Scott Snyder isn’t just one of DC Comics’ hottest writers, he’s currently one of their busiest! In addition to his extremely popular work on Batman, with artist Greg Capullo, and his new original series, The Wake, with Sean Murphy, he has two high-profile stories debuting this June: Superman Unchained, an ongoing series with Jim Lee, and Batman: Zero Year, a New 52 reboot of Batman’s origin with Capullo.
We had the chance to chat with Snyder about what fascinates him about Superman, his trepidations about creating a new origin for Batman with Zero Year, and the genesis of The Wake. Plus, we’ve got a three-page preview of Batman #21, the first issue of Batman: Zero Year. Read on!
TFAW: Why did Superman need another monthly comic? What itch will Superman Unchained scratch?
Scott Snyder: DC approached me about a year, year-and-a-half ago and said, “If you could write any other book outside of Batman, what would you write, or what character would you write?” And I said, “I have this idea for a Superman story, and it means a lot to me — it’s personal, and it’s everything I love about the character, and what I would love to explore and challenge about the character.”
And Dan [Didio] and Jim [Lee] and Geoff [Johns] said, “Well, we’re looking to start a new book for Superman’s 75th anniversary, would you like to tell it there as a #1?” And I said “Yeah sure, I’ll tell it whenever there’s an opening.” So for me, it wasn’t really about what’s missing, but it’s a really personal story that approaches the things that have fascinated me about this character since I was a kid.
TFAW: Can you expand on what fascinates you about Superman?
SS: What has always interested me about Superman are the stories that pushed him to his limits, when it comes to his moral compass. The thing that makes Superman super, at least to me, isn’t necessarily his skill set, or his powers. It’s the fact that he always does the right thing, and he’s been imbued with this incredible ethical compass from the Kents.
In that way I feel like he’s the best of us; he’s so deeply human. In a lot of my favorite stories, like “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way” — and even in stories where he sort of goes awry, where he’s doing the right thing, but he’s set in a context where it becomes the wrong thing, like Mark Millar’s Red Son, or Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come, or Dark Knight Returns — those stories fascinate me because at the end of the day, his greatest strength is also what leaves him vulnerable: he’s willing to stand up for what he believes and do the thing that is right, even when that thing is unpopular and could make him the enemy.
And sometimes he makes the wrong decisions. But that willingness to stick to what he believes is, to me, what makes him both the most heroic superhero, and the most human.
Our story really explores that; it puts him in a position where he’s up against a new villain, someone we’re making up, that challenges that aspect of him that says, “You have a certain set of ethics, and you have a certain amount of restraint, and things you are willing to do, and things you’re not, and sometimes that constellation of choices can put you in the crosshairs of the public.” And in that way, it’s about challenging Superman to his core, both physically, with a villain that could really beat the hell out of him, but also emotionally and psychologically.
TFAW: In that vein, Superman is kind of a time capsule of another era: the aspirational hero, as opposed to an antihero. How do you update him without changing that core, or do you update him?
SS: I don’t think you really need to update him in terms of his core; it’s more reminding people of the relevance of that core, given today’s circumstances. That’s what I really love about him: he’s timeless in the way that doing the right thing, or sticking by your ethics, never really goes out of date. Part of the challenge of writing him is, when you put Superman up against someone that’s just a physical threat, he wins — you can’t come up with much that would hurt him.
With Batman, you can put him up against human adversaries, and he can be in big trouble. But Superman, the real challenge, and the thing that’s wonderful about him and keeps him relevant, too, is that psychologically and emotionally, the character himself is very easy to put in jeopardy when it comes to the circumstances of public opinion.
The idea [of Superman Unchained], without giving away too much of our story, is to pit Superman against the people he thinks are his allies, and his home, and all of these things, because he’s making decisions and sticking by certain beliefs that really stand opposed to what people decide to do.
TFAW: Switching to Batman: Zero Year, you’ve stated in another interview that creating a new origin story for Batman caused anxiety and sleepless nights for you. Why is that?
SS: Well, it absolutely was, and now I’m sort of over it, finally, thank God, now that I’ve got the first issue in my hands. Because that material is sacred. Batman Year One is, to me, one of my two favorite books in the world, the other being The Dark Knight Returns. So doing anything that touches on that era in Batman’s life is really stressful.
What happened is that DC came to me and Greg [Capullo, Batman series artist], and told us that Year One couldn’t really be Batman’s origin anymore, because of the circumstances of the New 52. James Junior, the child in that story, would be about five years old in the present continuity, Selena Kyle has a different origin, and all of these elements have been changed.
My first impulse was to try and keep pieces of that and say, “Okay, well let’s just do a story where we see how much of that we can possibly save.” But it became really obvious that that was just timid and boring, and a paler version of Year One.
Someone sent me a letter to Frank Miller on Twitter that was yelling at him, and calling him blasphemous, for Year One, for changing the origin and doing it in a way that was darker than anyone wanted, and lots of stuff. And it really inspired me to say, I have a story that I want to tell, and I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, and Greg knew about it, that would take place in Batman’s early years. So I said, “Why don’t we expand it, and make it the origin?”
It’s really, really different than Year One. Part of the goal was to do something that really stands on its own, and you never see anything that you saw in Year One, basically. So it’s meant to be bright, and fast, and bombastic, and kind of rock n’ roll, with all of the depth and layers we try and do on things like Court of Owls sort of hidden beneath the surface, because we really want you to see that it’s bright and kinetic, and very different than anything you’ve ever seen as an origin. And it has a really big city-shattering, city-shaking plot!
So I wanted to do something that was the best story we could do, and it came down to a decision where we knew, this is going to be controversial, and this will be really scary, and this could be a thing you fall on your face on, but you also know deep down — and Greg believes this, too — that’s it’s the best story you could do. And do you do that, or do you do the easier thing, and do a three-part Calendar Man story, or a four-part Poison Ivy story, and just sit back and play it safe?
I promised the people who read the book that we would never do that. There are too many people out there who would kill to do their dream Batman story. To sit here and play it safe and just write small, easy arcs — if you have a story in mind that you think could be better than that. I’d rather go out and fall on my face with a story that I believe in my heart is the best and craziest and most daring thing we could do, and doing that.
So that’s really what it boiled down to, and I couldn’t be prouder of this one. You’re going to open it, and you’ll see the first five pages, and if you don’t love those five pages and say, “Wow, it’s so clear to me that this isn’t Year One, this a totally wild take on [Batman’s origin],” if the fun of it doesn’t win you over, you can drop everything else that I write. But I’m really hoping that the sheer force of the exuberance and fun and enthusiasm we have for this story catches you, and that you’ll see that we’re not trying to replace Year One, but do something special that recontextualizes Batman for today.
Year One was really important to me when I was growing up in New York City in the 1980s, because of the way the city looked [at that time], the threats that it faced — drugs, and prostitution, and corruption, all that stuff in Times Square, the way it was rotting. It was incredibly potent. But today, the threats that are most frightening to people who live in American cities aren’t the same.
In some ways we’re trying to tell a modernization of the Batman origin, and the mythos, that honors all the stuff that came before, but also contextualizes it for some of the threats you’re afraid of nowadays. The Red Hood Gang is supposed to be emblematic of the random violence and terrifying, senseless — or really directed, obsessive — violence that we’re afraid of nowadays. So, it’s really an attempt to pit Batman against the kind of threats that are really apparent to people nowadays.
TFAW: Will the Red Hood Gang be Batman’s main adversary?
SS: The story will be in three parts. But they’re his big adversary in the first part. So it’s probably the quietest section of the whole thing. There are going to be a lot of different enemies, a lot of different villains, big action, and all kinds of craziness. But the Red Hood Gang really features large in the first section of it.
TFAW: You and Greg Capullo have been partners on Batman for a couple of years now. How do you feel your relationship has evolved?
SS: Oh, it’s totally evolved. We didn’t get along at all when we first met, because we’re so different. He’s really outgoing and he’s huge — if you’ve ever seen him, he’s a giant man. And he’s very loud and he wears his heart on his sleeve, and I’m much more neurotic and reserved. And we were very protective of how we wanted to work: he wanted to work from an outline, and I wanted him to work from a script that was way too detailed for him. So we didn’t get along, and DC put us in contact and told us to talk about the story. And we did, and his first designs were so amazing that we began to hit it off.
Ironically enough, now he’s one of my closest friends, and not just in comics. We’re trying to pick conventions where we can go together with our wives. So we’re going to Dublin together, and Chicago together, really just so we can hang out. He’s become a real mentor and big brother to me. There’s nobody better in comics, artistically. I really feel honored, and lucky, and like I’m standing on the shoulders of this incredible giant who makes my pages better every issue.
TFAW: The first issue of The Wake was just released. What were some of your influences for that story, and how did it develop?
SS: It’s a story I’d been thinking about for a few years. Sean [Murphy, The Wake artist] and I talked about it over two years ago. I had an idea for a story that’s really about this creature, this discovery made at the bottom of the ocean. This creature calls into question all of our theories of evolution and folklore of the sea, and all of these cultural legends. And it’s both sci-fi and horror, and it’s really crazy, and it has this post-apocalyptic element, and it’s really out there.
And then we started working on “The Survival of the Fittest” for American Vampire, and we kept talking about it and saying, “When do you want to do that thing?” It was something we both held onto to do together.
It’s a book that allows us to flex our muscles, and explore our strengths, because it’s about stuff that we both really love. For me, history and evolution, and Americana, and at the same time horror, and this new kind of speculative science fiction that I’ve never really tried. And for him, he’s so great at world building, and he’s so evocative on the page. He does this great work and he loves drawing tech, so it’s a lot of fun, both in the claustrophobic underwater sequences, and the post-apocalyptic world building.
It’s a book I hope everyone likes, because we’re trying something really different for us. It’s got all kinds of new elements, and we’re trying to push the boundaries for ourselves, as creators.
TFAW: What makes you happy about working with DC?
SS: They’ve been really, really good about letting me write the stories I’ve pitched, as crazy as they’ve been. I mean, I came on Detective Comics and they let me use Jock and Francesco Francavilla, and make Jim Gordon’s son a psychopath. They let me do a story with the Court of Owls and let me possibly give Batman an evil brother. And in Joker [Death of the Family], they let me have the Joker running around with his face strapped on.
With Batman: Zero Year, they’re letting me do this nutty take on the origin that’s really, really out there. So yeah, at corporate comics, at the Big Two, there can be a lot of red tape, and the properties themselves have certain kinds of restrictions, and there are obligations that the company places on people. But I can only speak to my own experience at this point, and DC has been very, very generous to me, in terms of the latitude they’ve given me creatively. I appreciate that very much.
I think you can look at the stuff we’re doing on Batman, and that I’m doing on The Wake, and see that for better or worse, it’s what I’m pitching. So if you don’t like it, it’s my fault.
We want to thank Scott Snyder and DC Comics for an excellent interview! Make sure to pre-order your copies of Superman Unchained and Batman: Zero Year. Not only will you ensure you get every issue of the hottest storylines of the year, but you’ll save 20%. Plus, order the hot new series The Wake, and explore the rest of Scott Snyder’s comics and graphic novels here at TFAW.
Are you looking forward to Superman Unchained? Are you curious about Batman: Zero Year? Post your comments below!