THE BAT SIGNAL: Snyder Brings Fear to Life in "Batman"

Last month saw a whole new creative team take over one of DC Comics' biggest monthly comic book series: "Batman." Part of the publisher's company-wide 52 title relaunch, "Swamp Thing" and "American Vampire" writer Scott Snyder teamed up with "Spawn" and "Haunt" artist Greg Capullo to bring fans an all-encompassing new first issue of "Batman" in the New 52. Throwing readers into to a Gotham where Bruce Wayne is at the top of his game as both millionaire playboy and Batman, Snyder and Capullo then introduced fans to a murderer who uses the owl as his symbol, a dead man with a warning for Bruce Wayne, and ended with a twist that left readers and Batman alike wondering if Dick Grayson is involved in the grisly killing.

After such an explosive beginning, where does Batman go from here?

According to Snyder, the vigilante goes on to face one of his biggest and most terrifying foes yet: the secret organization known only as the Court of Owls. Shining THE BAT SIGNAL into the cloudy skies of Gotham, Snyder joined us on the rooftop to talk about the Dark Knight's dark city, divulge more details about the Court of Owls and Dick Grayson's future in the Batman universe, and explains how he and Gotham are one and the same when it comes to putting their heroes through the ringer.

CBR News: This first issue has a ton of stuff going on: you open up in Arkham Asylum with all his main villains, we see the upper crust rich Bruce Wayne world and we get the huge mystery at the end. Was this first issue your way of trying to hit every single aspect of the Batman mythos to set the stage for new readers?

Scott Snyder: Yeah, one part of it was just to try and celebrate all of the things about Batman, to introduce new readers to all the things I personally love about him from his rogues gallery to the mansion to Alfred to the Bat Cave to the cool cars and tech! It is meant to be a celebration of all things Batman, but it's also hopefully organic to the story. It begins in this place where Bruce is feeling really confident about being back from some of the events of "Batman Incorporated," which you don't have to have read to hop on, but feeling that he's back in Gotham and tougher than ever and has the city locked down as the city of the Bat, the city of Batman. He's just feeling great about his place in the city as its protector. We wanted that to be the starting point emotionally for him because it is going to be a big story about breaking him down in terms of undermining the sense he has that he knows Gotham better than anybody and that Gotham is his oldest friend. We wanted to undermine that and have the city suddenly seem, or little by little at least, seem like a stranger and an enemy.

That sort of goes along with that speech Harvey Bullock gives about Bruce Wayne not understanding Gotham.

Yeah, that's what that was supposed to do, it really is meant to be this story about how Bruce considers the city his ally and has almost become comfortable there. But with Gotham, the minute you become comfortable is when it turns on you and bares its teeth. That is Harvey kind of articulating one of the main themes of the entire run.

In your run on "Detective Comics" you had the Black Mirror idea, with Dick taking on newer, vicious villains and reflecting back his fears. Is that something you are also playing with here, or because you're bringing in a secret society that predates Batman and things from Gotham's past, is this less of a Black Mirror and more symbols clashing in Gotham?

I guess it's a bit of both in that, to me, what Gotham does is it really challenges its heroes by going for the jugular and bringing their worst fears to life. For Dick that meant changing itself so that it could show him it wasn't Bruce's Gotham anymore, it was going to be a Gotham populated with villains and enemies that spoke to his particular weaknesses: his sense of compassion and his empathy and all the things that are part of his skill set and his strengths as a character.

So for Bruce I wanted to do something similar. I think that's what Gotham always does for its heroes; it challenges them by bringing their greatest fears to life. For Bruce, I think one of the fears I'm really interested in is this sense of competence he has. What Gotham does is try to convince you that the things you consider your great strengths as a hero are your weaknesses, your weak spots. For Bruce that really is his confidence and his sense of knowledge and wisdom about the city, his confidence as its protector. So it is doing something similar to him, in an abstract way, that it did to Dick in that it's trying to show him that this thing he considers a great asset, his sense of capability and his familiarity with the city, is actually just an illusion. The city is something that is 400 years old. Even if he's been Batman for a number of years and he knows the city better than anybody, his whole time as its protector or guardian in his mind is one tiny slice of this long chronology and long history this city has. So what if there is a symbol and what if there is an organization that's been there and laid claim to the city long before the Bat and is sort of a warring symbol that's built into the architecture: the Owl and the Court of Owls.

That's kind of how I like to go about writing a story, figure out what I like most about a character -- like if it's "Swamp Thing," what is most interesting to me about that character of the creature and Alec Holland, and the same thing in "American Vampire" with Pearl and Henry or Skinner -- and then try to write a story that challenges that aspect of them that I find really exciting or a strength in a way that goes after them and tries to convince them that the thing they think of as a benefit is a weakness. Gotham does in general what I like to do in crafting a story, so I feel it's a fun place for me to be writing because it almost generates the kind of story that I really love writing from the get go.

So, short answer is both! That was the long answer. [Laughs]

Turning to the way Gotham looks, the art and the story really flow well together, which I know from having spoken with Greg Capullo was something you guys had to work back and forth to figure out what was best for incorporating your two very different styles.

Yeah, definitely. Greg was being really upfront and honest and it's really true, when we started working together I think we both circled each other and were trying to figure each other out! I was thinking to myself, I'm a really big fan of his work and I love the idea of him being on the book, because again for me it really begins in a place where Bruce is feeling very confident. Greg's style is so dynamic and larger than life and so bold and so muscular all the time I thought it would be a great fit for that feel at the beginning.

At the same time Greg has done great work on some spookier stories too when it comes to "Haunt" and "Creech" and "Spawn" so I knew he was up for the darker stuff once Bruce's nightmares start to come to life in Gotham. I knew he was a good fit, but I am, if you can tell from this interview, very wordy! [Laughs] And he's used to a less words on the page type of script, so it took us a little while to find a good common ground before we started issue #1. But what happened is he said let's get on the phone and talk to each other and I told him the whole idea for this big eleven-issue story and he really liked it, and then he sent some sketches of the villain and the organization and I loved them to death. So once we got there we knew we had common ground. I really liked what he was doing artistically and he liked the story. From there forward it was pretty easy sailing.

You and Greg certainly aren't shying away from the gruesome, starting with showing the guy who got turned into a throwing knife pincushion in #1. Should I make sure to avoid eating before reading #2?

[Laughs] Yeah, there's definitely some gruesome stuff. I mean, Gotham is a brutal place. We never want it to be sensational, just showing anything gory or over the top for the sake of shock value or anything like that. But we wanted it to be something where the scares of the things, the warning signs to Bruce that something big is happening, are formidable. So for the knives and first murder victim we wanted to show you were up against a killer who was very proficient, a real super skilled assassin, as if he's been trained by people with formidable resources. In that way, I guess when it calls for it we're never afraid to be pretty gruesome! But for the most part, hopefully the scares are more psychological. We really want it to be a story where Bruce is challenged emotionally and psychologically in a really frightening way where things that he holds most dear -- the sense of home, the sense of friendship and familiarity with Gotham -- those things are challenged and that's what's frightening and destabilizing to him, even more than the scary things that come at him and the violence.

As he's investigating the first murder victim, Batman seems to have a very familiar working relationship with the GCPD and knows the city. You've described "Detective Comics" as "CSI" Batman; are you sort of going from "CSI" Batman with Dick to a "Law And Order" Batman with Bruce? Less high-tech lab investigation and more pounding the pavement?

Yes, definitely. "Detective" for me was more about that than detective work and sort of the darker corners of Gotham and the mysteries that really shock Batman, whether it's Dick or Bruce. "Batman" to me, because it's the marquee title, is a little bit more the things that cut to the heart of the entire mythology. So the villains they face in "Batman" are the ones that sort of speak to the things at the very center of Bruce's fears or Batman's fears. We want it to be something that is a little bigger, a little bolder, more ambitious and epic in scope and with more brought to bear against Batman and the Bat family then happened in my "Detective."

Going along with that, is this fear part of the reason we see all the Robins at the beginning of the issue -- dealing with Bruce's fear that his new family will be one of the possible casualties of this new villain?

Yeah, definitely! That is a big part. I mean the idea for me is that Batman's relationship to the Bat family is something that is in flux all the time. He loves the people around him and cares for them, but they're also weak points for a guy who is completely obsessed and pathological about being invulnerable to the criminals and enemies he faces. I think it's always a conundrum he faces that on the one hand he reaches out and trains Robins and takes in these people he doesn't need to take in because he needs a human connection, even if he won't admit it to himself and says he's doing it to create an ally to fight in the war. He's really doing it out of some kind of subconscious loneliness and a need of connection and to be a father and all those things that are human needs that I think make him a super rich and interesting and a complex character. But they are also figures that make him vulnerable to his enemies.

In terms of whether or not they are going to be in play, they definitely are, and not just physically are they going to be attacked by this organization. In a lot of ways the organization itself is something that was built into the history and the architecture itself, that has sort of lain claim to the city for a long time and is a warring and predatory symbol for the Bat. You saw in this first issue the big knives that were stuck in the guy and kind of had the owl symbol on them, but it's also something that's been on the periphery of Batman for a while and the mythology and we're bringing it into the center and trying to create something for the old fans. If they recognize that symbol of the owl and all the baggage that carries that's fun, but for new fans it's a new enemy and something fun because it is a new creation, it's not something that's been there before in terms of that story. But with the Bat family, one of the ways this organization is going to really come after Bruce is certainly to physically threaten Bruce and try, and maybe succeed, in killing the whole Bat family -- we'll have to wait and see -- but the other way is just by revealing secrets to him about the ways that they and Gotham have shaped those relationships and shaped the destinies of characters he thinks are his friends, and might reveal to him ways in which they might now or in the future or the past be at odds with him and actually end up being enemies.

That's why in that first issue we wanted to tease the idea -- obviously everyone knows Dick Grayson is not, at least openly or knowledgeably or consciously, a killer, an assassin who would go around killing people -- but that idea is something that's going to resonate throughout the whole story. It's not a throwaway the idea that Dick Grayson is a suspect. That he has secrets around him and the Grayson family has secrets around them that might put them at odds with Batman. That's something that will really crossover into "Nightwing" later on and be a part of the story and something we're really interested in as a big storyline.

What can you tell us about the Court of Owls?

I'll tell you this, what I want to do is I want it to be an enemy for Bruce where I wanted to create something that really scares him in a big way. For me that takes a slow build; it's not just somebody who pops up and is frightening, because Bruce has faced the scariest guys face to face and taken them down time and time again. This is something that is a bit more of a creeping horror and something that's been there in the background. We've actually tried to tease the symbol of the Court of Owls at different times in "Detective" and in "Batman" #1 and in different places as well. So it's an idea that's been in the atmosphere for me and Greg and some of the others guys I was talking to about it when we were doing "Detective" for a while. Not just one person or an organization made of characters that are visible the way something like the Black Glove was, but it's much more insidious in that the way owls nest wherever they want; this sense of their presence being in places that Bruce never would have expected, really close to home and in places he considers safe. And that their instruments of power and the way that they've manipulated things historically in Gotham are going to be sort of shockingly brutal and frightening to Bruce. He is really up against a very scary enemy in its meaning and its nature with the Court of Owls, and then in its actual physical manifestation and the things they send to kill him.

I just want to say one other thing about this idea of owls, that in some ways if Gotham is at a crossroads with this symbol, this organization that's decided to come out of the woodwork to finally turn this big eye towards Bruce and say, "You know what? We're sick of Batman, let's crush him and his whole world," there is this sense of the Bat being the only Bat but there's a lot of sense of bird imagery that we've tried to use in "Detective" and in "Batman." So, is Gotham really a city of the Bird or a city of the Bat? In that way a lot of the characters who have been Robins and such and a lot of the characters in Bruce's Bat family will be pitted against him. To me, at the end of the day, one of the great storylines in Batman is the sense of Dick Grayson eventually having to bring Bruce in; I think you see parts of that in "Batman Beyond" and "Dark Knight Returns." He's the son who is meant to take down the father if he's ever gone too far, and that's a story we're really playing with too and a theme and a note we're trying to hit and play up because I think it's one of the saddest, most fascinating and heroic kind of storylines in Batman.

Since you've planted the idea of the Court of Owls so early in "Detective," has this always been an aspect of Gotham you've wanted to bring out?

Very much. It's a story I've been thinking about for a really long time. It's the story where if I only ever get one chance to tell a Bruce Wayne story this would really be it! I'm hoping I get to tell more than one, but if I didn't I'd be happy leaving this one as the one I get to tell. For me it really goes after the thing that I think is one of Bruce's Achilles heels, which is his competency. Which he deserves because Bruce is somebody that eschews all his other stuff, he doesn't have a social life. To me Superman is Clark Kent, he's not Superman, he's Clark Kent in a costume and that's the core of Superman, and the reason his relationship to Batman is so interesting is that Batman is Batman and Bruce Wayne is more of a façade than Batman is. They are sort of inverted that way. He doesn't have a social life, he's not married the way Clark was to Lois, he doesn't have the same social circle. He has a family and he cares for them as best he can, but Bruce at the end of the day, whenever you see a future version of him whether it's "Dark Knight Returns" or "Batman Beyond" or anything, he's always alone. He takes people in but it's him, alone, having pushed away all the people that he cared about. In that I think he's a very obsessive person. What he has is Batman. He's the best and that's it. He doesn't have a wife, he has Damian but he doesn't have a nuclear family he takes care of and all the normal things most people have. This is his life.

So what if you undermine that by saying all the time you spent, all the resources you put behind Batman, all of the effort you put into the creation of this hero who you think is larger than life and bigger than the city, what if the whole world of Batman is just a small speck in the scope of the history of Gotham and that Gotham itself has an enemy that is much bigger than you and has been here longer? To me that's something that shakes my idea of Bruce to the core, because his whole foundation is that sense of competence -- that he can go out at night in Gotham and feel like he is the best superhero in the DCU because he sacrificed all these other things to do it. Whereas with Superman I don't think it would be as frightening because he has other things he takes pride in, in ways I don't think Bruce quite knows how to do. As much as he loves and cares for the Bat family, Batman is his core.

Obviously the big question in this first issue is this question of what Gotham is. How would you personally answer the "Gotham is..." question?

[Laughs] If I had to answer it in only three words? My god! Gotham is a dream job would be the answer for me. Like I was saying, Gotham is a place that challenges heroes in a way that goes right to the heart of who they are. To me that is endlessly fascinating. I could write a hundred different heroes in Gotham and be happy. I would love to write Batwoman and Batgirl and Nightwing, because Gotham is a place that creates enemies for its heroes just the way I like to try and do with my own stories. So I'm very, very grateful to be here. As long as someone will rent me a place in Gotham I will always stay here. So I'm an old man, just like Bruce in my mind of Bruce in the future. [Laughs]

What else would you like to tell CBR readers about your "Batman" run?

Thank you to everybody reading this! I'm so overjoyed to be able to tell the story and that people are reading it, and thank you to everybody out there picking this up! And thank you to my team, because I have to say how much they are killing it--I can't wait for you to see the next pages in issue two by Greg, and Jonathan Glapion the inker and FCO [Plascencia] the colorist. They are just knocking it out of the park and every issue gets better. I'm very proud to be working with them.

"Batman" #2 hits stores October 19.

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