Best of 2016 (Behind the Scenes): How Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo effortlessly ended their Batman series
After five years, writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo ended their landmark run on DC’s Batman with issue #51. Over the course of their tenure on the book, Snyder and Capullo introduced daring new concepts to the Batman mythology, including a bold and colorful new take on his origin story — and they killed and resurrected Batman, too. In stark contrast to what came before, Batman #51 examines one quiet night in Gotham, but achieves the same level of poignancy as the duo’s other story arcs, which also focused on the Dark Knight’s relationship to his city. We spoke to Snyder and Capullo about this fantastic finale to an excellent series.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It’s been eight months since Batman #51 hit stands. How does it feel to look back on it now?
GREG CAPULLO: I’m not sure if Scott has the same answer as me, but I’m too busy working. I haven’t had a chance to look back. That’s the problem in this business: It’s an assembly line. You’re probably too young to remember the Lucille Ball show, but when she was working in the candy factory, she had to wrap up the chocolates as they came down the conveyor belt and eventually she was overwhelmed because it was one chocolate after the next. So, that’s kind of like what this is. There’s no time to look because you’re too busy trying to catch the chocolates.
SCOTT SNYDER: I knew that was going to be your answer, dude. That’s so funny. That was your answer throughout the whole run. It was always, “No time to look. Just work,” and I love that about you. I actually looked back at some of it this past week because I’m gearing up to do some more Batman stuff with Greg. For me, I think that issue was one of my very favorite I’ve ever written, and mostly just because I think it sums up in a lot of ways what our Batman was about. As a kid, Batman was very much about scaring bad guys into the shadows, and our Batman was more about inspiring good people out into the streets and inspiring bravery. We tried to funnel some of the energy of the times into that throughout the run. For me, this issue was great as both a chance to say “thank you” to the character and give him a night off for once and also to say “thank you” to the fans and just remind them that they’re really Gotham City for everybody.
Was your approach to this issue the same as it was for the first 50?
CAPULLO: Yeah, I would say absolutely.
SNYDER: Yeah, I would say that, too. I think one of the reasons we wound up getting along so well — and we had differences early on and then all of a sudden we clicked pretty quickly — is that I could tell really fast that all that mattered to Greg was making the book as good as possible. That’s all that mattered to me, too. A lot of the time that meant sublimating your ego and making sure whichever idea was better, his or mine, wins out on the page and always deferring to your partner and your fellow creator to make sure there’s nothing they think could be better.
Scott, did you take any time before writing the issue to reflect on the run?
SNYDER: It’s really scary when you look up or get your head above water for a second and remind yourself that you’re working on Batman and that you’re dealing with these legendary characters and you’re doing stuff that retells the origin or the Joker’s big stand with Batman. All of that stuff gets paralyzing and scary because the characters mean so much to you and to so many people out there. So, it’s also, for me, a defensive tactic to sort of be like, “The page in front of you, the page in front of you, the page in front of you.”
One of the great things [about looking back on the issue] is that it sort of tells the story, for me, of our friendship. There’s a real joy at getting to look back at this issue and issues before it because I think, and I hope, what some of the fans responded to in our run and any future projects we do together is that we really became family on that book and became family with the fans. We tried to make stories about things that mattered to us, whether it was stuff I was worried about for my kids in “Zero Year” or stuff that I’ve been through that Batman has helped me with in “Endgame.” Ultimately, our friendship was sort of the energy powering that whole thing. There were a lot of moments during that run where I really had trouble emotionally or psychologically — I just didn’t know if I could pull something off — and Greg was always there as a partner and a friend. So, there’s a second kind of joy in looking back at it and saying, “We all came through this together.”
One of the things reflected in this issue is that notion of “Gotham is…” and people writing in to answer that…Everyone has a sense of what Gotham is, but at the end of the day, Gotham is what we say to each other. For me, the run is really reflective of that, the relationship that we’ve built together and that we’ve built with fans in that regard. They’ve seen us grow and they’ve grown with us. It’s special in that way, too.
Where did the idea to end the run on a quiet night in Gotham come from? Did you want to contrast with what came before?
SNYDER: Yeah, it was partly that. About a year before we got there, I remember mentioning it to Greg and to a couple buddies in the Bat-group and saying, “I think the best way to sort of finish this out is with something quiet where we’re saying ‘thank you’ to Bruce [Wayne].” It was sort of a texture thing where it felt like we’d done such crazy stuff in the last arc with black holes opening up and robot bat suits that it was time for some re-grounding and quiet. But I think, more importantly, I wanted to do something that was about saying “thank you” to the fans and to the character for supporting us. That required more of a tour of Gotham and reminding us of all the places that we love in that city and the mythology itself.
CAPULLO: And you touched on most of what we encountered over the time, which was nice. I think fans really liked that you referenced so many things.
NEXT: Snyder and Capullo reveal their personal connections to the story [pagebreak]
Greg, as you mentioned, there are a lot of callbacks in the issue. What was it like for you to revisit those moments from issue #1?
CAPULLO: It’s great fun. I’m as big of a fan as the reader is, so I’m experiencing the same joyride. I gotta give Scott a little kiss on the cheek here because I’ve been around a long time, read a lot of scripts, and Scott’s writing is so layered and it touched me so many times during our run at an emotional level to where I would be reading the script and, I’m not ashamed to tell you, a tear would sometimes come to eye. I’d go, “Wow, if this guy can write something that can touch this jaded, crusty ass, how much more are the readers going to be torn up or joyous over this thing?” In that regard, it was nothing but a pleasure to do it, and I experienced the same joys and sorrows and excitement that the fans do because those scripts are just well constructed. That’s why Scott is where he is.
One of the moments that made me tear up after I realized what it meant was when Alfred examines Bruce’s scar-less back—
CAPULLO: I cried. I interrupted your question, but my mind went right back to drawing that stuff, and I got emotional drawing that stuff because I’m raising two boys here and I was thinking about that. Bruce is unaware of all that he’s been through, and Alfred, who is basically his father, has seen all this horrible stuff, which is painful for a parent to watch their children endure. He knows that this is what is coming ahead and he knows that he has to let him go out the door and do it. It makes a difference when you have children in your life. I didn’t know it. I never wanted kids. Now that I have them, I go, wow, that really changes your perspective on things. It really had me identifying with Alfred and how horrible and gut-wrenching it is to touch that pristine back knowing that pretty soon it’ll be [covered] with scars and bullet wounds. That tore me to pieces, reading it and drawing it.
And Scott, why was it important for you to hit that moment in this issue?
SNYDER: That scene came to me when we started “Superheavy,” and I knew Bruce would be healed in some way. The reason I thought it was one of the good images to end on was both because Alfred is one of my favorite figures and, again as a dad, I feel like he’s fascinating because he’s the guy who has a son that’s a soldier or a cop and someone who he respects tremendously in terms of their mission, but fears for every time they step out the door. So, I can relate to that every time my kid is like, “I want to be an ultimate fighter” or something like that; I get a flash of Alfred in my head. I think also this issue is about everything coming full circle and we wanted to hand over the keys to the Batmobile with the car having been banged up and changed and remodeled and then put back to the way it was for the next driver — for Tom [King] and everyone working on the book now — and there was also that element of seeing him renewed and everything starts over. He’s faster and stronger and healed from all the things we put him through, because Batman always begins again, gets up and fight through.
With #51, did you encounter any challenges with nailing specific moments ?
SNYDER: Weirdly, for me, it was one of the easiest issues that I’ve done. I feel like I had it in my head awhile, but this issue was pure emotion. It was really just a big “thank you” to Greg and the art team — FCO [Plascencia], Danny [Miki], and Jonathan [Glampion] before that — and to the fans and to the character. It was strange. It was a very effortless one compared to some of the mystery segments in the middle of the big arcs, which were really tortured and hard to do. This one was a joy.
This run focused on Batman’s relationship to Gotham, which was portrayed as a living, ever-changing city. What drew you to this take on the character?
SNYDER: I grew up in New York City and lived there until college, and my parents still live there and my sister lives there. For me, one of the things that is so fascinating about Gotham, as a kid and also as an adult is, how reflective it is of not just a city like New York, but I think of the mission that Batman sort of embodies, which, in our iteration, is not just to scare bad people away, but to say in these times, everything is really scary and the only way we’re going to get through it is to get through it together. Gotham is such a mishmash of neighborhoods and ethnicities and races and ages and genders and all of that, and he says, “I’m everyone’s hero all at once.” So, that relationship was just really rich and fascinating, also, because I think when you go to a city like New York or really anywhere, it doesn’t really have to be a city, there’s that American myth of coming to the city to become who you’re going to be. The city itself becomes this incredible antagonist where the city says, “Oh yeah, let’s see if you can get through the high rent and the craziness and see if you can become the person or the hero you think you can be.” Gotham is sort of, to me, an extreme version of that. It says, “I’ll be your great villain, but only to make you the hero if you can get through the hot coals and the fire and come out the other side renewed.”
CAPULLO: I think what Scott did with Court of Owls is just amazing because that, to me, really makes Gotham alive. Batman fancies himself watching Gotham, but Gotham is also watching him and that adds this whole creep layer to it that I really, really love. The Court of Owls really added a wonderful layer to that relationship.
In the final issue, you also tease another Court of Owls story. Is it true that those are actually ideas for a story you came up with?
SNYDER: They’re part of the story I think we’ll get in there for the one I want to do with Greg next.
What can you tell us about that?
SNYDER: One of the fun things with the Court of Owls and a lot of the stuff that we were able to make together is that it was the right time to take a break [for Greg] — I’m really impressed and so excited for Reborn, the project that Greg’s doing right now with Mark Millar — and for me to take a break from the main series while it goes double ship, because it wasn’t the right format for us. With that said, there were so many stories I think we left behind and things that we had talked about from different takes on villains. One of the great things about getting back together soon is the ability to kind of return to those things. So, the Strigidae and the Mantling and Court of Owls play a part in the story that we’re going to do soon.