Scott Snyder loves to talk about his stories, so it was difficult for the best-selling writer to keep the villain in this week's Batman #35 quiet.
Particularly this villain.
But he's not quiet anymore. Today's release of Batman #35 brings the caped crusader's nemesis, the Joker, back into Bruce Wayne's life in a big way, as Snyder and artist Greg Capullo begin a six-issue story they've teased as being a "pretty ambitious" celebration of Batman's 75th anniversary.
Featuring Joker-controlled members of the Justice League battling Batman, the story's first issue shows just how dirty Joker's going to get as he goes after the Bats.
The issue also established a new status quo for Batman, after the events of Batman Eternal, including a new headquarters on the 13th floor of Old Wayne Tower (while Arkham Asylum takes over Wayne Manor), and the addition of Julia Pennyworth to the Bat-team, while her father Alfred recovers from the attack fans recently saw in Eternal.
Batman #35 also teases an implied importance for the new Batman character Duke Thomas (yes, Snyder confirmed that's him), who is shown as the superhero called Lark in a "vision" Bruce Wayne has of the future.
And although the back-up story by James Tynion shows several different visual representations of the Joker, readers haven't actually seen the villain yet. (Snyder confirmed for Newsarama that the Joker we see in Tynion's back-up is only "the story being told" by an escaped inmate — not an actual new look for the Joker.)
Newsarama talked to Snyder to find out more about this new Joker story, why the Justice League and the Gotham Royal Theater were featured, and what else is coming from Batman: Endgame.
Newsarama: Scott, I think there's a lot of the fan base that has been looking forward to the Joker's return, but it was as surprising to us as it was to Batman. You certainly kept it quiet!
Scott Snyder: Yeah! DC allowed us to keep this secret. I was positive it was going to leak, like, back at San Diego. I really thought that the moment I said "Endgame," it was going to come out. Thinking back, I'm sure I said to people at cons or in little interviews here and there, like on someone's iPhone, "Hey, we have a Joker story down the line. I don't know when we're going to do it, but it's going to be called 'Joker: Endgame.'" So I was convinced, from the moment it got announced, that the secrecy would last about five minutes.
So the fact that it actually made it to the release is, like, astonishing to me. Also, I'm very grateful for that.
I'm very grateful to DC for allowing us to do that, because — not to talk sausage-making with readers of Newsarama — but…
Nrama: Oh, I think our readers are interested in the sausage-making of comics.
Snyder: All right, then let's do it then! Let me give you a little peek inside. Had I come out in San Diego and said, "Guess what? The Joker's coming back in issue #35," that would drive sales through the roof of Batman #35. It would mean I'd be doing these interviews between July and now, talking about the Joker coming back.
My concern with that was, that's kind of boring. It definitely gets fans ready by the issue, but it's what we always do. And we've done it every time we've done a story. We've said, this is what it's going to be. "It's Batman's origin." I've gone out months ahead of the story and promoted it that way. "This is a return of the Joker (with 'Death of the Family')." And months ahead of time, this is what it's going to be.
And this time, I just felt like, you know what? How about we find out with Batman? How about you're actually there with Bruce and you actually see, the Justice League attacks you, your best friends are trying to kill you, you don't know why, you're desperately trying to find out who, and then it's your worst nightmare at the end of it.
It's your worst villain. He survived you tricking himself into hopefully killing himself. And instead, he's back and he's back with a vengeance. That, to me, was exciting. The sense of discovery where you feel intimately linked with Bruce and you find out with him.
There was a lot of back and forth with DC sales and publicity, and they were great to me and Greg about it. We felt very strongly it would be fun to do a surprise, 'cause you don't get a lot of surprises in comics nowadays, and they were wonderful to us.
Nrama: Why did you choose to have the Justice League involved this time around? Is it Joker using yet another level of "family" and people Batman trusts?
Snyder: Yeah, the message is sort of, like, friends become enemies. We're done. The point with the Justice League is, there's no one I can't get to. This time, nothing's off limits. I'm no longer coming after your Bat-family. That's too small.
This time — you rejected my friendship, you rejected my philosophy, you rejected our bond, and so now I'm finished with you. And I'm bigger than you.
And you're just a little human being, beneath the mask. And I'm bigger than that. So I'll burn it all down and let you suffer.
The Justice League is a warning shot. It's sort of like, doom is coming to Gotham.
Nrama: And that's the meaning behind the title "Endgame," is that it's Joker's endgame?
Snyder: Yeah, he's saying the game between us is over.
Nrama: You and I talked so much about Joker's almost love affair for the Bat, and that the two of them have to exist. So what's changed?
Snyder: My feeling is it's a story that really began in "Zero Year," in terms of the arc of that character, where, when I was writing "Death of the Family," I realized as I was writing it, it would need another act, a conclusion. If that was comedy, this would be tragedy.
We needed an arc that would conclude this.
In "Zero Year," he's the Red Hood — if you believe he's the Red Hood; you always have your out; if you don't want to believe he's that guy, it's fine; he could have just wondered into town or been anybody — but if you believe he's that person, that person is saying, "Life is meaningless. It's all chaos." Essentially, you think your life matters and that what you do amounts to something, but I was born when the Waynes were shot, in a meaningless act of violence, and I celebrate that by wearing this hood that represents a courting of violence, a courting of chaos and meaninglessness.
And then Batman comes along and he says, "Let's fight this fight on a grander scale." And ironically, he finds meaning in becoming the Joker, who says life is a joke. You know, the fact that you think that your actions actually count — that's laughable.
But let me battle it out with that guy who believes that, and we'll fight it on an epic scale, and we'll be these legends, and we'll transcend our human bodies and be this thing of, you know, folklore.
And then Batman basically kills him, or says, "I'm stronger and better for having a human family, and one foot in humanity. I'm not the Bat. I'm Bruce Wayne also under here."
And in doing so, he rejects the Joker in a way that makes the Joker say, "That's fine. I'm moving on. I'm transcendent and forever. I'm the big one. And you're just a man. And I will prove that to you by showing you how everything you've done amounts to nothing and is just dust." You know what I mean?
Nrama: Oh yeah. But let's talk about this battle we see in Batman #35. Batman has this kind of mech suit and has come up with a way to take down every single member of the Justice League. You're playing with that idea of Batman being able to defeat the whole Justice League.
Snyder: Yeah, it does play with that idea. I mean, there's a lot of fun in just saying, "Who'd win in a fight?" You know, as a kid. You know, Batman vs… So I think there's a certain kind of celebratory aspect that I think is sort of "Batman is the most bad-ass character in the world."
But it really does also have a purpose that aligns with Joker's psychology and his mission, I think, in this story. So we wanted to also show you, from go, that "Death of the Family" is a very claustrophobic, dark, paranoid nightmare story. And very personal for Bruce. This really is sort of an inversion of that.
And starting with the Justice League and the colors of that and the spaciousness and the epic scope felt right. Because essentially, Joker is saying, "No holds barred this time. We're not friends anymore. I'm not tailoring a little maze for you to go through and find at the end what you should be. I'm just going to make you suffer in the grandest way I can."
Nrama: Yet this is just the first issue. This builds from fighting the Justice League? How does this get bigger?
Snyder: [Laughs] He jokerizes the moon!! No, I don't know… I don't want to give it away. I want you to read it and see. I'm really proud of it. Honestly, it's a story that's been brewing for two years. I mean, I can't give it away. I can't give away Joker's plans.
But I'll tell you this: You're absolutely right to think that, if the Justice League is part of his announcement, that he's going to go as big as he can in Gotham this time around.
Nrama: That's the second time you've said "in Gotham."
Snyder: Yeah, it's not a story where we bring in the whole DCU. That's not the point, you know, to Jokerize, like, Element Woman and…. that's not what we're after here. That's just to announce the scope of it, to say, this isn't a story that's going to lead you from place to place in Gotham. It's going to involve the entire cast of the Bat-mythology.
Nrama: Yet it's still a Gotham story.
Snyder: Yeah, it's a Gotham story. It is.
Nrama: Your Batman stories are usually grounded in Gotham.
Snyder: Yeah, I'm a hometown boy. It's Gotham for me.
Not to get, like, too… 30,000 feet above the story with the future of the Bat-universe or Batman, but there are definitely stories I have that go outside Gotham and build international and all of that.
But this, for Batman's 75th anniversary, it's got to take place in Gotham. It has to be a battle royale in Gotham.
Nrama: And it's got to have the Joker.
Snyder: Well, that's the point! That's what I was saying to DC. Originally I thought maybe I'd do this story a little later, and maybe I'd do a few mysteries in between, little stories to catch our breath. And then I was like, it's his 75th anniversary, I'm running out of time to do it before the end of that year. You know what? You can't have the 75th anniversary of Batman without the Joker.
And then you hear the Joker saying, you know what? It's my 75th anniversary actually as well, with Batman #1. So essentially, its his 75th anniversary too. How can you pass him up?
Nrama: OK, I want to get back to something you said earlier. You used the word "human" quite a bit, and with the Gotham Royal Theater being central to this issue, where you emphasized the idea of a "god" coming, I get the feeling you've got a theme starting, relating to what Joker's trying to point out to Bruce. Is there a theme here related to being "only" human among gods? Is the Joker challenging Batman in a new way, related to his humanity?
Snyder: Yes, very much. You know, one aspect of this issue is the fact that Batman was sprayed by this new version of Scarecrow fear toxin that gives you visions of your own demise, in some way. It's a "Cassandra" strain.
And in that way, this story, I would just say, is very much about Batman realizing, in some ways, facing off with foes that are larger than life, when he's mortal, there is something incredibly heroic, but also terrifyingly pathetic about that.
And that's kind of what the Joker's saying.
So understanding Batman's own, I think, relationship to his mortality is very much what this story's about.
Nrama: You mentioned the brighter colors of this story, but that part of the issue, where Bruce imagines his own death, really feels like the horror side of you, Scott.
Snyder: Oh yeah. Wait until you get to issue #37. It has the scariest moments I've written in Batman, I think.
Nrama: That's saying a lot.
Snyder: Not to jump the gun.
Nrama: You also mentioned this fear toxin that makes Batman imagine his own death. Anything you can share about the "Batman imagines the end" stuff in this issue? You've teased Lark before, so I know this isn't totally a throwaway scene… (then again, is Lark around after Eternal….?)
Snyder: We have plans for Duke, as hinted at in various versions, in various places, but you'll have to wait and see. The visions are more about how Bruce thinks things might end for him, rather than any concrete spoilers. But you can get a sense from that moment that Duke is important to him.
Nrama: Then to finish up, do you want to tell fans anything else. I know you're being uniquely quiet about what's coming.
Snyder: Nah, I would just say, honestly, to readers of Newsarama that you guys have been really supportive of us over the years. And I think both Greg and I didn't expect this. Well, at least me. When I tell Greg, he's like, "Of course I expected it to keep going this well, man!" 'Cause Greg is, like, a warrior. And he believes things are going to be great. And he's right. But I'm more of a worrier.
Nrama: The warrior and the worrier.
Snyder: Yeah, that's a good one. But the fact Batman has been as sustainable as it's been, in terms of doing as well as it has and that fans are as supportive as they have been of the book means the world to us both. So in a lot of ways, this story, as much as it is a conclusion to our Joker arc — and it is sort of a 75th anniversary celebration — it's also a thank you to fans, in that it's really the story I would hope, after "Zero Year," which was so, so personal and so much about reinventing the mythology so it was modern, this one is meant to be, like, "Let's just go have some crazy, dark, twisted fun." So I hope you enjoy it.