The Joker has often been portrayed across media as a character who, despite the turmoil he unleashes on the Batman, will never deliver the killing blow to destroy the Dark Knight Detective, as he sees Batman as a kindred spirit, a type of reflection of his own perceived immortality. However, what happens when the Joker no longer views the Caped Crusader as a worthy adversary? In Batman #40, the final part of the story arc “Endgame,” in comic shops today, artist Greg Capullo and writer Scott Snyder present a tale of desperation and escalating stakes for both the Joker and Batman. We had the chance to speak with Mr. Capullo and Mr. Snyder about the mindsets of Batman and the Joker in the story’s finale, as well as what is in store for the Batman moving forward.
FreakSugar: Batman #40 portrays an epic confrontation between Batman and the Joker that rivals Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. While I love that book, the stakes feel so much bigger and consequential on both the micro and macro levels. Batman personally has a stake in the outcome of course, but Gotham City’s survival is also on the line. At the beginning of the issue, we see that Batman is fighting alongside the villains he enlisted at the end of issue #39 to take down the Joker. Do you think that Batman has any regrets about this decision or does he see it as a pragmatic decision?
Scott Snyder: I think for [Greg and I], we wanted to create a scenario where Batman had to enlist everyone he could to take down the Joker. While Batman had his family by his side, the villains almost act as human shields for the heroes, which is a perfect setup. I feel like using the villains gave us an element of humor and surprise, but it also gave us a situation where everyone is coming together against one villain to fight for the safety and health and survival of Gotham City. Joker, to me, is the ultimate Bat-villain.
We see a little bit of this last issue when Batman goes to the Owls for help. He’s just at the end of his rope. He knows that that this might be the last confrontation with the Joker—it’s definitely the last for Greg and me. And he’s trying every last desperate thing he can to stop that threat.
FS: Greg, since I’ve read the first issue of your run, the look of the Joker has changed so many times. It kind of parallels what [former Batman writer] Grant Morrison has said about the character, that he’s constantly transforming himself. How do you keep that fresh while still keeping the Joker menacing?
Greg Capullo: His soul remains the same, right? So it doesn’t really matter what hat you put on, his essence remains the same. As long as you keep that essence in place, you can make him look like pretty much anything, make him come off as scary, maniacal, diabolical, whatever. When I’m thinking about him, I’m thinking about the character. You can give him a clean cut, you can cut his face off, you can give him a pointy noise, whatever you want, but as long as you keep his essence there, his menace and his soul are going to come through in the illustrations. Something about how you feel when you’re drawing will come through in the drawing. As long as you have the right intent, it will come across on the page.
FS: Scott, as Batman reflects on the origin of the Joker at the beginning of #40, he almost sees the Joker’s transformation from the Red Hood as an inevitability. Do you think that sees the existence of the Joker as an inevitability, that the Joker is immortal in a sense, even if it’s not in the way that he claims? Like a crack in the heart of things?
SS: I think what Batman is terrified of there is that the Joker is who he says he is, that he’s a force that’s bigger than any mortal and that it was always going to come to this confrontation. He was never really the Red Hood, he was never really mortal, he was always something bigger. And in a lot of ways, the story, at least for me, represents meaninglessness, that all of this has meant nothing and that it’s all a big joke. Everything you do doesn’t matter in the long run because you could get blown up by a bomb by a crazy person or get hit while crossing the street.
So, for the Joker, life is a laughable thing. He’s sees himself as something bigger, so he looks at all of us and just laughs. In the end, what Batman is proven right about is that the Joker is one of us. He isn’t crazy, he’s just evil. He genuinely believes that life is worthless. He loves making fun of us who are trying to do their best with what they have. He sees life as nothing, as just a void, and it’s laughable that you can do anything that matters beyond your life at all. For me, that first page is Batman deciding what the Joker may or may not represent.
FS: Greg, the issue gets pretty violent, maybe the bloodiest of your entire run. How do you push the violence and the bloodiness of the confrontation while keeping it in the realm of the believable and personal?
GC: Scott tells me where he wants to go with the story. And Scott’s saddled with a guy who grew up in an abusive environment and was in a rough neighborhood and got in some fights. So when you combine who I am as a person and he tells me what he wants, it’s very easy to channel that stuff for a very bloody, brutal confrontation. I’m better now, by the way, very peaceful. But I can use that to take the fight wherever Scott needs me to take it. It’s quite fun for me because it’s cathartic at times. When he says he wants the most violent fight ever between Batman and the Joker, I was like, “Yeah, let’s do it!” It was a good time for me.
FS: We get a sort of confirmation in this issue that the Joker does know who Batman is. He doesn’t seem to care about his secret identity, though, only the uber-myth he’s created. In the story, though, he seems almost disappointed when he clearly sees that, in his mind, the Batman myth has been tainted by Bruce’s humanity. Do you think this is part of the reason that the Joker is lashing out?
SS: Yeah, completely. For me, Death of the Family was about the Joker inviting Bruce to become immortal. He is telling Bruce that this human family he’s built around himself has made him week. Meanwhile, all of the villains out there are challenging Bruce to make him stronger and more than human and building his legend. So when Bruce chooses his family, that’s a big rebuke. Now the Joker is saying, “I see what you are. I thought you had the potential to transcend your own mortality and become something larger, to give up everything to become something simple and more. But you don’t have that, you never did.” So, the Joker calling him Bruce and letting him know who he is is meant to be reductive. It’s the Joker saying, “All you’ll ever be is a little boy crying for his parents. I had you so wrong. And now you’re not worthy of me.”
FS: Greg, you and Scott have been working together for four years. What is your overall process working together? Does Scott give you a full script? How many personal flourishes do you put on the character? Do you ever work together on bouncing ideas back and forth about the direction of a story?
GC: Scott still writes a full script, but he also gives me free range for pacing and storytelling. There are a lot of times I’ll add something that wasn’t in the script or modify something to work in a different way. Sometimes you have a concept for a drawing, but it doesn’t work out like you imagine, so it’s a lot like that. We’re both flexible enough to modify a story on the fly as long as it’s pushing the story in the right direction. Sometimes we bounce ideas off each other before we do them and sometimes it happens organically. It’s comfortable because Scott’s not some kind of egomaniac who says, “IT’S MY WAY!” [laughs] As long as you have the best interests of the book at heart, we’re both open to changing our minds and making the book the best it can be. We’re always flexible.
FS: Speaking of design, Greg, we’ve seen the design of the new mechanized Batsuit. What was the inspiration for the design? What was the process like working together to create the suit?
GC: Scott gave me some ideas. He said he wanted the tall ears and so I started doing the armor designs and I made it lankier. Scott had wanted asymmetrical ears and if I had made them asymmetrical, that might have avoided some of the rabbit jokes we’re getting. [laughs] The thing about using the pencil is that I can make the rules. I can make something taller, shorter, I can do anything. We’ve been calling the suit “Babbit”. [laughs] Scott was like, “You give the suit tall ears and you can take the fire with all of the rabbit jokes!” [laughs]
SS: One of the reasons Greg and I get along in the book is that we’re pretty opposite in certain ways. I think we’re similar in that we’re both intensely invested in wanting to make the book great and we’re our own worst critics more than anybody about wanting to make the best book. The thing about Greg is that he’ll go with his gut and has the best instincts of anybody I’ve ever worked with. Sometimes I’ll be overthinking something and then he’ll draw it. And I maybe didn’t see it that way when I wrote it, but when I see it, I think, “That’s right.” When you were talking earlier about how no matter what the Joker looks like, you know it’s him, that’s only true in the hands of an amazing artist. For me, with Greg, I know his pages are not only going to be technically amazing, but when I see it, I’ll know the personality of that Batman. So with the Joker, you can make him look any which way because Greg captures that perfect evil of him so well.
With the suit, I thought it was going to be a long process of creating it, but it only took a day and a half to create. When I saw it drawn on the page, I thought it was perfect. It’s so intimidating. I love it.
GC: Thanks, man. You know, we are a lot alike. We’re both passionate to the point of neurosis at times. Scott sometimes overthinks things. Working with [comic writer and artist] Todd McFarlane over the years, he’ll just say with anything, “We’ll make it work.” And also, you learn over the years that nothing really matters to such a degree to deride yourself over. Even with the armor and the quips over the bunny ears. That’s a blip in time, man. Let it go. You’re not going to hit it out of the park every time. You can’t predict what they’re going to love, what they’re going to hate. To get worked about it is ridiculous. At the end of the day, I’m like, “We have a job to do, we have a deadline to make, let’s go.”
FS: You two know better than anyone that you’re not going to make everyone happy and the best you can do is to create the best story you can.
GC: I say this to Scott all the time. Scott worries a lot. Being in the top slot is a lot more pressure than being in the bottom, right? At the end of the day, the only thing we have is to put everything we have into the book. If people love it, great. If not, sad for us, but we don’t have any control over that. We can only do our craft to the best of our ability. That’s it.
SS: For me, with that, too, it’s not so much if I worry if the readers will like it. I’m just very mean to myself. I’m more likely to tear the story apart, not somebody else. I see the flaws more than anybody. I think that’s true for writers and artists. It’s less that I’m worried that people won’t like it. If I like it and Greg likes it, that’s great. The next arc we’re doing after “Endgame,” I was rereading it yesterday. I love it. If readers liked what we’ve done so far, they’ll hopefully like this. It’s more that I’m not I’m afraid I’m not seeing something myself that’s wrong with the story. I think, “What’s wrong with it?” And I wonder if the people out there who aren’t liking it are right. And if I don’t seeing anything, I love it. But Greg is 100% right. It’s not very healthy for me. But with this latest arc, I think I’ve gotten better, right? [laughs]
GC: [laughs] You’re working on it. You’re much better than when I first married you. [laughs]
SS: Like with the truck thing. In the next arc, there’s an action scene with a truck. And I realize that an issue or two later involves a truck in a different way. I think a couple of years ago I would’ve freaked out. And the thing is, nobody would have noticed this but me. No one will even notice that there are two truck scenes. That’s the kind of stuff I used to worry about. Now I feel like it doesn’t matter because the joy of the story and Greg’s design makes it okay. I notice it still, but I let it go. It doesn’t matter in the scheme of the bigger thing, which is the fun we’re having on the story and the energy of it. So I’m learning. [laughs] I’m becoming less of a pain in the ass. [laugh]
GC: We’ve all gone to tons of action movies, right? They all rely on the same tropes. And we talk about it, we’re like, “Ah, that’s just like it was in that other movie.” BUT does it take away from our enjoyment? Not really, not that much. It’s like Scott said, it’s about the bigger picture.
FS: Can you say anything about what’s going on for the Batman story coming out on Free Comic Book Day?
SS: All I can say is that when we first conceived of “Endgame,” that was meant to be it. While I was working on it, though, I had an idea and I knew we would be staying on through at least issue 50. And then I thought of this crazy thing that, if we tried it, would be a really deep Batman story, deeply about Bruce and the mythologies and about what Batman means. That would be about not just staying through issue 50, it would be about taking a risk that you love to see other creators take. And it would be personal and it’s out of control and over the top and it’s fun. And it’s a new lease on the book for us. A lot of it comes from the admiration I have for the other books in the line, too. Gotham Academy and Grayson and Batgirl and the risks they’re taking—it’s no fun if you just sit there and play it safe. For me, I was very excited when we thought of the story.