Interview: Scott Snyder On The Return Of The Joker In 'Batman #13'

We first chatted with Scott Snyder about the return of The Joker in July... And now, on the eve of New York Comic Con, Batman’s biggest battle has finally begun in the pages of "Batman #13." The crossover continues throughout all the Bat-titles for the next few month, ending in "Batman #17." To find out more, as well as touching on some bits of the issue that came out today, read on. Oh, and turn back here to MTV Geek throughout the weekend for some more big news from Snyder:

MTV Geek: This is starting off a little generally, but Gail Simone, on Twitter, recently referred to you as the Batman office “Head Writer.” I was curious about what that means, and how that works?

Scott Snyder: It’s probably a lot less official than it sounds. When Tony was doing Batman, we were all writing separate titles, like Detective Comics, or Batman and Robin... But because that’s the lead title for Bruce in particular, we always said he’s the head Batman writer, out of all the people who write Batman. So the head Batman writer doesn’t mean I call Gail and say, “Here’s what’s going to happen in Batgirl!” I don’t have any control over those books, because I don’t, and would never want control over those books... It just means you defer to that person if that story personally involves Bruce, if you’re writing Bruce. If you use Bruce in Batgirl, you, instead of asking whoever is on Detective, or whoever is on Batman and Robin, you usually ask the person who is on Batman.

For these lately though, because we’ve been having these coordinated storylines... We’ve used it a little more familiarly, or sort of frequently than we’ve done before. We get sort of casual with it. I think it might have sounded a little bit more of a title than it really is... It’s really just a way of keeping books from getting confusing when there’s three books that feature Bruce prominently. [Laughs] And if you’re going to use Bruce, you’re going to have to talk to at least somebody in there, to figure out where he’s going, and so he doesn’t appear in two books in two places at once.

Geek: More to the point, you have a very different take on The Joker in “Death of the Family...” Do you have to create anything like a style guide, or a book so he stays consistent across the Event?

SS: Yeah, definitely. That is one thing that has dovetailed out of the “Head Batman Writer” stuff... To make it easier for everybody, because we’re all using The Joker, and The Joker is on a singular mission in this story, so he has the same priorities, and the same initiative he’s following... But also just the same physical appearance, because he does look different. It’s up to me and Greg Capullo to generate a document that shows what he looks like, and what his particular psychology is in this one, what he’s after.

There’s coordination in that regard, but other than that the fun of it is to sit back and watch these people you’ve admired for a long time do things with the characters that are much better than what you could do with those characters; and let those stories inspire you to do a better job on Bruce, for me.

Geek: So what’s it like getting in the Joker’s head here? I imagine it’s a bit of a scary place to go to...

SS: It’s super scary, it’s also exciting. The thing that’s always fascinated me about the Joker in particular, as the greatest villain of all time in comics, and one of the greatest villains in general in literature is that... My interpretation of him is that his job, what he sees as true, is this mission to convince anyone he’s up against, the deepest fears that they have about themselves are true. He isn’t just a villain who comes after you and does these horrifying things, he’s trying to convince you that you’re as bad as he is deep down. Any fleeting little impulse - and we all have them - to do something bad, he extrapolates, and says, “This is the truth of you. This is who you really are. Look in the mirror and I’ll prove it to you by putting you through this incredibly horrifying test that you will fail.”

In a way, the thing that’s both terrifying, and exciting about him is that, it’s terrifying things he does? There’s no holds barred. He’s out to bring your world down, no matter what; and in the worst way. But on the other hand, he’s a manifestation of the very thing I love writing about in general, whether they’re in stories, in comics or not... Which is characters having to face their worst fears about themselves. That’s what I like to do in fiction, and that’s what I like to do here. So as this villain, he’s a perfect crystallization of that. He’s been thrilling and horrifying to write, equally.

Geek: Let’s talk about violence in comics a bit, which I realize is a bit of a general topic... But I think from Batman #1, which was very all-ages friendly, to Batman #13, which is terrifying to me as an adult, things have progressed. What’s your thought process on where this title falls, and how important is it to have the violence on screen, or off?

SS: I try and be really careful with it, but at the same time be really true to what we’re doing in the book. I would argue that even more gruesome books that I’ve done, like Severed, or even in The Black Mirror - the Detective run we did, which was pretty grim and violent - we’ve always tried to keep the biggest scares psychological, and to minimize anything that was just gory, or visually scary in a way that was graphic.

Admittedly, there is some very terrifying stuff coming up in Joker. [Laughs] I mean, if there’s anyone who’s going to do things to push the limits of these characters psychologically and emotionally, it’s going to be him. And often, that leads to things that are violent. It is definitely a darker arc, but I would just say we try to be as conscious as we can of always keeping our priorities straight, and not doing anything for the sake of just being sensational or horrifying, and doing things that are deeply story based, and psychological.

Geek: There’s a real sense of rising tension in Batman #13, and a lot of that comes from Greg Capullo’s use of light and darkness throughout... How much of it was in your script, versus letting Greg go nuts?

SS: It’s really a 50/50 collaboration with Greg. In terms of keeping the violence off panel, or in terms of our priorities, we have very similar sensibilities. One of the funny things about Greg is that when we first met, we didn’t like each other very much. I think over e-mail he was very protective of the art, and I was protective of my freedom on the story, and he’s also this just huge, charismatic guy... He’s just a big personality, and I’m more classically neurotic, shy person. [Laughs] So it was just a total clash. Once we started talking story, we became very close, and now we go away to Cons so that we can hang out with our wives together, and he’s one of my closest friends.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Mild spoilers for Batman #13 in the next paragraph only, so skip if you haven’t read the issue.]

The way we approach the story on the page is really collaborative on the page. In that scene with Jim Gordon in the police department where the lights go out, I told Greg, I said, “Greg I’m going to leave the choreography of this scene entirely up to you. I’m writing the dialogue so you can see exactly how Joker is slinking closer and closer to Gordon, and going through the room, and hurting these police officers. But in terms of what you show, all I’d say is keep him as hidden, but feeling as close as you can, all the time... The claustrophobia of the scene, go for it.” So the choreography of the scene, and the way that emotion is conveyed is entirely up to Greg, whether he wants to do a flash, or a series of small panels. He comes up with things that are 100% times better than I could.

But in terms of the feeling of it, the driving tone of the scene, or the emotion of the scene, we talk about all that stuff long before so we’re really on the same page from before we start the issue. Each issue is about something... So the first issue is really about The Joker saying, “I’m back, and you’re not ready for me, any of you.”

Geek: Last thing, who’s idea was the die-cut covers?

SS: That idea came from above our pay grade! It’s a fun thing to play with, I put one on my baby the other, who is three months old, and it’s just like Baby Joker crawling around the house. I sent a picture to Greg. [Laughs]

"Batman #13" is currently on comic book stands from DC Comics, and continues throughout the Bat-books for the rest of the year!