. The relationship between Mr. Pennyworth and Master Wayne has been explored to death over the years, but for you what it is about Alfred that makes him such a vital piece to the Batman puzzle -- more so than Dick, Tim or even James Gordon?
Scott Snyder: In "Batman" #1, there is a moment where Batman is looking at all of the different members of the Bat Family, except for Barbara, and he's wearing a contact lens that shows the access that they have to the Batcomputer and to its information. And Dick has high and Tim has high and Damian has high and Alfred has the highest and a lot of people called me out on that.
Why would Alfred have higher access than his allies? For me, he loves all of those characters dearly and they know him better than anyone else in the world -- except for Alfred. We all think of Alfred as this guy that sews him up, helps him out, is there when he needs him but he also saw Bruce at the moment he was broken. He's been there for Bruce since Bruce was a child. It's a relationship that no one has. Alfred has guided Bruce into adulthood and has watched him and helped him mature as a person outside of being Batman.
In a way, I think Alfred's relationship with Bruce is the thing that tethers Bruce to the world more than anything. He's his rock. When you attack Alfred, there is no more ferocious way to get at Bruce. There is nobody that means more to him. And that's not to belittle what the rest of the Bat Family means to him. I don't think Bruce would say, "I care about Alfred more." But Alfred's relationship with Bruce is such that he is so central to Bruce's emotional core that it's something that we thought would be the real tipping point for The Joker -- and the thing that's really crossed the line for Bruce.
Does Alfred mean more to Bruce Wayne or Batman?
When I started with Batman, I honestly thought Batman is the real character and Bruce Wayne is the mask but one of things that I've tried to do in "Batman" is build Bruce up as someone more important to Gotham and someone that Batman knows needs to be, in a way, even more prominent. In doing that, I think they've come to be more of the same person in my mind.
Certainly, his mission as Batman is obsessive and all-consuming. But I think writing him over time; you come to see them as one person in a different way -- saying that, he's always Batman in his head. If you're talking to Bruce and having a conversation, it's impossible for him to stop sizing you up as a detective. At his heart, I feel he's always Batman but I wouldn't make an incredible distinction between what Alfred means to Batman and Alfred means to Bruce because I think that area is so interestingly complicated and murky to say he means one thing to one and another thing to another would simplify it too much. There is too much grey area and creepy and crazy and wonderfully rich overlap there.
You open and close "Batman" #15 exploring eyes -- in this case those of The Joker. Is this your own interpretation of studying eyes, Batman's or something you gathered from some criminology textbook?
It came from this idea that I wanted to open with a pause, where it didn't just jump right back into the action. And I wanted it to be a moment where Batman gets to look at The Joker for the first time in a while because for us, last issue was the first time that he actually meets him physically, face-to-face in some time. I wanted it to be a scene where you get the full, emotional impact of the things that Batman is thinking and feeling in a slow motion way when he faces The Joker.
While doing it, I was trying to imagine what The Joker's eyes would give and what makes him so scary. And in that way, it really became about this notion that The Joker is someone that you have to convince yourself that he's human and beatable while you're fighting him because he seems to be everywhere at once and he seems to know these terrible things. He's almost a devil's tongue in your ear whispering about how he knows who you really are, he knows how you feel and how you think and what matters to you and what you're afraid of and how he's going to bring it to life. He's always a step ahead and so you have to convince yourself that he's beatable. And I was thinking, if you were looking into his eyes and they don't behave the way human eyes normally do, how terrifying would that be, especially with those weird pupils that he has.
I really wanted to put you in the head of Batman for when he finally gets to look Joker in the eye and what it means to him and the description came out of that. It was really a lot of fun to write.
What is it about The Joker's eyes that concerns Batman the most?
That his eyes don't behave the way that normal human eyes behave. They don't expand or contract with emotion or with light. But at the end of the day, I think the thing that's really terrifying is that the deeper and deeper that Batman looks into them, the more he sees them behave in a way that is, sort of, only for him.
There is a connection there. And there is something that he sees in a flicker of Joker's gaze that has to do with the notion that the only way to beat him is to admit that you have a relationship with him that is special [Laughs] with him in some way. Meaning, the only way to beat him is to stare into those eyes long enough or hard enough 'til you see the horrible truth of how he feels about you and how he thinks you feel about him. As opposed to trying to look at him as a criminal and get ahead of him and be faster than him and say, "I can read his eyes. I can read all of your tactics at work."
The implication of that passage, both at the beginning and end of it, is supposed to be that the only way to beat him for Batman -- as much as he hates to admit it -- is to dive into the real darkness of the relationship.
Even though he has always pulled out new tricks, Batman can get ahead of The Joker or he can beat him -- or at least he has in the past. This time The Joker has something on him where The Joker is staring at him saying, "You aren't going to get around me or past me this time the way you normally do. You're going to have to look straight into these eyes and face the thing that you don't want to look at."
The Joker left a calling card for Batman a long time ago which has left the Bat Family worried if not fearful for their collected lives -- I'm not sure what you want to share but that was a nicely played rewrite of DCU history, and if I recall correctly I don't believe that story has been told before.
I knew from the beginning that I wanted to create a mystery that would drive a wedge between the family so that they were vulnerable to The Joker in a way that they never were before. And then it became about, what would that be? What would bring them into such conflict? And to me, it would be Bruce keeping a secret from them.
The idea here is that Bruce has kept this secret from them, which is that he found The Joker's calling card in the Batcave. He's 100 per cent sure, in Bruce's mind, that it was something that was attached to the Batboat as he was fighting with Joker as a way of saying, "Nice to meet you. Good show. Let's do this again sometime."
He has physical evidence that The Joker couldn't have been in the cave, he's positive that this didn't happen but at the same time, the fact that he didn't say it to anybody over the years, that maybe he got into the Batcave, is the type of thing that would drive this real division between them because of all the terrible things that The Joker has done over the years, you could look back and say, "Maybe he did this because he knows who we are. And he's always known and you've allowed for this to happen."
Bruce has his own reasons for not saying anything. Primarily, because he was positive that it was irrelevant. But also because, deep down, Bruce wants to protect them from being vulnerable to The Joker and in Bruce's mind, the game The Joker is playing is saying, "I was in this cave. I know who you are. And I'm going to prove it to you. And then I'm going to kill you." Essentially, by allowing him in the cave, you've caused your own downfall. It's Bruce's fault. And the Bat Family really has to think about it and decide if they believe Bruce or they believe The Joker. That really cuts to the heart of it.
In terms of creating the card in the cave itself, I looked really hard for an origin of the card hanging in the cave. We found the issue where we first see the card and you actually see it in The Joker's lair in a really early issue of "Batman." The assumption is that he took it from The Joker's lair and put it into the Batcave but there wasn't really an explicit explanation that we found.
For us, it was about creating a story that made sense of that card hanging in the cave that would be really interesting and complicated in its meaning.
I love the panels of Tim, Dick, Damian, Todd and Barbara "interrogating" Batman. Why does the Robins' (plus Batgirl) dynamic interplay work so well?
Seriously, I wish I could write a book about the Bat Family all at once. The dynamic is so interesting and so much fun. You feel like you're writing it just how you want with everyone chiming in and there is so much more to say between them and I really wish I could write pages and pages of dialogue.
Their history and relationships with each other are so interesting and complex and fraught with conflict and affection that each of them has a very different take on what Batman means to them and their own relationship to him. It's tons of fun.
Arkham Asylum plays a role in this issue and it appears will play an even larger role in the issues ahead. What makes Arkham such a scary place and what does an institution like Arkham represent in the madhouse that Gotham has become since the return of The Joker?
One of my favorite Batman books from when I was a kid was Grant Morrison's "Arkham Asylum." That really sparked my imagination with it. Not only because of how disruptive it was to Batman's own psychology when he entered it in that story but the history of the house itself is my favorite part of that book and what happened there. It's a house of nightmare. You go there and there are passageways that you don't really know about, there are things behind the walls that have been constructed over the years that have been added to and subtracted to. Even though it is supposed to be this therapeutic house, everyone knows that there is something almost evil about it. It really is the Haunted House of Gotham.
And yes, it has a particular meaning in our story. As much as we're trying to do an homage to the Joker stories that came before this -- and we definitely wanted that last page to echo or be a tribute in some ways to the "Arkham Asylum" story -- we were also trying to reinvent each set piece and each moment so that it is very much a part of the story that we're telling. It's directed but in a different way. You can imagine what The Joker has done with Arkham Asylum. And the way that he's reconfigured it and the terrible things that are waiting for Batman inside are going to be very, very particular to our story, in terms of how he is trying to destroy Batman, given his thinking in this narrative.
This is a "Batman" story arc with a finite end. Since he's the world's greatest detective, I assume this will all work out for the Dark Knight by the time "Batman" #18 comes to a close but does "Death of the Family" end well for everybody in the Bat Family?
No, it doesn't end well for everybody. [Laughs]
Does the end of this arc mark the end of The Joker in your run of "Batman" or is he a character that will play a role in the series moving forward?
Assuming The Joker survives the story and that Batman survives the story, he's definitely a character that I'm interested in revisiting. Each time I start one of these stories, honestly, I imagine it's the only one that I'm going to do about that character. For me, it was like, "This is it. This is my Joker story. This is the big thing I have to say about The Joker and then I'm done."
But each time I've done a character, and honestly, it's what I thought about Bruce when I started "Court of Owls" and Dick in "The Black Mirror," by the time I get to the midway point of the story, I come up with something else as a possible story to do next that's as exciting or just as exciting as the last one. And around the time I started writing The Joker, I also started working on the story that's coming up next -- which is a nine-issue epic which is coming up after a few issues in between -- and at that time, I started thinking, how I would use The Joker again -- if I ever used him again and if he makes it out of this one alive -- and I started thinking of a story I could do so yes, I would like to return to him.
To me, Batman and The Joker are one of the most interesting hero/villain relationships in comics -- and one of the most interesting in all of literature, in general, too.
Yanick Paquette tweeted that you delivered your last "Swamp Thing" script to him this week. I want to ask you about leaving "Swamp Thing," but first off what are your plans for staying on "Batman?"
Greg and I will be on "Batman" for a while. The stuff that we've pitched on "Batman" that was already approved will take us through at least another year-and-a-half of stories from the end of "Death of the Family." And we can't thank people enough for keeping us in Gotham. As long as readers will have us, we'll stay and as long as we have stories to tell as strong as "Death of the Family" and "Court of Owls," we'll stay.
You're leaving "Swamp Thing" after the "Rotworld" arc, which is something you say you've known since Day 1, but are you still sad to let the big guy go?
Honestly, it was crazy hard. I called [editor] Matt Idelson a couple of times and was like, "Maybe, I will just stay for one more arc," because I do have more stories I'd like to do with him but at the end of the day, Yanick and I signed on together at the beginning and knew we'd only have a limited amount of time to work with him. We both pushed off other projects because we really fell in love with doing the book, even past when we thought we'd finish the story we were telling.
But as "The Wake," which I'm doing for Vertigo, and Superman came closer, it became apparent that I'd be juggling four books and sometimes five if I kept "American Vampire" too, and it's not like I couldn't write five books at once, I've done it before, but my concern was that the quality would drop if I kept four books and also, the lack of time that I would have for my family was a concern too.
I knew Yanick was leaving and we did the story that we set out to do so even though I had more ideas for "Swamp Thing," I knew it was the book that I would say good-bye to. But I have already spoken to Matt about coming back to "Swamp Thing" in the future. [Laughs] I would love to come back to him. I love the characters and I love the mythology and again, I couldn't be more thankful to the fans.
This book was something that was supposed to fail in a lot of ways, according to a lot of people. And we were really nervous about how people would receive it. We started with Alec Holland for six issues so for six months there was no Swamp Thing in the book and we were terrified that people wouldn't go for it but historically this has been a book where the writers and artists took risks. This was the story that we wanted to tell and the fact that people made it a successful book, even though we were doing our own crazy story, means the world to us. So thanks to everyone that picked up. It's been an incredible experience.
"Batman" #15 is on sale now.