It would have been nice to get all dramatic and scratchy-voiced right now and say that Wednesday, July 23, 2014, is the 75th anniversary of Batman, and that there can be only one Dark Knight. But that would be a lie. And it wouldn't be honoring the most paranoid, skeptical superhero of all time to play along with that lie. Batman himself was once named "Bat-Man," and throughout 75 years of Bat-soap opera, everyone from his Bat-family to his Bat-enemies have worn the cape and cowl. And about that anniversary date: It's as arbitrarily concocted as Sweetest Day — even DC Comics, which declared July 23 is Batman Day, formally recognizes March 30, 1939, as his debut (i.e., the publishing date of the May 1939 issue of "Detective Comics," in which Batman first fought crime).
In fact, because DC still publishes at least a dozen Batman and Batman-affiliated comic books any given month — "Detective Comics," "Batman and Robin," "Batman Eternal," "Batgirl," "Batwoman," etc. — you can't say there is only one Batman comic, either.
There is, however, to Bat-readers in 2014, one Bat-writer.
That's Scott Snyder, who is 38 and grew up in New York City and has been writing a number of Batman series since 2011, most notably the current run of the eponymous "Batman" (the franchise's best-selling title, and regularly the best-selling comic book overall). At the moment, not unlike Frank Miller and Alan Moore before him — legendary writers whose takes became benchmarks in the character's history — in the world of Batman comics, Scott Snyder is the one true hero.
"Scott's as obsessed with Gotham as Batman is," said Brain Azzarello, a Chicago writer whose own Batman (and, currently, Wonder Woman) comics for DC have become part of superhero lore. "Adding to the mythology of a character that's been around for 75 years is no small feat, and Scott's done that. He's woven textures into the fabric of Gotham that have already become canon." Snyder's Batman is well-meaning but anxious and depressive; his Dick Grayson (Robin) played Batman; his Riddler is actually relevant; and, most memorably, he created the Court of Owls, a kind of Gotham Illuminati, Batman's freshest new foes in years.
Snyder has also — in keeping with Christopher Nolan's Batman films — thought of Chicago as his model Gotham as much he has thought about Manhattan. The following is an edited version of a longer interview.
Q: So you see Chicago as Gotham?
A: It's the most physically like Gotham, even without movie connections. In fact, my sister-in-law lives in Milwaukee, so me and my wife are seriously thinking of moving to Chicago. I pass by alleyways downtown and I think, "Oh, that's exactly where Bruce Wayne's parents were shot." It's all so reminiscent. That building with spires (the John Hancock Center) is basically Wayne Tower. Yeah, Chicago informs my Gotham's core DNA. There's New York in there, too. But a lot of Chicago. I actually first got the Batman job in Chicago.
Q: How so?
A: I was at (the Chicago comic convention) C2E2 with (his other hit series) "American Vampire," and Dan DiDio (co-publisher of DC) asked if I had ideas for "Detective Comics." I pitched the story that became the "Black Mirror" story, partly based on Frank Miller's "Year One" book. There's a seminal moment in that where Commissioner Gordon is chasing a kidnapper who has his infant son, the kidnapper drops the kid and it's a horrifying moment, but Bruce Wayne dives and catches the baby and hands him to Gordon, who says he doesn't have his glasses on but he realizes there that Bruce is Batman. Anyway, I thought about following that child as a troubled adult. He has these dark impulses, and Batman and his father are too emotionally cloistered and close to solve that problem. It's personal — I had a lot of trouble with anxiety and depression.
Q: Yet you write Batman.
A: And it's lonely writing all day, very alienating. Especially a character like Bruce Wayne, who's pathological yet the most heroic figure in superhero literature. He has no powers, he stands alongside basically gods but he takes tragedy and makes something of it. He's an intersection between heroism and self-destruction, and writing a character like that, the sadness is inevitable not to think about. We (Snyder and artist Greg Capullo) did a big Joker story while my wife was pregnant with my second son and the whole time I'm thinking "I worry about one all the time, now I have to worry about two?" Well, Batman also has this accumulated family around him and he would have to wish he didn't always have to worry about them. The right bad guy would hear that as "I wish my family were dead." That's the Joker, the devil in Batman's ear: "Let's you and I go back to playing Peter Pan, the way it was before all these responsibilities arrived." It was intimidating when I got "Batman," and the only way for me not to be paralyzed by fear was to make (the story) personal.
Q: You didn't make writing "Batman" a career goal.
A: When I was a kid living in New York, I wasn't allowed in Central Park. I couldn't ride the subway. Miller's "Dark Knight Returns" and "Year One" had this recognizable urgency, this world I knew. My favorite comic guys were writer-artists like Miller, or guys like Moore who seemed from another planet, larger than life. The idea of being one of those things seemed unreal, but I did try to be a writer-artist in high school and actually had a portfolio, which I used to get into Brown University, thinking that while there I would take classes at the (nearby) Rhode Island School of Design. But at Brown I fell into storytelling and short fiction and got wrapped up in the renaissance in the short-story world in the 1990s. I fell in love with Denis Johnson, Lorrie Moore, George Saunders. (Indeed, later, before trying comics, Snyder published a well-received story collection, "Voodoo Heart"; Stephen King chose two of its stories for "The Best American Short Stories 2007.") But before I went to graduate school and wrote, I also worked at Walt Disney World.
A: For a year. See, the prevailing wisdom was if you want to be a serious writer, find a job at a publishing house or the New Yorker. I tried interning at those places but the slush piles (of unsolicited manuscripts) was soul-crushing, especially as an aspiring writer. I thought I should rebel, and I went to Florida, to do the strangest thing that would give me material. I was a janitor in the Magic Kingdom, and I played characters.
Q: Very David Sedaris.
A: Actually his "Santaland Diaries" (in which Sedaris worked as an elf at Macy's) was around that time. I was Buzz Lightyear, Pluto, Eeyore. It was really eye-opening and surreal, and stressful. You're making minimum (wage), then you see these kids and you see how badly they want this place to be magical. I actually passed out on my first day (in costume). I was Rafiki, the ape from "The Lion King," which I never was again. It's one of the worst costumes because it has this huge (butt) and big chest, because he's this monkey. Plus, you wear a fur coat over it. I was on this corner in the Magic Kingdom and I got disoriented. These people would want you to hold up their babies like in "The Lion King," and all I can do is wave my arms, like "No, no, I can't do that, no." I'm looking around and my handler wasn't there. And I'm trying not to be handed babies. The next thing I knew I was sitting down, and the handler — because nobody can break character — is like "Why you being so silly Rafiki?" trying to get me out of there. It was a schizophrenic experience.
Q: Which had to inform your Batman.
A: Yeah, there was a very "Upstairs, Downstairs" quality to that job, a really cacophonous feeling: a kid drops an ice cream cone, you have things you can give them for a free cone. At the same time, the labor involved, day to day … At Disney I began to understand how heartfelt you have to be despite everything. And crazy as it was at Disney, I was surrounded by larger cartoon versions of storylines I related to, like losing family, being an adult. And in college around then, there was a lot of self-referential post-modernism in fiction, so I think I needed the sincerity. I think the sweet spot I found for myself, especially with Batman, especially in recent issues we've done about his first year on the job, is having bombastic nutty stuff on top — laser mazes, Riddler robots — while sticking with the depths of depression the character is also feeling.
Q: Did wearing costumes help you relate to a man who wears a costume every day?
A: When I think about it, yes. The temptation of putting on a mask is you think it gives you anonymous power, that no one will know who you are. But what if you're wearing a mask not to be anonymous but to be a symbol of inspiration, or defiance — or at Disney, joy? I think being in those costumes drilled into me that there's responsibility that comes with very iconic costumes. You would never see Batman pass out in one.
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