The families who built Gotham City didn't mean for it to turn dark.
But somewhere in city's history, as new buildings shot spires into the skies of Gotham, they began to cast a foreboding shadow on the streets of Gotham City.
Beginning in May, a new six-issue mini-series called Batman: Gates of Gotham will examine that era in history when the city's future turned dark. Drawn by Trevor McCarthy and co-written by Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgins, the story will expose how the secrets of Gotham's past affect the heroes and villains who populate its streets today.
Snyder is currently exploring similar themes in his current run of Detective Comics, which focuses on how Dick Grayson's donning of the cowl has changed the face of Gotham City.
For Gates of Gotham, Snyder will team with Higgins, who wrote the two-part Nightrunner back-up in December's Batman Annual and Detective Comics Annual in December. That story also featured art by Trevor McCarthy.
Newsarama talked with the two writers to find out more about their newly announced mini-series and which present-day characters may have some ancestors involved in the historical series.
Newsarama: Scott and Kyle, we hear people say so often that "Gotham is a character" in Batman stories. What do you think that means? And is that what you're exploring in this story?
Kyle Higgins: I think when people refer to Gotham as a character, what they're reacting to is the mood it creates, the shadow that the city casts. In our story, we're really exploring the make-up of the city, and trying to take that concept of Gotham as a character to another level.
Scott Snyder: Kyle and I have talked a tremendous amount about the idea of Gotham as a character, and it's definitely the central theme of what I'm trying to do in Detective. I'm exploring the idea that Gotham changes with the face of whoever is under the cowl. It changes to be a twisted funhouse mirror for anyone who's trying to do good in Gotham, and it challenges in these ferocious and potent ways. So that's part of this story as well.
Nrama: It fits into the idea of Gotham changing as Dick Grayson takes on the job of Batman?
Snyder: It's part of the story. It's about Dick Grayson as Batman coming to terms in some ways with this notion that he as Batman is part of Gotham's past, and that even though his family might not be as lodged there in the city's story, like the Waynes or some of the other families.
You can't be a part of Gotham's present without being part of its past as well. Its past is always living right there beneath the surface.
Higgins: Dick Grayson is working a case that explores the history of the city. And he's not a part of that history.
Snyder: He's not a part in a way that he realizes yet.
Nrama: So this is rich with history?
Snyder: Definitely. But there's a lot more to it. It's history, and it's also architecture. We look at the building of Gotham and some of the stories that are really woven into the stones and the buildings themselves, into the landscape of Gotham.
Higgins: In our story, we go back to the early days of the city and the building of the modern city as we know it now. The plot surrounds a mystery that happened back then, and it's one of Gotham's great secrets. A lot of the buildings we see now, there's a story behind them and why they are the way they are, and why the buildings are in specific places.
Snyder: We'll also be exploring the history some of Gotham's famous families. We're interested in how those families and those figures that we know in present Gotham stretch back all the way.
Nrama: Can you tell us anything about the mystery that leads Dick Grayson toward exploring Gotham's history?
Snyder: It's one of our favorite things about the story, because I think some of the best stories about Gotham are those that are grounded on mysteries of Gotham. My favorite Batman stories are the ones that feel like they could be happening now, because they have that sort of gritty realism to them.
The mystery we're going to be dealing with in the past, and in the present, is a big, dark, heavy sort of story with a lot of action to it.
The big hook to it is one of the things we're really excited about: Exploring the idea of Gotham's first supervillains from the gilded age, and the reverberations of the terrible things he did now, in the present. It's kind of a mystery, as his finger seems to be popping up now, and the present mystery is echoing what happened then.
Nrama: Is that "first supervillain" who we see on the cover, in the top hat?
Higgins: I think that's probably a fair guess.
The thing about this story that I really latched to was the creating of the modern city as we know it, and obviously, the modern Gotham as we know it has supervillains. So I was very fascinated with the genesis of that idea.
At what point did that aspect come into Gotham?
So our mystery from the past deals with the idea that there's a reason this villain comes to be, and that has as much to do with the city's history as it does his motivations.
Nrama: Who else will Dick Grayson have helping him with this mystery? Or interacting with him in the "present day" part of this story? DC mentioned Owlman, I Ching and Red Robin?
Snyder: I Ching and Owlman might figure in as cameos, but they're not the characters we've decided to focus on as this story has evolved.
The big players in the book will be Dick and Tim. And there's a third character we'll use from the Bat family that we'll probably keep as a surprise. It's someone both Kyle and I have a great affection for, and it's someone I don't think we see enough of.
Nrama: Besides this "early first supervillain" who's on the cover, can you give us an indication of who from Gotham's history is appearing in the comic?
Snyder: You have so many people, from the Elliots, who are the ancestors of Hush, and you have the Kanes, where you have a whole sort of rogues gallery of people you can pull. You have Waynes of the past.
And we'll also be dealing with other families that I think might surprise people as well, that date back and get taken for granted.
It is a book that features Dick Grayson as Batman. It really is about him solving this case that brings past and present together, and shows the way that the mysteries of the past reverberate down and have consequences now in the present.
But we also really want it to be a book that shows Gotham as a community and Gotham as a city with these figures that all play a big part and are active simultaneously.
So there are going to be a lot of fun people that we bring in, from fan favorites to people that I think fans will be a little shocked by.
Higgins: But every character that's in it, and every family that's in it, is in it for a reason.
Nrama: Some fans have guessed from the cover that there might even be a Nigma ancestor or a Cobblepot. Will we see ancestors of villains as well?
Snyder: They're part of Gotham too. Some of the ones you mentioned are from storied families there, and they go back and have relatives and ancestors that played big parts in the city's history. So they might be making big appearances.
Nrama: This cover, by the way, is really striking. Kyle, you've worked with Trevor before, right?
Higgins: Yes, Trevor is knocking it out of the park. He stepped away from comics for a few years, but he's come back. We worked on the Nightrunner story together, and you know, I originally wrote that story before we had an artist. But the second Trevor came on, I was lucky enough to have not started the second script, and he can draw pretty much anything. So I started really pushing him in that second issue, and we got this absolutely gorgeous double-page spread of Nightrunner.
Trust me when I say that we're pushing him even further on this.
Nrama: Is the visual style of the book in keeping with Bat books? Is it dark? Or was Gotham different in that era?
Higgins: It's pretty dark. I think the era we're examining, during the building of Gotham, is a gilded time period that's filled with a lot of hope. The time is a hopeful one, and everything's shinier. But our book will be looking at where the darkness of Gotham comes from, so the style will reflect that.
Snyder: Kyle has been working thematically with the way that Gotham literally rises from that time, from these smaller buildings to using the steel alloy to build these skyscrapers, and the hopefulness that comes with that. But also these spires become twisted and dark as they go up.
So it's kind of a strange blend of this hopefulness and aspiration, but also this creeping dread that comes with the question, what is this city going to be when we're done with it?
Nrama: Scott, was this something you pitched to DC, and do you think it helped that you had Detective Comics under your belt, so they would OK a project where you played with Gotham's history?
Scott Snyder: They've always been really, really receptive to anything I've pitched at DC, and really, I feel like they've been that way about anyone else I know. It seems like they're really open and eager for new ideas.
Nrama: Where did the idea for this story come from?
Snyder: The jist of the story came about from some of the material that we'll be dealing with a little bit in Detective this year, and hopefully in stories coming up that have to do with the history of Gotham, and the idea that Gotham has this ability to have the past really echo through the present. That there's a city beneath the city we all know that's been there, and you can't escape the past of Gotham.
Nrama: How did you two end up working together?
Snyder: Kyle and I started talking when he started doing Batman stuff. He was doing the Nightrunner story, and this story materialized out of that interest in Gotham. And it's been a real pleasure working with Kyle and Trevor. These guys are real rising stars. It's exciting.
Higgins: I have to echo that. I feel incredibly lucky to be doing this with Scott. I'm a really big fan of his run, and I feel very fortunate to collaborate with him on this. Even if it means phone conversations at 3 a.m.
Snyder: [laughs] I'm a night owl.
Higgins: Usually, so am I.
Snyder: I'm an old man, but I can usually outlast most people in that department. I'm secretly a vampire. I'm about to go rest now.
Nrama: Getting back to the idea behind this mini-series, we've seen a few references to Gotham's history before. Are you pulling from established stories of the city's history so you fit this mystery into what's been established?
Snyder: That's the fun of it. The whole genesis came from that interest that Kyle and I have in that sense of history. I think you cling to glimpses you get of Gotham's past. Like in Gotham Underground, where you saw the different gangs back then. Or in Brubaker's "Made of Woods" story, where you see an old case that Alan Scott is solving back in the day in Gotham. And then even in the Alan Moore Swamp Thing, where they tell that sordid history of Gotham, all the way back.
So I feel like whenever I get a snippet, it's exciting to see. And that was one of the reasons The Return of Bruce Wayne was so much fun.
Kyle and I have had a lot of fun talking about the different eras and the possibilities of opening up moments in Gotham's history and exploring the cops, and the villains, and the landscape, and the architecture of it, and what the city's character is like at different moments.
It's something we both like. And it's something I'll certainly be dealing with in Detective and beyond.