From Death Valley to the Ends of the Earth with Scott Snyder (Interview)

Feb 12, 2017

In my second interview with prolific comic book writer Scott Snyder, we discussed the subtleties of Batman and Ivy’s relationship in All-Star Batman #7. We continued to explore how his personal anxieties manifest in this current story arc and we take a glimpse ahead to what happens at the end of this particular arc and what we can expect going forward. There are SPOILERS ahead for the remainder of this story as well as the Mad Hatter story coming up. You’ve been warned. Like the last interview, Scott Snyder has been generous enough to give me an insight into his process and his appreciation for the people he collaborates with. There is a real sense that besides being a creator, he is absolutely a fan.

Deron Generally - This issue has almost the look and feel of a classic western, like Eastwood and Leone. Did that come out of the collaboration process or was it something that you had the idea to do before?

Scott Snyder - That’s a great observation. It was definitely part of the planning of it to begin with. I told Tula (Lotay) when we began working together that I really wanted to do an Ivy story that was set somewhere very remote and make it feel like a western. Each of these stories in this arc of All-Star, issues six, seven, eight and 9, are all Batman facing off with a classic villain who has a new mission in some way or it’s a new look at a villain and the setting that he faces off with them in is meant to be somewhere really alien to the Bat Mythology. Settings which are far removed from Gotham.

In particular, I really wanted this one to feel almost like a western. If the freeze issue was almost like John Carpenter’s The Thing with a feeling of horror, this one to me was more of meeting an old nemesis out in the middle of nowhere and making kind of a last stand.

When I mentioned that to Tula, she got really into it. She’s a big fan of westerns. She’s a huge cinephile and both of us are big fans of John Ford, Sergio Leone, all of that. So, she asked me what part of the desert it would be set in and I told her Death Valley on the California border and she started to send me a bunch of references. We both got hugely into it. The thing I love about westerns is how it magnifies the starkness of the landscape and the barrenness of everything; how it magnifies the characters even though they’re dwarfed by the landscape. They seem tiny, but their stories are epic and we were going for that feel here.

Deron – That opening shot with the shadow across the plains and the next panel is Batman is so stark. It’s knowing that he doesn’t belong in that environment but he seems to be a natural part of it.

Scott Snyder - That’s what I love about it. It’s the freedom that All-Star allows. Tom (King) is doing such deep Gotham stuff in Batman because, you know, Batman should always be about that. All-Star allows me to lean into my love of Americana and all kinds of genre material. It lets me do Batman stories that, for me, feel very liberated.

Deron - One of the things that I noticed in All-Star is that there is an almost symbolic purging of his demons that Batman is doing on this quest. Was his relationship to his rogues something you wanted to make a priority in the series?

Scott Snyder - Yeah. For me, part of the mission is to show how each villain was scary given the anxieties in the air right now and why I think they’re scary with regards to certain personal demons but it was also a way for him to face off with them in a definitive way. With Two-Face in the first arc, I wanted to do something that cast Two-Face in a different light, but also feel like a last story between them. Similarly with Ivy, I wanted to touch on her origin and then again with Mad Hatter next, it’s kind of Mad Hatter’s final game with Bruce.

The arc is called “Ends of the Earth” and he’s (Batman) meeting them in places that are pretty remote and at the same time I also want that Doomsday feel to the whole thing as well.

Deron – Yeah.

(Spoilers Ahead)

Scott Snyder - It all culminates in issue 9. It’s an issue called “Demonology” and he (Batman) realizes sort of who’s been behind much of the stuff in the first three issues. It sort of brings to life a lot of the stuff that you’re saying with him having a reckoning with a villain. A lot of the elements in the entire arc with the Black Hawks and other things that speak to this end of times tone.

Deron - The end of the Ivy story pivots to the Mad Hatter in the next issue. After telling two relatively large stakes stories with Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy, is Mad Hatter’s story going to match that scale or will it be a smaller, more intimate story?

Scott Snyder - Oh Yeah. (Laughs) It’s definitely going to be intimate in the way that Freeze and Ivy are, like one on one, but it’s a really scary one. I’m excited about it. Basically, it takes place in the south in the swamps. Batman is going there because some of the technology the Black Hawks are using seem to have remnants of Hatter Tech and he’s traced Mad Hatter to this old mansion down there. He goes to face off with him and he sees that Hatter is making a new kind of hat.

It speaks to some of the sci-fi, Black Mirror type worries that I have. Essentially, the hat that he’s making, I know I’m sort of spoiling everything, but he’s making a new kind of hat that comes in all different styles. When you wear it, it works with your neurological chemistry and lets you “skin” the world the way you want to. It’s like what Two-Face was talking about when he and Bruce Wayne were boys and he mentions that one day there will be a contact lens you can wear that will “skin” the world however you want.

This is actually that technology in a hat. The idea is that you can look at your wife and see someone else but she would still be there. You can look at your car and see a different car, even though the super structure would still be the same underneath.

Deron – Right. You would just be seeing what you want to see without actually altering anything in the real world.

Scott Snyder – Exactly. You see what you want to see and Hatter is hugely excited about this technology. Bruce has realizes that if you wear it for even a short time, it permanently alters the chemistry of your brain and you will always do this with or without the hat. Hatter’s belief is that everyone wants to do this and why would (Batman) want to take that away. Why wouldn’t everybody want to see the world they want to see it if they choose and that’s what you do (Bruce). Then he starts to reveal something darker and darker about Bruce and it’s pretty scary. It gets really psychedelic also because he (Mad Hatter) starts working his “magic” on Bruce, if you know what I mean. He’s been using these chemicals on him without him even realizing it and what Bruce begins to see in the argument that Hatter starts to make gets bigger and scarier as it goes on.

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I’m really excited about it and it’s one of my favorite issues. I really love this arc. I’m having such a good time on this series, it’s crazy.

Deron – I can tell. I really love reading it because it’s the characters that I’ve grown up with told through a different interpretation. It doesn’t take away from the core of who they are, but it adds a dimension to the people that they are because most of Batman’s rogues are products of a tragedy. Were you looking for an opportunity to tell a different side of their stories or try and make them more sympathetic?

Scott Snyder - Yeah, with some. With others no. I’m trying to get to the core of what makes them relevant and spooky. With Two-Face, it was largely about the fact he deeply believes everybody has this monstrous side that they don’t want to show the world and that feels potent to me right now and feels potent on a personal level with things that have gone on in the last couple of years in my life. I feel like I’ve had people I know that have succumbed to personal demons. That was the idea with him. It wasn’t about making him sympathetic as much as it was making him scary.

The same thing with Freeze. I want to show why he’s relevant and spooky. With him, I think, part of what makes him and Ivy so scary is that they are sympathetic. Where Two-Face is only two or three steps beyond where you and I would think (as Two-Face, not as Harvey), Ivy is only one step beyond. She’s much closer to our way of thinking. Part of the thing that’s scary about her and Freeze isn’t that they have terrible plans or things that are frightening about them, it’s that you can see yourself in them. You can see the ways in which you could become them pretty easily with the right push. Sometimes, that’s part of the thing that makes them scary, interesting and intriguing villains.

Deron – That’s one of the things I’ve always noticed about Ivy. It’s that she’s not necessarily wrong in her thinking, she’s wrong in her execution.

Scott Snyder – Yes. She gets too obsessed and I think everyone relates to that.

Deron - How do you view the relationship between Batman and Ivy? Beyond the adversarial.

Scott Snyder – I love when people write her as this sensual and almost witch-like character. For me, I was more interested in her as a person of science. I was into the idea that Bruce feels a bond with her. He’s come to respect what she’s been able to do as a researcher and he also has a lot of guilt, because in The New 52 origin she came to him as a researcher at Wayne Enterprises and told him that she discovered these pheromones that could influence peoples behaviors and opinions. She brought this to him so that he could have more people buy more products. He found this to be unethical and terrifying, so he kicked her out and took away her research. Since then, I think, he’s felt really guilty about that. Not that he agreed with what she was doing. But he understands that she was approaching him in an effort to continue funding her research. She wasn’t interested in controlling anyone. She was after bigger discoveries in the plants that she was studying at that time.

In that way, he realizes that he should have seen things from her point of view instead of jumping to conclusions and throwing her out. I think that guilt is interesting as well because he feels like someone who has persecuted her and he feels partly responsible for making her the monster that she is.

Deron – That’s interesting. Bruce Wayne has always been perceived as being a vapid, party guy. It almost seems like the Bruce Wayne persona is the one that made the mistake with her and if he wasn’t playing that role, he might have been more empathetic.

Scott Snyder – He was young too. For us, at least, it was really early in his career. He was just back in the city and taking back the mantle of Bruce Wayne so, in that regard, he really hadn’t matured yet to the degree he is now. He didn’t know what he was doing. He was more brash.

Deron – I can see that. The Lilith story. I thought it was a brilliant move to tell it backwards because it made it moving and tragic at the same time.

Scott Snyder - Thanks

Deron - Was there anything you drew on personally in regards to the story of Lilith? I know I had to read the story again after I initially read it because even though I saw the story unfold, I didn’t give it the emotional weight it deserved on my first read through.

Scott Snyder –With All-Star, one of the priorities is to write to the villain and write something that fits them organically. Something that feels like it’s being told in a way that gets at the material that is most interesting about them to me.  So I try and choose the style and really vary up the way that I write to fit that character. Secondarily, I try and vary the way I write to fit the artist. With this one, I knew that Tula (Lotay) really wanted to do this kind of stark, desert-like exploration of this standoff between them. So I need this other layer and the more I thought about what was interesting about Ivy, the more I thought of this idea of Batman going to her and lying. To try and fool her into helping him by telling her that the only victim of this thing would be a girl similar to her

Although she did die after she was infected with this thing, he would focus on this idea that she’s a botanist, full of wonder and determination. A really promising young woman. He’s almost telling her the story of her (Ivy) and apologizing in order to save the girl he couldn’t save in her (Ivy). The other thing I realized is that if Ivy’s out there either pulling weapons or medicines out of this ancient tree, I wanted to mirror the science of it.

Sometimes, to pull different chemical compounds from a tree or from plants, you have to work from the outer layer in. So it got me into this idea of counting backwards. Of telling (Lilith’s) story backwards. It would start with Ivy at her roughest, her most resilient. The same way she’s pulling these wonders from this tree, we would get to the core of who she is, which isn’t scary and villainous necessarily, but someone who’s much more conflicted and sympathetic. That’s why I wanted to count it down that way. To give it a strange ticking clock type feel. I also really love the way Tula did those panels because they give such a stark, strange feeling.

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Deron - The Black Hawks that seems to be on Batman’s heels and in this issue, are using tech that he recognizes; Without spoiling anything, is there any info you can tell us about what we should expect from them going forward?

Scott Snyder – They’re sort of the subplot. One of the subplots. They come into it a lot more next issue and the issue after in the finale of (Issue) #9. They actually play a role in the event I’m doing with (Greg) Capullo too, so there’s a whole trajectory for that group, but I wanted to introduce them here because Batman will explain next issue that he’s come to understand them as a team that’s rumored to exist. They’re an Apocalyptic Strike Force Team, so their presence implies that there’s cataclysmic things going on. So in that way, it lends this arc another kind of doomsday feel, another shade of that end of time feeling.

Deron – Okay. I can see that. I like the fact that there’s another group like that out there. That’s one of the things I liked about the Court of Owls.

Scott Snyder – Thanks.

Deron – Just the fact that they’ve always been there and only been talked about as rumor and that’s almost the way Batman is to some people.

Scott Snyder – With this one, you’ll get answers too. You’ll see how they were formed and who they are coming up.

Deron - You’ve managed to weave all of these stories together, especially in the direct tie from Fries to Ivy. I liked the fact that he has to go to Ivy because of something that Freeze unleashed. Are there more subtle connections that we haven’t discovered yet that we should be looking out for?

Scott Snyder – They become more pronounced now. In the next issue Duke (Thomas) goes to the location of this rolling, terrible death. This infection in the vegetation that’s killing people, he goes there with the cure while Bruce is going after Mad Hatter with the Black Hawks in pursuit. The connections become more cumulative and get bigger and bigger until Issue 9. You can still read each issue on its own and I don’t think you would need to know what was happening in the overall arc to enjoy the Ivy issue, same with Hatter. It all kind of rolls forward.

Deron – Was there anything else that you wanted to let readers know as far as things you can talk about?

Scott Snyder – Well the next one is Hatter and I’m working with Guiseppi Camuncoli, who I really love. He’s a great talent over at Marvel mostly and I’m excited to have a completely different style for the book again for this Hatter issue and he’s perfect for it. He’s capable of making everything sort of strange and flexible and psychedelic as the story goes on. After that, I’m working with Afua Richardson on Issue #9 and she’s just terrific. That issue takes place in Washington D.C.

There’s no Trump! (Laughs) People keep asking me if it’s going to be Batman punching Donald Trump or working for him and it’s none of that. There’s no overt politics in it. It’s about different anxieties and it just happens to take place there.

Deron – (Laughs) The current seat of national anxiety.

Scott Snyder – (Laughs) I won’t give away what happens in the issue at all, but it’s largely about the fragility of things right now. All it takes is the wrong story to push things into Wargames. So it is political in how it speaks to the current climate. I think the current climate is one of complete misdirection and constant skepticism about what’s true and what’s not regardless of which side you’re on at this point. That’s wholly dangerous because without any kind of objective truth to things or any sense of there being any kind of objective truth when it comes to facts and figures when it comes to real questions than all it takes is the right narrative to take over and destabilize everything.

That story is the final piece of the “Ends of the Earth” arc. It’s kind of four ways the world can end. One is through natural cataclysm with Freeze and the permafrost melting, releasing a spore. Ivy, even though she is making medicines, there’s the implications that she could be pulling terrible plagues and weapons from this tree. So it has the specter of biological weapons. Hatter is madness, so you know, with him the world ends with this sort of navel gazing madness. The final one is about war. I’m really proud of this arc and the thing that I say the most is that this series gives me so much room to experiment.

I can’t get over how fun it is for me and how liberating. The fact that readers have been so supportive means a lot to me because I know it’s not your standard Batman comic. Sometimes it takes a little more generosity to read a book like this and people have made it so competitive and bought it and that it’s sold as well as it has really blows me away.

Deron – I know I clamor for every issue because I really enjoy this story.

Scott Snyder – Thanks for that. The next one’s super fun, I’ll give it you early. The arc after that I can’t give away yet, but the one that follows is called “The First Ally”. That’s gonna be fun. The arc after that is the Sean Murphy. Six months from now, I’m doing this huge one with Sean for issue 15. It’s going to mine and Sean’s DKR (Dark Knight Returns). It takes place in this crazy future, but it’s still kind of in continuity because it relates back to now. That one I’ve waiting to do for a couple of years.

You know these fifteen to twenty issues I have in my head means I’ll keep this going as long as I’m at DC. As long as people will buy it. I would love to keep it going as a monthly book and keep writing these crazy Batman stories for as long as people will read them.

Deron – Well. That’s actually all I had this week. Once again, I really appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule to talk to me.

Scott Snyder – Not at all Deron. It’s always fun talking to you and we should do it for next issue too.

Deron – I would absolutely love to.

We ended our conversation trading stories about our kids recovering from strep and kid logic about getting well and making plans to do this again with the release of All-Star Batman Issue #8.

All-Star Batman Issue #7 is currently available and I recommend picking it up.

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