*Interview Contains Some Spoilers for Batman #40*
After much anticipation, Batman #40 hits shelves this week and proves to be worth the wait. It is a fantastic conclusion to both "Endgame" and all of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's run on Batman. I had the opportunity to read the issue in advance and discuss both "Endgame" and the future of Batman with Scott. It was a revealing conversation that gave insight into his inspirations for The Dark Knight, his intentions in "Endgame", and where both he and Capullo intend to take the series next.
ComicBook.com: First of all, congratulations on Batman #40. It’s a big issue in a lot of ways and I think it turned out very well.
Scott Snyder: Thank you. I was very nervous about this one for a long time. I tried to put lots of extra effort into it. Even with the word play and all sorts of small stuff, like how the Joker is constantly referencing mortality, tragedy, and all sorts of ideas. I was really trying to bring my A-game, and so was Greg.
“Endgame” acts as a conclusion to both your and Greg’s run on Batman, but also all of your writing on the character after almost six years. It’s lining up very neatly with the Divergence initiative, providing a fresh launching point for the series. Was this a happy coincidence or did the timing let you push the series in a direction that you might not have been able to otherwise?
Snyder: This was originally going to be our last story with a slightly different variation of the same ending, that would have given you a hint as to how it would repair itself. It didn’t break things quite as badly, but it had the same conclusion. It was intended as our last arc because it really sums up what Batman means to me.
“Zero Year” was about that too, but it was more about what I hope Batman will be for my kids. That was an attempt to pit him against villains and challenges that echo the things I worry about with my kids. The Red Hood Gang is supposed to be a distillation of gun violence and the random acts of violence that happen too often nowadays. The post-apocalyptic elements that Riddler brings to the city reflect the current zeitgeist of social breakdown and global warming. I try to find big, bombastic, comic book ways of approaching the stuff I worry about for my boys, hoping that Batman makes them braver.
“Endgame” really comes back to what Batman means for me. As much as people talk about Batman instilling fear into the hearts of criminals, he was always a figure of inspiration to me. Our iteration of Joker, on the other hand, is one that speaks to my worst fears. He is a figure who says that life is ultimately meaningless. When I’m depressed or anxious, the world feels crushingly hopeless and indifferent. When things are at their worst, the world feels cruel. Joker says that’s exactly how it is, and he’s the person who laughs at you for believing the world has meaning or that you can achieve anything. All mortality is, is that you open your eyes and then something terrible will one day close them.
Batman is a person who was created by a meaningless, senseless tragedy in an alley. He takes the very thing that Joker uses as evidence that things mean nothing, and turns it into motivation to transform into an emblem of meaning. Batman is a symbol syaing that you can do anything, that you can change your city and the lives of the people around you; you can turn yourself into the impossible, a figure that is the best at everything.
They are diametrically opposite sides of the same concept. “Endgame” ends on a note that speaks to what Batman can be about. Batman tells us to look at things at their worst, when they are bleak and you worry. He tells us to look at that and laugh. You can overcome that, and be brave, and save yourself from these things.
That touches on the tone of “Endgame” that I found to be so interesting. For a long time, especially since Frank Miller took on the character in 1986, our culture has defined Batman as a tragic and grim figure. This story seems to be refuting that. At the end Alfred tells us that the story of Batman is a tragedy, but Batman’s final word, “Ha”, undermines that.
Snyder: The irony of it for me comes when Joker is telling Batman that he could have had a comedic ending, that he could have escaped the thing he is most afraid of--His own mortality. Joker sees that Batman is meant to be something that can go on forever, but eventually death will catch up with him and make a fool of him. And because Batman slighted the Joker, he’s going to give him the worst death possible - taking everything away and reducing him to a little crying boy again.
The funny thing that Joker doesn’t understand though is that Bruce has always been ready for it to end badly. There is no out for him; Batman is a mortal coil. Bruce revels in that. He’s certainly not looking to go down, but he knows there’s no other way out. Our version of him is never going to retire. The best he can hope for is going down heaving a monster into a box and saving the city from something horrific, inspiring other people to do something with their own lives. That’s what Joker is horrified to discover in the end; that Batman would never take that offer or do anything to make himself more than human. He’d just mean nothing then.
Even looking at the simplest meanings, you have to ask what the point of tragedy? It’s recognizing human failings, but also seeing these great characters as being universal. You can learn how these characters are flawed. Every tragic character has a central flaw they can’t overcome; their stories always exploit that to a certain degree. The greatest thing about Batman in this story is that his flaw is that he is relentlessly mortal. He is human and he won’t change that. That’s what makes him go down; it’s a sad thing and a tragedy. But it’s also the greatest aspect of his heroism. His greatest strength is that he speaks to us and inspires us in that way.
That’s why “Endgame” ends on the harness from the play Orestes in the trash. In the first issue we were saying, “Of course people would want to be saved by a god after the terrible tragedy of ‘Zero Year’.” But in the end what Batman says is, “Save yourself. Don’t look to forces from beyond. Go out there, make something of your life, and laugh at the fact that it might be nothing.”
We were having a lot of fun with that concept here: taking Joker’s face as the aspect of comedy and turning it upside down; the funeral-like aspect of his dress; the fact that he looks a little bit like the devil. We even talked about giving him cloven shoes. Joker lies at the crossroads of all these different things that represent a tragic end. I really tried to combine a lot of strange ideas and influences that all represented an ending, and that all fit Joker. The root of the word “tragedy” in ancient Greek has to do with goats songs or odes to goats. We don’t know if this has to do with the fact that goats were a common sacrifice or that they were performed for Dionysius or another reason altogether. Gotham means “home for goats” and Dionysius is the god of madness, which Joker proclaims himself to be. Doing all of this research during “Death of the Family”, I came to realize that this could be the final story we do.
So Greg and I worked for a very long time to make “Endgame” speak to all of the things we felt about both Batman and the Joker. We didn’t want to make it overly heavy, where you could still have a lot of fun seeing Bane fastball special-ing Batman, but that you could also see the heart to it beyond a big Joker, zombie story
I think that depth is definitely there. One of the things that struck me about Joker in “Endgame” is that he embodies Albert Camus’ concept of the absurd. He believes it is incompatible for humans to seek meaning in life when there is none to be found. Yet when it is just Joker and Batman in the cave facing death, Joker is the one who breaks. He cries out in fear, and I think that affirms a lot of what you’re saying about Batman.
Snyder: Exactly. Not to get too off topic, but I’ve never been shy about saying that I’m somebody who has trouble with anxiety and depression. The thing that always comes back to me when I’m feeling really bad is the tax of the world, how it all seems to be going towards nothing. It can seem like you’re just meat, bones, and gristle; you end at your fingertips and once you go into the dirt, nothing is coming afterwards. You’re a tiny thing that gets a glimpse of something, and then you’re gone.
But having kids really changed the way I think about it, and not in a sappy way either. When your kids are very young, they are incredibly dumb, especially when they’re just one or two. When Obama won the election, I was trying to explain to my son what an election is and his brain just didn’t comprehend it. It’s like explaining math to a cat. Explaining space or planets to a two-year-old is impossible; they don’t have that conceptual framework. Then you think about explaining these concepts to any form of life, like explaining religion to a lion or even what our city looks like. So then I wonder why explaining the afterlife, or meaning of life, ought to be perfectly understandable to me.
The thing I like to take away from The Stranger, which had quite a big effect on me when I read it in college and again later, is the absurdity of thinking that you can understand almost anything metaphysical, and resigning yourself to being this thing that won’t understand. If you think about the wonder of the absurd, you can flip Joker’s certitude on its head. Joker is the one that is saying, “everything means nothing.” He’s saying it in a way where it is knowable, where it is quantifiable as zero. What Batman says is, “Who knows what it means?” He butts his head up against it anyway, and there’s something absurd about him. We keep returning to this, where the point of Batman is that every time he fails, he keeps getting up. It’s the definition of crazy. He knows that even if he fails the same way over and over again, he will keep trying. All of those ideas are in the DNA of the story.
The first half of Batman #40, before the story boils down to the three key elements of Batman, Joker, and the Dionesium, is so broad. It includes not just Batman’s allies, but his greatest enemies as well. All of Gotham, good and bad, is fighting against the Joker and rejecting his philosophy together.
Snyder: Exactly. Joker is trying to accomplish his goals by pretending to be this thing that is larger than himself, saying "I am forever, the scariest thing ever, an immortal being who knows the truth." But the message he is presenting, that everything means nothing and it’s all absurd, is even more reductive than the perspective the other villains have. You can flip it so that it seems petty instead of scary. That’s what happens at the end, when Batman flips it and tells Joker that he believes him and sees the Pale Man. I wanted that scene to be like hell, too. Batman sees the devil or Dionysius, and the underworld.
We’re all really happy with how this has turned out. One of the original ideas for the story after this, which will be called “Superheavy”, was “Batman: Afterlife”. I thought that had too sappy of a feel and was a bit on the nose. The next arc is incredibly fun; it’s a new lease on the book.
“Endgame” was going to be our last story, but a lot of circumstantial things changed that. DC Comics moved to the West Coast and I was very nervous as to whether Greg or I would stay, or if everyone I work with would leave. Logistically, I realized that it would be Joker’s 75th anniversary, and I started to get worried about whether everyone just wouldn’t want us on the book after a while. This was definitely a story I wanted to do before the tide turned on us, if it was going to. All of those things pushed the story up, and then we were still talking about whether we wanted to stay past issue 40. Then Mark Doyle, who is one of my best friends and has been my editor since he got me into DC, was made Bat-editor and he decided he was going to go West. Then Greg decided that he was good to go through issue 50.
That was when I realized that we could get to this idea Greg and I had been talking about for a couple of months. It’s almost like an Elseworlds, but if we can pull it off then it will give us brand new angles on each character. I started telling Greg about different scenes, asking him to imagine the relationships between everyone. It’s like viewing Gotham through a whole different lens. It’s a brighter, more irreverent, more playful book. And that was when we decided: “Let’s do it.”
The story is very resonant. It’s a more contemporary Batman story. It also felt right with the Bat-line right now, being so vibrant. I honestly feel it’s one of the best places in comics to be with Batgirl, Gotham Academy, Gotham By Midnight, Catwoman, and Grayson. It just doesn’t stop.
I think that the Bat-line under Mark’s leadership is the best part of the DC Universe since the announcement of the New 52. It’s incredibly creative and diverse.
Snyder: I agree. The zeitgeist at DC right now is perfect for it. I’m proud of the fact that my Batman idols have always been transgressive: Grant Morrison, Denny O’Neil, Frank Miller, obviously. I can’t touch those guys. I don’t have the mind, but I can follow their example and do things that are personal to me. Each story is one where I could tell myself that if I got one chance to write Batman, that this is the story I would choose to tell. It would be very easy for us at this point to do one-shots of Poison Ivy, Clayface, and others. I have those stories and keep saying I’ll do them, but when I get there I always feel that the character of Batman, the mythology, and the fans all deserve your A-game. If I don’t have a story to tell, then there are plenty of other writers who have stories and are dying to tell them.
That’s one thing that I think Batman #40 and all of “Endgame” does very well. It provides an ending that feels like a proper climax, but doesn’t go as far as something like Marvel’s “The End” series where everyone winds up dead or removed. When you reach the epilogue and see all of the Bat-Signals hanging in the night sky of Gotham, you realize that there’s this vibrant world still waiting to be explored.
Snyder: The one thing I would stress to people worried about what’s coming next is that we would never in a million years do anything radical just to be sensational or get a news story. We would only shake things up if we have a better story for the characters we love on the other side of that. When radical changes are made or characters are taken off the board, no good writer (guys I admire, like Dan Slott and Ed Brubaker) would do that without having a good story. Don’t worry.
There’s a chance that characters you think might be gone, may play an interesting role in the story. If you’re mad but won't drop the book, then we couldn’t be happier that you’ve followed us this long and deeply appreciate it. But we promise you that we couldn’t be having more fun on this book than with this story. I really think that the best stories that do things with characters in absentia, like “Superior Spider-Man”, are really about why those characters have to come back and be the heroes we want. They are love letters.
Those stories are like taking a vacation. You can go to a place that is thrilling, and scary, and new, but you’re still the same you. It’s still the same book and it makes you miss home. You get a new perspective to appreciate home. I think we’ve all earned a break after “Endgame”, including the fans. You’ve all earned this break from Bruce being punished.
What’s coming is a deep story. It’s a deep story and it’s a lot of fun with more humor than we’ve ever done.
What do you think ComicBook.com readers? Are you excited to see where Snyder & co. will take Batman moving forward? Let us know below!
Batman #40 is on-sale in comic shops everywhere and available digitally, today.