There will be no Bat Signal shining over Gotham City any time soon.
With Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s “Zero Year” origin story in its second phase in the pages of DC Comics’ “Batman,” the year-long tale is focused on a total power outage created by a very public Riddler. But even as citizens and superheroes alike deal with the effects of the blackout across DC’s “Zero Year” tie-in titles this month, things have become even more complicated with the release of “Batman” #25.
To shed what light we can on the story, CBR News spoke with Snyder for the latest edition of our regular discussion of the Dark Knight’s world, THE BAT SIGNAL. The writer explained how the double-sized Red Hood issue from last month set up Batman’s new mission as an inspirational hero, why the Riddler’s power outage plan is much more primal and complex than it appears at a glance, how he and Capullo plan to remix classic elements like the Batmobile and the Batman/Gordon relationship in the issues ahead and why a wild string of murders will test Bruce Wayne like never before.
CBR News: Issue #24 of “Batman” kicked off the second phase of “Zero Year” with a double-sized installment. Was that story shape dictated because there was a gap in the monthly schedule for Villains Month?
Scott Snyder: I knew I wasn’t going to participate in Villains Month outside helping out with the “Riddler” one-shot — not because I didn’t want to, but because I knew I couldn’t do everything else and that at the same time. Dan DiDio and Bob [Harras] and Geoff [Johns] all agreed that it would be better if I hung back and focused on “Batman,” so Greg and I decided to take that month off to just focus on “Batman,” to give #25 a more epic scope than a regular issue. We wanted to give a lot of room to the story, and I’m really glad we did. That issue is one of my favorites.
It also held some pretty significant twists to Batman’s origin alongside some clever shout-outs to imagery from stories past. What did your take on the Red Hood/Joker origin need to do to set the tone for this phase of “Zero Year”?
It was about us announcing that we were doing a different take on the origin, and that required a new mission for Batman, in some ways. I wanted to set up this arc that really sets up Batman’s purpose as defined against the modern fears and anxieties that we have today in cities across the country, about large-scale violence and random violence — terrorism and the sorts of things that could be represented by the Red Hood Gang. We wanted to make Batman a counter force to that.
Part of the idea that sort of violence wants to engender — if it has any kind of ideological stance behind it — is to make us feel frightened to do the things that make us who we are. It makes you not want to go out of the house and just live your life. In a lot of ways, the Red Hood Gang is meant to represent a more generalized, horror version of that violence. It’s not ideologically based, beyond being a philosophy for the Hood, which is him saying, “If you can die on a sunny Tuesday afternoon in a random shooting, then what’s the point in anything? In fact, if you try to find anything that you want to invest into or consider a purpose in life, you’ll go crazy.” In that way, he’s meant to be a proto-Joker, and then he finds, in Batman, a mission. He finds a counterpoint to himself. If that’s who you believe the Joker is, of course. That might not be who the Joker is. You can kind of pick and choose your origin for him.
The importance of doing this first arc and reestablishing Bruce becoming Batman has to do with creating him as a figure of inspiration in addition to one of fear for criminals. I wanted him to be rebellious and sort of defiant. He gets his name out there and says, “If I can be this insane flying thing in the sky that you look up to see — this weird, mad pinnacle of achievement — then you can overcome your own fears and the fears being inspired by the Red Hood gang. You can get past the weird fears that Gotham imposes on us and get out there to become the kind of hero you want to be, deep down.”
It was important to establish that idea as a keystone of the series and show that this was a take with a different agenda than “Year One,” which, again, is literally one of my two favorite books ever. The other is, of course, “Dark Knight Returns.” For me, growing up in New York City, that’s what the city was, the way it was portrayed in “Year One.” It was urban decay and gangs and prostitution. You saw that in Times Square, we couldn’t go to Central Park or any of that stuff. [“Zero Year”] is what we’d worry about as people living in Gotham, today.
The Riddler was introduced on-page in the backup feature for that issue, and two things immediately stood out to me about this version of the character. For one, his costume is much rougher than it was in the Villains Month special — almost a proto-Riddler outfit. And two, Edward has gone right out and given his real name when he declared himself during the blackout. What do these changes signify for the kind of character we’ll see across the rest of “Zero Year”?
Riddler is really a perfect antagonist for young Bruce because Batman first appeared in “Detective Comics.” At his heart, at his core, that’s what he is. He’s like a souped-up Sherlock Holmes, with amazing gadgets and a cool car. In that way, what the Riddler is about at his burned down core is creating mysteries that have answers. He wants to make riddles that drive battles of wits. He poses the most simple questions to someone with an answer that’s meant to be obvious, but the question misleads you. In that way, he’s creating a maze or a detective challenge for Batman, and it cuts to the heart of his own pride. Is he capable or not capable of being the superhero he wants to be for Gotham? That really depends on whether he’s smart enough to solve the riddles and the cases laid out in front of him.
That’s what this is really all about with the Riddler. I’m trying to dig into the mythology and the folklore of riddles. You’ll see a lot more of that in the upcoming sections of “Zero Year.” We’ll see why the Riddler has adopted the idea of the riddle as his emblem and persona. When you think about it, riddles in folklore are often tests of worthiness to heroes. You have knights come to castles and have to answer a riddle if they’re going to get the princess. That question or riddle signifies a life or death challenge or someone’s worth as a possible hero.
Well, in that case I hope you’re fighting against the constant need to make Monty Python jokes.
[Laughs] Yes. Believe me, we’re always resisting the urge to put in Monty Python jokes.
I wouldn’t be that strong. In any event, this week saw the release of “Batman” #25, the first issue after the Riddler’s massive power outage of Gotham. Some of the tie-in issues across the DCU have been playing with elements of that story hook, but what was important for you in setting up the main narrative? Did you want to skip forward in time or show the effects beginning to end?
We’re thrown right into it. The issue opens with a crazy Batmobile chase, so you’re going to hit the ground running — literally and figuratively. This arc is really two things. On the one hand, it has this big machinery plot-wise where the Riddler has challenged the city by turning it off. He’s sent this surge through the grid and said, “I dare you to turn it back on.” That’s the first part of the riddle he’s posing to the city. “Can you be smart enough to transform yourselves, or are you going to die?” Batman sees that in this section. He knows right away that this is not going to be a singular thing, where the Riddler causes the blackout and doesn’t have anything else up his sleeve. He knows that this is part one of a multi-part attack, so he’s creating a signal jammer to place in the grid because he assumes that the next attack will be electrical, too.
The other part of the arc is him solving this murder case as Batman, where he’s up against the police. The case has to do with a bunch of Wayne scientists who are being killed in really, really gruesome ways by a mysterious figure. This case that’s happening in the dark of the blackout has a lot to do with skeletons and bones, and the whole arc really is about the sense of Gotham reforming. Its bones are being reknit in ways that could be monstrous or viable. There’s a sense that what it’s really about emotionally, for Bruce, is, “Why does Batman fight alone? What is it at his core that keeps him shutting everybody out? Why won’t he open up to Alfred, Gordon or anyone? Is there something holding him back from being the hero the city needs?” At its core, this all deals with Crime Alley and the mystery of what happens on the day his parent were killed. That involves Commissioner Gordon a lot, and you’re going to see their relationship in a very different way for reasons that will be revealed across this section. I think it’ll surprise people.
In the end, we’re trying to do all this in new ways. What’s the point in just revisiting stuff that’s been done unless you’re paying tribute to the past in a way that echoes it? In #25, you get the fun of a new Batmobile, which I think is totally bad as,s in a way you’ve never seen before because it’s a young man’s Batmobile. Then you’ll see a moment in issue #26 that really pays tribute to “Year One,” between Gordon and Batman, which really is a new take on a classic moment. You get those homages, but what’s the point in retreading? It’s all about reinventing it and making it more personal. With material like this, you definitely shouldn’t be doing it unless you’re willing to go all the way.
“Batman” #25 is on sale now from DC Comics.