The Best Modern Dark Knight Scribe Turns His Scalpel on the Villains in All-Star Batman
"Everyone has a coin they want to flip into a fountain to a make a wish they shouldn't."Comics Features Scott Snyder
Scott Snyder heeded the call of the Bat-signal in 2011 after releasing an absurdly smart short story collection and teaming up with artist Raphael Albuquerque for the philosophical horror opus American Vampire, the opening arc of which included a supplemental yarn by Stephen King. These comics converge in a Venn diagram where literary ambition meets a childlike awe of monsters-and-capes genre. Whether Snyder is equating America’s historical growth through a new breed of bloodsucker, or dissecting Joker’s chilling psychology through his pupil dilation, his storytelling never shies away from myriad layers operating in clockwork harmony. The work marries the post-modern intelligence of early ‘90s Vertigo pioneers like Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman, bolstered with the full-bodied action of the Image Comics that all but buried that wave in an avalanche of explosive set pieces and left hooks. Appropriately, almost every issue of Snyder’s Batman run was illustrated with visceral, shadow-drenched finesse by former Spawn artist Greg Capullo.
After wrapping 51 issues of the Dark Knight’s exploits over half a decade, Snyder is turning over a new leaf with…another descent into the Batcave in his new maxi-series, All-Star Batman. Or, more accurately, a dive under the flesh of the villains who have plagued Bruce Wayne over 77 years. The first story arc, which debuts today, takes Batman and dissociative identity disorder gangster Two-Face on a road trip. The criminal overlord—a former district attorney sharing the same body with an acid-scarred sociopath—broadcasts a deal to all Gotham: anyone is invited to free Two-Face and receive a fortune, lest Two-Face reach an undisclosed destination where he will unleashe every dark, malignant secret he’s learned in a WikiLeaks-like deluge. The scenario distills the character to his core—an inhuman defrauder exposing the monstrous face of the common man hiding underneath smiles and pleasantries.
It’s also an appropriate theme in an election where presidential candidates suggest their followers gun down the opposition; one bounty hunter even quips, “If you only had the sense to carry instead of using all your trinkets.”
That thoughtfulness plays out in a damn fun—and beautiful—ride. Snyder has recruited a murderer’s row of artists to rotate through each villain-centric arc. Classic superhero royalty John Romita Jr. starts out the series. Later narratives introduce an eclectic spin to mainstream superheroes rarely witnessed. Manga/Euro-inspired indie darling Paul Pope on the Mad Hatter? Sure. The sensual, musical line work of Tula Lotay redefining Poison Ivy? Absolutely. Sean Murphy, Afua Richardson, Lee Bermejo, Jock and Francesco Francavilla round out the series. It’s a heady expression of familiar tastes presented in new ways, the comic equivalent of a molecular gastronomy feast.
Paste sat down with Snyder at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con to discuss his renewed love affair with the Bat, writing for an artist supergroup and his favorite themes to revisit.
Paste: Scott, could you write Batman endlessly?
Scott Snyder: I feel like every time I write a Batman story I say this might be my last one, because the only way is to do a story that’s the only story you’d read right now about that character. It makes it feel like each one is final because every one is so personal or urgent when you’re working on it with an artist who believes in it the way that you do. I kept thinking that I would leave, and then when we got to the end of our run, I really did some soul searching and thought maybe I would take some time off comics all together, or maybe I would go do indie stuff.
But I realized I still had a couple stories with these villains that I thought were going to be really, really different than anything I’d done, and I knew the way to do it would be to bring in artists that I hadn’t worked with, the same way I’d had a chance to work with Matteo Scalera and Becky Cloonan during our run at certain times. Every time I did that, it made me write differently. So I thought maybe this will really redo it. I started talking to John Romita and Sean Murphy and Tula Lotay and Afua Richardson, and they all picked villains that they really loved. I knew it was going to be something very, very special.
All-Star Batman Interior Art by John Romita Jr.
Paste: John Romita Jr., Lee Bermejo and Paul Pope are so action-driven, but Tula Lotay’s work has so much mood, music and sensuality. How does that change the scripting process?
Snyder: Oh, it changes it entirely. One thing I try to do is approach the artist and ask how they like to be written for. For example, Jock really likes full scripts, while Romita and Capullo like as much room as they can have, so I’ll do something that’s more descriptive…the next few pages, this happens, this happens, this happens—tell the story the best way you think. And for someone like Afua, it really comes down to how she wants to draw.
That’s the great thing about comics, as corny as it sounds. It’s so collaborative and you really need to find a balance that lets you both inspire each other. You do work that you feel pushes the boundaries for each of you. It’s a different process for each.
Paste: Has it taken some adjusting writing Batman without Greg Capullo ? You two had such an expressed chemistry.
Snyder: It does with the character a little bit, but on a different level I was used to working with different artists frequently on different series, like Jock on Wytches and [Rafael Albuquerque] on American Vampire. You get a short-hand into the kind of language that you use to work with different artists, because you learn what they like. But here, I really feel with John, it always takes a minute to reboot and say how do you like to work. Now it’s very comfortable, and once I had a different flavor, a different take on the mythology, all of it felt like a different energy. So it always takes a minute to feel the project out, but once you have it, it just becomes so fluid. I’m really, really proud of this one. I really believe All-Star is up there with my best stuff.
All-Star Batman Interior Art by John Romita Jr.
Paste: Your previous Batman run had this perspective of analyzing Batman through Gotham. So it’s probably not a coincidence that in your first issue of All-Star Batman, your characters go on a road trip…
Snyder: I thought about doing Two-Face in Gotham, with him having some plan to flip a coin where half of Gotham would burn, but ultimately I decided that if I was going to go do something called All-Star and I was going to do it with an artist I’ve never worked with—that Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire were going to be on the back of—I needed to come up with something I’d never seen in Batman before.
So I thought about it and thought about it and I was talking to John Romita, and I said well, what if we take him out of Gotham? Then I started thinking what if we had this high-octane road story. The story has always been about Harvey Dent discovering a cure for Two-Face and begging Batman to cure him, once and for all, and Batman setting out to do this. It only made sense that the story is about Two-Face saying no one wants you to cure me—they all like me the way I am because I’m the reflection of them. I make crime easy for them because secretly everyone has a second ugly face that’s the real them. Everyone has a coin they want to flip into a fountain to make a wish they shouldn’t. He says that’s me. I’m the man in the mirror that way. So you think you’re the hero you’re not. I made a bet with the city: I just released on the news the challenge that if I get where I’m going, I’ll release everybody’s secrets. Everything that I know about everybody, from the highest politicians to the everyday Joes. But if somebody stops us along the way and kills you and sets me free, I’ll give them the money of the three biggest crime bosses in Gotham.
So at the end of the day, what’s really fun about it is that it’s a bet. It’s Two-Face saying it’s a world of villains, Batman saying it’s a world of heroes. It made sense to do a road story because, above all, the state hangs in the balance. It’s something being argued over. We want to see our people be better than their demons, and that’s what this story’s about.
Paste: Is there an interlocking theme that connects all the issues?
Snyder: There’s a fun theme, which is embrace your inner villain, because every story is a different villain. There’s Two-Face, then there’s Mr. Freeze with Jock and Francesco Francavilla, then there’s Paul Pope with Mad Hatter, and Afua. Just one after another of these great villains and these great artists. It is just one big story, secretly. The theme of the whole thing really is Are you your own worst enemy? Are you your own hero or worst enemy?
All-Star Batman Interior Art by John Romita Jr.
Paste: You had a short story in your collection Voodoo Heart about an inspirational speaker…
Snyder: “Happy Fish, Plus Coin”
Paste: Yes! Do those themes relate at all here?
Snyder: Yes! At the end of the day, there are certain themes I like to return to. It’s just the question of whether we’re better than our flaws, or whether our flaws are what make us who we are. That story in particular is largely about a character who just believes, ultimately, that we will be these heroes that we think we can be. And here, he’s almost like Batman—Batman is almost the terribly burned, tiny dude in a wheelchair (Gay Isbelle), who’s saying we’re better than they think we are, we need to show them that we’re heroes. And I think he’s in for a rude awakening when he sets out on the road.
Paste: That’s also a theme with American Vampire’s Skinner Sweet. Is there any news on upcoming books?
Snyder: We’re doing an anthology soon, which invites my favorite creators like Kieron Gillen, Elliott Kalan, Shawn Aldridge, Steve Orlando. They’re doing stories about American vampires all throughout the world in different time periods. Our story in it actually hints at everything coming in the final two arcs of American Vampire. We’re doing that, then we get back to work on it in a couple months, once [Rafael Albuquerque]’s finished with this arc of Batgirl and it revs up to the big finale of the entire series. So excited.
Paste: Thanks kindly, Scott. Is there anything you’d like to add at all?
Snyder: We just got the sales figures in on All-Star Batman privately from Diamond, and I never expected it to sell the way it’s selling. The fact that readers have been so supportive of me over the years and have been so incredibly generous and enthusiastic about Greg and me, and now this project. It just means the world. I know it sounds hokey, but I cannot thank everyone reading this enough. I wake up and have my dream job, and the fact that people are still that supportive blows me away.
The only thing I can say is thank you.