The penultimate issue of “All Star Batman’s” explosive second arc, “Ends Of The Earth,” (that would be issue #8, for those of you playing along at home) goes on sale on Wednesday, March 15, so CBR sat down with writer and Batman guru Scott Snyder for some perspective on the apocalyptic epic.
Unlike the first “All Star” arc, which featured artist John Romita Jr. on each of the five issues and focused predominantly Two-Face, “Ends of the Earth” has been crafted by a revolving cast of superstar talent and villains, with Jock breaking the ice in issue #6 with Mr. Freeze, Tula Lotay coming in on #7 to work with Poison Ivy, and now Giussepe Camuncoli stepping up to the plate with a Mad Hatter-focused story for #8.
Snyder took the time to share some insights on his process with his collaborators, interests in Bruce Wayne’s psychology, and deeply personal influences on the story, as well as tease some plans for former “Batman” and “We Are Robin” mainstay, Duke Thomas; and the mysterious summer event he’s working on with artist Greg Capullo.
CBR: “Ends of the Earth” has a pretty drastically different tone and cadence than “My Own Worst Enemy” — it feels a bit like going from a Tarantino movie to something a little more David Lynch flavored, especially in this issue. What motivated you to shift gears like this?
Scott Snyder: For me, it’s the point of the series. I think people are starting to see what I was going for with “All Star.” I had such a great time with Greg [Capullo] on “Batman”-proper, and we’re gearing up to do more stuff together and there’s just a sort of bombast to his work — a kind of singular style. He’s so elastic that it allows me to experiment with story, but with “All Star,” I really wanted it to be something that I’d get to look at both the mythos and the villains from completely different angles, and also to be able to use it as a showcase for different artists. So, to challenge myself as a writer to write Batman from all different kinds of prismatic viewpoints, and to make it personal, to do stories that are about now and that matter to me — that was kind of the goal from the beginning.
The arc that’s coming up after this with Rafael [Albuquerque] is going to be kind of singular for those four to five issues, one style, but very different than these four. I want to keep surprising with each one. “Ends of The Earth” has a mode that works with very different artists, it’s about different ways that the world could end, and somebody making an argument to Bruce, saying, “look at the fragility of things right now, you’re just a bedtime story that we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better, but ultimately everything is tenuous.” [The world] could end in biological warfare like in the Ivy story, natural cataclysm with the Freeze story, and now with Hatter it’s about this descent into subjective madness. It’s the desire I think all of us have to shy away from some of these huge problems because they seem so insurmountable. It’s easier to see the world the way you want, to take information the way you want, to create your own perception.
That’s what the Hatter story is going for. It’s almost as though each villain is presenting a different vision of the fragility of things, and then it all culminates with issue #9.
It seems like you’re going for a record for most villain cameos-per-issue across all of “All Star.” Can you talk about your process working with artists like Giussepe Camuncoli to pick out and design some of these cameos?
Well, part of is just the way “All Star” has been working. I’ll go to an artist in advance and ask them, “Who’s the villain you’ve always wanted to draw?” Most artists say “all of them.” Everyone wants to draw the mainstays and the cave and the Batmobile.
Part of it is making sure that when I talk to them that, when they do pick a villain, that I have a really good story in my head for that villain. Then what I try and do is speak to the strengths — so, for example, if Jock weren’t the one doing Mr. Freeze, I would have set it somewhere else. But since I know what he likes to draw, I know the feel he creates, it allows me to be flexible as a writer.
Here, I knew Giuseppe really wanted to make things feel like a very conventional action comic at the beginning and then have it spiral out of control. He was very clear about picking Dean [White] for colors and Mark [Morales] for inks because he felt they would create this really distorted, painterly feel as things got more and more psychedelic. He wanted to start with it looking very “house” style since he recognizes his own style as sort of conventional-with-flair. He draws Spider-Man, so you know he has that really cool, modern, “Big Two” style — but he can push himself beyond that like you see in some of his indie work.
So, it’s that! It’s talking to each person and figuring out what they want to draw, picking a villain, making sure we have a really good story, and then asking if there are any peripheral things we can fit in organically. If I get a chance to put in the tangential villains and they work with the story I’ll always throw them in.
Issue #8 really zoomed in on Bruce’s issues with identity, which is something you’ve played with recently, before at the end of your run with Greg Capullo. Is there something you’re specifically interested in conveying about Bruce’s layers as a character across these stories?
Oh, totally. It’s something I return to a lot. [His identity] and his mortality, I think, are the twin pillars of the Batman material I like to dig into.
I think the thing that’s fascinating in terms of his identity, when you peel it back, is that it’s insane. I mean, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s the mission of someone who is completely out of their head — and yet it’s heroic and inspiring to us as a folktale. There’s really a very rich vein to mine there where you start to poke [that part] of him.
In this story in particular, what Hatter is trying to say is that everyone in the world right now wants to live in their own head. Everyone wants to put on a hat and skin the world the way they want — see their car differently, their house differently, the spouse differently, whatever it is they want. Everyone wants to lean into that. Batman sees that argument and thinks it’s a terrible thing, we have to see the world the way it is. He’s a detective, he works on empirical evidence, he talks [directly] about the need for transparency.
So Hatter flips that idea on him, asking [Bruce] “You understand that you’re the biggest culprit of this [delusional world view], right?”
The way Hatter actually proposes this to him — that he’s living in an actual, literal fantasy — is likely untrue. But if you step back from it a little, Batman really is living in a sort of fantasy all the time. He’s skinning the world the way he wants to see it; as a place where a vigilante can work and is a hero instead of a villain.
I love that aspect of him, that he exists at this intersection of heroism and pathology. It makes him human.
Let’s talk a little about Duke Thomas, who’s been the focus of the “Cursed Wheel” back up stories for the duration of “All Star.” This issue left him in a bit of a tenuous spot — can you tease what readers should expect to see from Duke and his role in the Bat Family in the future?
Definitely. Duke’s played a big role for us in terms of supporting cast for a while and we want people to get used to seeing him with the Bat Family. I get worried sometimes that throwing somebody into the mix in Gotham without a “home” — no matter how cool the character may be — they can kind of wind up vanishing.
With Duke, it’s about long discussions with Geoff Johns and DC about finding the most viable place to land him. Is putting him in the mantle of a known character of somebody else that exists like a Robin or a Nightwing? Or is it trying something original?
We veered towards the latter, so with the next issue, you’ll see a big change in terms of his status and his mission. It’s going to lead into the story I’m doing with Greg Capullo. [Duke] evolves within that story, and you’ll see his role within the Family really crystallize at the beginning of the event [this summer].
So [the “Cursed Wheel”] is going to end with a bit of a cliffhanger. You’ll see the transformation of him into a character will have a very distinct role in Gotham, and with the rest of the Family; and also reveal things about some mysteries going on around the DC Universe as well.
Any hints as to what his codename might be?
Yeah! Well, it’s all been decided. It’s actually been one of the biggest debates. Everybody has a name they want for him, and they’ve changed as his role has changed.
Here’s what I love about Duke as a character: He’s always believed, as a kind of outsider from the Family, that heroes are independent of their their inspiration. [He believes that] Robin was independent of Batman, and doesn’t “need” him in that way. Similarly, all the other [Gotham] heroes go out at night, Duke is starting to go out by day. The city is very different then. He’s following in the footsteps of his parents that way. So all this starts to crystalize around who he’s going to be.
There have been different names. As he’s evolved, people wanted to call him all kinds of bat terms, but I think we’ve settled on something that works.
I’ve always really liked “Lark” for him, and that name got a little shout-out in this issue.
Yeah, I do too! Not to talk too “inside baseball” here, but the fact is that I’m really interested in giving a new writer [from my class] a chance with him, and an artist. So the concern I had with [the name Lark] was pointed out by DC, which I think is logical. It’s that that name doesn’t have quite the “teeth” for a series. It doesn’t sound…y’know, [Laughs] “Let’s go get ‘em!”
For as much as I like [the name], it needs a little more “muscle,” according to [editorial], and I would agree with that. So, we’ll see! These are the discussions we have long, long talks and lots of things on the board over.
The takeaway from it is this: At this point in my career, it means a lot more to me to try and create new characters and land them in ways that open up avenues for other writers and artists to drive in. I think [Duke] will get new kinds of stories. If he works [solo], nothing would make me happier. If he doesn’t, he’ll always have a home with the Bat Family.
Speaking of side-characters, this issue also included the Blackhawk Squadron, which hasn’t been around for quite some time. They’re a group that carry a lot of history with them. What inspired you to dust them off?
They’re part of a bigger mystery I’m excited to explore. That’s all I can say for them right now.
As a big fan of the more “cerebral” Batman stories, this issue reminded me a lot of Neil Gaiman’s “Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader” in the ways it called into question the nature of Bruce’s reality. Was that something you had in mind as you wrote this story, or were there any other influences you were calling upon?
Oh, I love that [story], yeah. The stories that I love are always baked into the DNA [of Batman]. For example, “Perchance to Dream” is one of my favorite “Batman: The Animated Series” episodes, so there’s echos of that, there’s echos of “Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader,” there’s echos of “Arkham Asylum.”
There are a lot of those things in there.
One thing I haven’t really spoken a lot about is that the goal is to make every one of these stories contemporary. So the Two Face arc is very much about the moment when the discourse between all of us has gotten so ugly that, regardless of what side you’re on, you start to question the nature of people; whether people are “darker” than they are “good.” [This moment] influences the way people think of each other, regardless of who you vote for or what side you’re on. “My Own Worst Enemy” is largely about the scariness of that feeling.
What each of the villains [in “Ends of the Earth”] are trying to lead up to is the kind of finale where the [next] villain in issue #9 is like, “Look, this is a time when everything is about to fall apart, and here’s all the ways it can happen.” They’re meant to [represent] those anxieties that are in the air.
But the second thing I’d say to your question is that [these stories] are meant to be personal. One of the things that this story is about is the way it feels when you are not feeling well. For me, having had boughts with depression and anxiety, panic attacks, all those kinds of things, since I’ve been a teenager. In one form or another, [those things have] been a part of my life.
This issue, and the reason I did it all in first person narration, is that I wanted to create the feeling that you are most used to, [the feeling of] being in Batman’s head when it’s clear — a clear window — which is how it feels when you feel well. But when it starts to get panicked, and you start to feel depressed or anxious, that window darkens and pretty soon all you can see is an ugly reflection of yourself. That voice in your head that seemed friendly gets very ugly and you can’t stop it.
That’s the reason this one was in first person narration, when the Ivy issue had no narration, and the Freeze issue had third person storybook narration. It’s part of trying to make them intensely personal on top of being contemporary. That’s one of the real joys of the series, that I can go intimate in terms of my own fears and also speak to some of the things that Batman makes me brave about in terms of the sort of zeitgeist concerns of today.
“All Star Batman” #8 arrives in stores March 15.