By Matt D. Wilson
“…anything you think you know, you don’t know. You know what you should expect? The unexpected. Then you’ll be on target.” – Greg Capullo
Starting with June 12’s “Batman” #21, Batman gets a revised, New 52 origin in writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo’s newest arc. But just how much will the 11-issue “Zero Year” change about the iconic moments Batman fans have known for decades?
To find out, I chatted with Snyder and Capullo by phone for a sometimes-rowdy conversation about whether the team approached the story with a pickaxe or a scalpel. And also, why it’s called “Zero Year,” anyway.
MTV Geek: You guys have talked about this series in a lot of different places, but one question I haven’t necessarily seen the answer to yet is why it’s “zero.” Obviously, you guys can’t call it “Year One” again —
Greg Capullo: You just answered your own question.
Geek: Is that the only reason?
Capullo: It can be!
Scott Snyder: I think part of it was that we’re building off what we introuced in the zero issue, but there’s actually a story reason for it, too, why people in Gotham call it a “zero year.” But I don’t want to give it away.
Geek: When people hear “Zero Year,” I think they’re going to think this was before Batman was in costume.
Capullo: That’d be true, yeah.
Snyder: There’s definitely a good chunk where you’ll see what Bruce was doing before he was Batman.
Capullo: When he was young and angry.
Geek: And now he’s old and angry.
Capullo: He’s like good, early Metallica, man, when he was just young and pissed off.
Geek: You guys led into this with what you might call a lighter story, a two-part Clayface story. Was that you getting all the bright colors out of your system?
Snyder: Not at all. It was just that the Joker storyline was so grim and horror-driven that anything would seem light by comparison. With “Zero Year,” one of the things I’ve tried to do, with Greg, too, is not try to give too much away about what’s going to happen with it, because we want it to be able to stand on its own, where you open it up and judge it for what it is.
But what I would say is that we’re going for something that’s really, really different from “Year One.” To me, that book is literally one of my favorite pieces of literature in the world. That and “Dark Knight Returns” are my two favorite comics. Instead of doing something where we were going to retread that territory and do a version of that story, we really felt like, you know, with the launch of The New 52, that origin really can’t stand anymore. That’s what DC sort of alerted us to. They made it clear that James Jr. wouldn’t be six years-old and Jim Gordon has a different background. Selina Kyle clearly has a different background.
So there was sort of an absence there, and it came about that we needed to to do an origin. What it really boiled down to was, if you’re going to do it, do you do it in a way that’s going to be kind of a reclamation project, and essentially just retell a story worse than it was told the first time, just reatread those steps, or do you try and do something really, really different, and your own? That was the mission here with it.
So in terms of the way it’s going to look and in terms of your question, about the tone, again, without giving away too much of the story, I’d definitely say it’s definitely more bright and punk-rock. Fast and modernized, in a way that we don’t want it to be the street lamp and the pearls, and grim and intimate, because that was done so well. It’s not like we’re doing the Clayface story to get that out of our system. I can say you can look for some fast and fun storytelling here.
Capullo: I just want to add, too, people on the Internet are saying, “Oh, man, it’s just going to be a rehash, they’re effin with perfection” and all that. Let me tell you from the guy who’s drawing the book that you are way off track. You cannot possibly be expecting the kinds of things that Scott and I are bringing to you. I’m shocked when I read the scripts, I’m like, “Holy smokes.” So, listen, anything you think you know, you don’t know. You know what you should expect? The unexpected. Then you’ll be on target.
Geek: You say there’s a lot of unexpected stuff in the script, what about in your art?
Capullo: It’s the ideas and the story that Scott has created. When I say the script, I’m not talking about dialogue or exposition or any of that stuff. I’m talking about the storytelling that Scott has brought to this. I’m given a story; it’s up to me to illustrate it. He’s given me a lot of very fun, and sometimes very challenging things to illustrate.
This is movie material, which makes it all the more challenging to illustrate, because I don’t have multiple cameras set up or an editing room. But it’s brilliant, brilliant stuff. I’ll be a reflection of that.
Geek: You’ve established a style on the book already. Did you have to change things up for this story? Are we going to see a side of your art we haven’t seen before?
Capullo: All of a sudden, I’m not going to draw like somebody else. My vision for Batman is what it is. I have the challenge of making Bruce look a little bit younger, a pre-Batman costume, different environments. We don’t have the Batcave. It’s going to look different by virtue of there being some very different subject matter. Bruce’s digs are different from Batman’s digs. His circle’s a little bit different. His attitude’s a little bit different. You’ll see a difference in the portrayal of the characters. The way Bruce carries himself is different from the way I portray him in the Batman that’s happening currently, so to speak.
So, yeah, you’ll see those kinds of differences, but the way I draw, the style of draw, is the same. It’s still coming from my hands and my vision of Batman.
Geek: Scott, you mentioned all the supporting characters that played such a big role in “Year One.” Selina Kyle, Jim Gordon. “Year One” is as much a Jim Gordon story as it is a Bruce Wayne/Batman story —
Snyder: I’d argue that it’s, by far, more a Jim Gordon story, actually, in a good way, than a Batman story.
Geek: So I wonder if “Zero Year” is going to similarly focus on the supporting cast, or is this mainly Batman-focused?
Snyder: You’re going to see the supporting cast and Jim Gordon has a really big role in it. The stories that really established Batman in movies, in comics, and in the animated stuff, it’s always their relationship and their alliance that’s key to his identity as Batman in Gotham. It’s two knights against everything, together.
I think you’ll be surprised by some of the characters that have roles in it. You’ll see Harvey Dent. You’ll see Harvey Bullock. You’ll see Leslie Thompkins, and a bunch of other characters. We’re trying to create a world with Gotham and give you characters you haven’t seen in addition to the characters you know and love as part of the mythos.
Geek: What ends up being the inspiration for Batman is so ingrained in the Batman mythos — the rigning the bell and the bat coming through the window — it seems like, of all the pieces from “Year One,” that’s going to be the one that’s the hardest to carve out of the stone. I know you can’t give away what you’re going to do, but how do you approach that?
Snyder: None of it’s about carving stuff out or taking it away. It’s about trying to keep the core of those things and do them in ways that make for the best story now. In a lot of ways, it becomes a balancing act about making sure that you respectfully approach those moments that are so iconic and yet try to do them in ways that are also your own, and particular to the story you’re telling.
Here, without giving away how that moment happens, there’ll be elements of it that are very, very much part of the moment you know, and little elements of it that make it different, and our own. So I would say I hope you enjoy it as much as I do, that part.
Geek: We’ve seen our share of Batman origins in different media in the past decade or so. The “Batman Begins” origin was a lot about the world-traveling Bruce Wayne. The “Earth One” origin took things in a very different direction. Did the both of you consume a lot of that material to make sure what you were doing was different, because you know people will make the comparisons?
Capullo: I can’t answer for Scott, because Scott’s very well-read and he knows his comics better than I do. Some of the stuff you mentioned, I’ve never read. I think one of the things that’s my strength on the book is because I have not seen so much, I’m not influenced by a lot of it. From my end, it’s coming purely from my reaction to what Scott writes for me. To me, that’s a strength and not a weakness. I’m coming at it as a virgin. My emotion toward it is pure.
Snyder: For me, I absolutely look at all that stuff, not necessarily to do something different, but as a fan of the character. I can’t imagine there are many versions of the origin I haven’t seen at this point, just because I love Batman, you know? But for us, it’s less about trying to figure out how to do something different from those than it is about doing something meaningful for us. What it boils down to is the best origins, I think, really take Batman and explore why he does what he does in a way that is slightly different than what you’ve seen before, but is still true to the character. “Batman Begins” is really about conquering fear. “Year One” is really about the loneliness of being Batman, and that sense of how he’ll always stand alone, except for maybe with this one ally, Jim Gordon.
We’re approaching the idea of what Batman means, and taking it in a little bit of a different direction about the lesson that Bruce has to learn about what it means to be Batman. It has a lot of those things in its DNA, and it’s not far from those in some ways, but it has a slightly different angle on it. It reflects what’s going on in Gotham at the moment you see it, with the Red Hood gang and the corruption, the different kind of threat it’s facing at the moment, than what you’ve seen in other versions of it.