Since the launch of the New 52 back in 2011, Batman writer Scott Snyder hasn’t made things easy on the Dark Knight Detective or the people of Gotham City, putting both Batman and his city through crisis after crisis. In the current storyline “Endgame,” the Joker, Batman’s seemingly-eternal adversary, has come back both to decimate Gotham and to teach the Caped Crusader a lesson about the meaninglessness of life. With Batman #39, part 5 of “Endgame,” out today, Mr. Snyder spoke to FreakSugar about how the Joker sees himself and his relationship with Batman, how far Batman is willing to go to save his city, and why the stakes seem so personal to the Joker.
FreakSugar: At the end of “Endgame” part 4, we see Batman appealing to the Court of Owls, a group with whom he’s clashed with over the survival of Gotham City in the past, for help, which shows just how far he’s willing to go to save his city. How does coming to the Court affect Bruce psychologically, considering his history with them?
Scott Snyder: For me, I wanted Endgame part 5 to really show the desperation of his situation, that he’s making all sorts of pacts with the Devil in different ways. He’s going to them to ask for answers and, in doing so, approaching characters that represent one of the biggest mysteries he failed to acknowledge before it was too late. Now, it’s very hard for him.
In regards to the Court, even though he ended up sort of winning against them, the Court is always lurking in the background. For me, the arc “The Court of Owls” represents the notion that Gotham will always remain a mystery for Bruce. As much as he knows its streets and its citizens and its neighborhoods, its history, the lives that are lived behind closed doors—all of those things are unknowable in a lot of ways. Growing up in New York, I always saw that as Batman’s biggest Achilles’ heel. If he actually lived in the city, if he actually lived in the streets, he couldn’t know what happens in private. For me, “The Court of Owls” was about that, that it’s an unsolved mystery. So to go to them for answers when they sort of represent his own inability to find answers is extremely difficult.
FS: I can totally see that, that, even though he wants to be an overarching presence in the city, he can’t be everywhere and know everything. And it connects with what the Joker is doing and what happens when he’s not completely vigilant.
SS: Yeah, and I think he tries. He’s as good as he can be and he’s as good as he can be. But on some levels, I think the Joker is a transgressive figure in Batman that nobody can pull off the things he can pull off. He’s the nightmarish reflection of Batman in that regard. Batman can pull off these incredible feats that no human can do because he’s Batman and the Joker does the same thing. So, for me this issue, if the Batman side is about him making these terrible alliances, then the Joker side is about not needing anybody, about saying “There’s no place that’s safe for you. There’s nowhere you can hide from me. There’s nothing I won’t do.” The stakes are that high. The damage is big. All of this is to say that this is the last time they’ll fight—at least in our run. [laughs] In the future, I’m sure that no matter what we do that Batman will always be fighting the Joker in some form or another, in the comics or not. But for us this really is the last time.
FS: In “Death of the Family,” you have the Joker trying to show Batman that he doesn’t need any of his extended Bat-family allies, that they just weigh him down. Is it so personal with the Joker because Batman proved him wrong and denied the Joker’s premise?
SS: I think it’s that and I think it’s bigger than that. I think that the Joker feels in a lot of ways, both as the Joker and as the Red Hood—if you accept that part as a reader and you certainly don’t have to. I think you can track his history as a character who sees life as meaningless, that it’s a joke that you would try to find meaning in your actions and your consequences and in your daily life. That’s laughable when at any time someone can blow you away or you can die of cancer, all of that stuff is ridiculous.
And when Batman comes along and says, “No, life has meaning.” To me, Batman’s message is, “Accomplish what you want to accomplish. Face your fears.” I think the greatest fear for a lot of us is that we can’t accomplish anything, that we can’t do what we want, we should give up. That’s what the Joker says as the Red Hood and beyond. Batman says the opposite. He says, “Never give up. Do these things that make your life worth something.” And I think Joker, in his own ironic way, of becoming meaninglessness as the Joker. There’s almost a bizarre, tongue-in-cheek joke about it, where he becomes this huge thing that’s constantly fighting Batman, he’s almost grateful to Batman for giving his life meaning. What he’s saying to Batman in “Death of the Family” is, “We’ve become these things that transcend our mortal bodies. We have become these things that are greater than ourselves. I am the Joker and you are Batman. Whoever you are under the mask does not matter. And you’ve forgotten that. Come back.”
And in this arc in “Endgame,” Joker is saying, “I’ll show you the truth. I’ve always been this thing even before you met me. I was playing along to teach people the truth. But when you came along I decided to play this game with you forever and you would eventually come over and be like me. I would have transformed you. But since you threw me off a cliff, I’m here to show you that everything is meaningless in the biggest way possible: You’re just Bruce Wayne, you’re just this little kid crying in an alley, all your little actions are going to be burnt to the ground, no one is going to remember you. You’re going to see your city fail and I’m going to walk away, laughing, and do it somewhere else.” And that’s the point with him.
FS: You’ve had this thread going through “Endgame” about immortality. With the Joker trying to make his point to Batman, with as much as Gotham has been ravaged throughout your run, I wonder if Bruce is questioning his overarching presence and influence on the city and if he can contain the Joker. At the beginning of part 3, we see Bruce telling himself that the Joker is just another criminal to be stopped and that he’s stopped him before, but I wonder if he believes that.
SS: I think that as the arc goes on that he believes it less and less. He’s fighting against the possibility that the Joker is more than he says he is. He’s fighting against the possibility that this might be it. That this is really how it could end for him, the death of Batman. For me, if I ever show him as doubtful, this is it. This is the arc where he thinks he might go down and everywhere he turns he can’t get the right answers.
If you’re asking if he thinks he’s attracting these people, I think it’s been done. He says at the end of “Zero Year” that people will emerge. The Riddler emerged not because of Batman, he emerged the way a terrorist emerged or a gunman emerges. In comic books, rather than put in random gundmen, I put in the Red Hood to represent that and the violence. Ultimately, what we wanted to do with that story is to invert it, to say that we’re living in times now where villains appear randomly on a Tuesday afternoon and blow up this or pull a gun out over there. For me, I wanted to explore the possibility, at least, instead of Batman attracting these characters, or being responsible for these characters, actually drawing their fire, to say, “I will stand up to them. You need to be brave enough to stand up to them and be brave enough to face the everyday challenges in your life as well. Don’t be afraid of going out there and living your lives defiantly and being the people you want to be.” So, it’s an exploration of that idea and it’s worked out fine for us. It show how elastic the idea of Batman is.
FS: We talked about Batman approaching the Court of Owls for help and how desperate he is and the deals with the Devil he’s made. We see him talking to some of his other enemies, such as Bane and Poison Ivy, and court them to try to stave off the Joker. He’s trying to appealing to them with some sort of community spirit that, even if they terrorize the city, it’s still their city. Do you think that, when they help Batman, they’re helping for that reason, or if they have other motivations in mind?
SS: I think so. Growing up in New York, I always had a sense that, if something bad went down, you’re all in it together. Growing up there and being there during 9/11, all of that, that feeling of, “I don’t like you, I might not even want to sit next to you on a subway, the neighbor’s music too loud.” In the city, there’s a cacophony that you live with. But when things go bad, you suddenly feel this community spirit. When someone comes after you and your city, you come together and get in lock-step about it. And my feeling with this at the end is that spirit. The Court of Owls may not be up for it, but when he comes to the real villains, they understand. It doesn’t mean they’re not going to go back to fighting when everything’s over if they survive. But at that point, from a character standpoint, I feel like they would form a pact against the Joker and go all-in.
FS: Without giving too much away, we also see in this issue the Joker going after some of Bruce’s closest family. We see an encounter with Alfred which is—well, what would you like to say about it?
SS: [laughs] Sorry to Alfred and sorry to readers if it’s a surprisingly brutal scene. But my feeling is that was going easy on him considering how deadly the Joker has been in this arc. In “Death of the Family,” he was using these characters to prove a point. He wanted them alive and wanted to show how pitiful they were and there was a sense of almost protecting them to the point where Batman was the one who had to them in. Whereas in this, the Joker would put a bullet in their head and not even think twice. So with the Alfred encounter, I wanted to show that nowhere is safe, not even the Batcave. With that said, I didn’t wanted to do damage that would end him, because I love him dearly. Alfred is one of my all-time favorite characters to write and he’s the heart and soul of the Bat-family.
That said, the Joker means business, man. He’s coming after everybody. In this arc, he is not playing around. This is it for him. He’s ready to burn everyone and everything down.
FS: I read that and thought, “He went after Batman’s dad, essentially.”
SS: And it’s a raw nerve for Batman. For me, this will be the last time I’ll write the Joker. I don’t want to be that guy who says he’ll never write him on the side or in another book, but in Batman itself, on my run with Greg, I will never write him fighting Bruce. So this is our goodbye to that. So you this is it: You gotta throw in everything you ever wanted him to do and have Batman do everything you ever wanted to do against the Joker and make every part of it as big and as over-the-top and as meaningful for you as a writer and an artist as you can.
FS: Do you see Bruce ever viewing his mission as complete? There have been different takes on it: from Christopher Nolan’s vision that Bruce can walk away to many other Batman writers who see Bruce fighting until he can’t anymore.
SS: No, I don’t think he sees that as an option, in my version of him, at all. I don’t think he sees himself quitting. I don’t think it’s going to end well for Bruce. I gave my ending of Bruce, actually: I did a short story with Sean Murphy in Detective Comics #27 that takes place 200 years in the future. You see that our Bruce, the original one from our run, learned to clone himself and a new Bruce Wayne wakes up every 27 years and is filled with Bruce’s memories up to the point that the bat crashes through the cave in “Zero Year” and decides he has to be Batman. And when he wakes up in the Batcave, the old Batman will brief the new clone on what he needs to know and clear out his stuff. For me, that’s the happiest ending our Bruce can have: He does his duty until he can’t. He sees the city in good hands. I don’t ever see Bruce ever stepping away from it. Even with a new Bruce doing the job, I think he would help him until he’s dead.
I love Christopher Nolan’s version and respect it. We all have our own Batman. Grant Morrison’s Batman is not my Batman. They are the same and their continuity links up, but Frank Miller and Denny O’Neill, they all have their own Batman. One of the most interesting things that Grant Morrison said to me was when I was first talking to him about doing “Zero Year” when we were in San Diego a couple years ago. He said, “If you have a beginning for him, do you have an end for him? Everyone has an ending for their Batman.” And I was sort of taken aback by this and was like, “It’s all the same Batman.” And he was, “No, everyone has their own.” That sense of singularity is freeing, having your own version, and no one knows that version better than yourself. It’s like your own character and I feel like everyone who writes a character should have that. It doesn’t mean you have to break continuity and change who he is for other writers. But within the constructs of writing a licensed character and within the constructs of continuity and confluent storytelling, you should make a version that’s yours, with his birth and death and all of that stuff in mind.
FS: I honestly don’t think I see him quitting either. Especially in your version of Batman, it seems like that’s what saved him.
SS: Yeah, and it’s a happy and a sad thing. What makes our version of Batman happiest, more than children or marriage or any kind of social work or any other option, this is the work that makes him feel the most fulfilled and where he thinks he can do the most good. It’s lonely and it eventually it will come to a sad end for people looking at him. But for him, I think there’s nothing greater than going down in the line of duty that way as Batman.
FS: As you reflect on your writing Batman and his world, what do you think is your primary contribution to the Batman mythos? Or your favorite moments?
SS: It’s hard, because you always hope that the one you’re about to do will be the best one. We’re doing one right after “Endgame” that is a crazy idea, the craziest that we’ve done. As far as our run, I don’t think I’ll ever have as much fun in licensed comics as I have with Batman with [Batman artist] Greg [Capullo]. To me, this is the character I’ve loved the most since I was a little boy and to get to do these stories that are intensely personal with the amount of creative freedom that DC has let me and Greg have: It sounds incredibly hokey and like something Batman would never say, but it’s been a dream come true.
The moments that stick out include when we had him wrestle a lion. [laughs] I called Greg and said, “Guess what, dude? He’s choking out a lion.” We both were like, “This is our ‘jump the shark’ moment. Can’t wait!” This is the moment where they’re like, get these guys the Hell off this book. [laughs] But it turned out to be a fan-favorite. The “Get the Hell out of my house!” moment was great. And in the “Court of Owls,” the issue where we got to flip the issue around, it was one of my proudest moments. It was when Greg and I were still getting to know each other and we stuck up for each other because DC did not want to flip the book that way at first because they rightly thought it would be confusing. We were sort of naïve and said, “Let’s do it!” and locked arms. That was a special moment for me.
And overall, I would say that each story is special to me for different reasons. For example, when I wrote Detective Comics [in which former Robin Dick Grayson takes over for a thought-dead Bruce Wayne], I thought, “What would it feel like to be Batman?” Because Dick Grayson was Batman. And it was something I could completely relate to because I felt in over my head and bewildered and scared and excited to be writing Batman.
“Court of Owls” was about imagining Batman in New York, the things that I thought, as a kid, would feel. Growing up, with the history and thinking about the generations of people who lived there, I got the sense that I would never know how they lived, as much as I might know my neighborhood geographically. As Batman, I thought I would be terrified of not knowing the history and the lives there. If there was a way to weaponized that, I thought it would be a great way to show Batman that he would never know the city fully.
Then with “Death of the Family,” my wife was pregnant with our second kid and I remember thinking, “I am probably going to be a terrible father. I am so worried. How am I going to have enough room in my life or worry or love for this kid when the first one takes up so much already?” And I remember thinking that I wish I had a break from it. And then I thought that Batman has this family of his own; what if some villain came along and said to Batman that he heard Bruce say he wish he didn’t have a family? Batman would deny that, but Joker would say, “Yes, you did, so I’m going to kill them for you.”
And “Zero Year,” for me, is the one I’m most proud of out of everything because it’s about creating an origin that, even if it can’t touch the hem or come close to anything of the Batman: Year One stuff, is about making one that’s personal and modern and speaks to the fears you have for your kids: for me, random gunmen like the Red Hood Gang and terrorists, as represented by the Riddler, and blackouts and superstorms and social breakdown. And it represented a lot of what Batman meant to me growing up. I had anxiety and depression and I always turned to that comic book out of all of them to feel like I could get through whatever I felt was a challenge. So, for me, getting through [“Zero Year”] that I could die happy on Batman and whatever came after was gravy.
Knowing “Endgame” was coming was great because it was like a big party. We wanted to throw a big celebration for Batman and the Joker and for everybody who helped with the book. Then I had a crazy idea and asked Greg, “What do you think?” So we decided to stay. But “Zero Year” helped meet the satisfaction of doing a story that was intensely personal and ours, me and Greg.