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How does Scott Snyder write best-selling issues of 'Batman'?

by Eric Molinsky and Cameron Kell | The Frame

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Batman on the cover of Volume 5 of "Zero Year," by Scott Snyder DC Comics

In 2011, DC Comics rebooted its entire universe from scratch, and when the company assigned a new writer to "Batman" — their best-selling character — they didn't go with a veteran. Instead, they picked Scott Snyder, a guy in his mid-30s who had a master's degree in fiction writing.

Snyder first gained recognition in the indie comics world. He created "American Vampire," which puts the now-familiar bloodsuckers in the Old West and the Roaring '20s. He was also known for writing dense philosophical monologues that drove some artists crazy, because they couldn't fit them into comic book speech bubbles.

But Snyder believes superheroes should have a lot to say. As he argues: "It's a prosaic medium as much as it is a visual medium, and the fact that this story or something that someone delivers can move you or take you to some place you didn't expect — I think that's one of the great strengths of it."

As it turned out, he was the perfect fit for "Batman." The books that originally made him want to be a writer were Frank Miller's "Dark Knight Returns" and "Year One," a gritty Batman origin story. Plus, Snyder grew up in the big, bad New York City of the 1980s and '90s. He remembers that being a kid in New York was scary:

You weren't allowed to do a lot of things. And all of a sudden there was Batman, walking the streets that you knew with graffiti and prostitution and drugs and gangs and all of this stuff that you were afraid of and that you hadn't seen in a comic book before. It made it viscerally real and it made the world of comics relevant.

So what was it like to suddenly be in charge of Batman's destiny? For one, Snyder said he would have kept calling in sick to work if it weren't for his wife reminding him that he couldn't hide from his assignment. But he also had to grapple with the various incarnations of Batman -- the Caped Crusader has appeared in a multitude of movies, comics, TV shows and video games over the years.

Snyder's method for making Batman new?: "I decided I was going to write this character like I made him up."

So his own personal fears and anxieties became Bruce Wayne's. His Batman isn't edgy and angry; he's more raw and vulnerable. When a comic book writer makes Batman too indestructible, the fans will complain that they turned him into "Bat-God." Fortunately for them, Snyder's Batman is the complete opposite.

I wanted to show why Batman mattered to me and what he meant to me as a child, and what I'd hope he'd be able to say to my children, to be able to say, "I overcame this terribly dark moment in my life where I wanted to die, and instead I used it as fuel to become the pinnacle of human achievement." 

"I am the most badass, kung fu-fighting detective, Sherlock Holmes, engineer — everything you could imagine. I also dress like a bat in the nuttiest way and I will swing around the city with these incredible gadgets. If I can do this you can do whatever it is that you're afraid to do."

It's working — Snyder's "Batman" is often the top-selling title for all comics, and he's one of the few writers who can sell more than 100,000 copies of an issue.

But after all the success, Snyder felt like he had strayed too far from his roots, so he's doing indie comics alongside Batman. He just launched "Wytches," an original series for Image Comics.

With a book like "Wytches," it flexes entirely different muscles, but I think if you read it you can see it's by the same person who writes "Batman." It touches on a lot of the same topics, like hiding things that you don't want to admit you feel, and how monsters prey on that."

Certain fears change over time, and now that Snyder is a father he has different fears; as he puts it: "The vulnerability you feel having a child out in the world, and seeing them grow up, and the fear of not just them growing up and moving away, but something happening to them is so paralyzing sometimes." So it's no coincidence that "Wytches" is about a dad trying to protect his kids in a world full of monsters.

Scott Snyder's latest "Batman" series, "Zero Year," is now available as a compilation. He's also the author of "American Vampire," "The Wake" and "Wytches." If you want to hear more fantasy and science fiction stories from Eric Molinsky, he hosts a podcast called Imaginary Worlds.

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