After spending five years in Gotham for The New 52, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo gave an interview wherein Capullo suggested that the next person to tackle Batman should wear “diapers because it could be scary to take on such an iconic character.” It turns out he was giving advice to the guy sitting next to him.
Snyder has once again teamed up with The Dark Knight for All-Star Batman, a year-long run that will boast a rogue’s gallery of talented artists and a story that draws Batman far outside Gotham’s city limits. The first issue, “My Own Worst Enemy,” sees Batman and Two-Face on a blissful road trip where every person they encounter—from greasy spoon diner waitresses to hired mercenaries—wants to murder our hero. We were lucky enough to talk with Snyder and All-Star Batman #1 artist John Romita, Jr. about challenging our definition of a beloved character, using Two-Face as a metaphor for social media, and making Batman look badass in a corn field.
Nerdist: Does working with Batman again come with the feeling of heading back into the fray with an old friend or the sheer terror of needing something original for a near-century-old character you’ve worked extensively with before?
Scott Snyder: Well, it always starts with the latter and then moves to the former. My initial thought was, “I’m not gonna do this anymore,” when I was getting to the end of what I was gonna do with Greg [Capullo]. This was a couple years ago when I started to see the end with him. Then I started to realize I had stories I wanted to do with some of the villains I’d never used, and I thought of this coherent year of Batman. It dawned on me that the best way to do it would be with different artists—different people I hadn’t really had a chance to work with quite as much before. I wanted to challenge myself, and the whole thing blossomed into the former where it turned into taking a road trip with a close friend to somewhere you’d never been before. So it became really, really energizing.
Ultimately, it’s the same formula that I try to concoct on Batman, and pretty much anything superhero-wise, where you try to find a way of telling a story that is intensely personal, one that you feel strongly about, one that you feel is contemporary or resonant for this particular moment for you; but you try to find a way of doing it that will be as bombastic and as twisted fun and surprising as possible both for you and the readers. In terms of aesthetic, dynamic, all that stuff. Really, this just became the best challenge in a long time for me, to work with artists that I greatly admire and who I’m friends with on top of that. Trying to take Batman to places that are far from anything I’ve done before while maintaining the personal connection to the subject matter.
N: The road trip theme usually means anything can happen. Can we expect chaos throughout this run?
SS: Yeah. One of the things that’s so fun about it for me, too, is getting to work with John. His art is so immersive and it’s so brutal and it’s so detailed. I love it. I feel like immediately when I open the pages that I’m stepping into this environment I haven’t been in before, even if it were Gotham. Now that it’s not, it makes it even more terrifying. It seems on the surface that it would be difficult—I’m sure it is—to draw Batman in a field and make it intimidating. What John’s able to do with it really underscores the story itself, and it’s really his brilliant contribution where it doesn’t just feel like it’s Batman out of place. The way he shows him out of place, the angles he chooses, even the distance of the lens to Batman, constantly makes it intimidating.
The art makes it feels like Batman is totally dwarfed by this alien landscape and that anything can happen, or that he’s in full control, and that oscillation in reading it is really what it’s all about. Batman believes deeply that this is a city and a state and a nation of people who want to be heroes, and want to be redeemed, and Two-Face believes very deeply that everything is falling apart. That it’s his era. He feels like people’s true natures are coming out. They see problems they’re facing both locally and in bigger ways as insurmountable, and they want to embrace their inner villain. So, the way John does the out-of-Gotham, on-the-road, no-gargoyles-to-hide-behind, no-shadows-to-duck-into elements of the book speaks not just to his understanding of what I’m going for but also his enhancement of it.
John Romita, Jr.: Wow. Thank you very much. That’s a much more eloquent version of what happened, but I’m not really that, uh, clever at the outset. I’m kinda winging it, and if it comes out okay, I’m happy. I don’t have this grand plan as soon as he gives me the words, but that’s the quality of the story, because it leads me to give the story what Scott’s asking for. I wouldn’t have gotten to those points if they hadn’t been asked for by Scott. That’s the team effort here. Scott starts with these suggestions, I give it some weight, and [inker] Danny [Miki] and the team complete it. So that’s the best thing about this.
N: That whole idea of Batman outside of Gotham really hit home for me, not only with the imagery of Batman, but also with this one-sheet of Two-Face looking like a total badass, but he’s standing in some farmer’s field.
SS: That’s my favorite image of Two-Face ever, that John did there. I just love it so much.
N: It’s so fantastic, but you also assume that in any normal comic book, the background would be a super rainy, dark night outside a high rise building or a mansion—
N: …and it’s actually really startling that it’s in this hay field. John, can you talk a bit about drawing these noir characters in broad daylight?
JR: That’s such an excellent point that everyone knows. At first I was a little disappointed when I heard it was gonna be out in a field, or that the whole series was gonna be that way. Then Scott said to me, “Think about that movie The Defiant Ones, and think about that dynamic,” and I mentioned a more simplistic version of that: Midnight Run with Robert De Niro—
SS: Which was on last night, by the way. Watched the whole thing.
JR: Ah! I love that movie! What it did was, there’s fun and fear in that format. And this is a throwback to that format. First you think, damn, I wanted to show the back alley shadows and noir, and then you get a chance to juxtapose the character against this obvious, out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere, nowhere-to-hide feeling, and that’s exactly what happens. As far as the visual works, you can’t hide, so you gotta do what you can with this horrible character standing in the sun, and Batman’s got nowhere to go, he’s got nowhere to hide, he’s got people with guns on him and super villains popping in from everywhere. Cops, firemen, waiters, truck drivers, everybody wants a piece of him. The road trip thing, the two movies, it’s a master plan by Scott, and while I love the idea of playing Batman in the shadows, it’s not gonna happen in this series so there’s gotta be a way of doing it despite that. It’s a challenge, and the best thing about working with Scott is that he challenges you. If a writer doesn’t challenge you, then the writer isn’t doing his job or her job.
With that shot of Two-Face, I struggled with where to put his hands. “How do I show him, showing the coin?” I did it five different ways, didn’t like it. I still didn’t like the way it turned out because his hand is off to the side, but I couldn’t show it with his hand down, and I didn’t wanna show it with his hand up. So I didn’t think so much about the power of that moment, as much as “How’s he gonna show it in his hand if he’s just flipped in the air?,” and then [colorist] Dean [White], unsolicited, gives it a little bit of a trail.
JR: Motion. That’s what I’m talking about. Dean’s got my back. So does Danny. Short answer to your question: it’s the challenge that’s the best part about it.
SS: One of the fun things about Batman is how adaptable he is. That’s what Grant [Morrison] always says, and I was trying to give that a lot of thought going into All-Star. Why I enjoy putting him in these situations so much, whether it’s Zero Year or others that show the elasticity of the character, and I think it’s partly that when I was growing up in New York, the problems that Batman faced were very provincial in a real way. We were really concerned about crime and gangs and corruption in local government. Urban decay, all that kind of stuff. Batman was up against comic book versions of that, and in a post-9/11 world, writing Batman for a while, you really got a sense that people wanted him to face down fears that resonate today about random violence and terrorism and kinds of things that find comic book equivalents in over-the-top villains and in other ways.
So, taking him out of Gotham or putting Two-Face in a field is about showing Batman in your town. To me, that’s scary when you see that the villains are capable of getting there, and also fun when you see that Batman is capable of being there. It speaks, I hope, in a small way to the idea that nowadays Batman is largely about inspiring people to be brave in the face of big, intractable, overwhelming sorts of problems, as opposed to being so local and particular to Gotham and its rainy, shadowy criminals.
N: I love that we’re having this conversation on the day that there’s a big mob bust, and John Gotti’s grandson got arrested to prove that old, classic Batman is still needed today.
JR: [Laughs] I hadn’t even heard about that.
Pencils and Inks: Declan Shalvey
N: One last question about the main story before we talk briefly about the backups: is this Two-Face a villain for an era of putting every piece of information we have on social media? The challenge he puts forth to everyone is to bring down Batman or risk their own dirty laundry being aired.
SS: Right. He says really explicitly in issue #2, and a little bit here, too, that in The Joker’s time when we were all getting used to the craziness of the world, and our interconnectedness of the world in particular, that we had inescapable personalities out there in the world, either online or because we’re just seen all the time because there’s nowhere to go without being watched or tracked. The more that happens and the more interconnected we are, the more something that happens overseas affects us, the more crowded it feels, the more the planet is heating up, there’s this feeling of needing to live your life in public and in shared space with everybody. What Batman is saying is, yes, that brings out the best of us because we have these challenges where we can’t hide as easily, and we have to work in concert with each other to solve things that are very intimidating. Whether they’re big problems or personal demons. And Two-Face is saying, “No, no, no. We’re evolving into sociopaths. It’s gonna be perfect.” We’re used to the craziness that the clown ushered in, and now we’re really about how we live our lives in public in one way while secretly getting everything we want in private. Until everything falls away and until we all get to openly be the villains we want, Two-Face is the bad guy for right now.
N: What’s the main goal of the backup stories that come with each issue of All-Star?
SS: I’m sort of giving away a secret of the backup, but if the feature takes place after Two-Face’s attack on Gotham, the backups take place right before, so they’re all one story even though you can read them separately. They investigate the secret history of the Robins, which deals with color wheel—the “Cursed Wheel” as Alfred calls it—that helps everyone who trains with Batman figure out what kind of hero they’re going to be and what their mission in Gotham will be.
Pencils and Inks: Declan Shalvey
N: Batman’s Power Point.
N: Even in the backups, you’ve got some shocker character moments, things from classic characters we wouldn’t expect. Is “The Cursed Wheel” going to be anchored, especially with this history of Robin, by shocking twists or is it a straightforward push through the events leading up to where we’re going in the main story?
SS: It’s both. It’s a standalone that’s openly very dark, and each section throughout the year of All-Star is going to move through a different color, and each villain corresponds to a different color, so there’s a strange, large design to it. Two-Face is black, and he’s saying our character is black, our motivations are black, we’re dark in terms of our personal demons. We’re shadowy. The second one is white, and it’s about endurance and Mr. Freeze. The backup to the second one is Francesco Francavilla. Jock is doing the art on the feature.
SS: The third one is green with Poison Ivy, so he’s moving through these components of psychological training that Batman is subjecting him to. It has a large scope, but at the same time it’ll be a meaty detective story in and of itself.
N: This idea of “stilling” you’ve got in the first backup issue is horrific, by the way. Where a killer makes two cuts so close to each other on the body that you can’t staunch the bleeding on one without making the other bleed. That’s Jigsaw level there.
SS: Thanks! I made that up while I was at my kid’s hockey game, which I felt so terrible about. I was watching my 9 year old play hockey, and I thought, “What is the most gruesome thing I can do in the backup? Yay, son! Goal! Oh, wait. Stilling!” You have to accept yourself as a Two-Face character as a writer where you have thoughts that are so unbelievably gruesome while you’re doing totally innocent things.
All-Star Batman hits comic book stores August 10.
Featured Image: DC Comics