The creators who have led DC Comics’ “Batman” title to epic stories and high sales since the launch of the publisher’s New 52 relaunch are finally telling the origin of the new Dark Knight in the eleven-part tale. And though the break from traditional Batman origin “Year One” may give pause to some diehard fans – and some anxiety for Snyder himself – the pair speak of their story as one that’s ambitious to a fault.
CBR News spoke with both the writer and artist ahead of the story’s launch in June 12’s “Batman” #21, and both Snyder and Capullo described their desire to shake up the early days of the superhero. “Zero Year” will not only feature the training and launch of Bruce Wayne’s vigilante career, it’ll also focus in on Batman mainstays like the Red Hood gang – who may or may not lead to the debut of the Joker by story’s end – and Harvey Dent back when he wore one face. But whatever way the pieces mash together, both creators are looking to do the same thing they do with every Batman epic: go big or go home.
CBR News: Gents, when “Zero Year” was announced you spoke about consciously making this story different from any of the previous versions of Batman’s origins. I wonder how that’s come into practice, particularly with the opening pages of #21. There are so many iconic moments from the origin from Crime Alley to the pearls to the bat in the window. Did you want to recontextualize one of those classic images to start the story out, or did you swerve away from them?
Scott Snyder: What I wanted was for you to open it up and say, “What am I looking at? This is insane!” You don’t open it up and see something you’ve seen before or something that’s iconic. But you do see something that announces that this is the sort of book it’s going to be. It’s meant to be fun and fast and modern, sort of a Rock N Roll version of the origin. Because for us, this was all about the idea that if “Year One” doesn’t exist anymore because of the advent of the New 52 and if DC is looking to do an origin, and you have an idea for it? Well, the take we’ve been doing already is kind of a different take, so let’s go for it. Those opening pages are about saying, “This isn’t what you’ve seen before, and I hope you enjoy it as much as we do. We’ll win you over by force of fun.”
Greg Capullo: My reaction to the opening scene was “WTF!?” -Â with an exclamation point at the end AND a question mark.
You guys have been collaborating on this book for two years now and over a few other big arcs like this. How has the process between you guys grown? Is there anything you’re trying to do differently on this story?
Capullo: You know, I don’t think our working process has changed too much. We inspire each other, and if stuff pops into our heads, we go “Hey, how about this?” We bounce things off each other. Nothing’s changed. We just do what we do together, and it seems very familiar.
Snyder: The only difference is that each story has a different tone, and we talk about that before we go. This story has a tone about 180 degrees away from the Joker story, for example. It’s that kind of stuff. Our work process isn’t different, but the mission and the themes at work are different.
Tell me about “Zero Year” as a phrase or event or whatever it means to the story. In a previous issue, we heard Gordon reference the Zero Year. What does that signify in the course of Batman’s origin?
Snyder: I don’t want to give it away, but it does have that significance in the story. There’s a year and a moment that begins that phrase in the story for all of Gotham. In a lot of ways, this is a year that changes things for the city -Â not just because of Batman but because things happen in a way where people really feel like there’s a starting point. It’s a starting over point in a lot of ways.
We’ll see a lot of characters before they reach their final form: Bruce before Batman, the Red Hood Gang before the Joker, Harvey Dent before Two-Face. Are you making it a particular focus to establish who these characters were before they changed?
Capullo: For me with the Red Hood, I always thought the pill helmet was kind of stupid. But now I feel like, you know what, it can be kind of creepy and bad ass despite that fact. I try and give him just the slightest hint of Joker mannerisms. Perhaps I’ll go a little bit more. But it’s certainly not the over the top gestures you saw in “Death of the Family.” I try to put in a little bit of that attitude but subtly.
Snyder: And to jump on that for a second, the real question here is…
Capullo: IF he ever goes there!
Snyder: Right. Everyone knows that a person in the Red Hood -Â whether it’s this guy or some other guy -Â at some point will fall into the chemicals and be connected to the Joker origin. But whether or not we’re telling a definitive Joker origin in this is something we’re not giving away.
One question about this story overall is how it works as a Batman origin, though. We know we’ll be seeing some of the skills Bruce gains to become Batman in the backups. But overall, do you view the end game of this whole arc to be his becoming Batman?
Snyder: Well, he becomes Batman pretty early in this. You’ll see him as Batman not too far in. So in terms of that origin, that’s part of it. But part of this is the first big adventure he had as Batman. It’s not just how Bruce becomes Batman. That’s certainly a big part of “Zero Year” at the beginning, but it’s also about how the city changes for him. It’s about how he becomes its hero. What does that mean? And what kind of threat is it going to throw at him to challenge him and make sure he’s worthy of that?
With every major story you’ve done on “Batman,” you guys have had a high level of interaction with the readers just in terms of how the stories are built. On an issue-by-issue basis, there are cliffhangers and status quo shifts and other beats that make these the kinds of stories you can play along with every month. How does this story fit that mold? What do you hope the reaction will be month to month? What do you worry it will be?
Capullo: I think Scott and I would answer that completely differently. [Laughter] Well, I’m not going to speak for him.
Snyder: No, you can speak for me. You know me well enough.
Capullo: All right, well Scott is far more worried about the fan reaction than I am. In all the years doing this, I realize you’re never going to please everybody. Some fans are going to be upset by the things we’ve done, but some of them are going to love what we’re doing. But that’s something you can’t even predict. Maybe the vast majority of people will hate it. What do I know? So you just do the best you can, and you put all the passion into you can. And you don’t worry about it.
And if you read it, and you’re yelling at me that you hate my guts, at least you’re talking about me. That’s better than silence. I’ll take it. All you can do is your best. How fans react is an unpredictable thing. We hope fans will love it, and we’re giving it our all. The chips will fall where they may. I’m having a blast doing it, and how it’s received is how it’s received. I don’t sweat. That detail. I’ll leave the worrying to Scott.
Snyder: [Laughs] Yeah, I sweat it. Between us, it causes me a tremendous amount of anxiety and sleepless nights because for me it’s sacred material. I don’t want to screw this up. But at the end of the day, I made you a promise when I got on this book. The truth from the bottom of my heart is that I said I’d only do the stories that mattered to me the most and that I thought were the best. I’d rather go out falling on my face doing this story than I would doing an easy Poison Ivy story or an easy Calendar Man story and playing it safe for months and months. That’d be very easy to do at this point. But instead, I want to go out telling a story where I can say, “This is what I think about in my dreams. And if I get kicked off the book before I get to tell it, I’d be kicking myself forever.”
So if you guys hate it, I totally understand. But the bottom line is that I have huge fear about it and huge anxiety. But the difference is that I’m telling this as boldly as I can anyway. That’s the real challenge. There’s a lot that will change here, and you might hate it. But I love it. And if I change things from my story because I’m afraid you guys won’t like it, then I’m doing you a disservice as the readers of the book. I’m here to do the stories with Greg that we think are the best. And if we’re not doing the stories we think are the best, than we should move the fuck over and let someone else who hasn’t had a chance to tell the stories that mean the most to them tell them. That’s how I feel at the end of the day. If you’re going to write Batman, you better swing for the fences. Otherwise, get the hell out of the way and let the person who’s been dreaming about writing it write it.
Capullo: People are resistant to change. That’s where the fear that brother Scott has lies within him. But the bottom line is this: Scott writes with all the passion that there is. He loves Batman as much as any fan out there. So why would anyone think that Scott is out there to destroy the character that we all unanimously love? It’s not going to happen. That’s why I have faith that the vast majority of people will love this story. If I get 51% of the people, I own the company. That’s what I shoot for. To me, that’s a win.
Snyder: And the last thing I’d say is, we’re trying to give you a story you’ll love and go, “This is so much fun to see it done this way.” Because “Year One” is a masterpiece, and there’s no touching a book like that ever. But if DC came to you and said, “There’s no longer an origin for Batman. It’s because we’re in a situation with logistical problems for Selina’s background and James, Jr.’s background and Jim Gordon’s background. So we need an origin. Do you want to try a version with the character you’ve been shepherding, or are you going to leave it alone and not go to that material you love?” you’d got for it. And you’d try and do something new and different. I hope you would.
So when you open the book and read those first five pages, I hope you see what we’re going for.
Snyder: [Laughs] Right. I want you to say, “This might not be ‘Year One,’ but it’s going to be a hell of a ride.”
Now I just have this image in my mind of the two of you like Thelma and Louise, driving the Batmobile off a cliff and yelling “I regret nothing!” [Laughter]
“Batman” #21, part one of “Zero Year,” is in stores on June 12 from DC Comics.