June 16th is when “Dark Nights: Death Metal” #1 hits your local shop (where you, hopefully, can safely pick up your comics in a contactless manner), and also when the final chapter, for now, of Scott Snyder’s epic DC story begins. The foundation was laid out in “Batman,” which continued into “All-Star Batman,” “Justice League,” “Dark Nights: Metal,” the ‘Year of the Villain,’ and “Hell Arisen.” Along with Greg Capullo, James Tynion IV and Joshua Williamson, Snyder has been building this epic story for nearly a decade now. We spoke with Snyder last week about life after “Death Metal,” what we could expect from the series, and some of the wild Batmen who populate the world of the comic.
DARK NIGHTS: DEATH METAL #1
written by SCOTT SNYDER
art by GREG CAPULLO and JONATHAN GLAPION
Get ready for the earth-shattering encore! The legendary team behind Dark Nights: Metal and Batman: Last Knight on Earth take center stage and reunite for one last tour.
When the Earth is enveloped by the Dark Multiverse, the Justice League is at the mercy of the Batman Who Laughs. Humanity struggles to survive in a hellish landscape twisted beyond recognition, while Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman have all been separated and fight to survive. Unleash the beast and let the head banging begin!
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All right. So we are gearing up for “Death Metal,” which is the culmination of… Man, it’s been a lot of years of you pulling up to this story.
Scott Snyder: Yes.
And I want to begin actually after “Death Metal.” As you’re looking to wrap up this massive story, is there a part of you that just wants to go back to doing a monthly comic again, and not worry about these giant machinations? Or is this sort of where your brain is right now with comics? Are you really enjoying the giant macro stories?
SS: Well, I’m enjoying this one. But I can tell you that it was definitely the plan that if we got to this one, like if Metal worked well enough to be able to set this one up, and I sort of pitched the basic bones of this as the culmination of the story that began with “Metal” when we pitched “Metal” itself at New York Comic Con back in 2016, that there would be kind of the end of this period for me, where I was doing big events like this with Greg [Capullo].
You know, I feel as though this puts a cap on a story that we began in “Batman,” but really ramped up in “Metal” through all of the kinds of narrative threads we tried to lay in different series through my great partners in crime on this, Josh Williamson and James Tynion, and the idea that we were working off these two themes, one focused on the Batman Who Laughs, and one focused on Lex Luthor. And the Lex Luthor thread ran through the “Justice League” books, and the Batman Who Laughs ran through the Gotham based books. And it would all kind of come to a head after “Hell Arisen” with this. We wanted to do something that would feel like you could look back and say, “Wow, they had this story planned, and building and building cumulatively for three, four years.” You know?
And then, when we got to the end of it, that would be as big as we could go. And it’s kind of heartfelt, and as epic a crescendo as we could make. And then we would look for other pursuits after that. Greg and I, as a team certainly are looking for a different kind of format after this. So we’re looking to do small other stuff. You know, we had a great time on “Last Knight on Earth,” so there are things at DC we still want to do. There are things independently we really have to do that we’re dying to do next, as well. So…
But this kind of focus on epic events, this is definitely kind of… We’re going to take a break from it after this.Continued below
Well that’s probably good for your brain, just to give you a little bit more breathing room with all of this stuff. But I want to circle back to the idea of Event Comics. So one of the things that I do for Multiversity is I host a DC podcast. And we’ve been going back through all the events from Crisis on Infinite Earths forward, and reading them. And it’s been really fascinating to look back at what the Event Comic used to mean, what it evolved into, and similarities between some recent events and some older events.
So when you’re prepping a huge event like this, how far back in the archives do you go? Do you go back to the big events, and you re-read them and you see what was there? Or do you try and go in fresh, and not reflect anything that happened in the past?
SS: Oh no. Well, this one is built on all those events. So I re-read pretty much all the Crisis level events, and then some that were successful like “Blackest Night,” things that weren’t necessarily sort of Universe changing, but were in the way that they were positioned. And I think… It’s really fascinating to me too, to see the evolution of events starting as something, I think, that we’re there to kind of organize and clean up, or correct course with the comic book line, to becoming things that were also meant to just be kind of giant tent pole moneymakers, in ways.
And I think that the ones that have worked best, and I love the Crisis events that we’ve done and a lot of Geoff [Johns]’s stuff in particular,\ I feel like keeps it really focused on the point being additive, being something that isn’t about a character dying, or about shock value disruption, but instead refocusing on what our lines should be about, what our heroes mean to people, and also correcting incongruities, and then creating one or two big new things going forward that add story to the line, and take it to a place that feels fresh.
So for me, it’s that. That’s kind of the spirit of “Death Metal.” It’s crazy. It’s over the top. It’s definitely kind of a singular vision. It’s like me and Greg, and FCO, and Jonathan [Glapion] doing the kind of stuff that we love to do, and playing the big kind of pyrotechnic concert. But that said, it’s definitely a story about our heroes finding themselves in a DCU that’s vastly scarier, and that has come around so quickly they barely had time to accept it as the new normal.
So it’s become quite personal in this state of affairs, I think, in the world for us as a team. And ultimately, what we’re trying to do with it is really keep the focus on fun, on having it be immersive and transportive, but beneath the surface of it, and the skin of it, having it be exactly what we were saying. It’s about really drilling down into why our heroes matter in moments like this in particular, and sort of showing you where we want to take them going forward, that respects the past and tries a couple of new things.
Yeah. You know, it’s amazing how sometimes the real world influences the way you read something. And I’m sure that for readers of “Death Metal,” it’ll be a vastly different experience reading it in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. Versus if we had read it a year ago before that word was part of any of our vocabularies. And so when you are tweaking this… And I’m sure that you guys had most of this stuff handled long before this became a concern, but as you’re tweaking this, is there the desire to make it fit more into our current world? Or do you want to present it the way it was, and just… we’re just going to read it differently, but the text itself is no different?
SS: No, it’s definitely malleable. I mean, I think it’s less about making it fit the current world than it is about making it reflect the things that you care about as creators on the book at that time. So you’re not trying to catch the zeitgeist. It’s more about speaking from the heart about the things that you’re concerned about, and to have a story take the heroes on a journey that will make them show you, the reader, how to be brave in the face of these fears that have become so acute in that moment. So that’s always been a bit of our compass as a team, when we were doing “Batman” and then “Metal” and then here, too. So with “Metal,” I mean, with “Death Metal,” I pitched it all the way back when in 2016, and I think a couple of the things that were ramping up for the election.Continued below
And then on top of that, there was the feeling of kind of divisive anger everywhere, and a kind of retreating from the world stage in different capacities for not just us, but for Great Britain. And there was this feeling almost of like of tension, and anxiety, and anger everywhere. And I think Metal was designed to say, “Hey, events are meant to be over the top lunatic, comic fun.” And yet, when you scratch the surface on something like “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” or “Final Crisis,” or “Infinite Crisis” too at that moment, they’re always about comics, and about what we think are our heroes should be representative of at that moment, but you see a lot of, I think, the real world fears beyond the comics industry, itself with the creators’ own hopes and sort of nightmarish, I think, worries filtering in through the words of the villains, filtering in through the ambitions of the heroes.
And so when we pitched the bones of this story, it was… a lot of the same stuff that’s now become even more pronounced was there at the beginning. So we said, if we can get here, we want a world where the Batman Who Laughs has been given complete control over the Earth. And he rules over it with ridiculous amounts of Evil Batmen, some of whom are meant to be our craziest creations ever, like a monster truck Batmobile that has the spirit of Batman inside of him, to the Robot Dinosaur Batman. And then other ones that are extremely dark and real terrifying reflections of the potential in Batman’s own fears about himself, like the Robin King, who’s a new character. Who’s the only Robin… the darkest Robin of all. We call them Groblins, actually, the little Robin goblins. And he’s sort of the only one that the new version of the Batman Who Laughs keeps around after the events of issue 1.
So in that regard, I think the bones of the thing have stayed exactly what they were, but the message and what it was about has only become more resonant with us. Because it was a lot of the stuff we were afraid of. You know, we were afraid of all of the kind of… the worries about the industry grinding to a halt for different reasons. Back then in 2016, we were worried about comic stores. We were worried about finding a way through… having our heroes be… making sure that they’re fresh, and yet relevant, and yet true to core.
So this story was kind of meant to sort of put them in a circumstance that feels almost like where they’re wholly out of place. They’ve totally… People didn’t want them anymore. And now they have to find a way back from this insane situation and context, and show why they matter more than ever in a way that reflects all of their true core sensibilities individually and collectively, and also shows them in a new light, and gives them some… I think makes some aspects of them fresh and exciting all over again.
But I’ll give you an example. So when I wrote it, one of the big sticking points… When I pitched it all the way back, not the original pitch, but when we got closer to actually doing it, let’s say like a year ago, because the story I wrote, Issue 1 for it, almost a year ago at this point, and outlined it, all those summits, if you go back through my social media, you can see where we were planning it.
Because we were about to have… We were pregnant with Quinn, who’s now over one year old, and Bob Harras, and Marie Javins, and Josh, and James would come to my house because I couldn’t travel to the West Coast. But you can see that’s what we were here planning from the little hints, and the things on the whiteboard, and the things that we said on social media, and all that stuff. So it’s been around forever.
But so one of the things that was a sticking point with DC was I really wanted a page one where Sgt. Rock addressed the audience. And you don’t really know what the situation is, and there’s kind of a joke and a twist to it when you get to the final page of the first issue. So it makes sense in a very weird way, but I wanted it to be like this weird fourth wall break, where he’s talking to you.Continued below
The light goes on, and he’s in some kind of bunker, and you hear other heroes in the background, but he’s staring at you. And there’s just a bare bulb, and ammunition behind him, and he’s like, “Listen.” He was like, “I knew you’d be here. Let me tell you…” And someone’s like, “Who the hell are you talking to, Rock? You know there’s nobody there. That hit you took out on the field, it’s making you see things.” And he’s like, “Well, maybe I am seeing things, kid.” But he’s really… I love writing these kinds of like ‘chew up to scenery’ character moments. And he’s got like three cigars, and a giant space machine gun, you know?
And he’s looking at you, and it says Rock on his helmet. And he’s like, “Let’s be honest with them because they’d better know what they’re getting into with this one.” And he’s like, “You know, it’s a shit burger out there. I’m not going to lie to you.” You know? And he’s like, “It’s worse than that. It’s like you pulled up to the drive through…” And it’s this long story. Greg almost killed me over the wording, how much lettering it was. I had to pull it back.
But he’s like, “You’re at the drive through. And out comes your burger on one of them fancy French buns. You know what I mean? It’s just what you wanted. And then you take a bite. What is it? It’s turd!” You know? And he’s like, “And them fries…” And he goes on, and on, and on.
And finally, he’s like, “And all of it happened so fast. We didn’t know what… We didn’t even know what to make of it. But I’m going to tell you. Listen to your Uncle Rock. What we’re going to do…” You know? And it’s this pep-talk. But what it’s really about is, it was always going to be something that was designed for fans, and to say to fans and retailers like, “Look…” We knew it was coming out. Now we knew it was going to start to get crazy with everything from the election, to whatever was happening. And we wanted it to feel like, “Hey, listen. Comics are going to be all over the place. People are going to be worried about the state of them. Everything’s…” Let’s show them we’re still here. We’re going to have some fun. And secretly, the story is about how we all get through this together.
And so it was designed that way. But the crazier things got, the more that dialogue really rang true for me. And so I tweaked it to really, I think, take out not all… it’s still the exact same jokes about the burger, but to make it a little bit more direct to retailers and fans, you know?
SS: Because what he really says is what we mean, which is he looks out there… And I realized the point of why he’s excited when he looks out is… He says, “You’re still here.” You know? And he said, “I knew you’d be here.” But now he says, “You’re still here. I knew it. I knew you would be.” And he says, “Because when I look out there, maybe I am seeing things. But what I see are soldiers.” You know? And he says, “It’s the best kind, too. The kind that stay.”
And we mean it sincerely. So we’re very grateful to everybody showing up. We got the initial numbers on it, and they were way higher than we expected. They were basically double of what we were expecting-
Wow, that’s awesome.
SS: And that’s where we were with initial orders when we did an event before COVID. So the idea that everything is returnable, and there are levies for it, sure. There are different levers to pull, but ultimately, the fact that we’re hearing from retailers about how high the demand is from fans calling the stores means the world to us. Because we want to give you something here, out there, everybody, that says to you, thank you. That shows you how fun comics are, that unites all of these different threads, not just from us, but unites, “Doomsday Clock,” the Crises, all kinds of stuff that we feel like were great stories, but didn’t get pulled into the main..Continued below
I think it’s our fault, DC. Let’s just talk frankly, because we’re all fucking stuck at home, and why not? Right? And dropping the unicycle, and the torches, and all the kinds of stuff that I P.T. Barnum everything all the time, and say we didn’t do the best job we could have the last couple of years.
You know, there are a lot of people… In a lot of ways, it’s great to have everybody siloed, and doing stuff that’s really uniquely theirs. But in another way, there’s a way of doing that, and having a balance where stories that are supposed to be reflective of one another acknowledge each other. When you do feel like if you want it to be a unified universe, you can read it in such a way that you’re moving through like a tapestry in this beautiful way.
If you want to read things that are singular, like Mister Miracle, you can read that, and it’s singular and works on its own. But those of us who were working within the main Universe, I think myself included, sometimes dropped the ball in terms of making sure that we coordinated enough, that it made you feel like you were in one single awesome inclusive Universe.
And so this event is meant… the post-it on my computer for it is “It all matters.” And that’s the title of the first chapter of the event itself spoken by Diana to the Robot Batman Dinosaur. And that’s what it is. It’s meant to reward you for your many, many years of dedication to these characters, to DC, to us as creators. And if you’re just coming right in the door, and you’ve never read anything DC, it’s designed to be a fun first entry point, as well.
So we just want to say thank you to everybody coming in and checking it up, and showing you why this Universe’s characters are not only… have been great for decades, and decades, and decades, but why they’re even more, I think, relevant right now than ever.
Yeah. I know, speaking as somebody who’s been reading monthly comics for 30 years, to have this big break without the regular grind of comics has been really weird for me, and for a lot of us. And so I know we’re all looking forward to getting back into that, and having an event like this kicking that off is going to be so cool.
I did want to ask you about… and I’m not looking for behind the scenes dirt, or anything like that. But I do know that there was a big editorial change in the middle of this, with Dan DiDio stepping away. And I know you had said in a prior interview that that sort of changed the context of the story. How did Dan stepping away change the context of the story a bit?
SS: Well, let me just say… First of all, Dan remains a good friend of mine, and he was my biggest champion when I started at DC in terms of… He was the one that signed off on giving me all of “Detective Comics” when I was barely anybody. I had three issues of “American Vampire” out when I got the chance to do ‘The Black Mirror,’ and pick the artists that I wanted for that book, when I had no business doing that. You know, I was totally green.
And then he was the one that allowed me to do ‘Court of Owls’ as a 12-issue series. All of that stuff… At the time, there was a lot of resistance because ‘Black Mirror’ was a 12-issue series. You know, what if people hate it at issue 3? You’re stuck with it for nine more months. Anyway, same with ‘The Court of Owls.’ So he was always my big supporter at DC. And he defended a lot of our ideas, I think, to Warner Bros., as they moved to the West Coast, and all of that.
So we definitely had our creative differences, as we both laugh over. And we had total knockdown, drag out fights at times, as everybody can can confirm. But that said, they were always about story. And I have tremendous respect for him. And we just spoke. I mean, we still speak quite often, text, and everything. So I have nothing but gratitude for Dan.Continued below
I think what I was trying to say with that, and what I’d say now, is that sometimes there were directions and things that he was excited about for DC, or for the line, that fit perfectly with what we had been planning on doing for a long time. And with “Metal,” for example, or with “Batman,” for example, and he would attach as much as he could to things that we were doing. And there were other times where he had a creative vision that we were supportive of, but there wasn’t really a connection between what we were doing and what was being planned. And so that was always fine, as well. And he always still supported what we were doing, and we supported what he wanted to do.
So with “Metal”… I think “Death Metal” had been planned for so long, the footprints are all there in terms of when we were building it. And you can just look back through the comics themselves, through the story, and see that for better or worse, this was the plan we had from the beginning.
That said, there was a lot of change that came to the timing of things that I think helped at times, and then hurt at times. Things like ‘Year of the Villain’ got stretched out, things like “Hell Arisen” got compressed. And we had a different plan for how it would build a story, but that’s comics. That’s what happens, and there’s no hard feelings with any of it. I’m very happy with how everything came out.
But with “Death Metal,” I think at a certain point, some of the plans that they had didn’t really connect to what we were doing or saying with “Death Metal” because it just seemed out of place. We seemed out of place. And so it became something where we were going to do our story with the full support of them, of Dan and everybody there, but it wasn’t necessarily going to set things up so much as it was going to sum things up. You know what I mean?
SS: Like kind of connect everything from the era before so a new era could start in a different way. And that’s fine. You know, we were totally up for that. And then as things changed, and Dan exited, they were looking for a different direction, I think, for the line. And it happens to be a little bit more confluent with what we were trying to do with “Metal,” easier to set up, and more… I think just as like… and COVID changes everything, obviously. I think what we were asking of people on one side of all of this is different than what you would ask on the other side. Meaning, I think people on the other side of all this, they’re going to be very excited to get back to comics in a way that celebrates the fun, celebrates the inclusion, celebrates the epic quality of them, and the heroism, and the villainy in ways that kind of… It’s almost like not comfort food, but going back to basics, but doing it in a way that really also adds a few very fresh elements.
And so, because of that, and because we’re asking so much of anybody right now, spending any disposable income on comics, I think that’s really become the north star for us, is to remember that. And that’s very much what Metal as a summation of what came before is about, and what it points to going forward in its own way. So it was very easy to then hook it up to a lot of things that their editorial is talking about now, and to help architect some of those with them, as well.
So it just happened to fall that way. And I think instead of just being kind of a cap to what came before, now it’s also a launch pad for things that are coming on the other side, which is a lot of fun. I love the people there, and I love Dan, and you know… This isn’t PR. Like I said, we had tons of fights about many, many things with a lot of four letter words, but we always respected each other. And I was in full support of what they wanted to try and do before, and I’m excited to be able to be in full support of it, and also a part of it, now.Continued below
Yeah. That’s awesome. And as somebody who’s been reading your work since the beginning, I can’t wait to see where this all wraps up. I’ve got one more question for you, and I’m going to put you on the spot here. I want you to talk about one moment that won’t spoil anything, but one of the crazier moments in the first issue of “Death Metal.” What’s the panel that’s going to blow people’s minds?
SS: It’s the last one. I can’t… but there’s the moment… Like the second to last page, and then the last panel of the last… No. Well… There’s one. There’s the Coda page. And the Coda page isn’t going to shock anyone, except it’ll make them laugh. It’s the wrap up of the Sgt Rock beat that I told you in the beginning.
And there’s a surprise that… There’s a fun surprise there. But I’m trying to think what I can actually spoil for you in a fun way that wouldn’t…
I think if we didn’t know about T-Rex Batman, that would have been the moment, right?
SS: Yeah. I’ll tell you… I’ll give you another… there’s the Living City Batman. There’s the T-Rex Batman, Dark Side Batman, he’s one of my favorites. He’s called Dark Father. There’s a, there’s a Cthulhu Batman called Bathomat who looks over Aquaman, who’s forced to run the Black Fleet. There’s Harley riding… she rides a mutant hyena around the Wastelands. And Dr. Arkham watches her, who’s a Bruce Wayne that has all these men-bat, these creepy looking experiments that follow her around. And let me try and think like…
I think you’ve given us plenty there, Scott. I don’t want you to spoil the whole issue.
SS: I will tell you… Yeah, there’s… you’ll see by the end of the issue how big we want to go. You know? I’m excited for people. I hope they enjoy it. We really put everything we have into it. And we wanted… I think our priority is hopefully, you’re… What we’re trying to do is to make a comic that we would love to read in these times. And that’s what I hope people find with it.