With Scott Snyder's "Death of the Family" storyline concluding this week over in "Batman" #17, we spoke with the writer about the fate of the Dark Knight and his latest, terrible battle with the Joker.
****Warning: spoilers for this week's issue below****
"What makes this story different from the beginning and excited me about it is where Batman is in his life--it's a place I can really relate to," Snyder--who's a new father himself--tells me. His son was born around the time the writer was conceiving this storyline, and he was intrigued by the way that Batman had over the years accumulated a family he cares deeply about. "In that way, it occurred to me that he'd grown so much as a character, but he also made himself vulnerable to enemies like the Joker."
In this week's issue, the Joker has assembled the Bat-family in a gruesome tableau around a dinner table in the Batcave, offering a live or die option for his archenemy. And even as the Batman works out a way to free himself and a pair of Robins, Nightwing, Batgirl, Red Hood, and Alfred (that's Batman does, right), the Joker's plot still ends up costing Bruce by the end of the story in what could be a profound way (we'll just have to see how). I won't spoil the details of what goes on between the Joker and Batman this issue, but Snyder arrives at some hard truths about both characters, dismantling their longtime conflict in a way that builds on the grand Joker/Batman stories of the past.
The Joker's recently revealed his motivation (well this time, at least) for systematically torturing Batman's family was one that Snyder could empathize with: the villain wasn't simply going on another elaborate, violent spree--in eliminating those close to the Batman, the villain felt that he was freeing his longtime nemesis in some way. "As a dad, you did feel once in a while, 'God, I wish I could get rid of these kids for a second,'" Snyder says, "and the Joker says 'Let me kill them all for you.'" Snyder was surprised in writing the script that there was a kernel of truth in what the Joker was saying: how many storylines have involved Bruce hiding the family away or keeping information from them for their own good while some new lunatic or secret society gets too close?
"At the same time, there's something deeply, deeply feels which is having this family that makes me vulnerable, makes me stronger," Snyder adds. He sees the character as having outgrown the loner posturing that the Joker (and I'd add many fans) feel is somehow integral to the character. Across Morrison's "Batman, Inc." back through less well-regarded stories like "War Games," Bat writers over the years have tried to show the growing pains of Bruce's family. While the potential targets he's surrounded himself with might make him vulnerable to his enemies, Batman's family keeps him human, keeps him sane. "I love the strange mix of heroism and pathology that makes Batman who he is, that's why he's my favorite character. He is self-destructive in an odd way, but oddly heroic."
This issue also pokes at the the longstanding line that Batman won't kill Joker because it's like crossing some imaginary line--here, Snyder's come up with an interesting explanation that ties a bit into the nature of Gotham City and Batman's relationship to it. While the Joker believes it's because the Batman wants to continue their sick "dance" for years to come, Snyder has created a reason that might read as superstitious if you've never read any stories about the living, breathing meat grinder that is Gotham.
Snyder says that people have long wondered if Batman has some kind of odd affection for his enemy or if the Joker somehow gives the character a purpose: here, the Joker says what we all know which is that it would be so easy for Bruce to kill him and no one would ever know, so why not be done with him once and for all? "And I think Batman has two reasons and one is that he lives by a code, and as a man of code and as a soldier--he's 'the Dark Knight'--he will not break it for any reason because it does lead to a kind of corruption. It doesn't mean he's going to kill every other villain, but you have given something up that you can't get back."
But Snyder finds there's a deeper reason based on Batman's relationship to Gotham: if Batman takes the easy way out, the city would send Joker back worse in some way (or maybe something even more terrible than the current incarnation of the Joker). Snyder says Batman's not afraid of what's coming next--he's simply aware that it's a test that the city has burdened him with. When I ask if Gotham is in some way evil, Snyder says that he thinks it's more of a trial-by-fire, with the Joker acting as the city's voice when he says "I bring your worst nightmares to life to make you stronger." If Batman persists in being a hero, then the city will keep testing him by throwing his greatest fears his way.
With the story finished and the Joker somewhere out there in the dark (again), I ask what's the greatest threat for Batman right now: Snyder says it's the character's lack of humility when it comes to the city. "The Court of Owls" storyline showed how Batman's blind spots about his home could be turned against him, and it's his hubris about the city that could be his undoing. But Snyder says the city will always have her secrets, adding, it is "all about being that strange mistress--the second you think you know me, I change."
"Batman" #17 is on sale now from DC Comics. Check out the preview spread below from "Batman" #18: