In Wednesday's Batman #39, the Joker showed just how high the stakes are for Bruce Wayne in "Endgame," as the villain snuck into the Batcave and — spoilers here, folks — cut off Alfred's hand.
Writer Scott Snyder, who creates the title with artist Greg Capullo, told Newsarama his goal is for readers to feel like this might be the end for Batman.
Why? Because, well, to Snyder, "Endgame" is an ending — not because he's leaving the title, but because when Batman returns in June, the writer promises it will be "something very, very, very different, with different characters and different threats, and a different landscape."
As Batman heads toward March's "Endgame" finale, many of the key players in the Batman universe are uniting to save Gotham City from a vengeful, allegedly immortal Joker —gearing up for a final showdown with the Joker in Batman #40.
"Endgame" began in October 2014, surprising readers with the revelation that Joker was back in Batman after having been defeated at the end of the title's "Death of the Family" arc in 2012-2013. And the surprises have just kept coming — with Snyder talking to Newsarama after every issue of "Endgame," including when Batman was attacked by the Justice League, discovered the Joker is back, found out his clown-faced nemesis might actually be immortal and eventually turned to the Court of Owls for help.
Now that Batman #39 is out, Snyder spoke with us again, discussing Alfred's injury, the continuing insinuation that Joker is immortal, and why Snyder thinks people in Gotham City put up with all this.
Newsarama: Scott, I was hoping we'd get some answers from the Court of Owls about the immortality of Joker. I know you said you're trying to leave the question of Joker's immortality open-ended, but it was surprising that the Court of Owls just don't seem to care. Or did Bruce hear something we didn't?
Scott Snyder: They do answer the question that Bruce asks, but I wanted to sort of withhold it, so you feel kind of like he does in terms of your frustration about not knowing whether the Joker really is who he says he is.
Obviously, their answer is going to be veiled. I mean, I feel like they're never going to help him sincerely.
He went to them also, I think, to learn other things that you'll find out in the next issue as well. Bruce always has two motives for everything.
So you'll see that there's more to that interaction than what was shown.
Nrama: Will that be in Batman #40? We find out what Bruce learned from the Court of Owls?
The revelation about the Joker and his past, whether he is who he says he is, is not learned from them. They're not the people to tell you that.
But Batman does learn very crucial information, in his own way, from them that leads him to what he does in the big finale.
Nrama: One of the more shocking moments in this issue was Alfred losing his hand. What were your thoughts on making that part of the story, and did you think twice about doing that to one of the more beloved characters in the Batman universe?
Snyder: Alfred, to me, is the heart and soul of the Batman family. And when I was writing "Death of the Family," and I began to realize I was going to do another story, when I was starting that one, there was a moment in there where I actually discussed with DC taking his hand in that story and having it mailed to Bruce.
But I realized that if I was going to do this one…. well, first, there was some resistance, internally. But secondly, I realized that if I was going to do "Endgame", "Death of the Family" was about affection, and "Endgame" was about hatred. And this one was the one where all bets are off — this would be the one where it wouldn't feel sensational for Alfred's hand to be taken by Joker. I hope, at least, it feels like it's meant to show the stakes are that high, nothing is safe, even a cave, nothing is sacred — there's nothing that Joker might not get to in this arc.
It really is meant to be the final time that I write him, for me and Greg. And for us, that means doing everything with him you think he would do if it was the last time he ever faced off with Batman.
That scene is a sign that the stakes are that high.
Nrama: And can you clarify what happened to the Joker's cheek?
Snyder: Yeah, someone else asked about that, so just to be clear, the idea is that the cave's defenses attacked him on his way in, with his little submersible submarine thing that he took. The idea is that he busted his way through, and those are injuries that will eventually heal, that the cave alarm system and defenses inflicted on him.
Nrama: At the end of this issue, you've got the villains on the same side as Batman. What were your thoughts behind involving the villains against the Joker this time, fighting alongside the Bat-family as they defend Gotham City?
Snyder: I want this story to feel like this is the end.
The poor people of Gotham — I feel like you've seen them in jeopardy so much, in many of our arcs, like, oh my god, the city is, you know, the Riddler destroyed it…
Nrama: I think I would move.
Snyder: I know, right? I've always wondered about that. I actually have a theory on why they stay. But with"Endgame", I want it to feel like the city is really in peril and these characters could all die.
If Bruce is ever going to be desperate, if Bruce is ever going to be at the absolute end of his wits, it would have to be against the Joker in the last battle.
So for me, that meant, he has to have this sort of "deal with the devil" mentality, where he's going to align himself with people that he never would — whether it's the Court of Owls or the villains — all of it.
This is everybody versus the Joker. I want to make it that big. And then never go there again. I mean, I'm never going to have him team up with his villains again. I felt like this was the right place to do that.
Nrama: Earlier, when we were talking about poor Alfred's hand, you were comparing this story to "Death of the Family." Do you feel like "Endgame" leans more toward horror? You pointed out to me a couple months ago that the colors associated with Joker in "Endgame" are darker, and that Joker's intentions are darker this time around.
Snyder: Yeah, I think "Death of the Family" — that one is meant to be a comedy, at least for Joker. And everybody kind of makes it out. And it's more a kind of thing where he feels like he's inviting Batman to win and to transcend. In the Joker's mind, it's who he wants to be, at least in Joker's interpretation, which is this kind of a transcendent figure.
And when Bruce rejects that, "Endgame" is meant to be, well, he's just going to burn it all down. He's going to say, I gave you a chance to be the immortal thing you always wanted to be, and now I'm going to show you that I was always that, and I could have made you that, but you decided against it. So let's just watch everything burn.
But the irony is, this one is, to me at least, a lot brighter than the other one — the way we've got the Justice League and the robot suit and the Crazy Quilt and, you know, the parade.
It's certainly a horror book — don't get me wrong — but I guess the best way I can describe it is, when I started on Batman, on Detective Comics, I was terrified of writing the detective story. i had it in my mind, but I was like, can I pull this off? And then when I got on "Court of Owls," I was like, can I write a superhero detective story? And then with "Death of the Family," I wanted to see if I could do horror the way I love to write horror in Batman. And then with "Zero Year," I was like, can I move away from some of the grimmer stuff and actually do a bright, bombastic, out-of-control, funny, almost punk rock Batman story, for me at least.
With "Endgame," this was originally intended to be Greg and my last story on this book. And then I thought of another one I had in the back of my mind. And I was like, I could never get them to let me do that, ever. And then I realized this story actually is the most perfect set-up for that story.
So then I thought, what if Greg wanted to stay and fans don't hate us after it? Maybe they will. But I realized that "Endgame" could be transformative.
I guess the way I'd describe "Endgame" is, it's actually all the other things we've learned on the book, in one.
Nrama: Combining all the types of stories you've done?
Snyder: Yeah, it's a detective story, but it's also horror, but it's also out-of-control, kind of funny color. There's humor in it. And it's over-the-top with action. It's all those things rolled into one.
It's almost like everything we've learned on the book, a lot of the characters we've used, a lot of the characters I've always wanted to use, in one thing that's almost a goodbye to all that. Not because we're leaving at #40, but because we're really going to move away from all this stuff afterward.
Nrama: And that's when this transformation of the series takes place.
Snyder: Yeah, the arc after this arc, which you'll get a preview of on Free Comic Book Day, is really something very, very, very different, with different characters and different threats, and a different landscape.
So for us, this is a way of celebrating and also moving away from some of the more iconic Batman things we've used a little bit.
Nrama: When we hear you talking about everything being so different in June, it's a little scary for fans. Is it really that much of a change?
Snyder: Oh, yeah. I guarantee you, when you see in Free Comic Book Day, you'll be like, "these dudes are crazy!"
Honestly, for me it's like, I never thought I'd get to do these things on Batman. "Endgame" was meant to be a kind of goodbye and a celebration of all the great elements of Batman's mythology. I had it in my back pocket at the beginning of "Death of the Family." I knew it would be this big Joker conclusion.
But for me, "Zero Year," getting to do an origin that addressed a mountain of things that I'm afraid of in the modern day, that I would want Batman to face off against — all kinds of things, like a super storm, the blackout, the terrorism, random gunmen, and all the kind of stuff I worry about for my kids. That, to me, having it be personal and showing why Batman was inspired is inspiring to me as a reader, in terms of anxiety and depression and he tells you to get up and fight for yourself.
If you told me when I was 10 years old that I would get to do Batman's origin, for my kids and myself in that way, regardless of whether it could touch the hands of anybody else in the world, just that I'd get to do that, I would think you were crazy and lying to me.
At this point, I just feel like, of we're not going to try something crazy in June, what's the point of staying on the book? Everything we've done was like, you know, if we got one chance to do Batman, this would be the story we'd tell. And then we got past it, and we were like, well, if I get one chance to do a Joker story, it's going to be this. If I get one chance to do his origin, it's this.
I do intend to do these small mysteries, at some point.
Nrama: The ones you keep saying you're going to do next, after every major storyline.
Snyder: Yeah [laughs], but internally, at DC, it's become a bit of a joke that I say it in interviews, believing that I will do a few small mysteries.
But ultimately, I'll admit, what really excites me on the book, especially now, with the line as vibrant as it is, and people trying the most amazing things on their books, like Batgirl, Gotham Academy, Catwoman — you know, seeing how progressive and innovative these books are, it makes us want to challenge ourselves, me and Greg, and be like, all right, let's do something.
And I promise this is what June is like: I want you to get to June and say, "All right, these guys are just getting started." Like, "I had no idea they had that in them."
It wouldn't be hard for us to spin our wheels at this point, and do, like, a two-issue Mad Hatter story. But I always said, if I do that — and I know this is the longest answer in human history — but I feel like, if I did that, honestly, I should really instead just move aside and let somebody else who has a Batman story that means everything to them write it. The character deserves that, the fans deserve that.
So luckily, I have at least one more.
Nrama: Okay, I feel like that's the perfect ending for this interview, but if you have time, I'd actually love to hear your theory on why people don't move from Gotham City.
Snyder: Oh, I can tell you that!
Snyder: My theory is that, I think that people stay in Gotham because, they go there because it's a place that will absolutely throw the most nightmarish challenges at you, whether it's being a pawn in this humongous battle playing out between Batman and the Joker or the Riddler, or in the everyday struggles.
Whenever we focus on a character there, I think you see the city is an incredible antagonist to basically anybody that's there.
But I think what people who stay there love about the city and understand about the city is that, in some ways, it's not an evil place. It's a place that says, "Be the hero you know you can be."
If you can face down these challenges that are being thrown at you, and you can come out the other side, you kind of emerge the person that you hope to be. You kind of fulfill the promise you made yourself when you went there in the first place.
And I think that's true of what we do in life. You know? You go to New York City to become who you want to be, or you go to, you know, Wyoming to become who you want to be. You know, it's setting out and sort of putting down roots and deciding that, I am going to be this best version of myself I can in life, and Gotham is constantly challenging you to keep that promise to yourself.
And Batman is somebody who reminds you of that, I think, ultimately. He stands up there and says, Gotham constantly throws the worst stuff at me possible, every day, every night, since I was a child and it took my parents, but I'm here to tell you that you can overcome those things and become, like me, the greatest hero of all time, in your own way.