Batman’s story may have begun that fateful night in Crime Alley, but have you ever thought about how it might end? All stories have a conclusion, and after debuting in 2011’s The Court of Owls, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Dark Knight has at last reached his. But get any thoughts of “Old Man Bruce” or passing the mantle off to Terry McGuinness, Dick Grayson or Damian Wayne out of your head, the acclaimed New 52 Bat-team has something far more interesting in mind.
Batman: Last Knight on Earth presents the final days of the Dark Knight in a way you likely never envisioned—wandering around a post-apocalyptic wasteland that may or may not exist, accompanied by the detached head of his greatest enemy. It’s strange, visionary, occasionally beautiful and often frightening. In other words, exactly what you might expect from the writer and artist behind Dark Nights: Metal and the publishing imprint that gave us Batman: Damned.
Recently, we had a chance to speak with both Snyder and Capullo about how it feels to have at last reached the end of their Batman’s story, if working outside continuity is freeing and whether Batman should trust the Joker now that he’s just a head.
Batman: Last Knight on Earth is part of DC’s Black Label line. Do you like working outside of continuity?
Greg Capullo: I think that would be more of a writer’s bliss because they could cook up stories and their arms aren’t tied behind their back. For me, it’s still just drawing cool stuff, which Scott hands me on the regular.
Scott Snyder: It’s weird because I was thinking of this book as not so much out of continuity as just the farthest extension of the saga that we started with Court of Owls. So, it’s not something that I wouldn’t have done on Batman, if we’d had a chance. I think for us, with Black Label, what it offers is a different format. It’s not the same monthly grind. Instead, we can take our time and really make it something that we’re proud of without the same kind of pressures and release schedule that was just really hard on Batman.
Scott, this story, like so many of yours, starts with a really intriguing mystery before it goes absolutely nuts. Do you always know how your stories are going to begin, or does that come later in the process?
SS: I don’t always know how I’m going to start it. It’s more about figuring out what the story’s about. It will start with an image or a premise—something that catches my imagination where I know there’s a story behind it. With Last Knight on Earth, it was Batman with the Joker’s head in a jar, traveling across the DC Universe. I just knew that there was a story there. So, my next step is figuring out what it means to me. Why is that image so haunting? And I realized that it was the last story that our Batman would go through. I started thinking about how I create something that allows me to go from the very beginning of our whole run to the very end in one story. So, the mystery that I open with winds up cutting to the core of the character. It’s about Joe Chill. It’s about what happened in the alley with Bruce’s parents. It sort of completely undermines who Batman thinks he’s is. That’s why it’s a chalk line of Batman on the ground. This is a story about the end of the Batman we knew and the birth of another one.
I think one of the most frightening things out there is the notion that what you think is real may not be. Is that one of the ideas you wanted to explore with this story?
SS: Yeah, I think there are always fun thoughts you have as a kid about these kinds of characters: “What if Superman had hit another planet?” “What if Batman’s father lived and Bruce was shot?” Those kind of permutations. I think, for me, one of them has always been, “What if all of this is in Batman’s mind? What if everything that Batman is experiencing isn’t real and he’s just another patient in Arkham?”
For me, that sort of “what if” is something that I always wanted to explore, and here we get a chance to do it in a way that makes it emotional. That’s always the trick with stories that take the mythology somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, but you don’t always have the room or capacity to explore. The way that we’ve framed it here with Alfred and what he’s trying to do in this situation makes it emotional, which allows me to really go there in a way that I hope earns it.
Greg, this comic gave you the chance to redesign some of our female heroes as punk rock badasses. How did the mohawked Wonder Woman come together?
GC: Scott wanted a mohawk—he was specific about that. It was just mostly, “Greg, make them Road Warrior!”
We’ve all sort of lived in the same culture and seen a lot of the same movies, and we also love the same genres. It’s adapting things you’ve encountered. So, when Scott says he wants a mohawked, scarred-up Wonder Woman in a post-apocalyptic world, you draw on that wealth of visuals that you’ve soaked in for so many years of your life. It’s pretty easy and fun.
What I find impressive is how much she still looks like Wonder Woman. How do you push her into such a different direction and yet still keep her feeling like Diana?
GC: The first thing was to facially keep drawing her the exact same way as I left her the previous time I drew her in Metal. That was the most important thing—to make sure she still looks facially like my Wonder Woman. Apart from that, it’s just adding a bit more muscle to her frame. If you look, I’ve kept elements of her costume the same, I just beat them up a little bit. I changed the headband a bit. Overall, though, my number one goal is to keep her facially the same and give her the same attitude I left her with previously. The rest is just window dressing.
SS: I’ve got to say, there’s something so great about the way that Greg does it. You could make her head shaved, you could give her a mohawk, she could have a mask over most of her face and you would still know that she’s Wonder Woman just because of the expressive quality he gives each character that’s really unique to them. I love that this Wonder Woman looks so different in style, but is immediately recognizable as Diana from the moment she steps on the stage.
GC: When I was starting out trying to get work as a comic artist, I think I had drawn a Thor submission, and the guy that reviewed said, “That’s not Thor. That’s just a guy dressed like Thor flying around.”
I was perplexed. What does that mean? The answer was that there are a lot of heroes that have a cape and fly. Each character’s personality and attitude has to dictate and separate how one flies differently than the others. That was a very early lesson I learned when I was in high school, and it carries forth in my work today. So, when Scott says something like “draw a mohawked Wonder Woman,” certainly that’s part of what helps distinguish her from any other post-apocalyptic mohawked woman. Of course, after so many years at it, it’s more of an intuitive thing these days than a conscious decision.
What role would you say that the Joker plays in this? It’s interesting that at the end, he becomes something Batman holds on to, to help him make sense of the world. And I mean, he literally holds on to him, since he’s now just a head in a lamp.
SS: Batman’s in a world that he completely doesn’t understand, and the Joker is the only tether he has. He’s like the lantern he holds in front of him to guide the way. That’s who he’s supposed to be—it’s why he’s on a lamp post. He’s Batman’s traveling companion. He’s kind of the Greek chorus of the story—he’s the narrator. I wanted to put him in a role that you’ve never seen him in before. Deep down, Joker, as much as he’s Batman’s greatest villain, always sees himself as Batman’s best friend. At least, our version of the Joker does. He believes that everything he’s done, he’s done to make Batman stronger, and if he kills Batman in the process, he was doing Batman a service because ultimately, Batman wasn’t strong enough. So, he’s always thinking of himself as kind of the hand to the king—it’s one reason why that section is called “The Right Hand.”
But the idea is that the Joker is sort of Batman’s traveling buddy. I wanted to put them in a relationship that you’ve never seen before. He’s sort of the comic relief to Batman’s straight man. He’s the sidekick—he’s the Robin. He’s the voice of reason in ways at times. He’s a really different version of the Joker than I’ve ever written, and it was a blast to get to do.
You’ve said this is your Batman’s last story. Is that a fun creative challenge for you, or is there a lot of pressure to make sure he goes out on the perfect note?
GC: Here’s where the artist is in the sweet spot because if fans love it, I’ll go, “Thank you very much!” and if they don’t, I say, “It’s all his fault. He wrote the stuff. I just drew it!”
For me, I’m not thinking about it as our last Batman thing together. I’m just doing what we do. At this point, we’ve been working on Batman for so long, and this is our version. We own him, really. So, to me, it’s just another day doing what we do with a character that we both love so much. I don’t feel any pressure. I know it’s going to be good because we’re following the same formula that we always have, which is do our absolute best. As long as you do that, the rest is up to the fans and whether they care for it or not, but so far, they’ve been behind us and I don’t think they’re going to be disappointed with what we’re producing right now.
SS: Well, I always feel that pressure. (laughs)
I’m always freaking out and nervous about it. I try really hard to follow Greg’s lead with it because he’s right, but I get tripped up just by writing Batman. I still get nervous because he’s Batman! You see how many fans love him, how much he means to so many people and how much he means to you. It’s always a lot of pressure.
But with this one in particular, I think it’s lived in my head for so long that I don’t feel as much pressure as I thought I would. I know it’s the right ending for our version of the character, and it’s so specific for our version. There are so many other things happening with Batman now in so many great ways at DC. I can kind of look at it and say that this is the ending of our Batman, which we began in 2011, as opposed to if we were doing this while we were still on Batman and it was more of the mainline version. This gives me some freedom to be able to sit back and say that there are no real restrictions on this one. There’s no pressure externally. It’s really just all the pressure that we put on ourselves to be able to say that this stands with our best stuff, and I really think it does.