Batman’s greatest foe? A Gotham he doesn’t know

March 19, 2012 | 1:07 p.m.
bm 7 1 Batmans greatest foe? A Gotham he doesnt know

Batman #7, page 1. (Greg Capullo, Scott Snyder and Jonathan Glapion/DC Comics)

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Batman #7, page 2. (Greg Capullo, Scott Snyder and Jonathan Glapion/DC Comics)

bm 7 3 Batmans greatest foe? A Gotham he doesnt know

Batman #7, page 3. (Greg Capullo, Scott Snyder and Jonathan Glapion/DC Comics)

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Batman #7, page 4. (Greg Capullo, Scott Snyder and Jonathan Glapion/DC Comics)

bm 7 ns Batmans greatest foe? A Gotham he doesnt know

Cover for Batman #7. (Greg Capullo and Francisco Javier Perez/DC Comics)

Bruce Wayne wears the mask of Batman, but what is the hero’s true identity? The question is a knotty one and the answer depends on which Gotham City you have visited and when you were there.

Some people visualize Adam West in a cowl, others see Christian Bale or Michael Keaton behind the mask. Maybe you think of the sunny, Saturday morning sleuth from “The Super Friends” — or is it the bitter, battered fading solider from Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns”? Interestingly, right now, the video game Arkham City and its brawny incarnation of Batman is shaping the base perception of the widest new audience to the hero. Even if you go back to the original medium, the pages of DC Comics, you can find recent versions of the hero that feel like caped riffs on James Bond, Sherlock Holmes or Dirty Harry.

Batman first appeared in comics in 1939 and at this point he’s been in every medium imaginable — he’s also been tilted, tweaked, reinvented and restored again and again either to fit the demographic of a particular audience or the desires of his latest storyteller.

bm 7 ns Batmans greatest foe? A Gotham he doesnt know

Cover for Batman #7. (Greg Capullo and Francisco Javier Perez/DC Comics)

For Scott Snyder, the fan-favorite writer who last year took on the marquee job of writing Batman adventures for DC, thinking too much about the past versions of Gotham City is like tangling with the Riddler — it’s just too dangerous to play along with the mind games.”With a character like this, it’s paralyzingly intimidating if you stop to think about all the versions that have come before,” said Snyder, one of the guests this past weekend at WonderCon, the pop-culture expo that brought thousands of fans to the Anaheim Convention Center. “Throughout my life there have been versions of the character that have spoken to me and have been tremendously inspiring but if I start thinking of myriad versions of him, it can be really scary to write him.”Instead, Snyder has been adept at keeping the scary stuff in the panels on the page, with story arcs such as “The Black Mirror,” an especially unsettling mystery that delves into the dark family secrets of James Gordon, the everyman cop who has a complicated friendship with Gotham’s grim vigilante. With crisp dialogue and watchmaker attention to plot, the Snyder stories — like the work of his idol, Stephen King — are crowd-pleasing chillers with a deft sense of rhythm and payoffs that arrive with a satisfying click.”I look for the things in him that, at this particular moment in my life, I’m inspired by or frightened by,” Snyder said. “I focus on those as the aspects of his character.”Snyder got a creative writing degree at Brown University and then a master’s at Columbia University, but his passion for storytelling came from comic  books and then sleep-away camp, where one of his counselors read aloud each night from King’s “The Eyes of the Dragon.” So it was overwhelming when that 8-year-old camper grew up to become part of King’s court — Snyder and the horror icon collaborated on the series-opening, five-issue arc of the acclaimed Vertigo comics series “American Vampire.” King has cited Snyder as a bright new talent.

“American Vampire” won both the Harvey and the Eisner Award for the best new series of 2010, turbo-charging Snyder’s movement up through the industry ranks (his first work in comics was at Marvel in 2008 with a Human Torch one-shot, which he followed up with “Iron Man: Noir,” a mini-series).  The fast track hasn’t left Snyder feeling cocky — just the opposite, the writer has spent too much time thinking about trapdoor tales and cruel twists of fate to ever be completely comfortable inside his own success story. That much is clear as he describes Court of Owls, which has themes and situations  that he says are “interesting and appealing at this point in my life.”

Court of Owls topples Batman’s foundation assumption that he is the soul mate to the city he patrols and that he knows every unforgiving inch of asphalt and every dusty entry in the civic history. The story presents a secret society that views the hero as just one lone rogue in a community dotted with covert nests and forgotten heritages.

“His sense of accomplishment is called into question,” Snyder said. “He’s at a point in his life where he’s established himself as the singular legend and hero of Gotham, he feels confident and at home there and he has all this knowledge of it but all of a sudden this mystery begins to open up there with the Court of Owls that makes him feel like this city — the place from which he draws all of his confidence and his strength — might actually be a total stranger and enemy to him.”

Any surprises for the writer since he arrived in Gotham? Snyder finds a deep appreciation for Batman’s voice and an even deeper affection for the rich silences that echo a haunted hero who comes home to a cave.

“The thing that’s great about writing Bruce is he doesn’t really confess very much about his feelings to the reader. Even when he’s confessional it’s usually about the case — what’s he’s learning, what the facts are — he’s the consummate detective. What’s fun about him is you get to know him well enough that you can see what he’s feeling by what he doesn’t say and what the other characters read into him; the peripheral characters or Alfred or Dick or Barbara or Commissioner Gordon. One of them will say, ‘Are you sure you’re OK?’ And he’ll say, ‘Of course I am!’ But all of us see that — by the nature of them asking the question or by reading the physical language of the characters — what’s going on. It’s a lot of fun to write someone who is so guarded and so tough all the time.”

Snyder also has been spending time building a different version of Batman’s world;  the writer’s young son adores the Lego toy sets featuring the hero (as well as the bestselling tie-in video game) and together they assemble a friendlier version of Gotham City brick-by-brick. They also watch the 1960s West series — another reminder that the one true Batman is whichever one the audience chooses.

“For him, that’s completely real … he sees Batman as this tough, always-doing-the-right-thing hero who isn’t necessarily brooding,” Snyder said. “On the old TV show, he doesn’t see the campiness, he just sees the hero.”

VIEW LARGER VERSIONS OF GALLERY IMAGES:  Cover | Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4

— Geoff Boucher


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One Response to Batman’s greatest foe? A Gotham he doesn’t know

  1. Paul Lang says:

    I am really waiting for #7. This is really a great series, good story, and even better art, well worth it.

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