After writing the main Batman comic for five years, one might think that Scott Snyder would want a break from Bruce Wayne. Instead, he’s moved to All-Star Batman, where he’s anchoring the rotating creative teams that will be producing stories for new ongoing series. The acclaimed writer is in a different place—as is Batman, who finds himself being more of a Caped Crusader again than a Dark Knight.
It’s not that All-Star Batman is lighthearted—the second issue, out this week, continues the road-trip Two-Face assassination storyline—but all the Bat-titles feel less grim and more energetic than recent arcs featuring Gotham City’s sworn protector. We spoke to Snyder about why Batman’s felt different since DC’s Rebirth initiative started, his new responsibilities as a writer, what’s next for new sidekick Duke Thomas, and more.
io9: You’re in kind of a weird position. You wrote the main Batman book for five years with Greg Capullo drawing most of that run, but now Tom King is writing that title. How does it feel to have someone else steering Bruce in Gotham when you’re still around?
Scott Snyder: Well, it’s hugely liberating, honestly. I couldn’t have had a better time with Greg doing Batman for five years. But by the end, I was very, very ready to step away from the main book, just because I had more ideas. And some of the ones in All-Star I could’ve played with in Batman, with or without Greg. It’s the best job in the whole world but that grind—driving the whole line, making stories in Gotham that allow for stories in the other Bat-books, the pressure of constantly being in conversation with your own run—all of that stuff, I felt like I had done with Greg. We had such good time and had a project in mind that we’re going to come back and do, which we’re going to do this spring for DC. It was just like, “You know what? Let me take a break.”
I missed that feeling from when I was doing Detective Comics and Grant [Morrison] and Tony [Daniel] were doing the main Batman books. There was that feeling of complete liberation, where I felt like I was in continuity but I could express things with art that was different in the main book, in more acrobatic ways, in terms of how many artists and styles I can work with, in the main book—and also with the story. I was excited to try things that maybe wouldn’t be as easy to do in the main book because they were out of Gotham or they took Batman on a small journey somewhere that you wouldn’t expect but was really important to me. All-Star [Batman] for me—I hope it reads this way—is up there with the most deeply personal stuff I’ve ever done.
This arc is really largely about my own fears about my shortcomings personally and the ways that I’ve been down so that the worst parts of me feel like the totality of who I am. It’s also largely about my fears, and I think a lot of our fears, about this moment. Not only in the U.S., but all across the world, [there is] this sense of breakdown where, regardless of your political affiliation or which side of things you fall on, there’s an anger, an ugliness that pops up on both sides that’s simmering beneath the surface that makes you feel like it’s sort of unsolvable and that brings out your worst impulses.
This arc is personal, and yet on the other hand, it allows me to be out there and crazy. We’re taking Batman to riverboat casinos, Niagara Falls, and cornfields in monster trucks and school buses. It’s hugely freeing. I’m so proud of Tom and what the other books are doing with Bruce; what James Tynion is doing with Bruce and the other Bat-characters in Detective [Comics] is fantastic. It’s a pleasure to be a part of the Bat-line right now.
If you’ll permit me to characterize the way you wrote Bruce before, it was pretty grim and indomitable, which is how most modern readers know the character. But these two issues of All-Star Batman has felt so loose and so fun, and Batman feels more relatable and fallible than he has in decades. I spoke with Tom King about this when his run was starting out, but I wanted to ask you if this was something all of you guys decided together? Is it a function of where he is in the fiction, with his brain having recently been rebooted?
Snyder: When I was on Batman with Greg, we tried to begin exploring a bit because I think a lot of our stories had to do with [Batman] exploring different aspects of his mortality. The fears that I have looked to Batman to help me through, both as a kid and as an adult and a father, have a lot to do with those sorts of vulnerabilities that only come out when you show him as deeply human, in terms of his relationship with Alfred, him struggling as a kid with his parents’ deaths in Zero Year, and being traumatized and feeling completely worthless at times. Tom brings a certain introspection to the character that takes a different angle on that but is similarly vulnerable because of his background. Tom and I have become extremely close; he’s coming up to stay here with me and my family Friday night for Batman Day. He has his own experiences in the CIA and as a father but we have a lot of similar sensibilities about the world.
On the one hand, what you’re talking about is maybe a function of two writers that have different styles and different parts of a prism when it comes to the same subject matter but who also have certain similarities.
On the other hand, maybe it does speak to a certain moment now, more broadly. When I was a kid, Batman was so invulnerable in so many ways. We have a lot of fun making him that way, where he seems so badass. He pops out the coolest gadgets and he’s always getting out of things. But Batman only works that way—today, at least—when you also show him as really, really human. I think of the lesson in Batman differently than when I was a kid. When I was a kid, he was more scaring the bad guys back into the shadows. His villains and all of it felt a little more provincial, somehow, in Gotham than it does now. Hopefully, we’ve all been a part of this… but I think Batman now feels more like pulling brave people out of the shadows into the light and inspiring bravery in normal people in Gotham in the face of larger-than-life villains and problems. It’s something we became aware of with Batman in Zero Year wanting to make a shift and try and make him a post-9/11 hero. It sounds really hokey but, when I did Zero Year, it was very much about what I want Batman to mean for my kids.
Superheavy was an exploration of what he might mean to the real world, given that he affects nothing. I look at my kids and what they’re afraid of and they’re not afraid of the same things I was, as so wonderfully depicted in Dark Knight Returns, Year One, and other books of that time. They were afraid of gun violence and terrorism and cataclysm and superstorms and resources completely evaporating and climate change and all that stuff that’s impossible to punch and defeat. That means Batman has to be a new kind of hero. I think the question you’re asking about him being more human is largely a part of that. The only way he’ll work as a larger-than-life hero going up against these things that are completely undefeatable is for him to be also really human and vulnerable, because it then inspires us to then go out and face the challenges–either personal, national or global—that feel intractable and impossible to solve. Does that make sense?
It does. I wanted to ask you about Duke Thomas, who is Batman’s new sidekick, but also kind of not. With Duke, there’s less of a divide between his superhero life and his regular life. But, at the same time, there’s the risk of repeating beats that Batman’s other sidekick characters have had. How are you trying to make Duke different?
Snyder: He’s a character that’s close to a lot for our hearts. All of us—Tom King, me, Lee Bermejo [who wrote We Are Robin]—have written him in different ways. Our goal with Duke is to make sure that where he lands as a hero is something that you haven’t seen before. Like you said, there’s a risk that you run with creating just another person who’s fighting in costume in Gotham. Gotham’s a crowded place. I’ve seen that happen with Harper [Row/Bluebird] and [her brother] Cullen when we created them. They had a great runway with Batman Eternal and we had other plans for them in other books, but you have to really lay out a road that way and make sure they’re gonna fill some space that isn’t being filled by anybody else.
And that space can’t be Robin and it can’t be a character like Nightwing. There were discussions like that with Duke, to be perfectly frank, about him possibly being a singular Robin or possibly taking the mantle of Nightwing. The decision we all came to together editorially, all the writers and everybody, was that he had been Robin in a new way. He was a Robin that was completely independent of Batman. From the moment you meet him in Zero Year, he wants to get good enough to answer the Riddler’s questions and beat him without Batman; he doesn’t care if Batman leaves the city.
One of the core values he has is that he feels Robin and the cohort of young heroes can be independent from their idols like Batman, that Robin can exist without him. To me, that’s a different take on the character that’s really new and interesting: Robin as a concept shared with heroes coming up after Batman. What we [asked ourselves] was, “Where does that graduate? What’s the next step for a character like that? Is it Nightwing?” That feels kind of redundant and then you’re always waiting for Dick Grayson to come back and reclaim that mantle if Duke becomes Nightwing. Damian’s about to be over in Teen Titans as Robin so at what point would that shift [for Duke]? And being Robin’s always sort of temporary… Instead, we talked to Geoff Johns about two things: what is there a need for in Gotham, and is there a role that isn’t filled that really fits this character’s personality so that we could honor who he is in a really cool way?
The goal was to ultimately create a new kind of hero with a new kind of mission. I’m really happy with where we’ve landed with it. It’s all playing out in one big narrative that really tries to construct his sensibility as an adult hero—once he gets through this trial by fire—and a really new mission for a character in Gotham. That’s the goal. The goal is to give him legs. Hopefully, readers will fall in love with him the way we have.
You mentioned Harper, a character I like, as not hitting the mark. At what point do you make that distinction? Is it because other creators don’t want to play with her? How do you come to that point where you realize something was flawed in the construction?
Snyder: I wouldn’t say that something was flawed in the construction of the character. What I love about her is that she never wants to know who anybody is beneath the mask. So there’s a whole different psychology there where she would meet Batman and team up and fight without ever wanting to know he’s Bruce Wayne. If he ever tried to take his mask off and tell her, she would not want to know because [in her view] people just let you down in life. There’s also a different lens on Gotham through her and her brother. Similarly, with Duke, there’s a whole different lens. The character I love, but the problem comes [in thinking] how you give a character like that as a superhero her own book and create a path for them where they’re going to be able to stand on their own. The comic shelf is crowded and Gotham is crowded. It’s less a question of something being wrong in the construction of the character—a lot of people came in and really worked tremendously on her and her brother and with Duke, too—than it is about being protective of them post-creation.
For me, I had hopes of her landing in a couple of places. To be really frank, there was talk of her in certain books and then there were changes—for the better, probably—that precluded that possibility. So, in the end, it’s all sort of a big discussion and you’re always trying to find the best place where these characters can live and thrive. Sometimes, it takes a while to find one or you find one and it has to change. Other times, like with Duke, I just have to keep an arm around him and be, like, “We have a plan. This is who we’ve decided who he’s going to be in terms of his role. Let’s really try and keep this one close and give him a shot.”
Instead of [doing all of that] and then saying, “Whoever takes him, takes him,” we as a team are trying harder to shepherd him into heroism. Because we all realized, while we were all making new heroes for the New 52, how hard it is to make something that sticks. To create a character that fans can see continue on in ways that are satisfying for them, so they wind up falling in love with the characters.
You have to be able to manage the commercial expectations of a book and create a place for that character to live, instead of “we made him, people like him… go!” I’m trying to be more aware of that. The other writers and artists are, too, having been through a vibrant and exciting period with the New 52 and figuring out now how to be more practical with a slimmer line that’s double-shipping. You want to keep your characters close and make sure that they land well. My hope is to be able to do a series with up-and-coming creators about him that allows for new blood and new voices. I always feel like young characters are great to bring new people in on because they aren’t as formed. They invite really bold visions.