‘Batman: Death of the Family’: Snyder, Capullo’s Joker is no joke

Oct. 10, 2012 | 1:46 p.m.
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The cover for "Batman" No. 13, the first installment of "Death of the Family." (DC Comics)

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A variant cover for "Batman" No. 13, the first installment of "Death of the Family." (DC Comics)

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A page from "Batman" No. 13, the first installment of "Death of the Family." (DC Comics)

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A page from "Batman" No. 13, the first installment of "Death of the Family." (DC Comics)

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The Joker in Greg Capullo's cover for "Batman" No. 14. (DC Comics)

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Greg Capullo's series of die-cut covers feature the faces of Batman's allies. The covers are for issues No. 13 of "Batman," "Batgirl" and "Catwoman," issue No. 14 of "Suicide Squad," and issues No. 15 of "Detective Comics," "Batman & Robin," "Nightwing," "Red Hood & the Outlaws" and "Teen Titans." (DC Comics)

The Joker is wreaking havoc in his first major story line since DC’s relaunch, and “Batman” writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo have horrifying plans for Gotham’s most twisted villain. “Batman” No. 13, the first installment in the new “Death of the Family” arc, is out today, revealing the smiling psychopath as a calculating villain who has been quietly plotting revenge on the Caped Crusader and his closest allies for a year. The story will cross over into multiple Bat-family series, including “Catwoman,” “Batgirl,” “Nightwing” and “Red Hood & the Outlaws.” The first issue includes several nods to “A Death in the Family,” the infamous 1988-89 story line in which readers voted to kill off the new Robin, Jason Todd, and the Joker beat him to death with a crowbar. Hero Complex caught up with Snyder and Capullo to talk about the Joker’s newest makeover.

HC: Is the Joker still relevant?

SS: Yeah, like 100%. He couldn’t be more relevant. To me, he’s the greatest villain of all time, because what he does is he forces us more than any other villain in comics, and any villain I can think of in really any medium, to look at our own worst fears about ourselves. So that’s the power he has over his enemies, is that he looks at you with these very cold eyes, and he sees the things you’re most afraid of in yourself, the things you’re most afraid are true about yourself, and then he gleefully brings those things to life and makes a case as to why those things are the total of who you are, and why you’re no good. You know, we’re only as good as our villains. Our heroes are only as good as their villains, so more than any other villain, to me, Joker challenges heroes to see their greatest fears, and to overcome them. So he makes us better by sort of putting us through these horrific trials by fire. So he’ll always be relevant in that regard, but almost no time more than now given what’s been happening in Batman. Batman really needs someone to shake him up.

GC: Because he hasn’t been through enough just recently with “The Court of Owls.”

SS: It’s never enough!

PHOTOS: The Joker through the years

HC: Did you just decide, “I want to write a Joker story,” or was it handed down to you?

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“Batman” No. 14. (DC Comics)

SS: What happened with Joker wasn’t that way at all. It wasn’t an initiative to write the Joker from DC, and it wasn’t just wanting to write the Joker because he’s a sensational sort of villain to have. When you write these iconic characters, I feel like you have to kind of approach it from a standpoint of what’s most terrifying and exciting to you about where the character is at that point in his or her life at that moment. And for me, Batman, the thing that I was interested in is that Batman has accumulated these allies and this family around him that he cares deeply about. And as a father of young children, I relate to that, deeply, how scary the world suddenly becomes when you have people that you care about. And it’s exactly the kind of thing that occurred to me the Joker of all people would come after, and say, “I’m your court jester. You’re my Bat-king.” It’s sort of the Joker’s philosophy, and what he believes is that the role of a court jester — one of the roles — is to bring terrible news to the king and to make him laugh at it. He’s the only person that can really do that. So he believes that he’s bringing these incredibly dark truths of Batman’s heart to him, and making him stronger by having him face those things and come out on the other side. So what he’s here to do is to say to him essentially, “You’ve become fat and slow, and your kingdom rots from the inside because of that, and I’m going to rectify all of that right now. I’m going to sort of burn everything to the ground to show you the person that you really should be.” So it wasn’t anything that was a sort of top-down decision, or a decision that came just from the fun of using the Joker because he’s such a fan-favorite villain. It really was more of trying to figure out what would be the best Batman story we could tell given the things that we love about where the character is right now, and trying to explore those in the most exciting ways possible.

HC: So Joker’s a hero? He thinks of himself as a good guy?

SS: Oh yeah. I wouldn’t say he thinks of himself as necessarily a good guy. But he thinks of himself really as Batman’s greatest ally. He thinks the allies that Batman has acquired, between Nightwing and Batgirl and all the Robins, those are a false royal court. Those are sycophants, and those are people that make Batman weaker. And that he’s actually the one that makes him stronger by keeping him on his toes and keeping him sharp and keeping him the Bat-king instead of somebody that’s distracted by silly human concerns.

HC: How did you guys collaborate on this new version of the Joker?

GC: I had a bit of a rough spot with the first time I took on the Joker, which it turned out it was just Dick Grayson faking people out with something that transformed his face to look like the Joker. When I took over the book, there was a lot of pressure and all that, of course, with the relaunch and all. When Scott and I were talking about changing the look of the Joker, I learned very quickly how sensitive Bat-fans are and protective of what they feel is their property — which is Batman and all the rogue villains. And I got backlash just for giving him crinkly hair. So you go, “Wow, this one’s really nerve-racking.” I hadn’t been reading Batman, so I wasn’t aware that he’d had his face cut off. So Scott says to me, “Well, he’s gotta reattach his face in some way.” So I go, “This might help me in a way, because it can’t be the Joker that everybody knows and loves and is familiar with.” So in that way, I hope I don’t get quite as much of a backlash for having crinkly hair, because it’s a lot worse than crinkly hair now.

Anyway, when he told me that, it just became how do we reattach it? Does he sew it back on, or what? So I just threw some things at Scott, and when Scott told me he wasn’t going to be dressed in the traditional suit, looking all dapper, and that actually he was on a mission, going to work, and he was going to be wearing mechanic overalls, it just seemed like a natural progression to make it more utilitarian. Nothing neat and clean. You know, like, “Let’s get some belts and some hooks and some wire, and let’s makeshift something that will hold my skin in place.” And that just presented a lot of things visually that we can make comical or extremely terrifying all in one stroke. It kind of just developed that way out of conversation with Scott and what his intentions with the story were.

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The Joker. (Greg Capullo / DC Comics)

HC: There have been many, many iterations of the Joker, some of whom, like “The Killing Joke,” are extremely dark. Is there a version that was particularly inspiring when you took this on?

SS: What I love about the character is that he’s one of those that people tend to really make their own. Each person that takes him on sort of does something different with him. I would say that I lean away from the kind of social anarchist versions of him where he has a point to prove to society and lean more toward the versions that you see in things like “The Dark Knight Returns” and in Grant Morrison’s work. I think that also, in “The Killing Joke,” where he really has a point to prove to the people that he considers incredibly important to him, personally. The people that he holds up as these heroes that he almost serves as a villain, whether it’s Jim Gordon or Batman, obviously above all. And he comes at them personally and sort of attacks them in ways where he’s trying to, in our version at least, make them stronger by trial by fire, but in most versions just coming at them in this incredibly personal and terrifying way. That’s the one that I’m most fascinated with, the one that sort of knows the deepest and darkest secrets of your heart, or pretends to, and then wants to exploit those and sort of make you believe that everything you’re afraid is true about yourself is true, and that he’s going to bring everything to bear against you to make you believe that.

HC: It seems like every time we see the Joker, there’s a push to make him more extreme. How far is too far?

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“Batman” No. 13. (DC Comics)

GC: People have gotten jaded. I’ve got a 10-year-old stepson at home, and the stuff that they see in their video games and things like that has made them very thick-skinned. It’s shocking to me when they watch the things they’re able to watch without batting an eye, and you go, “Wow, really? When I was that age, it would’ve sent me running for the covers.” So I think by virtue of that is how that stuff keeps getting pushed, and not everybody likes that about it. There’s certainly a group of people who go, “Aww, they’re going for the dark and edgy,” and stuff like that. But the thing is, I think you’re trying to pierce some jaded skin in a way.

SS: I think the point when you’re using a character that can be so completely vicious and out there is to try and tell a story where you’re really using him in a way that honors the history of the character and makes sense for who you think he is, and to do your own take. With Joker, the last thing we’re trying to do is just make him extreme. He’s not extreme in this story for the sake of being extreme at all. He actually has a really big ax to grind, and a very, very specific mission in mind, that everything stems out of. So is he going to do horrifying things? Of course he his, with his completely twisted and deranged sense of humor. But the reason he does all of those things here is really in service of this point he’s trying to prove to Batman over and over about this thing he thinks that Batman truly wants and believes about himself deep down, that he thinks Batman won’t admit. For us, he’s a really freeing character, because he brings these nightmares to life for everybody in ways that are more vivid and terrifying than, I think, any other villain. But he’s also a really thrilling character to use because the nightmares he brings to life are a lot of the time expressions of those characters’ great nightmares about themselves, so they’re very pointed. It’s not just sort of somebody who does things for the sake of doing nutty, random, horrifying things. This is really someone who, in his own mind, has a purpose. Even if that purpose is completely twisted and strange to everybody else. His perception of it is something that in the story you can see, and you can spend a little terrifying time inside of his head and see whether or not you kind of agree with what he’s saying about Batman.

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The Joker as personified by Jack Nicholson; the art of Dave McKean; Cesar Romero; and Heath Ledger. (Warner Bros., DC Comics, ABC, Warner Bros.)

GC: The Joker is going to be the Joker that everybody’s familiar with. Some people are worried that we’re making him too extreme for the sake of [being extreme], but everything that makes the Joker, the Joker is still here in Scott’s story. We’ve all lost our temper at times in life, and sometimes it’s a little mild anger, and sometimes it’s fury. So if anything’s making the Joker more extreme it’s that he’s so disgusted with the way things are, and so he’s very angry. So maybe it’s the most he’s ever lost his temper, so to speak, and in that kind of way, things are amped up. But everything that you’ve come to know and love about the Joker is present in Scott’s story. It’s psychologically creepy and terrifying, which is what we want. And it’s still the Joker, so he’s the clown. His body language, his facial expressions, the way he acts and talks is all the same. So they’ll be scared, but they’ll also be relieved that we’ve not bastardized their precious villain, whom we both love dearly ourselves.

SS: And part of his point is to remind Batman of all of the great times they’ve had together, in his mind. He believes that the things they’ve done together are worth a trip down memory lane —

GC: I would call it “mayhem lane.”

SS: Yeah, completely. In that way, it’s a story where he is, at his core, the same character you’ve always known, and he’s trying to sort of point that out to Batman, too, like, “Look at all this wonderful history we have.” And at the same time, because he’s so angry, he’s really even further over the line of what he’s willing to do to the Bat-family to prove a point.

HC: The story hearkens back, of course, to “Death in the Family.” Is Jason Todd going to survive this?

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“‘Batman: A Death in the Family” (DC Comics)

SS: Ha ha, I can’t give that away! Is anyone going to survive it? I don’t know. I get all of these desperate tweets and messages from people saying please don’t kill this character or that character. Alfred is at the top of the list. He’s the one that everyone always worries the most about, I feel like. So I know, I know. We all love all of them, though.

GC: I think the solution is just to kill them all. Play no favorites.

SS: That’s the Joker’s opinion, as well. I feel like we’ve been spending too much time in his head, both of us.

HC: You’re not going to have readers vote on this, are you?

SS: No, no, no. I made a joke once that you could just call our cellphones if you want and do it. But not really. It’s a story that’s been planned for both of us. One of the great things about working with Greg, too, is that I consider him a total collaborator on the story, not just the pages and the art. His ideas for things to enhance the story, both visually but also in terms of the storytelling itself are totally priceless to me going forward. I feel like I have a co-creator on it. The things that are coming, we’ve talked about and planned out for a long time. We both know where the story’s going, and it’s been going there. It’s just sort of a big, horrifying train on the tracks already.

— Noelene Clark


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4 Responses to ‘Batman: Death of the Family’: Snyder, Capullo’s Joker is no joke

  1. funny quotes says:

    Batman is really interesting character and i have been ever curious about this.



  3. shawn says:

    I hope it's not Alfred that would just be a sad death for readers and for the batman family to handle

  4. Jono says:

    DC is spending more and more time re-inventing the wheel, and less and less time telling stories.

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