[Big honkin' SPOILERS for Batman #17 in case the headline was too ambiguous]new art from Batman #18 Did the Joker win?
For readers of this week's finale to "Death of the Family," that question lies at the heart of Batman #17. Batman may have kept Joker's dinner from burning the Bat-family, but the villain's plan to take away the people Bruce Wayne loves was more successful.
As the words "Ha Ha Ha" covered the final page of the issue by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, it was difficult to see this story as anything but a victory for the Joker as he's torn apart the connections between Bruce Wayne and his family.
So what comes next for Batman? In March's issue #18, Bruce will turn toward Harper Row, the mysterious girl we explored here on Newsarama after her feature story in Batman #12.
Then the events of "Death of the Family" lead Bruce into a long-form story featuring one of Snyder's favorite villains, although he won't confirm who the rogue is (psst... he's hinted that it's the Riddler).
But Batman also seems to possibly be caught up in the aftermath of the Batman, Incorporated story that's hitting its climax this month — something Newsarama examined in detail earlier this week. There's a terrible event coming that will affect most Batman titles, and it's almost certain that it involves Bruce's son, Damian Wayne.
In the interview that follows, we talked to Snyder about whether Batman, Incorporated would affect his Batman title, and we even asked for more information on Harper Row and what's coming in 2013 for his comic.
But mostly, we picked the writer's brain about how he crafted "Death of the Family," what the ending meant, and whether he thinks Joker won this battle.
Newsarama: Scott, one of the things that really struck me, particularly with it being Valentine's Day, is the twisted view of "love" that you wrote into Joker's character. It's almost an exaggerated co-dependency. How would you describe the way Joker "loves" Batman?
Scott Snyder: That's a great question. For me, he really does believe deeply that he loves Batman and that Batman loves him back. And his view of love, I think, is that kind of creepy, total devotion and co-dependency where no one else in the world matters.
What he believes, deep down — Joker in our story — is that Batman has given him proof over time that he loves him more than anybody, he loves Joker more than anybody. And he's here to make that case and say, "You might flirt with these other characters, you might pretend you love them as much as me, but I am like the crazy girlfriend that you love the most."
People, I think, mistake it for a more literal kind of love. They'll ask me, like, "is Joker serious when he's like, 'we're married' and whatever?" But it's not really that. I think the Joker has a love for Batman and he perceives a love for Batman, whether or not it's true, that transcends the kind of definition of love that we have, but that you can begin to understand if you look into that kind of twisted mind and see him as somebody who believes that love is almost a religious and unequaled kind of devotion to someone else, where you'll do anything it takes to make them a better person and a better version of themselves.Batman #17 And Joker sees himself as doing that for Batman by bringing horrifying things to life for him that he's afraid of.
Nrama: Having read all your Batman stories over the last couple years in this book and Detective, I noticed a thread from past stories during that moment at the end of Batman #17 where you touched upon the idea of Gotham defining who villains are. Bruce said he knew that if he killed the Joker, Gotham would just send him someone worse. Was that an echo of what you had been exploring in the Owls storyline and even your Detective story?
Snyder: Yeah, 100 percent. Really, the secret through-line of all my stuff is Bruce's relationship to Gotham, above all. That really is at the core of who Batman is, in all kinds of ways that are heroic and self-destructive and pathological and inspiring. All those kinds of things going back to Batman and his true love, the city.
In that way, Joker, to me, is a perfect manifestation of what the city does, which is it throws your worst nightmares at you in a trial-by-fire, if you're going to be a hero there. The wonderful thing about Joker is he acknowledges that himself and says, "I'm not only going to be representative of that, but I'm going to twist it into my own bizarre iteration where I'm going to tell you what the rogues mean to you, and what I mean to you personally." And he's going to come at Batman in a way that he makes his own, even as he recognizes himself almost as a creation of Gotham to challenge Batman.
He loves living in service of Batman that way. He loves being the thing that he thinks the city has made him into for Batman.
He revels in it.Batman #17 I would say, in that way, he is a son of Gotham the same way Batman is. They're of the same kind of bloodline in that way to me.
Nrama: I know Joker said why he did the whole "face" thing. But the first time I read it, I was still reeling from seeing the faces of the Bat-family removed (which was pretty shocking, by the way... you got me). Having now gone back and looked at it a second time, it sounds like what Joker is saying is that the family doesn't have the same internalization of their superhero selves. It's just costumes to them. It's just a face to them. Whereas "Batman" really is who Bruce is underneath, which a lot of writers have said over the years. And that Joker really is who he is underneath. Am I reading that right?
Snyder: Yep, that's what Joker's saying. Joker is saying that Bruce Wayne is a mask. Whoever you are, you don't really care about. Your deepest obsession is the Batman. You've been that since you were a child. Whatever your real name is doesn't matter. This is who you are, and you were born of that bat and so was I. I saw you come for me in the toxic waste the same way you saw that bat come for you, as I know you must have. And we're twins that way.
Nrama: And by tearing off the faces of the rest of the Bat-family — or at least symbolically doing so — he's saying the rest of the family isn't like that, correct?
Snyder: Exactly. He's saying that, "I took this off to show you that even without this stupid grin, I'm still grinning beneath. My grin goes down to the bone. If you held up my skull" — and it's supposed to be a reference in the way that Hamlet held up Yorick's skull, because he was a jester as well — but that notion that he says, "down to my skull, if you held it up, it would be grinning at you, the same way, if I held up yours, it would have two little points on top, and have the little snout and be a bat."
Whether or not he literally believes that the bone is shaped that way, he believes in that core, who they are. It doesn't matter who I used to be, Joker is saying. It doesn't matter who you are when you take that cowl off. That's superficial. Who you are when you cut your flesh down to the bone is Batman, and who I am when you remove my face is Joker, no matter what. And who they are when you remove their faces are squeamish little tender, fleshy things.
And in some ways, there's truth to that, not that they're these lesser creatures for that, but that essentially they're heroes who are deeply devoted to the people in their lives. They're more social heroes than Bruce is. I mean, that's their strength. Dick Grayson is a more empathetic and compassionate person on the surface than Bruce is, and he builds a social network and he's extroverted. So in that way, those characters do live in a world of human relationships and of tenderness that way.
And the truth of Bruce is that he cares about them deeply. And what he's saying is, "No, you read it wrong. Beneath my face is the same thing as theirs, not the same thing as yours. I'm not Batman down to the bone. I'm Bruce Wayne." And that's part of what we were going for here.
Nrama: Which do you think he is?
Snyder: Well, I genuinely believe that when I came on to Batman — this is an interesting conversation. I like talking to you, Vaneta. I always feel like we wind up getting into the stuff from, like, my musings about this stuff or whatever that goes beyond, like, promoting the issue, which I really enjoy. And you can say all that in the interview, what I just said.Batman #17 The truth is that when I got on Batman, I did think that Bruce Wayne was more of a mask and that Batman was who he is; that Frank Miller interpretation in Dark Knight Returns, which is my favorite book, would be sort of the basis of mine.
And as I've written him more and more and more, what surprised me was how much I've come to believe that Bruce Wayne has a much deeper meaning to him than I thought. The legacy of his family is something we're going to be exploring big this year, in 2013, and what it means to be Bruce Wayne in addition to being Batman, and accepting that role.
But on top of that, just the idea that what Bruce Wayne, who he is out of the cowl, the way he loves the characters of Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon and Damian Wayne and Tim Drake and Jason Todd — you know, not just as people fighting alongside him as superheroes, but as people — is something that kind of took me by surprise.
And so I would say that my belief about it is, it's a little bit of both. You know? I wouldn't say that Bruce Wayne is a mask and I wouldn't say that Batman is a mask. I think that that gray area is one of the things that makes him so interesting and fascinating all time; it's a really layered and twisted and wonderful sort of relationship between Bruce Wayne and Batman.
Nrama: I think that's been emphasized in the last couple years as we've seen Bruce interact with Damian Wayne, particularly in Batman and Robin. Does Joker realize the love Bruce feels for Damian in particular? Does he sense anything about this Robin, seeing how Batman reacts to him?
Snyder: Joker understands deeply that whoever Robin is is Batman's son. And that doesn't mean that he knows that Damian is Bruce Wayne's son, Damian Wayne. It means that whoever is in the costume of Robin is figuratively Batman's son.
And when he sees someone who's that young, as Robin, I think he immediately recognizes that this is an offensively vulnerable Robin. You know, when Robin's that much a child, it's almost... he's almost tempting or daring Joker to come after him, which I think it's what's offensive to Joker.
Joker is disgusted by the whole family. Joker thinks it should just be the two of them in kind of an endless game between the two of them, but when you bring someone along like Damian, whom Bruce clearly cares about as deeply as he does all the Robins, but who needs that kind of parenting more, you're asking the Joker to come kill him, almost, in some ways, is what the Joker is saying.
And that's part of the Joker's point, is that if you loved all these people as much as you say you did, you would have killed me a long time ago. Or you would have figured out who I was. Or you would have done these things. And by not doing those things, you're going to bed and you're turning out the light, but you're, like, leaving the door a little bit open for me to come in and take my axe and kill them all in their sleep, and that's what you really want to happen.
Nrama: After Batman breaks free of the chair in issue #17, he goes first for Damian, to comfort him and see his face. Is there meaning behind that choice, to go for Damian first? You thought that through, I assume?
Snyder: It was 100 percent deliberate, yes. Damian is his son, and he is also Robin. And as both, he's his figurative and literal son. To me, Damian is the only choice of who he would go for first at that table.
Nrama: The chemical at the end: Have you had that in your back pocket for a long time?
Snyder: Yeah, I knew that's how it was going to end, from really early on. I was like, it's going to end in a way where Joker gets the last laugh, no matter what, because Batman's victory is meant to be hollow.Batman #18 You could say it's a happy ending because Alfred didn't get his arms chopped off or his legs chopped off or killed or something like that. But it's supposed to be a sad ending, and the Joker won in that he divided the family.
And he could have cut their faces off, but he's proving that he doesn't need to. That's his joke. I can make up a book that has blank faces and I can pretend to cut your faces off and, you know, use rubber faces on the thing. And with just a little bit of, like, rabbit in the hat, cheap magic and the truth — or what he sees as the truth — he's saying, I can essentially split you.
Nrama: And it worked. Not one of them was there.
Snyder: Well that's the idea. He's saying to them, whoever Batman is, Batman doesn't tell you the truth. He didn't tell you about the card, and he can make up whatever excuse he wants. He hasn't killed me. He hasn't figured out who I am. And he won't tell you that I took Alfred.
I mean, all of those things he's saying, even if he doesn't know who Batman is under the cowl, even if he doesn't know exactly how it cuts deep, he knows instinctually that these things he's doing are furthering a case to the Bat-family that Batman loves him less than he loves Joker.
And he pushes it far enough to get under their skins. So that idea is that, whatever he said to them in the dark and everything he's done in the course of the storyline is meant to be enough to make them feel that even if they know deep down it's not like Batman loves the Joker the way Joker thinks, but Joker causes enough of a rift and there's enough of a kernel of truth in what he says as to, "Why don't you kill me?" You know? It would be so easy. The explanation that Batman gives is so private and personal that he knows, almost, that Batman can't articulate that to the family, no matter what, because it wouldn't make sense to anybody but Joker in Gotham. And by doing so in that way, and forcing his hand in terms of not being able to answer a question like that, he's proving to the family, in front of them, that there are things about Batman that are more difficult to accept than they want to admit.
Nrama: After the Harper Row issue, is the next storyline still being treated as kind of a surprise or a mystery? Or are you revealing anything about it yet?
Snyder: It's a mystery, but it's coming really soon. I live with too much anxiety and terror of getting kicked off Batman all the time, because it's such a dream come true, that I feel like very storyline I do has to be, like, if I could only tell one more story with Batman, what would it be?
So I can promise you that the one coming up is definitely, in my opinion, our most ambitious and definitely our boldest. And it's going to go into areas that I've been a little reluctant to go toward. But I really feel like it's time. And that the story we have is going to earn, hopefully, people's trust in that regard.Batman #19 And it will feature a big rogue, who I've teased a lot online — another of my favorites. And it will take up most of the year.
Nrama: Well, you teased the last time we talked that there's a good chance it's The Riddler. But this is a long storyline?
Snyder: Yeah, it will take up most of the year. So we're going really, really big.
We're going to do a few issues — #18 is Harper, #19 and #20 is my take on kind of an animated series episode, where they're really fun and bombastic and sort of detective style mystery issues. And those two hint at what's coming in #21.
And then Batman #21 launches into our really, really big and ambitious story for 2013 that will, hopefully, kind of take everybody by surprise and be something that they're excited about, because we're really excited about it.
Nrama: Didn't Batman #0 say something at the end about "to be continued in 2013?"
Snyder: It did!
Nrama: Then is the story we saw in #0 related to this big story you have coming up?
Snyder: It might be! It might be! I don't know. I don't want to say! I will say that there's only so much time, right? In 2013. And if this is a giant story, then... I suppose that might make sense.
Nrama: We just saw Batman solicitations for May, and it's being made pretty clear that something awful has happened to Bruce in Batman, Incorporated, and that it's likely Damian is involved, since he isn't on any of the covers. Does that spill over at all into your series?
Snyder: Well, it's a shared universe, you know? So I would say that, I can't speak to anything that happens in [Batman, Incorporated] because I don't want to give any spoilers or anything. But we do communicate. As much as it's sort of joked about that Grant lives in his own world, he's been very, very good about communicating with us and talking about the stories that he has coming up.
And so the stuff that happens in Inc. has a big impact in Batman and the other way around. He's been good about incorporating stuff that's happened in Batman or playing around it and changing things to work with it.
All I can say is that, if something big happens in Inc., it'll have ramifications in Batman too.[read our story: Where's Damian? Breaking Down the Missing ROBIN Clues] Nrama: OK, then let's talk specifically about Batman #18, the next issue. Obviously, Batman has lost his family, or at least they're turning their backs on him for now. And it looks like he's going to turn toward Harper Row. Can you talk about where Batman's mind is and how Harper fills the need he has?
Snyder: I would say he's in a crazy, really, really dark place all around. The way that we wanted to approach it was, instead of staying so deeply in his head the way we have been in Joker. I feel like in the Joker storyline, we've gotten more deeply into his psychology than I have before, where the narration and everything has kind of dug a little bit deeper beneath the layers there.
With this one, we wanted to take a step back and use Harper as a vehicle to kind of look at Batman and where he is.
And one of the fun things about that is she has a really big and mysterious story behind her heritage, who she is. And also, in terms of her future role in Gotham.
So we wanted to kind of turn those wheels a little bit forward, so you get more of that story as to who she is, and use her as a way of stepping back from Batman and seeing what it's like when Batman suffers, you know? And how the city suffers and how the population looks at it and sees that and what they can do about it.
In that way, #18 is an issue I'm really excited about. And Andy Kubert did a great job, and Alex Maleev just knocked it out of the park also in it.Batman #20 And then #19 and #20 are fun. And then #21 really — I can't believe we're getting back on the horse, for like, a giant — even though I hate horses — we're getting back on the horse for a giant storyline again when I feel like we deserve, like, a vacation after Joker. But we are. We're getting back on the horse for, like, probably our biggest story yet in #21. So Greg and I and everyone who works on Batman, we hope you guys will stay with us. And we can't thank everybody that's been so supportive out there — all the readers and you guys at Newsarama and everywhere else who've been supportive too. We just can't thank you all enough.
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