‘Batman: Zero Year’: Scott Snyder talks young Bruce Wayne, previews 27

Jan. 20, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.
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"Batman" No. 27, the latest installment in "Zero Year," comes out Wednesday. Cover by Greg Capullo. (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 7 of the saga arrives Wednesday with “Batman” No. 27.

Batman and Commissioner Jim Gordon are known to generations of comic readers and TV and movie viewers as close allies, but that’s not the case so far in “Zero Year.”

Last month’s “Batman” No. 26 began with the grade-school-age Bruce Wayne being arrested by a years-away-from-being-commissioner Gordon for truancy. So begins a day being parsed out in flashbacks that will forever change a boy’s life. Readers have yet to see fully why, but “Zero Year’s” adult Bruce hates Gordon.

His more immediate concern in 26, however, was Doctor Death, a former Wayne Enterprises scientist whose bone regrowth serum has horrifying consequences. The erstwhile Karl Helfern has been taking out former colleagues and had come for Lucius Fox.

It all came to a stunning cliffhanger that leads into this Wednesday’s release of “Batman” No. 27, which Snyder promises will reveal many secrets.

“Batman” No. 27: Cover | Water | Boat | Dogs | Alfred | Screen

In a phone interview last week, the writer discussed showing Bruce before his parents’ deaths, developing Batman’s relationship with Gordon, needing to learn to accept allies — and his own work with artist allies Greg Capullo and FCO Plascencia.

Hero Complex: Readers and film audiences know Bruce generally beginning at the traumatic incident of his childhood, the murder of this parents. But at the start of the last issue, we see a little of him before that. You have him skipping school to go see a movie [“The Mark of Zorro”] at what’s presumably a revival house and with a bucket of popcorn that might outweigh him. What was important to you about showing, and how do you see Bruce, before the defining incident?

Scott Snyder: Part of the reason to go back to that material isn’t just to do anything different for shocking reasons but to give you a chance to explore a different angle of that same incident. Part of what we’ve been trying to do from go is give you a different interpretation of why Batman does what he does. So what was interesting to me about that night and the day preceding it is how he comes to think of the city, how he comes to think of that incident, beyond just the shooting itself, but what it means about the police, what it means about his neighbors in Gotham, what it means about the citizens of Gotham.

Honestly, what we’re trying to do is show in a lot of ways how this incident colors Batman and his decision to become Batman in a way that isn’t actually what it eventually becomes. There’s a lesson in this arc that he learns, and learns a bit too late, that has to do with what happened on that day and how he perceives not just the shooting itself, but everyone around it – from Gordon to the police to the citizens of Gotham to Joe Chill and all of that.

HC: Cutting school to go to the movies is a little rebellious. Was that something you wanted to show – things already inside his personality before his parents’ murder that might make for Batman?

SS: Yeah. Our version of Bruce as a kid and as a young Batman is definitely a little bit more aggressive, I think, than we’ve seen in a while and a little bit more angry and a bit more impulsive and he’s a bit more of a peacock or a punk. We wanted to show those impulses in him as a kid too.

He skips school, he does what he wants, but we try to show [why] – just not in this issue, you’ll see it actually in 29; it picks up with his parents picking him up at the police station from having been dragged in for skipping school. And what you see is he kind of gives an explanation as to why he did it, and what he’s struggling with. I think ultimately what we’re trying to do with him is to show him in a light that’s a little bit our own and a little different, with him a little more aggressive and little more rebellious, even in the way he dresses as Batman and that stuff – that deep down you see the reasons for it are psychological and they make sense to you, the way they make sense to us.

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)

It’s interesting because it really is like, you spend enough time with these iconic characters, like Batman, and they stop being Batman and they start just being like the Bruce Wayne that you know really well because it’s your version of him. You suddenly become so sympathetic, I think, and so connected to the reasons you think that character does what he does. You spend so much of your time wanting other readers to get to know them the way you feel you do because they’re your version. You’re writing them almost like a character you created at that point.

Otherwise, it would be endlessly intimidating to write Batman. It would be impossible to write him if there wasn’t some kind of thing that happened as you were writing where you sort of fell into the psychology of the character and made it your own. That’s really what we’re trying to do here too is give you a Bruce that’s a little bit more kind of punk rock and a little bit more sort of a badass, and then at the same time show you the reasons for that, show you how he’s hurting and why he does what he does.

HC: In that fight sequence toward the beginning with Doctor Death, I wanted to know if you would talk about FCO Plascencia’s color work, in particular that sequence – all those blues and pinks.

SS: [Laughs] I love the blues and pinks. I always joke when we go to cons and people are asking about do I think they’ll do another origin down the line and how do I feel about other versions of Batman’s origin —  and I’m always excited for a new version and I hope one of the things that “Zero Year” does is encourage people to try that again in different media and eventually again in comics — I always say, “You’ll always know ours because it’s the only Batman story that’s full of hot pinks and greens everywhere.”

FCO’s first colors [on “Zero Year”] came back and he was coloring it a little bit gray and dark and spooky, and I remember saying, “This is like yellows and pinks and greens. You want to just go however you think you can explode on the page as a way of saying, ‘This is not your dad’s Batman,’ do it.” I’m in love with his color scheme for both that fight sequence – you never expect to see Batman fighting under pink – and for the whole series.

HC: Both Doctor Death and the Riddler are formerly of Wayne Enterprises. How do you see that affecting Bruce?

SS: Part of the idea is Bruce has to come to terms with his legacy. In a lot of ways, his plan was to go out of town, learn to be a vigilante and come back and fight in the shadows. What Alfred tells him in that first arc, “Secret City,” when he’s facing the Red Hood Gang is that you can’t just fight from the shadows because it does a total disservice to the legacy of your parents … when you hide your face and you leave Bruce Wayne dead and you leave this vigilante you’re being unnamed and in the shadows, you inspire nobody for anything, you’re just selfish.

So in that way I think with the idea of these characters all being tied back to Wayne Enterprises kind of echoes that idea that Bruce is going to have to come to terms with a lot of history and a lot of the repercussions of what his uncle did and what the company has become. It’s going to be a big hurdle for him and I think also for Batman. He’s going to have to take responsibility for the city as he’s becoming a new figure suddenly emerging in it.

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

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

HC: Doctor Death is obsessed with bones, and he talks a bit about bones with Bruce and Lucius. I recall from past convention panels you mentioning that your wife is a doctor. Have you been throwing creepy bone questions at her?

SS: [Laughs] All the time. I always feel badly because she’s a radiologist and I’ll call her when she’s in surgery … I’ll be like, “This is really important.” And she’s like, “Is it?” And I’m like, “Bruce Wayne – if his bones were coated in a nano-serum –” And just like, click.

But she’s been really great about being my go-to science person for a lot of ridiculous questions. She was teasing me when we went to a wedding … and I met a guy who did research into bone growth, and she was like, “Please don’t go to talk to him. Please don’t go to talk to him.” But he was actually quite helpful. At the end of the day, I think it’s always fun to talk about Batman and to stretch your imagination in those directions, even if they are twisted. She’s a great resource.

HC: The one-page flashback to Bruce as a prisoner in a suspended metal cell – I realize the context will be coming later, but I wondered if you could discuss the design of that prison.

SS: I love that design. I think the idea with this series is to try and put Bruce in locations you haven’t seen him in too. So instead of going to the Himalayas and seeing him fight ninjas and stuff like that, we wanted to try and create settings and set pieces that would sort of be unfamiliar and surprising in fun ways. That prison is something that Greg and I discussed pretty early on that it would be deep in the desert in the Sudan, that it would be something that was really sort of sun-drenched and hot and almost hellish in terms of it being over this pit.

HC: There’s an arresting splash page toward the end of 26 of Bruce angry and holding a gun, a weapon that Batman does not use, on Jim Gordon. Can you talk about what you wanted to accomplish with the sequence as a whole and especially with that page?

SS: Any story that’s about Batman’s origin has to take into account his relationship with Jim Gordon and figure out how its version of Batman comes to terms with having allies, when I think he set out to be someone who fought alone. I really wanted to push it to a territory we hadn’t seen before.

I was thinking what if we create this real animosity between them and have Bruce not only dislike Gordon or distrust him and not only have Gordon distrust Batman, but have this real hatred on Bruce’s part of Gordon and have him see Gordon as one of the villains of Gotham. And in that way create a mystery around what happened in Crime Alley, and why Bruce feels that way was part of the impetus to try and do it in a way where not only have you not seen it before but it adds layers to the characters and their relationship for our version of them.

With that splash page, I wanted it to be something that was like a gut punch to the reader because we never see Bruce holding a gun, and the idea that he’s pointing it directly at you as well as Gordon is meant to be suggestive on a level of his anger at Gordon and at the city.

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)

And really this arc, at the end of the day, each arc is about sort of a lesson that Bruce needs to learn. In the first one, “Secret City,” it’s about how he has to learn to mean something in general. The second is that he learns he needs to mean something good. I think by denying, by only living in the past and by making sure that no one is allowed to work with him in any way, he’s a demon of vengeance rather than a symbol of justice and inspiration. That’s something that we really wanted to explore here, that if he operates solely as this kind of walking scar (and that’s part of why Doctor Death is about scar tissue and bones breaking and regrowing in monstrous ways), he becomes kind of a monster, a scary thing in the city, not something that inspires people to take part and be part of the solution, because he won’t let them in. That’s really the idea with that splash and that theme in general in the story of Batman needing to learn to get past the scar and the wound even if it’s what fuels him all the time….

Alfred has one of my favorite lines in the whole series in the next issue where he says, “Maybe it’s time you started trusting us.” And Bruce says, “Well, I trust you. You’re in the Batcave with me, what are you talking about?” He’s like, “You don’t…. You trust me to pull levers, but it’s nothing that your genius mind couldn’t invent a robot to do.” [Bruce says,] “Why do you think I keep you around?” And Alfred says, “You keep us all around to bear witness, to see that you can do the thing that none of us could do for you. That none of us were there in the alley that night, not Gordon, not me, not anyone in this city. And you’re out to punish us for that every night. You save people and you do good, and I’m proud of you, but if you keep going this way, believe me, you’re not going to last, and neither will Batman.”

HC: Could you talk about Greg’s work on the final cliffhanger page, that bullet-shredded cape?

SS: I love that page. Greg’s work gets better every issue.

He just sent in a cover today for Issue 31 and it’s Batman on a gargoyle with a bow and arrow – sleeveless, survivalist Batman once the city goes to the postapocalyptic, overgrown setting that you saw at the beginning, in the cold open of Issue 21…. [Capullo] just brings these things to life so vividly. I think [before], “It would be so cool if we could do this, but I don’t know if we can really pull it off, it’s so zany,” but then he’ll draw it and it’s so real because he has this incredible blend of intense detail realism to the way he draws and this over-the-top, larger-than-life expressiveness that is sometimes almost superhero or cartoony. He finds this incredible sweet spot where everything is plausible but also transports you to a world that’s slightly larger and more epic than our own.

So that page, all I said to him was, “I just want the pain of Batman being shredded on this page. I want the symbol you’ll see at the beginning of the next issue of a woman holding her hands in the symbol of a bat as she sings … but just being ripped apart here, being destroyed.” He came up with this broken panel, slash panel idea and it just looked great when he did the layout. He just makes everything better. Greg Capullo just makes everything I do better. Believe me, I couldn’t be happier or luckier to be working with him. He’s a genuine friend. We’re going out for my birthday this weekend…. I can’t say how much I’ve learned from him. It’s just too much.

HC: In 26, we heard some of Bruce’s side of the story from that fateful day, with him talking to Gordon about his gradual realization that Gotham police are corrupt. Will 27 show more of Gordon’s side?

SS: Yes. It will show Gordon’s side. You’ll find out how and why Gordon made his mistake that day too, and the repercussions for his family and his standing in Gotham.

This is a big issue of secrets being revealed, Issue 27. Stuff that’s been hidden in the background comes to the foreground in this one. Doctor Death’s plot, things happening with Edward Nygma, sort of culminate, so that you know that [Issue 29, after an intermission with 28] is just this huge, bombastic finale of this section that’s going to transform the city into a place that the Riddler can use as his playground, his nightmarish playground.

– Blake Hennon | @BlakeHennon | @LATHeroComplex


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3 Responses to ‘Batman: Zero Year’: Scott Snyder talks young Bruce Wayne, previews 27

  1. Sean Callahan says:

    There was alot of blue,pink and green backgrounds in "Batman Forever" and "Batman and Robin". Scott must not have watched those movies in the 90's…I wish I didn't. LOL

  2. Claus Talon says:

    I am SO GLAD I've stopped reading and collecting. These new writers are bent on destroying the characters with these new takes. I'd rather reread all of my back issues than put up with this garbage they're passing off as new and improved versions.

  3. stylinred says:

    With is this? What about the storylines before zero year?! When can we get back to them? So unprofessional

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