SPOILER WARNING: The following interview contains major spoilers for “All Star Batman” #4, on sale now.
In “All Star Batman,” Scott Snyder and some of the industry’s top artists have remastered the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent in such a way that readers will never be able to look at Two-Face the same way again. And that’s a good thing.
CBR connected with Snyder and Declan Shalvey, who is illustrating the co-features starring Duke Thomas, to discuss the artist’s lens — both literally and figuratively — and break down the latest events in DC Comics‘ bestselling series.
Snyder also shared details about the new backstory he’s developed for Harvey and Bruce, whether or not Two-Face is a ‘real’ villain and the vital role KGBeast has played so far in the series — a part that has been so well received, DC Comics’ editorial braintrust has asked the writer to keep the Russian killing machine around as a supporting character.
The conversation also included Shalvey explaining the larger and smaller moments in the series as the latest issue may or may not have revealed Bruce actually smiling at Duke Thomas. The Dark Knight. Smiling. What? Come on, really?
CBR News: I have been reading about ‘seasteading’ since the release of “All Star Batman” #3 last month. Yikes. It sounds like the Wild West, but even wilder if KGBeast is playing the role of Pa Ingalls. That said, I would totally read a series that was all about KGBeast hunting Batman for more than a year on a modular island.
Scott Snyder: [Laughs] In fact, as an aside, DC liked it enough that they wanted me to make KGBeast a recurring figure in “All Star Batman,” who was always in the background of the panels of the upcoming stories. He’s kind of always after Batman to bring him there. It’s a possibility to bring him back after this arc, as well. There is a fun stinger at the end of the whole arc with Penguin and the others afraid of being taken to the 666 Island.
When you are telling a Harvey Dent story, much of it — rightfully so — is based upon the disfigured side of his face, which in this story is further focused on his left eye and its distorted lens and equally distorted sense of reality. In “All Star Batman” #4, Batman is blinded — at least temporarily — skewing his worldview quite drastically, as well, leading to Bruce Wayne needing to depend on Duke Thomas for visual cues as they try to escape a battleground. Obviously comic books are a visual medium, but can you talk about the strength and importance of art in comics — meaning, we can have a page of panels without dialogue but do iconic comic book characters like Batman and Two-Face need a visual identity too? And do these stories need a lens too — distorted or otherwise?
Snyder: This may be an odd corollary to that but I got Audible recently on my phone and I have been listening to a ton of books on tape. It’s strange to go back to reading without the visual component. That’s the world that I lived in — prose — before I came over to comics. Part of the story is about Batman saying, “I see the world this way and it’s the way that you used to see it.” And Two-Face says, “We all see the world through a private lens.” And that sense of vision, both literally and figuratively, plays a big role both in the feature and the backup. And color plays a role too, especially in the prismatic identity that Duke is exploring. I have not spoke to anyone who has had to experience comics without vision all together but when we were thinking about this issue, it had very much to do with separating — at least in the feature — the visuals from Batman’s experiences from where he has to see things without seeing them. Batman is saying: “You have to see the world, by force of will, even if it isn’t the way that you want it to be.” And by making him more and more impaired visually, it’s a bigger challenge and you see what a hero he is but also how vulnerable he is.
And in the backup, it’s about Duke saying, “I need to see somebody in the sunlight. I need to see them the way my mother was able to do it to be able to gauge what their real motivation is. Are they a hero or are they a villain? And I need to be able to see who I am that way too.” So you’re right, vision plays a really big part in this story.
Declan Shalvey: The way my brain works when I read scripts, the visual moments just come to me but it really is an interesting notion to consider. But honestly, I come from a totally different world. My job is to tell the story even if there are no words. The images tell the story.
In “All Star Batman,” we have learned more about the history between Bruce and Harvey, dating back to their time together as adolescent boys. I am pretty well versed in DC Comics mythology and I don’t remember this connection from past stories. Is this childhood relationship between Bruce and Harvey something new that you created for DC Rebirth?
Snyder: It’s new. [Laughs] I think that it doesn’t mess with continuity as it stands. Given what Pete [Tomasi] and others have done with Bruce and Harvey in Harvey’s first year as a defense attorney. And they were both friends with Jim Gordon. And some of that “Long Halloween” material stands too. Harvey is aware of Bruce’s secret identity from the beginning.
But honestly, I feel like every Two-Face story that I have read over the past few years — and I went back and read pretty much everything that I could get my hands on — either retells his origin or it’s a story where he is cured in the present and then reverts back to being bad again. I love those templates when his face is healed but I wanted to try something that was different — a kind of modern, propulsive Two-Face story while still touching on something that you haven’t seen in the past. This gave me a bond to them in the past. It explores the idea of the coin. It doesn’t step on anything. It’s just more additive. It also plays on some of themes that we played on in “Zero Year” and other stories about Bruce and his childhood and how dark it was when he was really struggling to find his after his parents’ death. And yet, at the same time, I feel that it doesn’t contradict anything that has come before either. It just adds another layer. They didn’t know who each other was. But the fact that they met as kids and had this history winds up informing who they are today.
Penguin has a great line in “All Star Batman” #4 about Two-Face where he says, “In the end it takes something special to be a villain, Dent. A real villain. And you don’t have it. You never have.” Does Bruce Wayne agree with Mr. Cobblepot?
Snyder: Two-Face like to be believe that he is a real villain and he keeps Harvey Dent around just to prove to him over and over that he’s the stronger half. What Bruce really believes is that Harvey is the stronger half and that there is conflicted and tortured duality. What Penguin says speaks to what some of what the story is about, which is Two-Face saying, “We’re all like me. Everyone is villainous but have this weak, little heroic part that they pretend to honor. And the reason I keep that part around is to show you how small it is.” Penguin is saying the opposite of what Batman is saying. Penguin says, “The people out there aren’t like us and neither are you. It takes a much bigger capacity for evil.” While Batman says, “No, the people out there are not like you. They’re stronger. They’re like Harvey, which is the stronger part of you.” They’re all arguing different parts of the same topic. I love how everything in this story is kind of singularly tied into one question. Everyone is coming at the same thing from different vantage points.
I love the big action scenes in “All Star Batman” — everyone does. But there are some great smaller moments in “All Star Batman” #4 too. As an artist, do you tap into different parts of your abilities and your psyche to draw Duke Thomas and a bad guy smashing through a window versus a quieter scene with Bruce and Duke talking?
Shalvey: To me, it’s all about the smaller moments to be honest. Smashing glass windows and breaking people’s jaws is great but to do 20 pages of that just becomes boring and redundant and you lose any impact you might have. Without these grounded moments, the escalations and moments of explosive action have no weight. “Cursed Wheel” is not a very action-oriented story except for the moments in the hospital. I find that unless you are really following the characters and believe in the characters, the action doesn’t matter.
Honestly, the smaller moments come quite naturally to me. If I have a story that has some sort of emotional core, I feel more personally engaged, I care more about the characters and the story feels truer rather than if I just don’t care about the characters, I can sometimes emotionally disconnect. I spend an entire day on a page so I don’t want to just draw fun stuff. That’s not ultimately fulfilling for me. I want to draw fun stuff and good moments and interesting moments so when the story is finished, it means something. I think any artist, any storyteller wants to entertain an audience. And you can entertain an audience by making the readers feel something and that’s why I actually really like those moments. And they’re easier for me to draw because they come more naturally to me and they’re more important.
I have to say my favorite scene in this issue is when Bruce smiles at Duke when Duke is talking about The Joker and his parents. At least, I think it’s a smile.
Shalvey: I know there is always this thing about Batman smiling. But for me, we’re talking about an emotional story. This isn’t Batman. This is Bruce looking at Duke with respect and pride and concern. I am very, very aware of that smile. It really strange to be so apprehensive of one little curl on someone’s mouth but I know people have hardcore views about Batman smiling but I just loved that moment and I wanted to make sure that I really hit that emotion right. Like you, it’s my favorite panel in the story.
Snyder: It really speaks to the power of the visual storytelling of Dec and Jordie. Like Dec says, Bruce never sits, Bruce never smiles but when you do it and you do it at the right moment, I feel like it has a strange resonance. Bruce is proud of Duke here, and it couldn’t have been better conveyed.
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