Who's ready for some nightmares?
Or rather, who's ready to see Batman have nightmares?
The Batman Who Laughs #1 comes out today and is sure to unsettle readers as the title villain carries out his plan to torture the Caped Crusader. This six-issue Batman horror tale is brought to you by the titanic creative team of Scott Snyder, Jock and David Baron and aims to unnerve Bruce Wayne on a psychological level and make him second-guess his approach to fighting crime.
Snyder and Jock call it a spiritual successor to their 2011 "Black Mirror" story, executed in Detective Comics #871-881, which featured Dick Grayson putting on the Batman costume for a brutal stint. It is a modern classic, commenting on how Gotham City and its villains eat at their heroes, corrupting them. Eight years later, they return to tell another story that will be acid-etched in readers' minds for many years.
SYFY WIRE spoke to both Snyder and Jock about The Batman Who Laughs, the introduction of the Grim Knight, and how this traumatic series will affect Batman moving forward.
What is it about Jock's art that made him the right guy for this particular story?
Scott Snyder: I gravitate to Jock when I'm looking to do a story that's emotionally raw and true and on the surface very much vulnerable. A lot of the time when I'm doing a big mini-series for DC, I am talking about that same stuff, but I have to translate that into a comic book lunacy that's a lot of fun. In the Justice League an invisible spectrum of planets that's blah-blah-blah represents our worst fears. When I work with Jock, his art is so richly a blend of the real and emotionally fraught, that I'm able to go to a place where I don't need to translate it very far.
This is the worst of the human subconscious shown through human behavior. So, instead of being a galaxy of purple planets that come down from outer space, it allows me to be very very close to the bone and true. That's an incredibly liberating feeling! I want to work with Jock on stories that hit the nerve in the most vicious and immediate way. So Jock was absolutely the first person I thought of and the only person I felt comfortable doing the story with.
Jock: Aww, thanks dude! I had the same feelings about this, when he first called about "Black Mirror" all those years back. Getting to do the raw darkness, and apply it to these large iconic characters that Scott handles so well is very enticing. Getting to know the Batman Who Laughs the last couple of months and play around with him in this story, with our best qualities, has been a joy.
The issue is bookended by this tragic glimpse into Bruce's "happiest" memory. It's heart-crushing to go back that far to find this memory.
Scott Snyder: I'm glad you brought that up because I want the story to be something emotionally probing and psychologically exploratory in a way that I haven't done in awhile with Bruce. He is at a point in his life who's faced with tremendous crisis in the main Batman title with emotional crisis there and in Metal, he's come across his worst fears. He's at a point where he's beginning to wonder, ‘how much longer can I do this and have I done it the right way? How am I supposed to believe that I'm this always-win superhero and these horrific things keep happening?'
The Batman Who Laughs comes at a very vulnerable moment in Bruce's life, to say, ‘I'm going to show you why you haven't done anything right, why you're actually the nightmare version of Batman, of wasted opportunity and bad reflection. I've been waiting to prove this to you for awhile.' I wanted something to stand up with my best work that I've done with Jock and Dave, as a singular meditation on what Batman means. Is he the right hero for right now or is he not?
Jock, what was your first impression of the Batman Who Laughs in Metal and how quickly did you imagine what you could do with him?
Jock: He looks like a freaky mother f***er doesn't he? [Laughs] Sure enough, the popularity speaks for itself, I've seen so many people cosplaying him and he clearly hits a nerve. I feel like there's elements of the cenobites in Hellraiser in there, but for me, I'm trying to bring something to it that's unique, which is what you have to do with any character. Also, the Grim Knight, the Bat-character that we're introducing has been a massive draw to the series.
Let's talk about the Grim Knight.
SS: Absolutely, I was going to originally bring him in on Metal, but I felt like he'd be wasted as the second scariest evil Batman after the Batman Who Laughs. The Grim Knight was somebody I had in reserve for this series. He is the version of Batman, who after Joe Chill kills his parents, Bruce picks up that gun and shoots him. From that moment forward he uses lethal force as he becomes Batman. So not only does he uses guns, the scary thing about him is that he's a multibillionaire industrialist like he is here, but his whole company is a military industrialist complex, where he secretly has chips and GPS systems, so your car can drive off the cliff and you'll never know who killed you. He's the deadliest man on Earth, but he's secondary to the Batman Who Laughs. I wanted to put Bruce both up against his worst nightmares in every way.
Batman is often much more impressive when the odds are stacked against him, which you've managed to do with just two villains, right?
SS: I wanted this series to be a place where he goes up against versions of himself that he has zero chances of beating because they cross lines that he won't and yet know everything that he knows. I also wanted him to see lives that have been happier than his, which are the dead bodies that are brought into Gotham for a reason in issues 2 and 3, by the BWL. It's a deep argument, criticism and exploration of whether Bruce has done this the right way. The BWL is essentially the apex predator of the DCU.
And that argument is?
SS: Everyone knows that Bruce is the Batman who always wins, but he comes close to losing, and does lose sometimes because he has moral codes and ethical regulations that he places on himself for good reasons, which I think are his strengths. That said, when you go up against somebody who knows everything you know, who has all your memories and skills, but with none of the reservations going past certain lines, you're in big trouble.
For me, that makes the series huge fun, because you can go emotionally and psychologically dark. At the end of issue 1, when Batman's infected and begins to turn into the Batman Who Laughs himself, you can imagine he's going to start to see the world in a twisted way too.
While Batman has been the ultimate vigilante, there are some readers who might see this as a fantasy to see Batman act like the Grim Knight. Jock, did it feel different or just weird to draw the Grim Knight who looks like Batman but strapped with a massive deadly arsenal?
Jock: That's a good question because even though he's a version of Batman, you're right, I don't actually think of him as Batman. I hadn't thought of it until you said it. He looks like Batman, but he's so extreme and detached, that I don't want to think of him in that way. That said, the initial hits of the character are obviously the big guns and grenade launcher but one think that's important about the character is the tech behind it all as well. The ability to infiltrate any security or access GPS that makes him dangerous.
To be honest, he's so much fun to draw. As soon as I started working on the designs, I knew that he was going to have legs. I love drawing him and am really excited for what Scott has in store for him in this story and beyond, The more guns and s*** that I put on his back, the better he looks. [Laughs]
There's something clearly in the power that Batman has in culture, that you can use that (visual) icon and then twist it, into this end–it still retains a power, I guess. The Grim Knight is a striking image, it's not necessarily a comfortable image, but nonetheless, there's a power to it.
Batman has always been seen as the extreme of vigilantism, but the Batman Who Laughs and the Grim Knight go far beyond that line.
SS: For me, creating versions of Batman like that, push (the story) psychologically and emotionally to places you wouldn't get to go otherwise. The superficial fun is getting to play with new toys, but at the end of the day, whenever you create some alternate version, it winds up being a lens to look at the pure version and reexamine and say what are this character's great strengths and weaknesses. To put him on trial in a way.
So when you have two versions like this, who are not only here to take him down, and look unbeatable in a lot of ways, but are him, it makes for a really terrifying story. You sometimes stay up just worrying about things in the world, but also your own deepest flaws. We get to go to the scariest place with Batman, looking in the mirror and saying, 'have I done this right, have I been the hero of my own story or have I been the villain? What legacy have I left and what happens to the city if I lose this time?' It allows you to shake the character to their core.
The Batman Who Laughs #1 of 6 is on sale now for $4.99 at a local comic shop near you.