On the long list of DC Comics’ villains and super villains, the Joker is undoubtedly one of the publisher’s best-known antagonists. An iconic Batman bad guy who has appeared in comics, film, TV, video games and pretty much any type of media featuring the Caped Crusader, “Batman” writer Scott Snyder finally takes his long-awaited shot at writing Gotham’s maniacal clown in a new October-launching story arc titled “Death Of The Family.”
The Joker debuted in 1940 in the pages of “Batman” #1, beginning his 70-odd year life as a criminal psychopath and one of Batman’s most dangerous archenemies. In the relaunched New 52 DC Universe, the Joker was first and last seen in writer/artist Tony Daniels’ “Detective Comics” #1, getting a face lift from the villain the Dollmaker — quite literally, as Dollmaker peeled Joker’s entire face off and tacked it to the wall.
Mysteriously and noticably absent since that issue, Snyder’s “Death Of The Family,” drawn by regular “Batman” artist Greg Capullo, will be the first to touch on the character fully since last September as the Joker returns, gunning for Batman and all the Bat allies.
Amidst all the buzz surrounding the recently announced storyline, CBR spoke directly with Snyder about his new story, how Joker will look sans-face, and the Joker crossover brewing among the rest of the Bat books.
CBR News: The last we saw of Joker in the New 52, he had literally gotten his face peeled off by Dollmaker, and the promo image for your storyline showcases his skinned face. Is the peeling off of the Joker’s face going to be touched on and explained in your story?
Scott Snyder: That’s an element you’ll definitely see addressed and explained and built on in this story. When Tony [Daniel] was working on that, he brought it up to me and I knew there was a story that I wanted to tell with Joker that would trail out of that. So that’s something that will play a big part in terms of Joker’s look, but also his whole psychology.
Let’s talk about that psychology, because Joker’s been everything from an evil mastermind to someone who is absolutely, clinically insane. What’s your take on the Clown Prince of Crime?
For this story, we really wanted this to be Joker at his most unleashed and vengeful; this Joker has an axe to grind and a point to prove. He’s gone away for a year for a very deliberate reason. During that year, he sort of set all of his traps and sharpened his knives and he’s ready to come back to Gotham and make his point to Batman and the Batman family. He has a very strong mission in mind and he’s very passionate about what he wants to prove to Batman this time around, and it’s really twisted and dark and unpleasant.
The name of the arc is “Death Of The Family” — is that family the Bat family?
It is a reference to the Bat family. I mean, one of the things Joker will be doing here, and part of the fun of the story will be, is, Joker approaches the different members of the Bat family, because part of what he wants to prove to Batman has to do very directly with them and their role in Batman’s life. When you think about it, one of the exciting things is, we haven’t really had a story where Joker faces off with Nightwing or Joker faces off with Batgirl. Even something like “The Killing Joke” really is a Commissioner Gordon story where he’s gone after Commissioner Gordon and used Barbara as a way to drive him crazy. But he’s actually facing off with Batgirl where he’s doing a “Killing Joke” to her, where he’s trying to break her as opposed to break her father — it’s something we haven’t seen. It’s similar with almost every Bat character, so this really is the Joker with a blood mission in mind, where he’s coming after these characters in a way you’ve never seen him come after them before, and Batman as well. It’s really not for the faint of heart! [Laughs]
What can you tell us about the actual story? You’re a writer who really hits very big themes in all your stories — is there a specific theme you’re working through with Joker?
Very much. There’s a very specific theme that’s really my take on his psychology, where he has a very firm belief about his role for Batman and his role in Gotham and it has a kind of mythology that’s twisted and on its own that I’m really excited to explore, with a lot of symbolism as well, that he’s sort of built in his mind. It has a very rich and twisted and fun kind of design, the way he thinks in this one. There are a lot of themes, visual themes and also conceptual themes, that are going to run through the whole story. My favorite Joker stories, from “The Killing Joke” to “Arkham Asylum,” really get inside his head and his thinking and make him all the scarier for it and have those kinds of echoing, totemic elements. Visual things that come back over and over because he clings to them, and he subjects people to the terrifying visions of things that come back over and over. This really is my love letter to the Joker. That way, we can give him the biggest, baddest, craziest story we could.
Also, the shape of the story itself is going to run five to six months. It’s going to be in features and backups in “Batman” so it’s really, really big. Part of the idea was, I was thinking to myself about six to seven months ago when I started working on it, there really hasn’t been a giant Joker story in “Batman” in the comics of Batman in a really long time. If I asked you right now, what was the last big Joker story?
I mean, my immediate reaction would be to say “The Killing Joke.”
Exactly! That’s what everyone says, “The Killing Joke.” But that’s over twenty years ago! Which is sort of stunning, because he’s had these great roles in other stories; I love his role in “Batman R.I.P.” I love his role in “Gotham Central” and different ways he’s played into stories. An actual, central Joker story, one that focuses on Joker as the main villain, is something we haven’t seen in quite a long time in comics, even though he’s been so ubiquitous and such a potent and strong character in the medium, in the movies and the animated stuff. If we’re going to use the Joker, we’re going to use him big so people are almost afraid to use him for another twenty years! [Laughs] We wanted to give him a story where we swing for the fence and there’s going to be tremendous repercussions for the family, tremendous repercussions for Batman and his life going forward. This is everybody playing ball in the Bat family.
When I was talking to Scott Lobdell about Jason [Todd], for example, one of the things we were saying is this big story about Jason has been told, this “A Death In The Family” story, so how are we going to go back and do something? What I was saying to him, and what he realized, too, is that “Death In The Family” is still a Batman story. It’s about Joker using Jason to torture and to break Batman — similarly, like we were saying, “The Killing Joke” is more of a Jim Gordon story than a Barbara Gordon story, even though those repercussions have had tremendous effects on Barbara and on Jason.
So, what would happen if Joker looked at Barbara and said, “I was just going for your father last time.” Not that he knows who she is — I’m saying, metaphorically, if he goes for Batgirl and she realizes, “He was pursuing Jim Gordon last time, not me, what terrible things will he have in story for me now that he’s looking me directly with those crazy eyes?” He would kill everybody in your family to break you, he would burn down everything that you love to break you. That’s part of the fun of the story; you haven’t seen these characters face Joker directly, and now you’re about to see it in all its horrifying glory.
Speaking of horrifying glory, looking at the cover of issue #13 we’ve got Greg Capullo’s illustration of the Joker applying lipstick to his face, that’s obviously not attached to his head. I have to ask, what’s the story with the makeup?
[Laughs] Well, Joker had his face removed for a reason, and the way he’s re-approaching the family has a lot to do with the way he looks. Right there in the image, he has that face over his face and he’s sort of dressing up to go out and do terrible things. In that way, I think the new look of the Joker — I know there are people out there saying, “Oh no, how are you going to deal with him, he doesn’t have a face?” — don’t worry about it. He’s going to look really scary! [Laughs] We have a very particular look in mind for him for this storyline. It’s straight up horror movie-frightening. It’s going to be iconic in its own right, but also play with the core iconic imagery of Joker. We’re not trying to redesign the Joker; we’re playing with the pieces that were there from the beginning of the New 52 with “Detective” and build you a Joker that is completely based on all the stuff we love about him at his core. But now that he’s back for the first time in a long time and he’s working, he has a slightly different look and his face will play a very big part in that. How he looks from the neck up will be one of the best parts of the entire series.
You’re talking about how this involves everyone in the Bat family — so is this going to be similar to what you did with the Talons and the “Night Of The Owls” where we’re going to see other writers involved, or is this self-contained in “Batman” and you’ll be writing portions of these other characters?
It’s going to be something where you are going to see them use Joker in their books. It’s going to cross over into a number of the Bat books as it goes forward, because I feel like it wouldn’t be fair for me to write Nightwing into “Batman” to show what I think Joker could do to him. I have too much respect for Kyle [Higgins] and what he does with “Nightwing,” and similar to Scott and “Red Hood” and Batgirl and Pete [Tomasi] with Damian. For us, it isn’t a matter of trying to build a story that then has all these moving parts. It’s similar to “Night Of The Owls” in that I wrote a Joker story, I’m working on this Joker story, and the way that Joker approaches the other members of the family is so dark and twisted that I basically called up the other members of the writing Bat family and said, “Do you guys want to play along?” [Editor] Mike Marts was really gracious about letting us do it and build something together.
So each one will be completely self-contained in the way that you will not have to pick up — and I cannot stress this enough — you will not have to pick up any book other than “Batman” to get the story in “Batman.” I would never do that to you as a reader! [Laughs] You will never have to read “Red Hood” or “Nightwing” or anything for the story in “Batman,” which is completely self-contained and completely individual.
That said, in those books, the way the writers are designing them, and they’re sort of each doing their own thing, is supposed to be completely self-contained as well. So it really will be something where when the Joker enters the book, it will be a storyline that continues and is part of what that writer has been doing with their character for a while. I really have too much respect for the other writers to try and shoehorn Joker in in a way that is completely predicated on how he needs to be in “Batman.” This is the Joker facing off with the family in particular ways in each book that really has to do with those characters and what they hold dear — and him basically tearing those things to shreds!
“Batman” issue #13 goes on sale in October.