This interview contains spoilers for All-Star Batman #1 and the series.
When veteran Batman writer Scott Snyder thought up the concept for All-Star Batman, an on-going series that will allow him to play with all of the Dark Knight’s great rogues gallery, he took the “All-Star” label quite literally. Enlisting many of the best artists in the business, such as frequent collaborators Sean Gordon Murphy, Jock, and Francesco Francavilla, Snyder has assembled a dream team of creators for the project.
For the first arc of the series, “My Own Worst Enemy,” which sees Batman set out on a road trip with Two-Face, Snyder has a legend by his side, the one and only John Romita Jr., who spent most of his career at Marvel before moving to DC in 2014 to work on Superman with Geoff Johns. All-Star Batman presents JRJR’s debut on a Batman on-going, and it’s about time. His Batman is imposing, whether he’s smiling with a mouth full of blood or scowling. At one point, he even gets to draw Batman holding a chainsaw, a panel that I’m convinced is poised to become iconic Batman imagery.
The entire current Batman line, which also includes Tom King and David Finch on a more grounded Batman and James Tynion IV and Eddy Barrows on Detective Comics, is an embarrassment of riches at the moment, and All-Star Batman #1 reads like the juicy cherry on top. Packed with lots of action, a surprising amount of humor, and the return of several C-list villains that will undoubtedly surprise you, All-Star Batman is another must-read Batbook.
I sat down for a chat with Snyder and JRJR about the challenges of taking Batman out of Gotham, why this is Two-Face’s time to shine, and whether Snyder is finally writing a scene for Condiment King.
Den of Geek: Scott, I was surprised by the humor in the first issue. I mean, Batman is hilarious when fighting the bug villains, which are hilarious in their own right. Was writing more humor into your scenes a focus for you in this arc?
Scott Snyder: It was. You know, there’s something liberating about writing Batman outside of Batman, the main series. I did a lot of soul searching when I realized that Greg [Capullo] was going to leave. What I realized was that I still had stories that were very personal to me to do on Batman. The challenge would be, if I did them, to bring in new energy and a sense of joy to the book.
And that really started with bringing in artists that I’ve admired and been dying to work with, like John. When you have a partnership with somebody who makes you happy to go to work every day because you’re inspired by their stuff, that hopefully feels organically present and baked into the DNA of the book. So I wanted All-Star Batman to have a different tone.
The other thing I’d say is that I want it to be something that fans pick up and say, “This is different from anything I’ve seen from these creators, and it’s also different from anything I’ve seen on Batman.” It’s meant to be hugely inviting and hugely fun a lot of the time, because beneath the surface there is a dark and personal story, which is largely about Batman wrestling with this notion of whether or not our personal demons tend to get the best of us, especially in challenging times. Like right now.
The Batman in All-Star is the ultimate confident badass. The very first close-up on his face in this issue is of him smiling with blood dripping out of his mouth, like he’s really relishing the crimefighting. It’s an interesting juxtaposition with what Tom King is doing on Batman where he’s having doubts as a hero after that near-death experience. Is that juxtaposition something that was planned out?
SS: Tom’s become one of my closest friends, honestly. We talk pretty much every day or two. I think that we both decided that we had very different tones for the books, even though we’re both going for a similar place in the middle. Both stories are deeply about things that are Batman’s weak spots and vulnerabilities. I think [Tom] just really wanted to announce from the get-go that this was a Batman that was grounded again and very vulnerable and very human. And I’d like to start from the other end and work my way towards the middle. Batman begins this arc feeling like he’s got Two-Face right where he wants him, he has a good sense of the people of his city and the people of his state, and he feels really confident. And then, little by little, we wear him down.
You’re Batman’s cruel puppeteer, Scott.
SS: Thanks, dude!
You’ve been forming this Two-Face story for a while now. Why do you think now is his era?
SS: It’s a story that’s very much about this moment. It’s not overtly political in any way, and it doesn’t particularly take sides. But I think in a more general way, even before the election started up, some of the things that I found were working their way into the stuff that I was doing, even my creator-owned work, were these fears that we all feel and my kids feel about these insurmountable problems in the world and the fact that everything feels so crowded together suddenly, where something happens overseas and it affects us here. Everything is so tied together, and there’s this sense of the planet kind of heating up as we’re all getting more crowded. There’s this feeling of things being more and more urgent. I think in times like that, it really brings out the best and the worst of us in all different ways.
Regardless of your politics, on some level, I think that situation where you’re really facing big challenges and they’re right in front of your face suddenly, it requires the best of you. So the story is about Batman saying, “When I look outside my sphere of Gotham, everything is going to be okay. People think of me as this hero. I can show them that things will be alright.”
And then suddenly being exposed to this other side of their face, this monstrous side, Two-Face says, “It’s been there all along, you just haven’t been looking at it. Am I the hero of this story or are you? Before, a few years ago, people were just getting used to the craziness of the world. That was the Joker’s time. Now it’s my time. Now they’re used to it and they’re reacting to it. When they react selfishly or poorly or angrily towards each other, that’s who they really are. And that’s me. You’re just this fake kind of idol and this fake face that’s out their pretending to be this reflection of the city when you’re not.”
John, I think that panel of Batman holding a chainsaw over Black Spider’s head is going to become an iconic Batman image. With your recent work on Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade and now All-Star Batman, what’s it like jumping into all this Batman work for the first time?
John Romita Jr.: After doing Batman with Frank [Miller] on Dark Knight, I got a whole new appreciation for the character. That was a great spot to jump into the character. And then settling into a mainstream run like All-Star and working with Scott on it, I got a chance to look back at Greg and Scott’s work. I did a lot of homework and research, and before I even started on this, I got a chance to feel like I was already a part of the character.
This first issue, while I was a little bit nervous, I was less so because I had worked on Dark Knight, and working with Scott—getting a verbal [story] treatment at a bar in our town, sitting down hunched over a beer, I was given a chance to walk before I could run. Then doing the issue and finding out I was going to do all of these secondary characters, it’s just complete insanity. This is just a blast! I’ve finished the second issue, and I’m working on the third issue. It’s getting better and better.
Then there’s [inker] Danny Miki and [colorist] Dean White working on it. There are four guys in this lineup that are heavy hitters, and that’s why this is going to be such a good title. And Scott’s words are making this so much fun.
SS: Let me just echo what John was saying about Danny and Dean. One of the fun things is getting to know each other and getting to know the passion that those two bring to the page. And talking to Dean about trying new things color-wise. It makes it really exciting to go to work knowing that we’re all equals on the team.
Everybody contributes ideas to the book. There’s things like the black and white color stuff that Dean really weighed in on, and stuff like the darkness and brightness of the book that Danny really weighed in on. So you feel ownership of it together. I hope that’s clear on the page.
Since this is a road trip story, what are the challenges of taking Batman out of the shadows, out of Gotham, and bringing him into daylight in a rural part of the country?
JRJR: The first thing I thought was that it was intimidating because the best thing about Batman is the darkness and the back shadows and the mood. Then you’re bringing him into a position where there are less shadows. He’s out in the middle of nowhere with the sun beating down on him. I thought that would be nerve-racking because there’s visually no hiding, but then that’s the best part of it. It relates to the story. There is no hiding.
All it is is a different set of reference. There’s no Gotham, but there’s the diner in the middle of nowhere, there’s the field of tall grass, and that all plays into the situation. It’s a helpless feeling. He’s targeted and he can’t hide in the shadows. So it ended up being a slight challenge visually, but a lot of fun as well.
SS: I’m trying to give you a lot dark train tunnels to make up for it. They’ll go under a dark bridge or something!
Scott, how deep into Batman lore are you going for the C-list villains? I mean, we have Gentleman Ghost at the end of the first issue and you always tease Condiment King. Are we finally going to get your great Condiment King story?
SS: If only! Actually, I’ll be totally honest. I tried to figure out a way to do an easter egg of a Condiment King thing while they’re in the diner since there’s like ketchup and mustard…
That would have been brilliant!
SS: But it wasn’t working, you know? I thought maybe I’d put it on the condiments. You know, “King Ketchup and Mustard,” but I didn’t want people to think it was a reference to Tom and that I was somehow making fun of him.
With All-Star Batman, we’re going really deep into it, honestly. The first issue is actually probably the least deep. The second one…you’ll see!
I don’t know if people caught it, but the cover for issue #3 has KGBeast on it. He becomes a really big person in the series. There’s are a lot of fun returning villains, from Killer Croc to real deep cuts like Amygdala. It really is a celebration of all of Batman’s rogues and villains from A to Z.
Ultimately, it’s a story about Two-Face saying, “Deep down, everyone wants to embrace their inner villain. They like us more than you.” It’s over-the-top fun and it’s hugely energizing to be on it just because of the craziness. When you have Batman pulling off his ears to stab a villain, it’s just fun to go to work. But on top of that, there’s medicine beneath the sugar because it’s very much a story about whether the villains are a better reflection of who we want to be or Batman is.
JRJR: Scott just wants to see how many characters he can dump on Romita Jr.!
SS: The fun thing too is that a lot of them get to be redesigned. Part of what DC was saying to us when we started the series was that redesigns will go across the line. So even little things, like the way John draws Oswald [Cobblepot], which you’ll see next issue, I love what he does with his hair. What I love about John so much is that as soon as you get into his art, right from page one it’s a world that’s so immersive and so fully realized. Even the details of the characters, the small elements that make them pop off the page, that is right. Oswald would wear his hair that way. Black Mask would sort of lean that way. It’s brought to life in such a vibrant way, you feel like you’re walking into a fully realized, robust world.
Scott Snyder and John Romita Jr., thanks so much! All-Star Batman #1 is out now.