Scott Snyder Plays Joker in "Death of the Family"

Thu, February 14th, 2013 at 5:58am PST

Comic Books
Jeffrey Renaud, Staff Writer

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The superstar "Batman" team of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo delivered a megahit for DC Comics with "Death of the Family," the Batman event that began in October and also ran through "Batgirl," "Batman and Robin," "Catwoman," "Detective Comics," "Nightwing," "Red Hood and the Outlaws," "Suicide Squad" and "Teen Titans."

Following months of critical acclaim and chart-topping sales figures, the crossover event ended with this week's release of "Batman" #17. With the comic book industry heavily anticipating the issue for the past four weeks (ever since The Joker presented Batman with a serving dish of revenge back in "Batman" #16), Snyder and Capullo didn't disappoint as the Batman family will clearly never be the same thanks to some heavy handed play by the Clown Prince of Crime.

CBR News spoke to Snyder about the final scenes of the 23-part story arc and the fan favorite writer shared valuable insight into the relationship between Batman and Joker, the genuine death in "Death of the Family" and the climatic close, which featured arguably the most significant fictional plunge since Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty went over Reichenbach Falls in "The Final Problem."

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CBR News: When DC Comics relaunched its entire line with the New 52, you delivered a blockbuster event in "Batman" with the "Night of the Owls" story arc. But did you consider kicking things off with this Joker-driven story or, conversely, further holding out to tell this story?

BatmanScott Snyder talks about the haunting conclusion to "Death of the Family" in "Batman" #17

Scott Snyder: Dude, it was a totally huge fear for me because these are characters that literally mean the world to me. I called up [writers] Geoff Johns and Jeff Lemire and asked them, "Should I wait and do Joker later?" But there was another part of me, that fear that was like: "I can't believe they are letting me write this. They're going to kick me off the second they get a chance." I though I better write everything I cared about right this very second. [Laughs] As anxious and neurotic as I am, I am always waiting for my pink slip.

If I only got one chance to write "Batman" ever, this is the story that I would do. I try and proceed that way every time. "If I only had one chance to write this character, what would I write?" And honestly, that's what Joker is to me. This story is what I would do if I was never going to write Joker again and similarly, the story we're going to do after the Joker story feels the same way.

It's probably our most ambitious story yet, the story starting in "Batman" #21. It's just the way I'm wired. I'm mostly functioning on terror [Laughs] that I'm going to get kicked off the book so I always tell the big story that matters to me most.

You joked on Twitter last week -- or maybe it wasn't a joke -- that you were happy "Batman" #17 was coming out on February 13th because it makes a great Valentine's Day present? Is "Death of the Family" a love story?

Well for Joker, it really is. He genuinely believes, in our iteration, that he is Batman's greatest love and ally. That's the case that he's trying to make from the very beginning.

"You love me more than you love this ridiculous family you've accumulated and pretend to care about. Otherwise, you would have killed me. Otherwise, you wouldn't have let me sneak through the windows and doors at night. By not finding out who I am through my DNA."

"The games we play. I know deep down you wish that you didn't have to worry about them [the family]. I know deep down that you wish you could go to back to Neverland with me."

And in that way, he really believes that he loves Batman and that Batman is his king and he is serving him like a devoted servant. And Batman should love him back.

And yet, when Joker shows Batman what's under the cover of the serving dish, Batman states venomously: "I hate nothing more on this Earth than you Joker. Nothing."

Snyder looks at each story arc as the one he would want to tell if it were his last

He could be lying. Who knows? [Laughs] I wanted it to feel like the last Joker story. Again, because I proceed like, "What if I never get a chance to write the Joker ever again?" You want it to have some sense of finality, in that regard. It has to have gravitas or weight to it.

And yet at [the] same time, I already have ideas about what I would do if I got to use Joker again. Batman can say all he wants about "I don't feel that way" and "this is the last time" and everything else but as much as what Joker says isn't true, I think what makes him really terrifying is that there is the tiniest kernel of truth in what he says and what makes him who he is.

Joker sees the thing that you're most afraid is true about yourself and brings that thing to life. In that way, he might not be telling the truth -- "You love me," "You wish this would go on forever between you and me" -- Batman might hate him more than anybody in the world, but there is some tiny molecule [Laughs] of truth in that. I think what Joker says has something to it.

Because as Batman, you can't have a family that you love and care about and not wish for a moment, "What if I never had this?" It doesn't mean that you don't love them and wish that they were there all of the time and feel that they make you better and stronger. It just means that there are moments when you just wish that you could stop fearing for them.

Life would be certainly be easier for Bats. And yet, when Joker threatens the family, it pushes Batman beyond his usual threshold for tolerance. In one of the final scenes Batman holds Joker high above a fall that would severely crush him if not kill him and instead of exoneration, he says, "...everything that happens to you tonight happens by my hand... How about tonight, I stop the game once and for all?"

Exactly. And in that way, I think they push each other too far. And I think Joker is afraid of pushing him too far, which is interesting. He doesn't want Batman to go to the place where he would kill him. Not that he ever would but I think there is a line that Joker wants to walk where he pushes Batman as far as he can go. And in doing so, he thinks he serves him. But when he crosses the line or Batman crosses the line, they both shut down and don't want it to happen.

Batman does not want to have to kill The Joker. And The Joker not only doesn't want to be killed by him but at the same time, doesn't want to put Batman in a place where that is the option he goes for, as much as he says it would make him happy.

While Joker doesn't want to die at Batman's hands, he wants to push him as close to that line as possible

Their relationship is so rich and twisted and wonderful and ever-changing, between writers, that Joker is a character that I would explore again in a second. In a split second.

With Joker still dangling, possibly to his death, Batman tells him that while he was away the past year he finally "deduced" who he really is. Has Batman actually figured it out or was he playing Joker for the fool?

[Laughs] I don't want to say because I like people to make up their own minds about that but for me I think the idea is that if Batman knew who he was for real and he didn't tell the family through this event, it would be as though he wasn't growing enough as a character. He wasn't growing to the degree I wanted to show him growing in the story.

And plus, if he knew who he was, what fun is that at the end of the day? I like the idea that Gotham would never allow Batman to figure out who Joker is. The Joker is Gotham's son just like Batman is. Gotham loves them both for being locked in that horrible relationship. I think whatever Batman found, Gotham would blur and erase.

You said Batman would have to tell the family if he knew who Joker really was but when he called the family together at the end of "Batman" #17 for a debrief, Tim, Barbara, Jason, Damian and Dick don't respond. Or at least they come up with excuses not to. What Joker did put some real distance between Bruce and the Bat family, didn't it?

Yes, and we wanted it to have lasting repercussions. It was definitely tempting to leave some physical scars on them -- to mutilate someone or even kill someone -- because The Joker often does that stuff.

I'm not going to lie and say that I didn't go back and forth and think, "What if we just took a leg?" But at the end of the day, what worried me was that it would become distracting or it would detract from what the story was really about, which was The Joker proving, in some way, that he could divide Batman and the family and in that way, I felt like if somebody died or was horribly mutilated, it wouldn't have the same resonance. And it wouldn't cut as deep and it would distract from the deep cut that he's left, which is the things that he said to the family in the dark, the way that he proves that Batman behaves the wrong way.

Batman didn't tell them about the card. He didn't tell them that Joker had taken Alfred. He didn't trust them, at first, to go after Joker the way they should be able to at this point. All of those things that are his way of protecting them but are misguided but are also, wonderfully his own and prove The Joker's point in some way and by doing that Joker set Batman up to have a hollow victory. That's why doing something like that to one of his family members at the end would just take away from it, as tempting as it was to take a finger.

Joker wanted to cut the metaphorical faces off the Bat family and expose them all to one another

I remember sending Dan DiDio a note. "What if we send a hand? His hand comes in a box. Or what about a finger?" It would be really hard if Alfred had a hook for a hand. He's going to sew Bruce up with a hook? That's going to be a mess.

You certainly teased that you were going down that road with Greg's gruesome panels featuring family around the serving dish with bloodied bandages on their faces.

It's meaner and more truthful and cruel of The Joker to play a joke them and say, "I can get you to hate each other and to turn on each other. I can create a wedge between you and Batman without doing the thing that would have this horrifying physical consequence."

"I can basically pretend to do that but the actual cut is this." And technically, that's what he's saying, and the point of this story, at least in The Joker's mind, is, "I have cut off all of your faces. I showed you what's beneath the skin. I've exposed you to each other."

And that's why when his face comes off as he's falling, it's supposed to be that brief moment where Batman sees him for who he is, as well.

With the title for the arc, I thought, as did many others, that a Robin would die. Or maybe Alfred. Then I thought with the family torn apart it was the philosophical death of the family. Finally, I thought it was The Joker who died but you're saying you might have another story with him. So can you confirm Joker survived his Reichenbach Falls' splash landing?

[Laughs] If I killed him, I knew he'd back. But more than that, I think the idea of death is that they're all totally allied and they are this well oiled machine that works together and loves each other. I think what The Joker was trying to expose was that there are deep divisions between Batman and the family and in some ways, he can exploit those and make it so that he can kill, or at least wound very, very badly, the heart of that living relationship between them so that the repercussions of this will play out very darkly and heavily in "Batman" and the mythology of Gotham for some time. And there are more stories actually to be told about it.

Snyder promised his next arc will be the most ambitious yet
Art from #18 by Andy Kubert

Where do you go from here? "The Court of Owls" was a huge story for you and DC Comics and "Death of the Family" was even bigger. Where do you go next?

I would say that the story coming up in 2013, as corny as it sounds, as much as it makes me sound like P.T. Barnum, is definitely our most ambitious. It starts in "Batman" #21 and is a 9 to 10-issue story. It features another one of my favorite rogues and essentially, it's going to be our boldest take yet.

Like I was telling you earlier, I really want everyone reading this at CBR to know that I'm always waiting for the pink slip. Hopefully, in this way, you know that the story that we're going to tell is one that if I got kicked off afterwards, I would be excited that I got to tell it. And that's it. The fact that I get to tell it means the world to me and I owe the readers of CBR and everyone else out there that picks it up my thanks. I'm very grateful. We're not going to sit back and spin our wheels or do small stories. I promise you that. I'm way too neurotic for that.

"Batman" #17, the conclusion of "Death of the Family" by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, is available now.

TAGS:  dc comics, new 52, batman, death of the family, joker, scott snyder, greg capullo

 
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