‘Batman: Zero Year’: Scott Snyder talks Riddler, previews 28

Feb. 10, 2014 | 1:10 p.m.

Here's an exclusive look at a panel from "Batman" No. 28, by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV and Dustin Nguyen, out Wednesday. Click through the gallery for more from No. 28 and the reveal of the cover for "Batman" No. 31. (DC Entertainment)

Greg Capullo's cover art for "Batman" No. 31, with inks by Danny Miki and colors by FCO Plascencia. (DC Entertainment)

“Batman: Zero Year” is writer Scott Snyder 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. The saga takes a break this month with “Batman” No. 28, a jump-ahead “spoilers” issue that looks into the future of “Batman: Eternal.” It arrives Wednesday.

The Riddler seems to have Batman all figured out.

In last month’s “Batman” No. 27, Part 7 of “Zero Year,” the criminally clever Mr. Nygma had Gotham police a step ahead of the vigilante, and appeared at the end to taunt him in a life-or-death situation for not being much of a detective.

And what better time for a villain to tease his grand scheme? The Riddler plans to plunge Gotham into disaster, and only the smart will survive.

But what happens next will have to wait until March.

In this month’s “Batman” No. 28, Snyder, along with co-writer James Tynion IV and artist Dustin Nguyen, is giving readers a spoiler-ific “trailer for all the great stuff coming” in “Batman: Eternal,” the event celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. It’s anchored by a weekly series that debuts in April – a series that Snyder and Tynion largely developed and one that will feature plenty of art by Nguyen. Hero Complex readers get an exclusive look at two panels from the issue — and the reveal of the cover art for “Batman” No. 31 — in the gallery above or via the links below.

‘Batman’ 28 panel | ‘Batman’ 28 panel | ‘Batman’ 31 cover art

Both are collaborators with whom Snyder has worked before.

Tynion (“Red Hood and the Outlaws”), a former student of Snyder’s, launched “Talon” along with him and has worked on “Batman” backups and annuals. “Having one issue to show Gotham at its craziest – he’s a great co-writer for something like that,” Snyder said. “His character work is just incredible.”

Nguyen and Snyder teamed on the “American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares” miniseries and “Superman Unchained” backups. “His work is so kinetic and so impressionistic,” the writer says. “It’s almost like you get this sense of shadowy motion all the time. Everything feels so fluid, panel to panel. … He can, in a couple of strokes, evoke such a huge sense of scene. The blend also of the really dark inks and the lighter brushstrokes — he’s just one of these guys who I think is perfect for Gotham.”

In a phone interview Monday, Snyder discussed writing an ambitious Riddler, making Alfred his own, collaborating with Capullo on action sequences, saying farewell to editor Mike Marts (who’s returning to Marvel) and planning stories worthy of Batman’s 75th anniversary.

"Batman" No. 27, the latest installment in "Zero Year," comes out Wednesday. Cover by Greg Capullo. (DC Entertainment)

“Batman” No. 27. Cover by Greg Capullo. (DC Entertainment)

Hero Complex: At the beginning of 27, Commissioner Loeb and his Gotham PD hit squad have the drop on Batman and have been told by Riddler to expect what he’ll do at each stage of the fight. Could you take us through how you and Greg Capullo choreograph an action sequence like that one?

Scott Snyder: The way we do an action sequence like that is basically I’ll have an idea of the main beats and the main twists of an action scene like that. I know ahead of time that Batman will escape this predicament with Steps A, B and C. Outside of that what I try and do is really give Greg a ton of room to choreograph a scene if he wants to play it out in multiple panels or to use splashes or whatever he feels will make the action most dramatic, given the tone of the scene he’s open to do. I panel it, but I do it pretty loosely and don’t really give him much more than the bare bones staging. I write in the dialogue pretty thoroughly so he can get a sense of who needs to be on the page. Other than that, he has full rein to visualize it however he sees fit.

It’s huge, for me — part of what makes working with him so great. We have a shorthand at this point where I don’t feel in any way capable of directing an action scene half as well as he can. It’s really fun to know the story twists – OK, Batman’s going to escape from this by using a tank of compressed oxygen to propel him out of this ring of police boats – but outside of that, to see Greg choreograph it in such a way that Commissioner Loeb is getting closer and closer through the smoke, and the masks being so menacing, all of that is the wonder of his art and the sense of drama he brings to the page.

A scene from "Batman" No. 27 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. (DC Entertainment)

A scene from “Batman” No. 27 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. (DC Entertainment)

HC: After Batman escapes, Gordon comes to his rescue and reveals what he experienced in that day leading up to the killing of Bruce’s parents. Batman bails on him but does return Gordon’s glasses. How do you see their developing relationship at this point?

SS: Usually I feel like Gordon is so suspicious of Batman and antagonistic toward him in a lot of interpretations when Batman first appears. I was more interested in this idea of Gordon feeling a responsibility for his own mistakes and seeing Batman as a possible ally.

Here, I see their relationship as something where Gordon is willing to extend a hand and say, “I’ve been alone as a cop and someone trying to do good in this city for so many years. I see something in you, given that you saved me even though I was after you in the A.C.E. Chemical plant that I feel is reflective of what I’m trying to do too. I think we could be allies.” We wanted Gordon to take the first step toward Batman.

I see it here at a crucial juncture where Bruce is deciding too late to come around to Jim Gordon. We want to show in Issue 29, when we come back to “Zero Year,” the repercussions of Batman not understanding that he needs to be a symbol of inspiration as well as one of fear to criminals.

HC: Alfred speaks to Bruce’s conscience in the Batcave, trying to make him a better Batman. He also has a nice little dig when Bruce says Doctor Death has a flair for the dramatic [“Says the young man in the Batsuit”]. You’ve talked about needing to make Bruce your own. How have you made Alfred your own?

A scene from "Batman" No. 27" by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. (DC Entertainment)

A scene from “Batman” No. 27″ by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. (DC Entertainment)

SS: I love writing Alfred. I could write Alfred all day. I was teasing [DC Comics Co-Publisher] Dan DiDio not long ago that I would really love to pitch an Alfred series, where it’s him having tea in the Batcave and expounding on things – because I adore writing his voice.

I’m trying to make him my own in that he also makes mistakes in this series. I think the way that he acted in the first arc, “Secret City,” where he came down hard on Bruce for not stepping up and being more of a public hero – even though what he said had a lot of truth to it and was ultimately the right advice – the way he went about it and the anger with which he delivered that message were very much part of his own sense of guilt for not being there that night for Bruce. That whole sense of anger at the fact that Bruce has been away so long.

Their relationship is still kind of fragile. … I think they’re both still a little bit angry at each other and want badly to forgive each other and to be forgiven by each other. That’s where I’ve tried to make the relationship our own, where you can feel them being a little bit more prickly with each other than you’re used to.

HC: At the end of the issue, the basics of the Riddler’s grand scheme are revealed – the transformation of the city into a deadly meritocracy. So this is a very big-thinking, ambitious version of the Riddler. You’d mentioned at conventions well in advance of the announcement of “Zero Year” that you planned to do a big Riddler story. What about him in particular appeals to you as the mastermind criminal for Batman to face in his formative early days, to shape him into the Batman he becomes?

SS: The reason I thought he’d be so perfect for an earlier story or to be the first massive challenge Bruce faces as a supervillain is because built into Batman is the idea that aside from all the gadgets and all of the fighting skills and all the things that make him so fun, at heart what his greatest skill is his sense of detection. He is the world’s greatest detective. And ultimately the idea of being a detective comes down to solving these empirical mysteries.

So this idea that the Riddler is all about creating questions with simple answers but a very circuitous path to those answers … . That, to me, felt like the perfect adversary because if there’s one thing Batman needs to be the best at, it’s his ability as a detective. That’s why I wanted to pit the Riddler against him and make the Riddler more ambitious than you’ve seen him.

In this section, the Riddler is very much about – it’s the end of times, to him, or so he says. He’s really just driven by his own big ego, but ultimately what he’s saying is, “I will be the beast at the gates that says you’ve become lazy and you’ve become, more than anything, stupid. And what we need to do is become smarter as a city if we’re going to survive the challenges ahead – climate change, terrorism, all of these things that are coming down the pipe. And all of you feel it deep down, don’t you? The sense of doom. The sense of apocalypse. There’s only so many weeks left before this city will flood or an earthquake hits or something happens. So let’s get so smart that we can overcome all of these. So I’ll create those circumstances for you now. Let’s speed up the entropic process, and in doing so I’ll watch over you and make sure you’re smart enough. So come challenge me. You beat me, and you’ll be able to beat anything coming your way.”

HC: It’s a very serious and scary take on a character who because of the riddles and the traditional costumes is easy to take lightly or put in a humorous light.

SS: He’s still pretty funny, I have to say. He still makes a lot of jokes. He’s not super-grim. … The one thing I wanted to make sure of is that he’s not changed at core. He’s not a serial killer, he’s not a psychopath, he’s not that. He’s a man who is driven by this incredible insecurity and this huge ego and a sense of false purpose. That is really different than a character like the Joker, who’s out to terrorize.

I remember Paul Dini, when asked why aren’t there more Riddler stories, said it’s because riddles are really hard to write. It’s true. Hopefully with this one you’ll get enough fun and funny riddles. I just spent a lot of time putting one into Issue 30 that’s both humorous and deadly at once.

The cover for "Batman" No. 28. (DC Entertainment)

The cover for “Batman” No. 28. (DC Entertainment)

HC: Turning to 28, you’ve got a whole issue of spoilers. … I don’t know if you want to spoil spoilers – anything you want to tell readers about that issue?

SS: The issue takes place in what will be about the summer / fall of Gotham, so a good step into “Eternal,” well into the first big arc. You’re going to see a surprising take on who the new crime boss of Gotham is. You’re going to see Gotham changed in that it’s under lockdown for some reason – you’ll hear about something happening in Gotham that’s transforming it. You will be surprised by Batman’s allies and his enemies. It really is meant to be like every two pages or so you get a new reveal that hopefully will make readers both happy and surprised.

It’s as packed as it could be with teasers and reveals of things coming this year – some of which DC wasn’t sure they wanted us to show. But we really felt we had a good enough story that we could spoil some of it, and there are so many surprises coming in that series that are just as big or bigger than what’s in “Batman” 28. We thought we could go big with the twists and turns and surprises in this issue.

HC: I know that the current 28 was done in part to give Greg Capullo a little more space to work on the extra pages and big moments of 29. This will be the [second] issue of this “Batman” series with art in the main story by someone other than Capullo. Was that a difficult decision?

SS: The reason we wanted more time for it is that the issue is 40 pages long – it’s literally 40 pages of Greg. He offered to do it within the time that would’ve gotten the issue out on time. … But I’m just thinking to myself, “Why am I punishing this guy for being fast and ahead by giving him another 18 pages to draw?” That’s insane. So instead why not take a breather, we’ll reward fans by getting to show them cool stuff coming up and give Greg the breathing room he deserves.

Honestly, he would do it and he offered to. And he honestly fought me a little bit about wanting to interrupt “Zero Year.” But my feeling was, take your time and enjoy it and we have great stuff coming up.

I’m really, really happy with the decision and I know Greg is too now. He’s had extra time to work on the alley sequences and all of that.

Greg Capullo's cover art for "Batman" No. 31. (DC Entertainment)

Greg Capullo’s cover art for “Batman” No. 31, with inks by Danny Miki and colors by FCO Plascencia. (DC Entertainment)

The other thing is: This material is so intimidating and it’s so difficult to touch without really being frightened of the heavy weight of what you’re doing. What you want is time to sit and think about how to do it in a way that feels right for your story and feels different than what came before. One of the things I think is tough with comics is it’s on a conveyor belt. … I’m writing 31 and 32 right now. Issues 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27 are all out, so if I want to change things from early on, I can’t. They’re already published. That sense of you can’t look back. You have to keep going. It gets really scary. And the fact that you don’t have more than a month each issue, the only way to do that is to get ahead and to give your artist more time.

So for us, when it comes to this beat, the beat in 29, the alley sequence, that needs that extra time to figure out how are we going to do this so it’s powerful and different from what you’ve seen. I’m really, really happy with the way everything turned out. I believe that 28, 29 and 30 through 33 are going to be, honestly, some of the best issues of “Batman” you’ve read from us.

HC: Mike Marts is moving on from the Batman titles. He’s come up a time or two in these conversations, but I wondered if you could talk a little bit more about working with him, not just on “Zero Year,” but re-creating Batman in the New 52.

SS: I couldn’t be more grateful to Mike. He gave me my first shot – just starting out on “American Vampire,” he gave me all of “Detective Comics” for 12 issues, both the feature and the backup to play with, and he allowed me to pick the artists that I really wanted for that arc [“The Black Mirror”] despite them not being typical house style, with Jock and Francesco [Francavilla]. Every step of the way, Mike has defended me and been a friend. I couldn’t be prouder of him for what he’s been able to do with the Bat-books — not just mine but with Grant [Morrison, on “Batman Inc.”] and with Pete [Tomasi] and Pat [Gleason] on “Batman and Robin” and with John Layman on “Detective” and Gail [Simone] on “Batgirl” – he’s made it into a real family. We’re all really happy for him and excited to see what he does across the aisle. We’re really friends outside of this industry, genuinely friends. And he leaves behind a terrific editor in Katie Kubert, who’s been a part of the same team really from go.

As much as we’re going to miss him, we feel really good about going forward.

Our goal is to bring you the best Batman we can for the 75th anniversary this year. … If you think we’re not going to try to bring you the biggest stories in that year and the biggest changes to Gotham and the biggest instances of Batman being as badass as he can possibly be, then you don’t know us. … It’s going to be a very good year for Batman. I promise.

– Blake Hennon | @BlakeHennon | @LATHeroComplex

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