In All-Star Batman #1, series writer Scott Snyder introduced a new concept into the Batman mythos that he says has been there all along: "The Cursed Wheel."
In fact, Snyder has established that the Bat-family, including Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon and his son Damian, have all "gone through" the wheel, whether they knew it or not.
Each color appears to have a different meaning, and a different lesson of some type. And apparently, different characters "lean" toward different colors (and not surprisingly, the colors have been associated with those characters in the past - Dick leans blue, Barbara leans purple and Damian leans green).
"It's a secret history that unites them," Batman says, "connects them and differentiates them."
The Cursed Wheel, which was introduced in the back-up stories Snyder is creating with artist Declan Shalvey and colorist Jordie Bellaire, was described in the issue as a "condensed version" of all Batman's training, but "sharpened, applied to tenets taught to [Batman] by Alfred, tenets about the deepest aspects of human identity."
The back-up story is concurrently exploring a mission that Batman and Duke are investigating together, a serial killing by knife that appears to involve Victor Zsasz.
Newsarama talked to Snyder and Shalvey to find out more about the back-up story, whether this wheel is being established as new continuity about the training of all Bat-allies, and when we'll find out more about it.
Newsarama: Scott, so much of the main story is action-oriented, but the back-up story is more about the mental training of Duke Thomas, coupled with the detective side of Batman. Is that the way you wanted to formulate these two stories?
Scott Snyder: Yeah. They're dichotomous in different ways also, where the feature takes place after Two-Face's attack on Gotham, and the back-ups actually lead up to the attacks. You don't know that yet, but you'll see at the end.
So it's almost like I wanted them to be two parts of one story, where the entire arc on both feature and back-up is largely about looking at human motivation and whether we're better than the cumulative sum of our worst parts.
But Duke is faced with that in a really intense and sort of primal way, I think, in the back-ups, whereas the features explore it in a more expansive, fun, bombastic sort of out-of-control way.
So I wanted this to be intensely personal and difficult, but it's also, I think, a lot of the moments of, not just levity but also vibrance, come from the colors. The story is so largely about color and Duke finding his place in the color wheel, that is this sort of "Cursed Wheel" that Batman described, that I think - you know, I trusted Declan and Jordie to be able to do very, very dark detective work, and yet have these kind of punctuations of really brilliant color that are always kind of calling to Duke saying, you know, the world is better than you think; you're going to figure it out.
So it's really both Dec's incredible art and Jordie's incredible coloring that I think makes this half of the story work so well.
Declan Shalvey: Well, I don't know if it was deliberately or not, Scott, but even making these short stories, I think a fight scene might be too indulgent - you have such action in the main story; to do the same with the back-up would seem a bit confusing for the reader. I think you need two different tones to know that there's two different narratives happening.
Nrama: Particularly as you establish a new series.
Snyder: Yeah, I wanted to be able to show some elasticity in the series and remind people both that I enjoy both as a writer, but also I think one of the great things is that this series is so wholly about getting to work with artists that have inspired me and still inspire me, that it was about thinking about what kind of story would work best or might excite Jordie and Declan the most.
I think when I had this one and editor Mark Doyle was talking about who could do a great job on it - I mean, they popped up immediately in my head.
Nrama: I think you're also getting a new challenge as a writer, working with these different artists.
Snyder: Yeah, it's also largely about stretching different muscles than I'm used to. And part of that is just completely collaborative and being inspired by the potential and the capabilities of the people you work with.
Here, it's almost like I'm writing past what I normally write in certain ways, because I know they can pull it off.
Nrama: Like the amazing first page of this back-up issue. Was that something you asked for, Scott?
Snyder: Yeah, but I said to Declan, "What do you think? Can you do something like this?" And I knew he could say, "No, we're not doing that." But the fact that he was up for it and that he and Jordie together created this incredible sort of portrait of Duke that speaks to all the things he's about, and also what the arc is about - it makes me inspired as a writer.
Shalvey: Vaneta, I want it on record that I'm an inspiration to Scott Snyder. He said that.
I will say that - if you've seen my Moon Knight work, you know, I'll draw the hell out of an action scene, but I love character work and mood and tone. And this story is just dripping with it, and it's been a delight to draw.
Nrama: Can we talk about he idea of this wheel? In the first issue, you revealed that Damian and Barbara and Dick all leaned toward different colors on this wheel. And you had Duke actually asking it a question. As you introduced it at the end of All-Star Batman #1, it was a little confusing how it works.
Snyder: We're going to get more into it as we go forward. I wanted the first one to be largely about, sort of, getting thrown into the deep end of the pool - through Duke - and feeling what it's like not to understand the academic aspect of it that way, where it's like, well, Barbara falls here and Dick falls here, and instead being like, "Oh my God, I look up to those people and now I'm suddenly, like, in a terrible part of the wheel facing off with a villain that is way above my pay grade in all of this."
In this particular arc, it's really focused on the specific aspect of that wheel - the black section, which is largely about detective work, when it comes to looking past someone's actions and the seeming evil of those actions towards the emotional motivation, finding a trail that you can follow to solve a mystery.
But you'll get all that stuff, I promise.
Nrama: So the "Cursed Wheel" story is longer than just one arc?
Snyder: Yeah, this story runs through the whole year. "The Cursed Wheel" is sort of the spine of All-Star Batman for the first 15 issues.
In comparison, the features largely feel compartmentalized, where it's villain after villain, although they have an arc beneath the surface leading up to the final story in the 15.
This one is really the DNA of All-Star Batman. Again, I'm really grateful that Declan and Jordie offered to do it, because it's a really tricky thing to pull off. I think they're just doing an incredible job.
Nrama: Do you know, Declan, how the wheel works? Did you have to know that as you came up with a design? Or is it more about putting it together issue by issue?
Shalvey: Scott's been great in that, anytime you talk about a project with Scott, he doesn't tell you what it is, he tells you the story. And he'll always go through the meaning, and what it's about, and what he's thinking.
And I'm like, "So…. am I drawing the Batmobile? Or what?"
No, it's always great to hear him, to know that he cares so much about the story.
I've worked with, like, I worked with Warren Ellis on books and I fly a little more blind with those. But Scott, I think he wants you to know the feeling and he wants you to take it through.
I mean, I don't know all... I don't know everything about the Cursed Wheel, but I mean, I think Scott left it open for how - I think the idea is more important. I don't know if you want to say, Scott, but you were clear about not showing in the first chapter.
Much like Batman himself, I think the less you see, the more the idea is portrayed. Once you shine a light on it, it becomes too - the less abstract it is, the less interesting it is sometimes.
So he was clear about what this thing means. And that means that myself and Jordie, we can pepper those identity colors through the story.
Nrama: I've noticed that the color palette is very similar to those we've seen on the wheel.
Shalvey: It's not a coincidence that there's only certain colors in the fabric warehouse in the first chapter. There are specific colors used there. That's not an accident. That's by design.
And that's something Jordie's really good with, using color as theme and story. Knowing about this means we can kind of pepper it through in a subtle kind of way.
Nrama: But Scott, this is a huge concept to kind of, I don't want to use the word retcon, but you're sort of inserting this "wheel" program into the history of all the allies of Batman - and even one unknown villain who came through this wheel. You said Batman used the wheel on these characters "whether they knew it or not." Are you establishing that everybody had to do this in the past, but they might not have known it?
Snyder: Yeah. This story is saying that. And I think it's a system that Batman might have recognized after the fact, too. So Alfred is really instrumental in thinking of this program as something that's sort of designed around certain aspects of psychology.
Nrama: Will we actually see any of the history you're hinting about in that answer?
Snyder: Yeah, as the story goes on, you'll see the history of where Batman became more aware of how he was trained and how he decided to train the people after him, and what were his biggest strengths and failings along the way. And how he's adapted it.
Not to spoil anything, but he puts himself through this training program every few years himself, to sort of hone his skills. So it's something that he constantly is adapting.
And I think part of it is that idea of the wheel - just also for fun - the wheel, symbolically, is always turning, and that sense of "Batman is always renewed." And his mythology is renewed and the people around him are renewed.
But I think what he's about, and the core aspects of heroism, the things that make both him so great and the people around him so great, those things don't necessarily change.
In that way, we wanted something that had this feel of history and legacy, but at the same time would be a way to constantly sort of test our characters and also generate new heroes and new challenges.