[Interview] DC Comics Scott Snyder talks Metal, Batman and the Signal and the Process of Writing Event Comics
I got lucky in the new year to spend some time talking to one of my favorite writers Scott Snyder about the phenomenal success of Dark Nights Metal, his plans to up the insanity for the next two issues, some of his influences when crafting an event, the collaborative process and what he’s working on outside of DC and possibly what he’s working on in the future. As always, Scott delivers some great information and gives a master class on his process for crafting a story.
Deron Generally (GWW): With the success of Metal from both fans and critics and considering the hurdles you had to jump over to maintain your vision of it, is there any twinge of validation from you and Greg for getting your vision out there?
Scott Snyder: (Laughs) Yeah. I mean we were less focused on whether we were right or wrong in terms of some of the pushback and some of the resistance initially to the tone or the name or the kind of scope of it. All that kind of stuff. We were really focused on putting something out that we really loved, as corny as that sounds. I believed really deeply that it was the right move just because I felt like the energy between Greg and me is sort of bombastic and fun. The things that we like to work on have a lot of darkness, but are also bonkers and off the wall in terms of their stakes a lot of the time.
It was always a mission on Batman to try and make it feel like it was the most important, most dire, earth-shattering consequences or stakes for each story possible. So for Metal, we really believed in this one and felt like if we went down swinging with it, that would be ok but we wanted to have fun together also. He (Greg Capullo) has been my friend for a long time and we wanted to do something that reflected the humor we throw around, the love we have for the characters and how caught up we are in their ludicrous nature like Starro, Star Man and all of it. So I’m really proud of it and I’m so grateful honestly.
I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the holidays. Just how supportive fans have been of Metal, but also going all the way back to the very first things we did together and it does not go unappreciated, I promise. Greg and I talk about really frequently. The fact that fans have been really supportive of this means the world to us. I’ve said it to you before Deron, but this is really personal. On the one hand it’s supposed to represent all the nutty, comic storytelling with things like the mace of Carter Hall absorbing dark energy from the center of the multiverse and dragging it down through the Anti-Monitor’s brain. You know, just complete craziness.
Deron Generally (GWW): Absolutely.
Scott Snyder: It’s also, at its core, it’s a story about the feeling…I know I’ve had those times in my life when you kind of wake up having tried something new or explored something that you were excited to sort of venture out and try and suddenly finding only horrifying answers about yourself, the nature of things and finding yourself in a dark place where every road seems to lead back to that same sense of failure and doom. Where you see no way out and just ugly versions of yourself and ugly endings for yourself and it’s very hard to find your way out of that sometimes. So for me, especially as a kid and now certainly as an adult, one of the things I look back on in the comics that really helped me when I was younger, everything from Infinity Gauntlet, Secret Wars; They were huge cosmic lunacy, you know.
Crisis on Infinite Earths. These things were out of control in terms of their scope and soap operatic sensibility and the insanity they embraced as part of the storytelling DNA of comics. Metal is really a celebration of that too. Ultimately, it’s a very simple thing. It shows how dark things can fell, but it also embraces the fun, grandeur and majesty of comic book storytelling. I am really grateful that fans have responded to it. I didn’t expect it to do half as well as it has or the tie-ins to sell out. Any of that stuff. We feel like the luckiest guys with the best fans in the world. So we’ll certainly try and keep it up.
Deron Generally (GWW): It’s a testament to things we’ve talked about before about putting everything out there and leaving it all out on the field as it were. I think people have been responding to that. You’ve taken these characters to some pretty weird areas of the DC universe that longtime fans have either forgotten about and new fans might not have known existed. From just a process standpoint, you mentioned Crisis on Infinite Earths and how broad and out there they were story wise, how do you keep up with where you’re going with Metal? Does that change depending on outside stimuli like getting a late idea or spark of something? Do you have the flexibility or mechanism to add or take away things at this point or are you kind of locked down with no room for deviation?
Scott Snyder: That’s a great question. There’s the creative elasticity of it and there’s the more pragmatic elasticity of it. It’s different with every writer. Tom King and I like to joke around because he likes to discover the ending as he goes. I really need to know the ending up front, at least my version of it initially so I know what it’s about. With something like Metal, I know the major beats. I have the first third, the last third and a couple of beats in the middle. In the middle is where I sort of play around a bit. So there’s definitely room and there are things I like to discover from just the art too.
There are a lot of things that Greg will draw and I’ll realize that he did the storytelling so well that my dialogue doesn’t really fit anymore. So I’ll change it and sometimes I’ll discover things about the characters relationships that I didn’t know I wanted to cultivate as much. All the things like which characters make it out, which ones we can use, they’re all vetted by DC. The big anchors of the story are there from long before we start and the ending I know from the beginning.
I just finished Metal #6 and Greg’s working on it right now. There’s the story as I planned it from the beginning and it has every kind of toy from the comic I could smash together like a kid in the bathtub. It has things like Batman riding a Joker Dragon. It’s crazy. It’s every crazy moment I’ve been wanting to do from issue 1. Greg wrote me that this was the craziest issue he’s ever done so I’m really excited about it. Now once all of that is done, there are two codas, big ones that lead to my next DC work have been set from long before Metal was started because they feed some of the stuff I’m doing next and what (James) Tynion is doing next and (Joshua) Williamson. Other things we’ve left open for other writers to come in because I didn’t want anything in Metal to impose on any other book.
So, and I’m trying not to spoil anything, an event happens where something is brought back that can effect these other characters. What I’m doing is giving the writer that mechanism to say “If you want to use this for your story, you can make it anything you want.” This is one of the things at the end of Metal where I went to the writers and told them how Metal ends and let them know that what I was doing could either be used by them for their characters or it could be discarded if they didn’t need it. Luckily, everyone responded enthusiastically so those consequences develop as we go. It’s like with the Dark Knights. I knew who they were and their history, but it was up to the writers to tell the story they wanted.
When we did Death of the Family, we said Joker’s coming to town and he’s attacking the Bat-Family. Anybody who was on a Bat-Family book could use the Joker if they wanted to, but they didn’t have to if it interrupted their story and I could work around it. Of course everybody decides to use it because it’s the Joker (Laughs).
Deron Generally (GWW): (Laughs) Well yeah.
Scott Snyder: It’s that kind of a thing. Something that’s really changed over the years was getting the DC writers together to talk about story. Metal was kind of a more intense version of that where we had multiple summits throughout the year. I got to really work with different writers and artists and it’s been a blast. It sounds hokey, but its really fired me up for 2018. I’m friends with (Brian Michael) Bendis and there some new exciting people coming in and we’ve gotten to set up some really good relationships. I’m really confident about this year. I’m taking on a couple of new projects next month. A bunch of trying to take on some new books.
Deron Generally: That’s good to know. It’s nice to know that you guys have that ability to work with and around each and kind of play with all the toys in the toy box. Which leads me to ask; I loved the one-shots…
Scott Snyder: Oh. Thanks.
Deron Generally (GWW): I loved the backstories. When you were working with the writers, telling them about the characters, did they give you any insight on one of the Dark Knights that you hadn’t thought of before?
Scott Snyder: Oh yeah, completely. That’s the joy of it. Phillip Tan and Dan Abnett on (Batman) The Drowned for example. There was so much that he added to that character that I loved. I had a slightly different pitch. Initially, it was going to be Bruce in the future after a cataclysm involving Atlantis, playing on his fear of huge disasters even if they’re caused by Black Manta or Ocean Master that as a human he’s incapable of stopping. Everyone in Gotham is drowned and Bruce’s daughter Bryce is left essentially brain dead and he decides because he’s old, to put his brain in her body and they fight. It was too crazy. It was a little too much. I had this vision of like a Frankenstein’s monster, but after talking to them we decided to simplify it. He came up with cool stuff like having her control those who have drowned. I love it.
Peter J. Tomasi was really insightful about the relationship between Diana and Bruce. What a romance between them would be. What draws them together and what ultimately separates them and how a nightmare version of Bruce for her would be someone who shows her a side of herself that it war unleashed. The darkness of them allowed me watch people’s imaginations blossom in these really twisted ways with things I didn’t expect from them. I kind of pushed James (Tynion) when we were working on Batman who Laughs and he came up with Black Kryptonite making Superman tears his entire family apart and I was like “That’s really dark man.” (Laughs). There’s a reason they exist in the Dark Multiverse. They’ve gone beyond what Bruce would ever due in his darkest moments and that why they manifested there. It’s been a real joy watching these guys discover their inner twisted Rock God (laughs).
Deron Generally (GWW): I can see that. Pushing those stories beyond their limits and then pulling back a little does give some perspective. I love the dark elements of the story and how there still remains hopefulness both in the writing and how Greg draws the heroes. It’s probably why I’m looking forward to seeing where Metal #5 goes.
Scott Snyder: 5 is really fun. There are a few big surprises and brawls and it just leads into the craziest issue, the Grant (Morrison) issue. (Metal) 6 is the craziest in terms of how crazy me and Greg could ever go. Wild Hunt is crazy in the way that it’s a story I would write to the ability of my crazy translated into Grant’s crazy. I’m really excited. It was a fascinating experience working with him on it because I didn’t realize how involved his scripts are. The spirit of his writing is totally baked into the script. He’s so enthusiastic on the page. I sent him an outline thinking we would just send it back and forth and he wrote this amazing draft that I just ended up polishing.
The opening was always Detective Chimp. The issues all about the heroes looking for help in the multiverse so there are some Final Crisis elements, but a lot of grounded elements that came from Metal itself. Detective Chimp and the science characters are desperately trying to get in touch with these universal travelers like Flash, Raven and Cyborg. We have crazy stuff involving Swamp Thing and Grant would say “You want the reader to feel bewildered by the crazy of this scene” when talking about the characters. He just lived in it. When I worked with Stephen King on American Vampire, you see someone with the ability to phone it in and doesn’t. Someone who lives in the story and delivers something great and their enthusiasm is there on the page so clearly, it’s inspiring.
Between Metal 5, Wild Hunt and Metal 6, you got a lot of crazy still coming.
Deron Generally (GWW): I want to talk about Duke Thomas. I’m fascinated with the character and I want to know more about his powers and his purpose. Was Batman and the Signal always meant to be a limited series or is there the possibility that we could get an ongoing series?
Scott Snyder: It’s always been a limited series the way all the Dark Matter books are initially limited series. For example, Challengers (of the Unknown) with Andy (Kubert) is a handful of issue, about six. Most of them are three to six. To be honest, we wanted to see how it hit. It’s selling well above what we thought it would sell, not to sound crass. So we got a call from Dan Didio and he wanted to talk about The Signal and I thought he was going to tell me it’s underperforming, but he told me the numbers and it was a great moment with these guys.
The hope, to anybody that’s listening, is that if you buy these three issues, the character has a place and they will start an ongoing. So we could continue past three or we could reboot it and they are both highly possible at this point. The series could get legs where we could incorporate him with other Bat characters. So if he moves, he could have Cassandra Cain or Stephanie Brown, whatever. There’s multiple ways of creating really good places for these characters if you guys go out and buy these books. My hope is to just keep doing this book the way it is but I’ll remove myself from it and let Tony (Patrick) and Cully (Hamner) take it.
I think in this market that books need high stakes, dramatic storytelling to pull you in and I see that with a lot of books. I just read Thanos the other night and Black Bolt, which I feel is magisterial and cosmic crazy and (Thanos) feels like it’s the most important Thanos story ever and that’s what we’re trying to do with Duke. I’d love to explore Duke’s relationship with the Robins and the Fox Center, but with a mini you have to go big. That’s kind of how I guided Tony and he was great. His writing is killer. I love the voice of the character. He took everything that we loved about Duke and distilled it into a mission and a psychology that works for him. I’m so proud of him.
Goeff Johns and I had discussed making him (Duke) a hero by day back before Rebirth. The architecture of the story was there and I told Tony about his history and how he’s always been this character butting his head against the conventions of being a superhero in Gotham. He refused to be a sidekick. He never wanted to be a Robin unless Robin was something independent of Batman and be about inspiring new generations of heroes. He’s always been that fiercely independent spirit. Going out by day and having a different city to himself, fighting new villains that crop up, all that is built into the DNA of the character. Tony really took it and ran with it. I just hope people enjoy it.
What The Signal is about, to me, are new voices and new talent and new characters in Gotham to keep it fresh. I’m really proud of what Greg and I were able to build with Jock and Francesco and this allow me to pay it forward. The way I do my job is to make sure everyone’s writing with their own voice, helping them cultivate a sense of themselves so they’re writing about things they’re passionately invested in.
Deron Generally (GWW):Agreed. So what’s next? I know you have Challengers coming up, but on a personal level are you going to chill for a while or is it on to the next thing? Anything happening with Wytches or American Vampire?
Scott Snyder: Yeah, I do. It’s really strange at the end of a contract I sit with my wife and try and figure out where I want to be creatively and I’ve had so much fun at DC. They’ve been really kind about giving me a lot of room to do my own stuff on the side so I’m going to try both for a little while longer, I think. So I have a big DC mainstream project I’m doing after Metal, but I have a few months in between. I have a respite. I have a project I’m doing with Sean (Murphy), a prestige Batman book we’re doing together and then I have American Vampire. I can’t say what format it’s taking. Vertigo’s got big plans for it. We’re doing a couple of big arcs to close out this part of the series.
Wytches we’re doing right now. We decided to do a prelude to arc 2 in this Image Plus previews that comes out every month and we’re up to chapters 5 and 6 out of 12. Me and Jock are basically done with it so we’re working on arc 2 which comes out in 4-6 page installments and tells the story of Sebastian Clay. It takes place about ten years ago and he’s telling about his upbringing and being part of the Irons, the group Sailor joined at the end of arc 1 that hunts witches and has been for many years. It tells about his upbringing in the culture of witch hunting and it’s really fun and dark.
When Greg’s done with Metal he’s going to take a little time I think and then we’re working on something else. I have some carve outs at DC that allow me to things that are my own, little indie things just for me. I’m interested in doing that with different artists. This year I think is going to be really interesting for me as a creator. Between A.D. After Death and Metal, I feel a confidence to try different things. I can’t say they’ll all be good, but I’m excited. I’m going to try a lot this year and try and capitalize on Metal for my own creative momentum. I feel my engine working really well. I’m feeling ambitious to try new things, you know.
Deron Generally (GWW): Absolutely. I can tell you as a fan; Anytime you want to express yourself creatively, I and many others will be on board to see what that looks like.
Scott Snyder: Thanks man. I appreciate that.
Dark Nights Metal #4 is currently available at your local comic book shop or on Digital. Batman and the Signal #1 is available as well.
Dark Nights Metal #5 will be released January 31, 2018 with variant covers by Jim Lee, Andy Kubert and Tony S. Daniel