Interview: Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo Revisit Batman’s ZERO YEAR

Wizard World Chicago had its share of high profile creators this August, and among them were the team responsible for what is quite possibly the best collaboration in comics today — writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo. With their huge critical success Batman topping the charts every month, Snyder and Capullo were surrounded by adoring fans all weekend, and Comicosity writer Keith Callbeck and I were truly fortunate to be able to conduct this extensive interview with the pair. From their views on the man under the mask, to how to portray Gotham City in the daylight, Snyder and Capullo shared their thoughts on their well-honed collaboration and in always supremely gracious fashion.

Matt Santori: Scott… Greg… it is a huge pleasure to be speaking with you both, honestly two of the comics industry’s foremost collaborators. Now that you have been working together for almost two years, how do you think your understanding of Batman as a character has evolved and in what ways have you influenced each other in that time?

batman24coverartGreg Capullo: I don’t think our idea of Batman has changed at all. We feel the way we feel about him. We’re getting to portray a different Batman now in Zero Year, because he’s immature, still learning the ropes and learning how to control himself. So, in that way, at the moment we’re seeing Batman in a different way.

As far as our relationship, I think it’s always evolving. We’re getting tighter. It’s making his job easier because he gives more for me to do, and it makes my job easier because he lets me go. We’re getting better at working as a team. We’re already pretty good at it, but all relationships grow together. I feel like we’re evolving in a positive direction and hopefully the fans feel the same when they see the work.

Scott Snyder: Yeah, I couldn’t be prouder of the stuff we’re doing now. I feel like it’s our best stuff. I look back at issue #1 or issue #2…

GC: Yuck!

SS: (laughs) I’m still really proud of it, but it’s hard because I feel like we’re just getting started now. Greg has become one of my best friends outside of comics and somebody who’s been a real mentor to me in the industry and gives good advice to me outside of comics as well. So, it’s a pleasure to get to work together.

Someone asked us “What comics most inspire you?” And there are a lot that I pick up to try to be a better writer, but the comic that you should be most inspired by is your own. I get his pages and it makes me want to write better, because I think, “Wow, I love this comic.” That’s the way it is working with him. There’s nobody in the world I prefer working with to him, ever. It’s a blast. We’re having a great time.

MSG: What was the motivation behind going back in time to tell Batman’s origin in Zero Year, especially now?

batman-22-capulloSS: Well, we were finishing the Joker story, and Dan DiDio and DC started talking to me about this idea I’d pitched them for an earlier story that was part of what Zero Year was. They kept saying there was no origin any more, and I didn’t really understand. I was like, no, we had kept Year One. But then they pointed out that Jim Gordon has a different origin, and Barbara Gordon has a different origin, and James Jr. would be five years old. None of it fits anymore. Selina Kyle has a different origin.

They said, “You don’t understand. Batman is pretty much the only character whose origin has not been explained in the New 52. Action Comics explains Superman’s, Wonder Woman explains Wonder Woman’s. So, you’ve got to do it. Or don’t do it, but we need something there from somebody.” And my reply was, nobody’s doing it but us, so don’t even go there.

I tried to keep a couple of pieces of Year One to begin with and then felt that was just stupid. I’m going to write them and they’ll just be paler versions of that. I had this real epiphany moment before we started that we had to do it our way — make every story beat our own and different, and know that Year One is a masterpiece and will always be there for people. You might not be able to touch it, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to do something special of your own now.

batman23coverartThat’s what this really is. It’s meant to be Batman if he grew up in the modern world today, with different fears. I grew up in the 1980s in New York, so it was prostitution and Times Square, drugs, gangs, subways and Central Park dangers. And those are all in Miller’s book. But that’s not what New York is and not what cities are like nowadays. Your bigger fears are about the giant terrifying violence that comes in the middle of nowhere, guns and random violence. So, I wanted to create threats in the Red Hood Gang that represented that, and bring Batman up, as if “What if Batman formed right now? What does he need?”

And I’m really proud of that as kind of a colorful, punk rock origin. It’s totally opposite of what you’d expect, with bright colors, fast pace, odd construction — really big and bombastic and not dark and gritty. And secretly there are all these layers to it. That’s the whole impetus to it. Everything we have, we’re putting into this story.

MSG: That is really interesting, because one of the most striking differences between your most recent issues of Batman and all the ones that come before it — yours and others — seems to be the daytime setting versus being set almost exclusively in nighttime.

batman-zero-year-preview-1GC: That sucks if you’re me. (laughs) Because there are no shadows. First thing, shadow define form and give a lot of weight. So, when everything is that bright, it takes some of that weight away from it, a little bit. And everything is also exposed, so you have to draw the shit out of everything. Things aren’t lost in shadow now — they’re out in bright daylight. It’s more labor intensive when everything is out like that. It’s all good though, because it’s really serving the story, making it dramatically different. Visually it’s different. It sounds different.

We keep talking about Year One and everything like that, but I keep saying, don’t compare it to Year One. It’s not Year One — it’s something different. Judge it on its own merits. You can love both equally, and hopefully you’ll love ours. You might hate it, but I think you’ll love it.

So, again, just forget about Year One in the context of Zero Year. Separate them in your mind and enjoy this for what it is. This is just a different era. You can have two very cool things and be fond of both. Ours is going to look different, sound different, and hopefully you guys are loving it as much as we love doing it. We are pouring our guts into this.

pretty-colorsI talk to Scott sometimes and he’s losing his mind, and he’s under all this pressure and rewriting this line, and he’s got me erasing one panel six times. The first five times were great, but he wanted the head to be at this particular position in the frame, at a certain angle. And I ask, “Are you out of your mind?” (laughs)

SS: Yes! I am out of my mind!

GC: So, anyway, we’re getting a boatload of kooky about it, but hopefully what that means is that when the fans get it, it’s the very best thing that we can do in the time that we have to produce this stuff. And they can feel the passion that we are pouring into it, because we are both very passionate about what we’re doing together. We really, really care about the readers and giving them their money’s worth. $4 is not cheap for a comic book. You want them to go “Wow, best four bucks I’ve spent!” Scott and I are putting pedal to the metal, cranking it up to 11 (yes, it really does go up to 11), and just want to blow everyone’s hair off so they can look like me!

MSG: One thing that’s really distinguishing Zero Year’s narrative from Batman origins of the past has been Bruce’s relative immaturity or arrogance. How do you make that leap backwards with the character?

Batman-22-06GC: You remember your youth, right? That’s what you’ve got to do. Did you have it all together at age seventeen? No, it’s a progression. I had a bad temper and was quick to fight. I’m not that way any more. You learn restraint. In your youth you don’t have it all together. That’s something that gets developed over time. You figure, with what Bruce has been through, he has all this pent-up aggression, and your testosterone levels are higher in your youth too. That adds to the aggression. He’s uncontrolled. To me, it’s just natural. If you can recall what it’s like to be a younger person, it becomes an easier way to write someone like that, I would imagine.

SS: That’s it. It really is. For me, in a lot of the origin stuff, you see Bruce is relatively well adjusted, or at least knowing he needs to become Batman… to become something. I wanted to do something where the thing that he becomes means nothing at the time, where he’s a vigilante hiding in the shadows. Bruce Wayne is legally dead and he doesn’t want to bring him back. He’s essentially a ghost. And Alfred says to him, “You have to mean something. You have the legacy of your parents and they fought for the city publicly. That doesn’t mean Bruce Wayne has to be X, Y or Z, or that you can’t be Batman, but you need to inspire people somehow. And if you don’t, you’re not worth anything, doing what you’re doing. You could fight forever.”

So, I needed him to be somebody who thought he was fighting a guerilla war, totally like a kid thinks he’s not only invulnerable, but that he’s always right. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve been all alone, for seven years. This is the way I need to do this.” I wanted to draw that up in a really aggressive way for him.

GC: I mean, Alfred had to bitch-slap him!

Keith Callbeck: It’s clearly more of an adventure. He doesn’t seem as dark and brooding as in the past, like he’s just sort of figuring things out.

Batman-21-01SS: That’s part of the idea. The point of the whole first arc is he has to learn to mean something. That doesn’t necessarily demand that it’s that same dark, gritty, corrupt city feeling of Year One. It’s not that. There’s a huge, epically giant villain in the Red Hood Gang, infecting and taking over the entire city symbolically, and he needs to go big or go home — to stand up and matter to the entire city now and figure out a way to do that. And that happens in daylight, it happens as Bruce, it happens as Batman. We want it to look and feel like that.

It’s not some really dark and brooding story. It’s really got layers and symbolism and all those things we like to put into all of our stuff, but it’s meant to be kinetic and bright and for young readers, as well as readers our age, to say, “Wow. That’s what Bruce would be like now if he was figuring it out — if he was 24 or 25. That’s the Batmobile he’d use. That’s the suit he’d wear. That’s the way he’d look without the cowl. All that’s different. You’re going to see radically different and fun gear. It’s supposed to look like stuff you’d use today.

MSG: You mentioned symbolism, and it makes me think of the Oroboros page in Batman #22 that Nygma takes Bruce through. What was your thought process on that in regard to this path Bruce is on?

BM22_4GC: You know what? Scott is a studious son of a bitch, because here’s how it started: he sent me the script and it goes, “Maybe we should do something cool.” Because once you do something everyone notices, like with issue #5, you have to do something again. So, Scott was saying, maybe a Crossword Puzzle. I’m trying to put it together with the Riddler and I’m all “Ehhh…” So, I say maybe Puzzle Pieces. I send him a sketch, but even then, that’s not it. This research hound goes and digs up an Egyptian board game that they don’t even know how it was used — now we know how it was used. It was used to draw Batman stuff. (laughs)

Anyway, it was actually perfect. Why all that other stuff didn’t fit as well was because it had nothing to do with the Egyptian theme that you were right there immersed in. When Scott found that game board, it was like, Bingo! Perfect. The only concern there was that the readers might get a little lost going around that wheel. I was like, they’ll figure it out. They’re not a bunch of dumbasses. They’re smart. They’re reading our book!

SS: And the fun thing was they don’t know how it was used, but they think it might be one of the precursors to the Oroboros. Grant has done such a great job with the Oroboros [in Batman, Incorporated] that I thought it would be a nice nod to use that word, even though it itself is kind of a strange construction.

MSG: The Riddler (at this point) and the Red Hood Gang all seem rather like old school gangsters as opposed to what Gotham’s villains become, which is characteristically “freak show” or eventually more dramatic. How do you think that contrast over time parallels Bruce’s journey?

Batman-22-04SS: This is something we try to do in a couple of stories, but here it’s really touched on centrally. Gotham is great, because when you go to the city — and Bruce says it in issue #24 in a speech I’m really proud of — and try to be a hero, it’s going to bring all your worst fears to life in the form of all these rogues and villains. It tries to tear you down and say, “You can’t do this.” All of us have that person inside that you know you want to be and someone has told you, “You can’t be that.” The challenge of Gotham is it will throw everything in your way, but if you can survive it, you will be burned down to that person you’d hoped you could be one day.

What I would say in regard to the Riddler and other characters is that you see them becoming the villains that will be — and the city transforming itself to be — an enemy or antagonist to Batman. So you watch them rise along with him, to be his villains to keep him on his toes all the time.

You’re going to see Poison Ivy in the second section. That will be a lot of fun. You’re going to be seeing a lot of villains I think no one is expecting. But Riddler is the big bad for the whole thing. He’s the overarching antagonist. This is my huge Riddler story.

KC: So, in regard to Gotham, Miller envisioned it as a dirty, decrepit New York in the eighties, but what does the city mean to you two specifically?

SS: At its core, Gotham is almost an antagonist that transforms itself to look like the fears of the person it’s facing. It’s a wonderfully malleable place that you can set in the Narrows, or you can set in a decrepit area when you need it to be, but it wants you to win. It’s not an evil place. It wants to challenge you so you’ll go through this trial by fire and become a better person, but it will be evil to you in terms of that it will challenge you.

As far as what it looks like, I really love the idea that it’s not a rotten, broken-down city the way that New York looked in the eighties. I like the idea that it has these elements of wonder in the way we draw it with bright, sort of sparkling towers. And at night, it can be terrifying, but it has both. It has wonder and it has terror, which is part of what Batman is. He inspires people, the pinnacle of human achievement. He’s the best detective, the best chemist, impossibly good at everything, by punishing himself all the time that way. So, you see that and think, “Well, I can do what I need to do if that guy can be that crazy ass thing up in the sky, right?” That’s the wonder. And then you have how terrifying he is to bad guys. That’s Gotham to me both visually and what it stands for — beneath it, I guess.

GC: It can’t be a generic city. If you’re doing stuff for Marvel, everything is Manhattan. I look at it as its own character in the book. If I was drawing Spider-Man, I wouldn’t be thinking of New York as its own character. When I’m drawing Gotham City, I always try to give it some kind of personality, so you always know where you’re at, like it’s a living place for me.

Harper-Row-Batman-7-BMSG: Speaking of the city, will we be seeing more of Harper Row or her history in the coming months?

SS: Well, she’s not in Zero Year, although she has a brief cameo coming up. She actually has a really big part in the story coming up right afterwards, and a really big part in a couple of other books you’re going to see too. Her future in Gotham gets bigger and bigger toward the end of Zero Year and after. She’s a character that means a lot to us, and the biggest stuff with her is definitely coming.

MSG: Greg, can you talk a little bit about your unique design for Harper?

GC: Scott kind of had an idea of what he wanted her to look like, so I was just trying to give him that. I think we were on the fence about the septum piercing, and I was actually corrected by someone who actually has one. She was like, “Dude, the placement of that ring right there, it would damage her septum.” I hadn’t studied it that closely before, so from now on, I will draw it so I haven’t done anything harmful to her septum. Anyway, it was that kind of girl. I’m a big fan of girls. I notice every kind that’s around, and it was just a stereotype of the type of girl he was after and the nose ring just seemed like something a girl like that would have.

He gives me the idea of what he’s after and I just try to bring that out. When we did the Court of Owls stuff with the Talons, he said sort of G.I.Joe’s Snake-Eyes and sent me a picture. And we just talk about it and come up with something visually that hopefully will hit the mark.

SS: You say that, but the other thing is Greg makes them so expressive and brings the characters to life immediately. I could tell him what Harper’s supposed to look like basically, but her personality came through in the very first couple of panels. That’s the magic of what he does in addition to his genius for developing the visual depiction of every character as a design. He breathes life into them like that. (snaps fingers)

When we were first writing Bruce in issue #1 or #2 — or Gordon — the characters came to life on the page because he gets how to emote from panel to panel. That’s really something that a lot of guys don’t have at all.

prv16040_pg7GC: When I was trying to get into comics, I was told a lot of great things by a lot of great artists, editors and writers. I remember bringing in some samples of Thor and being told, “That’s anybody flying around. That’s not Thor. Thor has a certain way of carrying himself.” You have to feel what Thor is. You can’t just dress any guy up and fly him around and have it be Thor. So that was the genesis of my way of thinking when I go into character. When I’m doing this stuff, I’m trying to get into the psychology of that person — who that person is. So, when I’m posing a character, Gordon or whomever, it’s like being an actor, playing a part. You have to play the role yourself. That’s what I actually do.

SS: I remember when we did issue #20 and James Tynion IV called me up and said, “I’m so jealous.” He was looking at your two panels of Damian in that, when there was a flashback with Clayface. You see that and it was no other character ever except for Damian, and not just because of how he was dressed… his expression, his face.

KC: In every Batman origin, there’s a chicken and egg question you have to answer. Gotham has a problem and Bruce Wayne wants to solve it, but is there evil that makes these villains rise or is it that Batman started started fighting back?

SS: Everyone has their own interpretation. I know for some people Gotham is evil or it’s a place that the villains come first or alongside him because they are part of his psychosis. But for me, his villains come about as an extension of his fears about himself. Two-Face is a mockery of the duality of his life and the Joker is “What if you fall into madness instead of balance?” The Penguin is mocking him for not doing enough for his own class and his parents. In that way with Gotham, it’s not so much that he creates this virus, but that these villains are reflections of him. Gotham is saying, “Now you’re the Bat-King. You’re the greatest hero of the city. These are your greatest fears come to life. Beat them and you’ll be the best hero ever.” That’s how I see it as a challenge Gotham poses you over and over.

KC: Is there a Bruce Wayne that isn’t Batman? Once he becomes Batman at the end of Zero Year, is there ever a time he can stop being Batman?

SS: No, I don’t think he can ever stop.

tumblr_mpu2gndaLU1qhxx6do1_500GC: As a matter of fact, you know Frank Miller did Dark Knight Returns where Bruce is an old man and comes back. Ultimately, Batman’s end will be tragic no matter which way it goes. I’d like to do that story, which you can’t really do I guess. I think the greatest tragedy of Bruce Wayne is that to be what he is, he sacrificed his humanity in a way. He closed his heart off to love. In the endgame, and maybe because I’m an older guy, I’m sure he’ll look back and be proud of his achievements, but I think his heart will be filled with regret over some part of his life that he shut the iron gate down upon. I think it would be a great story. But it will end tragically no matter what way you slice it.

SS: That’s something we tried to do differently than what had come before: Bruce Wayne isn’t a mask. There’s almost like three people. There’s the Bruce Wayne that he is to the city. There’s Batman. And then there’s the private combination of the two that only Alfred knows.

And the Bruce Wayne he is to city, he’s civically minded, out there trying to show the city can be better invested in. He’s not just a playboy. I don’t like that stuff, like being out with two models, because that just does a disservice to what his parents did. I don’t believe, deeply and honestly, that he would make Bruce Wayne into a mask that’s embarrassing to his legacy, because his parents were public figures that fought for the city. That’s kind of a disgraceful thing, so I kind of shy away from that version of him. I try to write him as responsible, as in Court of Owls with the Gotham Initiative.

But that’s also a guy on a mission. Batman’s on a mission. Bruce is on mission. But where does that leave room for that third private person, the one who has kids or gets married? Nothing. That’s the tragedy to me. It’s him and Alfred and that’s it. He has no life outside of Bruce Wayne and Batman. They both need to do X, Y, and Z, so there’s no room for love or family. Even if he tries to do it toward the end, I agree, there’s going to be a brutal end for Batman one day, but I can just imagine him in the cave being OK with it, even though he’s going out alone.

MSG: Thank you both so much for taking the time out of the show to speak with us. Hope you enjoy the rest of your time in Chicago!

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo finish the first act of Zero Year in Batman #24, an oversized issue coming this October to comic shops from DC Comics.

If you really enjoyed this interview, the audio version is included in WE TALK COMICS Episode 89!



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