Years before “Wytches” was a major creator-owned success at Image Comics, writer Scott Snyder and artist Jock teamed on “The Black Mirror.” Taking place Dick Grayson’s tenure as Batman in the waning days of the pre-New 52 DC Universe, the story was a hit, helping to bolster the profiles of both Snyder and Jock.
And Snyder hasn’t strayed from Batman since, becoming the writer of the ongoing “Batman” series for 44 issues and counting. Jock has made only occasional trips back to Gotham City, including Joker-centric back-up stories during “Death of the Family.” With DC Comics‘ “Batman” #44, on sale this week, they re-team on the Dark Knight for one month only (regular series artist Greg Capullo returns with #45) with an extra-sized interlude to the current “Superheavy” story, one that looks at the origin of newly introduced villain Mr. Bloom. It’s a different type of origin story than readers might expect — looking more at the societal circumstances facilitating Mr. Bloom’s existence rather than the nuts and bolts of how he came to be.
CBR News spoke with Snyder and Jock about what motivated them to make time in the midst of working on the second arc of “Wytches” to collaborate again on Batman, the intimidation factor in introducing new Bat-villains and the contributions of Brian Azzarello, who co-wrote the issue with Snyder (and is co-writing the upcoming “Dark Knight III: The Master Race” with Frank Miller).
CBR News: Scott, Jock, obviously for the two of you together right now, the main focus is “Wytches” at Image. What motivated taking time out from that schedule to work together on this special issue of “Batman”?
Scott Snyder: I knew I was going to do this issue, or an issue like this, as a sort of middle keystone of “Superheavy.” The moment I had the basic idea, I called Jock. I remember — I was in my folks’ cabin in Pennsylvania and called him up: “I think I want to do this issue as a kind of tangential origin of Mr. Bloom, but less about his evil story of how he became who he is, and more about the terrible potential he has as a villain, and the first time we encounter him.” I told Jock what the issue was about, and all the crazy stuff I wanted to try with it, and he was up for it. He was the only person I asked — I knew he was going to be terrific if he could do it. His style is perfect for it, and the artistry he and Lee Loughridge brought to it, with the changing colors in the issue; I just couldn’t be prouder of the work that they did. It was never, “Hey, maybe we’ll work this person or this person or this person for this particular issue.” It was, if he can do it, let’s do it.
Jock: For me, Albert, in your question you gave my answer when you said it was “a special issue.” The minute Scott started telling me about not only the crux of the story, but the undertones and what it references and what kind of metaphors for the way things are right now, it did feel like it had the potential to be a special issue.
I’ll draw anything Scott writes, basically. I love working with him. But it felt like a special script.
The first time the two of you worked together was the Batman story “The Black Mirror,” in “Detective Comics” starting in 2010. What was it like for the two of you to be working again in this world? Of course, Scott never left that world, but was it a fairly natural transition back to Batman for the two of you as a unit?
Jock: It was a no-brainer for me. I love drawing Batman anyway. “Black Mirror” was a real nice surprise in a lot of ways for both of us. We took it on as the run of “Detective” was coming to an end, just before The New 52 was starting up. But it seemed to have done really well with readers, and people seemed to really respond to it. Which is amazing. Ever since, if I ever go to a convention, it’s always Batman I get asked to draw. So when I started talking to Scott about doing this issue, it was the easiest thing in the world, really — not only just to say yes, but to be working on the character again.
Scott’s barely written him since “Black Mirror,” as you know. [Laughs] He’s probably sick of the guy. I know how much Scott loves the character, and how well he writes the character, so for me, it was like coming a home a little bit — because it was our first big story together, and it just felt great to work together on this issue.
Snyder: When you work with somebody who you become close with as a collaborator and a friend, for me, it lets me take more risks. I feel like I can talk to Jock openly, and there are elements of the issue that I played around with — there was one point where we weren’t sure the text [pieces that appear throughout the issue] would work, there was another point where I thought I might do the entire issue in narration; not have any dialogue, and have it be like the voice of Gotham. That just became smothering.
Working with a friend, and someone who inspires you and is a great collaborative partner — you’re comfortable, but you’re comfortable to go out of your comfort zone, which is the best thing. It makes you comfortable enough to take risks, and be daring in a way that you might not with somebody you don’t know as well. For me, that was just key for an issue like this.
Given what you just said, I’m interested in to hear from both of you of what you saw as the creative opportunity provided by this story. It’s clear you both found a need to move things in a different direction — how much fun did you have pushing the limits of what readers might expect from a “Batman” issue?
Jock: That’s what was really, really interesting for me — the fact that it was the main “Batman” title, and yet here was Scott writing a very poignant, hopefully really touching story about some of the issues that our society can face; using Batman and his early approach as the catalyst to hopefully say a little bit more about some of the things that people struggle with. It’s been a real opportunity. I want to thank DC as well, for letting us do this, and letting us do this in the way that we wanted to do it.
Snyder: Me too. For me, the reason I was excited to do this issue was also as a kind of swerve from the way that the main arc seems to be going — the main arc is meant to feel like robots, and stretchy-men villains, and over-the-top action with robo-cycles and energy men. But if you look at the arc and what it’s about for Gordon, this is what it’s about. This is the Trojan Horse in the heart of it. It’s not about police brutality, or the stratification of wealth in a city, or about political corruption — it’s about all of those things. It’s about, “Why does Batman matter to us today?” in places around the country, where he means nothing to the problems that we face in a systemic way. Yes, he catches bad guys — does Batman actually mean anything?
Gordon, even though he’s a fictional character in a fictional city facing crazy fictional villains, he’s wrestling with that question. What does [Batman] really mean? Not to go too far into the future with the arc, but one of the things I’m proudest of that I’m working on already is something he says at the end of the arc to the city, when he’s talking about Batman, and he talks about how Batman is almost a collective figment of their imagination. If they believe him in a certain way, maybe he’ll come back. But ultimately, what he means is, he’s not the one to solve their problems. Superheroes exist to inspire us to be heroes in the real world, and these problems are ours to deal with.
Mr. Bloom, for me, is sort of deeply built around this idea of, he’s a weed that grows in the cracks that form between communities, between neighborhoods, between classes, between races, between all of it. He takes advantage of that, and grows, and says, “Come to the end of this dark alley, I’m always there, I’m always waiting, and take what I have to give, because it will make you powerful, You can have what you want. Forget about the communal aspect of living in a shared space like Gotham. It’s all a crock. Take what you want. It works for me. It’ll work for you.” For me, that’s what this issue is trying to address.
It feels that some of the themes you’ve explored in “Batman” for a while are coming more to the surface. This issue in particular feels more socially conscious, for lack of a better term. Does that feel right to you — that these themes are explored in a pronounced way with this story?
Snyder: Yeah, because Jim Gordon, to me, is the closest thing to a real-world caveat standing next to Batman. Basically what he’s always believed in is that, as a policeman, as a civil servant, as somebody who’s part of a system that’s put in place to protect and make a city better and safer, he has faith in those kinds of things to work. That’s who he is. He’s sort of the real-world corollary to Batman in Gotham. Superheroes are above him. So if he becomes Batman, then the question really has to be — now that he’s trying to be Batman in a way that represents all of those things he believes in, the police and local government and business and all of the things that kind of have to work for a city to believe in itself in some ways — you’re going to have a villain that does the opposite. That comes in and says, “None of it works, it’s all a crock of shit. You’re all selfish, none of you really care about each other, let’s just admit it.”
It’s not so much about wanting to be contemporary or trying to tap into things, it’s really a bigger question in the story of looking at Batman from a different angle. As Jim becomes this Batman, those things have to be part of the story, because that’s who he is. He cares about these things. All of them are going to be put onto the gameboard in a big way.
Scott, this is another example of you co-creating a new villain for Batman — which you and Greg did before, famously, with the Court of Owls. Knowing how famous Batman is for his villains, and what a big part of the mythos that has always been, is it daunting at all at this point to add to the tapestry with a new villain?
Snyder: Oh yeah. Nothing about writing Batman isn’t ever daunting. Creating a new villain, creating a new Batmobile — any of it is like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe I’m doing this.” The only way you can do it is to pretend that the series is a creator-owned series, and to focus on the things that you’re trying to write in your own version of Batman. For me, Mr. Bloom is a character that’s been in the back of my mind a lot. He’s sort of a boogeyman — but not like the Joker. To me, the Joker is this kind of guy who says, “Life is meaningless, I’m laughing at all of you.”
Mr. Bloom, he’s very much kind of a flower — he’s the kind of thing that says, “Come closer, I have something good for you. Come down this alley.” And I’m trying to play with imagery like “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “The Three Little Pigs;” a lot of children’s rhymes and things like that. It’s almost competing fairy tales. Gotham is this wonderful place where we’re all going to be great, or his kind of thing, which is, “Gotham is this completely nightmarish place, so come take your magic seeds from me, because that’s what will fix it.”
He’s really a figure I love. I love writing him, and I love the specificality that Greg [Capullo] has brought to him, too; just with his fingers — next issue, in #45, he sneaks in somewhere really bad and does something really bad. The thing I love about him, even when he walks into a room, he doesn’t even realize he’s killing people, because his fingers almost shoot out without him noticing, and just sort of spear people as he walks by. He’s very fun to write in a twisted way, and I love him as a villain.
Also in “Batman” #44, Brian Azzarello has a co-writer credit — how did he come to contribute to the issue?
Snyder: Brian and I have become really close over the last year, because he’s been coming to New York a lot, working on the “Dark Knight” stuff, so I’ve talked to him about that. Initially, I thought I might try and be involved in it, but really the work that he’s done with Frank — he goes to that studio and they work so well together, intimately together, I felt like I might be more of an interloper, trying to get in there. They go back as friends, also. I felt like they had some real magic going between them, and I didn’t want to get in the way of that — and I’m so proud of what they’ve been able to do from afar, and I’m sure it’s going to really wow everybody.
I still always wanted to work with Brian, especially over the last year where we’ve become good friends. I knew that he would bring a rawness and an authenticity. He’s very concerned with, and writes about a lot of these same issues that are in this issue, pertaining to his hometown of Chicago. I just really felt he’d be a great addition, and he certainly was — there’s a lot in the issue that he brought to it. He sharpened scenes, he re-did dialogue, he made it so much better for his involvement, so I’m very grateful to him.
Jock: For me as well. I think me and Brian first talked about working together just after “The Losers” finished. Like Scott says, his dialogue is so sharp, and his approach to that street-level mentality is so spot-on. He’s a real asset to the issue.
“Batman” #44 is on sale Wednesday, Sept. 9.
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