As Scott Snyder begins his second story arc this week in All-Star Batman #6, he's embarking on an experiment of sorts, linking four separate, single-issue tales about several different villains in four different settings - all drawn by different artists and written in different styles - into one, whole story.
This week's kick-off delves into the mind of Mr. Freeze with a prose-driven story set in a dead, permafrost landscape and drawn by frequent Snyder collaborator Jock.
Then in issue #7, readers are taken to Death Valley and its desert landscape as Batman encounters Poison Ivy in a story drawn by Tula Lotay. And according to Snyder, that issue has a "completely different structure and writing style" that's very "empty, and there's no narration."
In All-Star Batman #8, Snyder unites with artist Giuseppe Camunoli to transport readers to the Everglades and explore the madness of Mad Hatter. "That one has narration," Snyder told Newsarama, "but it's different - it almost ends up attacking Batman (literally the words)."
Each issue will also feature a back-up story with art by Francesco Francavilla, detailing the training of Batman ally Duke Thomas, who got a new costume (although no new name yet) in the first All-Star Batman story arc.
Finally, in All Star Batman #9, the main story will take Batman to Washington, D.C., as he "realizes there's a bigger plan behind all of it," Snyder said. The final issue of the arc will also reveal a new identity and role for Duke Thomas.
So far, All-Star Batman has been unabashedly over-the-top, with Bat-gadgets and villain battles galore. And although Snyder admits that this new arc is more "poetic" in style and has a sense of "doom," he said the craziness doesn't stop.
Newsarama talked to Snyder to find out more about his plans for All-Star Batman, how he tailored this story arc to all the artists with which he's working, and whether Batman's trip to Washington, D.C., will feature a meeting with the new U.S. president.
Newsarama: Scott, this issue makes it clear that you're not only tailoring the stories to the artists, but to the villains as well. What has that process been like, to match the artists and the villains and the stories, particularly during this arc as you switch artists so often? And was it the same for the first arc that we just finished?
Scott Snyder: I think now that we're on issue #6, people will really get an idea of what the project of All-Star Batman is really about. The whole first arc was something that was designed to be a special Two Face story that would do something with him that showed why he was scary to me - the sort of anxieties that he reflects, that I relate to – but also what makes him scary today, in terms of what fears I think he touches on in the zeitgeist.
The way to deliver that sort of a story was to be able to go to an artist and say, which villain you want to use? Here are a couple of ideas that I have for that villain, once they tell me who. And then to try to construct a story that's really organic for both the artist, for me, for the villain - all of it.
So it's exactly what you said: With Mr. Freeze, I went to Jock and asked him who he wanted to use. And he told me Freeze, and I told him some of my ideas. And he really jumped at them.
Then it became a matter of, well, how do I change my style? How do I do something that's really going to speak to the tone of the story, the meaning of the story? And is there a way to literally write it differently than I have before?
That's kind of what we're doing with every issue of All-Star, every arc. So this arc is four issues. It has Freeze, Hatter, Ivy, and then a couple bigger surprise villains at the end.
And every issue is done very differently, but it's all one, culminating story about the end of the world.
So in that way, it's similarly constructed to that every issue is extremely different in style and tone, even though it's one story.
Nrama: This issue also picks up the back-up story, showing Duke Thomas training for this new, mystery role you have planned for him. What story are we going to see there now?
Snyder: This is the arc where Duke really comes into his own and decides what he's going to do in Gotham. It's four issues, and it ends with issue #9. Francesco's doing each of the chapters of it.
We spent a lot of time trying to figure out what would be the right sort of landing for Duke. We don't want him to just be another person with a costume, but we also didn't want him to be a character who goes back into civilian clothes the way that it made sense for Harper to for a while.
For over a year, Geoff Johns and I went back and forth about different possibilities, and we spoke to editors. And we had a few that we really, really loved. And then I think we landed on the one that makes him someone very special, someone who has his own niche in the DCU. And it also does something we haven't seen and something that speaks to who he is as a character.
I'm really excited about it. I really hope people respond well to it.
Nrama: What issue will we find out that new role for him?
Snyder: It's in issue #9, but really, it's over the whole arc. It's called "Ends of the Earth."
Nrama: In the first arc, you really added to the history of Two-Face and Batman. Are you intending to do similar things to the villains in the next arc, putting more interesting continuity into Mr. Freeze's past - or any of the other villains who're showing up in this arc?
Snyder: Yeah, that's a great question. With each villain, what I wanted to do was make a story that showed them with a different sort of mission, a different history, a different imagining of them that was in continuity, but showed again why they're scary to me, and also why I think they speak to particular anxieties at this moment.
So for Two-Face, it made sense to kind of harken back to some of the deepest memories that Bruce had about what made him hopeful, what made him somebody who's inspired by the human condition.
But with Freeze, it's less about returning to his origin and more about making him of the moment.
So for me, Freeze is usually a guy who goes around and steals diamonds because he wants to revive his wife. And that is kind of a myopic mission, like a near-sighted mission. I mean, I love those stories, but I wanted to do something where he says, "I'm looking around at the world. The ice is melting. These bacteria will be released soon anyway from the permafrost. Instead of waking Nora to a dying world, why don't I help it die and instead wake her to a new, reborn world through the ice?"
And so in that way, this mission becomes much more grand and scary, at least for me, and also, I think, touches on some of the fears that we have about the fragility of things right now - the fragility of climate, the fragility of social structures, all those kinds of things.
Nrama: You said earlier that you had to think about how you would change your style and change the structure of the story. Can you describe what your thoughts were about the change in style and tone that we see in this story arc? It still has that kind of craziness that we saw in the first arc, but how is it different?
Snyder: Yeah, this arc has a doom feel to it. Issue #6, what happens feels like a one-shot, but somebody actually foiled Batman's plan to a degree he doesn't realize. And so by the next issue, one of these spores that Mr. Freeze wanted to release actually hit and became viable, and so it's destroying a whole portion of the northwest United States.
Spoiler! I'm sure I'm giving too much away.
But at that point, it moves through vegetation. And so he goes to Poison Ivy in the next story, and she happens to be holed up in Death Valley for fun reasons. So we go to Death Valley.
Then, what he realizes after that is that the person who might have helped Freeze get in in the first place in using technology that seems to have parallels to Mad Hatter. So he winds up going to the Delta, to the South, where Mad Hatter has been hiding at this kind of old manor, where he's essentially working on a very spooky project.
And then it kind of culminates in Washington, D.C., in the final issue.
And just to clear something up, I guess there was a small kind of brouhaha online when there was a rumor that we were somehow doing Batman-Trump. I don't know how that rumor got out.
But Batman does not punch Trump. There is no Trump in the story and it is not, in any way, explicitly political at all.
It's really a war games story. There's a villain who's showing how fragile the world is. The arc is really about the fragility of stuff right now and how easy it would be to sort of tip things into chaos.
In that way, I think it's a darker, sort of poetic feeling arc than the last one, but it still has craziness in every issue, like you said. We've got, like, Hatter making giant flamingo robots, which happens in issue #8.
I always want it to be fun and over-the-top.
But the first story was meant to be kinetic and this punishing road story. And these are sort of four parts of a whole that's very different from that, but that I hope follows the same mission, which is All-Star's sort of thesis - "off-roading with Batman."
Every story takes place out of Gotham but more importantly takes him out of his comfort zone to face his villains in ways that are surprising in narrative, but also surprisingly, hopefully, artistically, surprising in their written form on the page also.
So it's a totally different project than what Batman was, which is why it's so much fun.
I enjoyed Batman more than anything in my whole career. I loved working with Greg.
Nrama: And you get to work with him again soon.
Snyder: Yeah, I can tell you absolutely nothing about that - I've been sworn to secrecy. But I really am excited about the prospect of working with him again.
Nrama: But it sounds like you feel like your work with Greg on Batman was unique, and that you're doing something very different in All-Star.
Snyder: Right. In Batman, the stories were sort of singularly directed so everything is a conversation with the arc before, everything builds into the next one. And working with the same artist for so long, you're using a shorthand, and you get so good at working together it becomes, like, how do you surprise each other?
With this, it's almost like being on a first date or something. Most of the artists, I haven't worked with before at all, or I haven't worked with on Batman. So those sort of combinations are exciting in a different way. It's about getting to know each other, and the challenge of making sure the artist gets to shine and is really happy.
And it's also about writing in a style that fits them. I have a certain style I use for Jock, a certain style I use for Greg, in terms of constructing a script. And that allows me a platform to sort of experiment beyond it.
With this story arc, every issue is a completely new experience.
So All-Star, for me, is a hugely liberating, celebratory pleasure. I really love working on this series. Dearly.