Arno Bogaerts writes for Bleeding Cool
On the evening before New York Comic Con 2014, comic book heavyweights Jim Lee and Scott Snyder appeared at a Q&A/signing session at the Apple Store In SoHo, New York to talk about the 75th anniversary of DC's Caped Crusader. The free event to promote the release of Batman #35 – the start of the "Endgame" story-arc – and the second collected volume of "Zero Year" had a pretty good turnout. Both Snyder and Lee were welcomed by author, columnist and wrestling specialist David Shoemaker. Topics ranged from Batman's endurance as a character, fan reactions, Scott Snyder's detective skills and Jim Lee's deadline and collars on superhero costumes "issues".
The start of the Q&A made it pretty clear: everyone was here because of Batman and no matter where you first saw or heard about the superhero, it all started in the comics. Before Scott Snyder wrote Gates of Gotham, Detective Comics or the New 52 Batman reboot, he was an avid Batman reader. Before Jim Lee drew modern day classics as Batman: Hush and redesigned the character for the New 52, he was a huge fan as well. Shoemaker asked DC's dynamic creator duo what their first interaction with the Dark Knight was. For Snyder it was the 1966 Batman tv-show with Adam West. He was too young to know what "camp" was though, to him the show was definitely "high drama". His first Batman comic was Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. While he admits he was a tad too young when he first read it, the work transformed his world.
Jim Lee had pretty much the same answer, although he was a bit older when he first read The Dark Knight Returns. He too watched the Adam West show as a kid and admits that there was something about Cesar Romero's performance as The Joker that creeped him out. Later he found out that it was because the actor didn't shave his moustache, forcing the make-up department to paint it white along with the rest of his face.
For Lee it was Batman's classic origin that got him into comics. The panelists decided the origin, first seen in Detective Comics #33 (1939), was timeless but "ages with us in a way". The timelessness and endurance of Batman as a character was a major theme throughout the conversation. The panelists agreed that it's Bruce Wayne's humanity that makes Batman such a compelling and popular character. He's, at his core, one of us and Snyder added that, as a writer, Batman's very interesting in that he can throw him any challenge and he knows the Dark Knight can overcome it. Lee said that one of the things that draws him to Batman was the fact that he's kind of "on the edge". He makes himself a target for challenges we don't want to face, which is true heroism, but both he, his allies and the audience know that one day it could end badly for him and Gotham. Batman's not perfect and could slip up or become emotionally unhinged, that's why it's important to retain a balance with the character between light and dark.
On the reactions the creators had and got for working on Batman, Lee said that when he started drawing Batman: Hush in 2003 with Jeph Loeb – it was still all pretty secretive. He felt like a secret agent, kind of part of the Batman family. He joked about having trouble making deadlines to a sniggering reaction from the crowd, but eventually he stayed on track with "Hush" and the arc could appear in the regular Batman book instead of a miniseries.
For Snyder, his move to a regular writing job on Batman wasn't so secretive. He joked that upon finding out he was about to do the book, he got very nervous and thought about "calling in sick forever". In "The Black Mirror" arc, however, it was still Dick Grayson that wore the costume. Snyder compared himself to the former Robin. He was trying to follow up several of his favorite creators on one of his favorite characters, just as Dick tried to fill the void left by his mentor. When Snyder started writing Bruce Wayne as Batman though, he admitted he was more than a little intimidated. He got over it by looking at Batman more as a creator-owned project.
Part of the long term endurance of the character is that he's so adaptable. The vision of Batman holds true throughout several interpretations. It reminded me of Grant Morrison's comments in Supergods, where he compared working on a popular superhero character as playing jazz. The musical scale remains the same and recognizable, yet every creator/artist plays his own notes. Snyder had less anxiety writing the character when he made himself clear that this is "his version, his Batman" and looking at the work as fan fiction. He joked that he got a little more anxious when he was told the high sales of the New 52 Batman book. "You could fill up Yankee Stadium with that!". Snyder joked about having a dream where he read the new Batman issue to a crowd of 100.000 people… every single of them booing afterwards.
While Snyder tries not to look at fan reactions too much, Lee constantly hears fans' voices in his head while he draws. He does try to give his own spin to the characters, but remains inspired by previous artists. When he worked on All-Star Batman & Robin with Frank Miller, he consciously tried not to replicate Miller.
The floor was then opened to some questions from the audience. The first question was about New York Comic Con and free Jim Lee sketches. Sadly, Lee will not hand out secret free sketches like he did in San Diego for his 50th birthday.
Answering the question "is Bruce Wayne actually punishing himself by being Batman?" Scott Snyder answered "no". But, he added that deep down Bruce knows of his limitations and that he can never truly save Gotham. One day he may slip up or simply grow too old. Lee added that he always liked the "shaving the moustache" scene from The Dark Knight Returns, where Bruce is this "vessel for the Bat force" and just can't help himself by doing what he does.
Scott Snyder couldn't really give too much away about the future of Batman, but stated that "Endgame" will see a status quo change and the arc after that will be "unexpected". He's writing issues #38 and #39 right now and remains grateful that he and Greg Capullo can remain on the book. They will "keep renting a place in Gotham for the foreseeable future", he added.
Another fan wanted to know how Scott and Jim got started in the comic book industry. Jim Lee's secret origin is well documented in that he had a degree in psychology and thought about becoming a doctor, but decided to stick with drawing comics instead. Snyder talked about his early days when he worked with several editors, but didn't know they were a couple. He would complain about one of them to the other, completely oblivious to the fact they were living together. "Clearly, I didn't have Batman's detective skills", he said, to great laughs from the audience. The duo concluded that becoming a professional comics creator is hard work and you have to want it 100%. Inspired by Jim Lee's early days while starting his career in comics, Scott Snyder jokingly read the moral of the story a little different, though. You can also "drop out and move back in with your parents".
Answering the question of what their proudest contribution to the Batman mythology would be, Scott Snyder said that he was proud to add some diversity to Gotham City with characters like Harper Row. He, like many others, always saw Gotham as a version of his hometown New York, and thus a diverse cast comes with the territory. Jim Lee liked visually updating classic Batman concepts like the Batmobile.
Lee was then asked if he's inspired by contemporary fashion or movie stars when he draws sexy, strong figures like Batman and Catwoman. After jokingly saying he uses himself as a reference for the sexiness that is Bruce Wayne, he is inspired by fashion and gets a lot out of lifestyle magazines. In envisioning a character like Lois Lane in Superman: Unchained, for example, he is inspired by both the classic Lois look and the way a contemporary business woman would dress. He doesn't use photo reference, although his kids posed for some shots of young Bruce Wayne and Thomas Elliot in "Batman: Hush".
On their favorite characters in the Batman mythology to write/draw, Scott Snyder loves writing The Joker as a sort of demonic character with a devil's tongue who can see right through you. He also likes Killer Croc as Bruce Wayne's nightmares manifested. He further stated that he sees a lot of villains as perversions of several aspects of Batman's character. The Penguin, for example, is a perversion of the rich playboy side of Bruce Wayne, while The Riddler is the same for Batman's detective skills. Jim Lee loves drawing Two-Face. He admits having trouble with making his characters' faces look symmetrical, but with Two-Face, that's the whole point!
A fan asked which other DC Comics character, besides Batman, Scott and Jim love to work on and has made an impact on their lives. Scott loves Superman, while Jim Lee made a case for Matter-Eater Lad of the Legion of Super-Heroes. In fact, Lee has learned to eat some pretty weird things because of him…
And with that, the Q&A came to an end and a massive signing queue was about to begin…
Arno Bogaerts writes about comics, superheroes and philosophy. He is an editor for Belgian pop culture blog Brainfreeze and Glitch Magazine and contributed to several "Superheroes and Philosophy" publications.