Ten years is a long time to work on a character, but Batman can have an incredible hold on writers. Given Scott Snyder's bibliography, his Batman work will not define him, but it will stand the test of time, whether it's his first story in Detective Comics with artist Jock, the All-Star Batman anthology, or the best work to come out of DC Comics' New 52, his Batman run with Greg Capullo. The latter stayed with Snyder and Capullo so much that they paired to introduce the Dark Multiverse in Metal, a Batman-centric story in which The Batman Who Laughs emerged from the dark and into your nightmares.
Snyder's latest Batman projects will be his last that focus on Batman. SYFY WIRE spoke with Snyder to look back on leaving a mark on DC Comics' 80-year-old icon.
It's hard to believe that, after ten years doing some incredible, intimate work on Batman, you're coming to the final stories you want to tell that focus on this character in The Batman Who Laughs and The Last Knight on Earth.
Scott Snyder: I feel like it's time to wrap up my time with Batman. This story allows me to approach him from such a dark angle, and do more of a deconstruction of the character from more of a vicious standpoint, saying this is why he doesn't work, this is what's wrong with him, why he's unhappy, why he's not successful ... and then have him rebuff that in a powerful way, at the end.
This was a psychologically deep story, one in which you really break down the ideals and purpose of a hero, right?
I am trying to approach this idea, what if we don't want our heroes anymore? Deep down, this whole fallacy of goodness and heroism that we've built up, for however many years, is just sort of a mantle to keep ourselves in check. We're happy and designed to be selfish, and self-interested and cruel, and that's what a real hero would show us, how to do the right way. That's looked at in all different kinds of ways, from Justice League to this, to my indie stuff, and the two things that I'd say about the Batman work that I'm doing is that The Batman Who Laughs is the darkest attack about why Batman might be the least effective version of himself.
Which is interesting when you consider what you're doing with The Last Knight on Earth in Black Label.
The Last Knight is a reconstruction that asks, what if all that is true? How do we build Batman back up in a different way? They're a final last look at the character that I've worked on for 10 years and just adored more than any in all of literature. It's hard, but I really love these books. They're the most personal I've done. Every one of them have personal meaning. "Zero Year" was written for my kids, "Death of a Family" was the fear of being a parent when we were having a kid, so they're all deeply intimate. This is everything I've ever wanted to say about the character in a while, from two different vantages.
Throughout The Batman Who Laughs, you push Batman to or near the edge of a steep cliff. This has been the roller coaster ride you promised. What are the moments that stick out to you, looking in the rearview mirror?
Scott Snyder: Not to spoil too much, but the ending, not the stinger ending on the last page, but where Batman has to re-assess why he does what he does.
Alfred tells Bruce, "All that stuff when you saw through his [The Batman Who Laughs] eyes, about you being ineffective and unhappy – that's all just the serum talking, right?" and Batman replies, "No, it's not. I saw it and it was true. I was the least happy, and one of the least effective out of all these Batmen, but there's nothing bad about that."
It's about being pure and idealistic, and being a symbol of something. It's not about leaning into the parts of your nature that are easy, or the parts of your nature that you feel pull towards. It's about defying your nature and being better than you're supposed to be. All of those things are better than what people thought possible. To me, getting to that moment is a moment I've been thinking about for years.
What if you took everything and put it in front of Batman's face and said, "This is why everything about you is wrong!" This is from somebody that knows him, because he [The Batman Who Laughs] is him [Bruce Wayne] and has seen every version of him. Having our Bruce turn that around and saying that the bat is a symbol of doing the impossible, of evolving into what you're supposed to be, to be ridiculously impossible ... it's the only mammal that flies.
That was a great way of summing up what Bruce would be thinking about each night, despite the odds. What else?
There are also a lot of other fun moments. I love when Batman's yelling at Joker, "This is what you've always wanted, right?" and the Joker goes, "No, I never wanted to win, I want neither of us to win, ever." To me, that's our Joker in a nutshell. I love James Gordon and Jim Gordon, teaming up watching James talk about how it's easier being a psychopath.
Let's talk about that, because that's one of the relationships that I did not think would emerge as a central conflict and development.
Scott Snyder: The James-Jim one is one that I've been waiting to get back to for many years. I always wanted to do a followup story to the "Black Mirror," where, what if James actually did do what he said – whether he was forced to or not –and took some fictional cure, which repairs the neurology so he's no longer psychopathic and instead begins to develop this portion in his brain to where he can begin to feel compassion and empathy. How would he feel? He'd probably feel terrible because of all the things that he did. So I wanted to use him as an emotional anchor in a separate storyline that would almost highlight what the Batman Who Laughs is saying.
That we'd be all happier if we dropped this false pretense of goodness, that we don't really want, and just let it go. Let's just eliminate it from the brain with the serum. We'd be who we're supposed to be, we'd be leaning into the best parts of our nature.
To get to revisit that and have Jim and James get to wrestle all the history between them meant a lot to me. I love them both as characters. I feel for James, as much as he's a psychopath and a villain, but in this moment he's not. He's someone who is struggling to be someone better than his own nature, and his father doesn't believe him. To get his father to come around, he's willing to do anything, and I think there's a lot of power in that for me, a complete reversal of the first story we did. If I brought him back, I didn't want him tricking Jim again, or after Barbara, I really wanted to surprise you with a take on him that would allow for a completely different exploration.
What did facing 1,000 versions of himself do to Bruce Wayne that wouldn't have otherwise happened if he never encountered the Batman Who Laughs?
Scott Snyder: I love that question! That's literally the point of the series. For me, that burns his sense of self down to the purest, clearest vision. At first, he's shaken that all of these other versions of him might have affected more change in Gotham, [like doing] different things to control Gotham, made Arkham 10 times bigger, done this or that. He sees the effects where they've led happier lives, whether it's compromising or deciding to make their identity public. All of them are attractive paths, they're all built from his dreams and fears. But I think what it shows him is that all of those, in some capacity, are a compromise from what Batman is to him: an absolute pure idea, that one man goes out fighting a mission that he'll never win, in a way that's totally hopeless, in terms of saving everybody, every night.
The point is that he will do everything he can, even if he knows it will never make the difference he hopes it will. It makes a difference night after night, case by case, and he gives everything he can to make the city better on those terms, constantly. He doesn't take over city government, he will not take over the police, he will not start killing people or running for mayor. He is the thing in the sky, the vision of the hero that says, every night, he'll sacrifice his body and go out and save anybody in trouble that he can, knowing there will just be more tomorrow. It gives him tremendous peace, almost. At the end, he looks at it and says, "This is the Batman I am proud to be."
Yes, it would make a difference if he privatized everything and took over and made Bat-Bots control the city, but that wouldn't be Batman. That would be somebody that's an overlord of Gotham. Would it work? Maybe. But Batman teaches you one lesson, which is that you take the things that hurt you, and that you're afraid of, and turn them into fuel to do a little bit of good. That, to me, is just Batman. He's a special, unique character in that regard.