With DC Comics' relaunch of its entire superhero comic line currently under way, there are dozens of books for fans to choose from. There are action titles, espionage titles, comedy titles, and a whole plethora of other tones and genres to cater to any taste. But there is one comic book writer who has so completely mastered the medium that it doesn’t matter what he writes because you know it’s going to be good. That man is Scott Snyder, and he is the writer of Batman and Swamp Thing for DC’s “New 52” initiative.
Snyder broke onto the scene in 2010 when his creator-owned series, American Vampire, debuted at Vertigo Comics. Since then, he has written some of the best comic book stories of the past decade, especially with his recent run on Detective Comics.
Snyder seamlessly blends horror, both physical and psychological, with the type of beautiful prose that could have easily been plucked from a 19th-century gothic novella. He is one of the only writers out there that uses a gentle touch with the comic book medium, but also isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and present a story that will shake you to your core.
So what is the thought process that Snyder uses to pick apart these comic book icons? Complex got some insight from the man himself.
Interview By Jason Serafino (@serafinoj1)
Complex: So, basically you’re rebooting Batman from issue #1, during the most important time in the history of DC Comics, with a blockbuster Batman movie coming out next summer. Were you intimidated at all about that?
Scott Snyder: You’re making me intimidated right now rehashing all of those facts. It’s a huge honor; it’s a huge thrill. The story that we’re telling is a story that I have been working on for a while and it’s a story I would do, relaunch or no relaunch.
The way DC approached me about the relaunch was that it was a way to tell any story that you wanted about your favorite character, no holds barred. And the story I wanted to tell was one that was already really rooted in what’s already happened in Batman, but is accessible to anybody that hasn’t been reading Batman. It’s a big epic, ambitious story about Bruce Wayne and the way he thinks of Gotham as his friend and this kind of ancient evil under Gotham that exists, or may exist, that he has somehow overlooked as Batman. So it has to do with the history of the Wayne family and the Grayson family, and there will be big revelations about this enemy from the past, and this enemy is going to bring all the weight of history against the Bat family and try to crush them.
So it will be a big game changer of a story, but it will also be something that, if you haven’t been reading Batman, you can jump right on, even though it will also have fun references and Easter eggs for people that have been [following]. So at the end of the day, DC was saying you don’t have to design a story that is a #1 that starts everything over. We just want you to tell the best Batman story that you can and the thing you would tell if you have carte blanche on the character. So this is that story for me; it’s the absolute best I can give to Batman.
It’s a story that I have been dying to tell and Greg Capullo, the artist on the book, is just killing it page after page. We’re really excited about what we’re putting out there. So as scared as I am when you tell me it’s Batman #1, I’m also really proud of it and excited. It’s a huge honor to be able to do it.
Are you shying away from familiar villains at first, or are you diving in to Batman’s classic rogue’s gallery?
A little bit of both. The story is really about Bruce being back in Gotham after events in other books like Batman Inc., although you don’t need to know anything about those books to pick this one up. The feeling is that Bruce is the most badass Batman that you’ve ever seen right now. He’s super confident, has the best tech. He’s just completely reinvigorated; Gotham is his city, it belongs to the Bat.
So, little by little, these murders begin to unearth this conspiracy that has been there for a very, very long time. For 300 years, 400 years. No matter how long Bruce has been Batman, the city is 300 years old. So what if there was some sortof symbol that the city belonged to before Batman, that’s actually a rival symbol to the Bat in some way? What if there are enemies that he never knew existed that are coming out of the woodwork right now to bear against him and his allies?
With issue one, what I wanted to do was celebrate all things “Batman” and have it be an issue where everything you know about Batman is there, so that you see Bruce’s world and how comfortable he is in it. You’ll see the whole rogue’s gallery, from Joker, Two-Face, and Clayface to some of the newer villains like Professor Pyg and Flamingo. You’ll see the Batcave new and improved; you’ll see Alfred; you’ll see Wayne Manor; you’ll see Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, and Damien [Batman’s son].
So we really wanted it to be something that, for fans, was a celebration of all things “Batman” and a return to form for Bruce. For newcomers, it also establishes a status quo in a way that was exciting to them and brings our love for the character, and everything the character encompasses, to the page.
For a while, the character was depicted as too dark and psychotic. Are you bringing a more sane approach to the character, instead of the maniacal version of the past?
I know what you mean. My son is four and we watch all of the animated stuff together, so the lighter version of Batman is always in my head all the time; although, the ['90s animated series] is pretty dark, but we like Batman: Brave And The Bold and all that kind of stuff too. For our take on Bruce is a bit of both. Everyone has their own version of him, and for me some stuff has been a little too dark and critical and highlighted the pathology of his character, I think more than the heroism of him.
So one of the things that makes him an enduring icon is that sense of darkness. He’s a guy that has all these resources; he’s one of the only superheroes that all he has is money. I mean, even Iron Man, who is similar, has a repulsor in his chest, so he can’t really bestow his power on other people. Whereas Bruce can really just set up a bunch of anti-crime programs around Gotham and probably do a lot of good, but instead he goes out there and punishes his body and punishes himself over and over and over again. There is something both incredibly noble and heroic about that, and also something self-destructive and pathological about that.
What we’re trying to do is to explore both sides of that. We really want it to be something where he is the greatest superhero in the world, in my opinion. But at the same time he’s someone whose obsessive nature and commitment to being Batman, at the expense of everything else, is also a vulnerability. That’s part of what this story is all about. Really Bruce is so great at being Batman and so devoted to it that, what if there was a conspiracy that has been lurking there for longer than he has been Batman, and he investigated it but just missed it?
To me, that would be foundation-shaking for Bruce because he’s the greatest detective in the world. If he didn’t find it, he doesn’t believe in it. We’re going after a little bit of both where it’s not completely dark, insane Bruce, and at the same time it’s not totally Bruce as a shiny, heroic guy.
Was this new direction for the character a collaborative process with other Batman writers like Tony Daniel and Peter Tomasi?
I pitched this story to [Batman editor] Mike Martz before there was a relaunch. It’s a lot about Gotham’s history and it’s all this stuff I’m interested in, and he said, “Well, we’re thinking about switching Bruce back to Batman, so do you want to talk to Tony [Daniel] about switching books?” So I went over to Tony and he said he was eager to get on something darker like Detective Comics, so we switched. Then they told us there was going to be a big initiative where everything was going to be #1.
They gave us time to get together [Peter Tomasi, Tony Daniel, Gail Simone] on the phone. We're aware of each other and we went back and forth. And we decided what would change and what would stay the same. For some characters I know things changed a lot, for some of the big characters, too. For us on Batman, we really looked at it and decided, we tossed around ideas like changing Two-Face or making the Riddler more like Jigsaw from Saw. But at the end of the day with the stories we had in mind already for the characters as they were, they were better than the stories we would generate by changing one thing or two things.
So we really collaborated a lot in terms of thinking about what we could change and what we might change. But at the end of the day, we decided that the status quo of Batman is one of the most exciting times in Batman right now. With all of the relationships with former Robins and Nightwing, and enemies; it’s just a really vibrant time for Batman, so we didn’t want to change anything.
Longtime fans won't feel like they’re reading a completely new character?
No, I really want to make that clear, too. If you were a fan of Batman, the writers on Batman and the editors on Batman decided that the stories going on right now, and the stories that came before, are so rich and so much a part of the character’s history and make him so exciting right now, we didn’t have an interest in changing those things.
So all of your favorite stories from Year One through The Return of Bruce Wayne, really from beginning to end, whatever was in continuity before, we have not made any effort to change that stuff. Bruce is the Bruce you knew before. It’s just a fresh, fun take on him, but it’s still the same Bruce.
How is this story going to be different in tone from what you just wrote on Detective Comics with the story that involved Gordon’s son and the Tiger Shark?
That was a lot of fun for me, I’m really proud of that one. [Artists] Jock, Francesco Francavilla, and Dave Baron, the colorist, were like superheroes in their own right. With Detective that was a story that was really about Dick Grayson under the cowl as Batman for the first time, other than a brief moment in a story called Prodigal. What I wanted to do was show how Gotham challenges its heroes. And the way it challenges its heroes, in my opinion, is by generating enemies and antagonists and challenges that are really extensions of the character’s greatest strength, but in ways that make that strength look like a weakness.
So for Bruce, the Joker is sort of who Bruce would be if he broke his rules and lived in the cave forever. And Two-Face is kind of an extension of the duality of his life. So you see a twisted funhouse version of yourself in these villains, and that’s what makes them scary and that’s what makes them potent. What we wanted to do with Dick Grayson was something similar, which was, instead of him going out and facing Bruce’s villains, it was almost like Gotham was creating new villains for him that really were reflections of his strengths and weaknesses. He’s a character that is very compassionate and empathetic. He's outgoing and social; he doesn’t have the same baggage as Bruce. So we wanted to create a world in Gotham that, little by little, was showing him how ugly people can be, why you shouldn’t be empathetic, why you shouldn’t be compassionate, and to try and break him down.
With this, the tone is different because he is a different character. For me, Gotham doesn’t have to be as vicous and dark from the start. The thing that Gotham is doing to Bruce in our story is that it’s sort of sneaking up on him. He comes back and feels great; he feels like “I’m better than ever.” And it’s almost like a friend patting you on the back, and then as you turn around, stabbing you in the back. The tone is a little more cumulative; the story builds. The other story, the Detective story, had little arcs, little chapters.
This one is really like a juggernaut where it goes issue to issue to issue, where it really builds up in the fashion of stories like Hush and The Long Halloween, where very issue will be really accessible and an easy jumping-on point. It’s one big story building towards this one really Earth-shattering set of revelations towards the end and this big war for Gotham’s soul that is going to happen.
It really isn’t going to be a superhero book. It’s a horror book from go. Sometimes I feel like everything I’m writing is a horror book, even the superhero books. The direction I wanted to take was something similar to Batman, where you build upon the history and mythology of the character without changing it. Without wiping anything away to be sensational, we wanted to celebrate the rich history of the character. So about six or seven months ago, I heard from Geoff Johns and he was saying they were going to bring Swamp Thing back in Brightest Day and he heard I was a big fan of the character and asked if I had an idea for it. I told him that, for me, the best way to do Swamp Thing was that I think there had been so many great stories about him being this huge monstrous elemental force.
And for anyone that doesn’t read Swamp Thing, the idea is that it focuses on this botanist named Alec Holland who is creating this formula to create vegetation in the world’s most arid regions and there is an accident and an explosion in his lab and he gets covered in this formula. He turns into this monster when he reemerges from the swamp. In the original, that’s what it is, it’s kind of this Frankenstein idea almost. When Alan Moore took over he changed it so that Swamp Thing realizes that he was never Alec Holland, he’s actually a copy of Alec Holland that the plant life and the formula created. He’s this kind of elemental force of nature with no sort of human identity.
Those are the two twin pillars of Swamp Thing, and what I loved about those two stories is that they are both about a man wrestling with monsters, both internal and external; primarily internal and longing for a sense of humanity that was lost. I was thinking that there had been so much done with the character as a monster in that way, that it would be fascinating to bring him back as a human, if we could do it plausibly, and to keep the memories that he has as Swamp Thing and almost have him crawl out of the banks of the swamp that created him, naked and reborn as Alec Holland.
We don’t know why or what degree nature has intended for him. But he’s there and he’s human and he has the memories of everything that has happened, so everything stands. And it’s very strange for him because his last real memory is of him catching on fire and falling in the swamp and dying in the explosion. But he has all these other memories, like dreams, from the time he was Swamp Thing. He remembers being in love with this woman, Abbie, with white hair and he remembers being this monster fighting other monsters. So all he wants to do is move away from nature; move away from the green. He sees it as violent and volatile; he just wants to move on with his life.
The idea of the series is, What if there was a secret reason that Alec Holland was chosen by the "green" in the first place to be Swamp Thing? After all, there have been Swamp Things for every generation, as we saw in the Parliament of Trees story, where the Swamp Things from the past go and retire into this grove and turn into these rooted giant redwood trees. The idea is that, What if there is a reason why all of these people are Swamp Things? What if there is a kind of design behind it and Alec is the pinnacle somehow?
What if Alec has a reason not only to be Swamp Thing then, but they also brought him back because they need him now more than ever? And what if there is a kind of mythology that builds on what was there before about the Arcanes and the villains and an opposing force to nature? A black, a rot, a decay that is coming and rising in the desert now for the first time in over 100 years to fight Swamp Thing once and for all. So we’re really trying to take it into a different direction. I mean, for me, Alec Holland has only appeared in 7 or 8 pages of comics as a human, yet he’s one of the most iconic characters through his Swamp Thing interpretation.
So we wanted to do something here that honored everything that came before and kept all that stuff in continuity. But at the same time, was a very bold, different take on the character because that’s the only way to do Swamp Thing.
Is Swamp Thing going to crossover with any other popular DC characters, or will he exist in his own pocket universe?
Well, you’ll see Batman, Superman, and Aquaman in the first issue. I’ll tell you this: There’s not going to be Swamp Thing fighting along with superheroes. I wanted to be a book about Swamp Thing and about his mythology and the psychological drama of the character of Alec Holland.
I just wanted to show you that he exists in a shared universe and that things that happen in Swamp Thing will have major repercussions across the DC Universe. You might see characters like Batman and others coming in and out and playing into the mythology of Swamp Thing. Will there be a book where he goes and fights Lex Luthor? No, I have no interest in that.
You also have a horror book titled Severed at Image Comics. What was the appeal of using the early 20th century time period for the title? The atmosphere that surrounds the book is very foreboding.
The idea with Severed really is about that time period. I’m writing with my absolute best friend from when I was 13 on [Scott Tuft]. It’s a pleasure to write with him, and we both had this interest in this period in American history that is essentially this moment when everyone is really optimistic because of all these new inventions in 1916. The electric light, the car, all of these new roads being built, the phonograph being popular.
There is a sense of optimism and can-do spirit and the sense that you can reinvent yourself and the American identity is being reinvented. There is also loneliness and a scary quality to all this new stuff. There is a war on the horizon with WWI and stuff like that. There is this ominous feeling. That moment before we’re involved in any kind of giant global conflict and we’re all young and innocent about all these things we’re making was fascinating to us, so we wanted to create a story that highlighted both sides of that time period. It’s really about a young boy who finds out he’s adopted and that his father is a traveling blackface performer and minstrel. So he goes to find him and reunite with him and he rides the rails like a hobo, you know, he’s young, he’s 13. So he represents a lot of the optimism and the hopefulness of the time.
On the other hand, we wanted to create a character that represented all of the frightening things about it, so the other main character is this guy who is just considered “The Salesman,” he’s never really named. He’s an older man who travels the roads with a little suitcase and sells whatever you want. He’s been traveling forever; he says he’s been on these roads for hundreds of years. He has this great smile with big pearly white teeth, and people always say to him, “You’re so nice, how is it that you manage to be such a successful salesman?” And he’s like, “Well, behind these teeth I actually have filed down shark’s teeth, so I’m really tough.” No one really believes him, but right when you turn your back on him you see him take out these teeth and puts them in this little case and comes after you.
We’re really, really excited about it. It’s a different kind of horror book where it’s more of a slow burn and it’s going to build towards something really frightening and really bloody and action-filled. We wanted it to be something that really built on the terror and suspense of being alone as a kid, almost in a fairytale, nightmare way in America at that time.
Interview By Jason Serafino (@serafinoj1)