‘Batman: Zero Year’: Scott Snyder talks Doctor Death, previews 26

Dec. 09, 2013 | 9:00 a.m.
bm cv26 ds Batman: Zero Year: Scott Snyder talks Doctor Death, previews 26

A cover for "Batman" No. 26. The issue is written by Scott Snyder, with art by Greg Capullo, inks by Danny Miki, colors by FCO Plascencia and letters by Steve Wands. (DC Entertainment)

bm26p1p1 Batman: Zero Year: Scott Snyder talks Doctor Death, previews 26

The first panel of the first page of "Batman" No. 26 shows young Bruce Wayne in a movie theater. (DC Entertainment)

bm26p13 Batman: Zero Year: Scott Snyder talks Doctor Death, previews 26

Lt. Jim Gordon visits Bruce Wayne in a scene from "Batman" No. 26. (DC Entertainment)

“Batman: Zero Year” is writer Scott Snyder’s and artist Greg Capullo’s ambitious 11-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 6 of the saga arrives Wednesday with “Batman” No. 26.

The Riddler has blacked out Gotham, but he’s not the only villain the young Batman has to contend with in “Dark City,” the second arc of “Zero Year” that began in last month’s No. 25.

Doctor Death, the horrifically skeletal figure who was once former Wayne Enterprises researcher Dr. Karl Helfern, is injecting other scientists with a formula that causes fatal bone overgrowth. Police Lt. Jim Gordon is on the case, but Bruce Wayne isn’t too willing to help him, though he’s investigating the matter himself – a search that leads him into what appears to be unexpected trouble as familiar friendly face, Lucius Fox, shockingly jabs him in the neck with a mysterious injection as that issue ends.

The new version of Doctor Death is markedly different from the original, who first appeared way back in 1939’s “Detective Comics” No. 29 – Batman’s third appearance – and was the Caped Crusader’s first repeat rogue (he was up to no good again in No. 30) and first supervillain, a mastermind mad-scientist type.

In a recent phone interview, Snyder discussed giving new life to Doctor Death, the animosity Bruce has toward Gordon, and why the creative team has waited until Part 6 of this origin story to begin showing the event that set a young boy on the course to becoming Batman: the deaths of Martha and Thomas Wayne.

Hero Complex: Continuing with Zero Year’s reworkings of elements in Batman’s history, you’ve introduced a new version of Doctor Death, one that is especially monstrous-looking. How did you arrive at this take on that character?

A variant cover for "Batman" No. 26 shows Doctor Death. (DC Entertainment)

A variant cover for “Batman” No. 26 shows Doctor Death. (DC Entertainment)

Scott Snyder: We wanted to do something that was really startling, but in a way that fit thematically with what was happening this arc. The “Dark City” arc that begins in 25 and ends with Issue 29 is about the city’s bones being broken and reset. It’s supposed to be represented in Doctor Death’s research, in the way he kills people, in the affliction he has himself and his past – so he’s a character who has a lot to do with scars and scar tissue and healing and abnormalities with bones. So we wanted to create something that worked thematically but was also something you hadn’t seen before and would be deeply scary. This arc is really very horror-driven because everything happens in the dark.

This is sort of Batman’s first big detective case as well, so we wanted to play up that notion of the city being black, the Riddler being somewhere in the background, and the Riddler also being somehow mysteriously responsible for the context of this mystery in a way that would make it clear that Batman not only has to solve his first big mystery, but he has to solve it as a detective with the stakes being incredibly high. Because if he doesn’t solve it in time, it threatens to expand and become something really terrible for the city.

HC: You talked about the horror element to this section, and of course you have quite a history as a horror writer. Can you talk about the design of Doctor Death, those huge teeth?

SS: We wanted him to be an almost Grim Reaper type but also be somebody who takes a lot of pride in working in research that he believes has to do with the preservation of life and making bones stronger. His research is tied to the mystery that you get glimpses of that happens in the desert in the beginning of 25 and in 26.

We wanted this arc to be something where all of the elements tie together toward a big lesson that Bruce has to learn, while the fate of the city hangs in the balance. All these elements – like the design of Doctor Death having to do with these skeletal elements – and then also the blackness of the city, the idea of the way Doctor Death kills people and the Riddler also counting down in the background. All of it we wanted to be something that culminates at the end of the arc in this big revelation about the kinds of things Bruce needs to learn if he’s going to be an effective hero for the city. And, you know, there’s a good chance he won’t learn them in time.

Lt. Jim Gordon visits Bruce Wayne in a scene from "Batman" No. 26. (DC Entertainment)

Lt. Jim Gordon visits Bruce Wayne in a scene from “Batman” No. 26. (DC Entertainment)

HC: Last time we talked, you said Bruce’s and Jim Gordon’s relationship would be much darker than in past versions, and we saw a little bit of that in 25 with the cruel prank with the bats that Bruce pulls. Can you go into your thinking behind that scene, and a little bit about the art on that page with the bats swarming up and Gordon touching the wound on his cheek?

SS: We want to pay homage to elements from the Bat mythos and stories that we really love, so for me that bat swarm is a small nod, at least, to [Frank Miller’s] “Year One,” where the bats come and distract all the police officers when Batman is cornered. At the same time, we wanted to touch on Zorro, who plays a part in the movie you’ll see in 26. The famous “Mark of Zorro” night that he spends with his parents, where his parents get killed in Crime Alley, is featured in this arc. This scratch on the cheek, this idea of making a small mark, all that kind of stuff we want to sort of play under the surface a little bit.

For us, also, the idea of the relationship itself between him and Gordon is much darker – in 26 and 27, you get a lot more about what sort of history colors their relationship as it stands in “Zero Year.” We wanted to give you something that has some teeth to it too, where Bruce doesn’t just dislike Gordon but … sees him as someone at the core of his own reasons for hating not just the corruption in the city but all criminal activity. He sees Gordon as one of the roots of Gotham’s ills, at this point.

HC: On a lighter note, early in 25 you swiftly dealt with the issue of guano in the Batcave. Was that a question you’d been asked often, or that you’d been asking yourself?

SS: [Laughs] Yes, it’s actually a question I get every couple weeks: “How do they keep that cave clean with all those bats?” We felt it just needed addressing as a burning question in the Bat mythos.

“Batman” No. 26: At the movies | Doctor Death | Gordon | Trench coat

HC: In that same scene, Bruce half-jokes to Alfred that the scar from his fall at the A.C.E. Chemical plant is his “first real kiss of Gotham.” Where do you see Bruce’s attitude about his work as Batman at this early point?

SS: I think in a lot of ways what Bruce doesn’t realize is the sacrifice he’s going to have to make. That’s part of what he learns in the third arc, “Wild City.” The momentum of that lesson really begins here.

In 26, one of the things that happens – to give a little spoiler – is Bruce, when he faces off with Gordon again in a really fun way, essentially says to him, “Where’d you get that trench coat that you always wear? Everyone knows you for wearing that trench coat, it’s part of who you are. So where’d you get it? Why don’t you tell that story, Gordon?” And he starts digging at him – “Why don’t you tell it? Tell me.” Gordon’s like, “That’s not important.” “Oh, sure it’s important.”…

A lot of things like that story about the coat that he brings up here have a lot of emotional impact in this arc. It’s very essential to why Bruce has such negative feelings about Gordon. But you’ll see the end of that plotline play out in the third arc, after this chapter’s long over. One of the things we’re trying to do too is create distinct chapters but roll a lot of this stuff over, not just so you see plot threads continue but you see Bruce learning things in a cumulative way, arc to arc. Sometimes the lesson comes too late in one arc and he learns it in the next. We’re trying to make it one huge arc even if it’s broken into these smaller distinct chapters.

A variant cover for "Batman" No. 26. (DC Entertainment)

A variant cover for “Batman” No. 26. (DC Entertainment)

HC: That was quite the twist at the end of 25, with Lucius Fox taking out Bruce. I can’t recall having seen Lucius in yours and Mr. Capullo’s title. I realize that’s a mystery that will probably be resolved quickly, but I wanted to ask if there’s anything you could say about why you chose Lucius.

SS: For us, he’s an important part of the mythology, and we haven’t really used him yet. He’s in a two-issue arc that we did in 20 and 21 about Clayface, but his role there is conventional, there’s not a lot to him there that’s new. So we wanted to go back and reexplore and reposition him in the Bat mythology. His history with Bruce’s father is explored, his history with Bruce, and what his role is in the company gets a definitive origin here in “Zero Year.” And, yeah, that mystery will be resolved pretty quickly.

But one of the things we’re trying to do with this arc is every issue throw things at you that you’re stunned by. Part of the fun of this arc for me – and “Zero Year” in general, but this arc in particular – is we want you to turn the page and say, “What? What does that mean?” in a way that’s fun and teases forward a colorful and bombastic mystery that has these strange parts moving at once. So one minute you could be in the Nigerian desert and the next you’re in the catacombs of Gotham, to really give it a sense of scope and to give it also a sense of surprise.

HC: The “Zero Year” backup stories before 25 dealt with Bruce’s years away from Gotham, his experiences that trained him to be Batman. But in 25, the backup turned to the younger Harper and Cullen Row dealing with the blackout. Can you talk about the decision to tell that story with James Tynion, and will Harper pop up again in “Zero Year”?

SS: She does actually pop in Issue 29, and Cullen as well, briefly. But what we wanted to do is give you a sense of what it’s like on the ground in Gotham as all these events are unfolding. This arc, “Dark City,” has to do not just with the blackout but a superstorm that threatens to rock the city and flood it if they’re not careful around the retention walls. We wanted to really give you a glimpse of what it’s like to be an everyday citizen in Gotham, and for me they’re great lenses for that because they’re two young people struggling to make a living in one of the worst neighborhoods of Gotham, in the Narrows. … You’ll see a lot more of that perspective in this arc.

HC: The helmet in the Nigerian desert read, “Tokyo Moon,” which was a phrase on one of Edward Nygma’s notes back in No. 21. Will readers see more of Nigeria in 26 and Nygma’s plot unfolding?

SS: You’ll see more of it, and I think you’ll see more of that phrase. It definitely has meaning for both the Riddler and Doctor Death. We wanted to create something where you could go back to the first issue and see things even in the final issue, in 31, that play out and pay off.

One of the main themes of the story is threads, and that sense of the thread on the eye going down into the cave that will become the Batcave when Bruce is a boy and first lowers it to see what’s down there. And the threads that connect him to his future, that sense of the red thread of fate and all of those ideas of the invisible lines that connect us to the people that we’re going to become.

The Riddler is someone who believes he can see those things, and that’s partly why that metaphor is literalized in this idea of a web that he creates in his office. Sometimes he’s very right, and sometimes his Achilles’ heel is his own hubris about that – that even if you think you can see the design behind things, there’s always anomalies. One of the great things about Batman for me is that he almost represents this kind of monkey wrench in the machinery of that sort of design because he’s so illogical and crazy as a concept. The fact that this rich guy would go out every night and sacrifice his body to save a city dressed as a bat, devote so much of his fortune to this insane mission, is something you really can’t plan for in your designed web. So he kind of defies the machinery of the Riddler’s planning and logic in a way that I think comes to a really fun culmination later on.

The first panel of the first page of "Batman" No. 26 shows young Bruce Wayne in a movie theater. (DC Entertainment)

The first panel of the first page of “Batman” No. 26 shows young Bruce Wayne in a movie theater. (DC Entertainment)

HC: This origin story has so far stayed away from showing the night that Martha and Thomas Wayne were killed, the transformative event in Bruce’s life. I know you’ve joked before about not doing four issues of the pearls falling. You tweeted out a tease from the first page of 26 showing a boy who appears to be Bruce eating popcorn in a theater. Can you talk about choosing to wait this long to start showing what happened?

SS: It was a very deliberate decision on our part to not tell that part of the story right off the bat because we felt as though you guys as readers expected it and have seen it, and we didn’t really have a new context for it in that first arc. It would have just been doing it for the sake of showing you the moment that transformed Bruce. This arc, though, has a much different context. In fact, in that scene that you see from 26 that I tweeted, which is actually the opening page of the issue, you’ll pull back and see Bruce alone in the theater, and he’s watching Zorro.

We want to create a story around that day and the night that gives you a different context for the event that plays into what this arc is about. Otherwise, there really wouldn’t be a point in showing it. We could just say his parents died in an alley, and that’s it. You’ve seen it enough times. And, really, there isn’t any outdoing the Miller version, in my opinion, of the depiction visually.

So it became about, well, if we’re going to show it, let’s show it in a way that makes it part of a story about that whole day and that moment in Bruce’s life that changes its meaning and gives it the same iconic status and doesn’t change the pieces of it. You’re not going to see it in such a way that Joe Chill is now the Riddler or anything ridiculous like that. He’s Joe Chill. But the events themselves are framed differently and the things that happen that day charge it with different consequences for Bruce.

The first arc in a lot of ways is about him learning that he has to mean something. This arc in a lot of ways is about him learning that he can’t make Batman somebody that’s out to punish everyone. That’s essentially what Alfred accuses him of in this arc, and Gordon, really, is that you’re not letting anyone in to help you because you’re basically out there to punish us all for not being there when your parents died.

HC: Is there’s anything else about 26 you’d like to say?

SS: It’s the beginning of the story about the alley … this is the definitively the arc where you’re going to see what happened in the alley in that seminal moment. But the events leading up to it are going to be really different from what you’ve seen, and frame it in such a way that I think gives you a fresh and surprising look at the day that Bruce’s life changed.

HC: What do you have to say about the work your colleagues did on their series’ “Zero Year” tie-in issues? Were there any that particularly surprised you?

SS: My goal with these was to say if you guys really want to do them, I’m open to it, but I don’t want any of the story that happens in “Zero Year” to be dependent on them, and I also don’t want you to feel like you’re dependent on the story happening in “Zero Year” with regard to Bruce Wayne. I want these to be glimpses into your characters’ lives six years ago that have to do with what you’re building in your own series.

I was really, really proud and happy with a number of them. I mean, for me, “Green Arrow” was just terrific. I think “Red Hood” is really going to wow people. And “Detective Comics,” that Gordon story, I just really, really loved. I think “Batgirl” was really strong. “Action Comics,” I felt was terrific, by Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder.

I think the most effective ones … dig into a lesson that their character has to learn that really has to do with what they’re struggling with in their own series, as opposed to trying to do a story about Gotham or about Batman. I think a number of them did that really beautifully. I’m really happy they did them. I’m really proud that these writers want to tie in even when it’s a more singular story.

– Blake Hennon | @BlakeHennon | @LATHeroComplex


"Batman" No. 25, by writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo, is set for a Nov. 13 release. Cover art by Capullo. (DC Comics)

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One Response to ‘Batman: Zero Year’: Scott Snyder talks Doctor Death, previews 26

  1. trickyfilms says:

    Doctor Death is a great choice for a secondary antagonist in zero year hes monstrous and keeps in touch with the original continuity.

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