Snyder: "Batman: Zero Year" Is Not "Year One" Redux

From its launch, DC Comics New 52 line of titles has been about moving forward. Even with franchises like Green Lantern and Batman, which received very few tweaks to the characters established histories, the method was to dive headfirst into the future. But now for the Batman, the clock will finally flash back in a major way.

Earlier this week, the publisher announced "Batman: Zero Year" - a new eleven-part story arc for the Dark Knight's eponymous ongoing. Crafted by the best-selling ongoing team of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, "Zero Year" is already aligning itself with Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's "Batman: Year One." Not only does the teaser art for the new story reflect DC's current "Year One" trade dress, the mere idea of retelling Batman's earliest days in an official capacity hasn't been broached since Miller and Mazzucchelli told their tale over 25 years ago.

But in his first interview with CBR on the project, Snyder was adamant that he's not trying to replace or replicate "Year One's" greatness. A self-described "Year One" superfan, the writer instead made the case that he and Capullo's story will take a different track and a necessary one considering the streamlined "only been around for five years" continuity of the New 52. Below, Snyder explains why this story had to be told now, how his latest long-form serial will stand significantly different from the event-driving arcs "Batman" has become known for and why he won't be giving much more away before the story kicks off in June's "Batman" #21.

CBR News: Scott, at ECCC you had talked a little bit about your plans for the story we now know is called "Zero Year," and I got the impression that part of your desire here was to step away from the big event, "every title gets involved" model of "Night of the Owls" and "Death of the Family." Was that part of the inspiration?

Scott Snyder: Yeah. Very much. After the last two stories, which were so much fun to work on, we wanted to built stuff that would stand singularly in "Batman" and be able to be collected without reading the other books. There's also this whole community of Bat writers and Bat characters that's fun because we really are all friendly. With the Joker story, the coordination was inspiring on the one hand because I got to work with Gail [Simone], Scott Lobdell, Kyle [Higgins] and John Layman and the rest, but there was a part of me that missed doing a story in "Batman" that was self-contained - something that was just Greg and I.

So I had this idea for "Zero Year" in my head for quite a while. It's been over a year. It's something I knew I wanted to do, but I didn't know when we could do it because it's pretty big. Coming off of Joker and knowing what Grant was going to do - knowing how the fallout of the Joker's attack and Damian's death would play out across the Bat universe in big ways - it felt more appropriate to do this story now. For one, I'm dying to do it. But also I felt the fallout from Damian's death in particular was something that Pete Tomasi deserves to get to do in his book in a big way since he's done such masterful work in "Batman & Robin" with the Bruce/Damian relationship. For me to suddenly be doing Batman grieving over Damian almost felt like it wouldn't be giving Pete the room to do what he wanted.

And so I felt like it would be great to do something more singular. While what's happening [in the current continuity] will have major effects on "Batman" down the line, it'll be really well handled in some of the books continuing in the present. And it made a chance for Greg and I to do something that'd be special on our own for now.

What specific part of Batman's life did you feel hadn't been uncovered, or how does going into the past do something vital for now?

Really, this is the foundation for the Batman we've been showing you in "Batman" and in the New 52. One thing I feel I should stress here is that "Year One" is one of my two favorite pieces of graphic literature in the world...the other being "Dark Knight Returns." [Laughs] So I've always considered "Year One" to be Batman's origin, and we tried to keep as much of that as we could in the New 52. But as the stories started rolling forward, I started getting more and more questions about how James [Gordon] Jr. could be an adult now when Batman was only in operation for six years. Or how do we reconcile the fact that Barbara Gordon is now the biological daughter of Jim Gordon with "Year One"? Or do we reconcile the notion that Selina Kyle's background isn't what it was in "Year One" anymore? How can that story stay the origin? There's a different history with the Falcone family and everything. It all becomes a little problematic.

What happened was that I started to play with this story I had in my head. I had an earlier story kicking around for awhile explaining things - not retreading the things done so well in "Year One" but exploring different moments in Bruce's life before he was Batman that cover his transformative years. The thing about "Year One" is that it's so brilliant as a Jim Gordon story and as a Bruce story, but so much is left uncovered with Bruce in terms of everything he did. How did he build the cave? What are the adventures that he had that we didn't see? All that stuff really intrigues me about the transformation from Bruce Wayne into Batman. And one thing we will be exploring which we touched on in our #0 issue - a kind of preview of what we're doing here - is the idea that Bruce Wayne needs to learn how to be Bruce too.

We thought there was a lot of territory uncovered there, but we also realized that "Year One" didn't really track with the continuity we had now. So we figured if there was a time to tell this transformative story that would be respectful of what happened in "Year One," it'd be now. But we really wanted to give you something brand new that you haven't seen before. I promise you. If there's one thing I really want to underscore in this interview a hundred times it's that you haven't seen these years done this way. There's nothing in this that you've seen before. It really is a new story in a big way while respecting and preserving the core elements of Batman's story.

"Year One" looms very large still for people who work on Batman. And there have been a number of books that have taken a very direct approach to revisiting that time period by playing the same kinds of noir themes. The Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale stuff comes to mind there. Are you trying to break away from that tone even? Like, will this be more of a high adventure story or some other take on the genre outside Miller's crime flavor?

Yeah. Honestly, we really want this to be very, very different. I'm not going back there to show you the pearls and the lamp in the alley. Bottom line is that I can't do "Year One" better than "Year One." I can't touch the hem of a story like that. To me, "Year One" is a masterpiece. There's no outdoing "Year One." There's nothing comparable in my mind.

But "Year One" doesn't fit with New 52 continuity, and it's time for a story that makes sense for how Batman became who he is in this continuity. We tried to pull from and be respectful of the best Batman stories in the past and do something totally new with that. You have to be risky. You have to swing for the fences on this stuff. Or what's the point? That's how I tried to proceed, and I totally understand people's nervousness and excitement and fear and anger. All those emotions. I totally get it. But you need to know that Greg and I love this character more than anything in the world, and the reason we're doing this story is to try and give you something really special that positions him in a way and makes sense of who he is in our Batman run and in the world of the New 52.

I'm the one that brought James, Jr. back in "Detective." So nobody loves "Year One" more than I do, believe me. That's why I used it as a foundation. But that stuff doesn't stick anymore given what the New 52 is. So what are you going to do? Are you going to play collage and pick pieces to go, "Well, this makes sense but that doesn't"? Or are you going to say, "Let's do our best to do something new, fun and special. It might not be 'Year One,' and it might not hold a candle to a book like that. But it's going to be our best fucking effort to make something special as a love letter to Batman and who he is in our run."

Another big question that's been coming up since you talked about this story at ECCC is one of length. At eleven issues, "Zero Year" is your fourth major arc since coming to the Bat franchise. What is it about your writing process that leads to these big, multi-part storylines?

Well, I'm very wordy. [Laughter] No. What I really try to do is plot everything out. When I say eleven issues, it sounds enormous. And I'm like, "God, is he really that self-indulgeant that he's doing eleven issues? That's insane!" But the fact of the matter is that I plotted the story out really carefully with my friends and with Editorial, and I don't want to give away why it requires that much space, but I think when you open the book and see what it is, you'll get a sense of the scope of it. You'll understand why it is as long as it is. And yeah, "Court of Owls" was eleven issues, and "Black Mirror" was eleven, so I gravitate towards those kinds of stories in general. Those were plotted that long from the beginning, but they just didn't announce that they were going to be that long.

The bottom line is that I know we're asking a lot of the fans. We're asking them to believe we can redo the story of Batman's early years and do it in a big, eleven-issue run. I know you'll have a lot of questions. But I really want this story to speak for itself. I could give a lot more away about what happens in it and how it's structured and who's in it, but this time, I'm not going to do that. I just want you to open the book and let it stand on its own. I'm really excited for it and proud of it. And I'm eager to hear what everyone thinks.

So for those folks who want to prepare, I suppose the "Batman" #0 issue you and Greg did is the place to start? Does that book in some ways set the pace for where this story will go?

I always thought of that issue as a preview - a very small window into the macro story that we'd been thinking about. If anything, you can tell reading that that we have a lot of plans for this. This story was developed back when I was writing that issue. It was being developed in my mind as far back as eight months ago. I'd consider that a trailer almost for this, but it's only a small part of it. There are so many crazier things in this that I don't want to give away, but that's definitely a window into a part of this story. That world you saw is the world of this story in some ways. So it's a good primer, but there's a ton of major stuff for this story that's not in that issue which will really make this what it is. That issue is more a preview of the quietest moment in this story.

"Zero Year" kicks off in June's "Batman" #21.

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