Few creators of this modern era have put their stamp on this classic character like Snyder and Jock, doing so with directly involving Joker in stories like Black Mirror as well as Joker-adjacent stories such as the recent Batman Who Laughs miniseries. Now, the duo is kicking off the 100-page Joker 80th anniversary special this week with their very creepy 10-page story, Scars.
In advance, we had a chance to talk with both of them about Scars, the character, and their work.
Jock Talks Joker 80 Anniversary
ZACK QUAINTANCE: There’s been so much frightening Joker imagery over the years — both in comics as well as other mediums — some of which you’ve drawn yourself. How have you approached bringing something new to the look of a character with 80 years of interpretations, both in this story as well as 10 years ago now in Black Mirror?
JOCK: There’s been so much frightening Joker imagery over the years — both in comics as well as other mediums — some of which you’ve drawn yourself. How have you approached bringing something new to the look of a character with 80 years of interpretations, both in this story as well as 10 years ago now in Black Mirror?
QUAINTANCE: Your story (with Scott Snyder) in the upcoming Joker 80th anniversary special is one of the creepiest things I’ve read in a comic in a good while. Can you talk a little bit about your process in eliciting such an unnerving effect, with special attention on that chilling last page?
JOCK: Thanks so much! Scott’s script is of course the driving force — the story has the reader focus on a victim, so Joker becomes more of an apparition, an idea of what he represents. So there’s a sense of dread there because of that… that here’s a character that is not only evil but incredibly smart and resourceful. And always watching. He will stay with a twisted idea for as long as it takes. I’m glad you dug the last page! That was definitely a moment that I wanted to get right.
QUAINTANCE: One thing I really liked about your piece in The Joker 80th is that it was about victims and people who’d suffered at the hands of The Joker…all of whom had damage that was identifiable as having been the work of The Joker, even without the text letting us know that. How were you able to do that?
JOCK: Some were in the script, some were improvised… I guess with Joker there’ll always be the possibility of body horror. His death grimace for example, is the perfect example of that that. There’s a horrible irony in making someone smile while they die, so that sort of sets the precedent. The rest was just whimsy. Twisted whimsy.
QUAINTANCE: You and Scott Snyder have done what I think are the best Joker stories of the past decade. What do you think or hope your lasting legacy will be with The Joker?
JOCK: Wow, thank you. We haven’t actually done that much together with him so I’m really glad you think we’re up there. Like any character you build on what came before, and I guess if there’s any legacy hopefully it’s just that. That we built on him. I think the work Scott and Greg did was phenomenal, there’s been so much good stuff out there. Actually, on a personal level maybe my Detective #880 cover might be my legacy! I had no idea that would resonate with people the way it has.
QUAINTANCE: Finally, what are some of your own favorite renderings of the Joker and are there any in particular that have inspired your work with the character?
JOCK: So many…. Neal Adam’s in the 70’s, his Joker felt ‘real’ in a way that I still love. I grew up reading 2000AD over here in the UK, so when Alan Moore and Brian Bolland did The Killing Joke that hit hard. Dave McKean’s version in Arkham Asylum. These were all touch stones growing up. Actually, there’s another piece Brian did – the cover for ’The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told’. I love that image.
Scott Snyder Talks Joker Anniversary
QUAINTANCE: Where did the idea to approach The Joker from the perspective of his victims come from?
SNYDER: We’ve done so much with him over the years. It’s always been in relation to Batman. I haven’t really had a chance to do a Joker story where it focuses on him without any sort of Batman presence in it, or to just define him. I’ve had a clear vision in my head of how my take on The Joker — I’ve done it with multiple artists — has worked from Black Mirror all the way through Last Knight on Earth. For me, he’s literally The Joker card to Batman, where he takes on any kind of value he can given Batman’s worse fears. He makes himself those to be able to win or fight Batman, always making him as strong as possible.
It’s almost that he’s making it his duty to challenge Batman with the greatest nightmares of his soul, and through that trial by fire make Batman better or kill him — one or the other. So, I wanted to do something here that really focused on how scary that is as a concept, how wonderfully malleable as a concept, and it’s why I think he’s so enduring, why there are so many version, why he has so many faces, so many looks, and why so many great creators over the years have done so many incredible interpretations over the years.
QUAINTANCE: A lot of times when you write villains, they have really clear and easy to understand motivations, but The Joker maybe less so. How do you approach figuring out what The Joker wants in any given story and why he’s doing what he’s doing?
SNYDER: What I tried to do with each story I told with Batman and him was focus on something I was really afraid of either for my kids or myself, something that was difficult to admit, and then have Batman face off with that thing in its most terrifying form, which was The Joker’s version of it.
For example, Death of the Family was a very personal attempt at that. We were pregnant of our second kid when I came up with that story, and I was terrified of being a bad father, being too selfish to be a good parent. I was thinking to myself, Batman must be wrestling at certain moments with similar demons in the way he has developed that incredible family at that time in continuity with all of these allies. He cares about all of them, but isn’t there some part of him that worries they might be a weakness. That’s where Joker comes in and says, wouldn’t you be the best Batman possible without your family. So, I’ll just kill them for you.
Whereas something like Endgame was much less about my personal fears and more about my fears for the moment, some of the things we all worried about. I was worried for my kids at that time about the kind of violence that erupts out of nowhere, and I felt like it was always in the news, making your daily actions feeling meaningless. The Joker was there celebrating those things, saying whatever you do, it doesn’t matter. There’s no action you can take that’s going to mean anything. Everything is at best meaningless, and at worst cruelty and savagery. That’s it.
I try to take a personal fear of mine at that moment and have Joker extend it to its worst possible version and have Batman face off with that. That’s my approach to using him. I wanted to define that here with something that’s not epic and weird and over-the-top.
QUAINTANCE: I get that. This is probably your smallest-scale story with The Joker.
SNYDER: It’s only 10 pages. It’s probably the briefest story I’ve written for DC.
QUAINTANCE: Well, with all the different work you’ve done with Joker, what do you hope to have added to the legacy of the character?
SNYDER: That’s a tough question and it’s hard for me to answer that. It’s less about me and what I’ve added. I just hope that I’ve done it justice as an incredible antagonist, one of the best antagonists in all of literature, just by trying to use my own personal fears and be honest about what I find terrifying, and about human nature and the world, having him express those in ways that are celebratory and cruel and evil, making him the demon that really tests us with our own worst imaginings and fears.
I love writing him. I feel like I had him exist in one form or another in pretty much every story I’ve done on Batman, from Black Man even through Superheavy or the beginning of Zero Year. He was the one consistent thread to everything I’ve written, Batman-wise, outside of All-Star. The strain Joker represented through all of that was this underlying anxiety that Batman would succumb to his own worst fears, whether he was the main antagonist or in the background.
And there’s so many different versions. I love Grant [Morrison’s] version where he’s hyper-sane and so he’s always emerging as a new wild version of himself because he reinvents his own personality. I love the [Batman: The Animated Series] version where he’s slightly more sympathetic, more of a common criminal at times, all the way to the more obsessive Frank Miller version. There’s so many great stories too; I just wanted this story to be the definitive version of our take and the way I see him, a dictionary definition for The Joker that has haunted my whole run, regardless of artist.
QUAINTANCE: I thought it landed incredibly well with that last page, and I wanted to ask you how did you come to end on that last page and what did you think when you got the art back from Jock?
SNYDER: Jock is one of my best friends at this point. He was the first artist who was a big name to take a chance on me when I was nobody. I had American Vampire when I did Detective, but Rafael [Albuquerque] was new as well. Jock was well-know already. He’d done big series and had had movie success. I remember convincing him at San Diego to take a chance on me with Black Mirror.
He was such a great partner, and we’ve done so much together since. He was the first person I asked to do this one with me, because I knew I wanted it to be really dark and unsettling. What I love about his art so much is that it seems to magnify emotion. It’s like looking through the world through a skewed lens, but instead of looking at things based on light or anything objectively optical, it maginifies things based on the underyling emotions. So when things are more scary or intense in a scene, the shadows amplify and the angles are skewed…but it’s still realistic and grounded. Then when things are bright and super heroic, he has a lightness to his lines that magnifies that and underscores.
So, when you do something that’s psychological or really claustrophobic like this, it’s a perfect fit. I knew I wanted to do this with him. I don’t ever want to say, ‘I’m never writing The Joker again!’ I love getting invited back to do these kinds of projects, but I don’t see myself writing anything Batman or Joker-related for any long period of time. I wanted to make sure I was ending with the guy I started with.
I mean, Batman and Joker are in Death Metal, so it’s not like I’m never going to be writing them again, but I don’t have any plans to focus on them as a protagonist or antagonist going forward.
The Joker 80 Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular #1 is out Tuesday, June 9, with the first story being Scars by Snyder and Jock.