‘Batman’ and ‘Swamp Thing’: Scott Snyder’s dark plans for DC
Sept. 20, 2011 | 11:41 a.m.
This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.
One of the fastest-rising stars in comics is Scott Snyder, who won over plenty of fans with his bloody, epic sprawl of the ongoing series “American Vampire” and his especially cerebral Gotham City duty in “Detective Comics.” The horror-loving writer will be teaching a class on comic books to students in the graduate writing program at Sarah Lawrence College and, more importantly, he has been handed the keys to two revered titles under the new DC re-launch: “Batman” and “Swamp Thing.” Hero Complex contributor Travis Walecka caught up with Snyder to chat about his dark plans. This is part one of the interview.
The cover art for "Swamp Thing" No. 4 (DC Comics)
TW: Talk a bit about your thought process while writing comic books, particularly when you have the challenge of incorporating horror and fantasy elements into the superhero genre.
SS: The fun thing is that there is a similarity. They’re all sort of creatures of the night, like all of the characters I deal with from the beginning. I try to approach them all the same way, which is to figure out what excites me most about that character. For Batman, the story we are doing now has to do with Bruce Wayne’s knowledge of Gotham City and his confidence that he knows the city better than anybody else. That’s one of my favorite aspects of his character. Beginning from that idea, I’d then build a story that essentially challenges that aspect of his psychology, or a villain that tries to make him believe that one of his greatest strengths is actually an Achilles heel, or a weakness that will prevent [Batman] from forever being an effective hero in Gotham.
And it’s the same thing with Swamp Thing — it’s figuring out what you find most exciting personally or most engaging about that character on a personal level, and then trying to write a story that challenges that aspect of the character. For Swamp Thing, it’s really about [scientist] Alec Holland wrestling with monsters, both external and internal: a guy who is haunted by this mantle of this monster that he used to be. So, I really try to write a story that brings him face to face with some of his big fears about how his destiny and fate might be tied to that of this vegetable creature, Swamp Thing. I try to take the same approach to every story that I’m working on, even though they seem pretty disparate sometimes when I look at them. Hopefully, you can see a similar sensibility one story to the next.
Cover art for "American Vampire" No. 22 (DC Comics)
TW: What would be the biggest challenge for you at that point?
SS: With characters as large as Batman and Swamp Thing — perhaps my two favorite characters in comics, who have been looming large in my imagination for some time — intimidation is the biggest factor. There have been so many great stories. My favorite stories in comics are Batman stories, and that kind of constellation of great Batman stories is part of the mix of things that made me really want to be a writer in the first place. So, yeah, there are definitely a lot of sleepless nights! My wife can vouch for me, sort of: “Why did I take this on?” But, at the end of the day, I wouldn’t step into the books unless I had a story I was excited about beforehand. It’s just that [Batman and Swamp Thing] are characters I grew up with, and now my son, who is now 4, watches Batman on TV in a cartoon and thinks I go to the office to meet Batman and tell him that day, “All right Batman, today you’re going to be fighting the Joker again.”
TW: Maybe on Hollywood Boulevard…
SS: [Laughs] Yeah, so in that way you realize how culturally prevalent and iconic a character like Batman is, and how much he means to so many different people. So if I stop and thought about that too much, I feel like that would be paralyzing. But all you can do is go after the story you think goes for the character’s jugular in some way that matters to you on a personal level and try and put the horse blinders on for the rest of it.
TW: You mentioned you’d put Swamp Thing up at the top of the list among all comic book characters. How long have you been pushing to write the character?
SS: When I first started at Vertigo doing American Vampire, I went into [Executive Editor] Karen Berger’s office and we started talking about favorite comics. I told her how much I loved Swamp Thing, and how he’s a character I had an idea for. He’s a character DC knew I had interest in from the start, and then one night in October of last year — before there was a re-launch — I was cooking dinner, and [DCE’s Chief Creative Officer] Geoff Johns called me up. Having only spoken to him a couple of times, I was rather intimidated. Johns was like, “I’m bringing back Swamp Thing in ‘Brightest Day’ and I’ve heard that you’re really into the character, and was wondering what your take is.” Startled, I was like, “Honey, can you hold this spatula while I talk to Geoff Johns?” I told him my idea, which really centers on this notion of a man who really struggles with this idea that he’s trapped in this monster’s body, and no matter how he accepts the godlike power that has been given to him [during Alan Moore’s 40-issue run on the character], he’s always struggling to let go of that strict message of humanity.
While I wanted to do something that played on that, I did the inverse, which was bringing Alec [Holland] back as a human, giving him another chance at life, but playing on this fear: this sneaking suspicion that his history, his childhood and his future might be tied more into the legacy of Swamp Thing than he ever wants to admit. Thus, once Johns and I set [Swamp Thing] up to go, the title became part of the new #1 relaunch slew of comics, some of which are part of this new DCU Dark. A lot of my friends who are creators, like Paul Cornell [now on “Stormwatch”], and my best friend in comics, Jeff Lemire [now writing “Animal Man”], both wound up doing books in the DCU Dark too, as both pitched their stories before the relaunch as well. It’s really a fun corner to work in.
TW: Would you call your Swamp Thing an unofficial follow-up to Alan Moore’s run, an inheritor to it?
SS: It’s definitely built upon that mythology. With Swamp Thing, he’s a character like Animal Man that has a legacy of having creators come on and do a very different vision each time somebody takes up the mantle of that character. For the Len Wein/Berni Wrightson version of him, it started as this big, classic, southern, gothic, creepy old grindhouse monster. And there’s something really fun in that. With Alan Moore, it became more about — as you were saying — this notion of what it means to be a god, almost like Dr. Manhattan in the “Watchmen,” and the loneliness in the responsibility of being the protector of the green. So, both of those iterations of Swamp Thing I really loved, and again for me, they’re kind of about the same thing. I wanted to do a story, as too did Lemire, on Animal Man that honors the history that came before, not changing the continuity of the character, but at the same time taken in a very different direction. For a little while it was tricky, but [Lemire and myself] work together a lot. We trade scripts, and both of us are excited about what we came up with, hoping to preserve all of the rich history of the characters we really love but also taking them in a direction that’s our own and fresh.