With all due respect to his current writers on “Batman” and “Detective Comics,” Scott Snyder is the Batman writer of the 2010s. From his Dick Grayson-starring ‘Black Mirror’ story in the pre-‘Flashpoint’ “Detective Comics” to his New 52 run with Greg Capullo on “Batman,” and now to “Justice League,” Snyder has found ‘his’ Batman, and has crafted some truly epic stories with him at the center.
Right now, that story involves the Batman Who Laughs, a Dark Multiverse Batman introduced in “Dark Nights: Metal.” In his titular miniseries, Batman is doused with Joker toxin and is, in a very real sense, becoming the Batman Who Laughs. We spoke with Snyder just before issue #2 dropped to discuss the miniseries, but especially the balance of hope and darkness that is so important to a story like this one.
Let’s talk about the second issue of the “The Batman Who Laughs.” The first thing I want to talk about, and this one kind of borders into spoiler territory so I’ll put a little tag for our readers, is the last page of the issue. You bring back a character that you have worked really closely with that you are maybe in the modern era best known for working with, and that is James Gordon Jr. What is it about that character that works for this story with you?
Scott Snyder: That’s a great question. Well for me, I’m really hesitant to bring back characters that I’ve worked on before unless I have a very special story for them. I try hard to leave it on the table for other people.
For me, I think the thing that really works about James Jr. in this particular story is that he’s a character who, in a lot of ways, represents a complete lack of empathy. He’s meant to be this kind of sociopathic presence in Jim Gordon’s life and Jim Gordon plays very heavily into this story. The idea was supposed to be with him that essentially he was the one mystery that Jim Gordon couldn’t really solve because he was too close to him and so bringing him back here I wanted to do something very, very different with him.
In this story, without spoiling too much, his role is going to be something you’ve never seen before for him and there’s a reason why he’s out and there’s a reason why Jim knows about it. He plays a very large part in the story as we go forward, both because I kind of see this book as a spiritual successor to ‘Black Mirror’ for us and it investigates some of the same themes, but also I think because largely the book is about the Batman Who Laughs coming here and saying to Bruce, “Not only are you not the most effective Batman, but you’re the worst version of us all across the multiverse, and I’ve seen all of them. You’re the least content, the least happy and I’m going to show you why.”
In that way the story is a lot about reflections of ourselves and there’s a lot of echoing of characters. He shows as the same way Batman Who Laughs is bringing forth these Bruce Waynes, I wanted a character who would play off Jim Gordon and be a reflection of him in such a way that we could really do a deep dive investigation of what makes him who he and whether or not he’s done the right thing over the years.
Yeah. I think James Jr. Is such a fascinating character, in part because of the absolute opposite he is from Jim’s other kid; Barbara and James couldn’t be any more different.
What I liked about this issue in particular is that sometimes Jim and Batman can have this adversarial…not adversarial, but sort of competitive relationship where they’re butting heads a little bit. When you write Jim and Batman together they’re really partners in crime, they’re working together. Is that partnership with Jim different than it is with all the other partners in his life and if so how?
SS: Yeah, it’s very different. I think in a lot of ways Jim, he trusts Jim almost more than anybody but Alfred out there, and not because he doesn’t trust his children, but I think he’s willing to protect his children from some difficult truths that he knows that Jim is aware of both as a parent and as a patron of Gotham.Continued below
To me, Jim and Clark are the two best friends that I love writing outside of Alfred, and here in this story in particular his relationship with Jim plays a very, very big part as he kind of confesses to Jim what’s happening with him. In this story Bruce is slowly becoming the Batman Who Laughs, and really the person that he trusts the most to help him and possibly put him down if he changes all the way, it’s Jim.
Yeah. I want to talk about your Harvey Bullock in this issue, because in this issue Bruce goes undercover as Harvey and it’s a really brilliant scene. You’ve written Bullock a bit in your career; what is it about him that makes him an interesting character? Why do you keep coming back to him?
SS: I love the GCPD [Gotham City Police Department], man. I love writing Jim and I love writing Montoya, I love writing Bullock. I mean for me, the thing that’s interesting about Bullock is the contrast between his public persona and who he is deep down. He, for me, presents this very gruff tough guy, he has his issues, he drinks a little too much, he’s rough around the edges, but deep down at least our version of him is quite sensitive and a lot of that is an act I think to make cops in his, in the GCPD, feel more protected in a way. I think that the whole idea that he brings down Batman and he makes fun of Batman is a way of boosting morale for them so they don’t feel overshadowed by The Bat in Gotham.
A lot of his act I think is to just put on a performance, act tough and then deep down he’s one of the more sensitive characters on the force for us.
You talked a bit before about how Batman Who Laughs says to Bruce that his Batman is the least effective and he’s the least happy. I know that that’s something he might be saying to get inside Bruce’s head, but you as a writer, when you’re writing these characters, do you believe him?
SS: Well I want to really explore that. I mean for me, I want this to feel … And one of the reasons I think that I wanted it to be a spiritual sequel to ‘The Black Mirror’ is that I don’t know how many more stories I really plan on doing in Gotham. With Greg, I know that our last one is ‘The Last Night on Earth,’ which we’re working on now and about a third of the way through, and so with this one I not only wanted to return to certain themes and return to certain characters, but just go deeper and dive deeper, so this one really is about…not only is our Batman content or happy or effective, but is there something else that he should have been?
You know when I first made [The Batman Who Laughs] in “Metal,” it was always this…he’s always the final boss, the final villain, at least in my mythos for Batman, because he’s Batman to the core, he’s Bruce Wayne, he knows everything Bruce knows, he has all of his training, and yet he has none of his vulnerabilities and there’s something terrifying about that. He knows Alfred inside and out, he has all his memories, Bruce’s memories, so there’s almost no way that Bruce can get purchase on him. In that way if I’m going to bring that character face to face with Bruce and really do a story about the two of them, I want it to be something that goes deeper than I have and darker than I have in terms of an exploration of Batman’s purpose, Batman’s methods and Batman’s psychology.
This story is really for me, it’s easily one of the darkest things that I’ve written at DC, but it’s also for me one of the most personal and penetrating, I’m really proud of it. I want it to stand up there with my best stuff. I hope it shows that I’m giving it extra love.
We know each other pretty well, so I can say this: This was not the series of yours I as most looking forward to, because I think that sometimes … And I don’t mean that disrespectfully, it’s just that I …Continued below
SS: No, no.
What I love about your work is that there’s always this hope to it, that it can be dark but there’s always a hint of light there, and I was afraid that this book would be too far in the dark direction, but you really haven’t done that. There is still hope, there is still a little bit of humor, there is still some life to this story, and so what I wanted to ask you is, when you’re working on a story this dark, this deep in the depressive, darkness weeds, how do you bring that light and that grace to it still? How do you manage that balance?
SS: Thanks for saying that. It is definitely a balance and I’ll take levity wherever I can get it,. It’s really looking at it almost from 30,000 feet up and saying…first it’s the emotions, making sure that everything dark and gruesome and horrific is warranted and is emotionally more impactful than it is in any kind of salacious way. But then secondarily, I think for me in terms of the brightness or the levity, is looking at it from the air and looking at each scene and saying, where is there a place to make readers believe Batman can win, where is there a place to have some kind of, even if it’s dark humor, humor that makes them feel like, you know what, it’s not all bleak and grim and that there’s some kind of hope.
Sometimes it honestly comes in the form of the villains being funny as well, like Joker to me has some of the best lines in issue three and here I think the Batman Who Laughs himself is almost so blackly funny that I think, I hope that it announces to readers that we want the book to be something that’s fun as well, even as dark as it is.
There’s a lot of joy that goes into writing it, I’ll tell you that, even at it’s darkest, because I’ve been waiting to do it for a while.
I mean in the first issue you had Dark Knight returns, the insurance stuff. I mean that literally had me laughing out loud when I read it, so you do find space for that. Part of what’s so hard about writing Batman is you do reflexively fall back on the darkness because of who the character is, and you’ve been writing Batman now for a long time and you’ve been putting Batman in all of these terrible positions, these almost unwinnable positions. When you were doing that, do you have to stop yourself from just trying to buck too hard against that and going into the Adam West direction, to try and give yourself a little bit of leeway there? On sort of a macro level, looking at it, like you said, from 30,000 feet, how do you make sure that you’re handling both sides of that, the darkness but also making sure that there’s something there to hold onto hope wise?
SS: It’s weird, I think it’s built into the DNA of the character, for me at least, our version of him is someone whose power comes from almost the belief that he’ll always win. He takes a tragedy that should level him as a child and instead turns it into fuel to become this winning machine in his life and to show people that even a great catastrophe can become fuel for your own triumphs and achievements and something as meaningless as his parent’s death can be this engine of meaning in his life. In that way it also lends itself to, I think, a lot of humor both for the Batman Who Laughs and for Batman himself, at least for me.
He always has these one liners or he has these moments where he swoops in, and even the Batman Who Laughs in the next issue, in three, he attacks the Iceberg Lounge at one point, he’s talking to the Penguin at about how your Batman has all kinds of one liners that he plans to use when he finally takes this place down and he’s got all kinds of ways of melting the ice and sending it into the bay, and he might say this to you, he might say that to you, and they’re all pretty good on liners. He’s like, “You know me,” he’s like, “I keep it simple, I just stole your umbrella,” so he’s like, “I’ll just use the flame thrower,” and he just burns the whole place down and burns everyone with him and then the kicker is, he’s like I know … Penguin is looking for his machine gun and he’s like, “I already took it. I know everything about this place. I even know where you keep your defibrillator,” and he takes it and he puts it in the water from the melted ice and he’s like, “Clear,” and he shocks Penguin off his feet.Continued below
There’s a joy that comes with Batman’s confidence with the idea that he overcomes any difficult situation that I think sometimes can be played for laughs, but ultimately is this thing about him that makes him so enduring. I mean we always joke, Batman always wins. Whenever people ask me like, “Who wins in a fight, Hulk or Spider-Man?” It’s Batman.
The reason I think that that’s funny is that there’s truth to it and the truth isn’t because he’s not this all powerful, over powered character, it’s that he’s one of the few human characters without powers, without any magical ring or lantern or lasso or anything. He’s juts us, and so the fact that he endures everything and gets up from any dark nightmarish challenge or overcomes every obstacle, that’s the myth and the folktale of Batman from its very core, from that night in the alley to its 80 year, most modern story. To me that’s the absolute DNA of the character, is that he gets up from what gets him down and he turns that tragedy into something that propels him forward, and that lesson is deeply inspiring, especially when you’re going through hard times.
I always love the humor in the Batman always wins, the one liners. My favorite moment in ‘Super Heavy,’ where Jim Gordon is Batman for a while, and then when Bruce comes back he looks at him and he’s in his Batman costume and he’s on the signal, he’s standing on the signal and he says … He looks at Jim Gordon and he says, “Who died and made you Batman?” It’s my favorite because he died, obviously Bruce apparently died and that’s how Jim became Batman and it also has the ring of Batman thinking of himself as always the best.