SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for “All Star Batman” #9, on sale this week.
Since launching “All Star Batman” in 2016, Scott Snyder has been putting Bruce Wayne through the proverbial wringer. First with Two-Face and KGBeast, and in the current arc at the hands of Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy and Mad Hatter.
Things don’t get any easier for Batman in “All Star Batman” #9, illustrated by Jock, when it is reveled that the criminal mastermind pulling the strings in the current “Ends of the Earth” arc is none other than Ra’s al Ghul.
Snyder told CBR that many believed that he was going to do something with President Donald Trump as the story’s big villain – especially when the cover art was shared with the April 2017 solicitations. Instead, the best-selling writer went with Ra’s, who has been a major threat for Batman since he was first introduced by legendary DC Comics’ creators Julius Schwartz, Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams in “Batman” #232 back in 1971.
The next arc of “All Star Batman,” which will feature the backstory of Batman’s “first ally” Alfred Pennyworth, is also discussed in our spoiler-filled interview, along with the importance of truth as it relates to both the good guys and bad guys — in the DC Universe, and beyond.
CBR: Cataclysm, plague, solipsism. Those are the ways the world would have ended, according to the villain of “Ends of the Earth” — if he had not intervened, that is. Full disclosure: I had to look up that last one.
Scott Snyder: Batman has always been about stay in school. [Laughs]
I know what it means now, but for the non-logophiles, what is solipsism?
For me, this arc is really about [spoiler alert!] Ra’s al Ghul showing Batman the three ways the world could end. The first being natural disaster, Earth rebelling against the things that we have done. The second being some kind of bio-warfare, and the third being a retreat into our own desires and needs and beliefs that each of us is more important than the collective.
The idea of following what Mad Hatter said – this notion that there is no purpose in fighting for the greater good – which is ultimately we have our own desires and we have ways to surround ourselves with things that reinforce those beliefs about the world with sources of information and he has created a sort of extreme version of that, which allows you to see the world however you want. Ultimately, you can put on a hat and see your wife as whomever you want and your car as however you want and your house as whatever you want and so on. In that way, it’s meant to be something that speaks to that retreat from the collective conversation in an extreme way.
In this issue, it’s revealed that it’s not Mad Hatter, but Ra’s al Ghul who is actually pulling the strings. Is there a scenario where Ra’s would or could be considered the hero of this story? We have heard time and time again that the world can’t support its current population rate and Ra’s has a solution, one that is obviously completely inhumane, but it is a solution.
Ra’s is always wrong because his solution is to pick a bunch of people who will be eliminated so the rest of us can live. He sees the world’s population as a cancer and doesn’t respect some of it. In a way, his prognosis as a doctor is not untrue. We do have a big problem in terms of how many people exist and the amount of supply that we have food-wise and the way that we are grinding down our ideologies in a way in which they overlap and crash into each other. We’re all interconnected economically and he sees that as an unsolvable Rubik’s Cube and he believes that there needs to be something explosive done.
And what he says to Bruce is that he is the biggest proprietor of fiction. “I fought you with the truth and you fought back with fiction, with an alternative story that makes no sense, which is that if we band together, we can do it.”
Ra’s says that he is going to fight Batman the way that he fights him from now on. I wanted that accusation to feel really potent. I wanted to say: Look, maybe Batman is a story that we tell ourselves that makes us look away from truth and fact and in that way, it gives us a false sense of security. And Batman says, “No. Stories that inspire us, stories that make us see the best that we can, we have to make those things real because they inspire agency and they inspire action. They inspire and daring and bravery and a collective consciousness. In that way, Bruce is saying that it is a war of stories. It always is. But the story that I hope people will respond to with Batman is that we can all get through this together if we find the best in each other and act and make that story true. It’s not just fiction.
You’ve touched on this already, but the opposite of fiction here is truth. Ra’s al Ghul tells Bruce that he’s devoted his life to truth, even when the answers are terrible. Is it important to know the truth even if it is what we may not want to hear?
Yes, I think that’s true — and sometimes Batman doesn’t want to hear the truth, either. That’s some of what we did in the Two-Face arc. And I think that’s probably his biggest flaw. Batman doesn’t look at his own mortality. It’s like a strength and a weakness for him. Ra’s saying that and going after Batman in this particular way is meant to speak to very, very raw nerves in Batman because there is a truth to it. He doesn’t like to hear the truth about those things, he always says, “We can do it.” And the trick to Batman is that when he says, “We can do it,” he figures out a way to do it so he’s not just telling a lie. That’s his secret. He doesn’t just say, “We will get through this together” and just leave you with it. Ultimately, he says, “We will get through this together” and then he shows you how to beat this horrifying monster in ways that you never thought he could. Because he can do that, he inspires you to go out and make better outcomes happen for you to. Good stories about the best of us are road maps to places that we want to get. There not true yet but they’re achievable with enough belief and enough faith in each other. The happy ending is possible but you have to believe in it. And Ra’s is saying the opposite. If you believe in these stories, you fall into a black hole of untruths and it becomes stories against truth and if that’s the case, Batman is the villain not him. And that’s why Ra’s has to fight Batman in this way and if the world has to end because of it, so be it.
While he’s not joining the Legion of Doom or the Royal Flush Gang, it’s rare to see Ra’s al Ghul in league with other supervillains outside of the League of Assassins. Did you know from the outset that Ra’s would be the one pulling the strings of Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy and the Mad Hatter?
Oh, yeah; I always knew that he was going to be the bad guy — it was orchestrated long ago. You can only imagine because James [Tynion IV] is using [Ra’s al Ghul] in “Detective Comics” right now, which is double shipped, and that shows the speed in which double-shipped series move.
This arc was very much about saying these are the different things that keep me up night. These are the different ways I think that the world could go down. These are the things that are in the air – there are many more, obviously, but these are the four that I thought that we could really channel through these villains. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Mad Hatter all offer scary ways for the world to die, but the scariest for me is Ra’s al Ghul and his idea of a world with a complete lack of truth, a complete sense of uncertainty about what your country is doing, what other countries are doing, this endless confusing war and a total breakdown of social structures and relationships. There is no sense of what’s real anymore. This is all very real to me, especially when you read about our capabilities in terms of cyber attacks, and cyber attacks against us, and all of these kinds of things that are secretly hidden inside of devices, and all of these fears about these things. You’re just waiting for it all to fall apart, and to not know who did what. To me, that’s potent and real, and the character that spoke the most to that was Ra’s.
Since the beginning, the priority of “All Star Batman” has been to take villains that we all know and show them in new ways. They’re still true to classic form but they also speak to fears that are more immediate and acute right now. It seemed a perfect fit to have Ra’s basically say, “I’ve always fought you this way but now I’m going to fight you this way.” And it seemed true to mission that Ra’s would say, “I’d forgotten what it felt like to be the head of the demon so I am going to become the head of the demon again.”
I have to admit, and perhaps this is partially fueled by me being Canadian, based on the cover and even the first few pages of the issue, I thought the main villain of this arc was going to be the President of the United States. Not necessarily one president by name, but the position itself.
[Laughs] Yeah, a lot of people thought we were going to do Bat-Trump when they saw the covers, but for me, Batman is a hero that belongs to everybody, regardless of what side you are on [politically], so it never feels right to wed him to any one ideology. I am pretty open about my own politics, but I try to stay true to character with him. I don’t think Batman would necessarily say, vote for this person, or vote for this person. He would say, “You need to see the things that are scaring you and look at them and talk about them and figure out a way around them the way that I find ways around things that seem unbeatable all of the time. That’s what he does. He looks to us and sees the best of us all of the time and inspires us to be heroic even when are impulses are to be villainous sometimes.
I am not sure what you say just yet but can you give us a tease of what’s coming next in “All Star Batman”? We know the next arc is called, ‘The First Ally” and Alfred features in it quite prominently, right?
That’s right. It’s basically the first time that I have written a Batman story with a specific role for Alfred. This one is largely Batman and it takes place in Miami and there all kinds of A-list supervillains in it that you’ll see from page 1. It’s pretty bombastic and “Miami Vice” and crazy. But that said, it’s a story that really focuses on Alfred’s past, as well. It tells the story of how he got into MI6 and why he ended up leaving, which has always been kind of vague. It goes into his history a little bit more concretely and shows the emotional trajectory of how Alfred from being this boy in London to being Bruce’s father figure. I pitched it as Alfred meets “Unforgiven” and they went for it!
“All Star Batman” #9 is available now.