‘Batman: Zero Year’ 30: Scott Snyder talks ‘Savage City,’ Crime Alley
"Batman" No. 30 begins "Savage City," the final arc of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's "Zero Year" retelling of the Dark Knight's origin for the New 52. Cover by Capullo, Danny Miki and FCO Plascencia. (DC Entertainment)Link
"Batman" No. 30 Pages 6-7 offer a look at what has become of Gotham City after Batman and James Gordon failed to stop the Riddler. Art by Greg Capullo, Danny Miki and FCO Plascencia. (DC Entertainment)Link
"Batman" No. 29's first page wordlessly sets up the tragedy to come as Thomas and Martha Wayne sit with their truant son Bruce at a Gotham City Police Department station. Art by Greg Capullo, Danny Miki and FCO Plascencia. (DC Entertainment)Link
Yes, it's the Bat-Blimp. The dirigible, seen on Page 10 of "Batman" No. 29, made sense, writer Scott Snyder says, because the Batwing would be too advanced for Batman to have in his earliest days in the cowl. (DC Entertainment)Link
“Batman: Zero Year” is writer Scott Snyder’s and artist Greg Capullo’s ambitious 12-part comics event exploring Bruce Wayne’s beginnings as the Caped Crusader in DC Comics’ New 52. Snyder is joining Hero Complex each month for an exclusive preview of the next issue and conversation about the story so far. Part 9 of the saga arrives Wednesday with “Batman” No. 30.
Batman is defeated, presumed dead. And the Riddler has the run of a transformed Gotham City.
Welcome to “Savage City,” the final arc of “Zero Year,” which writer Scott Snyder says is “where the biggest, most fun and craziest elements of the story begin.” Where the “Secret City” and “Dark City” segments re-envisioned the classic elements of Batman’s origin story, the third part is what the Eisner Award winner says is the reward for readers letting the “Batman” team tread on “sacred” ground — an “out-and-out battle with the Riddler for [the city] in a post-apocalyptic Gotham.”
Hero Complex readers can get an early peek at “Batman” No. 30 in the gallery above or via the links below.
Last month’s issue – the third straight “Batman” installment to top Diamond Comic Distributors’ monthly chart of bestselling comics – delved into tragedies personal and public, as the creative team wove together flashbacks of the night Bruce Wayne’s parents died with the Dark Knight and James Gordon falling short of stopping the Riddler’s plan to transform the city, just as a superstorm set in.
In a phone interview, Snyder spoke with Hero Complex about crafting the fateful moments of last issue, playing with the story’s technological elements, taking readers into “Savage City” — and creating, destroying and mourning the short-lived Bat-Blimp.
Hero Complex: I want to start by asking about 29’s powerful wordless pages and panels — that first page with the GCPD recruitment poster over the truant Bruce and his parents, and the climactic panels that go back and forth between Crime Alley and the current disaster in Gotham. If you could talk about the decision to go wordless in scripting those moments, and seeing Greg Capullo, Danny Miki and FCO Plascencia’s work on them.
Scott Snyder: It’s some of the best stuff they’ve ever done. When I began scripting the issue, I knew that the end was either going to be silent or it was going to be very sparse with sound effects … or the one-word lines of desperation from Bruce’s parents or from him. As the art came in, it was so powerful and so perfectly executed that it just felt that putting anything over it – except for that final scream, which I wanted really, really big for “Help!” on the last page – would just detract from the storytelling.
It’s one of the joys of getting to work with guys like Greg and FCO and Danny. They take the script pages and they often turn back things that make me look a lot better than I am … I wind up adjusting the script to fit those things. … That’s genuinely my favorite moment in the process because I get to change what I wrote to fit what they’ve drawn, and it feels almost like this living, breathing animal. …
Having that sequence come back that way made it very clear that I should just get out of their way. [laughs]
HC: Were there any panels in that sequence that came back especially surprising from what you’d originally envisioned?
SS: Yeah. There were a couple that Greg warned me of how he was going to do them, and if they publish the script with the trade, you’ll see I gave him a lot of latitude. What I said to him was it was very important to me that we didn’t go anywhere near the pearls or the sequence from “Year One” or the classic images of Crime Alley because I felt at this point we would be derivative or a pale copy of those books. So instead we needed to do something different.
My suggestion to him was, “I’m going to build a whole story behind that night where Bruce is in the police station, his parents pick him up, they take him to [the movies] instead of punishing him, so it’s a joyous moment. And if you can get us into that feeling of coming out of ‘Zorro’ feeling like a swashbuckler and that you have the people who will protect you at your back … and giving us the feeling of exultation, and then cross it out.”
One of things you’ll notice with that sequence … is that Greg came up with the brilliant motif of an X. It’s not quite the Zorro line of the Z, but it feels like someone slashing through, saying “No” and writing an X through things. You’ll notice it in his parents’ hands – they’re clasped in sort of an X – you’ll notice it in Bruce’s pose when he comes out of the theater, and you’ll notice it in the wires, there’s a big X. So that sense of “No, no, no, this is being crossed out,” when I saw that, I just thought it was genius on his part. … If you look at the smoke cloud when the gun fires, there’s a subtle bat shape in it. Things like that he brings to the table enhance not just the design on the page but the storytelling elements. He really is a brilliant guy.
HC: Back in the backups of “Night of the Owls,” there were a couple of glimpses of Martha and Thomas, and then in “Zero Year,” there have been a couple of flashbacks to Bruce’s interactions with his father. But the police station scene is the clearest look at who Thomas, Martha and Bruce were as a family on a semi-normal day. And it’s just three pages to make what readers know is coming feel, like you said the last time we talked, like Bruce feels at the loss of them. Can you talk about your approach to making the most of that and giving his parents personalities?
SS: They’ve become these kind of epic ciphers … it’s such iconic imagery. It’s such a primal story of loss that I think the mistake I was afraid of making was to make them perfect, to make them these idealized figures of Mom and Dad. The approach was to actually make his father and mother funny and self-deprecating, with moments of true, genuine good parenting in there as well. But to have his father sort of offended by the idea that Bruce takes him down a peg and is like, “I think the idea of Zorro’s corny. He just gets shot if he’s out there. He gets blown away by a cannon.” His dad’s sitting there, and Greg did that great pose of him with his chin in his hand, like, “Hmm, well now I’m upset.”
Making them human – that’s the key for me here, the thing that I felt was the most important was to make them imperfect and vulnerable and parents that are just trying to do their best and struggling. You can relate to that feeling where you want to be the ideal parent, but you never are. So to be able to put them on the page as characters that are doing their very best and at a moment when they make a decision where as their kid you’d be like, “You’re the best parents in the world,” was the idea there.
HC: Major ideas of guilt and failure that have been building in this part of “Zero Year” reach a fever pitch for both Bruce and Jim Gordon – with not just present failures but long-ago deaths weighing on them: the Wayne murders for both of them, and Bruce learning that Dr. Death’s son and others perished searching for him in his wandering years. How do you see the importance of guilt in this part of the story, and how do you see it affecting them going forward?
SS: We tried to make this section heavy with the idea of failure. The important thing here was to show Batman losing. It was difficult too. I went back and forth with Greg and with a couple of my friends, saying, “Do you think it’s too terrible to have him go down so epically and lose here and have the city flooded and have all of these terrible things happen?” What I decided was that it wasn’t at all too much. Instead I felt it was key to show him fail. But to make that redemptive, at least for me, was for the lesson to be that he fails because he does something wrong that he can correct in our third section…. In the first section he realizes he needs to mean something, he can’t just be a ghost. In the second section he realizes that he needs to be something inspiring … he can’t be an angel of vengeance, he can’t be someone that’s out to punish the city for taking away his parents. … He locked Jim Gordon out for so long because he blamed him so deeply for being part of what happened on that night with his parents’ deaths, for not being there and for nobody being there, that he moves too late in terms of trying to stop Dr. Death and ultimately the Riddler.
So that’s something he’ll certainly correct in the third part. The third part is sort of about how he needs to mean this thing forever, in some ways.
But that’s really what this second part was about for me was learning he can’t be ruled by the demons of the past; he can’t be someone who operates out of anger and vengeance. Instead he has to be someone who also inspires hope and camaraderie and a movement of rebellion and a movement of defiance.
HC: The Riddler explained the greater idea of his plan back in 27 when Bruce was stuck in the catacombs, but in 29 readers see some of the mechanics of it – how technology that Dr. Death stole from various former colleagues adds up, the practical elements of Riddler’s design. In writing this story, what went into the design of the doomsday device and building Riddler’s reputation?
SS: I feel badly for my wife a lot of the time because she’s a doctor so she’s my go-to science person –even though she knows nothing about a lot of the fields I have questions about. So I’ll always be like, “But you know science… What if there was signal jammer?” And she’s like, “I’m a doctor. We don’t use signal jammers.” I’m like, “It’s still that side of the brain.”
What I try to do with all of the research in “Batman” is find devices or find technological elements that exist, whether we’re talking about something like the vampire device that’s mentioned next issue or something like the remote signal deflector, all these sort of things that have corollaries in the real world. But you take them and make them capable of a couple steps further than what they’re capable of doing right now. So the biorestorative formula, for example, Poison Ivy’s nascent research, plays a really big role in the next issue as well.
Taking those pieces that almost exist but then twisting them so they can in “Batman” is one of the real fun things, whether you’re developing his Batmobile or his grappling gun or his costume itself – part of the fantasy and the fun of Batman is he exists in the real world, but just a little bit ahead of us. … That’s kind of the trick, I think, is to be like, “Well, there’s a signal jammer – and it can remotely stop signals from 100 miles away.” You can kind of bridge the gap between the plausible and what then becomes insane. That’s the challenge and the fun of writing the technological aspects of Batman’s gear.
HC: Speaking of the technological aspects of Batman’s gear, we can’t leave 29 behind without talking about the Bat-Blimp. How did Batman’s first aerial vehicle fly when you first brought it up?
SS: Everyone thought I was joking when I was like, “He’s going to have a blimp.” But for me I thought the Batwing is just too powerful and he wouldn’t have it yet – he’s just starting out. But you know that he has a fleet of dirigibles, because he gave a bunch to the police.
I was thinking he needs to ascend. He needs to go up, and he needs to be way, way up high. That sense of going up in a fortress or a thing that’s almost kind of a solitary, isolated capsule. There’s something almost haunting about going up in a blimp because you’re so vulnerable. All it takes is the gas cell being popped.
The design is based on a real blimp. … But we wanted to make it something also that was a lot bigger than that one and also ominous – so the second you see it you know if that’s anybody’s blimp, it’s got to be Batman’s.
It was a lot of fun, and I hate to see it go. I’m going to try to bring it back. But there’s so many things we haven’t done yet. We’ve never had a Bat-Truck, right? [Laughs]
HC: Looking ahead to 30, Gotham is flooded, “Savage City” is here. Back at the very beginning of “Zero Year” in 21, those first teaser images of what was to come, it seemed that Batman was presumed dead. Is that where we’re opening in 30?
SS: Yes. That’s where we open. Everyone saw that blimp go down in flames, and his cowl was found amid a burning wreck – and it’s put on a pike by Riddler. So the feeling is Batman fled or Batman’s dead. Because now it’s been a few weeks since that crash, and no one knows where he is. And the city has been utterly transformed into a post-apocalyptic deadly playground by the Riddler.
The fun of it is it’s overgrown, [the Riddler] controls the grid, he controls anything he can access remotely – vehicles, heavy machinery, elevators, whatever he can get into, he controls. And nobody knows where he is. So he’s basically challenging the city, “Find me, outsmart me, and you can have the city back. Otherwise, you’re all going down.”
It all tracks with this idea that we’ve had for the Riddler since before we began the story, which is that he really believes that riddles are these primal battles of wits, that he has this reverence for this idea that the only way humanity has survived with so few natural defenses – we have no claws, we have no fangs – is simply by outsmarting our own demise at key moments in evolutionary history. He sees this moment, or he claims to see this moment – he might just be narcissistic – as one of the greatest challenges to humanity ever: We’re running out of natural resources. He says national economies are running on fumes. Climate change is going to sink a lot of us pretty soon. Global terrorism is a huge thing. He says, “Why don’t I speed all of that up, put it in a blender in Gotham and present the city as it will be in the future, as this nightmarish mix of all the things coming?” So he’s like, “Prove to me that you’re smarter than me, and I’ll believe you’ll be able to outsmart all of these things that are coming in the future, all these terrible sort of trends, this entropic momentum.” That’s at least what he claims. Deep down, he’s just a big egotist. That’s what he’s transformed Gotham into – the biggest riddle.
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