The Batman Who Laughs and the Culmination of 10 Years of Dark Knight Stories

Scott Snyder takes us inside the dark weirdness of The Batman Who Laughs

Want to feel old? Scott Snyder’s breakout Batman story, “The Black Mirror,” was released almost 10 years ago. He was a rising star when he got the gig on Detective Comics, and that book led to him being handed the reins on the New 52 relaunch of Batman and turned him into the character’s defining voice of the era. Snyder’s time with Greg Capullo on Batman helped him redefine Bruce Wayne’s world, landed him the multiverse-reshaping Dark Nights: Metal gig and eventually saw him get to steer the entire ship of the DC Universe in the pages of Justice League.

And while he’s busy building new multiverses and starting a war across time between the Justice League and the Legion of Doom in one book, he’s also penning a culmination of sorts to his Batman stories. The Batman Who Laughs started life as a Jokerized Bruce Wayne from the Dark Multiverse, in one of the most exceptionally messed up spinoff comics from the entire Dark Nights: Metal crossover. His migration to the main DCU gave Snyder a chance to reunite with his “Black Mirror” and Wytches art partner, Jock, and to launch a new top tier DC supervillain out into the world for other people to play with. We had the chance to talk to Snyder about The Batman Who Laughs, where it fits into his broader Batman story, what he’s seeding for Joshua Williamson and David Marquez in Batman/Superman, and what other Justice groups are coming to Justice League.

Please note: this interview has been lightly edited for clarity. Spoilers for Snyder’s entire Bat-ouevre are also contained within.

Den of Geek: What changed in your approach to these characters or how you craft a story that turns the output from the cerebral, meticulously tight Batman to the bonkers anything goes Metal/Justice League/Batman Who Laughs? Because this is wild.

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Scott Snyder: You know, Batman Who Laughs is an interesting one for me because it’s the closest thing I’ve done in a while to my early stuff, where it has a lot more needlepoint, dark, psychological character work and it’s paced out differently. It’s more grounded and, it sounds silly, because it also has this element of cosmic, bonkers horror, where different versions of Bruce Wayne are being brought here through these portals into the Dark Multiverse. The thing I love about the series is that it’s a synthesizing of all the different things I’ve learned to do in superhero comics, and love doing.

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I started on “Black Mirror” in Detective Comics and I always thought that that was going to be my lane to drive in. I never expected to do cosmic stuff. I never thought I’d get much of a chance, even in Batman, I thought I’d be more of a kind of crime, horror writer on the side.

Really what happened was that the opportunities opened. At first things that were within my comfort zone, Swamp Thing and then Batman, and other opportunities came along, like Superman. And then eventually, Metal and Justice League. What really happened was I just went back to the comics that I read growing up and I realized that so much of the stuff that had made me want to write wasn’t the stuff that I had…wasn’t just the kind of stuff that I think I started to gravitate towards fully in my own writing.

It was Infinity Gauntlet…and it was Silver Surfer and Galactus and Secret Wars and Crisis on Infinite Earths. These huge, soap operatic, majestic, Kirby-esque epics. So, I just became more and more attracted to the idea of getting to do those. And so when the chance came along to do Metal, and it was a story that was sort of a culmination of so much that Greg [Capullo, Snyder’s long time collaborator on Batman] and I had built. I felt we had to give it a shot, and so it involved Justice League.

The bottom line, honestly, if there’s any kind of thesis to it for me, it’s just I would feel really disappointed in myself if I just kept doing the thing that I loved doing at first or played it safe. I’m familiar enough at this point with kind of hard boiled crime or horror Batman that I could do it in perpetuity or at least for a very long time. And there are a lot of stories that I wanted to do, I didn’t get to do, about Scarecrow and other characters.

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For me, I think the key is to try and continue to follow in the path of the writers that I admire the most, who I probably will never compete with or people that constantly evolve and grow and change and push themselves. So, if you’re not exciting to yourself as a writer and you’re not pushing yourself to do things you didn’t think you could do, then I don’t see what the point is. I think Batman Who Laughs is almost the perfect kind of coming home, because it involves a lot of elements and a lot of ideas and a lot of aesthetics from my very earliest work at DC. It hopefully also displays this different level of confidence and maturity.

There’s obviously a ton of Batman and a lot of Metal in there, but there’s also James Gordon, Jr, there’s Gates of Gotham stuff in there that I didn’t expect to come back and it’s really neat to see that it’s a synthesis of the styles and all this continuity that you’ve built up over the years. And, speaking of synthesis, Jock is next level in this. He’s wonderful, but he’s playful in a way.

He is! He was one of the first artists to ever take the chance on me. [By] “Black Mirror,” he was already a big star. He had done Losers, and he had done a ton of movie stuff and he had done all these award-winning covers for Scalped. I mean, he had done Faker, all kinds of stuff and he had a big career in concept art, in film. I knew he was a person I wanted to work with on “Black Mirror” and I actually paid my own way to San Diego Comic-Con just to meet him, to be like, “Okay, will you please, please work with me on Detective Comics?” And he didn’t know me from anyone, and we just went out and had a beer. And my whole mission in San Diego that year was just to try and win him over.

I remember just drinking with him, and he’s much bigger than me, and taking beer after beer, seeing if I quit. I was worried he would think I’m a wimp and I’m not Batman ready yet, which is stupid because he would have been fine anyway. Raphael [Albuquerque] and I were both new when we did American Vampire, and so [Jock] was the first superstar to take a chance on me. We’ve become friends, we’ve known each other now ten years plus and he’s watched my kids grown up, I’ve watched his kids grow up. Our wives are friendly.

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To get to work with him on a project like this, there’s just a shorthand. We did Wytches together as well, we’ve done indie stuff, we’ve done superhero stuff. It’s a pleasure because when you work with somebody who you know understands what you’re going for and will give you more than you ask for, will elevate it and do something that inspires you, it’s better than you ever expected. It frees you up.

I was trying to explain this when I was talking about Greg on Last Knight on Earth also. I feel like right now I get to work with these people, Jorge Jimenez, Jim Cheung [both artists on Justice League], and of course Greg. We’re all friends and I know them and they see what I’m going for and they’re like “you write the words, we just respond to it.” When I picture what Jock can do on the page with Batman Who Laughs or what Greg is going to do on the page with Last Knight, it inspires new ideas and new creations.

I wouldn’t think of the Batman Who Laughs as a character if not for these artists. I get excited by what I think the possibilities are under their pen, and therefore, I can think of the idea. I keep trying to tell them, without inflating their confidence too much, so that they don’t think that they need me at all, that they’re much more responsible for the genesis of a lot of these story ideas, too than they think they are.

Is that a difference from when you first started working with them? You mentioned you’ve been working with Jock for ten years across multiple different companies, very dramatically different stories. You had a monster run with Greg Capullo, and Last Knight on Earth is kind of the culmination of that. Is that different now because you have their art in your head when you’re coming up with the stories? Is their work flow different?

Yeah, it’s totally different. And when I say that it’s to their credit. When I started, I was really strict with myself because I was so insecure about writing full scripts, handing it to an artist and hoping they understood what I was going for. What I learned quickly with Greg and with Jock, while we were working…but with Greg especially on Batman, because he really…Jock likes to work from full script and Greg doesn’t. Greg really taught me, and Jock afterwards as well, that you adapt to the artist. The fun is writing a script that inspires them and that means bending your style so that you lean in to certain areas of fluidity.

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For example, Jock really likes having room to play when it comes to action. Whereas Greg really likes to have the acting, like the emotional scenes, written out pretty clearly. But, other scenes that are big set piece things wide open. And when you learn what your artist enjoys doing, where they enjoy having more room, less room, more direction, less direction, you get the best out of them and it gets the best out of you. I learned to be a better writer. And I’m very grateful to them for that mentorship.

Now it’s much different. At the beginning, I used to just write the same kind of full script for everybody. Now I get on the phone with them…we talk about the issue…I run them through, they tell me their favorite moments, improvise a little bit. And then when I write up the script, the parts that they want loose, I make loose. The parts they want tight, I make tight.

There are still people like Jim Cheung who really like full scripts, so I write full scripts for him. I really just love being adaptable.

What about The Batman Who Laughs are you most excited to hand off to Josh Williamson?

Oh man, well I can’t even begin to tell you how great the story is that Josh has plans for on Batman/Superman. There’s a big hook at the end of Batman Who Laughs, it’s always been there at the beginning. I’m nervous because it’s dark, but ultimately, it’s what we’ve been building towards and what it engenders in terms of Josh’s story and then beyond, what it builds through Year of the Villain and to even bigger stuff come the fall into the winter. It’s really out of control. I read the first four issues of Batman/Superman and it’s incredible. He’s going to kill it. And David [Marquez]’s art on it is just out of control. It’s so good, you have to pick it up. It’s gonna be a blockbuster hit, I promise you.

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What I hope people take away from Batman Who Laughs above all is this. I want it to stand with my best work. I’m deeply proud of it as one of my final meditations on what makes Batman so enduring and so tragic. [And] Last Knight is almost a great counterpart to this. This one is the darkest sort of notes in that same song in a way. But what it is is that I want it to stand singularly and individually as something that is one of my best books I’ve ever done and I’ve put everything that I have into it with this team and the team has as well.

If you’re reading Justice League and you read Batman/Superman and you read Batman Who Laughs, those books literally come together as do a few more that we’re going to surprise you with to really culminate in Year of the Villain with a giant, sort of Lex Luthor, Batman Who Laughs storyline. All of that stuff then sort of blows up into something that I can’t even talk about yet because it’s going to be so fun.