I was slow to the Scott Snyder game, I’ll admit it. Back when the hyper popular writer started Batman I was only vaguely aware of his existence. As his run continued I started to read and hear fairly positive things about his work. Then best of the year lists started rolling out and Black Mirror made quite a few of them. Slowly I filed away the name for future reference. I resisted joining the Snyder train with the New 52, I was reticent to join in without having read Black Mirror. And so time passed and I still hadn’t read anything he’d written. When his Joker arc began I gave in and starting reading his run. I’m a sucker for an interesting take on the Joker and couldn’t resist checking this book out. And so, positive reviews, predispositions and preconceptions in hand I read my first issue of a Snyder comic. I didn’t love it. I lent it to a friend of mine, a friend with even harsher criteria than myself, and he told me he loved it. I was taken aback. So, with a reopened mind, I read the next issue. I liked it. It was a pretty enjoyable drama, oozing shock value and faux psychology. And it featured the Joker. These are all good things in my mind, but Snyder’s work never seemed that special to me. Fun? Sure. Original? Not really. I thought it was a B- grade comic. The next few works of his I read didn’t impress me either. I thought Superman Unchained was weak, but that Year Zero had some potential. Then I finally read Black Mirror.
I was in my local library when I saw they’d got a copy of Black Mirror, the comic that brought this Snyder guy to my attention. I grabbed the book quickly and started reading it. I liked it way more than any of the other Snyder works I had read. Some of this was, undoubtedly, the art. I had never read a Jock comic before, but I loved the work of his I’d seen online, so I was happy to see his art at play. Francesco Francavilla was a name I desperately wanted to find out more about; I’d adored what I’d seen but I’d never read a comic he’d written. Both artists are polar opposites to Greg Capullo’s homogenous New 52 style (which is actually pretty good). The one art-related complaint I have is that the colours on Jock’s portions were too glossy by half. The art was great and really refreshing. It helped imbue the book with tone and style that went a long way. It wasn’t just that though; Snyder’s scripts seemed sharper and more emotionally affecting. I quickly tried to sort out what the difference between Scott Snyder before and after the New 52 was.
It took a swift process of elimination to establish the change. Ignoring the art the actual text was none-too changed, the sum just felt less griping, had less of a spark post Black Mirror. The one thing that could account for this effect was the one thing that had empirically changed: the characters. Snyder had gone from Dick Grayson and Commissioner Gordon to Bruce Wayne and Kal-El.
And this made all the difference.
See Superman and Batman are both established characters. They are both confident in their roles in life and their behavior. External forces can certainly provide physical and emotional problems, but they also can never fall to far from their status qou. The reason Snyder’s Batman was better than his Superman becomes obvious; of the two Batman is “allowed” to struggle internally in a way that Superman is not. But Dick Grayson can be completely unsure of himself. He can quip in a way that’s both too childish for Superman and too upbeat for Batman. He’s an easier character to write well. Snyder seems to struggle with the relative stability of Batman and Superman, perhaps he doesn’t properly understand how to craft internal conflict through external events, because it’s here that the secret to meeting DC’s (and DC’s fan’s) character criteria without sacrificing drama lie.
In fairness balancing between character development and character consistency is really hard. (The trick often relies on having the characters exterior remain almost unchanged while they are clearly being internally affected. (For example Grant Morrison’s Batman is always cool and tough and serious, even when his character is going through the insane struggles that he endures.)) Scott Snyder is a good writer and it seems that Batman Zero Year might suit his talents better than the big two do. I will watch the continued career of Scott Snyder with interest.