Scott Snyder: Why BATMAN Needed a New Origin

Batman #22 Interior Art
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Scott Snyder has gone from Vertigo newcomer to superstar writer in just about three years. Starting with Detective Comics and then the relaunch of Batman, it’s the caped crusader who Snyder has made a name for himself with, and, along with artist Greg Capullo, the story is not slowing down.

However, it is going back a bit. Batman is currently in the midst of a year-long storyline called “Zero Year” that helps redefine Batman’s origin in the New 52. While Snyder loves and respects the origins that have come before, including “Batman: Year One,” he explained to us at Comic-Con International: San Diego 2013 why it was important to refresh things a bit, what we can expect coming down the line, and how Batman’s triumph over tragedy holds him together through the years.

Newsarama: Scott, what’s it like coming to a convention when you’re right at the start of a storyline like Zero Year?

Scott Snyder: Oh, it’s super nerve-wracking. To have Zero Year, Superman, and The Wake all in the same two-week period. To me, that was really really exciting but crazy hard. I really got stressed out and really nervous, really hard on myself: “are these good enough, are these good enough,” over and over. So I really worked hard on these first issues and second issues and third, to make sure they got off to a great start, but I was really scared! To be 100% honest about it, if you’re out there working on stuff and you’re thinking “is this good enough?” that never goes away. You never sit back and say, “Oh, this is good enough!” Especially with projects of this size, when you’re dealing with material as sacred as Batman’s origin or a Superman launch, it really is the most exciting thing in the world and also the most terrifying. I feel really good that at least the first couple issues are out of each of them, and I can relax a little bit, and even if people hated them, I’d still feel relieved that they’re out.

I’m very grateful that they’ve gone over as well as they have. I really appreciate the trust – especially on Batman where I’m dealing with material that is really sacred, really at the heart of this character and mythology. To be entrusted with that and for you guys to be supportive means the world to me. I can promise that we’ve given this everything we can bring.

We wouldn’t have done it, but he’s really the only character in the New 52 who hasn’t had his origin explained. It became clear to us, to DC, that there were changes made to characters that appear in “Year One,” like Catwoman, and Jim Gordon, and the Falcone family, and the fact that James Jr. would only be six years old if that stood as Batman’s origin, that made them come to us and say “we need an origin, we’re going to do it, do you want to be the ones to do it?” And it was sort of, “yeah, I’m not letting anyone else do that!” (laughs) And I did have an idea of how I would do it. I’m always playing that game with my friends, like a “if I did the movie how would I relaunch Batman” kind of thing. So this kind of cut 180 degrees away from Year One and let us do something our own.

Credit: DC Comics

So a very long-winded answer about how I feel coming to a con. (laughs)

Nrama: Well it’s funny, one way or another, you’ve had a top selling book for two years now! That doesn’t take the pressure off for you?

Snyder: It doesn’t. I swear to God, the sales are great. It means the world that you guys out there reading are that supportive, but we really are just tough on ourselves, me and Greg. I said it when I came on the book, and it sounds hokey, and I mean it about Superman, too: I’ll only do the stories that are most important to me about the characters. I know people say “why do you keep doing these long arcs,” but it’s because I really feel like if you don’t get in there and swing for the fence on every story, you might as well move over and let somebody else do it. Because there are so many people that want and deserve to write Batman. I don’t want to write little stories that go month to month that aren’t the most important to me. I like doing a couple of those now and then, but my feeling is that the general mechanics of the book have to be what is the next big story that’s important? Not big for sales, big personally.

I promise, when I don’t have that, I will move off the book. Luckily for me, I do have a few more in mind, so if you’ll have us, I’ll happily stay through say issue 50 or so on the book, if people will keep us in Gotham. But the moment you don’t want us anymore, I’ll move off as well. I feel really lucky for being able to do this so far.

Credit: DC Comics

Nrama: Right now in the DC booth, we have playing in the background a trailer for Batman: Arkham Origins, and a few years ago we had Batman Begins, and more recently Batman: Earth One, and of course as you referenced, “Batman Year One” which was made into an animated movie… what is so endearing and enduring about Batman’s origin, his early years, that allows for all of these different interpretations?

Snyder: That’s a great question, and I’ve actually thought about that a lot, because I feel like each one of those great origins takes a very specific element of his maturation and makes it the heart of the story.

For Year One, it’s more of a Jim Gordon story, honestly, but it’s about how alienating it is to be a hero in a corrupt city, and how you’ll always be alone in a lot of ways. Begins is about overcoming your fear, and using it.

The thing I think makes his origin so enduring, is that there’s a primal terror with losing your parents. You never don’t feel that, as a child. Even as an adult, you still feel that, or losing the ones close to you, your support system and your family, you can’t think of anything worse. So it’s so enduring, because he overcomes that and becomes this pinnacle of human achievement. He’s the best detective, he’s the best chemist, he’s the best inventor, he’s the best fighter. To see someone overcome that tragedy, to turn that tragedy into triumph – no matter how pathological and weird that triumph is – it’s a story that we’re all inspired by. And that’s what we’re trying to do in Zero Year, honestly, is to move away from this idea of him being the ‘dark demon,’ and the Miller interpretation and stuff, which I adore. But, to have him still be dark and terrifying, but also recognize that he’s a symbol of inspiration in Gotham City, and hope. It’s a city constantly bludgeoned by crime and corruption and fear of terrorism – all the things you see today, we wanted to put in this city.

Credit: DC Comics

The Red Hood Gang really is supposed to represent the fears of a modern New York. For me, growing up in New York, the urban decay, the prostitution, and drugs, that was growing up in New York! I was afraid of the subway, I was afraid of Central Park, all that stuff. But it’s not like that anymore. So for me, it’s what about the city is terrifying, what are you most afraid of?

Credit: DC Comics

That’s what the Red Hood Gang is supposed to represent. So how Batman rises in our story is really about what he would be like if he formed today. Not even six years ago, but right now, what would he be like? Why would he do it, and who would he face? What would his gear be like, and his car be like, and the cave be like? All that stuff is stuff we tried to consider in rebuilding the mythology in a way that keeps the dark, terrifying elements of Batman, but also makes him a figure of resistance, a rebel, an outlaw, that inspires people to fight in a very punk rock kind of way. Stand up and say “I’m not afraid to be the crazy person that I came to the city to be.”

That’s really the key to the whole story, honestly, is this question of “what does Gotham mean to you?” “Bruce, why protect it?” “Why be a hero of Gotham?” “Who cares about Gotham, you didn’t grow up there and your parents were killed there! Why do you love it?”

So I show him as a kid going there and loving it.

Nrama: Yeah, I could hear that question being asked when I read that, it was such a vocal phrase.

Snyder: Yeah! And it comes back in a huge way in Batman #24. This is such a spoiler, I shouldn’t say it, but I’m tired and all about spoilers! He asks the city, Bruce Wayne asks the city, what do you love about Gotham? Why are you here? He says, it sucks: it’s expensive, it’s gloomy, there are gangs all around…

Nrama: You’re making me want to move out of New York…

Credit: DC Comics

Snyder: Right! But you know why you live in the city? Because you go there to become the hero that deep down you know you can be and someone in the world told you you can’t. Maybe it’s you that told you you can’t. You go there to be burned down to the purest core, the purest hero  that you know is inside you, whether that hero is a total nut, a crazy person that does something no one thought you could do, or something really common that you want to do.

The idea is that the city tests you. It’s there to be your villain, your antagonist. But if you survive that trial by fire, you’ll become that version of yourself that you know you can be. That’s what our story is about deep down, because we’re all Gotham. I always say that to the fans, but I’m trying to explain that thesis: You are Gotham, we all are.

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