At the DC Comics’ Batman: Zero Year panel, part of San Diego’s Comic-Con International, the creative team behind the ongoing “Batman” monthly series spoke to a packed room about their current “Zero Year” arc and getting back to the beginnings of Batman and Bruce Wayne.
The panel began as the panelists joined moderator and DC Entertainment Head of Marketing John Cunningham onstage to thunderous applause: writer Scott Snyder, artist Greg Capullo, editor Mike Marts and inker Dan Miki.
With the cover to issue #21 behind him, Snyder explained the idea came about as DC wanted the team to explore Batman’s origin in the New 52, something Snyder originally thought was unnecessary as he believed Frank Miller’s “Year One” should still stand.
However, “A lot of characters’...histories had been changed in a way that made it impossible for 'Year One' to stand now,” Snyder said.
Unfortunately the first draft of his story, “Sucked, it just sucked,” Snyder continued. Calling writer James Tynion IV, Snyder finally realized he couldn’t keep any parts of “Year One” and instead write a brand new story from the ground up.
Snyder explained that as a kid growing up in New York in the ‘80s he understood the dystopian vision of Miller’s “Year One” as all his childhood memories were of going to broken down arcades and a pervasive fear of urban decay. “I couldn’t go to Central Park, and it’s different now,” Snyder said.
Thus he told Capullo and DC, “Let’s do in post-apocalyptic Gotham...with the city all wrecked and overgrown behind him, let’s do something new and not a pale imitation of that masterpiece story,” Snyder continued.
Snyder also said that he felt Batman loved the city, no matter how terrible, because, “He can go there to become the person he knows he can be...just like you go there to be the hero you know deep down you can be,” Snyder said. “We are Gotham.”
“I know that’s the same for me, being a comic book writer my parents were like, ‘That’s great?’” he added as the audience cracked up.
More seriously, Snyder continued that he felt thematically the book and the readers were also Gotham. “You come to a book that’s gloomy and horrifying all the time, but you come because you know that makes the greatest heroes, and thank you,” Snyder said as the audience burst into applause.
Showing pages from issue #21 with Edward Nygma, Snyder said that most of his symbolism in the book is under the surface but with “Zero Year” he wanted to put everything in the forefront.
“It’s bombast, in your face, bright colors, the city is wrecked, and have the symbolism on the surface,” Snyder said. One of those symbol was thread, specifically the red thread of fate.
“The Riddler believes he’s the smartest guy in the world, and he’s not far wrong,” the writer said. Thinking he can use his intellect to see what’s coming, “He makes these thread algorithms for himself...I knew he was the villain to use from the beginning and he’s so much fun to write.”
“I spoke to Paul Dini and I was like, ‘Why don’t people use the Riddler?’ and he said, ‘Because Riddles are hard to write!’” Snyder laughed.
“And it’s true, my first Riddles were like, ‘Why was nine afraid of seven?’” Snyder added as the audience laughed.
Snyder and his team then researched riddles, the writer coming to understand that in the old days riddles were seen as a test of mettle and strength, “Answering riddles to win the hand of the Princess,” Snyder said. That element he brought to the forefront in his story as well.
Snyder then told the audience that he rewrote the iconic bat smashing through the window scene in a completely different way and readers should not expect to see those same beats being hit in the classic Batman origin story.
“People are anxious to compare it to ‘Year One’ but that’s not what we’re doing,” Capullo said. “This is a very, very important story, [Snyder] cares about it more than anything he’s ever done...it’s a baptism of fire.”
“By the end of the story you’re going to see a new Scott Snyder emerge, this is great stuff,” Capullo said, leading the audience in a round of applause for the smiling writer.
Capullo then told the audience he wasn’t worried about readers hating it because it means they feel passionately about it, “But I’m really, really confident everyone will like it.”
The artist also lead the audience in a round of applause for inker Miki, praising him and their collaborative work. “He was the best inker I ever had because he was in my head,” Capullo said, adding, “Between us and FCO we’re going to give you a hell of a thrill ride!”
“We had a mission statement and this is the rock ‘n roll origin, this is rebellious punk rock Batman,” Snyder added.
“There’s some great violence, no sex, but we’ll get there eventually,” Capullo said, Snyder shaking his head next to him.
“He’s Gotham-sexual, he loves Gotham,” Snyder said as the audience laughed.
“Wait ‘til you see what he looks like in issue #24...the costume is very different, it’s a modernized version of the original Bob Kane,” Snyder continued, adding that he looked bigger and more militarized.
“There’s going to be a Braveheart moment,” Capullo added as the room cracked up. “He’s going to be putting on the blue paint!”
Capullo chuckled as he told the audience that the original changes Snyder wanted to make to both the Batmobile and the costume would have involved Capullo re-drawing fourteen pages.
“Yeah, just erase the dude, it’s a small thing,” Snyder joked as the room laughed again.
Looking at the image of Bruce Wayne’s father’s car, Capullo said that will be the car Bruce turns into the Batmobile. “The only other Batmobile that truly broke form to me is the Tumbler, but ours is second,” Capullo said.
Snyder said he didn’t listen to DC when they asked the team to create an earlier version of the current Batmobile as that would be “boring” and he and Capullo wanted to make a version that makes sense fro a 25-year-old, modern Bruce would want to drive.
“If I was writing a Batman story disconnected from continuity, that’s what it would be,” Snyder added.
The two did confess that the one person who does not get the look in the comics was Alfred, and that there were a lot of good Alfred jokes coming up at Bruce’s expense.
Moving to the “spoiler” section as the team dubbed it, they brought the cover image for issue #23 on screen, Batman’s hand reaching for the moon, something Capullo said colorist FCO realized from a circle drawn on a page.
“We feel he’s the unsung hero of the book,” Snyder added.
They then showed the first page of issue #23 which showed Bruce’s dad looking into the sinkhole to the cave, blood drops and a lock, Snyder saying circles would be an important motif.
“The three narratives are Bruce having fallen in...Bruce in his brownstone with the Red Hood gang...and the third one is the spooky one with the gate, which is something coming,” Snyder explained.
The next page previewed showed the brownstone exploding, Bruce nearly dead and hallucinating his father looking for him. “’Bruce, where are you? Bruce, what do you see in the dark?’ is a refrain repeated throughout the book,” Snyder added.
The third page shows Red Hood hauling Bruce up and Bruce spitting in Red Hood’s face while the fourth page showed Bruce getting beaten as a mysterious figure smashes a lock.
“It seems a natural progression...when the chain gets broken you see the splash of blood, which is when Bruce gets broken,” Capullo said. “I believe this is the essence of what he wants to do, how do I elevate that?”
“What he brings back is always ten times better,” Snyder said, adding that he loved Miki’s work because through line work he is able to “sharpen” the work.
“I’m trying to keep my mind away from the old Spawn days,” Miki admitted as the audience laughed. “What I do is try to capture the energy in his pencils.” Miki also explained that his goal as the inker was to let Capullo’s art shine through.
“We want it to feel like destiny, something’s coming and the city is going to change,” Snyder said. While he recognized doubts about rewriting the origin, the writer said it was a fast story and he wasn’t interested in having every beat repeated. “How many times can you see the pearls fall?” Snyder said as the room laughed.
“It’s changing, it’s turning into this beautiful, monstrous Batman Gotham City,” Snyder added, explaining that to his mind the “bones of the city are going to be broken,” and when it’s reset it becomes the dark and gloomy Gotham of the modern New 52.
Showing off the next page in issue #23, where Bruce wanders the mansion, Snyder explained that the issue also reveals a lot about the Red Hood gang. Speaking about the Red Hood’s motivation, Snyder said the villain tells Bruce fear isn’t doom and gloom, “It’s sirens on a Tuesday afternoon and it’s sunny...so thank you for walking out with your parents from the theatre then, because that’s when the gang began,” Snyder said as the audience gasped.
“Then he punches him,” Capullo laughs.
The writer also explained that Red Hood is using the symbol of Little Red Riding Hood, his nihilism leading him to embrace the “wolf, the absence.”
“The back page is my favorite page...I hope you enjoy it, I really do,” Snyder said as the audience erupted into cheers and applause.
“One of the designs for the new suit had a chin, and we didn’t go that way,” Snyder said while pointing to the cover of issue #24, the team keeping that image for the cover as the chin made the cowl look like it had a gaping mouth. Snyder also showed the issue to #25, the same cover as the first “Zero Year” issue but entirely black. “The cover for #28 will be Green, to show the wild, overgrown city,” Snyder said.
“That was the easiest cover for me,” Miki joked.
Opening it up to the floor for questions the first fan asked if Capullo would do art for “Superman Unchained,” but Snyder said that would probably not happen.
“There are tie-ins in November -- that’s announced, right?” Snyder said as the room cracked up. “I didn’t want tie-ins...I’ve had my fights, so I called Greg Pak and Jeff Lemire and they said, ‘We want to do it.’”
A fan dressed as the Joker asked when he’d get his “face operation” to restore his look. Snyder said that he made some changes to the lettering of the trade that makes it darker and “twists the knife harder.”
“The repercussions of [the Joker] aren’t, does Nightwing fight with him? That’s fine for continuity, but...it’s does he come back big? It’s about the big mythology and Joker saying in the end the city will burn and it will be you and me,” Snyder said.
Speaking about the future back-page issue stories, Snyder says a woman named Gwen teaches him to fight in issue #3.
A male fan wanted to know if Stephanie Brown or Cassandra Cain will show up in the book. While Snyder said he wanted to use the characters that decision was “above his pay grade.”
A female fan asked if Harper Row is the next Robin. “The next Robin question is one we do collaboratively...you just have to wait and see with that one. I didn’t design her to be Robin, I designed her to give a view of Gotham being poor and female,” Snyder said. He also explained it came out of wanting to write a Cassandra-like character. “In another Batman book, I can’t say what or when, has her featured very prominently.”
Snyder said after “Zero Year” Batman will be getting back to his detective roots and be the “CSI Batman” the writer loves to play with. Snyder also said he wants to work with Becky Cloonan again but they try to not do fill-in artists, so he wanted to get her for an Annual or one-shot.
“And she loves Metal!” Capullo added.
The last question went to a fan who just wanted to tell the panel they were an amazing storytelling team and asked to shake their hands. The audience cheered as the fan did so and Cunningham brought the panel to an end.