Scott Snyder Reveals How He Keeps The Villains Scary In ‘All-Star Batman’ [Interview]
All-Star Batman, one of the flagship titles in DC Comics's Rebirth initiative, is something of a showcase for writer Scott Snyder, allowing him to work with the highest caliber of collaborates from John Romita Jr, to Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire, to Jock, Tula Lotay and more --- all while re-imagining Batman's deadly rogues' gallery to better fit modern molds of terror.
This week sees the conclusion of All-Star Batman's first arc, which has been a rip-roaring adventure road story featuring Batman, Two-Face, and a host of villains out to get them. ComicsAlliance chatted to Scott Snyder about his approach to reinventing villains, collaborating with some of the best artists in the world, and where he stands on the Batman v Bruce Wayne debate.
ComicsAlliance: I wan to start by talking about Two-Face, and specifically the friendship and animosity shared with Batman in All-Star Batman. What made that relationship the foundation of the title?
Scott Snyder: For me it really began with a personal connection to the scariness of that villain. I came up with the story a little under a year ago, I guess; I had a rough year, and I think there were moments where I didn’t act the way I would have liked, and we had someone in our family we were hoping would overcome some personal demons that they did not, and I was very drawn to the idea of a villain who says, “We all have this ugly side of our face, that’s the real side which is a collection of our worst impulses and these are desires that we don’t want to admit, and everything else is artificial. So I’m going to make a big bet with Batman that that’s true,” and Batman on the other hand saying, “I not only disagree, but I see you and I raise; instead I think the majority of what we are is good,” and finding an answer somewhere in the middle of this crazy road story.
Then Two-Face, he kind of took on an even greater life because of this year and the events of the year. You know; certain political trajectories of things nationally, but also globally, and the sense of fragility to the world in a way where I think a lot of us didn’t recognize what was going on, and a lot of the systems we put in place to cope suddenly seemed tenuous.
That also, I think, inspires people to act at their best and at their worst in different ways and I think that gives a heightened energy to this arc, or it’s meant to at least. It’s injected in Two-Face’s dialogue, he says, “Everybody feels it, we’re at the end of it so they’re going to indulge their darker needs and admit who they really are now.”
CA: It’s long been said by a lot of people that “Bruce Wayne is the mask,” but a lot of your stories seem to try and explore who Bruce Wayne is, whether it’s his amnesia in “Superheavy” or his relationship with Harvey in All-Star Batman. Do you have a personal take on the Bruce Wayne v Batman debate?
SS: Yeah, I do. I’ve given that a lot of thought on that really, especially back when we were doing “Superheavy” and even earlier than that really. I think a lot of my buddies have this idea that Bruce is the mask and Batman is kinda the engine, but to me I have a different view where Bruce and Batman are two halves are the same mission, and whoever is that figure you’re calling Bruce, in terms of the real person, or the person that has a robust life, died with his parents, and what came back was almost this spirit of determination and heroism, so that ultimately both halves are sort of a cipher for this energy that is Batman.
Bruce, every waking moment of his life, fights for the city, through civic causes, through anything he can do as Bruce Wayne, and then at night as Batman he goes out and fights as a vigilante and tries to inspire people to be brave.
You know, when I was a kid I think there was more of a leaning towards Batman being someone who isn’t scared of the bad people who stick to the shadows, and in a post-9/11 world now, he’s taken on a different role, at least for me, psychologically. I think he’s a powerful figure of bravery, he says, “I’ll fight these giant extensions of fear, these monsters and exaggerations of things, so that you’re brave enough to go out and face whatever challenges that face you. Whether they’re personal demons or global circumstances.”
In that way, Bruce is to me just another half of the same mission that is Batman, who is every day trying to make sure what happens to him won’t happen again.
CA: After finishing All-Star Batman #5 --- without giving away spoilers --- I noticed that a lot of your arcs have almost sci-fi concepts at the core of the story somewhere. Do you do a lot of research into what’s coming on the horizon, Warren Ellis style? Or do you just go for big comic-book concepts?
SS: Well, with books like AD: After Death and Wytches, a lot of those things are inspired by reading things that terrify me. Whether it’s life extension or the extreme extension of perceptive projection where Two-Face talks about wearing a lens, where you can skin the world however you want. All those things inspire, to me, almost fear, and the villains are built out of those things.
It’s almost like the clinical or scientific aspect in the stories, those are things I enjoy researching, but only insofar that I can feel a real emotional connection, usually through terror --- abject terror --- and at that point I try and figure out how to work it into the story through one of these villains that are built to encapsulate our fears.
In that way, one of the goals of All-Star Batman is to re-position a bunch of those villains so that they speak to things that are at least personal anxieties of mine, but they’re almost iconically big. So, Poison Ivy, Mister Freeze and Mad Hatter especially, when they appear they have new missions, although they’re still classic. They’re speaking to things I hope that Two-Face was in this arc, where he talks about how not only people are responding to an end-of-times feeling, but just the fact that we’re so much more concerned with a private self and public self, secrets are gonna get out, all that kinda stuff that I think makes it scarier and more poignant.
I’m trying to do that with each villain as I go and do each story very differently, so while this one was bombastic and kinetic and over the top --- and all of that’s to kind of mask the darkness of it --- the next one with Jock is almost written like a prose story over art, and it’s a much bolder, more remote story that feels a transmission from permafrost, where the one with Tula [Lotay] takes place in Death Valley, and so that this very sparse, no-narration, very little dialogue, wide open, sort of end-of-the-world feel. The Mad Hatter one has narration that almost packs Bruce, and he climbs around in it.
I’m trying to write each issue and each story to show you what’s scary and fun about these villains in ways that are personal to me, but also modern in how I’m trying to position them and contextualize them with fears I think are in the air right now, too.
CA: When it comes to updating and redesigning the villains, how involved are you with the actual visual design process?
SS: I’m pretty involved, I love it but I know how to get out of the artists’ way also. So for example with Hatter, I was talking with Giuseppe Camuncoli, and we were going back and forth, neither of us really liked the idea of Hatter looking like he came from Alice In Wonderland, it’s goofy.
So instead, we came up with the idea of looking almost understated, more of a feathered gentleman in a tailored suit, like a haberdasher with a suit and hat. Then I was like, well what if we flip it so when he’s controlling you, his appearance becomes more and more monstrous. Once you’re sort of in a world of your own madness, he grows and grows and grows and grows and becomes terrifying, very expansive.
In that way, it’s a conversation with each artist. Two-Face was the same, John [Romita Jr] said he didn’t want to do Two-Face as goofy, and I said that’s fine with me. I wanted him to look like his face was cracked lava with blood underneath, hot. I suggested one bloodshot eye, and John loved that, so it’s really one of the fun things about the series, it’s really wholly collaborative.
Everyone I’m working with on it are people who I’ve gotten to know or people I admire greatly. It’s sort of an artists’ showcase; I get to work with everyone from Afua Richardson, to later on down the chain, Sean Gordon Murphy and Paul Pope. It’s just a dream for me, and it’s a way to work that’s so intensely different from Batman with [Greg] Capullo, and I love Greg and I can’t wait to work with him again.
All that’s true, he’s family, but there’s also that punishing pressure of it needing to be a singular conversation that you’re having with fans over a period of years and years, where it’s always speaking to itself artistically; it’s one artist/one writer. Here it’s the opposite, we’re blown wide open where a story can go any direction artistically, any direction narratively, and I gravitate to stories that are bombastic, and those big blockbuster things, because I do just for fun.
Generally, even when I’m doing the one-shots, they roll into each other, so the next arc is one story. The Ivy/Freeze/Hatter one is one story, and it culminates in a story in issue nine, but it gives me all this latitude to try new things creatively, where I wasn’t able to do that before, as fun as that was. This to me is just a blast.
CA: So that leads me onto my next question quite nicely. When it comes to working with different artists on different issues, how drastically do you change your scripting style depending on your collaborator?
SS: I do, yeah, I change entirely. So what I’ll do is I’ll ask them how they like to work first. So, for example, Jock really likes to work from full script with panels and numbers, really tight scripts. Then he changes a bunch of it --- which I love --- but he wants the framework of that, so I generally work pretty tight. Whereas John Romita, when I spoke to him before we started, he asked for as much room as possible, he’s similar to Capullo.
So what I do there is, I’ll write a tight script for myself, but I’ll remove the panels and I’ll remove a lot of the description, so that way I can see how it works, but I take it out so they have room, and the dialogue is the dialogue, and it gives them a lot of space to experiment and do the stuff they like.
Tula, I spoke to too, you know, “How do you like to work? Do you want more outlines? Do you want tight scripts?” It’s really just a conversation, and I like adapting my style, it’s a challenge and it keeps me young as a writer.
It’d be pretty easy at this point to just write; I’ve built into my muscle memory how to do kind of a standard issue in twenty-two pages --- hook at the end, action at the beginning, action at the end, mystery in the middle --- because I’ve been doing it for a while, but it’s so exciting to switch things up each time, both in the way that you write it and the structure of the story. This series is really about every arc, every issue, every story, saying, “What have I not tried before? What have you not seen before? How do I speak to this character, this villain, in a way that I can use them personally but also for you the reader? How do I contextualize them in a way that they’re scary and fun?” I really adore the flexibility of this series.
CA: This series is all about reinventing Batman’s classic villains, but how upset were you when Tom King got to Kite-Man first?
SS: [Laughs] Yeah, Tom’s got Kite-Man, Tom’s got some good ones. Y’know, Tom’s become a really good friend over the last few years, so we speak pretty often, or at least every week, even if it’s not comic related. We split ‘em up, so I was planning to do what I’m doing on All-Star Batman before he took on Batman, so he was really nice about saying, “You can keep these classic villains and do this,” but I said to him, “If you wanna use any of them here, they’re yours,” but he wanted to steer clear and do villains that are less expected in Batman. We come together, our stories begin to overlap not long from now.
It’s a great time, as a Bat-writer and a fan of the character. I love Tom as a writer, and what James Tynion IV is doing on Detective Comics is thrilling. There’s Batgirl and the Birds of Prey with what Shawna and Julie Benson are doing over there, and what Hope [Larson] is doing with Rafael Albuquerque on Batgirl is a lot of fun. I really adore the neighbourhood of creators and editors on the Bat-books right now.
All-Star Batman #5 is on sale now, both digitally and in stores. Check out a preview below: