The Batman has walked into Arkham Asylum as if for the first time.
“It’s Gotham’s great haunted house,” explains Scott Snyder with sinister enthusiasm. “It’s been converted by the Joker into, really, a castle for him. It’s meant to be something [the Batman] comes home to.”
As the Death of the Family story line draws to a chilling conclusion in the pages of Batman #16 and #17, Snyder’s medieval motif reaches a flamboyant crescendo. To the Joker, the Dark Knight is actually an “errant king” and he’s assembled the other rogues into something far more theatrical and potentially deadly than a simple human chess match. The Joker believes that these other masterminds have been lazy in their predestined roles of challenging the heroes of Gotham, particularly the Batman. Their function now is to be scarier.
“You’re going to see some changes to Arkham, instituted by the Joker, to make it into a royal palace suited for a BatKing. At least in the Joker’s twisted interior decorator mind.”
The writer refers to the Joker as a “master of fear” able to “pull the right strings” to make this massive conspiracy a reality, preying on the lost souls employed as custodians to the bleak asylum.
I asked Snyder where he felt Death of the Family landed on his horror scale, given just how high he’s raised that bar over the past few years. “This is the ten. No punches pulled, I promise,” he answered, deadly serious. “In terms of the literal and psychological horror,” it’s what we’ve been waiting for, perhaps even dreading.
The decision to put Alfred Pennyworth in harms way has absolutely struck a nerve with readers. Snyder isn’t surprised at the intensity of the response. “He’s the heart and soul of the Bat family. For every character, Alfred means something special. He’s been there from little Bruce with tears running down his face to now.”
I began to explore the hypothetical of the void Alfred might leave should anything happen to him at the hands of the Joker. Snyder encouraged this line of questioning briefly, speaking to how Bruce’s energy and drive could potentially waver, but ultimately decided to put on the breaks. “I feel bad going near the answers to these questions just because I feel like these are possibilities in the story itself.”
We know that the Riddler will play a major role in the series moving forward, and that begins to build in issues #16 and #17. Snyder considers Edward Nigma the only person who challenges Bruce on a purely intellectual level. The Joker calls him the “sword sharpener.” Moving forward, Snyder says, ” If there’s anybody who’s going to create something that’s sort of nightmarishly complicated and difficult for Batman to solve, with tremendous stakes for him to lose, it’s going to be him. He’s not like the Joker. He’s not going to go out and kill to make a point. He’s arrogant. He thinks he’s the smartest man in the room and he loves challenging Batman in that way. He respects the notion of the question. Of the riddle. If you ask the right question you can cause a lot of damage.”
Batman #17 hits shelves next month.