Scott Snyder on the Return of the Joker
DC announced this morning that the Batman books are going to play host to another massive event following up on the Night of Owls crossover, and it's going to focus on none other than the Clown Prince of Crime. The Joker's returning in a big story called "Death of the Family," wherein he declares war on not just the Dark Knight, but his entire extended family of caped crusaders.
It's the story highly-acclaimed Batman writer Scott Snyder has always wanted to tell, terming the Joker his "favorite villain of all time. Not just in comics – film, books, TV. He's the greatest, hands down." Snyder is teaming up with the immensely talented artist Greg Capullo for this, and the "Friend of the Book Report" who gave us the Court of Owls (and the stunning revelation about its connection to the Wayne family) had plenty to tell Crave Online about it when we spoke to him about his plans for Batman's most enduring archenemy.
CRAVE ONLINE: When we last Joker, he ripped his face off and put it on a wall. Is this all part of the original plan, or has it gone through changes from what Tony Daniel planned in his Detective Comics run?
SNYDER: No, it was part of it. We collaborated back then, too, to make sure that the Joker story I wanted to do a year later would track off of his ending. DC wanted to put some of the iconic villains away for a little while, which I think was a smart move, to foreground some of the newer villains like the Court of Owls, the Dollmaker and all of that kind of stuff that they were building in each of the books. The idea was to take Joker away for a little bit, and Tony came up with a couple different things, and when we talked about it, this is the one that we both came up with and thought would make the most sense for the story I wanted to tell later on. It was Tony's decision and Tony's creative move, and I want to give full credit to him. If you liked the face coming off, you should thank Tony. There are a couple of things I said would have worked, and he went with the one he liked the best.
For me, this one works really, really well, tailing into the story I want to tell. You'll see, without having to go and read Detective Comics, why the Joker did that, why he allowed his face to be cut off, what he meant by that, what his reasoning is now, his psychology. All of it is to prove a point. He's back now, after a year being away, because he's been watching all year, he's been planning all year, he's been setting his traps all year long to be able to come back now and basically say "this is what I've been thinking. This is why, Batman, I'm angry at you and angry at the family. I've been building my thesis, I've been building my evidence, I've been building my horrible traps all year long for you guys just to show you why I'm right and you're wrong." So it's this very, very big, bloody axe to grind with Batman and the whole family that he's been sharpening all year long.
CRAVE ONLINE: How might having his face ripped off change the iconic look of the character? I know Greg Capullo's going to kick ass with it, but…
SNYDER: Completely. He's definitely going to look different, but if you see the cover to #13, there's something that echoes the iconic look of him in a way that I think will both surprise people and also make them go "well, of course, that's an even scarier way he could look that at the same time honors the crazy Joker face and Joker grin." So, he looks different – you can't not with your face not fully attached – but at the same time, we really wanted to have that mean something here, and it does. There's a reason that he appears the way he does throughout the event, and it's not just a plot reason. The reason is a psychological one for him, he's trying to prove a point. We want all of it to filter into a scarier version of the Joker in this. He's there to say "look at me, look at the way I look, look at what I'm doing to you, look at the way I'm dressed, this is all for a reason." It's all part of this twisted love letter to Batman.
BATMAN #13 by Greg Capullo
CRAVE ONLINE: One of the more confusing things about the New 52 relaunch has been trying to figure out what is still canon and what isn't. They've often said that "The Killing Joke" still happened, but did all of it happen? Is that the definitive origin story of the Joker, or are you planning to make some changes to it as you did recently with Mr. Freeze?
SNYDER: That's not really part of the story at all. We're not going to re-explore his origin in this story. I love the Killing Joke. It's my favorite Batman story of all time, and you'll see an homage to it in this one. But in terms of going back and trying to redefine who the Joker was beforehand – this story isn't that.
CRAVE ONLINE: Fair enough. If you're a fan of "The Killing Joke," though, what's your take on how the Joker works? A lot of times he's an unknowable force of nature who you can never figure out, but sometimes he's an actual guy with an actual emotional core to him, as he was in that story.
SNYDER: I'll be totally honest with you. The stuff in The Killing Joke that's my least favorite is the comedian part. I've never been a big fan of that part, but the thing that I love about that part is that it's ambiguous, that he says at the end "I can't be sure if I'm remembering it correctly." That whole ambiguity about his origin, introduced right there brilliantly by Alan Moore, that sense that we can't know who he is and we can't be sure of what he's saying – that's at the core of who the Joker is.
There are different takes – some people use him to try to prove a social point to the world about the nature of humanity, and those stories are great, but to me, the Joker that's most potent and that resonates the most is that Joker who basically is a demon almost born of Batman's own psychology. Not in a supernatural way at all, but instead as someone who seems to appear and know the darkest corners of Batman's heart, of Bruce's heart. He almost is conjured up by Gotham as this character who says "I know the things about you that you're most afraid are true, and I am going to celebrate those things, because you should, too. The craziness in you, the pathology in you, the things that make you and I similar are the things you should just marvel at like I do. That's why I serve you. I'm your court jester and you're my Bat-King." That's the way he sees himself, in my opinion, and the way he'll see himself here. Part of the point he has to prove has to do with that symbolism. His relationship to him in terms of the tarot card of the Joker, in terms of the court jester and its history – all of that is stuff the Joker has twisted in his own mind into this firm belief system.
CRAVE ONLINE: It's called "Death of the Family," hearkening back to the killing of Jason Todd in "Death in the Family." Are we looking at another member of the Bat-family getting picked off here?
SNYDER: Well, you'll have to read and see. I would say nobody is safe, nobody is off-limits, from Alfred and Lucius all the way down to Damian. You're going to have to see if it's literal or figurative, but I can tell you there's definitely meaning to it in a metaphorical way without giving away if and when anyone is killed. The Joker really believes that Batman has done himself a disservice with the family, that he's not being true to himself somehow. Joker also has a big secret that I'm very excited about as part of the engine of the storyline, that he's there to tell them. In that way, he's there to lord something over them that he knows that they don't know, that he has a closer connection to Batman than they do, and that he's about to burn down everything they love. Joker's also there to basically say to them, "you think that you've faced me, Batgirl, in some way before" – not that he knows who she is. I don't want to say if she knows who she is or he doesn't, because that's Gail Simone's territory.
Let's say I'm talking to you and I'm Joker and you're Batgirl, and you're thinking to yourself "oh, god, I had this terrible incident with the Joker where he shot me and put me in a wheelchair because he came after me." What the Joker would say to that is "I wasn't coming after you. I was coming after Jim Gordon. You were just a pawn." Same with Jason Todd. "You were just a pawn to get at Batman." Do you know what I mean? So, now what he's saying is "now, I'm looking you in the eye. I'm looking you straight in your fucking face. I'm coming for you in the middle of the night. I'm going to tear down everything you love. You've never faced me. I've only used you as a little toy to get to him, but if you face me now, I'll bring the full wrath of the Joker against you. See if you can put up with what Batman puts up with." That's what he's there to do, and it's going to be in all those books as well.
What happens in Batman will be 1000% self-contained. I just want to make that absolutely clear. Nothing that happens in Batman will be something you have to have read anything else to read. It's my love letter and explanation of the Joker with Greg Capullo, entirely individual and self-contained. That said, the Joker will be attacking those family members. If you want more Joker, you'll see him go after them in ways that are completely unprecedented in Nightwing, in Batgirl, in Batman and Robin, in Teen Titans where he goes after Tim and then Red Hood and the Outlaws, where he goes after Jason, and in Suicide Squad, you'll see him with Harley as well. This is really a giant thing where Joker is coming back in a huge way to Gotham, but each one hopefully will be completely self-contained, where you don't need to read other books to really understand what's happening. They pick up the storylines that they've been doing in those books – the Joker shatters some of them, and in other ones, Joker will reveal himself to have been implicated in some of those storylines in different ways. He's really out to terrorize everybody at once.
CRAVE ONLINE: How different is your New 52 take on the Joker as compared to what's been established previously before the reboot? Any significant changes we should be prepared for?
SNYDER: It's not so much changed from that. Everyone has a particular vision of the Joker, the same way with Batman. I guess I began my vision in the Detective run, when you saw him in #880 where he says to Dick Grayson "you smell like feathers." He knows he wasn't HIS Batman, and he has this connection he treasures to Bruce as Batman. This version of him expands out of that into a really terrifying, much larger than life, out of control and unhinged Joker. It has its seeds in that. Like his iconic look here – it's different, but it's meant to prove a point. Everything about him is what he's here to do right now, while still staying true to the core of the character, I hope.
CRAVE ONLINE: Does the Joker have any opinion on Batman Incorporated?
SNYDER: No. Grant Morrison has been great about being in touch and collaborating, making sure that the beats overlap in terms of where Bruce is and Damian and all that stuff, but some books like Batman Inc. and Batwoman, they're just doing stories that they're very happy with in those. They're separate and they want to stay separate, but they're always invited. It's never something where we're like "don't let Batwoman in, don't let Batman Inc. in." It's always "if you want to use it, you're more than welcome," but they have storylines that are really great and really important to the creators on those books.
CRAVE ONLINE: Are Batwing and Catwoman in the same boat?
SNYDER: To be totally honest, I'm not really sure with Batwing at this point. If Batwing did tie in, I'm sure it would be fun. Catwoman, I can safely say that we're talking about it right now. It really is a thing that affects the core Bat-characters who exist in the New 52 right now – meaning Damian, Barbara, Tim, Dick, Jason – as they stand right now in terms of who's been re-introduced in the New 52. Those characters are the ones who Joker really has a problem with in a very particular way.
CRAVE ONLINE: Fair enough – although this also begs the obligatory question of whether or not there is a chance Cassandra Cain or Stephanie Brown will show up in this?
SNYDER: (laughs) That's the obligatory question I was trying to answer in a sidewinding way.
CRAVE ONLINE: I thought so, but I thought I'd try to clarify that anyway.
SNYDER: What I would clarify is that I promise you, as soon as Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown are characters that are okay to reintroduce, that have stories that Warner Bros. and DC want to use, I'll be the first person to write them. I loved writing Cassandra Cain in Gates of Gotham, and Stephanie Brown in Bryan Miller's Batgirl was one of my absolute favorite series. I adore them as much as you do, but those decisions are just above my pay grade. I don't know what else to tell you.
CRAVE ONLINE: In that case, how big an influence is Warner Bros. on your creative direction, then?
SNYDER: Nothing. They've been great about totally not getting involved and giving us total creative latitude with Batman. They've never asked us to use things for the movie. DC has been wonderfully generous, too. I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop, but nobody has said 'you can't do these horrible, bloody, terrible things to Bruce or the Bat-family or anything.' So I just keep going! (laughs)
CRAVE ONLINE: Any hints at all as to what Joker's big secret is?
SNYDER: No. I don't want to give it away. But I'll say this – it's something that's really going to hurt the Bat-family in a big way. He's out to prove, in a lot of ways, that he can tear them down whenever he wants, and he's just decided to do it now because he's sick of them. It's a lot of fun. He's so vicious. The body count will be very, very high and it's not for the faint of heart, I can tell you that right now. There will be a lot of surprises and big repercussions for the Bat-family at the end of the day.
CRAVE ONLINE: Does it have the potential to anger a lot of Bat-fans, as just about any big new revelation can, or do you think they'll love it?
SNYDER: I think they're going to love it. I hope the're going to love it. I love it, and there's nothing I would ever do in a million years to be shocking or salacious or sensational at the expense of these characters. I promise you that. I love these characters more than anything in life, in terms of Batman being my favorite corner of literature. I would never do something to any character in the Bat-mythos to shock you at their expense in a way that I didn't think had something very true to the mythos of Batman and the core of that character's relationship to Batman. It would be done with dignity and really with a sense of appreciation of that character.
Honestly, I really think the stuff happening in Court of Owls is the most angering in terms of continuity stuff, but in terms of the atrocities that the Joker's going to commit and the things that might have lasting repercussions, in terms of death and murder and mutilation, yeah, I guess maybe there's some stuff that might set some people on edge, or get some people talking.