NOTE: The following contains spoilers for “Detective Comics” #871, on sale now.
It’s easy to forget sometimes that DC Comics draws its name from a monthly series still in production, the Batman-starring mystery magazine known as “Detective Comics.”
In recent years, DC’s editors and creators have been returning to the core conception of the ongoing as the home of the Dark Knight Detective and his most bizarre, baffling mysteries. The latest incarnation of the book holds up “The Black Mirror” that is Batman’s home of Gotham City in a story of the same title written by Scott Snyder and drawn by Jock with back-up elements by Francesco Francavilla. With one issue of this tale already in the hands of fans, people have experienced a kickoff featuring the dual headscratchers of Dick Grayson’s facing down an auctioneer set on getting the weapons of old Batman foes into the hands of Gotham’s criminals while Commissioner Gordon confronts the apparent return of his long lost son James Jr. And that’s just the beginning.
That’s why this week, CBR News shines the light of it’s ongoing Batman discussion, THE BAT SIGNAL, onto Snyder as he prepares to make things even worse for the heroes of “Detective” before they get better. Below, the writer details why now was the time to finally bring back a character who’s been seldom seen since his debut in the legendary “Batman: Year One,” how things aren’t what they seem in either of the stories appearing in “Detective” and how his long-term plans for Dick Grayson involve digging into the character’s past after he confronts the vile face of his new home.
CBR News: One of the big reveals that hit in your first issue of “Detective” was the implication that James Gordon, Jr. has returned to the Bat Universe. Despite his prominent role in “Year One,” he’s been largely unseen since then and his ultimate fate has been unknown for years. When you pitched DC on using the character, what was the response? Was there some reason that thread was left dangling for so long?
Scott Snyder: No, I think everybody was sort of like, “Oh!” There was really no resistance to it. In one of those weird ways, I think there was another story that somebody else had once worked on that brought him in in a minor way. But for the most part, it’s one of those things where after 20 years of being retired–just like Lord Death Man from “Batman, Inc.”–he’s back from the vault. DC was really supportive, though they were definitely a little nervous at first when I explained my take on him. I do want him to be somebody that you’re guessing about along with Jim for a while in the series. I didn’t want him to just come in and be a villain or be knowable. He’s been away for so long, the tease of understanding him again the way Jim is trying to since he hasn’t seen him in so long is part of what the story’s about.
And I want it to be almost a mystery in and of itself: is he as bad as Barbara thinks he is? You’ll see her in the next issue, and he’s one of the few people she’s genuinely frightened of. Or is he somebody who’s just troubled? He’s come back to Gotham with intentions he’s going to make very clear. And you’ll believe him or you don’t. You’ll see how it all plays out as the run goes on.
You’ve spoken about how this book will take a look at how Dick is new to Gotham in some ways and the city is changing to suit him. That’s not quite the traditional detective story setup where the grizzled veteran is haunted by something from his past. Does the Commissioner Gordon thread of this series help you to balance out the kinds of mysteries you feature in the book?
I think it does, even just on a visual level. It gives an anchor to the book as you see Commissioner Gordon’s slower-paced story. It’s not as frenetic. It doesn’t have the same crazy, youthful energy that first one does. But also, I wanted it to complements the main feature in idea. I keep talking about Dick having to face the Black Mirror of Gotham, and I want that to be true of Gordon’s story, too. That’s really what it is: this is the one thing that’s Gordon’s worst nightmare. This son that he’d written off is coming back and saying, “I’m not who Barbara thinks I am. This is who I am,” and playing at his heartstrings. It really is the cruelty of Gotham,Â that it will send things at you to test you–real difficult challenges on a character level. I’m hoping it’s doing what you’re saying and have an older, classic noir feel while at the same time thematically it’s all one story that has the same point.
Another thing that people seemed to jump on in your first issue was how Dick and Gordon played off each other. Do you feel as though–despite this being a very nerve-wracking gig in some ways–you had a handle on that core relationship off the bat without having to work at it too much?
I’ve been a huge fan of these particular characters. I love Dick Grayson and have read all of or most of the “Nightwing” stuff over the years too. So I felt comfortable, but I did have a real panic about it at first. [Laughs] You can ask my wife, there were nights where I’d be up in a panic going, “What am I doing? I can’t write their voices, and everybody’s going to hate it! I should just tell them that they should give this book to somebody else.” But at the end of the day, I was excited enough about the story we wanted to tell that I got over it. I felt like I knew the characters, and I could refine it. I had a lot of time, which helps when you can work ahead. I’m just finishing #875 now, so I feel like I’m so far ahead that I can neurotically comb through it all and make sure the voices sound like I want them to. At the end of the day, even though from a theoretical standpoint I feel really comfortable with what Dick sounds like or what Bruce sounds like. But on the page, you can freeze up because you’ve been with these characters so long as a fan. It makes it really intimidating.
I called my editor when I was writing the first issue, because it took longer to get started on this then when I did the first issue of “American Vampire.” But once it got going, I realized everybody has their own take on these guys. There is a central core that needs to stay the same, but my Dick Grayson is my Dick Grayson. Grant’s is his. Paul’s is his. I feel like that’s part of the fun of reading Batman–you get such different takes on a character with universal appeal.
An idea creeping around the story is that even though we’ve been seeing Dick as Batman for almost two years now, we don’t see much about his family. In Bruce Batman stories, we’re constantly revisiting Crime Alley and unpacking his parents murder. That hasn’t been a piece of Dick’s era yet, but you hint on it in the first issue. Will you be coping with that idea more as you go along?
Absolutely. I don’t know how much I want to give away about it, but in this particular story, we’ll touch on it. And I’ve been talking about another story that goes beyond the one we’re doing right now that really, really mines that stuff. It sort of examines why Dick thinks and talks about it so little–what impacts him about that time in his life and some of the secrets from before he became Robin. So I have every interest and intention on focusing on that, but this first run with Jock and Francesco is going to be a bit more on him in the present and coming to terms with him becoming the Batman of Gotham.
On that story track, you’ve got one big mystery that all these separate threads we’re discussing will play in and out of over 12 or so issues. Like any mystery, you’re starting with a string of murders at the kickoff, but how do you plan on twisting this to make it your own? Through the antagonist? Through the detective work?
I tried to approach it through the antagonist being a representation of what Dick hopes isn’t true about Gotham. The antagonist is like a nightmare figure to him, who’s also a real person. One of the things I was trying to do in the first issue was give people a flavor of what the series will be like, and the second one turns real dark. You meet the weapons dealer and the characters surrounding him. I hope you’ll like it and see the gravity of the story we want to tell.
The way I build a mystery is that while I love the plot elements and the twists, the real reason behind doing it is to see why it matters to the detective. What’s it about, personally? The best mysteries, to me, as good as they are on an action or page-to-page level, they’re really a reflection of what’s happening for the detective personally. So if it’s a character like Dick, who I think in some ways has a lot of belief in the people of Gotham and is hopeful, then part of the mystery should be about chipping away at some of those beliefs. That’s why this mystery starts with him at the penthouse being unable to decorate it, and the birds. We’ll return to that by the end and get some sense of “Am I really afraid of Gotham? Do I not have the ability to do this? Should I run away?” I think it’s just as important, or maybe more important, to come up with plot twists and fun stuff like that. But for me, it all began with this premise of challenging Dick Grayson, the detective. What aspect of his psychology do I want to highlight? What’s interesting to me as a scary question? For me, the first thing is his more casual relationship with Gotham. Before he became Batman, he’d gone to Bludhaven because he didn’t have roots in Gotham. How do I build a mystery on that? I start by announcing that Gotham is almost calling to him. He feels it changing and calling out to him to say, “Come out and play. Earn what you are.”
So if this is about the population of Gotham and the dark undercurrents and history of the people, let’s do a mystery about people that believe in the darker aspects of the city. They take pride in that. The auction house, the mirror house he goes to isn’t just an auction house where people are bidding on things. It’s meant to be a temple to the darker strains in Gotham. One of the ideas is that Gotham is an example of the ripest place for these nightmares to pop out of the streets. If you believed that evil is something you like–and one of the things I love about the villain, the dealer, is that he has this belief which he explains in the second issue. A lot of people believe what makes people special as an animal or what makes us sort of divine is our propensity for good. Generosity and compassion don’t necessarily appear in the animal kingdom. But in some ways they do, is this guy’s belief. His feeling is that what you don’t really see in the animal kingdom is pure evil and malevolence. You see hunger and greed, but the idea of true cruelty isn’t there. Why can’t you make the argument that that is what makes us special as a people? It gets very dark in that way for me. Once I had that, I realized I could do this mystery and come up with the plot stuff because I love that stuff but so long as I have the core stuff at the start, I can figure out how things end for the detective in some way.
“Detective Comics” #872, the second chapter of Snyder’s “The Black Mirror” mystery, is in comic shops next week on December 29 from DC Comics.