UPDATE- Click here for a 5-page preview of Batman #13. For a writer, getting into the head of a twisted villain like The Joker can be a frightening experience — particularly now that the villain's detached face is being held on by creepy straps and hooks.
But writer Scott Snyder, who starts his "Death of the Family" storyline this week along with artist Greg Capullo, told Newsarama that delving into the psyche of The Joker was just about exploring his own fears.
"[The Joker] believes that his role as a court jester is to serve the kingdom of Gotham by challenging the king, by bringing that king's greatest fears to life in front of him," Snyder said. "So what I wanted to do with him in this story wasn't just, you know, tell a big story that uses The Joker, but instead find a way to speak to something I'm personally excited about and frightened of in my own life."
That approach spawned a Joker kick-off story for this week's Batman #13 that early reviews are hailing as a must-read. And while praise is to be expected from DC's Vice President of Marketing John Cunningham, his statement to Newsarama about the issue last week called Batman #13 "the best single issue of a comic from any publisher I've seen this year," with a last page that is allegedly "going to set the marketplace on fire."
So what could The Joker use to frighten Batman in a way that echoes Snyder's own fears?"I realized that, right now, as a father of young children, in a lot of ways, the world becomes very frightening. The things that you're scared of for them, you never were scared of for yourself," Snyder said. "And that dynamic is something that The Joker sees in Batman. He has developed a family, like it or not. And he sees them, and he says, 'It makes you weak and frightened and slow. So let's correct it.'"
That "correction" by Batman's self-appointed "court jester of fear" is what drives "Death of the Family," a story that spills into several other comics after being kicked off this week in Batman #13. DC will call out those other comics with a series of die-cut covers — including Batgirl #13, Catwoman #13, Suicide Squad #14, Batman and Robin #15, Detective Comics #15, Nightwing #15, Red Hood and The Outlaws #15 and Teen Titans #15.
Within those issues, the stories not only show Joker targeting Batman's adopted family, like Dick Grayson and Tim Drake, but the issues will also feature him taking aim at the villains of Gotham, including Harley Quinn, Catwoman, and The Penguin.
But perhaps the most anticipated and disturbing reunions will be The Joker battling the heroes he's maimed or killed in the past — like Barbara Gordon, who just recovered physically from his crippling attack, yet still has emotional scars; and Jason Todd, who was recently resurrected after being brutally murdered by The Joker.
"I think the thing that makes him scary here is he's really on a mission that involves the entire family," Snyder said. "His axe to grind is with Batman, but it's also with them this time, which I think is something new, in the way that he usually goes after them to get at Batman or to prove something to Batman secondarily.
"But here, he's really after them, because he's angry at them as well."
Snyder said The Joker's anger is also what makes this portrayal of villain particularly disturbing."This is The Joker angry," Snyder said with emphasis. "His psychology here really has to do with this notion that he believes that he is a court jester, in a lot of ways, to a king. He traveled far and wide and found the Bat-king of Gotham, and thinks that this person is the greatest king to serve in the world. And that's why he chooses him over other superheroes eventually.
"And he believes that his role as a court jester is to serve the kingdom of Gotham by challenging the king, by bringing that king's greatest fears to life in front of him, so he can fight them and beat them, or die. But hopefully fight them and beat them and come out stronger, you know? And honed. And sort of baptized by fire in that way," he said.
"So he really sees himself as this almost archetype of a jester who often would bring the worst news of the kingdom to the king," the writer said. "He sees himself as somebody who's responsible for bringing the worst truths of Batman's heart to Batman, in the form of these horrifying challenges."
But the writer also said that, although The Joker is angry, his plan will not be flippantly carried out. The Joker has been away planning for a year to orchestrate his attack.
"He's gone away for a year, so you also know he's had all year to plan the things he's going to do to each character," Snyder said. "So in that way, it's Joker like we haven't seen him before, where he is as crazy as ever, and unpredictable as ever, but he's also been plotting something that's going to involve each character in his or her own individual way and be a take-down of that character that's extremely personal and dark."
Besides the psychological challenge of diving into Joker's mindset to write "Death of the Family," Snyder had another challenge: The villain was missing his face, thanks to his appearance in September 2011 for the reboot of Detective Comics. In that issue, the villain Dollmaker removed the skin of Joker's face at the end of the issue. The police ended up with the face and put it on ice, but The Joker himself had gotten away.
Faced with this visual challenge, Snyder turned to Batman artist Greg Capullo as he tried to incorporate it into his story."Greg is just the best guy to work with in the world, in that he'll throw at you these ideas based on the concept," Snyder said. "I had told him awhile ago that Tony Daniel ripped [The Joker's] face, and we're going to sort of make a story here that helps explain that, even though it was done in that book for its own purposes at the time. But I told him that we're going to tie it into this story.
"And then talking to Greg, he said, 'Oh that's great. How about the face doesn't just sit on top of his face, but has all these belts and straps, and we'll put flies around it? And then whenever Batman hits him, it'll like, slide and move around?' So that makes me think, like, 'I have to have to Batman hit him right in the face in this issue, just to see what that does!'
"He's one of the best collaborators, because he doesn't just bring great ideas to the page based on the script. He contributes so many ideas to the story itself and so many elements that I end up using," Snyder added. "It's like having a collaborator with a complete 50/50 relationship."But Joker's creepy "detached" face won't just be a visual addition to "Death of the Family." According to Snyder, he's found a way to incorporate it into the story as well.
"He talks about why he did it," Snyder said. "He did it deliberately. It's part of the plan he has here. It's going to come into play in a big way."
Snyder said it all adds up what he hopes is the "biggest and craziest" attack on Gotham by The Joker. "If there was ever a time," he said, "to be afraid of The Joker in Gotham, I would say it's now."
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