THE BAT SIGNAL: Snyder Sets The Stage For Joker's "Death of the Family"

This week, the Joker returns to threaten Batman, his family and his villains in "Batman" #13, thanks to DC Comics, writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo.

Gotham's psychotic clown latest to break the Bat will play out like "Night Of The Owls," as the Joker's schemes will crossover with a number of other Bat family books, including "Nightwing," "Red Hood And The Outlaws" and "Batgirl." And in addition to Snyder and Capullo's chapters, the main series also features a villain-centric backup tale by "Talon" writer James Tynion IV and artist Andy Clarke.

For the latest installment of our regular exploration of the Dark Knight's world, THE BAT SIGNAL, Snyder spoke with CBR about the return of the Clown Prince of Crime, the lessons the writer learned from the past year of "Batman" and what what's in store for Bruce Wayne after "Death Of The Family."

CBR News: Your major Joker story arc, "Death of the Family," finally kicks off this week. After all the hype that's built up around it, how are you feeling?

Scott Snyder: This is the part I'm most excited for! I'll be honest -- I like going out and hyping the books and doing as much as I can to push them on Twitter and all of that, but the only reason I'm OK making a clown of myself doing that all the time is because I really, really deeply believe in these books. This is the best part for me. I've been dying for this issue to come out. I promise you, this really is one of our best issues, in my opinion, since we began this run on "Batman." And I'll say the same, I'm sure, on #14 and #15. [Laughs] But I mean it! I swear on my love of Elvis, I really believe this to be true -- and I never lie on that, ever! It really is an issue I couldn't be prouder of. Not just my contribution -- I mean, I feel it's one of my best, and all of these issues I spent more time than I usually do on them -- but the contributions that Greg [Capullo] made, his art has never looked better. It's so scary. FCO [Plascencia] the colorist and Jonathan [Glapion] the inker, we've really become a band of brothers on this thing.

Since you brought up the art team, let's talk about Greg's covers for the issues, which all show Joker behind the scenes or literally getting inside Batman's head. Did you approach him with these specific images in mind, or does he whip them up from the themes and surprise you?

Well, the way we work is that when we start the whole story, I give Greg a big outline and I'm pretty open with him about what it means to me, what it's about, how it's going to end -- all of that is stuff we talk about at length before we start. He doesn't get the story issue by issue. He does in terms of the script, but he doesn't in terms of how he knows it's going to go. I'm definitely one of those guys who needs to know where I'm beginning and ending and the major stops along the way and I really like exploring the little roads and finding little surprises in the middle.

So the way the covers have worked is, because Greg knows where we're going, he usually already has ideas of what he can do, issue to issue. He'll tell them to me and we'll go back and forth a little bit, but he always has so many great ideas, we've actually had covers that he's done because he came up with a great idea that we've just had to save this for some other time, for the trade, because it's so awesome. We just have too many of them, it's not that it wouldn't work. He's just been a beast. As a writer, there's nothing better than having a guy like him on a book, where I go to him not just for the art, but we talk story all the time. Yesterday, I was on the phone with him for half an hour discussing just an idea with him in issue #16 about whether or not we could do something that could be a cool almost flipbook motif at one point to be really scary with this Joker omnipresence thing. I don't think we're going to end up doing it! [Laughs] But that kind of stuff, where you wind up talking with each other because you really respect the ideas the other guy brings to the table. His work makes me want to write better, and he said the same the other way. I'm really honored and thrilled to work with him in every capacity.

You're also working with James Tynion IV, who is writing the backup features for "Batman." How do the backups relate to the main action? Will it be similar to how the Jarvis Pennyworth backup worked during the "Court Of Owls" story?

Yeah -- one hundred percent. One of the things I love is the relationship between backups and features.The idea really was that we would create something that show these kinds of secret moments behind the scenes in the backups. So the backups really focus on Joker taking some of the major rogues to task for what he sees as a failure to challenge Batman appropriately! [Laughs] That way, it'll tie into the main story and you'll learn little secrets of what's coming in the next issue and why certain things happened in the issue you just read. But they'll all also be relatively stand-alone moments between Joker and some of your favorite villains. He isn't just jokingly or lightly calling them out -- they really are moments between them where we try to explore what makes these villains who they are, and the Joker challenging them the way he challenges the heroes, on a deeply psychological level. He sort of says, in harrowing ways, "Are you strong enough to face me and to listen to what I'm about to tell you about yourself?"

It's interesting hearing you talk about Joker, as from the "Court Of The Owls," and even in "Detective Comics," you always described Gotham as a character. But to hear you talk now, it's as though you're describing Joker as a force.

Well, that's what he wants Batman to think. They both are, in some ways. That's one of the major themes of the story. I was actually just polishing narration in one of the issues where Batman is saying over and over to himself to remind himself, "He's a man." He reminds himself [Joker] has blood cells and bone and tissue and muscles that can rip, that he isn't the thing he seems to be, someone who knows these things about you and someone who's able to bring your greatest fears to life. He wasn't conjured up by nightmares, he's real, and that's part of the challenge.

I think Joker, what he wants Batman to believe and what he believes deeply, is that they stand above and beyond and represent more than that. They transcend some kind of human frailty or their bodies and their human identities. That's one of the main themes of the story. He's very angry at Batman for essentially becoming more human, the way he has over the past year. That's another part of the story that is really a big component: Joker believes Batman has gotten fat and weak and slow because of these allies he's accumulated and this human contingent to the Bat family that he cares about. That really upsets Joker. Part of the driving force of the story is that notion of the Joker kind of wanting Batman to see that things are better when you accept or believe that you aren't human, you are this force of nature -- and he might just be when he's coming at them with the things he has planned! It's a really intense and intimate and twisted battle between the two of them. I'm trying to go deep into Bruce and what scares him about the Joker and what scares him about himself that the Joker is teasing out of him.

Now, this is looking ahead a little bit, but the Joker story ends around issue #17. Both this and the "Court" arcs have been really huge, game-changing stories for Batman involving the rest of the Bat books. When you look to the future, are you worried about following up such two huge events?

[Laughs] Well, I think if I stopped and thought about it that way, it would freak me out entirely. But the way I try to think of it is to figure out what excites me about the character, even where he is emotionally at this particular moment. For me, "Court Of Owls" was about, in a lot of ways, [Batman's] relationship with the city, like you said. When I was writing -- one of the things that interested me growing up in New York City [is], I've always been fascinated and haunted by the notion of the history of the place, that there's all these facts you can know about the past, but the lives that were lived there you can't know. That sort of questioning sense of what's knowable and not knowable and the weight of that history is what makes me endlessly interested in New York. To me, the responsibility -- if you were supposed to be the person who knew it best, and thought you knew it best, is something that is both really heroic and also terrifyingly impossible.

Coming over to this, it's really about figuring out what's exciting about the character beyond the general stuff I'm always excited by. What particular thing do I want to explore next? Here, it's not just saying, "I want to do a big story with the Joker." That's not how it works. I don't think that way, like, "Oh, how about the next thing I do is a big Riddler story?" Instead, what I try to do, and I hope this makes sense to readers, is think about what aspect of [Batman's] psychology I have wanted to explore for a while. The thing I was interested in was this accumulation of family that he cares about and has responsibility for. As the father of two young children, that feeling of suddenly being afraid of the world and scared of things that you weren't before, for their safety. When you were a reckless kid, you didn't think about how dangerous it was to hang onto the back of a bus on your skateboard, but you see a kid doing it now and you completely freak out and yell at him, "Get off that bus, kid!" [Laughs] That sense of suddenly becoming afraid of the world is something this story is deeply about.

That Batman is maybe a better person for having a family, maybe he's a stronger hero -- that's not the Joker's take. The Joker's take is the opposite. To him [Batman is] frightened and old and scared and I'm Peter Pan here to tell you come back with me. I'm at your window, pressing my face against the glass. That's really the way I approach it. I don't worry too much about what the next big thing is going to be because I have my face up against it in a different way, where it's about figuring out what story is interesting to me next rather than trying to create something big or bombastic or epic.

I do know what the next one is going to be, though, and it is pretty big! It is actually another big story! [Laughs]

You have a secret vault that's just full of huge Batman ideas you've been going to, don't you?

[Laughs] Yeah, I wish! My office isn't big enough for a thing like that.

Since this one is a big story, and the next one down the line is a big story, after doing "Night Of The Owls," what were the lessons you learned from that event, and how are you applying them here?

That's a really good question. The way that it works, again, with "Night Of The Owls" and here with Joker, is that I was writing the story, and because it's about what I was saying before, the Joker having this bone to pick with Batman, particularly over his family of allies, I knew that there were two options. One was to write the characters of the Bat family into my book and then sort of try to get the other writers to play along, or at least create stories that would allow me to have those character's full stories within Batman. The second option was to write independent stories for their own characters and accept that they write those characters a whole lot better than I ever could and know those characters better than I do and allow them have Joker face their characters in ways that are organic to their books and storylines they've been doing, so the nightmares Joker brings to life for those characters have parallels with what's been happening in those books for the past year or two.

My feeling was always the second, and then saying to them, if you don't want your character to tie in, that's one hundred percent fine. We don't need to do it. So a character like Batwoman, for example -- I love J.H. Williams and what he's doing there. We're friends, so I would talk to him and say, "Do you want to tie Batwoman in?" He really had other plans, so that's the general way it comes about.

We all write our stories independently; I don't look over them and say, "You have to do this or that." Everyone comes up with anything they think is appropriate. I just read, for example, Gail [Simone's] "Batgirl," two out of the three parts, and it's some of the best issues I've read out of her in a while, and I loved what she's been doing already. I'm so excited, and Kyle [Higgins'] "Nightwing" is so scary! The challenge to them was, essentially, Joker means your character's worst nightmares about themselves come to life. So whatever your character's most afraid of, if that means losing people in their supporting cast, being tortured or trapped or any horrifying thing that's at the core of their deep fears about themselves, Joker's coming to do those things. He's been watching for a year, he knows a lot about them at this point and he's going to bring their worst fears to life.

That was the extent of the marching orders. Everything else was up to the writers, if they wanted to play along, to come up with. It can be one issue or two issues or three issues, as long as it ties in a way that it's plausible Joker could be doing all this stuff, and if Joker tracks as a singular character, everything was blue skies. The stuff they come up with is inspiring to me and makes me want to write better and be better on "Batman." I send them an idea and tell them I'm just proud to stand beside them on a story like this. All of us are shoulder-to-shoulder writing these books, and all of us are proud of what's coming. I read a bunch of them so far, and I really think that this is something special. I loved working on "Night Of The Owls," and we were just learning on that one. The people [the Bat allies] were protecting were people around Gotham, so you didn't have emotional attachment to them, and the writers did a great job making those stories emotional.

These are extremely personal attacks. This isn't like a crossover where villains from Batman are going into those books attacking random targets. This is the Joker coming for your character, looking him in the eye and saying, "I've never faced him before." What's exciting to me too is, even though in "The Killing Joke" [Joker] attacks Barbara, he wasn't really after Barbara -- he was after Jim [Gordon]. Similarly with Red Hood, Joker wasn't after Jason, he was after Batman and he got to Batman by killing Jason. So this is the first time Joker's really looked at those characters directly. He's faced them before, but this is the first time for a lot of them he's come at them and said, "I'm going to burn your whole world down. You've never faced anything like me!"

"Batman" has been incredibly well-received, one of the consistently popular series of the New 52. When transitioning from "Night Of The Owls" to the Joker story and then moving forwards, how do you remain consistent on the book?

Again, that's a good question and if I stopped and thought about the pressure of it or the popularity of the character outside of comics, it gets very paralyzing! [Laughs] I have those moments where I'll see a kid wearing a Batman t-shirt and then I'll get freaked out because so many people love and care about this character. How am I ever going to steward a story with him when people have so much invested? The only way to do it is to imagine you made him up, that you've made this version up and you're writing almost fan fiction that no one is going to read. It's just the story you would love personally to pick up and read about Batman. [You] assume, because you love the character, the things that you keep from previous versions and the things you're going to make your own in terms of his personality will track with other people who love the character, too. Meaning, if you love him enough, people will love your version.

I don't know! It's really scary and intimidating, but at the same time, I couldn't be more grateful to everybody. Greg and I talk about it a lot, how lucky we feel to be writing this book, to have found each other on this book and the team, and also for the fans who've been so supportive of us over the past year. It really is overwhelming all the time and we can't thank people enough. We promise you up and down that we will give you a hundred and ten percent from here forward and never under our watch let out an issue we aren't incredibly proud of. We might be wrong! [Laughs] There might be something that isn't good that we think is great! But we'll always try to honor the support you guys have given us out there by trying to turn out the best work we can.

"Death Of The Family" kicks off in "Batman" #13, on sale October 10.

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