With All-Star Batman #3, writer Scott Snyder not only brought back an obscure (and previously deceased) fan-favorite Batman ally, but he established some new continuity between Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent that included them knowing each other as children.
The return of Harold Allnut and the new scenes with young Harvey and Bruce both came about in this week's issue #3, the latest in the new series that features artwork by John Romita Jr. for the first five-issue storyline.
The story is also revealing a new superhero identity for Duke Thomas, particularly in back-up stories by Snyder with artist Declan Shalvey and colorist Jordie Bellaire.
What is that new superhero identity? Why did Snyder bring back Harold Allnut? And why was it important to bring together young Harvey and Bruce? Newsarama talked to Snyder to find out.
Newsarama: OK, Scott… what is the name of Duke's favorite band? Can you say? It's Batman's… what?
Scott Snyder: [Laughs.] I want everybody else to sort of make up whatever horrible curse or whatever horrible body part that is.
But I was sort of waiting to use that for a while. It's been the back of my head since all the way back from, I think it's like Batman #46, where Duke was listening to this metal band when he was sneaking into the Iceberg Lounge. We were joking around, like, wouldn't it be funny if it was, like, Batman's "beep!"
So it's been waiting in the background for a while. And now I kind of want to show the two of them going to see the band at the end or something like.
But yes, that is a band in Gotham now. It's funny how you make something up like that and it just suddenly exists there.
I hope what comes through is how much fun we're having on this series.
Nrama: Definitely. And I loved how the Royal Flush Gang showed up.
Snyder: Thanks, yeah, I felt bad because I know some people really like them. And I like them too. But I also, I needed some mess, and I thought it would be fun.
Again, I just love picturing all these characters on the road. They're so ridiculous, to imagine people descending on a flying card, you know, on the highway. And the idea of Penguin filling up the limo with gas at a station.
It's so fun having them out of Gotham. It's really hard not to go for humor sometimes like that, because you feel so gleeful suddenly having these characters outside their comfort zones.
Nrama: There's also a payoff in this issue to the mystery about where Bruce is taking Harvey. We find out the history of this house they're going toward? Why did you add this continuity where Bruce and Harvey had a relationship during this one summer together?
Snyder: Well, for me, I mean, we always see the same origin between them. We always see Harvey the D.A., the acid thrown in his face, and Bruce feeling guilty because he didn't save Harvey.
I love that story, but I wanted to do something that touched on their past, but did it in a new way — that wouldn't step on that origin either, but I didn't want to rewrite it.
So I had the idea of them knowing each other anonymously, as children, and then flipping it — flipping the coin, almost, so that instead of it being Harvey and Bruce meeting and Bruce fails to save Harvey, it's really about Harvey saving Bruce here from himself, back when they were kids and in a dark place.
And I think I told you this when we talked before, that there's more to this story that you'll see in Batman #4, where Harvey sort of lords it over him.
But I feel like that time in their lives, where Bruce has just lost his parents and he's devastated — that kind of moment is the type of moment we face now where things are frightening to people. You see people worrying about big, national and global problems. The fact that we're so connected to each other, and everything's so overwhelming. To me, it likens to that moment where you feel helpless and frustrated.
I think Bruce, as a kid, felt helpless and lost. And I always like the idea that he could have gone dark at that point. But I think even as Bruce without help, he probably would have found his way back, because he's such a strong character.
But here, creating a moment where he was helped along the way back to the path that he should always be on — and he was helped by someone who becomes the example of going the wrong way and becoming something that revels in human darkness — that makes a lot of sense to me.
I had this image of them that just started with that. Honestly, a lot of this did — the image of the two boys lying there, 2A and 2B, looking up at the clouds and helping each other through a tough time. I just really loved it.
Nrama: It's 2A and 2B, the two sides of the coin.
Nrama: Let's talk about Harold Allnut. Why did you dig up this character?
Snyder: I loved him all through the '90s, honestly. I loved the whole idea of this kind of mute, genius hunchback who builds Batman's things.
I'm a big fan of the extended Bat-Family back then and the whole sense of community that came from that.
I remember when he got sort of changed in Batman: Hush, where they fixed him and fixed his looks and then he was killed — spoiler if somebody hasn't read Hush. But I imagine if you know who Harold is, you've read Hush.
But with this character, I love how it shows Batman's compassion.
I also always wondered how Batman got all these things into the cave — these giant machines. How does he get the metal there? Does he have it delivered to the manor? Wouldn't it be suspicious that he's delivering all this weird stuff constantly and taking it down in a hole? How did he get it?
And I think it was about a year ago, I was thinking, well, what if he uses the pipeline? And who would be up there helping him make stuff? And I started thinking about Harold.
But I didn't know how to bring Harold back in the main series without it feeling completely ludicrous, because, by then, Bruce was human and Gordon was Batman, so there wasn't really any way to do it.
So it's something I've been waiting to do for a while.
I just enjoy the idea of Batman trusting good people like Harold. For me, he's important to the story in that he represents somebody who has very little reason to be good. He was badly abused as a kid, and he has a lot of challenges to overcome. And yet he's someone who always wants to do good in the world.
So he's sort of on Batman's side of the coin or this story. He's almost like an "exhibit A" for Batman.
Nrama: We talked earlier this week about how Bruce is trying to look at things with a sort of hopeful lens, to counter Harvey's argument that everyone's got this darkness to them. You ended this issue with Harvey specifically addressing the "lens" that Batman's using. Doesn't look good for the future of Batman's sight.
Snyder: Well, you'll have to wait to see. But you know, if he was blind, then everybody would have to use him blind. It would be like, a story arc called "Blind as a Bat!" A new saga in every book.
But yeah, you'll have to see. I would assume that, with Bruce, he'll figure a way out.
Nrama: We talked in detail about the back-up last month, but putting that together with everything else Duke has been featured in, you guys are really giving this character a lot of time to develop. Anything you want to say about how you're developing the character?
Snyder: I love writing those back-ups, and Declan's awesome and Jordie's awesome.
The thing I was the most concerned about is landing Duke the right way.
There's always backlash and animosity with any new character that comes in. We saw it with Harper, and I remember seeing it with Damian, when that character first came in.
But my sense of it is, we didn't want to abandon him. And I had a good talk with Geoff Johns. And he was like, look, there are a couple missions that we really need in Gotham and outside Gotham. What do you think of these? And I was like, I've had the same idea about two of these things. I think this could work really well.
Because Dan [DiDio] and I had discussed making him Robin or making him Nightwing — and that could have happened — but I just thought that would have felt (and no offense, because there are plenty of stories I love where, like, Bucky becomes Captain America or another character sort of steps into the mantle of the main character), but you always know the main character's coming back in some way. And even though it gives him a great spotlight, it's always sort of a springboard to something else.
I felt like Duke had already become Robin a way that was new and exciting to me, where he was sort of Robin as a concept and Robin as something that inspired other kids, and wasn't in need of a Batman. And that felt very modern, in the way that kids today construct their identities from the things they choose. There's no central fountain of culture anymore. It's sort of like, you pick the thing that you like and you make yourself out of scratch that way. And I loved the idea of him making Robin with these other kids.
So this really became about, where can we land him and give him a mission and a thing to do — a real statement and a kind of goal that's in his psychology, that was true to the character and also did something we haven't seen before in the Bat-universe. Not just another person running around in a Bat-costume.
So I'm very excited about this story. You'll see pieces of who he becomes, in his superhero identity, coming through. Like, in this one, we tried to focus subtly on — about the morning, about the daytime, and that sort of stuff. It was important for his mother to visit the kids that she was really unsure of in the daytime, because she got a better sense of them without the shadows around them, whether they were good or bad or whether they had done the things they were accused of.
Nrama: So he's not going to be a nocturnal bird? Is that what I'm hearing?
Snyder: I don't know! You'll have to see. You'll have to see. I can't give it away.
I'm going to put a lot into this character. I mean, I love this character and I really believe he has a sensibility different from anyone else we have in the Bat-universe. He believes Batman is there as a concept to inspire, and to inspire you to become a hero.
To me, that's deeply modern in that our version of Batman, that's what he is, as opposed to someone who scares people back into the shadows — as he was when I was growing up. In a post-9/11 world, it makes a lot more sense to have a Batman who makes good people be brave in the face of these huge, over-arching fears. My kids aren't afraid of things that are provincial the way I was when I was in New York. I was afraid of things in the dark that came with urban decay, but they're afraid of gun violence and terrorism and things that are bigger issues.
Not to get too abstract, but it feels like Batman is saying, I am here to fight these big, monstrous things as an extension of this hope that you will be able to take steps toward whatever it is you're frightened of, even if these things seem huge and insurmountable.
In the light of that, why wouldn't Duke say, I don't need to be a sidekick. But if he's going to put me through the ringer that got him to where he is, then I can figure out who I am. That I'll do. So if Robin is a program where he's saying, I need your help, so be here to help me, this is more of a program where he's saying, I need allies, so figure yourself out.
Nrama: Then to finish up, this storyline finishes with issue #5?
Snyder: It's five. And the last one is all John Romita Jr. So Duke's storyline finishes up next issue, and then it picks up again with another color in the next arc.
Francesco Francavilla is going to be drawing it next. I'm very excited about that. Along with Jock and me.