Although Scott Snyder and Jock’s new six-issue series The Batman Who Laugh sserves as both a bookend to their Detective Comics story, “The Black Mirror,” as well as following up on themes from Dark Nights: Metal, the writer says it is, essentially, a Batman story - just told in a way that shows two different sides of the character.
The Batman Who Laughs character is, after all, Bruce Wayne - just an alternate version of the character who was infected by a strain of Joker toxin. Now the character that Snyder calls an “apex predator” has escaped the Dark Multiverse and is in the DCU, giving Snyder the chance to utilize him in an exploration of the dark side of Bruce Wayne.
The Batman Who Laughs will also feature James Gordon Jr., a character that was the focus of Jock and Snyder’s “The Black Mirror” story all the way back in 2011.
As the series kicks off December 12, Newsarama talked to Snyder and Jock and found out a few spoilers about the roles of both Batman Who Laughs and James Jr., as well as learning what themes Snyder is exploring in The Batman Who Laughs.
Newsarama: Scott and Jock, obviously you enjoy working together with Jock. But what was it about this Batman Who Laughs project in particular that made you think it would work well as a collaboration?
Scott Snyder: I started thinking about doing this series when we were doing Metal because it became clear to me really early on that I wasn’t going to have enough road to do what I wanted to do with the character. So I started talking to DC about it pretty early on, and they were really open to it.
So then it became about how to tell a really special story with this character that would do justice not only to the popularity that seems to be building around him, but that would give me the latitude to do something really dark and nightmarish that spoke to the character’s intentions and nature.
We built it slowly over time. What’s the time frame in terms of how I can fit it into the line so it will have effect with Tom [King, Batman writer] and other books. Where can I do it with Justice League so I can coordinate it too? And how can I make it something really singular?
So it has two different priorities. One priority is, and the most important, is making something that’s one of the best books that I’ve ever worked on. I’m really focused on the quality on this one - not that I’m not on other ones, but they’re really different muscles. Like, doing Justice League is a story that plays out over 50 issues and is planned out. So the quality issue-to-issue is extremely important, but a lot of the quality is also making sure that story is told in a way that gives it the right amount of decompression over a year-plus. Or that every arc feels special, yet beats of that story are happening. So it’s just totally different. But The Batman Who Laughs brings me completely back home.
If I’m going to go back home to Gotham and do a single-character story in Gotham that’s mystery and dark, then I want to set the bar as high as possible.
So that means working with Jock, returning to the themes of “The Black Mirror,” returning to those characters and doing sort of a spiritual successor to that book, but in a way that brings in all the different kinds of expansive, crazy, nightmarish elements that I’ve learned to incorporate through Metal and through Justice League. So I’m really, really proud of it.
Nrama: And Jock, that brought you on board, to hear that it was a spiritual successor to “Black Mirror"?
Jock: Yeah, when we first started talking about it, that was one of the huge appeals. Even though there’s going to be ramifications from this story that Scott’s going to take forward into the DCU, from my point of view, what excited me was that we’re getting the old team together. “Black Mirror” is proven to be a pretty well-received story which was great - at the time, we were all very young to the DCU. And it was a really great experience. So yeah, the idea of coming back to this same team and same colorist, David Baron, was enticing.
Scott has this habit of phoning me - in fact, “The Black Mirror” is the same story; he phoned me out of the blue. And there was just something about the story elements he started telling me, and I was just like, I’m on board with it. And it’s the same with this. He called me, gave me the run-down of the ideas he had, and I just had that feeling in my stomach again and said, “Scott, let’s do it; I’m on board.”
It’s always great working with Scott, but there was just something about this. It’s been a whole lot of fun to draw. It’s been great.
Nrama: We’ve seen the character’s appearance in Justice League. And some have seen the preview where he shows up again in this week’s DC titles. But we don’t really know his game here, in this book you’re doing together. How would you describe what the Batman Who Laughs is doing in this book you’re doing with Jock?
Snyder: Ultimately, it’s the Batman Who Laughs coming here and saying, I know you think you know yourself, and you think you know what makes you happy, but I’ve been to every planet across the Dark Multiverse where all your hopes and fears live, and I know you’re wrong.
Then he’s like, I’ll show you what makes you really happy, even though you don’t want to see it.
Nrama: And with the Batman Who Laughs, that means war, and he doesn’t play fair.
Snyder: No, not at all. He’s an apex predator character, so this is incredibly dark and fun.
Nrama: Jock, what’s it been like for you to put your own spin on the Batman Who Laughs?
Jock: It’s been good. It’s an artist’s job to do exactly what you said, to put your spin on it. I’ve been getting to know him over the last few months. And he’s hellish. He’s really bad. He’s really intriguing and a lot of fun to draw.
We were chatting earlier about how Batman could almost be like a rock, where a lot of the story is sort of a whirlwind around him, but for me, actually, Batman Who Laughs is the whirlwind. He’s a very scary, unhinged and untethered character to the stuff he does. He’s almost completely chaotic, yet planned as well. He has no boundaries.
Jock: And that’s obviously a lot of fun to draw.
Snyder: He’s so fun. I love writing him. I was just polishing issue #3 and - spoiler - in issue #3, he goes to the Iceberg Lounge to basically get what he needs for something he’s doing here. And he walks in and they’re all, like, who the hell is this guy? You know what I mean?
And he’s like, “Hey Oswald!” And he’s like, I want you to know I’m Batman and I’ve studied your place, and I have like 15 different ways of dismantling this place and I’m going to walk you through them right now. And it’s all made of ice, you know. And he’s sort of like, so … I could do this to your heating system. I actually have a bug already - I’ve had it for years - in the pipes that makes it so I could melt this place whenever I want. He’s like, this is how the electricity works. And he just goes through all the ways to do it.
And he’s like, also what works …. a flamethrower!
Jock: He’s such a piece of work.
Snyder: Yeah, he’s so mean. And then when they come to get him, all the men rush him as the place is melting around them, and he takes the defibrillator off the wall and puts it in the water. And he’s like, “Clear!” Pfffffffff.
Snyder: Yeah! He’s so mean.
He really is just sort of like if Batman had no conscience and was just unleashed to be the absolute embodiment of the idea that Batman always wins. Like, if he would do anything to win - kill, maim …
His goal is to be the apex predator.
Nrama: As you said, The Batman Who Laughs is a successor to “The Black Mirror,” and we’ve been told that James Gordon Jr. comes back for this story. Can you describe his role?
Snyder: Yeah, he has a very different role. It’s a reversal from “The Black Mirror.”
Basically, when he was a really dark little kid, he was a character who only thought about poisoning Gotham all the time and sort of changing people there into people like him.
And so he would study, more than any other person in the entire city, the different historical waterways, pipe systems, filtration systems, everything that ever was left in Gotham for all of its different years of evolution, to see what would be the most effective way to poison everybody.
So other villains actually took notice of this kid and his crazy plans.
Part of what the Batman Who Laughs is after is the James Jr. of old’s ability, or knowledge of Gotham’s underpinnings as a means of changing everybody into what he wanted to change them into back then, in “Black Mirror.”
The difference is, James Jr. is a really changed person at this point. Some of the things that he claimed to be doing in “Black Mirror” have actually happened to him here. So he’s at a loss to kind of be the psychopath he was then.
But you never know. That might change.
Nrama: Any minute now.
Snyder: Any minute. It might.
I mean, the whole book is, deeply, it’s about themes that I’ve been coming at from different angles across multiple books. I think all of us are very curious about our capacity for evil, and human nature.
One of the ideas in “Black Mirror” was that one of the things that makes us special is our propensity for evil, that sets us apart from the natural world.
I think that’s something here, the Batman Who Laughs is a further extension of that argument that he believes in. And James Jr., who had an argument like that in “Black Mirror,” now is sort of Exhibit A in the retort to that argument.
So all the pieces circulating in Batman Who Laughs - the Bruce Waynes who mysteriously show up here from other Multiverses who are then killed by the Batman Who Laughs for a reason … the Batman Who Laughs’ plan … the idea that by issue #2 you learn that Batman has a system to protect the city, called “Last Laugh,” that is essentially remnants of a system that was formed all the way back at Gotham’s founding in the 1700s - all of this stuff plays on the same core ideas.
It’s really one big meditation, this series, on is Batman something that shows us how to be? Or is he something that holds us back from what we could be?
Nrama: And Joker in this, and I believe in Justice Leagueas well - he’s not thrilled about having a Batman who’s evil like him.
Snyder: No, he hates him. The two of them do not get along, from Metal to now. And yeah, in Justice League, you’ll see that.
Batman Who Laughs was seen in issue #7 of Justice League, and now in issue #13 that comes out this week, Joker’s reaction to the Batman Who Laughs being brought back through the Legion of Doom is the focus of the entire issue.
And he essentially - spoilers - quits the Legion of Doom over that in a really violent way.
But it might be part of a bigger plan from Lex Luthor. So … you’ll see.
But anyway, yeah, it has repercussions across the DCU.
Nrama: Getting back to the theme you were discussing about whether Batman inspires us or holds us back - would you say The Batman Who Laughs is, essentially, a Batman story?
Snyder: Yeah. The Batman Who Laughs and Batman. They’re both, essentially, Batman.
It’s funny, because I’ve been doing Batman a really long time, and Jock and I have been doing things a really long time, and my feeling is, at this point in my career, the only point to return to Gotham is to do something special, whether I can do it with Greg Capullo with Batman: Last Knight [on Earth] and do it out of continuity in a way that allows us to explore a lot of the things we couldn’t in our run, or to do this, which, through the character of the Batman Who Laughs, I can explore a lot of things I couldn’t through the Joker, to be honest.
The Joker is incredibly dark and terrifying. I tried to write him like the Devil to Batman, but there’s limitations on that character too, both because he’s a classic DC character and you’re staying true to core, but also, he is so focused on Batman all the time and who Batman is, and there are theatrics to him, and so there are limitations to him and points he wants to make and goals he has that are particular to Batman and making a point to him.
It would have broken from Joker’s character to do some of the things I wanted to do to show Bruce how dark his heart might be. And in that way, it takes a character like Batman Who Laughs who’s new and more fluid to be able to get there.
So if I’m going to go back to Batman, I want it to be special, and that means working with people who make it special, like Jock or Greg, and doing it in such a way that I get to go farther than I’ve gone before with some of these ideas and some of these pieces of the mythos.