‘Batman’ must survive a ‘Savage City’ in ‘Zero Year’ finale

(CBR) With “Batman” #30, out later this month from DC Comics, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo reach the third act of the year-long “Zero Year” story, a thorough presentation of Batman's origin in the reconfigured world of The New 52.

It's not going to be an easy race to finish line for Bruce Wayne. Like the first two installments — “Secret City” and “Dark City” — the “Zero Year” finale runs four issues, this time subtitled “Savage City.” Using Poison Ivy's technology, The Riddler has flung Gotham City into a disastrous state, in an attempt to truly test the Dark Knight's detective skills — and as an expression of some real-world fears.

CBR News spoke with Snyder this past weekend at Emerald City Comicon, to discuss the “terrifying” prospect of departing from Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's seminal “Batman: Year One” origin story, how Capullo helped him overcome the anxieties brought about by writing this story, what to expect from the “Zero Year” finale and the “transformative” story he's planned as a follow-up.

CBR News: Scott, the fact that you had so much room to tell the “Zero Year” story in the main “Batman” title is a rare thing — it wasn't its own miniseries, it was right there in the flagship. How much did you take advantage of that opportunity to tell a full year of stories?

Scott Snyder: I worry almost too much. I was worried that fans would think it was self-indulgent, or drop it after three or four issues, but I really felt it was the only way to do the story — in this modular way, where it would look like it was very long, but it would be very fast paced. Four issues in the “Secret City” section, four issues in “Dark City,” and then four issues in the “Savage City” element, where everything is overgrown and post-apocalyptic.

I kept thinking, “God, we have to just go for it and do it the way it's supposed to be done. I'm sure the sales will go down terribly.” DC was very generous with us, and luckily, the sales have been great. The response has been good. I feel so deeply, deeply grateful to the readers of “Batman” for letting us do this and being supportive.

Nothing I've ever done, work-wise, has caused me as much anxiety as this story. I couldn't be prouder of it, but touching that material is so nerve-wracking. Doing the Bat flying through the window in a different way, or young Bruce in the alley — you get paralyzed. It gets very terrifying. The fact that fans have been so supportive and vocally positive about this story really, really means the world to me and Greg. I know I've said it, but I mean it honestly, on my kids' heads — it really means the world to us. I hope that we've taken full advantage of it. I feel like we have. I think 12 issues is as much as anybody can stomach.

And some were extra-sized issues.

Yeah, the anchor issues of each arc are oversized. This section definitely has some big moments coming. The last issue will be a little oversized, as well.

You've been very honest about your trepidation going into this — you just used the word “terrified” — at what point in this process did that sort of evaporate, where you had more confidence in what you were doing and the path that you were on?

To be completely frank, I wasn't just terrified. I've always struggled with anxiety and depression, since I was a kid. This story, when we were planning it, really gave me tremendous anxiety and psychological difficulty. I'd never believed in anything more on “Batman,” honestly. But at the same time, the fear that people would just hate me for doing it, or hate the story, or respond in a way that was sort of like there was no point to it, just threw me into a very dark place.

Greg Capullo was always there for me. “I'm really proud of what I'm going to do, art-wise. Don't be afraid.” He really helped me get through it. It was tough. There were a lot of moments where I was having a lot of anxiety — “I should change this and make it less radically different than it was in 'Year One.'” Greg really kept me honest: “That's not how you proposed it. You're going to do it the way you proposed it.” There was a moment when I saw the first pages from Greg — it was about in April of last year — where I saw how beautiful it looked, and I was like, “I don't care what anybody says. I love this book.”

It's really that. The strength of his art, the partnership with him and the art team — when I feel like we all believe in something, I don't care what anyone thinks. But up until I saw the pages, it was just me, writing this story by myself. That's really when it turned around for me.

This part of the story heavily involves The Riddler. You wrote The Joker extensively in “Death of the Family,” and talked a lot at that about how much that character meant to you. Now, in a similar fashion, you're exploring The Riddler. Was it as easy to get into that mindset?

It's been a tremendous joy writing The Riddler. He's always been one of my favorite characters. I think the reason I was so drawn to him is because, if Batman has a superpower beyond just his incredible, almost pathological determination, it's his detective skills. He's the world's great detective. So The Riddler, technically, should be the person who's almost his great adversary. Aside from The Joker, who's trying to convince him he's just crazy all the time, in terms of actual adversaries and battles of wits with Batman as a detective, Riddler makes sense as the penultimate villain.

He's been a tremendous amount of fun to write for his humor, his cleverness. The riddles are definitely a bitch. Coming up with the riddles is hard. They have to be really good, and your temptation is always to do that thing where you're like, “Someone is murdered and there's a puddle, but there's no weapon.” You're like, “It's an icicle, everybody knows that. Move on. You got to get a better one.” It's hard!

The way that we've tried to do him, I'm really proud of, because it's very much about keeping Batman modern. Basically, what Riddler is saying in this arc is, “I've taken Gotham, and I've just sped up the circumstances of our time. There are dwindling resources, the economy of the city is running on fumes, it's flooded, nature has reclaimed it, there's global climate change, flooding, superstorms, terrorism. Let me just turn the city into a microcosm of all of the things you should worry about, all at once, and make it look post-apocalyptic. And now you have to show me you're smarter than me, and I'll believe that you'll be able to figure these things out. But become smarter, Gotham. Become more like me.” In that way, I feel like the challenge is very poignant, at least for me, personally. You can look at it symbolically: “Why do you matter, right now? How are you going to save the city when it's facing these circumstances that are emblematic of the kinds of challenges that we all face today, globally? How are you going to show me, if I can't figure it out, that you're smarter than me?” In that way, he's created a death trap that's at once totally narcissistic and about him, but also speaks to some of the things that Batman and the city are afraid of now. It makes the city this nightmare that I feel is very contemporary.

The city is meant to look like the nightmare vision of what's going to happen if we don't become smarter; if we don't evolve and become a smarter people. That's what The Riddler is saying. We've always been able to escape our own demise, even though we're these defenseless animals with no fangs, no claws — all we have is our intelligence. It's time to get smarter, and figure a way out of this trap that is the present day. And I'm just going to speed it up.

I've heard you say many times that you approach these things with an “If I only have one shot, this is the story I'm going to tell” attitude, about both “Batman” and “Superman Unchained.” It doesn't feel that long, but you've been doing Batman stories since before The New 52, and you're now also at the head of the year-long weekly series “Batman Eternal.” That's a lot of material. I know you've got stuff planned after “Zero Year,” but do you feel like you still have a lot more Batman stories left in you to tell?

I can tell you that after “Zero Year” — I know everybody's going to be like, “you say this all the time,” but it's the truth — for Batman 75, we've been saving something really, really big. It won't be as long as “Zero Year,” it'll be six issues, but it's going to completely rock Gotham, and change Batman's status, and be, I think, hands down the biggest thing we've done in terms of the most transformative to the mythology and the characters. We have some very special stuff planned for the 75th that we've been hanging on to, and I still have quite a few stories. I still have at least that one and one more in mind that I really want to do. As long as fans will have me and Greg, we'll stay. We're pretty committed through about issue #50, at this point.

“Zero Year: Savage City” starts in “Batman” #30, on sale April 16.