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Why I don’t trust Scott Snyder

06-14-2013 06;33;46PM

As a writer, that is. I don’t know him personally, so maybe he’s an excellent dude, one you can trust with your life or your money or to babysit your kids. But as a writer … I just don’t trust him yet.

SPOILERS, in case you’re wondering. Deal with it.

Now, you’ll notice I don’t say I don’t like Scott Snyder’s writing. If I didn’t like Snyder’s writing, I probably wouldn’t care that I don’t trust him. I have read a LOT of his work. I didn’t read his early Marvel work. I haven’t kept up with Swamp Thing past the first trade, and DC hasn’t released anything but the first Batman trade in softcover. 06-14-2013 06;37;11PMI haven’t read Volume Four of American Vampire yet, but it will be out later this summer, so I’ll get to it then. I skipped The Wake because I’ll get it in trade, and I was not going to pay 5 bucks for Superman Unchained. But I like Snyder’s writing, and I’ll continue to like it … unless my mistrust of him gets the better of me.

Snyder is the hot writer du jour right about now, as he’s writing both Batman and a new Superman comic (which is drawn, for a time, by Jim Lee – what’s the over/under on number of issues that Lee lasts?), plus he’s doing a new Vertigo book with phenomenal art. American Vampire is on hiatus right now (isn’t it?), but that’s also another hot property. In other words, Snyder is the “it” guy, at least at DC. You know me, though – I enjoy being a contrarian, so I have to point out Snyder’s Achilles’ heel, at least so far, and the reason why I don’t trust him – the dude is lousy at endings. You might disagree or not even care, but when you’re writing something, ending it well is as important as beginning it well, and Snyder, while excellent at beginnings, hasn’t stuck a landing yet in his short comics-writing career. It’s this crucial detail that keeps me from embracing him completely, and it’s too bad.

Now, this flaw (as I see it) isn’t too evident, because Snyder’s big projects – American Vampire and Batman – haven’t actually ended yet. That’s one thing that keeps the Vertigo book, at least, quite good – Snyder is able to “end” story arcs but still lead into the next one fairly well, and while I’ve only read the first trade of Batman, it didn’t really “end” as much as act as a prologue to the future issues. 06-14-2013 06;40;05PMI noticed, however, that around yonder Internets, several people expressed their disappointment with “Death of the Family,” specifically how it ended. I wasn’t surprised, because I’ve noticed this trend about Snyder for a while. I’d like to break down his comics that have actually ended to show how he’s just not very good. With that in mind, I’m going to briefly look at Gates of Gotham and Project Superman before moving on to Severed and Detective Comics. Of these four, Snyder is the sole writer only on ‘Tec, and in fact on the first two he just gets a story credit, so I’m not sure how much of the “blame” is his, which is why I’ll be brief with them. Severed, while written with another person, seems to be a bit more of a “Snyder” comic (even though, as I’ll note, it might not be), so I’ll get into that a bit more, and then I’ll look at his pre-DCnU run on Detective, in many ways a superb run, which is why the ending is so disappointing.

Gates of Gotham is scripted by Kyle Higgins from a story by Higgins and Snyder, so I’m unsure how much of it comes from Snyder and how much comes from Higgins. Similarly, Project Superman is co-plotted by Snyder and Lowell Francis, with a script by Francis, so again, it’s hard to tell how much is Snyder. Gates of Gotham is a decent enough mini-series, while Project Superman works only if you read it as a complete parody of over-steroided superhero comics, because if you read it straight, it’s terrible. Both series continue Snyder’s obsession with father-son relationships and his somewhat strange ideas about mental illness, so those parts is probably his, but again, the weak endings of these books probably can’t be solely attributed to Snyder. Gates of Gotham is a fairly standard Batman story, and so the ending, while not great, is no different than many other Batman stories. Bats (Dick Grayson in this iteration) figures out who the bad guy is completely inexplicably – the dude goes from “someone who used to own the ‘Architect’s’ suit but reported it stolen six months ago” to “crazed guy destroying everything in Gotham City” without comment from any character – but that’s a fault of many Batman stories. The explanation for what happens to both Nicholas Gate and Dillon May is annoyingly contradictory – on the one hand, wearing the suit makes you crazy, but on the other hand, Dillon May is crazy because “psychosis runs in the family” (that’s Bruce’s line, so maybe we can forgive him for not being up on the facts of the case). 06-14-2013 06;43;28PM“Psychosis” is a ridiculously broad term and shows Snyder’s disregard for trying to deal realistically with mental illness (and, again, to be fair to Snyder, most writers do this), but even if we believe that May’s “psychosis” was somehow inherited, Gate had a child before he became crazy from wearing the suit too long, so how …? You know, it’s just dumb, so we’ll leave it at that. As for Project Superman, it’s an unpleasant, unholy mess of a comic, one that actually begins fairly well – with Lois Lane’s dad trying to create a superhuman but then abandoning it when Kal-El lands in their midst and they don’t have to and that pisses off their test subject, who decides to take matters into his own hands – but about halfway through begins to become more and more ridiculous so that by the end, it’s awful. I’ll get back to this theme – that Snyder has really good ideas that fall apart quickly – in a bit, but in Project Superman, the only thing that mitigates is that we might believe that Snyder and Francis are actually poking fun at the idiotic tropes of superherodom. I mean, Lois Lane gets killed in the most random fashion and, with her dying breath, talks about what a cliché it is that the girl dies while the hero lives. So while Project Superman is kind of a hot mess, if you read it as a parody it works slightly better. The reason I don’t is because Snyder has never really shown that he writes with much of a sense of humor (that’s not to say he doesn’t put some funny stuff in his books, but he still seems to take them deadly seriously), plus this is Dan DiDio’s DC, after all, where humor is verboten. But, again, neither of these books are Snyder’s alone, so maybe we can give him a pass.

Severed is an interesting case, as this interview with co-writer Scott Tuft lets us know that he did the “actual writing” after he had plotted it out with Snyder. But Snyder saw the drafts and give notes, and Severed feels a lot like a “Snyder” kind of comic – the father-son dynamic is very important to the book, for instance. 06-14-2013 06;46;51PMAlso, Tuft says Severed was his first comics work, so perhaps Snyder had more influence over him than he would over Higgins. So, like Gates of Gotham and Project Superman, it’s possible we can’t lay the blame – or at least the entire blame – at Snyder’s feet. Severed, however, goes far more off the rails than those books. Gates of Gotham has a bland ending, but aside from a few weird quirks, it’s just a standard Batman book. Project Superman has to end with certain things happening because it’s part of a big crossover, so while Snyder and Francis had some freedom with it, they had to get to a point. Severed, however, is completely free of such constraints – it’s an Image book, self-contained in seven issues. And after a very intriguing set-up, it turns into an absolutely horrible comic book, a lot due to the fact that the ending is terrible.

The story begins with an old man in the 1950s getting an envelope from his grandson, who got it from a stranger who claims to be an old friend of the elderly gentleman. When the old man sees what’s inside, he’s thrown into a flashback to 1916, when he was 12. His name is Jack Garron, and he lives on a farm in New York with his mother. At some point he found out that he was adopted, and he also found out his father’s real name and they began writing letters to each other. So Jack runs away from home and jumps a train headed for Chicago, where he believes his father is a famous musician. Meanwhile, we’re introduced to the villain of the piece, a mysterious dude who eats kids. Yep, he really does. He manages to get kids (and adults) to trust him, and then he takes the kids to a lonely place and slaughters them and eats them. Jack meets a girl named Sam as he’s riding the rails toward Chicago (she pretends to be a boy, because it’s safer – not much, but safer), and they become friends. In issue #3, they meet the bad guy, going by the name “Alan Fisher,” who claims to sell phonographs and says he can help them find Jack’s father. Sam, who’s been on the road longer than Jack, doesn’t trust him, and this leads to a bit of a falling-out between the two. “Fisher” manages to lure Sam to a remote location and kills her, and then he hits the road with Jack, who thinks Sam abandoned them. He, of course, finds proof that Sam didn’t just leave, and confronts “Fisher,” from whom he manages to escape, temporarily. 06-14-2013 06;50;20PMOf course, there’s a final showdown, Jack loses an arm, and “Fisher” apparently dies in a fiery conflagration. However, the book ends back in the 1950s, when the older Jack realizes that “Fisher” isn’t really dead and is still out there, hunting people. Dum-dum-dummmmm!

On the surface, it’s a perfectly acceptable horror story. As we dig a bit deeper, it becomes dumber and dumber. In the very tense issue #3, the cracks begin to appear. Alan Fisher has the kids over for dinner and plays a game of chicken with a bear trap – he dares Jack to put his hand in the trap and says he’ll give Sam $20, then $80, to pull the pin and chop Jack’s hand off. She doesn’t do it, but that’s an example of “Fisher’s” sense of humor. Sam thinks he’s insane, but Jack, stupidly, doesn’t think it’s too bad. Now, because Snyder is obsessed with father-son relationships, Jack is obsessed with finding this father who abandoned him, so the fact that “Fisher” says he’ll give him a ride to Mississippi (where Jack’s dad has apparently gone) plays into it, but Jack is still marvelously stupid. Sam doesn’t get off so easily, either – she already doesn’t trust the guy, but when she calls his “boss” to complain about him, she just accepts that she needs to go to a diner in the middle of nowhere to talk to him? Come on, Sam! The book becomes more and more ridiculous in the final issue, where “Fisher” ties Jack up in a basement and cuts his arm off with a cleaver. He does this rather easily, it seems, and although he heats the weapon before he does so, the wound doesn’t seem to be cauterized. Yet Jack doesn’t go into shock but has the wherewithal to escape his bonds and attack “Fisher.” He does this for quite some time, too – far longer than you would expect from someone who has lost a ton of blood. And, ultimately, like a lot of horror stories, there’s no point to the story. There’s an evil dude doing evil things, and you can’t stop him. At least “Fisher” seems to be supernatural, so his survival can be “explained” in that manner, but it’s still a ridiculously depressing comic, with female characters who are just props to be killed, a really dumb inciting event that might be intriguing if Snyder/Tuft examined Jack’s obsession with his completely absent father, and no real resolution except for the fact that Jack survives. 06-14-2013 06;55;46PMIt’s brutal and awful. Again, I don’t know how much we can blame Snyder for it, but given the fact that he delves into some of these other tropes in other comics, perhaps we can.

The final series I want to look at is all Snyder – his run on Detective Comics right before the reboot, issues #871-881. By many standards, this is a superb run of comics, and according to Snyder himself, it ended where he wanted it to end (DC’s reboot might have truncated it unnecessarily, but our very own Kelly and Sue interviewed Snyder and he said it ended where he wanted it to, and while he might have been fudging a bit because of his position in the DCnU – no one wants to bite the hand that feeds it – that’s his statement, so we have to abide by it), and he wrote it all by himself, so that’s that. It’s a really good run that kind of falls apart at – you guessed it – the ending. Let’s examine it more closely, shall we?

First of all, Snyder does give us smaller arcs as he goes along, only slowly revealing the major bad guy of the arc, which is James Gordon Junior. His first arc is about an auction of various props that Batman’s villains have used over the years and the evil dude selling them. He spends a few issues writing about James Gordon Jr., then gives us an arc about Sonia Zucco and her bank and how the new breed of criminal in Gotham is trying to force her to launder their money. Then, in the final three issues, he goes back to Gordon and links his story to a Joker story (of course). It’s structured pretty well, with Jock and Francesco Francavilla sharing art duties – Francavilla tends to do the James Gordon Jr. stuff while Jock does the other stuff until the final issue, where they split the duties. It’s very intense, and issue #875 is one of the best issues of 2011. So went wrong?

Well, Snyder doesn’t stick the landing, of course (see the thesis of the post). He actually doesn’t end the individual arcs all that wonderfully, but because they’re shorter and fit into the bigger narrative, we can forgive those weaker endings. 06-14-2013 07;00;16PMWhen you re-read the entire 11 issues, you notice how absolutely bleak Snyder’s writing is – Batman doesn’t capture many bad guys, as the Dealer, Tiger Shark, and the … other one (I don’t want to spoil it too much!) all get away with it, more or less. Batman does capture the Joker, but his part isn’t really that important, and Snyder does a pretty cool job showing that he’s not interested in fighting Dick, as he considers him a low-rent Batman. But the bleakness of the writing doesn’t mean that it’s bad, and up until the final few issues, this is a brilliant run. But then James becomes the main villain. All along, he’s been telling his dad and Barbara that he’s fine – he realized he’s a psychopath and he decided to get treatment, so he’s taking medication for it. Snyder does a nice job never really showing us that James has done anything evil – it’s all circumstantial, as bad things just tend to happen around him. It’s only at the end of issue #878 that we see him doing something truly evil, and then the final arc kicks into gear in issue #879. Snyder does a few things terribly wrong, though. James is “just crazy,” which is just downright boring. He gives a medical explanation for his “craziness,” but it’s still boring – Gotham already has a “just crazy” villain, and the Joker has become extremely boring over the past decade or two because he’s “just crazy.” James plans to put medication – the same meds he takes, the formula of which he has “inverted” – into the baby formula that comes into Gotham, in order to turn all the kids in Gotham into psychopaths because the medication blunts the development of their amygdalas (amygdalae?). Whether that science would work or not, it’s a perfectly fine “supervillain” ploy. But Snyder fails to give James any reason for doing this beyond the fact that he’s crazy. He tells Dick that it’s because he wants to crush Dick’s spirit because Dick has so much empathy, but that’s a lousy reason, especially because it’s kind of a hand-wavey one and Dick has already seen so much horror and not been crushed. Ultimately, James does this because he’s “just crazy.” It’s an extremely disappointing way to end the run.

Similarly, like Jack from Severed, James (and Barbara) are apparently indestructible. James jams two knives into Barbara’s femoral arteries and tells her if they get taken out, she’ll bleed out in minutes. So of course he pulls one out, but Barbara doesn’t bleed out or go into shock – she has the wherewithal to get away while James is talking like a Bond villain to Dick (another serious weakness of the ending) and wait for him to come and find her. Then she stabs him in the eye, which doesn’t even slow him down. 06-14-2013 07;36;35PMBoth Barbara and James should probably be dead, but they both survive. It’s kind of annoying. Obviously, this is a comic book, but Batman has always supposed to be a bit more “realistic” than others, and the fact that James even says that Barbara will bleed out if he removes the knives highlights the fact even more. Again, in fiction, people tend to survive things that would kill or at least incapacitate us regular folk, but that doesn’t mean it’s not annoying.

All of these cases, if taken in isolation, could be excused. Snyder’s run on Detective could just end weakly because Snyder was aware of the reboot crunch (even if that didn’t affect him, as he claims) or because he just couldn’t figure out a motivation for James to do what he does. Severed could just be a horrible misfire. Project Superman could be a savage satire rather than a weird, “serious” take on superheroes. Gates of Gotham could just be a fairly bland corporate project that the writers didn’t think too hard about. The poor endings of the books, though, form a pattern, and the common element is Snyder. If we add that to the first trade of Swamp Thing, which had its problems, and the first trade of Batman, which had its problems, it’s clear that Snyder, while a good writer, has a way to go before he’s a great one. Every writer has their pet tropes, and Snyder’s appear to be an obsession with father and sons, a mild interest in mental illness as a “motive” for doing horrible things, and the history of Gotham City. None of these are bad things to write about – his lack of sensitivity about mental illness notwithstanding – and if he wants to explore those things, bully for him. When you’re writing comics with actual endings, though, you have to be able to end things well. Some writers are terrible at ending things, and Snyder should get some credit for not taking the easy way out of his stories and have a deus ex machina come in and solve everything. But his endings are still not very good, and it’s quite worrisome to me. I like Snyder’s first issues, because as an “idea” guy, he’s quite good. But as he gets more and more high profile, I wonder if I’ll ever consider him a great writer, because if he can’t stick the landing, he’s never going to get there.

But you know what? That’s just my opinion. To each his own, I say!

37 Comments

If the ending to a story sucks, then the whole story sucks retroactively.

InformationGeek

June 14, 2013 at 8:33 pm

Okay, I sort of see what you are saying and see/agree with some of your points, but I’m just going to have to disagree. I didn’t think any of these endings were bad by any stretch. They were all perfectly fine to me.

As for the bit about “with female characters who are just props to be killed” in regards to Severed, I really don’t see this. I believe like three people died during that comic (the villain said he has killed tons of people, but we never see that) and two of them were men. The only female who died was Sam and that’s it. So… how are the female characters just props to be killed if the majority of people to be killed in the comic are male (not to mention a majority of the intense violence is directed at them)?

Constant praise of Snyder’s Detective run baffled me for a long time, so this is great occasion for me to let off some steam.
I think this run wasn’t good at all. Yes, there were some stellar visuals (for example the creepy auction), but let’s talk about actual plotting (spoilers). First off – James Gordon. His a perfect example of Villain Sue – he is infallible, he knows everything he needs to know just because (Batmans identity? By shaking Dick hand. That’s The Dark Knight Rises’ “I looked into your eyes” shit right there). He dupes everyone, even the Joker (Snyder must show you that his creation is superior). His master plan succeeds. And at last, he is a relative of a cast member(s), so he causes emotional response in a reader by default.
Lesser plots also had problems. Like that one with a whale in a bank (? or some other building). Main mystery was, how was that possible? Snyder pulled Bendis in this story by introducing interesting setup and abandoning it in favor of action scenes. What a waste of time.
But by far the worst offender was one simple scene. Gordon calls his wife to warn her that Joker has escaped and probably will try to harm her. Immediatly after she hears door ringing and without thinking opens it! This scene just pissed me off, not only because it’s a cliche, but a terrible one! Just cheap audience manipulation, which he was pulling quite often throughout the run. “This is just a comic book” isn’t an excuse to me.
I admit, I read The Black Mirror two years ago and my memory of it is pretty fuzzy, so my recollection of it might not be perfect.
(sorry for eventual grammar or syntax errors, English is my second language).

I loved the Black Mirror arc and also loved its ending. Sure, its bleak as hell and Dick doesn’t really achieve that much, but that makes it even more unique. That James Jr. is just crazy doesn’t bother me, since it also doesn’t bother me with the Joker.

The ending of Court of Owls was a giant let down. The climactic fight was boring and by the numbers and the twist ending wasn’t all that.

Death of the Family also ended not that great. After all Joker did, Bruce HAD to at least try to kill him for the first time. He had to, at least, push him off the cliff himself. Joker would’ve survived, but Bruce would’ve had to deal with the fact that he tried to kill him. That would’ve been great,

Severed was also not good. The premise is nice, but other than that its not a good book.

So, yeah… Snyder isn’t great at endings, most of the times, but I still enjoy his writing on Batman, American Vampire and hopefully Superman. He is a good writer with a lot of great ideas.

I’m also a big fan of Snyder, but I’d be interested to hear why you say you are, Greg, given these problems. What is it you like about Snyder? Obviously the article was focusing on a problem you have so it’s going to be framed negatively but you also bring in some other elements of Snyders writing – that it’s bleak etc. – so I’m wondering what you do like about his work.

I don’t mean that to sound aggressive, I’m consciously trying not to word it as such, but on reading it I realise I may sound like an angry Snyder fanboy, which I’m not trying to be. I’m genuinely curious. Is it only the ‘ideas man’ element?

As for the endings of Snyder’s books, there are some I agree with and some I disagree with you on. I agree about Gates of Gotham although there’s also a lot to like about that book. I haven’t read Project Superman. I disagree about his Tec and Severed, both of which I really enjoyed. They are both ‘bleak’ as you say and in the case of Severed it is ‘just’ a tale of a horrific monster-person that does horrific things but I don’t think it tries to be anything more, and I actually enjoyed the ending and how it tied back to the very opening scene. I disagreed with most of the hate for Death of the Family and overall I think I’ve enjoyed all of the Snyder stuff I’ve read on some level. I’ve only been reading comics avidly since the New 52 but I latched onto Snyder’s work right away and picked up a lot of his pre-New-52 work within weeks of reading Swamp Thing and Batman.

Well…both Batman #21 (Year Zero) and Superman Unchained #1 were far better than I expected, but they are beginnings. I’ll be mad if he botches the ending of either. I generally agree with you on the examples you cite except Black Mirror. To me that was genuinely chilling. Don’t EVER read Swamp Thing Rotworld – it is supremely pointless, much too decompressed, and falls apart completely before the end, even worse than the other books you discuss.

Your opinion is just your opinion albeit a stupid one. It is still your opinion.

Greg, you didn’t touch on this but I think part of the problem with a number of new writers in the last decade is an apparent lack of editors who know how to edit – guide their writers in pacing and structure, give constructive feedback, and occasionally say “NO” to a long-term bad idea. Editors like a Karen Berger or Joe Kubert, even a Mort Weisigner, had a spine and knew when to reign in a writer or artist. Just imagine how much better Snyder could be if he had an Archie Goodwin as his editor.

The Court of Owls story is the one that disappointed me the most. Batman’s captured, apparently beyond hope, by a deadly secret society that’s been operating in Gotham under his nose for decades. Which is OK, so far as it goes – the notion that even Batman might have a blind spot is kind of interesting.

But what’s not interesting is how he wins, which boils down to “The Court of Owls underestimate Batman’s incredible physical strength, resilience, and willpower.” Those traits are fine for many stories, but this particular one cried out for Batman to OUTSMART the villains. To have a big reveal showing that, in fact, Batman had been in full control of the situation for many issues so that he could turn the tables and defeat them. I was really disappointed that there was no such payoff.

The othe rbig problem was that it’s not remotely clear wither what the Court of Owls have been doing all these years, why they’ve been doing it, or how Batman (who was ignorant of their very existence) was in any way a threat to them. They’re An Evil Conspiracy, but what exactly *is* the conspiracy. and how does Bruce Wayne beating up escaped lunatics and muggers threaten them?

Tom Fitzpatrick

June 15, 2013 at 6:55 am

Of course you can’t trust writers: “All writers are liars!” (written by Neil Gaiman in Sandman # whatever’s the one drawn by Kelley Jones about one of Morpheus’ exes)

Snyder’s either a hit or miss writer. Some of his books are good, some are not. Que sera sera

Two main reasons I don’t trust mainstream Snyder:

1) Final issue of Death of the Family not living up to hype and being very banal: Batman finds solution in the last moment, bat-family saving themselves through the Power of Love and there were no real consequences (“we’re pissed off and don’t want to talk to you” is not a “real consequence”, especially after Damian’s death couple of weeks later).

2) Retcon of Freeze’s origin in Batman Annual #1 turning him into “just a psychopath”. This is the main reason I’m not reading Year Zero (some things in issue zero and Death of the Family look to me like hints about Joker getting single definitive origin).

Steve: Well, I don’t completely agree, but I see your point.

InformationGeek: In horror, there are always two kinds of victims. One kind is just to establish the killer’s bona fides, and the two male victims in Severed are just that, so I don’t really “count” them – they’re too abstract. Sam is a better character, and I’m just uncomfortable with the way she and Jack’s mom are treated – even though Jack’s mother doesn’t die. It just feels like they’re being punished for not believing in Jack and his quest to find his real dad. It’s tough to articulate, but the way they’re treated makes me feel more uncomfortable than the way Jack is. But again, that’s just me.

Carmody: I tend to let weird things like how the whale got in the bank go, because it’s such a cool visual. You’re right, though, but I do let that go. The thing with Gordon’s ex-wife is also annoying – I just forgot to mention it, but it’s part of his problem with wrapping things up. He needed Barbara to be tortured, so he ignored logic to get there. I have a better opinion of the run than you do, obviously, but you’re right that some things don’t make sense.

Marius: The problem, as I see it, is that Batman doesn’t need more than one villain whose motivations are “he’s crazy.” One is enough!

Rory: I have absolutely no problem with bleak comics – one of the best Detective runs I’ve read is David Lapham’s City of Crime, which makes Snyder’s run look like a situation comedy by comparison. So the fact that Snyder’s Detective run is bleak doesn’t really bother me that much – I just thought I’d mention it. Severed’s bleakness does bother me a bit more because there doesn’t seem to be any point. Ultimately, I just don’t care about anyone in the book, except maybe for Sam, who gets dispatched in probably the most annoying way possible.

As for why I like Snyder – well, good ideas do go a long way. He does pretty good work with the characters, and he’s very good at building disturbing scenes. The scene with the bear trap in Severed is very good, as is the scene with Gordon and his son in the diner. And, as I noted, he does start things really well! I hope he figures out how to do endings, because I think he could be a great writer if he does that.

Paul: Yeah, I’ve heard that about Swamp Thing. Thanks for the warning!

marty: The sloppiness of editing these days is one of my pet peeves, and you make a good point – I wonder if a lot of writers would be better with a better editor. Archie Goodwin sure knew what he was doing!

Suzanne: If you’re talking about the first arc, where Batman is starved for a week and is still able to fight his way through, then I agree with you. That was a BIG problem with that story.

Omar: Another good point! Are they really evil if they don’t really do anything?

OLeg89: Did that Freeze retcon really happen? If so, that’s another Snyder villain who’s “just crazy.” Sigh.

There’s maybe a small bit of truth to this. Snyder was mostly below my radar in terms of publishing because the books he publishers (horror, crime noir) don’t terribly appeal to me, but I started reading Batman when the New 52 began and never stopped. Since then I’ve had a couple problems with his work, but I never really thought it was with the endings, though I guess my problem with DOTF is.

For instance, with Court of Owls: I just don’t find the Owls that impressive. I’ve been reading Grant Morrison’s Batman, Inc., where he’s fighting a LITERAL global conspiracy, a gigantic network of villains with fantastic abilities and astronomical intelligences all working together to take over the world. The scope of the Court of Owls looks miniscule by comparison, and so it was hard to take them seriously, even though everything else about them was technically sound. And having just read Batman: RIP, it looks even worse in retrospect, as there’s a group that actually broke Batman down to the point that he had to use a second personality (!!!) to actually win the day. Plus the ending for the Owls went completely and totally left. Why build up a group like that over a year only to tear them apart?

As far as Death of the Family, I think it does say something about his endings. People think its a bad ending but its really not. The title was always Death OF the Family, and while a lot of people want to inexplicably stretch the believability of Batman by killing off everyone except him and Alfred (because one man can totally handle an entire metropolitan city’s crime), I think it made a lot more sense to make that death metaphorical rather than literal. The idea that Joker basically shattered the family’s trust is a great one…the trouble is you tricked the readers into thinking you meant a physical death with the Joker’s actions. Plus, where’s the joke? If you’re going to do a Joker story, there needs to be a joke to the whole thing. A sick, twisted joke that’s funny even in light of the fact that Joker has a body count in the dozens. Maybe I missed it.

And I don’t think you sold the “death”. What Bruce did needed more focus, and we needed a more visceral reaction from the family. I would go so far as to say if the end goal was to tear up the family you should have done so by turning ALL of the characters against one another, rather than making “we’re pissed at Batman now” a standard for Bat-comics right now.

Greg – Yeah, that’s the arc I’m talking about. Sometimes, it’s perfectly fine to give Batman a challenge that’s solely about his physical prowess and sheer willpower, but THAT story really demanded more than that, instead of something any resilient but “too dumb to know when to quit” character could have won.

I left off Batman after Court of Owls. It had me, more or less, up through the upside-down maze issue, although I thought he could have shaved off an issue or two and made a tighter story. But yeah, I agree with pretty much everyone’s critique of it.

I consider myself done with Snyder. If he produces something that everyone seems to agree is a magnum opus, I’ll probably pick it up, but it feels like the critical reception of him has been waning a bit as well, so I’d be surprised.

Yeah I’m just gonna go ahead and disagree with pretty much all of this.

Oleg: I think the Freeze story was a bit more than what you’re reducing it to there. It was my first encounter reading Mr Freeze so perhaps that had something to do with it but I thought that issue was actually quite powerfully written and as far as I understand his previous origin the only thing that was adjusted was whether or not he married his ‘wife’, no?

Ricardo Amaral

June 15, 2013 at 11:03 am

Bad endings is the ‘it” at DC since Johns took reigns. He is the master of bad or never-ending pointless stories. Reason why I am dropping most of what DC is cancelling and not taking any new books lately, except when it is from exceptional storytellers like Milligan, Giffen and DeMatteis. Even Lemire is doing an awful job on JLD and Animal Man.

Phillip Kennedy Johnson

June 15, 2013 at 12:04 pm

I was really surprised to see this post, and found the arguments incredibly weak. Apparently Snyder’s endings are weak, but the attempted justification of why they’re weak all boil down to “they’re just dumb.” If you set out to trash a guy’s work, you’d better back it up more effectively than that.

I’ve never regretted buying a Snyder book. He’s consistently putting out great plot lines, great script and great characters, always among the best of DC’s and Vertigo’s books. His book of short stories is also terrific. Feel free to debate it, but it’ll take more than anything in here to convince me otherwise.

The end of the Court of Owls trade frustrated me to no end. Honestly, how long has Dick known Bruce? I know the new continuity is all over the place, but it seems like Dick’s relationship with Bruce is largely unchanged, so how on earth did a dentist not notice that funky tooth before Bruce knocked it out? Was it revealed that Dick’s dentist was a member of the Court in a later issue?

That moment ruined everything for me even more than the lame escape from the maze.

Rory: Yes, and that change is very bad in my opinion. Pre-New52 Freeze had a tragic backstory: he ruined his life by trying to save his wife. He was evil and at least mentally unstable, but at the same time he was a complex character and deserving some understanding and/or pity. New52 Freeze is a crazy person who’s obsessed over a woman he never knew. He’s science fiction stalker.

I think I would’ve liked that twist if it wasn’t done to an established character. But New52 Freeze is now less interesting character thanks to it.

Philip: Well, if you think so, that’s fine. I think I do a pretty decent job explaining why the endings don’t work, but if you don’t, you don’t. Such is life.

I lost a lot of faith in Snyder after finishing the third volume of American Vampire. The Survival of the Fittest miniseries had one of the weakest endings I had ever read and completely stopped my interest in the series.

Having your main characters be captured, only to be suddenly rescued by a secret undercover agent, who also arms them with weapons, and then conveniently die in the space of a few pages is one of the laziest twists I’ve ever read.

Beware the New 52 fanboys, Greg. They’re like the old fanboys but worse, because they will brook NO criticism, whatsoever, of anything DC does or did. Beware! BEWARE!

Seriously, though, I’m right there with you. Scott Snyder’s always got me on the edge of my seat during the middle of his stories, and then he just slides a whoopee cushion under me at the endings. I think editorial interference probably has something to do with it, though.

He doesn’t always stick the landing, but his writing style is a lot sharper and paced better than a certain writer who demands you summon some kind of cosmic consciousness to read a book about Batman.

Miller, right? Got to be talking about Miller. I certainly can’t think of any other writer that you can’t let a day go by without deriding.

Endings. One of my favorite quotes on the matter:

“Endings are hard. Any chapped-ass monkey with a keyboard can poop out a beginning. Endings are impossible. You try to tie up every loose end; you know you can’t. The fans are always going to bitch, there are always going to be holes. And since it’s the ending, they’re all supposed to add up to something; I’m telling you, they’re a raging pain in the ass.”
–Eric Kripke

I’ve read a enough of Snyder to basically concur with what Greg says. The guy can deliver a solid plot, some nice high points and moments, and then something confusing happens and you wonder what the point was. Though I differ on some of the reasons why the endings fall flat; in the James Gordon story, for example, his motivation didn’t bother me so much as we got several panels after it was all done of Commissioner Gordon and Dick talking like “whoo, glad we (probably) stopped all that bad baby food that was gonna make psycho kids grow into psycho adults” only to get a shot of a psychotic looking baby in a carriage at the end. It just came across as B-movie cheese that seemed out of place in the book. Or Death of the Family with everyone captured and helpless and Joker…does nothing, really. I get what he was going for, but it just didn’t work for me (mostly because I don’t think the Joker is going to fake faces on a plate even if he is the Joker).

“Just imagine how much better Snyder could be if he had an Archie Goodwin as his editor.”

Starman era James Robinson good?

Buttler, I think my axe needs grinding.

Anyway, I didn’t read this whole thing as I haven’t read most of the books discussed here, but as I picked up Batman for Death of the Family and the 2-parter with Clayface (um…spoiler?), I have to agree that I don’t trust Snyder. The last part of DotF suffered, I think, because the interactions that the Joker had with the Family all took place in other books (I assume). So the big moments that would have the impact (wow, no wonder Dick is mad at Bruce! kinda thoughts) aren’t there if you didn’t read those other books. And the reason I ended up liking the ending (due to commenters on another post here) didn’t seem like it was the intent. The Clayface 2 parter didn’t follow up enough on part 1 in part 2, from what I remember. (That was like, a month ago that I read that!)

The other thing about Snyder on Batman is that the basic plots are recycled from GMozz’s run. Although I guess that Snyder one-upped GMozz by splitting Morrison’s ONE plot of “secret evil society attempts to take down Batman by breaking him down and capturing him in Arkham, so the Joker can taunt him” into TWO plots (Court of Owls and DotF). That’s smart thinkin’!

A Horde of Evil Hipsters

June 16, 2013 at 3:51 am

“Miller, right? Got to be talking about Miller.”

He’s talking about Grant Morrison. It’s like some unwritten rule, someone just has to start bashing Morrison or Warren Ellis in every comments thread, no matter what the article’s about. Not that saying someone has “a cosmic consciousness” is exactly an insult, no matter that it was intended as such.

Blame (or praise) for Flashpoint: Project Superman should probably rest with me. Scott was there at the beginning for idea generation, but from what I understand was already working on New 52 (though Gene and I didn’t know that at the time). He was amazing about giving feedback on that first issue, and brainstorming with him was a great experience. I will also note that the FPS ending was editorially mandated at the last minute. We had to change it to that; Lois’ comment as much of a reference to that as I could make.

Smokescreen: I’ve either seen that quote before or heard it, but I agree. Endings are a bitch, and I have nothing but sympathy for writers trying to end something (I’ve had problems with it myself). That’s why, I think, a lot of good writers can’t become great ones, but that doesn’t stop me from hoping that they will!

Lowell (I hope I can call you Lowell!): Thanks for the information. When I read it, I felt the ending was so odd that I’m glad it was a last-minute thing. It’s good to know that Lois’s comment was even more metatextual than I thought it was when I first read it.

Horde: Yeah, I kid. All the Morrison love and hate on CSBG is funny to me, just because I’m somewhere in the middle about his stuff. A few of his runs I think are great and others, eh, they’re OK. His Batman isn’t one of my favorites, but there was stuff in it that I liked.

As for Snyder, his Batman was easily the best of the four Batman comics in the New 52 when it started, but that wasn’t exactly hard, and it didn’t take too long for me to get tired of the Owls. It’s been a decent Batman comic, but I feel like all the praise for it is just an indication of how low the standard has fallen at DC, more than anything else. My inclination is always to prefer DC because those characters were my mythology growing up, but man, they’re making it hard to stick with them.

Travis Pelkie

June 16, 2013 at 5:16 pm

“My inclination is always to prefer DC because those characters were my mythology growing up, but man, they’re making it hard to stick with them.”

THIS

(Yes, I am that annoying guy quoting one thing with no further explanation!)

Greg: The quote is from the last episode of season 5 of the TV series Supernatural (Swansong). I love the quote because as one who aspires to the craft, it fits me more often than not. Also, in that episode, it fits particularly well as the series was planned to end there (and did it ever clearly end there), yet they’ve kept it chugging for three more seasons since; to their credit, they wrote their way out of a massive corner at this point better than I thought they could…though not without a lot of bumps.

Raymond Wonsowski

June 18, 2013 at 11:56 am

If you can’t nail that ending, I start to lose faith in you as a reader. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t read a Stephen King or John Grisham novel in how long. You can have all the high concept brain candy in the world, but if you end 900 pages of brilliance with a left-field sewer spider, it tends to be a sign that you didn’t have your exit strategy properly planned.

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