It’s a great time to be a Scott Snyder fan. Between the continued success of his run on Batman, his well-received new series Superman Unchained and The Wake, and the hotly anticipated American Vampire Anthology, there has never been more Snyder on the shelves. Drew caught up with him at the Boston Comic Con to discuss all of his current projects.
Scott Snyder: It’s really challenging. I mean, that’s the thing, you know? You realize it pretty quickly that with Batman, you can leave him in peril because he’s human. It’s a good cliffhanger. With Superman, he’s so powerful you can’t leave him in physical peril more than a couple times in a whole arc or it just feels false. So it really became for me about challenging him emotionally and psychologically. I try to do that all the time anyway with Batman — it’s not like I just try to leave him in a deathtrap — but it’s more important in a lot of ways with Superman to create something that’s going to sort of subvert his own perception of himself. It’s hard.
Our story really is about — and you’ll learn this in the third issue — it’s deeply about this idea that, what if — and it came to me, actually, reading the old Siegel and Schuster collected Superman. It’s actually in this book I had since I was a kid, it’s just called “Superman.” It’s a big hardcover and it collects a lot of the early issues. In it, he fights the Nazis, and I was kind of stunned. Superman fighting the Nazis, and he’s letting people die. I was thinking: what if Superman had actually existed back then? Would he get involved in World War II? I think he would. He would take down the death camps; he wouldn’t let that go on. My worry was that, nowadays, would he get involved, given the way the military would want him to, with covert operations and being somebody that sort of stealthily changes the geopolitical spectrum.
I wanted to level this argument at him that’s really cutting, and really have some teeth, and say, “Superman, you are the biggest mass murderer on the planet.” This is what General Lane says, because, essentially “you allow people to die suffering every day, and you don’t change the world. You want to, and you know you could, but you’re afraid of not being the hero everybody claps for. Because you need that applause, you need to be a little show pony, and have everybody love you and cheer for you, but you’re actually a big coward. You’re the biggest disappointment this planet has ever known. Why don’t you go save a kitten from a tree, instead of, you know, changing this country in east Africa or changing the borderlands in Pakistan?”
That’s really the accusation that we want to level at him and say “you’re not really a hero; you’re a villain.” AND to create a threat in Wraith, who’s the character who is the American Superman, who’s been part of military operations secretly since 1938. He’s stronger, because he has a similar physiology, but he’s been here longer, so he has powers Superman might get in 20 or 30 years, but doesn’t have yet. He’s bigger and tougher and more warrior-like — Superman is just not as strong or as fast as him. There’s a physical threat that Superman can’t overcome, and there’s also an emotional and psychological threat and attack on him that I think has some good bite to it.
RP: What will it mean for Clark to be confronted with the idea that his motives aren’t as pure?
SS: It’s gonna be really hard on him. That’s the point, right? You have to be able to tear these characters apart and down to build them back up and show why they’re the great heroes that they are. I’m not trying to destroy Superman, or level an argument against Superman that I don’t think he can’t redeem himself from. But I think you want to level an argument at him that humbles him, makes him question what he does, and then come out the other side stronger for it.
RP: What is it that distinguishes Superman Unchained from the other Superman titles, and could it continue after the arc that you have planned?
SS: Yeah, it can definitely continue. Jim [Lee] and I talk about it a lot. We’re planned for nine issues for this story, but I’d happily keep going with it if Jim could or another artist I’d be excited to work with could. But, I don’t want to run it just to run it. For me, personally, I just want it to be something where I get to do big Superman stories. I’m not interested in doing a run on Superman where it’s moth to month. I have that with Batman, and Batman is going to be very big in 2014 because it’s his 75th anniversary. That’s obviously going to engender some very big stories in that world. I don’t want to just be on another comic where I’m thinking of what’s going to happen in six months. I just want to tell singular, big stories. If Jim can do another arc, or if another artist of that caliber, someone that I’d be excited to work with, could do it, than I will. But otherwise, I’ll probably just stay on Batman.
The first thing you asked about, what differentiates, I mean, I just think it’s a very different animal. Superman, that Scott Lobdel writes, is really exuberant and fun and fast and cosmic and irreverent. It’s all of those things, and it’s very fast-paced and kinetic and high-octane, and the arcs are very short. Action Comics, right now, it’s sort of figuring out what it’s going to be, in some ways. For us, I want to tell big, singular, aggressive Superman stories that really challenge him. Each one, I want to be like if I only got one chance to tell a Superman story, this is what it would be.
That’s what I think — I hope — sets it apart in that way, is just that it’s very much my own. I don’t think you’re going to come to it and think “this isn’t a Scott Snyder-sort of project.” It’s got the American history, it’s got the emotional horror — all of the things that I love. I hope that sets it apart.
RP: You’ve stated elsewhere that you came to Batman with three big stories you really wanted to tell — presumably the Court of Owls, Death of the Family, and now Zero Year. What are your plans once those stories are told?
SS: Well, I thought, “I know I have these big stories in mind,” and the funny thing is, I came up with a couple more that I want to do. The one after Zero Year will likely be a smaller, more detective-based story. I feel like you scale back from — the end of Zero Year is so bombastic in terms of scale, with the whole city shaken and turned into this prehistoric-looking, post-apocalyptic nightmare for Batman to form in. It’s really fun to see him form in this survivalist, overgrown city. You’ll see why it’s sort of overgrown, there’s reasons for it, but it looks like a post-apocalyptic, world-without-us kind of city. To see his legend form in that environment is something I knew would be so far removed from Year One that I could do it in my own way and have crazy fun. The idea here would be to scale back next arc and do something really contemporary, CSI-detective-based — it’s going to be about cold cases that Batman has been haunted by for years and hasn’t been able to solve. From there, we want to ramp up into our really big story, which will be huge and crazy for the 75th anniversary.
RP: You’ve stated elsewhere that one of the big things that sets this story apart is the modernization of Gotham. How do these changes affect how both Bruce and Batman interact with the city?
SS: That’s a good question. I mean, they affect it a lot. Part of what I wanted to do with this story was create a reason for Bruce — one of the things I’ve always been frustrated with that “Bruce Wayne is the mask” idea (and the funny thing about it is — before I say anything — I came to Batman thinking I was just going to do [Frank] Miller’s interpretation. I love that idea of Batman as this sort of demonically possessed, obsessive, pathological character that doesn’t care about Bruce Wayne. Then I started writing him. What I realized was that his parents are these very civic-minded, good intentioned, philanthropic people. His father is a doctor, of all things. He has all this money, but he goes to the city hospital and gets his hands dirty helping the poor. His mother sets up schools, and all of these things. So, wouldn’t it be offensive to their legacy for Bruce Wayne to just be this drunken playboy?) So I started thinking, for Zero Year, having it be part of the story is having Alfred convince him that he needs to bring Bruce Wayne back to life. He’s legally dead and nobody knows he’s back in the city, but he needs to bring him back in a way that actually means something.
His other argument is that Batman means nothing. He’s not Batman, yet, but his vigilante mission means nothing because he fights as a ghost. He has no symbol, there’s nothing. Nobody knows he exists; he just attacks the Red Hood Gang in a mask, and that’s it. What Alfred is saying is, “the legacy of your parents is to mean something to this city, both as Bruce Wayne and as whatever else you want to be. If you want to be a masked hero, then do something that inspires, don’t fight in the shadows.”
The modernization of the city really does have a lot to do with who Bruce Wayne is. In a rotten city that’s falling apart and corrupt, I completely understand how you could put Bruce Wayne to the side and be Batman. In a city where people are afraid because they’re afraid of terrorism or random attacks, you have to be able to stand up and say “Bruce Wayne will go about his day and not be afraid. Bruce Wayne will struggle to help the city be better, because we all can. Batman needs to inspire you to become the thing you know you can be in this city without being afraid that you’re doing something meaningless because it could all end tomorrow.”
RP: The relationship between Alfred and Bruce is characterized by much more tough love than we usually see. How important is that dynamic to this story?
SS: It’s huge. Alfred, to me, is the touchstone of the entire bat-mythos. Alfred is the moral compass. He’s everything that Bruce needs. Without Alfred, he’d be lost. I really believe that. For me, his relationship with Alfred plays a big role going forward, as well. It has some big ups and downs, as you’ll see.
SS: Well, I wanted to do something that was sort of a tribute to those movies that I love, but hopefully does something original, and doesn’t feel completely derivative of any one of those, in particular. The thing I love about those — The Thing, Alien, The Abyss — is that they put you in a situation where you’re claustrophobically trapped with something that’s completely unfamiliar. Sometimes, that thing is so inscrutable is that its unfamiliarity is the scariest element of it, like The Thing or Alien. That was the idea with the story: create something that was human and stares back at you, but is unknowable and inscrutable. You’re trying to figure out what it has to do with you and what it means, and it’s saying something that’s a mystery that you have to unlock, but you just can’t. It has those movies in it’s DNA, obviously, but I do hope it seems pretty fresh, or is something that’s different than those two.
RP: You’ve done a fascinating job of explaining the creatures using science and plausible pseudo-science. Where you always interested in whale calls and the aquatic ape theory, or did these kind of justifications come to you after you developed the story?
SS: They came to me as I was developing it. I’ve always been afraid of the water, and I feel like there are only a few places left that you can find — on the planet, on land — where there could still be monsters hidden. For me, with American Vampire, that’s history, you know? Monsters can be hidden in history because you can’t know it — you don’t know what happened exactly. For this, the obvious place is the ocean. There’s so much — I mean, they discover new species all the time, even if they’re pretty small. This idea of something being down there that would not only explain folklore and legends of the sea, but would sort of reveal this strange evolutionary possibility, and a bigger mystery, as well. It just felt really exciting to me. It brings together a lot of things that I like writing about, like inserting an alternative history to the 20th Century and before. You have these creatures having effected things in a really interesting way. Evolutionarily effecting things. It also has the horror and science fiction I like to write about, but it has elements I’ve never tried before. Speculative science fiction — 200 years from now, and the ancient stuff as well, from 5 million years ago. It’s more expansive than anything I’ve tried. That’s what I really love about it. It’s a place where I can go to push myself or flex my muscles.
RP: How important is that massive scope?
SS: It’s really important to me. That’s what sets it apart from just being a straight-ahead science fiction horror story. I wanted to do something that, if Sean [Murphy] and I did it, would challenge us both. Stretch our storytelling, you know? It would be very easy for me to do a five issue arc that ended with them killing the creatures and escaping and that’s it, but I wanted to try something where the second half of the book is an environment you wouldn’t ever expect to see from me. That’s the hope — I hope I pull it off! Watch me get to five or six and be like “I should have just ended it.”
RP: Is this Lee’s story, or is it the creatures’ story?
SS: I wouldn’t even say it’s the creatures’ story. I would say it’s the story of human evolution, with some mysteries that we haven’t really revealed yet. It’s more about this question of “what are these creatures trying to tell us about ourselves?” Over and over in this weird call they make.
SS: Some of my favorite writers mentioned to me they read it, and I was hugely honored. When Greg Rucka was like “I like American Vampire,” or Gail Simone says that, and then Mark [Doyle], my editor, was like “we should see if you ever want to do backups or have people come in and write fill-ins if you want to have some fun now that we’re in the second-half of the series.” And I was like “why don’t we do a book?” And he had had the idea, too, so we just approached some of the writers and I was shocked they were excited to do it. We got Jason Aaron, Greg Rucka, Gail Simone, Francesco Fracavilla, I’m doing one with Rafael [Albuquerque], Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes. It’s really exciting. It’s a good bunch.
RP: Has anything surprised you in the stories they’ve turned in?
SS: Yeah! Honestly, what surprised me is that they found connections, both to certain characters that I had almost forgotten about, and also between characters that will really surprise people. I’m really honored that they thought that much about the series. You’ll see things revealed that are fanboy reveals. “What? This is the history of Travis Kidd’s what?” It’s the kind of thing that I would think about, but I wouldn’t expect anybody else to think about because those characters are peripheral. There are stories in there about Skinner, straight up, and Pearl, straight up, and Hattie, and then there are stories about characters that you’ve almost forgotten about that they make really interesting. It was really exciting. And people are all over the place — Jason Aaron’s takes place in Roanoke, and Gail’s take’s place in 1920s Hollywood, and Fabio [Moon] and Gabriel [Ba], theirs is great; it’s in the jazz age and visually just stunning. It’s really fun.
RP: You’ve been very lucky over the past few years working with some incredible artists, but I’m struck by how different their styles are. Is there any commonality that draws you to them, or that you look for in a collaborator?
SS: Yeah. That they’re extremely singular in their vision. I love people that have a style that I see and can immediately recognize it’s them. It has a dynamism, you know? So, out of those people: when you see Sean Murphy, you know it’s Sean Murphy; when you see [Greg] Capullo, you know that’s Capullo. Rafael — I could pick Rafael’s art out across the room. Jim Lee, obviously. And Francesco [Francavilla], and Jock. I love working with people who have a singular style, because it challenges me to have a pure voice, writing-wise. I see it as a challenge. They’re clearly bringing their A-game in terms of doing the kind of art that is an expression of a singular vision, of a singular talent. What I need to do is make sure that my voice on this book is as charismatic as them, but also suits what they do.
I write very differently for Greg than I do for Sean. Very differently. The scripts look different, there’s a totally different kind of give-and-take — there are different scenes that I ask Sean to improv on than I do Greg. With Greg, I love letting him improv on the emotional stuff, and the action sequences I dictate a little more because I think it’s a good place to give direction — even though he would come up with his own awesome stuff — that’s where I like walking through the beats more. With Sean, the action, I can give him three pages and say “this is a chase, do it.” With the emotional stuff, I give him more direction — not because either one of them wouldn’t know how to do it greatly without the direction, but because they respond well to getting help in one part or suggestions in one part and being left alone in another. Jim likes getting suggestions on everything, so scripts are pretty robust. It’s really different artist to artist.
Dustin Nguyen is another guy I love working with. I love working with people whose are feels like it speaks to who they are very quickly. They just have a singular style that’s their own, and organic to the way they tell a story — it doesn’t feel forced. It’s inspiring and challenging as a storyteller to see that and learn how to write for them. I’m proud of that, because they are really different. It’s not easy to write for Jim Lee and Sean Murphy at the same time because they couldn’t be more different, but that’s the fun of doing comics. You have to be able to, I think, organically make sure that the storytelling you’re doing is 100% visible as yours. It’s your voice, and yet, you have to change it book to book to get that voice out there with artists that have very different skill-sets. I love working with different people. It’s fun.