Young Bat-hero Duke Thomas will be getting a new outlet this summer as part of DC's next initiative, and All-Star Batman will tweak its format as it continues to showcase writer Scott Snyder's collaboration with some of the industry's most acclaimed artists.
With this week's All-Star Batman #8, Snyder decided to try something new — the sort of experimentation that's become the norm on the new series.
Working with artist Giuseppi Camuncoli, inker Mark Morales, colorist Dean White, and — in particular — letterer Steve Wands, Snyder approached All-Star Batman #8 as an issue where every bit of the story and art would portray Batman's descent into a frightening sort of madness where the Caped Crusader has lost touch with reality.
The issue is the third chapter in "Ends of the Earth," a story arc that has used a different artist for each issue, exploring a different villain with a different story-writing approach.
This week's #8 utilizes a first-person narrative, but as Snyder explains to Newsarama, the dialogue changes the point of view just slightly as the text in the word balloon bubbles and the illustrations all change to match Batman's state of mind.
Newsarama talked to Snyder about this week's issue, about the future of Duke Thomas, and what readers can expect next from All-Star Batman.
Nrama: Scott, as we've discussed before, each of the chapters in this story arc has not only a different artist, but even a different writing approach. This one is narrated from Batman's perspective. Why did you make that choice, to go with narration for this Mad Hatter story in particular?
Snyder: My thinking was, the series is largely about showing why each villain is really scary, both to me personally and also, hopefully, to sort of broader anxieties in the air at this particular moment – what makes them contemporary.
For me, what makes Mad Hatter really scary is that he convinces you in some way that what you're thinking and feeling isn't legitimate, whether it's your creation – in this story, he kind of lets you have some agency and says whatever you're seeing is what you want to see — or whether he's controlling you in older stories.
But he's saying to you, the world as you perceive it is not real. Your thoughts aren't rational. And that really speaks to, for me, at least, my experience, when I haven't felt particularly well, in terms of anxiety and depression and those things.
So I wanted to choose a style that really mimics how it feels when you question everything that you think is true, which is how it feels, I think, when you're deeply unwell.
In that regard, first person narration was a perfect choice in which to explore, because when you feel good and things are good and you're healthy, the world seems transparent — like a window, as Batman says, kind of a window moment — and there's a sense of clarity to things. You know, you're out there and you're interacting with a world you understand. But as you don't feel well and you start to question whether you're OK, that world takes on all kinds of menacing reflections of yourself and the window becomes less clear. And you start to feel like the voice that you were listening to in your head, that has always been an ally, starts to become menacing and becomes oppressive.
Nrama: The lettering in this issue echoes the kind of descent you're describing, particularly as the story goes on — giving strength to the first person narration.
Snyder: Yeah! You know, I spoke to the letterer, Steve Wands, who's just a really dear friend. He did everything from American Vampire all the way through A.D. After Death to this, so we're really close. At this point, we're like years-old friends. And I asked him, would you be willing to do this with this issue and really let it be one of your issues to shine? And he was really excited about it.
So it became part of that idea of telling a story where Batman's own mind and narration would turn on him and start to become the villain of the story — the villain of the story would almost be the narration.
Nrama: To me, Batman's more mind-controlled voice is very … I don't know if the word intimate is right. But it feels more formal as it starts, then becomes more informal — Batman begins saying "you" meaning himself.
Snyder: Yeah. Well, not to get too granular with the writing of it, but I'm proud of it in the way that, collaborating with Steve — and with Giuseppi and Mark [Morales], the inker, and Dean [White], the colorist — but really with Steve, the idea was to even switch it so, if you look at it closely, it starts off in first person, where it says "I" this and "I" that. Then it kind of switches to "you," without you hopefully realizing much, where he's still talking.
He starts saying, like, "'cause this is what you need to do, Batman — you, you, you." And then the font switches so he's now sort of talking with Hatter fonts. He's still Batman, but it's starting to morph. And the words get blended.
And then when he's really bad, it almost switches so that Hatter's narrating and the Batman things are in quotes. So in his own mind, he's become the stranger.
As it goes back, it goes back through that progression. So as he comes out of it, you'll notice it goes to second person again and then it goes to first person at the very end.
So it's meant to be a trip, in that regard, down the rabbit hole, in the Alice-in-Wonderland way, and back, where you're feeling like a stranger to yourself and then you come back and control.
Nrama: So as he kind of switches to "you," he's feeling like a stranger to himself, but when he switches back to "I," he's more himself.
Snyder: Exactly. It begins with Batman confident and funny, in first person, hitting people with flamingos and making jokes, and it ends there as well, with him saying "let him tell it to Aquaman" and so on. But in the middle, I wanted to show him totally divested from his own mind.
Nrama: The back-up stories in All-Star Batman are exploring Duke Thomas. Can you talk about this story arc in the back-up stories and what you're exploring for this character? Is the revelation of his role in the Bat-universe coming up?
Snyder: Yeah, yeah, issue #9, the next issue, is where there are some big revelations about him, and he ends up understanding what his role in Gotham and in the DCU is going to be.
And it continues into some of the material we're going to do over the summer, where he really lands officially.
I'd like him to be a character that we give someone new a chance on — you know, and I'll help with it. But really try to take a risk with him and try something and see if there's room for somebody who has a different mission, different take, different things.
But the idea with this story arc is, I wanted to bring back a lot of elements from his past, so this brings back Izzy from We Are Robin, a series I really loved. It brings back his origin — the first time he appeared in "Zero Year. He meets Batman in the opening pages of "Zero Year," but his actual first meeting with Batman, in the narrative, is when he's trying to solve a crossword puzzle to help Batman defeat the Riddler, to help Bruce defeat the Riddler.
So in that way, we're trying to bring a lot of that material back here to make it sort of come full circle so we can launch him forward at the end.
Nrama: You've really developed this character since you first introduced him as sort of a side character.
Snyder: I really love the character and I hope people will give him a chance. I mean, I love everything about him, from the costume to the way his central core — his core belief is that this generation's heroes need to find their own way, to do thing independent of the heroes that came before.
That's why he was always talking about how Robin doesn't need a Batman. He loves the heroes that came before, like Batman, but he's very independently trying to find a place that doesn't make him a proxy or a kind of extension of the family as we've seen it so far.
Nrama: So what's coming up after this issue?
Snyder: Next I have an arc with Rafael Albuquerque, which is going to be really fun and it explore Alfred's past.
Nrama: You're giving Alfred some love?
Snyder: Yeah, it's a big Alfred story that I'm very excited about. I haven't seen a story about that yet, so I feel like it's pretty unmined territory — his time in MI-6 and all that stuff.
It takes place in Miami, so it's got this whole Miami Vice feel, which is really fun.
And then after that, we've got Sean Murphy, which is a complete 180-degree spin from that. This is a story I've been planning for years. It's the closest thing I could do to a DKR.
I love DC for letting me do this series. I love the fans deeply for supporting the series and making it so competitive when I never expected it to be.
You know, we're going to make a big push after the Rafael arc too, to try to change the format a little — take the back-ups out and that stuff — and make it even more approachable.
Nrama: So you're evolving the series. That sounds like you plan to be on this book for a while.
Snyder: I would love to keep going forever. Every arc — and really, every issue sometimes within an arc — allows me to push myself to write in ways that surprise me and excite me, given what these characters allow, because they're such constantly enduring and new figures.
I get really excited to say, well, how do I make Catwoman a character that I've always loved, but how do I make her mine and new and different for this moment in time and for me personally. What does she speak to? And I can do that with an artist that say, "I have a vision for her that's similar." So we can try to figure out a way to do an issue or a couple issues or an arc that upend my own expectations about myself as a writer.
It's pretty vibrant for me. It's a great job. I love this series.