Although Batman’s name is on the marquee of Scott Snyder’s grindhouse-infused All-Star Batman, he’s not the real hero. It’s his new partner Duke Thomas — getting a real superhero name soon — who will be the actual star throughout Batman’s bombastic road romp across the American heartlands.
“The features have this big over-the-top, flashy, end-of-the-world stories in them, where I’m trying the biggest, craziest stories possible. But the backup honestly is the consistent heart of the series,” Snyder told Inverse.
There are two stories in All-Star Batman: the main feature where Batman and Duke take Two-Face on a 500-mile trip out of Gotham whilst escaping Two-Face’s bounty; and the backup which details Duke’s first year as a superhero.
“The Cursed Wheel” wraps up in issue #4 and out this Wednesday, but Snyder says the backups will continue to ground the zany All-Star Batman that’s shown a chainsaw-wielding Dark Knight who uses heavy metal to fend off the Court of Owls. Somehow, it’s the most politically aware Batman has ever been.
“There’s a tremendous anxiety, locally, globally about these insurmountable problems that seem to be impossible,” explains Snyder. “Whether you’re liberal or conservative, there’s an impulse to retreat from them, an impulse to take baby steps towards them. In the backups, that’s what Duke is going through, trying to figure what kind of a hero he is and if there’s a place for him in Gotham in a way that’s larger than the life he was living before.”
On the eve of a tense U.S. election, Scott Snyder and artist Declan Shalvey spoke to Inverse about Duke’s evolution in All-Star Batman that is only getting started.
In issue #4, Batman uses echolocation and Duke’s heavy metal to fend off the Court of Owls. That feels like All-Star Batman to a T. Where did that come from?
Scott Snyder: I wanted the series to be fun, kinetic, bombastic, in a way that would define itself against the classic Batman that Tom [King] would be doing in the main series. I’ve done that for so long that I wanted to go off-roading in the Batmobile. The reason I’m able to do that, hopefully, is because the story has this dark engine that I hope is perceivable to anybody reading it. There’s a pathos to it and a personal passion to the story that I think belies the zaniness.
The features and the backups are very distinct from each other. How do you accomplish that?
Scott Snyder: The features have apocalyptic sense of color in this vibrant autumn, and the back is more poetic and tailored towards an exploration of what’s going on emotionally. One of the great things having the backups and being able to do a second story that tells the tale of Duke Thomas.
Declan Shalvey: In a weird way, the backup is the backdrop for what’s happening in the feature. The color is punctuating, color for us is tying into Scott’s ideas. He talks a lot about how different colors represents characters. The backup stories, the feature, they don’t look anything alike.
Was All-Star Batman always conceived to come in two-parts like this? At what point did you want the book to also be a Duke Thomas book?
Scott Snyder: It was. That’s one of the ways I pitched to Declan when we began, and keeps me focused on what this series is about. The villains in the feature is an exploration of why he or she is scary and pertinent in this moment. Mad Hatter, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, all of them have stories that I think show them in a light you haven’t seen yet that gives them a kind of contemporary threat.
But with all of that going in the feature, the backup, for me, is the real spine of the series. It’s always been about this young man’s evolution into a hero that stands apart from Batman and has a mission distinct and compliments what Batman does. Everything from the way Declan and Jordie [Bellaire] brilliantly designed his costume, the yellows, the sense of daylight, all of these things will point towards his role as something being that stands as a very strong corollary to what Batman does. As he’s discovering who he is going to be, the story gets darker for Batman in the features as it goes.
About Duke’s costume, what went into its design? It looks tactical and practical in a way most Batman costumes aren’t.
Declan Shalvey: Scott wanted a yellow costume. I started riffing off what he had looked like before, the costume he had near the end of the last storyline when he had the yellow jumpsuit. I wanted to conform to that, and Kill Bill came to mind. I wanted him to look brave, that he could take a lot of punches, a lot of hits.
Will Duke get his name? “Lark” was hinted at awhile back, but will Duke earn his own in All-Star Batman?
Scott Snyder: 100 percent yes.
Issue #5 will be a double for the feature and you pick up again in #6. What can you tell me about the new arcs, both backups and the feature with Mr. Freeze?
Scott Snyder: Issue #6 picks up where we left off. It’ll be a four-part story, with different villains and also the Bat Family a little more present around Duke too.
Issue #6 will be a lot of fun. It’s Mr. Freeze’s end-of-times plan. It has to do with the oldest ice cores in the world, and cryogenic gangs, and Nora. Jock is drawing it and Francesco Francavilla is doing the backup. I’ve never had as much fun I’ve been having on this series, it really is a whole new lease on the character and on superhero comics for me.
All-Star Batman #4 is available now.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.