The revamped origin story Batman: Zero Year may be taking a break in February, but writer Scott Snyder's promising big action when the series returns in March.
As Snyder announced last month, February's Batman #28 will give readers a few sneak peeks into the future of the Batman series — but the issue is also giving series artist Greg Capullo an extra month to draw the oversized Batman #29 in March.
Snyder, who's writing a slew of books for DC right now, sat down with Newsarama to talk about all things Zero Year — from the Crime Alley pages in March's issue #29, to a conversation he had with Grant Morrison about writing Batman.
Newsarama: When you announced there would be a new February issue inserted into the schedule on Batman, you mentioned that it came about because you added pages to issue #28. What prompted you to add pages to that issue (which will now be issue #29)? And can you describe what the issue represents to the overall story of Zero Year?
Scott Snyder: Yeah, what happened was, you know, Greg is always on the ball, he's always ahead. The last thing I'd ever worry about is Greg being late. And I've thrown him extra pages, and he's always so early, which is incredible with him.
But I just felt like this last issue of the dark part of the story, which will bring us to 2/3 of the way done with Zero Year, and leave the final section — the "Savage City" section, which is just going to be out of control and bombast and fun for everyone, I think.
You've see our re-working of the real essential parts of the origin, like his relationship to Jim Gordon and how he became Batman in general in the first part, and then the Gordon relationship re-imagined in the second part.
The third part is an all-out brawl with the Riddler for the fate of Gotham City, in a crazy, overgrown, almost post-apocalyptic Gotham.
So it's really, really out there. You caught a glimpse of it in the cold open of the whole series. But we wanted it to be the farthest thing you'd ever expect from an origin story, this section.
Nrama: You mentioned the Riddler is behind the mayhem in the section that starts in April, "Savage City." What is he trying to do? What's his mindset?
Snyder: The Riddler's philosophy is largely that we're living in the kind of end of a kind of entropic process, and that we're in the end of times.
Basically, we're a bloated civilization, and we're going down. And the only way to stop ourselves from being wiped out — and he cites different examples in history where we came close to the brink of extinction — is by becoming smarter.
So he sees himself speeding up the process for Gotham. Ruining it. Giving it back to nature. Harboring any kind of terrorism and disease and controlling it, almost like his own private playground, because he has full control of it by then.
He's essentially saying, if you can find me, and you can capture me, then this all ends.
And it's easy to do if you can figure out my riddle.
So he sees himself as doing a service, in some ways, to humanity and the people of Gotham, given the way he sees the modern age. He believes that, yeah, the only way the human race will survive is to evolve intellectually. And he's pretty funny about citing examples from ancient history, as well — even prehistoric times, like the development of the human brain, and how we were able to survive, even though physically we're so helpless compared to other animals. He sees this as a time where we need to do that — a climate change, a lack of resources, overpopulation. All of those things will come to mean our end.
Nrama: Is he really that altruistic? Trying to save the human race?
Snyder: Well, deep down, of course, he's just an egotist. Like, he says he's doing that, but Batman sees through him.
Nrama: So this required you adding pages to the "final" issue of this section — which is now March's Batman #29?
Snyder: Yeah, to begin that battle, to show him taking control of the city in a big way, and to end the Doctor Death plot in a way that I think, hopefully, is surprising and fun, it needed some extra pages.
My feeling, basically, was — am I really going to stick Greg with extra pages and say, "Merry Christmas! Here's some extra pages to do for deadline!" — and some of the pages actually deal with the alley moments themselves?
Nrama: The Crime Alley scene, where Batman's parents are killed?
Snyder: Yeah, so it became very sensitive for me to give Greg enough time, to direct those the way he wanted and to feel comfortable doing the Crime Alley moments. You know? However he thought he could really make them sort of fresh and iconic and his own.
For me, it became about, alright, I tell you what… let's take an issue off. It's right in the middle of Zero Year. And instead, we'll reward the fans for following us through this story that — I'll be honest — I was so anxious about.
Nrama: You were anxious about Zero Year?
Snyder: Yeah! I've never been as anxious about anything in work in my whole life. I mean, doing Batman's origin over, I was half sure that people would just drop the book, you know? I was half sure that people would hate it.
I'm so proud of it though. It's my favorite thing that we've done on the book, hands down. It's us re-imagining Batman for our own.
From here forward, he really is the character that we've made up for ourselves on this run, you know? Not to say that "Court of Owls" and the Joker arcs didn't have the same character. They entirely do, but at the same time, this is the moment where I feel like, for me, he's clearly our version of Batman.
Nrama: Yeah, you talked about Batman almost being like a creator-owned character when I interviewed you about your story in Detective Comics #27. Can you explain what you mean by Batman being a creator-owned character?
Snyder: What I mean is, he's almost a creator-owned character for me — not to anybody else, but I feel this version of Batman is our version, and we know him better than anybody else, because we sort of built him from the ground up.
Nrama: Isn't it more like the template was already there, and you rounded him out into a unique version?
Snyder: Yeah, but as I told you before [in our previous interview], I was talking to Grant Morrison at San Diego [Comic-Con International]. That guy has been so wonderfully supportive and such a gentleman to me, from go. He saw me at San Diego and he said, you know, "How's it been so far?"
I was like, "How's what been?"
And he said, "The rocket ship ride." [Laughs.]
And I was like, "I feel really lucky." And he's like, "Yeah, but how have you been emotionally about it?" And I remember saying to him, I'm like, "I couldn't be more thrilled, but it's been really stressful. I've been really nervous, you know?"
And he laughed, and he was kind of like, "You know what? Here's my number. You can call me anytime, if you ever want to talk about it."
And that meant the world to me.
But one of the things he said, in that same conversation, is he asked me, "Has he become your creator-owned character yet? Bruce? Has he become yours yet?"
And I was saying, because I was working on Zero Year, that I understood what he was saying, because when you work on a character like Batman, when you start, it's like he's everybody else's, and you're just trying to do the best version you can that's yours, but you still feel that weight of him being "Batman." You know? You're still intimidated by it.
But then after awhile, you write him long enough that he becomes Bruce Wayne. And his psychology becomes your version of it. You're no longer doing Frank Miller's or Grant Morrison's or anyone like that. It's yours.
And that began happening, for me, when I was doing "Court of Owls." I could feel him really becoming my own there.
But doing Zero Year — re-imagining his purpose, re-imagining his formative years — makes him feel so much like a character that Greg and I have kind of made our own.
It's our version, love it or hate it.
There are so many versions of him that I love, that are contradictory to one another, like Frank Miller's version and Grant Morrison's version, you know? But at the same time, I love how each one is so individuated.
So Zero Year, to me, is my favorite thing because it's our take on Batman and his mythology.
Vengeance vs. Justice
Nrama: Let's talk about what we've seen in Zero Year so far. You mentioned briefly what each of the first two sections accomplished — re-working the origin, and re-imagining the relationship between Batman and Jim Gordon. As the writer, how would you explain each of those sections, particularly this change in the origin of Gordon and Batman's relationship?
Snyder: Sure, the first section was about Bruce needing to learn that he needs to mean something — that he can't just be a ghost, the vigilante that represents this mission that he doesn't announce to anyone. You know? He's fighting as this faceless thing, as a vigilante. And then he has Bruce Wayne dead in the ground, and he's not announcing to people he's back as Bruce Wayne.
So the lesson really is, Batman needs to be inspiring.
And the second section is about, in a lot of ways, what Batman has to mean. And in that way, it's about not being an agent of vengeance, but instead being one of justice.
Nrama: And there's a distinct difference.
Snyder: Yeah, vengeance, to me, is when you come back, and all you're looking to do is punish the people you think did you wrong. And in a lot of ways, I think what Bruce doesn't realize, is that — not only does he think that Gordon did him wrong, and he has actual, literal reasons for thinking that — he thinks the city did him wrong.
And even though he's there to save [Gotham] and to save the people of Gotham, by blocking them all out, and by not letting the police help, or Gordon help, or even Alfred help a lot, he basically is trying to make them bear witness to him doing the thing that nobody could do for him.
That's really more than I should say, I think, about what it's about. But that's what it's about for me, is him not realizing yet that he's acting upon — he's being kind of a demon of vengeance rather than a symbol of inspiration, at this point in the story. He's punishing everyone in Gotham by making them watch him do what they couldn't do, and not letting any of them help.
In Defense of Re-Imaginings
Nrama: You said earlier that you were anxious about writing Zero Year, wondering about fan reaction. And it feels like, to me, that the main struggle in making these types of "re-tellings" work is to balance the old with the new. You could be too new, to the point that you weren't respecting what came before or you're doing something that just takes things too far — or you could be too old, in that it's just a rehashing of someone else's story.
Snyder: That was the exact tightrope walk that's been so nerve-wracking — wanting it to feel fun and new, yet not making it so new that it feels disrespectful.
I hope this makes it OK for — and I know this might make people upset, so I hope I'm not being controversial by saying so — but I really hope that this story makes it OK to do another Batman origin.
Nrama: Scott! Let us get through this one before you plan to write another one!
Snyder: No, no — not me! [Laughs.] For someone else, down the line.
Look, for me, there's no better origin than Year One. It just will never be topped. That's just the way it is. That and Dark Knight Returns are, to me, the two greatest Batman pieces ever.
That said, I don't think that we shouldn't be able to try to make Batman's mythology modern and exciting and personal to whoever's writing the book — when the time is right for that.
Nrama: So the next time there's a major shift in the character? Like this one was predicated by the New 52 reboot, which changed his history?
Snyder: Yeah, when the time is right.
Look, I hope that this one is good enough that no one wants to do it again for awhile. [Laughs.]
Nrama: Yeah, if you leave, and DC all of the sudden says, "Whoa, we have to undo all of what that crazy Snyder did…" it might be a problem.
Snyder: That would be a bummer. I promise.
But at the same time, my hope is that someone, years down the line, will feel OK trying a new thing, and making Batman completely different in the way we've made him.
I tell you this… as much as I love continuity — and I'm a continuity hound, in the way that I love to see things link up, and I love to see the echoes… I mean, look at Black Mirror.
Also, I'm the person who came in to Batman with Tomasi and Gail Simone and that whole Batman team — all of us argued to keep Batman's past the same, when we went to the New 52. We all made that argument, and DC allowed it.
We're all preservationists when it comes to Batman's history. That said, things we saw along the line, with stories being changed — or some of us took the opportunity to change stories in exciting ways for every character, from Harley Quinn to Selena Kyle to Nightwing. And as those things changed, it became apparent that certain parts of the history needed re-doing.
For me, it was a real revolution in my thinking, that I could go back and do something, and try the origin.
What I've come to realize is that I love seeing the origins of my favorite superheroes re-done. I mean, as much as people complain about it, I'm always up for going to see a movie that's a new take, or a cartoon that's a new take, or a live action show. I'm always first in line for that. I can't wait to see them done in a way that's fresh and new.
Of course you don't want it done over and over in continuity and have everything messed up, where you don't know what's there anymore. I totally understand that.
But in terms of the basic ideological idea of, you know, "don't re-do origins because they should done once and never again?" For me, I think there is a time to re-do them. And I think 1987 is a long time ago. The fears and worries of Gotham are of that moment. That doesn't make that book any less of a masterpiece and any less timeless, but it just means that I think it's time right now to try something different and show Batman facing fears that are particular to right now.
And I hope someone else will do that again, when the zeitgeist changes.