Scott Snyder figured out how to make Batman even more relevant: by taking him out of Gotham.
All-Star Batman: My Own Worst Enemy is probably the best Batman movie pitch you’ll ever hear. Following what may be his most heinous criminal act, Two-Face is now Batman’s top priority; he’s taking the villain on a cross country road trip, in the hopes of curing the former district attorney (Harvey Dent, portrayed by Aaron Eckhart in the Christopher Nolan movies) of his evil alter ego once and for all. Only problem? That cure is 500 miles away, and Two-Face has put a bounty on Batman’s head, one so big that everyone—criminals, cops, and normal, everyday citizens—is out to stop him from reaching it.
Can The Batman Be Saved?
It’s Batman by way of Mad Max: Fury Road, a take on the character and his villains that feels brilliant and fresh but also doesn’t change a damn thing about the character. It’s also a story about Post-Trump America.
My Own Worst Enemy is the first story arc in All-Star Batman, a comic series that aims to tell fresh and different Batman stories by taking them outside of Gotham and focusing on the character’s legendary villains in unexpected ways. Written by Scott Snyder with artist Greg Capullo, it’s a chance to tell tight, surprising stories that are also friendly to newcomers, unencumbered by the wider goings-on in the DC universe. It also pairs Snyder with some of the most visually idiosyncratic artists working in comics—like John Romita, Jr., who had a 40-year career at Marvel comics before jumping ship in a huge way to work on DC books in 2014. My Own Worst Enemy leverages Romita’s square-shouldered, star-linebacker approach to depicting action. It also makes it feel like no other Batman story you’ve ever seen before, which is important, since it’s a Batman story specifically about our current cultural moment.
“My favorite Batman stories were very much in conversation with the zeitgeist over the years,” Snyder says. “You can read the mood of that moment in a lot of those stories, and you see some of the elements in those narratives as these things that were happening, translated into [superhero comics] … with My Own Worst Enemy, it was written at the start of the [campaign] and during that whole process. I have my own politics, which I’m very open about on Twitter—but with Batman, it’s less overtly political or leaning one way or another than it is about the ugliness of the discourse. Driving around with my family and seeing bumper stickers on both sides, and a couple which were incredibly ugly, not just the ‘Hillary for Prison’ stuff, but ‘Lock that bitch up.’ Just how ugly the discourse had gotten, and so vehemently dark.”
Which is why, according to Snyder, the villain had to be Two-Face. While My Own Worst Enemy is an adrenaline-fueled endurance race across the country, it’s also an ongoing argument between the two characters about how we choose to see one another.
“It was about Two-Face saying, Everybody has a self they don’t want to show you; it’s much worse than what you think. Behind closed doors they dislike each other, they’re selfish, they have private needs, private wants. Nobody cares about their neighbor, and I know this. And Bruce is saying, No, I know that’s not so—I know that they’d rather be heroes than villains.“
In his work, Snyder has outlined a new theory of Batman, built less around outright fear and more in response to anxiety. He speaks of Batman in ways far plainer than his characters ever would, unusually frank in both the personal anxieties he’s mining for his stories and the sort of catharsis he’s reaching for. He’s also fond of calling Batman “Bruce,” regardless of whether or not the character is in costume. Snyder’s Batman isn’t the widely caricatured dark and gritty pessimistic zealot currently in cinemas, he’s a man of faith—in others, in good, in justice—and a figure of nobility in the face of unknowable evil lurking in the darkness.
“In a post-9/11 world,” Snyder posits, “Batman is less about scaring bad people into the shadows than he is about bringing good people out into the light.”
This is why, he argues, he had to take the hero out of his familiar city.
Writer Scott Snyder is also fond of calling Batman “Bruce,” regardless of whether or not the character is in costume.
“I wanted to take him out of Gotham. He’s always in the city fighting these villains in these kind of circumscribed ways. What if these villains both represent things that are much larger than what you’ve seen before, and Bruce is also outside of that comfort zone of Gotham? Isn’t that exciting? Doesn’t that speak to the idea that Batman is a hero who makes us brave in a different way than he used to today? ”
As a comic book writer, Snyder often travels far and wide to various comics conventions—to speak at panels or simply to sign copies of his work. Seeing fans from places nowhere near a major city, with lives that couldn’t be further removed from a place like Gotham, partially inspired this approach to Batman.
“He’s sort of telling us, ‘These villains, these threats—I know you’re concerned about them in places that have no relationship to Gotham.’ You’re out in Iowa or Idaho, or overseas; you’re afraid of the same things people in Gotham City are in the comic book. These things can pop up there and be scary there—Poison Ivy can be in the desert, Mr. Freeze can be in Alaska. And there’s a fear there, but there’s also an inspiration, when Batman shows up and says ‘I will be anywhere they are, always.'”
It’s indicative of how much Snyder’s take on Batman has evolved since he started writing the character in 2011 alongside artist Greg Capullo. As Snyder tells it, he started writing his first Batman story—about Batman’s stunning discovery of a secret society that had been steering Gotham City’s fate for its entire history—when he was about to leave New York City, where he grew up, to raise a family in the suburbs. That first story was a meditation on how you never really know the city you live in, but a simulacrum of one stitched together from the experiences you have in it with people you know. “A neighborhood is sort of an imagined thing,” Snyder says. “Then it goes away.”
From that relatively small, elegiac bit of personal history, Snyder and Capullo crafted a thrilling work of action-horror, and Snyder’s tenure on Batman became defined as a work of personal exorcism, one that was uniquely attuned to the constant, yet abstract, worries that come part and parcel with American life in the 2010s. As time went on, so did Snyder’s concerns.
“He’s evolved into a different sort of hero for me. His priorities have never wavered from when we started—he was never possessed and sort of demon-like and dark in that way. I’ve always gravitated towards a version of him that’s certainly haunted and has a pathology to him, but is pathological in his desire to make other people heroic,” says Snyder. “Now, in these times, it’s more celebratory. As dark as the stories get, Bruce is very much a kind of celebration of action, of agency, of a kind of collective heroism as well as a singular individual mission. He’s someone who’s always saying, I will do this despite all of the math saying I will fail. Because even if Batman fails, he will always get back up and try again. In that message, I think, is the enduring power of the character.”