“Zero Year,” writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo’s New 52 telling of Batman’s origin story, is set to end this July, bringing the year-long battle for Gotham to its climactic and riddle-filled conclusion.
Kicking off last summer, the three-act story took fans back to Batman’s earliest days as he returned to Gotham, introducing the New 52 Red Hood and Dr. Death, Jim Gordon’s tangential yet influential connection to Crime Alley and setting up for the Riddler’s apocalyptic takeover of the city. Coming to a head in the oversized, 48-page “Batman” issue #33, Snyder and company will take a short break from the mayhem as “Batman” #34 tells a single-issue story and the DC Comics series’ new six-issue arc begins in October, after the September “Futures End” event.
With the finale in sight, Snyder opened up to CBR about his personal connections to this year-long origin story, including his struggle with depression, pulling inspiration from the crime-torn New York City of his youth and what comes next — not just for “Batman,” but for the entire Bat group after “Zero Year,” including some revealing new details about “Arkham Manor” and “Gotham Academy.”
CBR News: This month, we’re on the very last issue of “Zero Year,” which is a huge deal —
Scott Snyder: Yeah!
While you’ve been writing this year-long arc, you’ve also been working on the weekly “Batman Eternal” series. At this point, do you feel relief that “Zero Year” is wrapping, or with the weekly, does this feel more like its just the end of another chapter?
I guess it’s a bit of both. For me, “Zero Year” is unequivocally my favorite thing that we’ve done. I’m really, really proud of “Black Mirror” and “Court Of Owls” and “Death Of The Family,” but to get to do Batman in a way that sort of reconfigures his origin for you — as a writer, that’s personal, both about [Gotham] City and the way you see it now, trying to modernize it, there’s just no greater thrill or honor. I feel really, really grateful to the fans, to DC for letting me do it, and I think this issue of “Zero Year” #33 coming out is our best one in the whole story arc. I know I say that often in terms of, “This is my favorite issue, this is our best one by far.” I stand by those statements! [Laughs] I really believe the ones that we say are better ones are our better ones, and I think people will see with #33, without giving too much away, really articulates why we did the whole story, what it’s about. It has my favorite ending of any issue we’ve done in “Batman’ so far. For me, this issue is sort of a thesis and a thank you and a big conclusion, an over the top, bombastic, nutty action conclusion all in one. So I’m really happy.
I mean, at the end of the day, what “Zero Year” has been about — it’s been about the fact that growing up in New York in the 1980s, when I read “Year One,” that book was intensely influential to me. It put Batman in the city I knew, and that was completely shocking and different at this time. I don’t know if that’s lost on younger readers today, because they are so used to seeing Batman in a city that’s recognizable, or at least that seems like a modern city. But that book, putting it in a city that looked like New York at that moment, with prostitutes and gangs and graffiti and drugs and all the kinds of things and fears that you encountered as a kid — where you weren’t allowed to go to Central Park, you couldn’t ride the subways at certain times — all of that made Batman real for me.
Looking at the city now, having lived there ’til just a little while ago, from my childhood ’til now, the idea with “Zero Year” was to make Batman’s origins in the comic speak to the fears and hopes and aspirations of people right now, both in the city and the readership in general. So instead of there being a city that was plagued by urban decay and mob corruption and some of the things I think we were more concerned with in the ’70s and ’80s, this was about cataclysm. It’s about terrorism, a fear of end of times because of resources dwindling and super storms and madmen stepping out in the middle of the day with a machine gun and all those kinds of fears we have today. “Zero Year” was trying to incorporate them and make them the things Batman stands up to and faces.
Then at the same time, with #33 — and then I’ll stop talking! [Laughter] The last thing I’ll say is, on the other side of the coin, for #33 and the story in general, the project has been to make it something very personal. I was lucky enough a few weeks ago to meet Frank Miller for the first time, and it was a huge thrill for me. I mean, that was one of the things I was hoping and asking DC about since I started there! When we spoke, he was incredibly gracious and sweet to me and generous to us on the book. When we spoke and I told him how much “Year One” meant to me, he told me that he had read “Zero Year” so far, which blew my mind! He said he felt it had the right spirit, and he could tell it was about things that mattered to us personally — and he said we gave him [Batman] a “good goddamn haircut!” If I could use that as a quote, I’d die happy! [Laughs]
This issue that’s the thing, it’s about making it modern — but the other side is about it really being personal. As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety and those kinds of things since I was a kid, Batman has been an incredibly inspirational figure. He’s always been my favorite hero because the lesson of Batman and what made him endure for seventy-five years is the fact that he’s just human. He takes this traumatic event that really no one should be able to get past, or many people aren’t able to get past, and turns it into fuel for him becoming this pinnacle of human achievement, a hero that sort of surpasses all others. In that lesson is something that everyone can find inspiration in, you know? So this last issue gives away and reveals some of the biggest and darkest secrets of young Bruce Wayne’s struggle with the trauma of his parents’ death, and we are doing some stuff that’s a little radically different than what came before. I’m prepared for people to be surprised by how dark it got for Bruce back when he was a teenager and he was strugglingÂ with this almost post-traumatic stress of his parents death.
Going along with that idea, one of the things I found interesting in issue #31 is Batman’s riddle, where he’s talking about the boy who was really smart but no one paid attention to. Riddler obviously says, you’re talking about me, but it felt like, at least at the very first part of that speech, Batman is also talking about himself, Bruce Wayne, as a kid. In some ways, are Riddler and Batman that same boy but they’ve just taken different paths?
Yeah, very much. In fact, one of the regrets with “Zero Year” a little bit was that one of the options we talked about originally was doing backups all the way through, but just because of logistical reasons, pricing reasons and things like that, it became impossible to do backups throughout the entire run. The backups after that first section and the second section were meant to be more of a history of the Riddler. I did very much want to parallel their paths, but keeping him mysterious and scary in terms of coming out of nowhere. Being this figure who isn’t quite as explained or sympathetic is something that speaks to some of our fears about people emerging from nowhere, with very violent and strange ideologies, attacking us, attacking the population, attacking innocent people. I thought the trade off worked OK, but it’s absolutely something we were thinking about when we were writing the characters.
We’ve seen a lot of villains pop up over the course of your run, but after Riddler takes down the entire city, I can’t imagine how any future “Batman” villains could possibly compete —
[Laughs] You’ll have to wait and see! There’s worse things in store for the entire city of Gotham coming! I’ll never get tired of torturing this poor city. The story we’re doing after “Zero Year,” which will be solicited for October, is meant to be our most muscular and bombastic, our biggest thing that we’ll take on, with the biggest cast and the craziest story moves. I want to keep it very close to the chest, I think. We want to surprise people and have them enjoy it for what it is, but we definitely have some very, very over the top stuff left! [Laughs] I mean, we’ve got a lot of ideas! We wouldn’t go into Batman’s seventy-fifth without something really big planned. Part of the idea was to finish “Zero Year” for the first half of the year, and then really, for the anniversary starting in April, spend the second half of the year doing something in the present day, showing why Batman is the greatest superhero of all time and why he’s endured for seventy-five years. It’s our tribute to Batman.
And to Gotham, which you’ll naturally firebomb in the next issue. [Laughter]
I feel bad! [Laughter] I feel every sort of catastrophic thing you can do to Gotham you do to it, but at the end of the day, that’s why it’s such a great city. I don’t know, I think the thing I miss the most about New York — my wife and I live outside the city by a couple hours now, but I lived there my whole life growing up, and my parents lived there, so we have sort of deep roots — and my grandparents, too, actually. The thing that I’ve always enjoyed about it and the thing I missed the most about it isn’t the dining or the nightlife or the that kind of stuff. That’s great, but in all honesty, it’s the sense of being a part of a community. The thing that’s great about New York is, you walk down the street and you see the people you share the city with, and you might not want to see them, and you might not want to share space half the time with people on the subway that are talking really loud or arguing or saying things you disagree with politically. But you have to share the space with them, because that’s the nature of the city. It’s a public place, and you come to love each other in a certain way and accept each other, even if you don’t get along over issues, over topics and things like that. Having that diversity is part of the energy and wonderful thing about it.
So torturing Gotham, in a lot of ways, the fun of it is, you see the city come together. The same way, having lived in New York during 9/11, that feeling afterwards is terrible and horrible and sad and just devastating, but there’s also a feeling of camaraderie. A sense of, you’re in it together, you’re going to get through it together. That I think informs a lot of the way I write Gotham. The sense that you put it through terrible things, but you’ll never break the mettle of that city. That’s why it’s so fun to write, and “Batman” is the prime example of that.
Looking at the lead up to this last issue, we’ve got Jim Gordon and Batman and Lucius Fox executing a more straightforward plot to take on the Riddler. I know when you began, you talked with Marguerite Bennett a lot about riddles and the history of riddles for Riddler, but will this last issue put riddles back at the center of the action? And is that something you and Greg Capullo have to physically blueprint out in terms of the bombs and the tower and everything?
[Laughs] Yeah! Very much. This issue is all about leaving space for these riddles. Basically, this is the issue where half of it is Batman locked in a battle of wits with Edward. He’s on a big game board, essentially, and he can’t move because each one of those laser lights is connected to a chemical weapon around the city, of weather balloons filled with gas, and to get through each one of them he has to answer a riddle correctly. The riddles took me a long time to make up! [Laughs] I asked all my friends for help, from Marguerite to Ray Fawkes to Jeff Lemire. But I’m really happy with them at the end of the day! [Laughs] I think they’re tricky enough, they’re fun enough, because that’s what Riddler really believes, and he says it in this issue, that the purest form of war is a battle of wits. That’s what war is to him; it’s two strategic minds, hovering over a battlefield. He doesn’t understand that a lot of it is the courage and the mettle and the endurance and smarts of the people on the ground — he sees it as these two minds at war. He sees riddles as the simplest and purest raw form of war, so he sees himself engaged in that over this board that represents to him, the fate of Gotham. It’s really, really fun for me. Meanwhile, Lucius [Fox] and Jim [Gordon] have big things to do [as] that’s going on, so it’s a big hydra of a plot in terms of the story, but I’m pretty happy with it.
I honestly couldn’t be happier with this issue and how it turned out. I’m really intensely proud of it and feel relief getting to the end of this story. Nothing I’ve ever done has ever caused me as much anxiety. When I started, I was all excited and it followed the outline pretty much to the letter; there were a couple of things in the middle that changed, but for the most part, it is the story that I pitched, from beginning to end. You’ll see the stuff from the beginning come back and play out, Gordon and his coat and all that stuff at the end. But once I started it, the sort of full weight of doing Batman’s origin on the seventy-fifth anniversary hit me, and I got very anxious and depressed for a while, for a couple of months. I was writing it anyway, but it was really tough.
To be totally frank, I’ve always struggled and I’ve been on medication since I was much younger. When I get very stressed or anxious, I get very, very compulsive. I start to worry about things over and over and over, I can’t break this sort of cycle, it’s almost like an obsessive-compulsive complex, and it was very hard for me to relax and just enjoy doing it. The people who really helped me, between James Tynion, my friend, and Mark Doyle, one of the guys who was incredibly helpful to me was Greg [Capullo]. I talked to Greg a ton early on because he had read the scripts and he had read the outline, and he believed in it one hundred percent and he helped me get through it. He was like, “Look, we’re going to kick ass,” in the way he says those things — he really is like a wrestling coach, he’s awesome! He’s like your personal cheerleader section. He’s like, “We’re going to do it, it’s going to be good, I know it’s something that matters to me, it matters to you, so let’s do it!” So getting to the end — I don’t know, I just feel this incredible sense of relief and pride and I really believe it’s the best we’ve done, this story and whole arc. I feel like I can breathe easy and say whatever we do on Batman moving forward, we did that, I’m really proud of that! [Laughs] I’m sorry, I’m giving the longest answers!
To look ahead, I know you said you want to keep things close to your chest, but after “Zero Year” wraps, we’ve got issue #34, coming out, and that seems like it might be setting up the next story. Is that the case, or is #34 still tying up things from “Zero Year?”
No, #34 is actually its own little thing. Gerry Duggan is doing a new series for us called “Arkham Manor,” which I’m really thrilled about. Part of the idea for the fall was, what we need to do is try and allow the Bat line to reinvent itself — and under new editor Mark Doyle, again one of my best friends, I’m really excited for the talent, the books, the ideas he’s brought in. I love Mike Marts, and I couldn’t have been happier working under him; it’s just a different vision under Mark. What Mark’s trying to do is really shake things up and try books maybe we wouldn’t be able to try if it wasn’t the seventy-fifth anniversary and there wasn’t sense of, “Let’s have a rebirth and try new creative teams, new ideas.” Two of the books that were announced — one is “Gotham Academy” by Becky Cloonan and Karl Kerschl and Brenden Fletcher. That book I’ve been on the ground [floor] with in terms of talking to Becky, and I can tell you it’s going to be incredible. I’m really excited for it, a kind of a younger, twisted set of characters in continuity in Gotham.
And then secondarily, this book, “Arkham Manor,” it takes place in continuity, spinning out of events from “Batman Eternal,” that Wayne Manor is basically repossessed by the state, and because they have nowhere to put all of these — [DC PR interrupts: “Don’t give it all away!” Snyder laughs] They have to use Wayne Manor as Arkham, essentially, while they rebuild Arkham, because it’s off-site, it’s outside the city and it’s the biggest place they got. It’s incredible fun and Gerry Duggan is a good friend; part of the idea was to do an issue that we got to co-write and would use one of our friends, Mateo Scalera, who I just really adore. We were away together at the D.I.C.E. convention in Ireland, and I love his work on “Black Science” and everything. So it was about doing an issue that would allow me to do a small detective story for once! It’s like, let’s do a one-shot with Leslie Thompkins and a new killer! [Laughs] Its just Batman as a detective, between these two massive arcs.
The next [arc] is only six issues, so it’s not a year-long, it’s not “Zero Year” at all, but it’s definitely our most muscular, crazy colorful [arc] so far. In that way, this was a chance to take a breather. It does hint at stuff in “Arkham Manor” and it catches you up, basically, on all the things that have happened between “Eternal” to now. So if you need a primer on continuity — where Catwoman is, what happened to Batgirl, what’s going on with Jim Gordon — all that kind of stuff is going to be in this issue. It will remind you of continuity as it stands right now in the Batman world.
“Batman: Zero Year” ends with issue #33 out July 23.