When you’re reading DC Comics’ flagship series, Batman, it’s easy to see why this is the most popular character in their canon. In a four-year run, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have taken the character back to his roots with a Zero Year, they’ve broken down Gotham City itself, they’ve added supporting castmembers from sidekicks to villains to an entire new power structure. Their run has already been used as an influence in animation and live-action TV, and with all of this, they also reinvigorated Batman’s greatest villain, The Joker. Twice.
Recently, they went into deconstruction mode – not to break everything they’ve done so far, but to move things into the next level, for the next age of storytelling. Taking Batman (and the Joker) off the board has been done before, of course, but circumstances were different this time. There was no battle for the cowl, as characters like Dick Grayson were out of the running and Jason Todd is finally comfortable in his own skin. But Gotham and Batman’s symbiotic nature birthed the newest Batman, Jim Gordon. New Robins rose, as well, while a villain wanted to tear it all down and give Gotham another chance at rebirth. All of this, while a partially amnesiac Bruce Wayne finally gets to fall in love and live a life without the shadow of the Bat – for a little while, at least.
With all these plotlines dancing on the head of a needle, how does this landmark creative team balance everything, while still delivering a good story?
“This arc has easily been the most challenging in that regard. Usually, I do these stories that are punishingly singular, about Bruce facing one thing,” Snyder told ComicBook.com in a phone interview around Batman #48’s release. “There haven’t been a lot of stories with multiple characters each with their own arcs. It’s been really thrilling to try, but incredibly nerve-wracking.” The key, then, is to find unique starting and stopping points for each story. The writer says “Bruce’s story ends in #48, but you then still have the crescendo for Jim and Duke’s stories in #49.” The fiftieth issue will be the grand finale of the story, and artist Greg Capullo’s last on the series before a planned hiatus.
Balance is a theme for the creators in their stories, but also in their delivery. They balance Batman and his family’s growing power over Gotham with the Court of Owls. They balance Batman himself with Joker. But they most importantly balance the bombastic, larger-than-life action with quiet moments that let you know these characters have real emotion and personal stakes behind it all.
“Very occasionally, I like to stay in a certain tone,” Capullo said of bouncing between the full-page fight scenes and intimate ‘talking heads,’ as they’re often described. “If I’m doing Bruce Wayne and Joker on a park bench, and there’s a two-page break between revisiting them, sometimes I’ll stick spacer pages in, so I can stay in that scene.” His art is mostly driven by what he describes as how “needy” a scene is; the more emotional and personal, the more needy it is, requiring him to stick to it for awhile. “I’m a paid professional though. I can go back and forth pretty well,” the artist said with a chuckle.
Bruce’s journey back to the cowl is, ultimately, “an all or nothing proposition,” Capullo said. He’s “not capable” of finding a real balance between his dual identities, giving a real life to Bruce Wayne. “He’s devoting his life to being Batman and serving Gotham,” Capullo remembered Snyder saying. “This Bruce makes a big attempt to absorb Batman’s skills and memories into the life he’s built in the last few months,” Snyder teased of the last two issues. “But you’re trying to create stuff that just won’t hold. The big realization is that Bruce Wayne died in the alley with his parents – Batman is just the ghost of that person, haunting us and saying ‘don’t let this stuff happen.’”
So if Bruce Wayne and Batman can’t co-exist and be well-adjusted, then why, when he’s built a life and there seems to be the closest thing to an out that he’s ever had, would he go back? That was the question posed to him, ironically, by an amnesiac (or is he?) Joker in the pages of Batman #48 that set him back on the path – he goes back to Batman because he absolutely needs to.
Gotham City has been almost as important a character as Batman during their run, from the Court of Owls century-long manipulation of the city to its near-destruction at the hands of a nascent Riddler, and now to Bloom planting the seeds of destruction once more.
“Gotham will challenge you, it’s the ultimate version of a city that you go to wanting to become the best you can be. Bloom thinks that’s a fallacy, that it’s not worth it, he thinks the challenges it throws at you are too big, so don’t bother fighting through them,” Snyder said of this new villain. “It’s a twisted view of what Batman says. Gotham is a villain – but it’s the kind that always tries to make you better.”
The face of Bruce Wayne, of Jim Gordon, and even of Duke as their world comes crumbling once more, though, is one of defiance, an emotion Capullo said it’s easy to invoke.
“I’m a pretty defiant person,” he said with a hearty laugh. “We’re all human beings, sometimes we come down harder on one emotion than another. I excel at the ones I’m most familiar with. Defiance is a big part of me, and that’s what gives individual artists their voice.” Capullo said he feels an empathy with the characters, and then just lets his pencils do the talking. “I give all my credit to the pencils.”
Ultimately, Snyder and Capullo are hoping to ask one question several different ways: “If you do everything you can, as a person, to make your world better, is it enough?” Snyder poses. That’s a question asked by and to all the characters in this story – with The Joker of all people offering Bruce that chance to say “yes, I’m done.”
“The Joker tells Bruce maybe you’ve done enough, and to me, it’s a note of closure,” Snyder explained of the characters’ bizarre and intense heart-to-heart. “You know he’ll come back, but for this moment, he is sincere.”
Batman #48 is on shelves now, and it's all leading to numbers 49 and 50. "Issue 50 had everything I've ever wanted to draw since I was a little kid," Capullo promises. "Make sure your restraints are nice and tight, because we're giving you the corkscrew, the upside-down loop, the whole fun ride." He thanks the fans who've been reading since their #1 relaunch in 2011, too. "This has all been for and because of you, so thank you."