Inside the “Sheer Insanity” of Batman: Last Knight on Earth

Inside the apocalyptic weirdness of the final Batman story by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, Batman: Last Knight on Earth.

Bruce Wayne wakes up in Arkham Asylum. He is suddenly younger and discovers that he was never Batman. From there, he finds a dystopian future where the entire DC Universe has turned its back on its heroes. The only guide through this horrific world is the living decapitated head of the Joker. This is Batman: Last Knight on Earth, the final Batman project from the legendary team of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo.

Snyder and Capullo have been doing the Batman thing for the better part of a decade. In that time, the creative duo has brought fans the debut of the Court of Owls, the most horrific take on the Joker in the dark history of the character, and some of the greatest Bat sagas of any age. Now, with Last Knight on Earth, they are saying goodbye to the Bat.

We had a chance to sit down with Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo to find out where this final journey might take fans of the Dark Knight.

Solicitations are great, but from the creators’ mouths, tell us about Batman: Last Knight on Earth #1.

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Scott Snyder: This is the last Batman story that we’re doing. I started thinking about this one back when we were doing Zero Year. I began thinking about how he would end, about how he would close down his time as Batman, but always leave a way for Batman to exist. As a Batman writer, I think that’s the thing that faces everybody. Eventually, you have to think about what Bruce is going to do when he gets older. It’s a fascinating question, so this story for us really is the final statement I care to make on Batman in terms of his nature, why he’s so enduring, why he’s so inspiring. And how he will always live on even in times when it seems the world doesn’t want him anymore.

Greg Capullo: I don’t know what I would want them to know. This is the last chapter on Batman. I feel like we’ve done a good service for the character we all love. I hope people aren’t disappointed on our last go of it.

Describe the world Bruce now finds himself in?

Capullo: It’s sheer insanity. It begins in Arkham and it gets crazier from there. Bruce Wayne finds out he’s just been a patient in Arkham since he was a child for murdering his parents. He makes his escape from Arkham in a Batman suit constructed from a straitjacket. He finds Joker’s head in a jar. From there, it doesn’t get better. We go from one insane tapestry to another. Scott has written an epic tale where we’re traveling all over. We see crazy Green Lantern mutant babies that are dragging their hosts behind them and it does not get better. It keeps escalating into sheer insanity. We’re hoping readers feel as crazy and disoriented as Bruce does.

Snyder: I’ll just add to that and say it’s a world that doesn’t want its heroes and villains anymore. I think that every future story that I’ve read at Marvel or DC portrays a post-apocalyptic superhero world as one where the villains have won or the heroes have lost against a massive alien threat, those types of things. Or one hero has turned dark. But in this world, what makes it really different, is that it’s literally a world where Lex Luthor makes a pitch to humanity and says, “You should side with us; you should side with the villains.” Not only do they do that, they also overthrow the villains as well. It’s a world that doesn’t want its superheroes or supervillains. And that makes for a whole different landscape than you’ve ever seen, not only with these characters but in the superhero genre in general.

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It’s a much darker, much more vicious landscape and I think it has some wondrous surprises from heroes that still exist and from villains that have turned it all around and have a basis in humanity. The path under Greg’s pencil is visually stunning and textured; it’s also meant to surprise you at every turn with characters you wouldn’t expect to see, future versions of those characters that will catch you off guard. We really wanted to start from before, which is, again, what would you do if you’re a hero and the world doesn’t want to be saved by you anymore?

So this isn’t an Elseworlds? A potential future?

Snyder: I never thought of our stuff as continuity or not continuity. I was always very aware of the other books in the Batverse and tried very hard to make everything connect to the tapestry. This is a story I would have done on Batman if I could have. There’s no way we could have done it. There was too much continuity. We couldn’t do something where you ignored the other books because we’re in a different world.

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This, in my mind, was always going to end our run. So, the way we did it, it was the perfect time. We now have the time and space to do it right. The one thing I always hated working on Batman, it’s a small thing compared to everything I loved, it was 99% elation all the time getting to do Batman and getting to do Batman with Greg. But, outside of the stress and pressure of making it good, it’s just the grind. It’s a grind to do a book every month that for six years is supposed to be the top book, the pressure of that. You never get a vacation; you can’t miss your month. You can’t think; you have to keep going and the great thing about this is we have a lot more time and space to go beyond the kind of work we did before.

We’ve been promised a Joker head. Has being just a head allowed the Joker to see the word differently?

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Capullo: (Laughter) Where do you go with that? Okay, Mister Creative Writer, what do you got?

Snyder: I love writing him as a head in a jar. The whole image, that’s where the story started for me. I was thinking of how I would end our Batman, and this image came to me of Batman trekking across the sand with Joker’s head in a jar. Batman was still young and when that happened, I ended up unpacking it and asking what does that mean to me? Why did the image stick out? It became clear to me that it was Batman using the old to light the way with this lantern which was the Joker’s head towards this new purpose. That just opened up the whole story for me.

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The fun of the Joker’s head, I think, is that he’s the only familiar thing from the old world. Batman needs him, and Joker knows that. So he takes on the role of a sidekick, a buddy, the Greek chorus. He’s the narrator and I guess it gives me a chance to recast him. He was sort of the demon in our run. He’s in almost every arc in one way or another as a kind of polar opposite to Batman’s mission. Now, instead, he’s an ally. I love that. He’s funny. I can curse with him. He’s darkly witty and he’s very smart. He has a lot of tricks up his… head. I just love his lines. I’m having too much fun with it.

Why this for your last Bat story? Why go full dystopian?

Snyder: It started from the idea that I wanted to create an origin with Greg in Zero Year that was hopefully different from anything anyone had ever seen. I wanted him to face resonate things in the zeitgeist. The villains he faces in that book are representative of things my kids are afraid of versus the thing I was afraid of that were represented in Year One. It’s done in a kind of crazy, Technicolor rock n’ roll style. It’s maximalist instead of minimalist, all that stuff.

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For the ending, I was thinking of Dark Knight Returns. The concept that it’s Gotham-based, there’s chapters where he goes up against different villains. He’s old, he’s facing his mortality, and I wanted to be able to do something really different. The initial image that came to me just spoke to that. I wanted it to be something that spanned the whole DCU and took us someplace that was about regeneration and rebirth. It has a lot of ties to, as hokey as it sounds, to folktales and mythology. It plays on the things like the cave in The Odyssey and the Fisher King with Batman returning to Gotham at the end, all that stuff. It felt right to go to a place where people embrace their inner villains and don’t really want Batman anymore. What’s the point of being a hero in that world?

Talk about the design of the world?

Capullo: I really just follow my instincts. When I read the scripts, visuals just pop into my head. Where do they come from? I don’t know. I get them from the same source as anyone, movies and books and television and real life. All that stuff is just in there. When I read the script, things just pop into my mind and I draw from that. It’s not like I have an ongoing plan when I start.

I loved the way the first issue opens from an intense Batman story to a sprawling DCU epic. There’s a lot of Kamandi and The Great Disaster here, am I wrong?

Snyder: You’ll see. There’s a mention of Kamandi in book three. It really spans the whole DCU. It’s a tribute to heroism and legacy of the whole DC pantheon. You’ll see everyone in it from Cheetah to Lex Luthor to Spectre. Everyone is in it. There are a couple of pages where Greg is sizzling and channels his inner George Perez and you’ll see entire casts of the DCU. It’s beautiful.

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To me, it’s very much an intimate story of Batman coming home and understanding himself in a new way and understanding his purpose in a new way, but it’s also a tribute to all the great heroes of the DCU and why they matter so much. Why silly things like superhero comic books mean something and matter to us even in an age when we face such systemic problems.

You two now have to be mentioned in the same breath as great Bat teams like Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams. Looking back, what moments of this partnership are you most proud of?

Snyder: I’m proudest of our friendship. I don’t have a better friend in the world than Greg. He’s like a big brother to me. The stuff that I was able to learn from him both personally and creatively is just priceless. He became a mentor in life. I call him all the time. The other day, I was upset about something ridiculous and I called him and he talked me through it. Above and beyond anything on the page, there’s so much I’m proud of there, I’ll leave Greg to pick out that stuff, sincerely, I’m most grateful for our friendship outside of comics. I’m grateful to the fans to allow us to get that way and build the relationship we have.

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As much as it’s our last Batman story, there are a lot of Batman stories I could do, but I’m not looking to do them with anyone else. I could have happily stayed on Batman with Greg, but I have a ton of ideas; he has a ton of ideas here at DC and at Marvel and most importantly, our own stuff, that if we don’t get to them soon we’re going to start regretting it. The fact I look at Greg and think that I’m going to work with him the rest of my life, that’s what I’m most proud of.

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Capullo: Anything I say now will sound shallow (laughter). I’ll stick to our work. We’ve done a lot of stuff that’s been a lot of fun for the both of us, but the thing I’m most proud of is the Court of Owls. The fact that we introduced the Court of Owls itself is impressive to me. We’ve known Batman for so long and Batman is so arrogant. Batman thinks he knows Gotham City better than anyone. We planted this thing that has existed for hundreds of years and it was under his nose. It’s so awesome and it changed everything with that storyline. It’s just brilliant to me.

What do you hope to accomplish with this, the last Snyder/Capullo Bat story?

Snyder: I really hope fans walk away from it saying that it closed the door on our saga well. It was surprising and spoke to things we tried to do in the book, that we made it resonant and personal. Batman is my favorite character in all of literature, so we never take this lightly. To try a story that was the last one, we’re going to put everything we have into it.

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My goal is to have it speak to everything we were proud of in the book and elevate them even more. It’s the kind of risks we try to take, the kind of inventions we try to add to the mythos. Characters, villains, and ideas. We try to stand on the shoulders of the giants that came before us. My hope is that this thing, this book, stands with our best and gives fans something to cheer about. It’s for them, honestly. I felt like we had a story that’s been in my head, Greg will tell you, I’ve been thinking of since 2012-2013. I just felt it’s the most fitting way to close.

There’s an important bit in the first issue with Lex Luthor. Does that tie into Year of the Villain?

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Snyder: As a writer, I’m trying to explore things from different angles. The idea in Justice League of whether or not our nature is heroic or villainous is the same as the themes of Batman Who Laughs and a similar theme here. It’s just that they’re both wildly different approaches. On the one hand, if you read all of them together, you’ll see that I try to write things that are important to me, that keep me up at night. I’m proud you won’t see repetition in either one. One says what if we win, one says what if we lose. So, I would say read all of it if you can. This book is meant to stand on its own without anything else and enjoy it.

What can we expect from the next two issues?

Snyder: It goes crazier and crazier. The whole story is about Batman eventually returning to Gotham to see what happened and see who this new villain is who has taken over everything. Along the way, you’ll see the Planes of Solitude, you’ll see what happened to Lex Luthor…

Capullo: You’ll see Bane with the top of his head chopped off! With spider legs!

Snyder: You’ll see Scarecrow with needlepoint fingers crawling around. Greg did this great design where Scarecrow rides on Bane’s back. He hovers there and crawls off to get you. I can’t think of anything you won’t see from Captain Atom to Flash and everything. It’s everywhere.

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Capullo: It’s a stone’s throw away from Metal in terms of insanity.

Snyder: It really is, it’s of the same spirit.

The insanity of Batman: Last Knight on Earth will begin when the first issue hits May 29th.