* Spoilers for Batman #36 *
Joker has a brand new face, and Batman comics have been showing it to readers for more than a year.
Eric Border, the Arkham Asylum orderly who first appeared in 2013's Batman Annual #2, has been acting like an ally to Batman ever since he showed up at Arkham Asylum.
But today, readers found out Eric is actually the Joker.
Border has a regular gig in Arkham Manor, and was also part of Batman: Joker's Daughter #1 (which now explains the note from Joker that showed up at the end of the issue). The character has also been seen in Batman Eternal, and actually helped Batman in Batman #34.
In October, Batman #35 brought Joker back into Bruce Wayne's life in a big way, involving the Justice League, as Snyder and artist Greg Capullo began a six-issue story titled "Endgame." Although Joker wasn't actually shown in last month's issue, it was clear that Batman's nemesis had returned, after having been assumed dead or missing after the conclusion of 2012's "Death of the Family" event.
Following up on our discussion last month about Joker's return, Newsarama talked to Snyder about how he hid the villain in plain sight for more than a year.
Newsarama: Scott, I can't believe I didn't see this coming. Obviously, you planned way ahead with Eric Border, introducing him… I think it was the issue you co-wrote with Marguerite Bennett, Batman Annual #2?
Scott Snyder: Yeah, it was.
Nrama: And she used him in the Joker's Daughter issue she did. It's all very sneaky, Scott.
Snyder: Yeah. It was a lot of fun when I pitched the idea of putting him in there, you know, right as we were doing "Death of the Family," and saying, can we seed him in so people can see that we have a second verse of the story, that we've been thinking about doing for a long time?
When I got the approval, I was very, very excited.
And then Marguerite was really the only person in the Bat-group that knew that for awhile. And then James [Tynion IV, Snyder's Batman Eternal co-plotter who's also currently writing the back-up stories for Batman]. It was just the three of us who knew that was him.
I was terrified that people would figure out his name. I was like, they'd know right away he was the Joker and that would be the end, and I'd have to change it somehow or figure out some other way of doing it.
Nrama: I never noticed anyone online guessing this. In the Jokers Daughter issue, Joker slips her a little note. It's probably the biggest clue we've gotten, because it was after she met Eric Border.
Snyder: Right. Exactly. She showed me that at the time and asked me about it, and we talked about it.
He also pops up a teeny bit in Eternal, and he's obviously in Batman #34 also, to kind of tease what's coming too.
Nrama: And Arkham Manor, where he's, like, a main character!
Snyder: And Arkham Manor. The funny thing is, Gerry [Duggan, the writer on Arkham Manor] is one of the other only few people I told about it, just to get a sense of the story. I told him that a long time ago — I think it was Kansas City last year. So it was two Kansas Cities ago.
Then he started talking about how much he liked the idea of Arkham with this guy lurking in it. I told him what we were going to do with Arkham in Eternal, and then he really came up with the idea for Arkham Manor in that conversation.
So Eric was a part of that original idea. He actually plays quite a bit role in that too.
Nrama: As Joker? Or as Eric Border?
Snyder: Well, as Eric, but you know now that he's Joker, because it's coming out after this issue.
So you'll see all of his actions.
I don't want to give it away for Gerry, but you'll see him in there. You'll see Eric, and then you'll catch up to the present of Batman. And you'll see the aftermath of Joker too.
Nrama: Does it tie into the back-up stories that James is doing in Batman, with the former Arkham patients?
Snyder: Yeah, he's in there too. James is writing him in there. It's all part of the same thing.
Nrama: We've still got the visual theme of the flies. Did you and Greg talk about that? In the past it was because of his face, but we've got the same theme going here.
Snyder: Yeah, Greg actually came up with that, for this issue, as a kind of running theme. I love it, because — not to give too much away, but what Joker is going to say about himself, coming up in the next issue, and what he reveals to Batman about where he's been and what he's been doing, and how much he knows about everything — all of that has, for me, I think… underpinnings of things that are pretty devilish and paints him as, like, something that's come back from the grave.
Nrama: The first issue of this storyline felt very big and bombastic, with the Justice League involved. This one moved to a creepy, back-from-the-dead, sneaky Joker feeling. Are you going to play with both those things in this story?
Snyder: Yeah, it's going to get big again. It gets small. And then I think you see hints in this issue about these things that happen, with Gotham and everything.
Nrama: The promise of a "first" infection, and a second and third, and a "party growing?"
Snyder: Yeah. You can imagine, given those hints, it's going to dovetail very big.
We wanted to open with a big warning shot across the bow, saying, you know, "This one's for real."
And then also have it something that sends a message, that's like, "We're no longer friends."
Friends to enemies.
And then we wanted to ratchet it down to show the terror of where is he? What's he going to do?
And then once he reveals himself [in this issue], in a scary way, he's saying, "Now let's start."
Nrama: I'm wondering about the juxtaposition with the scenes of how Batman dies — or how he thinks he may die, or fears he may die. I know we talked about this last month a little bit, but can you talk about why we're seeing those scenes interspersed with this Joker story in particular?
Snyder: For me, this story, it's largely about this idea that Joker is saying, "It's over." And "you're going to die this time and everyone is going down."
I wanted to do something where I'm putting pressure on Bruce. He's in the prime of his life. You know? He's not anything close to the Dark Knight Returns sort of Batman, or anything like that.
But I think, for me, deep down — not to get too "on-the-couch" about my run — but I think the thing that fascinates me about Batman, in terms of his relationship to Gotham, is his own mortality.
It's something that I have a lot of issues about, I think, in my own life.
And that sense of Batman turning himself into something that's larger than life, and legend, and folktale — something that's bigger than his body and bigger than his own physicality – is a huge part of who he is. He means something.
And then to come along and say, well, the owls sort of said, we were here before you. We're older than you.
And Joker last time they fought said, you know, you forgot that you're supposed to be forever because you fell in love with all these stupid people, your family; come back to what you're supposed to be. Zero Year is about that stuff too.
And for me, this is really the end of that theme, in a way, where Joker is saying to him, you know, this is the end. And everything goes down.
And "you don't really understand how small you really are. You're just a man. And all of this, and me — we're bigger than you. Everything you do is just throwing pebbles into a river. None of it matters. I'll show you, because you'll be forgotten very quickly, and I'll be remembered, and all the things that you did amount to nothing."
That's the greatest joke, according to Joker in this story, is that you think your life means something.
Nrama: And we're all just laughing at you.
Snyder: Right. That's the biggest nightmare.
Nrama: I know you said we're going to find out what Joker's been doing all this time. I assume we'll learn why he has a face again? Or how he got that face?
Snyder: Yes, you'll learn. There will be different possibilities. But there will be one that really sticks out as, this is probably why that happened. Yeah.
Nrama: And the theme the last time around surrounded him not having a face. I assume you see this return of Joker being more about him having a face? Do you know what I mean? It's scary in a different way.
Snyder: Yeah, I think it's scary different way, because the last story was sort of Joker extending a hand. He was saying, "let me cut my face off just to show you how much I care about you. I'm showing you that beneath this face, there's just more Joker. There's no humanity here. And that's the way you're supposed to be. You're not supposed to be whoever you are underneath that mask. You're supposed to just be the Bat-King. You're just Batman. That's why you started this and why I followed you out of the hood and all that stuff."
Now, I think what he's saying is, "No more smiling mister nice guy. This is the face of a stranger." Everything down to the way he dresses in this arc, he dresses in a very formal, kind of funereal, spooky way. He has the small shoes and black suit.
Everything he uses is black in this arc — the black boxing glove, the black flag that says "bang."
It's all saying, "you never knew me. You always thought you did. I let you think that, because I was trying to get you to see the light and come over to the right side and transcend your body, in some ways, and be with me, and be with us villains and be part of legend.
"But deep down, you're just a scared little boy.
"And so in being that, it's over. And I'm going to show you that you never knew who I was. And you never know who I am.
"I'm just a stranger coming to kill you and wreck everything for you."