‘Batman: Zero Year’ 31: Scott Snyder on Riddler, Alfred, Frank Miller
The cover for "Batman" No. 31, written by Scott Snyder, with art by Greg Capullo, inks by Danny Miki and colors by FCO Plascencia. (DC Entertainment)Link
"Batman" No. 31, Page 25. (DC Entertainment)Link
Bruce hears the Riddler challenging someone to step up against him on Page 17 of "Batman" No. 30, written by Scott Snyder with art by Greg Capullo, inks by Danny Miki and colors by FCO Plascencia. (DC Entertainment)Link
The Riddler makes his daily challenge to Gotham on Page 16 of "Batman" No. 30. The images of the evolution of humans and a medieval scene are nods to Edward Nygma's thinking and to research Scott Snyder and Marguerite Bennett did into the lore of riddles. (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 10 of the saga arrives Wednesday with “Batman” No. 31.
The Riddler is playing high-stakes games with Gotham City, and he’s winning.
But Batman, just recovered from injuries sustained when Edward Nygma took over the city, is preparing to rise to the challenge, even with just a T-shirt instead of his normal Batsuit for protection. Indeed, he was seen with a cowl and street clothes at the end of “Batman” No. 30.
“This is Bruce ready for war,” writer Scott Snyder said. “He doesn’t even need a costume. He is Batman, with or without his gadgets, with or without his money, with or without his costume – he is Batman at core.”
Hero Complex readers get an early look at pages from “Batman” No. 31 in the gallery above or via the links below.
In a recent phone interview, Snyder discussed the Riddler’s thinking, Alfred’s influence, why Bruce chooses as he does, and a favorite scene from the upcoming issue. Plus, the writer and professor described having his collaborator Greg Capullo as a guest lecturer (via Skype) for a class he teaches, and recounted a dinner with legendary Batman writer Frank Miller that included a “Zero Year” compliment delivered in the “Sin City” creator’s customary colorful candor.
Hero Complex: With riddles, dominoes, ring around the rosie, you have the Riddler taking some childhood games to extremes. What’s the appeal in doing that with this character?
Scott Snyder: I think the fun of him reinterpreting the simplest intellectual challenges to children is he’s basically taunting Gotham and taunting Batman, saying, “You guys aren’t even smart enough to solve the simplest kinds of problems and challenges I throw your way. You’ll never, never get the city back from me when it comes to the higher obstacles that I’ve set up for you intellectually.”
Batman prides himself on being the world’s greatest detective. If he has a superpower, it’s his intelligence and his skills of detection, more than his muscles or gadgets or any of that stuff. To challenge him on an intellectual level and say, “You’re not smart enough to save the city. You can’t compete with me” was to me a deeply, almost like a primal challenge to Batman….
I will say that riddles are hard to come up with. It’s the one drag of writing the Riddler.
HC: Bruce has an internal decision-making process in this story where he’s trying to decide what to do. Can you talk about his thinking when he’s presented with the reasonable alternative from Alfred, whether the Riddler’s “So where are you, hero?” speech changes his mind, and Alfred’s reaction at the end when he realizes Bruce hasn’t taken the reasonable course?
SS: I think in some ways Alfred is the father. I was talking to Greg Rucka [“Detective Comics,” “Gotham Central,” “Whiteout”], and he said Alfred is more of a mother, actually. He’s this incredibly caring parental figure for [Bruce] where his advice is the right advice, but sometimes I think we have to define ourselves against our parents, even if that means making our own mistakes. Hopefully what Bruce did isn’t a mistake in this case.
[Alfred is] one of my favorite characters to write because he’s that sort of Jiminy Cricket on your shoulder saying, “You know what you should be doing.” Having that in front of you all the time gives your decisions that much more gravitas when you decide one way or another…. And at the end of the day he’s always right, I think. But sometimes you have to do the crazy thing. It’s part of what “Zero Year” is about. Ultimately, the lesson of it is that you have to find the crazy thing that keeps you from going crazy and turns you into the kind of hero you want to be. And that’s Batman for Bruce.
HC: Did you see Bruce as beginning to take Alfred’s advice until he heard the Riddler’s speech, or is that something you wanted to leave open to interpretation?
SS: The only reason I leave it open to interpretation is because there’s a big revelation coming about Bruce’s past in Issue 33 where he explains exactly why he didn’t turn away in that moment. He talks to Alfred about why he thinks it’s more important for Gotham to see him get up and fail if he’s going to fail than it does for him to preserve the image of Batman…. [There is] a moment in his past that he offers up to Alfred that is something very new that you haven’t seen before in the mythology from when he was a child, where he says this is why I couldn’t do what you wanted me to do and then technically why I couldn’t do the thing that makes the most sense.
HC: The Riddler solves a riddle posed by Bob Chee, former lead strategist at Powers Industries, before he is even finished asking it, and offers an analysis of how he prefigured the question based on what he knows about Chee. Is there a storytelling danger in making Edward Nygma that smart, that maybe he’ll seem too smart for whatever his downfall might be?
SS: He’s so deadly smart in so many ways and then on the other hand he’s incredibly nearsighted. He’s also emotionally extremely immature [laughs] and stunted. He’s a terrifying figure in that regard…. His arrogance is his downfall, always – the fact that he can’t see past the deadly traps … [of] these challenges he pits Batman and Gotham against. He doesn’t understand that there are things that exist outside of his own intelligence. Meaning sometimes you don’t solve the problem the way he thinks you should solve it.
HC: I wonder if you could talk about the art on Page 16, where you see the progress of man from ape and in the bottom panel the knight and the king and the woman behind a barred window.
SS: That was the distillation, the tiny bit of a lot of research I had fun doing with some friends about the history of riddles. Marguerite Bennett, who wrote “Joker’s Daughter,” is a big folklorist and I asked her could she help me find the presence of riddles throughout different cultural paradigms. And together we dug up a lot of fun lore about riddles and how they figure into different times, into medieval myths where knights had to answer questions to save the maiden or the princess, things like Norse mythology where Odin would pose riddles….
The fun of it was understanding that Riddler sees this form of the riddle as a kind of battle of wits. It’s also a test of worth for a hero or an adversary and that he sees it as this kind of duel that he engages in that’s a really simple form but really pure. Those couple panels were a nod toward that idea that his philosophy is founded on this idea that we evolved as a species, or we survived as a species and thrived because of our intelligence. And that riddles, at core, are these aggressive tests of intelligence that people pose to one another….
We were trying to at least nod to some of the research we did. Even though we didn’t wind up putting very much of it in at all. There will be stuff about the history of the question mark, the symbol, all that kind of stuff. Some of the research I feel like I have to get in there because we had so much fun doing it. It’s always that way with research, where I feel like you do a lot and then you wind up putting in a tiny fraction of any of it, and it looks like you didn’t do any. [laughs]
HC: Would you discuss the design of Bruce’s makeshift Batsuit that we see on the final page of 30?
SS: It’s really just his clothes. He’s basically sort of wearing what he has left. The fun of it was supposed to be: This is Bruce ready for war. He doesn’t even need a costume. He is Batman, with or without his gadgets, with or without his money, with or without his costume – he is Batman at core….
In 31, he makes his own suit. It’s one of my favorite scenes actually, because Riddler is challenging the city and he’s like, “Isn’t your mascot the Knights? Who’s out there that challenges me? I dare you – go fly your colors.” And as he’s saying this, you see Batman spray-painting a bat on a gray T-shirt. You see him picking out gloves. And he finds purple ones, and he’s like, “Ahh”…. You’ll see him go into that suit that you saw him wear in the very first issue of “Zero Year,” in the cold open.
HC: Gordon meeting Bruce on the day or night his parents were killed has certainly been a big part of “Zero Year” – and with 30 they seem to have reached the agreement that fans are familiar with. It also happened back in Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” and, looking at the first trailer of the new TV show “Gotham,” it’s going to happen there. What are the advantages of it, and why do you think it’s been coming into the mythos so prominently in the last 10 years or so?
SS: I can really only speak for myself. Part of the challenge of “Zero Year” was to do stuff that you hadn’t seen before, and for me that meant developing the story around Bruce’s parents’ death wasn’t only about Joe Chill and the shot in the alley and the pearls, but had to do with the bigger repercussions of everything that died and was born that night.
I realized that the section had to also be about his relationship with Gordon and the forming of that relationship…. Not only is Gordon this incredibly heroic police officer and Batman’s greatest ally, but he’s a character who is vulnerable and has made mistakes…. And sometimes his hopefulness or his obsessions lead him to places that make him more human.
It wasn’t about following the example of the movies or even trying to follow continuity, but it was about trying to create a full story for that second section where everyone had something at stake, something to be forgiven by Bruce … that Bruce wouldn’t let go of.
That part is about exorcising the idea of the angry demon Batman – that I loved growing up – but that I think … doesn’t work as the symbol for the Gotham we’ve created. [Instead, we make him] a symbol of inspiration to the population of Gotham…. For me, it’s a very important shift in the perception of him, in terms of how we’re positioning Batman…. I think ours is a little bit more of a warrior, a mad knight who goes up there and says, “If I can do this insane thing and go out there every night, you do the thing that you hope you’re brave enough to do in Gotham.”
HC: I saw that Greg Capullo talked to your Sarah Lawrence College class. The two of you have worked together for about three years now, and I know that working relationship didn’t start off swimmingly. I was curious what you have learned from him – did you pick up anything new when he talked to the class?
SS: He talked for the first half of it with a dummy. He had a mannequin head with a mustache and a [Black Label Society] cap and sunglasses – he loves clowning around. That was the highlight of my class’ entire semester, talking to this dummy that said he was Greg Capullo. It was hilarious, and he gave terrific advice to my students. It was incredibly educational for them – and for me. We don’t get that much time to rap back and forth about craft. It’s always so specific to the things we’re working on.
I’ve learned a tremendous amount. He really is like a big brother to me…. On the craft side, I’ve learned to be a much better storyteller for his coaching. He really does show me, page by page sometimes, why the way I envision a scene might be better done a different way. It’s always up to him to do that…. A lot of the time he follows the script really closely and that’s always cool. But when he goes off road and does his own thing, it always comes out better. I really love that aspect of working with him, that he’ll explain why he did this and I can see his thinking – sometimes we disagree, but ultimately I think why we get along is we both care passionately about the character and about the stories we’re working on.
We have a big discussion before we begin any arc about what it’s about, what it means to us personally, what we want to contribute to it thematically. So we really know what it’s about for each other as a team before we embark on any of them. In that way, I think we make really good partners.
In life, the guy has become one of my closest friends…. We wind up trying to pick cons where we can go away together with our families. Our wives are friends. He’s just one of these guys who, his ethics – his work ethic and also his moral compass, his strength in adversity … I think he’s a terrific person. I’m very lucky to get to work with him as a collaborator. I really genuinely love him, you know. I think we really are like brothers at this point, and I hope he would say the same thing. I’m pretty sure he would. He’d make fun of me, but he’d say the same thing.
HC: You’ve talked often about the influence that Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight Returns” and “Year One” have had on you – and there have been visual cues to those in “Zero Year” – and then I saw you posted a picture on Twitter of the two of you having dinner. What was that meeting of the minds like?
SS: I was really nervous meeting him because he wrote the two stories, not just Batman stories, but stories that made me want to write comics, and draw comics at that time – I was 9 when I read “Dark Knight Returns,” which was definitely way above my head but was incredibly important.
It was just him, me, [Batman group editor] Mark Doyle and [DC Comics co-publisher] Dan DiDio. He was incredibly warm. He had read “Zero Year,” which blew my mind…. The one thing he said that I will take with me to my grave happily that I will tell you is, after he told me what he liked about the story, he said, “and you gave him a good … haircut.” I want that on a T-shirt for myself.
We talked a lot about Batman. We talked about the need to make the story personal and the challenge of making him personal when the character is so universal and everyone has opinions about him and he’s a corporate character…. How constantly trying to keep it important to you as a writer is the key to writing him well for fans. And also having a birth and a death for him in your mind…. You’re writing them to be as though you made them up, and you have to do it that way or you’re just going to be terrified the whole time you’re writing them because you realize how much they mean to you and to everybody else.
One of the ways to do that – Grant Morrison mentioned this to me too actually – is that you have to imagine that you’ve made them up and you’re going to put them away at the end. Of course, you don’t. You leave them to the next writer. But in your mind you have to kind of have your own origin and your own demise or rebirth for that character so that you don’t feel as though you’re working in the shadow of these giants constantly.
Talking to [Miller] was incredibly inspiring…. One of the big thrills of my career was getting to sit and talk and rap Batman with him.
HC: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about No. 31?
SS: I will absolutely say I believe it’s one of our best issues on “Batman.” I never say that when I don’t mean it…. I’ve said it about maybe five issues since we started. I really believe that this and 33 are two of our best. Not that 32 is a stinker…. But this is one of those issues where everything comes together, and it has some of my favorite moments in the series.
You’re going to get one splash on Page 7 that I think if I ever get one [original art] page from Greg Capullo, this will be the page I try and buy or ask for.
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