SPOILER WARNING: The following interview contains major spoilers for “All Star Batman” #6, on sale now.
Scott Snyder has delivered some masterful stories since he arrived at DC Comics six years ago for the start of his now epic run with Batman. So much so that the publisher now has the New York Times bestselling writer teaching its next generation of talent for its DC Writers Workshop. Snyder’s latest effort involves a prose-style approach for “All Star Batman” #6, which features art by his long time collaborators Jock (“Wytches,” “Detective Comics”) and Francesco Francavilla (“Detective Comics”).
While the story — featuring a terrifying Mr. Freeze and his equally chilling army of Dreamers — certainly stands apart, it’s actually part of a longer story arc, called ‘Ends of the Earth,’ which will also include classic Batman rogues Poison Ivy and Mad Hatter.
In a conversation with CBR, Snyder discussed the reason Batman understands Victor Fries’ ice-cold ideals and why his ultimate goal separates him from other supervillains like The Joker and Ra’s al Ghul. Snyder also shared how stories and arcs are generated for “All Star Batman” with a specific artist in mind for each one and then constructing the action and adventure around his or her strengths to showcase the art and the collaboration.
CBR: I’ve been a fan of your work on “Batman,” “American Vampire,” “The Wake,” “A.D.” — “Wytches” was a little too scary for me, but this might be my favorite thing that you have ever done. Powerful, powerful stuff.
Scott Snyder: Thanks, man. It’s one of my favorites to be honest. I’ve been thinking about it a long, long time. It was one of those ones that was a joy to write, especially having Jock and Francesco [Francavilla] doing the art. Those guys are like family by this point. It was really one of those experiences where I was like, “I wish comics always worked this way.” [Laughs] Everyone contributed ideas and everyone was going back and forth. I’ve been really lucky with that experience on “Batman” with [Greg] Capullo, and it becoming easily that sort of relationship. And it worked the same with Rafael [Albuquerque] on “American Vampire” and Jock on “Wytches.” I am lucky in that regard.
When you can do a one-shot like this with Tula [Lotay] or Giuseppe [Camuncoli], I am getting to know them from the beginning and there is a tremendous excitement about that. I can’t wait for you guys to see “All Star Batman” #7 and #8. They are two more of my favorites. I completely stand by them as two of the best things that I’ve done. But it’s also a different sort of challenge because you’re getting to know an artist from the start. And that’s exciting. It’s like a first date. That’s what keeps me young as a creator. And then there is also a tremendous sense of freedom to work on something like this with Jock and Francesco, because I know them so well. I can push boundaries in my own writing in ways that only happen when you have a foundation of trust that has been there for a long time. And with Capullo, we just talk in shorthand now. “If you do this, I can try this.”
And you did try “this” in “All Star Batman” #6, because this issue is done in prose with no word balloons or classic comic book narrative. I love the prose approach. Is that something you want to do more of? Because it’s also a part of “A.D.”
I don’t know. [Laughs]
What I am trying to do with “All Star Batman” is make every story unique to the villain and the artist. The reason that this style felt exciting for this issue is because it gives it this almost other-worldly, distant, remote, kind of glassy, analytical feel. It feels “under glass” in some ways for me, to hear the story narrated in third person prose as opposed to the immediacy that comes with dialogue and captions that’s often done in the conventional way — that felt right when you’re telling a story about somebody who is trying to restart the world and is living up in the permafrost. Especially when it’s this kind of final battle between these two characters that is centered around these two forms of death: the hot death of passion, and the cold death of hopelessness and cold paralysis. It just felt right for Mr. Freeze.
The next issue takes place in Death Valley, where there is no plant life whatsoever, and in that way it’s hot and stifling and empty, so there is no narration whatsoever. It’s all just dialogue. And the final issue of this arc with Mad Hatter, I’m totally spoiling everything but that’s okay, which takes place down in the Delta, Batman is trying to prevent himself from believing what the Mad Hatter is telling him so the narration becomes a maze and something that attacks him. He actually climbs through it at one point. It’s a completely different approach to the writing for me, which is thrilling. That’s what I meant by saying I get to bend my own style of writing and challenge myself in each issue of this series. It’s harder to do when you are telling a story with one consistent artist like “Batman” with Greg as much of joy that series was.
The Robert Frost poem at the start of the issue is haunting and really works for Mr. Freeze and his seemingly endless attempts at cheating death and saving his wife, Nora.
I remember reading that poem in school. The way “All Star Batman” works is that I have ideas about all of these villains, like Hatter. I wasn’t going to spoil it right now, but why not. [Laughs] With Hatter, I wanted to know what kind of madness is really interesting for right now. Is it mind control? I think I’ve seen it. What’s interesting to me is the way in which people clamor for subjectivity – remaking the world as they want to see it. I hinted at it in the first arc when Harvey, as a young boy, says, “One day there is going to be lenses where you skin the world however you want.” The super-structure of the world will be there, but if you want there to be dragons in the sky, you can. And that’s kind of the madness that Hatter offers in a way that I think is pretty scary.
The point that I am trying to make is that I am trying to reconfigure each villain in a way that’s scary to me personally and represent anxieties that I think are present in the zeitgeist now. The real joy with “All Star” is being able to do that stuff and move issue to issue, while still making one big story, while also making every chapter feel unique. I have a notebook with ideas for each villain, and I’ll approach an artist and say, “Who do you want to work on? What’s your feeling?” The only stipulation is that it has to happen outside of Gotham, and I try to construct the story in a way to showcase the art. In that way, it’s a real different sort of thrill.
We talked about Two-Face when “All Star Batman” launched, and discussed the impact Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal in “Batman Forever” had on the character. I have to be honest — it’s hard for me to think about Mr. Freeze without thinking of Arnold. I am wrong?
By force of will, I have definitely expunged those images [from my mind]. [Laughs] But seriously, the only way to write these iconic characters is to imagine them as your own. Mr. Freeze has these blue veins, he’s seven-feet-tall, he’s extremely creepy, he’s pale. He’s like someone who walked out of the frozen past. He’s very scary, with red eyes behind the goggles. I see him that way, the same way that I see Harvey, with his face almost molten on one side, black, with blood coming out of the cracks. Making up your own version in your head is the only way to feel ownership of these characters because they belong to everybody and it would be really intimidating otherwise.
This interpretation of Mr. Freeze is certainly not Arnold – he is freaking scary. And his latest attempt at saving his wife – and humanity – includes awakening those who have chosen to be cryogenically frozen. He calls them Dreamers, but this is more like a nightmare scenario.
Exactly, but there is a fantasy there, too. That’s part of what’s interesting about the character. Two-Face says, “Look at me! I can turn back and forth from evil.” There is something liberating about not having to follow the restrictions of social norms and become the person that is all id. But for Mr. Freeze, for all of the nightmarish sadness that forever surrounds him, he needs diamonds to stay alive. He also doesn’t have to fear death. He’s trying to bring someone back from death and exists in a subliminal state somewhere between life and death. The idea of cryogenic preservation is that you can go into ice and be reborn, eventually. You can come out of the ice one day. There is something wondrous about that. That’s partly what I was trying to get at here – the notion that his plan is not just diabolical evil. There is a kernel of something wondrous in it as scary as it is.
If I am reading this right, when Batman sets off on this adventure, it appears that he is actually traveling to Alaska to save Mr. Freeze, not just stop him. Is Mr. Freeze different than other Batman rogues in that Batman feels that he can actually reason with him because there is some humanity left in that cryogenic suit?
Completely. I think all of Batman’s villains exist on this interesting scale. The Joker is black. He is the one character that Batman doesn’t believe that there is any redemption for. He is not supernatural, but the embodiment of evil. There is no glimmer of hope in that black hole of a person. And then there’s Ra’s, who is maybe an inch up from that, and then all way up through the Penguin up to characters like Poison Ivy and Catwoman, who exists in this real grey area. I think Freeze exists below that, in a darker place, but is something that is quite redeemable. Batman understands his motivation. I just think that Fries is ultimately selfish. He cares the way that the dad in “Pet Sematary” cares. He’s obsessed with the possibility of brining back somebody that he lost. And in doing so, he will hurt anyone that gets in his way to make that happen. And he becomes sort of an abomination of love. And Bruce is someone who will sacrifice anything for the greater good. And I think he sympathizes with what Fries is going through and but ultimately see it as a perversion of it all.
When I spoke with you and Jeff [Lemire] about “A.D.,” I asked you about taking a magic pill that guaranteed life extension and staved of death. And you said, no way, mostly because of your loved ones. I assume you are not lining up behind Walt Disney and Ted Williams for cryogenic preservation either.
[Laughs] I worked at Disney World, and there were always rumors of Disney’s frozen head being somewhere in the park. I think that notion has always loomed large for me – coming back from the ice and how freezing preserves. Meanwhile, you have the idea of the cradle of life with a caveman coming back to life. I think ultimately, the thing that is fascinating to me about all of these theories about life extension or being cloned or being uploaded, there is this weird thing with being out of context with your own life – being alone, being away from the people that you enjoy yourself with and care about it. There is something much worse about that than just being gone. As terrifying as being gone is, the idea of waking up to a world that is entirely alien with no relationship, nothing, to me is a different form of purgatory. There is something there that is almost enticing because you get to go on in all of these forms but then there is something cold and worse about it. You have to be careful of what you wish for – the underbelly of all of it.
“All Star Batman” #6 is available now.
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