Inside the mania of DC Dark Nights Metal with Scott Snyder

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DC Dark Nights: Metal is very aptly named, packed as it is with both real steel and rock 'n roll. For a sample of what's been done, check out our unpacking of the first issue. The series was forged with the spirit of the Jack Kirby, the original master of crafting a story full of mind-blowing ideas. Metal architect and master conductor, Scott Snyder, reunited with artist Greg Capullo after their five-year run on Batman ended in early 2016 for a summer event that has elevated the DC Rebirth era of the DCU.

At last year's New York Comic Con, Snyder promised that he would be telling a story that reaches and affects all corners of the DC Universe, but that's often just marketing chatter. A year later, Snyder has backed up his words with a story that's both accessible and thrilling for readers. We present to you a first in a series of SYFY WIRE exclusive interviews with some of the creative cogs of DC Comics' event of the year.

Beware of SPOILERS of the first two issues of Metal.

Did you pitch this to Greg initially?

Scott Snyder: A couple of years ago Greg was over my house with his wife and I remember I said to him, "I know what we'll do when you come back from your break. I want to do the event and have the whole pitch ready to tell you. It's called Metal—" and then he interrupted and said, "I'm in." [Laughs] I said, "But I still have to pitch the whole thing to you, dude." He said it's called Metal, that's good enough for me.

That was easy. [Laughs] When did this story start to germinate?

I started working on the story for Metal a couple of years ago, back when we were doing the Commissioner Gordon arc (in Batman). I had this idea for a final Batman story that would have him pick up the torch from Hawkman and investigate the mystery that Hawkman had been following for many generations about this mysterious metal, Nth Metal, that had been transmitting energy from beyond the cosmic map. By doing so, Batman would find himself right at the center of this detective case that pointed back at him. It was all about his own mythology and open up the door for Justice League to be a part of it.

But Metal is not for the lightweight. The first issue is full of deep cuts for the serious DCU fan. There is Nth Metal, Hawkman, Challengers of the Unknown…

After a long run on Batman with Greg, I felt the only thing left to do would be to follow it with an event or Justice League book where we get to play with more toys. I grew up loving comic book events, DC's in particular, for their over-the-top, bombastic bonkers elasticity. When Greg came back from doing indie stuff, we had the opportunity to do one. I knew the sensibility of it needed to be hugely robust and would call upon all of the characters and stories that I love from the past but use those things to blast off into a direction that would be new and very much our own.

You made it a point to not only visit certain points of the DC Universe and its history, but have a story that impacts several characters instead of gathering them for the event sake.

The idea was to call upon a lot of the stuff we did and tie it back together. But more importantly, do what you said, touch upon stories that I grew up loving and characters we haven't been able to explore yet, and celebrate this rich history of the DC Universe and honor it by trying to take these characters and referencing those stories to go somewhere new, both literally in terms of the Dark Multiverse itself, which is an unexplored realm of the cosmology of the DCU, and figuratively in terms of the event sensibility. We wanted it to feel rock and roll, and a little bit rebellious, a little tongue-in-cheek, but also emotional and sincere. We wanted to invite people to a crazy rock show with these characters, the kind of thing we haven't seen or done before.

Something you don't see too often is Batman genuinely afraid of something, he seems to be out of his realm somewhat because the Dark Multiverse is this massive unknown. He's usually in control of the room or the situation, even if he's not showing it. He's often the smartest guy in the room but not so here.

We wanted it to feel really scary in that regard. We wanted the story to feel like those moments that happen when you wake up and it seems like all the things you want to accomplish, all seem dark and point back to your failings. Everywhere you look you see a version of yourself you don't like or a voice in yourself is telling you that you're a fraud and there's nothing left but despair coming. Batman is a character who resists that more than any other superhero. He's a force of determination; how he doesn't look at how many ways something can go wrong and move forward, is almost like one of his superpowers, to not look at the scary possibility that he might be making a mistake. He just plans in the case of a mistake, how to move forward, but the repercussions of that, the implications of that never hit him.

So this story is about him being stopped in his tracks by a villain and a moment where everywhere he looks is a version of himself. It's terrifying and it tells him that this is all your fault. You didn't see the mystery for what it was in time, so it all points back to you. You think you're this great hero but actually, you're just the vessel for the greatest villainy inducted against mankind in its history. So it's really killing for him, he gets broken up emotionally in this story and needs help from Superman and Wonder Woman and his friends to try to come back from the darkness.

Because his mind is always working and he's so analytical, it's rare that we see Batman become emotional. How much of this will we see as a part of the story?

Entirely. One of the things that's so fun about doing an event-sized story is that there's so many different ways to get at that raw emotional material. We have a one-shot coming up called Batman: Lost and in that issue we catch up with Batman who's been lost in the Dark Multiverse, which is reactive to all of our hopes and fears. If you fear or hope for it, even in passing, a planet is born where that thing is real. So when you're down there, everything that you're worried about or hope for becomes material. It's a world of emotional reflection, a funhouse of mirrors sort of realm where everything is real and can hurt you but is created as an extension of your own emotionality. With an event this size, we have all of these places we can explore different aspects of the story. With the Dark Nights, each one of them is sort of Batman terrified of what he could become, if he made a mistake. Things he never wants to address and instead sublimates.

For example, what if I killed the Joker? In killing him I didn't realize that he had a toxin in his heart that made me Bruce Wayne, the next Joker. And so I go on to be this Batman Who Laughs, this Joker-ized Batman that goes around killing the whole world. What if in another instance that Superman goes berserk one day and I need to find some way of bringing him down that's better than a Kryptonite ring. So I experiment with the Doomsday virus and become a monster and end up killing all of the Kryptonians and then I go on to be the great villain of Earth. So each of the Dark Nights has these incredible resonant stories with the first one (Red Death) coming out, in which Batman uses the Speed Force to prevent more crime and more death in Gotham City and winds up becoming the great villain of the Flash and then a villain in his own right to everybody.

Outside of Metal there are many moving parts going on in other books as cross-overs, one-shots and new series. Can you map those out?

James Tynion IV, Tim Seeley, Joshua Williamson, Sam Humphries, Tony Daniel, and many others are doing a terrific job on those seven one-shots - Batman: Red Death, Batman: Murder Machine, Batman: The Dawnbreaker, Batman: The Drowned, Batman: The Merciless, Batman: The Devastator, and ending with The Batman Who Laughs. Those tell the origins of the evil Batmen and their plans here.

The Gotham Resistance crossover runs through Teen Titans, Nightwing, Suicide Squad, and Green Arrow and tells the fall of Gotham once the Dark Nights get here. They transform Gotham into a Game to Thrones realm on crack, where every Arkham villain an area and gets a metal card from the Joker Batman that's able to transform matter physically, to their will. So you get a Frost Giant/Jon Snow-winter-is-coming world with Mister Freeze where Nightwing goes up against him. You get a clockwork maze that Riddler creates for Harley Quinn. Finally you have the Bats out of Hell crossover, which I'm crazy excited about, those show the knock-down crazy fights between the Justice League and the Dark Nights in the evil Batcaves all over the world.

So Metal gives me the chance to explore and focus intensely on the emotional arc, but with only six issues, not including the Batman: Lost one-shot, it's such an intensely-packed story that had I had 10 or 12 issues, I would've used by myself, but stripping it to the bone, we wanted to give you something you could read over the course of six or seven months, you get more than you could've possibly bargained for, and the benefit of these crossovers and tie-ins, feel really, really relevant and are wild, twisted stories in their own right as stand-alone stories. They're related to the event without feeling like they're superfluous. Believe me, there's nothing I'd love nothing more than have the Justice League fight evil Batmen in evil Metal Batcaves, I wanted to do that and call it the Steel Cage Match section of the story, I just didn't have room. So that's what became Bats out of Hell. So I can promise those are really fun.

Another rock band aspect of this story is Dream's interaction with Batman. Could you talk about his involvement and the far corners of where Metal is reaching.

It was about a year ago, almost to the week, where I was working on Metal and I knew that Dream would make the most sense as a guide for the story. It would be a key role for him because the Dark Multiverse is a place of desire and fear and one of the permeable realms is the Dreaming and Lucian's Library, the stories that are not supposed to be told.

I was lucky enough to get to know Neil [Gaiman] at various DC functions and retreats. He's been incredibly sweet and generous with his time and advice. My favorite piece of advice was when we were at San Francisco for a meeting about Vertigo Comics and we were out to dinner. He could see that I was stressed out and asked me what was wrong. I was working on Batman at the time and was nervous about things coming up and he said, "Oh Scott, right now you're worried you're not good enough, and very soon you'll be worried about that you used to be better." It was so refreshing to hear that the anxiety never ends.

So I felt comfortable emailing him and asked DC for permission to do so. I wrote this long, long explanation starting out saying, "Neil this is probably a no… but I'm working on a DC Event called Metal, that's expanding the cosmology… " and explained the nature of the Dark Multiverse, what Dream's role would be, exactly how many pages about what he needs to do and what he needs to say, and if he was in it, what an honor it would be to use Dream. DC told me to expect a negative, or a back and forth negotiation about how the character could be used. Instead, Neil wrote back, "I love it, go for it."

He's been wonderful and generous with the character who means so much to me and so many people that it's an inspiring act in and of itself, his writing has always inspired me and Sandman's one of the series that made me want to write in the first place. I've kept my interactions with him on social media quiet because I didn't want people to suspect that I was talking to him about using Dream, but I've been writing to him over the past couple of years about how much I loved Norse Mythology and The Ocean at the End of the Lane and so many of his works, lately as well. But I can't say enough about Neil, who is a rock star in his own right for being so kind and generous with other creators. His writing is inspiring enough but when your idols wind up being inspiring people, there's nothing better.

Let's talk about the deeper cuts in Metal, because again, this just wasn't for the casual DCU fan. We've got the Challengers of the Unknown, the Blackhawks, Red Tornado. That said, it reads really easily, I don't feel the weight of continuity.

[Laughs] Well, my hope is that you don't have to be a fan of the whole universe but it rewards richly the people who love those characters and know the DC Universe well. I tried to design it to be something that is user-friendly. If you don't know something, you don't need to. It's either explained if it's a major story point or it's an easter egg, so that nothing is crucial in there for the emotionality of the story, the plot mechanisms of the story that depend on deep continuity without being explained up front. For me, I hope it functions as a love letter to DC. You never know how much longer you're going to be anywhere, I couldn't be happier at DC Comics and love the people I work with, but every time I approach an arc, I approach it like it's my last one because I had a teacher who said that if I get the chance to write something, do it as if you got only one chance to do it. So if I'm going to write an event, it's going to be about celebrating the entire spectrum of the DCU that I grew up loving and still love. For me, using Detective Chimp, Nightmaster, Blackhawks, Steel, Deathstroke, Dr. Fate and Plastic Man, is an act of tribute.

After reading the first two issues, as insane as it's gotten, you can tell that this simply isn't some event comic with empty calories. There's something more to it, isn't there?

Right now at this particular moment, it's a stressful moment and the bonkers fun of comics is incredibly important. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, I'm vocal about my liberal views on social media but with these stories and comics, it's important to have a place to go where you're reminded of the fun of comics storytelling. That doesn't mean it's escapism, this story is deeply personal for me. It does wind up touching on things that are relevant to right now. You look around and see versions of yourself and of this moment and you wake up and think, how did we get to this place? How am I so at odds with the people around me?

So for me that is what it's about. It's no way an escapist romp, it's deeply intimate and personal story, but one thing I learned doing All-Star Batman and in end of our run on Batman, you could see me leaning into this more and more, how crazy we got with "Zero Year," "End Game," and "Superheavy" in particular, beyond that in All-Star Batman with pirate adventures and road trip stories, I've embracing the elastic fun of these characters more and more over the last couple of years. Looking around the DCU at the wondrous and awesome quality of the zany superhero origins like Doctor Fate and his crazy helmet, Plastic Man and his bizarre elasticity or even Superman landing here on a rocket from Krypton, an exploded planet. Those are crazy soap operatic, giant origin stories with high emotions. Instead of grounding them in immediate, realistic drama, I'm trying to lean into the Kirby-esque fun that I grew up with. "You'll never get away with this Power Ring" craziness, and still tell a story that's deeply about the things I worry about for my own kids.

What's been a tougher challenge for you, reconstructing Batman from the ground up with the New 52 or being the showrunner for Dark Nights Metal and orchestrating other creators, introducing something as big the Dark Multiverse but also paying tribute to the past?

That's a great question, they're really different challenges, almost like apples and oranges. When you're working on a singular character, it becomes a conversation between you, the writers that came before you, and the audience and mythology of that character, in a way that you're deeply trying to make it personal. You're trying to have that character be brave in the face of the things you worry about for yourself and your kids. It can become really insular. It's almost like one long essay, like Gotham, what is Gotham? Gotham is this, is that so? What would it mean if I change this? It would mean this. If I alter this, it would become that. If I'm changing this Batman stops that, at what cost. If feel like it's almost like one intense, claustrophobic process. It's just you and the art team, which I worked with the same crew for five-plus years.

With Metal, it's a completely different project altogether. It's about bringing all kinds of different voices in, artistically. From a writing standpoint, I got to work with Joshua Williamson, James Tynion IV, Tom King and Marguerite Bennett and it's really fun in that regard. Greg gets to work with different artists and you get to delegate. I love looking over at Joshua, who's managing the Bats Out of Hell crossover is having a blast doing evil Batmen in different Batcaves, with different dinosaurs, with different Batmobiles, like one designed to kill the Flash. Over there is a giant penny that conducts electricity to undo Cyborg. Over here is James working on the origins of the Dark Batmen, making them as spooky as possible.

I always thought I would moonlight in comics even though it was my first love before writing prose, which is where I got my start as a writer. The thing that makes me not miss that, was that I loved the collaboration (in comics). I don't have to be completely in a room writing by myself all day? I can work with an artist and talk to that person and have the work enhanced by their ideas and have something that is a living organic process? That's great, I love that way more than writing prose. This is a magnification of that, I'm getting to work with so many writers and artists. It's a shared story; it's as much theirs as it is mine and it's a joy to have them do pieces of it and watch them do it better than I could. I love that process tremendously. I can't speak to how much fun I'm having on the book, partly for that very reason. I hope it comes through on the pages. Above all, we want it to read with that crackling energy that everyone is having fun on this.

Well, you did use Baby Darkseid in Metal #2, so…

That one I had to convince DC. They were like, 'Is he in a Baby Bjorn?' He kind of is in a Bjorn. Yes. He is and he have goggles on. 'He's not going to be scary.' That's going to be so scary. 'Is he doing rock horns?' Yes. He is doing rock horns, because he's a badass. There have been some moments where they thought I was going over the line, but the fans have been great. Baby Darkseid got the best response of almost anything I've done, which is funny because I told Greg that Baby Darkseid might be me jumping the shark, but I don't care. When this is over, and I have a rock band, I'm naming it "Baby Darkseid," I'm willing to die on my sword here.

Be sure to check this space in coming days for more DC Metal mania Part 2, as we will speak with writers Joshua Williamson, Jeff Lemire and James Tynion about important one-shots and crossover tie-ins to Metal.