Scott Snyder knows what it feels like for fans of DC Comics’ “Batman” to experience loss. The writer participated in the 1-800 number promotion that led to the death of Robin Jason Todd in 1989’s “A Death in the Family,” and that experience informs what happens in the impending finale in the current “Death of the Family” event.
Like the classic story, this new tale involves the Joker cutting his way through Batman’s allies, and in the penultimate issue #16, released this week, the battle heated up as the Dark Knight had to face off against his foe in Arkham Asylum while the likes of Nightwing, Robin and Batgirl were seemingly tortured via video screens in front of him.
The finale of “Death of the Family” is anybody’s guess at this point as Snyder and artist Greg Capullo ready issue #17 for its February release, but as part of its ongoing discussion of Batman’s world, THE BAT SIGNAL, CBR News spoke with Snyder about what it takes to stick the landing on a story this big. Below, the writer recalls his days voting to kill Jason Todd, the challenge of adhering to his original vision as fan speculation runs wild and whether or not he’ll keep away from reader reaction to the story when it reaches its possibly bloody end.
CBR News: One of the big challenges with any event story is sticking the landing. Is that a challenge you’ve been thinking about as “Death of the Family” has moved along? You don’t write every script far in advance, but have you had the final moments locked into place for a while?
Scott Snyder: Yeah. I stayed pretty close to the bone on this one from the get-go, not to sound too macabre. It’s definitely been a story that’s been plotted out in specifics from the start, and we’ve stayed pretty close to that roadmap. In that way, the ending is something I’ve really tried to build towards for a long time so that when you get to #17 it’ll hopefully be surprising and horrifying in a way that’s organic to the story you’ve read so far.
The title alone of this story has made for a lot of expectation and a lot of speculation. It all comes from the horrific way you’ve cast the Joker and his history with the Bat Family. How would you say you meet people’s expectations or work against it with the last issue?
It’s hard. Honestly, I see so many theories on what’s going to happen, and sometimes I go, “Gee, I wish I would have thought of that.” [Laughter] And there are definitely ones that are totally out there and fun to read because they’re so far flung from what’s going to happen. But I try my best to keep my blinders on. It was the same with the Court of Owls story where I was heading towards that ending with Lincoln from the very beginning. You just try and have faith in the destination you picked early on. Otherwise, the pressure to do this or that — people telling me I shouldÂ replace Alfred with a robot or that it’s absolutely time for Tim Drake to bow out of life –Â can get very loud in your ears. You start to worry about who’s going to hate you or who’s going to love you for whatever you do. This is definitely an ending that’s been there from the very first steps, and it’ll hopefully make everybody happy, angry and excited all at once.
You’ve looked back to classic Joker stories all the way through this arc, starting with nods to his early appearances. For this final phase at Arkham, did you go back and read things like Grant Morrison’s “Arkham Asylum” or the “Shadow of the Bat” stories where Batman is trapped in the madhouse to know what you had to separate yourself from?
Oh yeah. I’ve re-read all of that stuff. Literally, I’ve tried to read every Joker story I could get my hands on from the past so I could cherry-pick what I want to reference. #16 is probably the one that has the most references Grant’s masterpiece of “Arkham Asylum” to the “Joker Fish” story to events in “No Man’s Land” to “Death In The Family.” They’re all over that issue visually and in Joker’s dialogue. Hopefully that is the issue that really celebrates the terrifying history of the characters, and at the same time we’re paying homage to those stories, we’re trying to do our own thing too. Batman has been in Arkham Asylum looking for Joker, but the way we’re doing it here is a product of the Joker philosophy we’ve been building around him, which I hope is different than what you’ve seen before. He’s setting it up as a homecoming for Batman in the sense that he’s been journeying like the errant king. It’s “We’ve prepared your castle for you just like you like it.” [Laughs] That’s not just in terms of the horrifying things but also in terms of the physical layout of the place.
I feel like one thing that sets the Joker apart as a villain is that he really does win sometimes. In most superhero books, the hero always comes out on top, but Joker has multiple “Ws” in his column. Does that change what you can do with him?
I think the thing that’s so terrifying is that the reason he wins at his worst is that the Joker in his villainy is such a horrifying reflection of your greatest fears. When you face the Joker –Â I was talking about this with Geoff Johns the other night, and we were joking around –Â to me it’s the perfect example of horror. He looks at you, sizes you up with these horrible eyes, sees what your greatest fear is and then works to make it come true. He proves to you that you are the thing you’re afraid you are. He makes you afraid of yourself.
In that way, he always wins a little bit, no matter whether you take him down or you don’t. When you have a great villain in the story like that it makes you genuinely afraid, it’s usually because they reveal some kernel of truth about yourself. There’s always something sad or frightening in the end that he shows you about yourself, even if you beat him. So there’s not a way out of this story without him wining in some way already.
Do you have a personal answer as to what Batman’s greatest fear is?
I think that he has different fears depending on what the angle is. For the Court of the Owls, his greatest fear in that moment was not knowing his city as well as he thought. Here, I think it cuts to the core of what Joker says: “You fear a repeat of what happened with Jason and me.” That cuts very close to what I’d say his greatest fear is. If I had to pick something, I would probably say that because he’s built this family that he loves, anything happening to them because of him is it. It’s the Joker pointing at them and saying, “I’m going to prove a point to you in taking them away.” To me, it doesn’t get more horrifying than that.
And that’s built around the fears you have as a father or as any member of a family, really. When you love the people around you –Â especially as a parents –Â you get exhausted worrying about what might happen to your children. The Joker hears that whisper you’ve just made in your own mind, and he says, “I hear you, and I know that you secretly wish your children were dead. Then you wouldn’t have to worry about them anymore.” You might say, “I didn’t say that,” but he just goes, “Yes you did!” And at this point, I’d say the result of that is pretty much Batman’s greatest fear.
The last time we had a story involving the phrase “Death _____ The Family,” the character who died was determined by the fans. They only had themselves to be upset with. This one, however, is all on you. Once issue #17 is out, are you going to be unplugging your phone?
[Laughs] No. I was actually joking on the phone with Dan Slott after “Spider-Man” #700. I was telling him how I felt so bad because it sounded like things got crazy for him, and he said, “Wait until you get to ‘Batman’ #17! You’ll have the same.” So honestly, maybe I will go be in a bunker somewhere the day that issue comes out. But I believe in the ending very strongly. I believe in the story beat we’re headed towards.
And you know, I vividly remember calling the number for Jason Todd –Â both to kill Jason and then feeling bad about it and calling back to cancel out my own vote –Â from the playground at Waterside on 23rd Street where I grew up. I literally remember putting the quarter in to call the number. And just like when I was a kid and had mixed feelings, I try to think of that now and be measured in what we’re going to do. I don’t want to do anything just to shock or be upsetting to people. I want to do something that’s organic to the story we’ve built that will both be horrifying and exciting, inspiring and infuriating all at once.
“Batman” #16 is on sale now. The final part of “Death of the Family” ships with #17 on February 13.